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On Mission Today

 

Wherever you are today, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are on mission with Jesus. This is intentional, not coincidental. Primary, not peripheral. Normal, not extraordinary. Adam and Eve were created and then commissioned to fill the earth with His glory. The first man, Adam, failed. However, Jesus Christ, the last Adam succeeded. When He walked out of the tomb, He was the first of a new creation. As new creations in Christ, we have been “re-commissioned” to fill the earth with His glory. It is not a career choice. It is not an unusual thing done in a far-away place. It is why the Spirit made you spiritually alive and indwelled you – to be a witness. It is God’s call to all who wear His name. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ today. Doing discipling is dong life if you’re a believer.

 

Ministry Update

It has turned cold and I’m heading north. Something may be wrong with this plan but I think not. Not if things go as well as they did herein southeastern Michigan. My heart was warmed by the time spent with about twenty good friends here in Ypsilanti.

Friends who grew up together, former leaders, colleagues, classmates, teammates, co-laborers in the Lord’s work, church members… the people who have impacted, been patient with, and even suffered me as a friend. True friends who know the chaff and wheat in me and yet encourage, pray for, and stand with me.

The only failure was in not hearing their stories. They have all been faithful even though many of them have hit career walls and suffered reverses. Not hearing how God has stood with and enabled them through the years of family life, fighting serious illnesses, hitting the ground and getting back up – as a righteous man does –was my loss. My biggest disappointment was in talking too much and listening too little. Nonetheless, it was a refreshing time.

The blessing of the night was that we got to dine with Mike and Lauvonia Smith. We were honored by their presence. In the circles I grew up and from whence came my spiritual DNA, these people remain highly respected and much loved. Rightly so. As many of you know, Mike Sr. is fighting terminal cancer and after reminding us that we are all terminal, he testified of God’s sustaining grace and of his determination to live out his days glorifying God. We took time to pray for Mike, the Wesco family, for Evan. Ken Ouellette’s family and one in attendance that night with another serous medical need.

We could’ve spent hours together. As it was, we shut down the restaurant. (The staff at Haab’s was excellent and patient). We caught up as much as we could and I was so honored to see each one who came. I’m not sure any support was raised for the three “for generation four” 2019 trips but other more important things took place.

I m so grateful for each one of you who showed up and for those who would’ve been there had they been able. Thank you for the fellowship and encouragement. If we have another opportunity, we’ll take more time to hear others honor God for His sustaining grace.

Please pray as I hit the road tomorrow and head through Michigan’s U.P. over to Pembine, WI. Ask God to bless us Sunday at Faith Baptist. I’m looking forward to meeting with them at the Lord’s table. The cold weather has begun up there but I pray the fire of God will warm our hearts as we worship.

Yours for generation four, Bill

Why was Paul so Tough?

Why was Paul so tough on those guys in Galatia? Not the members but the leaders. In chapter 5:7-12, Paul lays into the teachers without mercy accusing them of hindering spiritual progress in the believers. The word used here (5:7) means to obstruct their growth and at times to stop it! Not what you expect a spiritual leader to do with his flock. Paul says what was being taught by these leaders was so unlike the gospel that it could not have come from Him who “called” them (5:8). He gets even tougher and describes their ministry as a leaven which changes everything (5:9) and states that such teachers are worthy of judgment and condemnation (5:10).

Keep in mind that epistles were usually read publicly to the church and these men were likely present. Paul was not playing politics. He was playing for keeps!  He goes on to claim that their “gospel teaching” removes Christ and the cross from the Gospel. He was still preaching the Christ and the gospel and was even being persecuted for it! That Jesus died for their sins on the cross was the very heart of their standing with God. His Calvary work assured them of His presence and power in their lives and their eternal future. So dangerous were such teachers that Paul wished they would slip with their own Pharisaical knives and emasculate (castrate) themselves. And yes, that is the literal and accurate translation of the Greek Paul used in verse twelve. Wow! Why was Paul so tough on these guys?

