Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Essence of True Leadership

LEADERSHIP: More than just Influence
Leadership is not just "influence."

It is not just recruiting, training, and unleashing other leaders.

It is more than just multiplying oneself.

The essence of true leadership is summarized brilliantly in Proverbs 31. This is a series of proverbs which were designed to equip King Lemuel to be a wise and godly leader. He was taught:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; 
Ensure justice for those being crushed. 
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless and see that they get justice. 

If you can't do this... Don't lead.

(quotation from Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT)

Monday, July 30, 2012

7 Helpful Hints For Developing Your Personal Bible Study Time

Most Christians believe they should read God's Word. Most Christians believe they would benefit from spending time every day in God's Word.

Few Christians spend much if any time reading the Bible on a daily basis.

Here are seven steps you can take to help you develop your own time of reading, studying, and living out God's Word.

1. Lengthen Your Day

If you don't have time to read your Bible, make more time.  Set your alarm clock to wake you 30 minutes earlier than normal. You can still shower and make your coffee first (that way you'll be awake when you sit down to read), but you now have 30 minutes you didn't previously have. This is a minor change that allows you to not give up anything, but still start something new.

Before you complain that 30 minutes early is really inconvenient, think for a minute about what you're trying to do. You're trying to find time to read the most important words ever written in the history of mankind... You can't wake up 30 minutes early?

2. Write and Review The Goals Which Define Your Success

How will you know when you are having success? Decide how much you want to read every day or every week or every month. WRITE IT DOWN. Then review it every day. Make a note if you are ahead or behind schedule, and take the time to catch up.

3. Plan Your Morning Reading in Advance

What if the last thing you did every night was to write a note to yourself, planning out your reading time for the next day. Not only would you wake up to a reminder of what you are reading, you would go to bed with God's Word on your mind. It's a Win-Win!

4. Concentrate

When you sit down to read, sit down with nothing other than your Bible (and a notebook if you need that). While it is fun and convenient to read from a phone or ipad, be careful that you've turned off your notifications so you don't get beeped or buzzed while you are reading. Don't answer the phone or texts and turn off the TV and radio. Eliminate as many distractions as possible so you can simply concentrate on the important task at hand.

5. Listen to Audio Recordings of the Bible

Some people don't enjoy reading, or struggle to focus while reading. The Bible has been recorded in many different languages, and you can listen to many versions for free. If you are an auditory learner, why not listen to the Bible every morning? Check out esv.org, youversion.com, or biblegateway.com for options.

6. Ask Yourself Questions Every Time You Read (or listen)

Asking and answering questions is one of the best ways to ensure you have internalized the information you've read or heard. After you spend time in God's Word, take a few moments to ask yourself some or all of the following questions:
  • What did I learn about God?
  • What do I now understand about Jesus?
  • How was my conscience disturbed?
  • What part of my life needs to change?
  • For what am I grateful?

7. Take it With You

Don't be like the man in James 1 who looks in a mirror then walks away, forgetting what he has seen. Once you have seen God's revelation, take it with you the rest of the day. Maybe you need to remember one verse you read, or one truth you discovered. Maybe you need to follow up on a relationship or a conversation. Maybe you need to write down a promise on a card to carry with you. Whatever you need to do, don't leave God's Word lying on a table in your house; take it with you for the rest of the day!

2 Must Have Experiences for a Successful Life

O God, I beg two favors from you;
Let me have them before I die.

First, help me never to tell a lie.

Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.

For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, "Where is the LORD?"
And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God's holy name.

(Proverbs 30:7-9 NLT)

Friday, July 27, 2012

What If...? (six years later)

----- I first wrote this on June 15, 2006. -----

What if it was a goal of our church to launch one new "community impact center" every year?

What if "community impact center" (hereafter CIC) was just a fancy name for a new way of thinking about church?

What if these CICs were launched in areas that most needed to experience the new life brought by Jesus (read: impoverished areas; high crime areas; etc.)?

What if a major part of the DNA of every CIC was that it would launch a new CIC somewhere else within its first three years?