Because the minute self-effort is mixed into the Gospel, it becomes powerless to save. Adding one’s own works to the gospel makes it like all other religions in the world – based on human works and empty of grace. Grace is removed and now one’s salvation depends on being good enough to earn favoritism from God. But God will not ever be in debt to anybody. The minute one can earn their way or “keep” their salvation by their own meritorious works, they become the boaster and God the debtor and it is not possible for God to be God and to be in debt to anyone. God owes no one anything and no sinner can ever produce works enough to put God in his debt. He owes no man salvation or a place in heaven. We cannot do the work it would take. Jesus did the work. The only man who was not a sinner and who was infinitely righteous and eternally existent and able thereby to do the work, earn the merit, pay the debt man owed to God, and please the Father was the God-man Jesus.

The minute the false teachers arrived in Galatia and began to spread their leaven, the glory and majesty of Jesus took a blow. Calvary was no longer the message but a footnote. The glory of God was diminished and the love of God was tarnished. What was their problem? Did they believe the Father did not respect the obedience of His Son? Did they think the life and Calvary-work of Jesus marred and sinful or that it contained errors and missteps? What was it about God’s character that made them think He would send His Son on a mission and then refuse to honor the Son’s worshipful obedience, holy toil and sinless sacrifice? What kind of Father did they think He was?

When these false teachers stepped in and began to devalue the work of Jesus and diminish the glory of God is when Paul got tough. As Paul Washer says in The Gospel Call and True Conversion, “This is why the apostle Paul labors with all his might in his writings to accentuate the depravity of humanity and prove their utter inability to please God in the flesh. He desires that ‘every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’ (Rom. 3:19). Only then will people turn their eyes from themselves and look to God in faith. Only then will they cease from their work and fall into the arms of grace. Only then will their boasting in self become a boasting in God. ‘As it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD’’ (1 Cor. 1:31).”

Wherever the Gospel of grace has been preached, this heresy follows. Satan is quick to send his preachers to mix the message, dilute the power of Christ, and diminish the name of God. Many believe they’ve been saved but that they had better be good so that they can stay saved. It is as though they believe more in their conduct and behavior than in the conduct and behavior of Jesus. Jesus lived a sinless life and died a perfect death and rose again with new life for those who trust in His work – not their works. No man is saved by his works. One can only be saved by Jesus’ work. Let go of your works and accept His. He obeyed because we could not obey and His obedience can be ours only by faith.

These false teachers did not like the idea that God’s Son had to die for them. This was, as Paul said, an offense and scandal to them (5:11). They must have been embarrassed that there was nothing meritorious within them that would impress God and force him to owe them their salvation. Their pride and desire for self-honor refused to let them give God His honor. We can all understand their struggle. We are strongly bent to please ourselves and seek respect and value in the eyes of others but the only true value and honor we can ever find is that which is found through the infinite value and perfect work of Jesus who invites us to join Him in the Father’s family as joint-heirs. There is our proper and right rejoicing – not in me but in what He has done for me and for who I am through His work – a forgiven and cleansed saint in the eyes of the Father. Beloved and in the family of God. I am child of God and that I can boast in. As Paul exclaimed, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

Is being a Church Member relevant?

Thomas Rainer wrote a short, clear, and simple book on church membership. It’s an excellent book. I’ve used it as a pastor in  new members classes. Here are some recent comments he made about the relevancy of the term “church member.” I wholeheartedly agree.

“Two years ago I released a book…and I’ve been blown away with the response; sales are about to reach one million books. One of the more frequent question readers have asked me is: ‘Do you think the term “church member“’ is still relevant?’’‘  My simple response is, ‘Yes I do.’ In fact, I have seven reasons why I emphatically believe churches should never let go of this descriptor.

It is biblical. One of the best descriptions of church membership is in 1 Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul specifically uses the term “member” at several points in the chapter. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12: 27, he says: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.”

It is a perfect metaphor for belonging. Read the same chapter, specifically verses 15 to 20. Look how many times Paul uses the word “belong.” To be a member of the body of Christ, the church, is to belong to an incredible gift given to us by God.