What if that was possible because we unleashed 75-100 people to launch a CIC, and they committed to begin the process of launching a new one as soon as they had 300 regular participants?

What if we could launch an autonomous CIC in Muskegon for less than $500,000?

What if that CIC included a building which housed a community activity center that was open ever day and could serve as a third place for the surrounding neighborhood?

What if that CIC included a building which housed a gathering space which could comfortably seat 150-200 for an EPIC worship gathering?

What if once the CIC regularly had 150 people attending worship gatherings, it launched a new gathering. (and of course at 300 launched a third gathering but began planning for a new launch to which it would commit 50-75 people)?

What if every time a CIC multiplied, Calvary underwrote 50% of the cost (25% for third generation; 15% for fourth)?

What if every CIC was staffed by no less than 2 full-time ministers who were supported by the initial partners and the initial $500,000 investment?

What if these two full-time ministers were released to do nothing but invest in the lives of the people in the neighborhood and prepare one weekly worship gathering?

What if everything else that needed to be done was done by volunteers?

What if we could buy property and build a two-story building that would do all this for $200,000? and use the other $300,000 to furnish necessary equipment and invest in ministry staff salaries?

What if the initial 75 partners represented 25 families that averaged $40,000 incomes?

What if they all tithed?

What if the annual operating budget of the CIC, from the get-go was no less than $100,000 annually (plus the initial investment)?

What if this financial situation was sufficient to bring all the above ideas to fruition?

What if the initial partners did more than just tithed?

What if one of these CICs was launched every year?

What if every new CIC resulted in 10 new disciples ever year?

What if every CIC launched a new CIC every five years?

What if every CIC touched the lives of 500 people in a neighborhood?

What if after five years, there were six new CICs in West Michigan resulting in 240 new disciples and over 3,000 touched lives?

What if after fifteen years, there were 42 new CICs resulting in over 2,000 new disciples and over 20,000 lives touched?

probably couldn't happen.

Your Anger is a Demonstration of What You Love

Have you ever been so mad that you... ?

People do funny things when they are angry. They throw things and hit things and say things they will inevitably regret a short time later. I've known several "manly" men who have broken their hands, fingers and wrists because they punched a wall in anger.

Jesus once made a whip and attacked a group of store owners.

Does that mean it's okay to get angry?

In Ephesians, Paul wrote that we should be careful that in our anger we do not sin. We must never let our anger control us. Anger can be a very destructive force, and usually in the hands of humans it is a negative thing; yet Jesus' anger can actually tell us something about God's love.

Anger is often tied directly to love. If our dog Emily eats Liam's dinner while he's not watching he may or may not get angry. If dinner was my world famous spinach, hummus, and okra casserole; Liam will not get angry with the dog. He doesn't love that dish. But if dinner is bacon and tater tots, the dog better hide because the anger is coming. Liam loves bacon and he loves tater tots.

This can be a warning to us. Sometimes our anger reveals that we love the wrong things!

God's anger is directly tied to his love for us. Sin has nasty effects. Our sin and the sin of others ruins creation (notice that we are surrounded by disease, famine, natural disasters, death, etc.). More significantly, our sin separates us from God. Therefore God is angry about our sin, because He loves his creation (us) and He desires to be reconciled to us... That's why he sent Jesus!

And Jesus' anger in the temple (in John 2) was a demonstration of God's love for us. Jesus was not angry about the selling of animals for temple worship. This practice was necessary for travelers and the poor to be able to appropriately worship in the temple.

However, Jesus WAS angry about how and where the selling was happening. Instead of providing a service for worshipers, they were getting rich by exploiting the poor. Instead of enabling worship, they were creating a distraction for the Gentiles who hoped to worship in the outer courts.

Jesus was angry, because the Jews were abusing the Marginalized. (marginalized people are those who live in the "margins", separated in some way from the majority or the norm) It is often easy to take advantage of marginalized people because they are not protected.

Yet, Jesus cares about the marginalized. His anger in the temple was a demonstration of His love.