It is a perfect metaphor for contributing. As Paul describes the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, he highlights the diversity of gifts of the members, and emphasizes the absolute mandate for every member to function and contribute. There is no place in the church for non-contributing members.

It is a perfect metaphor for caring. Because church members all belong to the same body, they are motivated and mandated to care for one another. Paul states this truth clearly: “So there would be no division in the body, but the members would have the same concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25).

It is a perfect metaphor for unity. Church members are members of something greater than themselves, the body of Christ. Once again, we are reminded of this truth in 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it (emphasis added).

It is commonly understood by most people. Some churches use terms other than church member to describe those affiliated with their congregation. My purpose in writing this article is not to disparage them, but to advocate for a term that is both biblical and clear. Most people do indeed understand the basic meaning of church member.

It does not yield to culture. We have abandoned too many things in our churches in order to accommodate culture. While we recognize that some people will think of membership in the sense of country club membership, we in the church need to reclaim its biblical intent. Church membership does not mean we get perks and privileges because we “pay our dues.”

It means we give, sacrifice, and serve.  The essence of church membership is the sense of belonging to something so much greater than any one of us individually. We are thus motivated to give, serve, love, and care. The biblical understanding of church membership is an incredible concept. It is not a term we should abandon.”

STAYING SHARP WHEN GROWING OLD

How can one stay current even as they move into the last two decades of their lives? I do not mind growing older – who can avoid it? – but I don’t want to be one of those older folks who holds others back.  It seems many older folks are oblivious to what is going on around them and, therefore, become less and less relevant, practical, and helpful. The following counsel is from an octogenarian that I have known for many years. I met him when I was in college. He has walked a consistent and authentic walk in life and ministry over the years. You may not agree with everything he says here but it is all worth thinking about.

SECRETS TO STAYING ON THE “CUTTING EDGE:”
No one will ever convince me that growing older and duller necessarily go together.  The old bod tells me that I am growing older (then there’s Vin Scully, five years older than I and still doing play-by-play for the L. A. Dodgers), but the mind is still at least marginally functional.  I work with and am around people the age of my children (and younger) very frequently (our church is multi-generational), and I don’t want to loose that certain edge.  Here are ten of my suggestions for staying sharp while growing older.
1.  Keep on dreaming.  I know he is as annoying as all get out, but “Dickie” Vitale, who is 75, wants to be the first broadcaster to do live play-by-play when he is one hundred.  Now that’s a dream.  When all your dreams have come true, you had better get some new ones.  There are still things I want to do and accomplish before the Lord takes me home (I’ll spare you the list).  Here’s a neat little outline on dreams: dare to dream; prepare the dream; wear the dream; repair the dream and share the dream.
2.  Keep in touch.  I always try to talk with some of the younger people (and that includes some in their teens) every opportunity I have.  I also try to do something very difficult for a man my age (especially one with hearing problems), I try to listen.  Although at this point a hearing aid is in the dream realm, I don’t want to be the guy about whom someone – I think it was his wife – once said, “I wonder why he has that hearing aid, he never listens anyhow.”  Spend time with people.  Do what Jesus did – walk slowly through the crowd.
3.  Keep growing internally.  Let’s face it, the standard of greatness keeps rising, but the means to achieve it is also rising at an even faster pace.  Get around great people.  Listen to great videos, visit great places (when possible), attend great events, read great books.  Try Tim Keller’s Center Church – if that doesn’t give you a brain freeze, it will give you a ton of things to think about.
4.  Forget the fear factor: Fear is the thief of dreams.  There is always more lost in what we don’t do because of fear than in what we actually do.  I’m not sure the battle with fear is ever over, even if it’s just the fear of being considered an old boor.
5.  Focus on recruiting, mentoring, etc., leaders to eventually take your place.  I think it was John Maxwell who said that leaders who last, recruit and mentor strong leaders.  What are you doing to leave behind a legacy of shared insights, constant encouragement, lessons learned?  That’s one of the reasons why there is a Woodchuck’s Den.  I don’t know a whole lot about a whole lot of things, but I have been there, done that, and am more than willing to share the consequences of a whole lot, whether good or bad!
6.  Ah yes, fatigue.  I tire more easily than I once did, and it takes me longer to get it back together than it once did (and sometimes even longer to remember where I put it after I had it all together), but He promised me that my strength would be sufficient for my days.  I have previously quoted the profound wisdom of Warren Wiersbe, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.”  And sometimes that’s all I need to get back after it again.
7.  Watch your priorities.  Sure, there’s a tendency to meander in life, but things that matter most must never be subordinated to things that matter least.  As our days grow shorter (and that is true of everyone), we need to prioritize such things as money, time, people, activities, gifts, to say nothing of family.  Just this exercise might well prove difficult enough to keep you on the cutting edge (be careful that you don’t get “cut” on that family thing.  Grand kids are great, (and great grands even greater), but be careful of the priorities.
8.  Keep the big picture in mind.  We get so wrapped up in who we are, what we are doing, how people are treating us, etc., that we sometimes forget that it really isn’t all about us.  God’s work on earth is vast (one of the reasons I struggle with those content to stay in little denominational or positional boxes), and I want to be involved in it as long as I possibly can be.  By-the-way, hopefully, your church won’t close the day you leave it.
9. Be open to change – there I said it, and I meant to say it, and I’m glad I said it!!!  My doctrine hasn’t changed a bit over the years, but a whole lot of others things have because I live in a world that is constantly changing.  Change itself is neither good nor bad, but part of staying on that cutting edge is keeping abreast of what is changing, evaluating it and making a decision regarding it.  I’m a bit weary of people my age who have an automatic negative reaction to change.  For instance – and I’ve said this before – I don’t like all of the new music, but I didn’t like all of the old music either, and I love some of the talented kids that are involved in the new music.  May I make a suggestion?  How about concentrating on the words instead of the instruments, repetitions, unfamiliar (and sometimes, un-singable) tunes.
10. Beware of hidden private sin.  Just because you are no longer the lead man doesn’t mean that you have a certain quota of sin that you are allowed without offending God.  Yes, we’re physically immune to some of the more fleshly lusts, but our often insufficiently occupied minds are fertile grounds for the devil to work.
And a final, unnumbered word: be careful in keeping on the cutting edge that you don’t fall off the edge.  More than one of God’s older servants has done something later in life that has destroyed much of what he spent his life building.  And if you are a younger whipper-snapper, don’t hesitate to share these thoughts with your older members and blaming them on me.

Vote. Then open The Book.

This past Sunday, I urged our people to vote. Jesus commanded His followers to be salt and light and to love their neighbors. That being said, let me state that I do not believe that the hope of America rises and falls on any election let alone this one. The government does not have, never has, and never will have, the answers we need. Our society’s great need is a spiritual revival among us believers. Call me cynical, but I am not sure that is going to happen without the the rug being pulled out form underneath the culture Christians have accommodated themselves to. The answer to our national ills is not in an election but in The Book. I thought this poem was a breath of fresh air in its perspective. It does express a hunger for truth and a lucid awareness that truth is missing in our society. That is not a shocking event in a post-christian world where all is relative and the public square no longer allows a fixed point of view. Without a “true north” on the compass of one’s soul, how can anyone find their way? There is only one Absolute. “In the beginning was The Word, and The Word was with God, and The Word was God” (Jn. 1:1)

 
The Last Election 

Suppose there are no returns,
and the candidates, one
by one, drop off in the polls,
as the voters turn away,
each to his inner persuasion.

The frontrunners, the dark horses,
begin to look elsewhere,
and even the President admits
he has nothing new to say;
it is best to be silent now.

No more conventions, no donors,
no more hats in the ring;
no ghost-written speeches,
no promises we always knew
were never meant to be kept.

And something like the truth,
or what we knew by that name-
that for which no corporate
sponsor was ever offered-
takes hold in the public mind.

Each subdued and thoughtful
citizen closes his door, turns
off the news. He opens a book,
speaks quietly to his children,
begins to live once more.