This raises two simple questions for you to consider today:
1. Do you love the marginalized? 
2. Do you realize that Jesus loves you?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

American Pickers, Hoarders, and Water to Wine

Jesus makes all things new.

His VERY FIRST miracle (recorded in John 2) was turning the water to wine. This wasn't just any old water. It was the water used for ceremonial cleansing prior to celebrations and meals.

So think about this:
The water used to clean our exterior
was changed into
WINE, which when internalized brings joy!

Jesus was making things new. No longer did people need to strive to make themselves externally clean. That wasn't working anyway! Now, Jesus was going to miraculously change us from the inside out. Just as He miraculously changed the very nature of water, He also changes our nature.

It's tempting to hold on to the old. We are, by nature, people who relish the past. American Pickers, Hoarders, Storage Wars, and Auction Kings are just a few of the recent television shows which reflect this tendency of humans to place a high value on the old way.

We all have "old" things in our life which we like to hang on to. But it's IMPOSSIBLE to embrace the NEW LIFE Jesus offers if we are still holding on to the things we think we can offer ourselves (why would you cling to the cleaning water if you can have the best wine?). If you want to know which old things you are still clinging to, finish this statement:

"I need ... "

If you finished with anything other than Jesus... you need something new.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Avoid the Path That Leads to Death!

Thursday night at Camp Barakel, I talked with just the senior high guys. We discussed the direction of their lives by using a metaphor common to camp, the path. Here are the key ideas:

1. The paths you choose in life will determine your destination
Every decision you make is a choice to follow a path that is leading you somewhere. Your life's destination will be the culmination of all those decisions.

2. Every path leads to a destination
Some may think they can just "enjoy life" for a season and their decisions won't have consequences until they are "grown up". Wrong... If you choose the path of hard work and discipline your destination will be significantly different than he who chooses the path of parties and night life.

3. You may not see the destination, but you can see the path
You must be careful about the path you walk as it may lead you somewhere different than you think. We used the youth from Proverbs 7 as an example. The path he chose LOOKED good and FELT good and seemed to be going VERY WELL. But it ended with him being led as an ox to the slaughter, like a deer caught in a trap until an arrow pierces his liver... Be careful about the path you choose.

We closed with Proverbs 3:6-7: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and don't lean on your own understand. In all your ways follow Him and he will make your paths straight.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

You Can't Have Faith Without Obedience

A few years ago, I walked out the front door of my parent's house to go get ice-cream with my siblings and their families. As I walked toward my car, the garage door began going up, allowing the rest of my family to exit to their cars. I glanced over to see my son and my nephew hanging from the rising door, eyes wide with the excitement of their new game.


It probably wasn't the time for me to reason with him, or request obedience. He was in immediate danger, and had no idea. I'm glad to report that sensing the urgency in my voice, he let go and ran to my side. I explained that he could have really hurt himself, and that kids get hurt in garage door accidents all the time. Then I thanked him for obeying so quickly even though he didn't know why.

As parents, we often know what is better for our children than they do. I'll never understand the parents who don't discipline or say "no" to their children for some of the following reasons:

  • I did the same things, so I'd be a hypocrite if I stopped him.
  • He just needs to learn for himself.
  • I'm tired of fighting about these things.
  • I don't want to make a big deal about it.

Look. If you know something is bad for your child, tell them "NO". This is a major "duh".

After this little incident, I began thinking about when God says, "no" and whether or not I respond as well to him as Liam did to me. (being a father so helps me understand me and God better) I asked the question, "Why did Liam obey me so quickly?", and the answer was helpful in my understanding of my relationship with God. Liam obeyed me because:

  • He knows that my knowledge and experience far surpasses his.
  • He trusts that my commands are intended to cause him good not harm.
  • He believes I desire what is best for him.

Obedience, for Liam is rooted in faith. He has faith in my knowledge. His faith leads him to trust me. His faith gives him hope for his future with me.

Get it?