John Haines

What if Americans opened the Book, spoke quietly to their children, and began to live — some for the first time?

Don’t just vote. It won’t be enough. Pray. And, above all, open The Book.

Phony Claims to Citizenship

Most Americans believers resist the biblical idea of being “poor in spirit.” Tim Keller describes us as more “middle class in spirit” rather than “poor in spirit.”
He writes: “On the contrary, you believe that God owes you some things—he ought to answer your prayers and to bless you for the many good things you’ve done. Even though the Bible doesn’t use the term, by inference we can say that you are ‘middle-class in spirit.’ You feel that you’ve earned a certain standing with God through your hard work. You also may believe that the success and the resources you have are primarily due to your own industry and energy.”
I must agree. We do not see ourselves as bankrupt morally or spiritually. This is the reason we do not sound authentic in the ears of the world when we claim the kingdom is ours and that we are The Kingdom’s citizens. The kingdom really does not belong to those who are “middle class in spirit,” does it? (Matt. 5:3)

THE “NEW SINS” DO NOT ALLOW FOR REDEMPTION

Edwin Leap is an Emergency Room Physician in a medium-sized hospital in Western South Carolina.  He writes a weekly column in the Greenville News, and his blog is usually a re-post of that week’s article.  Here’s what he, himself, says about his faith: “As an emergency physician who has seen almost every example of man’s fallen nature, as well as many of the wonderful ways we are indeed ‘in God’s image,’ I believe that Biblical Christianity is the most accurate explanatory theory for the human condition, and also the most rational cure available for the race of men.  That’s why I write a great deal of material that touches upon my faith. I’m no Bible thumping madman, and I’m not here to scream at, threaten or demean anyone who disagrees with me. I don’t want to force anyone to believe anything. I do want to use this space to offer hope and meaning.”

The following is one of his weekly columns, and it touches on a subject that is increasingly visible in our convoluted society and troublesome to those who have some form of moral compass.

“Given that this is Sunday, I’ll pose a Sunday-School kind of question. Is there any such thing as sin? It’s a funny word, sin. It’s a concept deeply embedded in our culture and language. (Some of us would say, in our souls.) It implies wrong-doing, an offense against God.  But these days, the very idea that people might be separated from ultimate good (much less God) by their hearts or behaviors, the very idea that humans do ‘bad’ things and need to confess and repent, well that’s a bit of a stretch for polite society, isn’t it? ‘Oughts’ are passe, and have been generally replaced with feelings and a kind democratic process in which we all rather vote on right and wrong (or let entertainers and pundits decide for us).

“However, sin is alive and well. Let’s face it, society may scoff at the church for saying fornication is a sin, or drunkenness or theft (or anything else proscribed in scripture). But society loves (and I mean loves) the concept of sin. And people love to condemn others; it’s quite invigorating to judge, even though we are all told not to do it. (Ironically, judging is a modern sin of the first order…unless judging those who are intolerant or judgmental, obviously.)  Need an example? It isn’t hard to find, as American culture is absolutely full of modern sins. How about the ‘sin’ of racism? Ask Paula Deen if she committed a sin. Heck, she was more roundly condemned and castigated than any Mosaic scape-goat could ever have been. Years ago she used a racial epithet and because she confessed her sin of racism, she was required to repent on national television. And her penance? Loss of her cooking ‘empire.’ (No Hail Marys for Paula!) And what penance will the world require of Oprah’s Swiss shop-girl?

“How about disbelief? No, not disbelief in God. I mean disbelief in some popular idea. What about disbelief in global climate change? Why, you might as well be a baptist who doesn’t believe in casseroles! Environmentalism is its own religion to no small number of moderns, thanks to our tendency to worship something. And anthropogenic global climate change is an essential part of the catechism. In general, ‘Science,’ with a big ‘S,’ can never be doubted without opening oneself up to angry accusations of ignorance; despite the very real fact that it is the job of science to question science.

“What about big business and greed? Is greed bad? Well yes. But not just to people who think God says so. Greed is bad because big business and wealth are bad; and they’re bad because, well, greed is bad. The Occupy Wall Street movement was full of tent-dwelling ascetics with student loans, i-Pads and Starbucks cups who just knew it. Wealth and greed are fine if the greedy agree with the right ideas or donate to the right campaigns. ‘Greed: good for me, bad for you.’

“And to really push the hot-button, what about those folks who just aren’t on board with same-sex marriage? In modern parlance, they’re haters (even if they happen to love same-sex people). Or, to put it another way, they’re sinners. In an odd turn-about, the condemners of what was traditionally considered sin find themselves condemned; not by God but by man, the new arbiter of the New Law. And the new cultural priests spew their own fire and brimstone, and mark their ideological enemies with a scarlet B for bigot or F for fundamentalist.  Although it’s not an exhaustive list of the ‘New Sins,’ there is something hopeful to be learned here. We all at least agree that some things are wrong. While we disagree in content, between ancient revelation and modern construction, the fact that the very idea of right and wrong still exists gives me a little hope.

“What’s hopeless is that there is no redemption from the new sins. There is no real forgiveness; there’s only surrender, complicity and endless sacrifice. Judeo-Christian faith tells us that God forgives and forgets if we ask in sincerity. But the New Law is never satisfied. No sacrifice is great enough and no repentance sincere enough and no past sin, however remote, is free of examination; unless you are a law-maker, of course. And any deviation, any heresy, is intolerable.  As New Sins and New Laws continually emerge, I wonder if we’ll discover that the old ways, which called out sin but simultaneously offered repentance and redemption, were gentler than we ever realized.

Motive Matters

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ 

Expediency ask the question, ‘Is it politic?’ 

Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ 

But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’”

(Martin Luther King, Jr.)

People make decisions for a lot of reasons and most of them are not good. Of the four choices mentioned by Dr. King, only one – conscience – is right. All others lead to trouble and, in the end, destruction. While I counsel people to listen to their conscience, I also encourage them to examine the scriptures and their conscience side by side and consider the possibility that their conscience is not biblically trained. (All consciences need some reckoning with biblical truth regardless of how one grew up.) Nonetheless, when all is said and done, they must do what they believe is right.

There was a time, when with all the discernment of a proud Pharisee, I would glibly judge a man’s motive. Having been burned by my pride and the guile of others’, I try not to presume anymore. Being that we all struggle with our motives, we must judge ourselves and do so strictly and humbly. Especially leaders. Doubtless we’ve all made decisions as cowards, as politicians, and some with much vanity. Some have decided spiritual issues based on what’s good for business and many make choices simply to “save face” and stubbornly refuse to change course. We all have a lot of decisions to make and the first question one must learn to ask in decision-making is the question of their own motive. After all, this will come up at the Bema!

If pleasing God is our motive, then at some point, scripture and its principles enter into the picture. In decades of pastoral ministry, I have been unpleasantly surprised at the absence of biblical thinking going on in the lives of many outstanding people I have known. Little mention is made of biblical parallels, principles, or truths when arguing a point of view. The absence of biblical precedent in their thinking and discussion may indicate nothing at all or it may indicate a great weakness in the body – weak minds not renewed and not saturated with the Word of God. It is not expected that all would think like they had theological training but it is expected that believers who have sat under years of preaching and teaching should have some scripture seep into their thinking. Maybe that’s not the weakness though. Maybe it is just cowardice. Maybe many of our leaders are political. Maybe? It is a sad state of affairs when men of God put their agendas, their careers, and futures ahead of the glory of God, the name of Christ, and the welfare of His people.

Not all the things one can do are things that one should do. Paul, in addressing the Romans and the Corinthians on the matter of making difficult decisions, makes others the high priority. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). People matter to God. Do they to you? No, we’re not prisoners of others’ expectations, misguided convictions, and untrained consciences. That’s not the issue. But we are our brother’s keeper and we should not put him in a place of danger or temptation with our liberty. “It is good not to… do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Rom. 14:21). Standing fast in our liberty is not a matter of protecting my personal liberty but a matter of living by grace. And doing so for the sake of God and for others. Restricting my liberty is not legalism, it is a matter of being a channel of grace and, thereby, extending grace to others. It is also a personal means to grace and growth – one that is sorely needed in the body of Christ today. Paul’s discussion on the matter of freedom in Galatians five includes a description of those who stand in freedom as producers of fruit akin to the nature of the Spirit and character of Jesus. This “standing fast in freedom” builds others and glorifies God. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity…, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”(Gal. 5:13-15). Those who don’t stand in liberty are a danger to themselves and others. They have a spiritually macabre propensity to “bite and devour one another” and to please their flesh causing strife and division. Such ugly behavior appears in all who abuse freedom – libertines or legalists. They both bite and devour because they are both selfish and self-serving. (And that style of “gospel living” will not attract even the most lost among us!)

Paul is not defending one side of an issue or another. He is jumping all over one’s motive. Motive matters. You can be right theologically and dead wrong in your behavior. You can also be wrong theologically but still be right in how you carry out your position. And how about the times where we’ve been wrong on both accounts? If your motive is the glory of God and the welfare of others, you will find the right way to come out at the right place. You will be a discerning steward of grace rather than an ugly opportunist. To claim your liberty at the expense of others in order to make a selfish decision is wrong. On any side of any issue.

Make your choices according to grace. Train your conscience in grace and discern how best to channel God’s grace to others thereby. Grace is not your privilege and license but God’s gift to be exercised in a wise stewardship. Steward wisely. You will rejoice now in this life and later at the Bema. I don’t know about you, but like Paul, “I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting” (1 Cor. 9:15).

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved (I Cor. 10:31-33).

 

Repeating Mistakes

It is amazing how many mistakes are repeated generationally. Of course, not in the same way and usually under a different name and in a different suit of clothes but nonetheless, the same error is recycled in hopes of its purchase by a new and naive generation. This insightful article not only speaks to this but serves as a good warning for us to remain true and authentic to biblical servant ministry in every era. Alas! Is there nothing new under the sun?

 “The New Televangelists”  Chris Nye

“Pastoral work is the aspect of Christian living which specializes in the ordinary.”
—Eugene Peterson

I thought we were done with the Televangelists.

I grew up as part of a generation that scoffed at their expensive suits, golden watches, flawless smiles, and poofy hair. The sermons I heard growing up had lines about their cheesiness and insincerity. These sermons proclaimed a gospel that could not be bought, one that didn’t need vials of healing water or anointing oils that could be mailed to you after a small payment. I liked being part of that generation, one that stood for authenticity and rejected anything that smelled phony. And when it comes to being phony, Televangelists were Exhibit A. I believed our Christianity was moving away from the make-up encrusted, spiritual hucksterism that dominated the airways during our childhoods.

I was wrong. Sure, most members of my generation still have no time for Televangelists, but many of us have fallen prey to something just as pernicious.

Role Models under Shining Lights

During the first two years of church ministry, I was surrounded by some really wise older pastors. They met with me regularly, prayed for me, and kept me up to date on the business of the church. We all worked for a pretty classic suburban megachurch, but all loved one another. But there was one problem: I didn’t want to grow up to be like any of these pastors. The pastors above me were pretty normal guys. They had solid skills and were leading decent-sized ministries. They wore Hawaiian shirts or pressed dress wear and enjoyed golfing. But that wasn’t me. This was not my future, I thought.

I began looking for role models, for people I wanted to be like. Through the Internet, I was exposed to ministries from all over the country—pastors with 3,000 member churches preaching to multiple campuses and looking good doing it. They preached slick sermons under shining lights. Best of all I could watch it all on my laptop from anywhere.

I want to be a pastor like that, I thought. I just need to be like them, imitate them, and then I’ll have success—my ministry will grow. These pastors taught me how to teach, how to read Scripture dramatically, and how to hold a Bible the right way when making a point. It seemed like all these guys had to do was prepare a sermon for Sunday and deliver well and watch their churches grow—how rewarding! It all seemed to be working for them. Certainly, I thought, this will work for me, too.

This slowly became my vision of a life in ministry. But as I soaked up podcasts and sermon videos from famous pastors, I was unwittingly forming an inaccurate vision of the life of a pastor. The more I listened to and watched these dynamic pastors, the less I heard the voices of the pastors in my own church. They don’t know what they’re talking about, I would think as I loaded another video.

But two years into my ministry, I found myself with the same sized group. What’s more, they seemed to experience only marginal spiritual growth. I was frustrated with my ministry and annoyed at the small things I needed to get done and the people I needed to tend to. It was around this time that I realized what I was doing. I wasn’t sincere at all. I wasn’t authentic. Sure, I knew a bit about the Bible and knew how to sound good, but when it came to caring for people and guiding them toward spiritual maturity, I didn’t have a clue. The podcasts were teaching me a lot, but I wasn’t learning how to pray for the sick or counsel someone in a bad marriage or comfort the hurting. It wasn’t that I just needed to look at some different role models; I needed to figure out if I really wanted to be a pastor in the truest sense of the word. Was I committed to ministry even if it didn’t mean communicating to thousands of people from a stage?

Image or Identity?

We are not finished with the Televangelists, I’ve realized. We have simply rebranded them. We’ve changed the style but not the substance. When it comes to the habit of elevating certain gifted communicators, and trying desperately to be like them, little has changed. As our culture has moved from the television screen to the computer/tablet screen, the Televangelist has moved along with us. He now exists on his blog, his YouTube channel, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. He looks good too, better than any of his predecessors. He is groomed to look sincere, to preach with passion, and, of course, to never mention money like the old Televangelists did. But just like the Christian celebrities of yesterday these new Televangelists seem to live our ministry dreams. They have nice clothes, they write books, they hang out with famous people, and they always seem to be so happy.

And here’s the problem: holding them up as paragons of ministry leads us to become dissatisfied with our ministries. We get a distorted view of what life is like as a pastor. We lose sight of true spiritual leadership, of what it really takes to shepherd people. In the blogs and Twitter feeds of the New Televangelists, being a pastor looks entertaining. It looks fun, and kind of easy. We have lost the true vision of spiritual maturity: that suffering produces character, and that recognition and accolades rarely will.

The biblical vision of pastoral leadership is nothing like the Televangelists of the 1980s or the ones of the new millennium. It is not about fun or entertainment. In fact it is often painfully ordinary. The building blocks of a great ministry include such everyday things as a community meals, counseling sessions, and private prayer. It is about knowing the poor by name and praying for the people in your congregation when they ask. It is about calling people back and remembering the names of their children.

This is not about wealth or poverty, recognition or obscurity. It is not about big churches, small churches, or medium-size churches. The New Televangelists aren’t bad people. We just elevate their skills above their character. We love their image, not their identity. We want to emulate their personalities, not their personhood. We don’t really know them.

It was the faithful who our master celebrated (Matt. 25:23, 1 Tim. 1:12), and if we’re truly following Jesus, we will celebrate faithfulness as he did. We must check our fascination with good looking and success and learn to value of being men and women who walk with God and truly lead his people. Only a few of us will ever be in the celebrity spotlight. Only a small minority will speak at conferences and write books. But those “ordinary” men who spoke into my life during the early years of my ministry have experienced true success. They may wear Hawaiian shirts or boring suits beneath balding heads, but they have done something very few have us have: remained.

I continue to learn from the prominent pastors. But I no longer extol them as paragons of ministry. The truth is, most of us will lead small groups of people. We will be entrusted to lead a few people in the process of discipleship. We will learn their names, know their stories, and love their families. I am not aiming for the entertainment of masses anymore. I am seeking to be faithful with the people that God has given me. My role as a pastor has been simplified. My greatest contribution will not be preaching sermons that are watched on TV or downloaded by thousands. My mission is to love the people God has placed in my life for as long as possible.

Chris Nye is the high school pastor at Willamette Christian Church in Portland, Oregon.

(As printed in the March, 2013 issue of Christianity Today)