When I choose to not obey God, I'm demonstrated that I don't have faith:

  • I don't have faith that He knows infinitely more than me. Disobedience demonstrates that I think I know better than God.
  • I don't have faith to trust him. Disobedience is an intentional decision to trust myself instead of God.
  • I don't have faith in my future with him. Disobedience is my attempt to manipulate my own future apart from God's plan.


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Solution for All Relational Dysfunction


That was easy, right. Seriously, Jesus is the answer, or better yet, Jesus' attitude is the answer.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:Who, being in very nature God,did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,but made himself nothing,taking the very nature of a servant,being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man,he humbled himselfand became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Just list-thinking out loud here; but, recognizing that we all take different lengths of time to assume the attitude of Christ,maybe the path to relational healing looks something like this:
  • Betrayal. Most relational dysfunction begins when one party feels betrayed by another. Whether it is a "behind the back" betrayal, or a breach of confidence, or the breaking of an unwritten code, betrayal hurts.
  • Anger. Our initial response is anger because our very first instinct is almost always to be severely aware that we have not received the treatment we were entitled to. A sense of entitlement, when not fulfilled almost always results in anger.
  • Hurt. As time passes, the anger fades into a hurt as we realize the betrayal was not just an injustice done to us, but a life-changing relational loss. Recognizing we can no longer trust or confide in someone we once did is painful.
  • Pity. When we are finally able to take the camera of our mind off ourselves, we begin to realize our "enemies" actions are a reflection of their own shortcomings, not ours. The betrayal we experienced was beyond our control. Since we are no longer obsessed with our own self entitlement, we are able to feel sympathy toward the person who wronged us.
  • Love. Love is a choice, not a feeling. When we are no longer concerned with our own needs, desires, expectations, etc. we are able to CHOOSE to concern ourselves with the needs of others. The truest, most Christlike love is to choose to be concerned with the needs, desires, and expectations of others; particularly our enemies.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
  • Reconciliation. Having been reconciled to God, we are able to reconcile to our brother and our neighbor. In fact, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. We cannot control who will or will not betray us. We can control whom we reconcile ourselves to. We must learn to aggressively pursue the right we can control and relentlessly forgives the wrongs we cannot control.

Friday, July 13, 2012

13 12 Sermon Series I'd Like to Preach Someday

I created this list several years ago. It still applies. Someday I'll do these!

  • Genesis 1-11. The Starting Point.
    The Prologue: Genesis 1-11. If you don't understand these chapters, you'll struggle to get the rest.
  • We Are People of the Book. God is the author, Men were the conduit, Jesus is the protagonist, Reconciliation is the purpose, the Holy Spirit is the interpreter.
  • Psalm 68. Ten great sermons about God.
  • God, Sin, and Evil. Even though I've changed my thoughts about the value of certain types of apologetics, I still am who I am; and that means I love to help people understand some of the more difficult things God has revealed to us about himself...
  • 1 Peter. Duh.
  • Ten Topics the Bible Says a Lot About. Grace, Humanity, Evil, Love, Relationships, Redemption, Choices, Marriage, Leadership, Hope.
  • Pierced, Tatooed, and God's Little Black Book. A three-part evangelistic series.
  • John: Conversations with God. Yeah, this title is ripped from that awful book by Neale Donald Walsch. But it's my favorite Gospel, and I love the interactions Jesus has with people.
  • The One Anothers. What would it really look like if we lived out these relational commands every day?
  • Esther. Surprised? It's a common misconception that I don't like this book. What I don't like is the way most people read and teach it.
  • Formations. Done. Read the book here.
  • In Defense of Judas. I don't know how long this would take, but it would look at all the different ways we misunderstand Jesus, and how we end up expecting the wrong things from him as a result.
  • Three Relationships You Can't Live Without. duh part two.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Forget Your Past, You Don't Get a Mulligan.

Steven Covey suggests four quadrants in which we typically work.

  • Important and urgent
  • Important but not urgent
  • Not Important but urgent
  • Not Important and not urgent

He suggests you first accomplish all tasks in the first quadrant (Important and due soon). Once you've finished everything there, you should move into the second quadrant so that you can accomplish important things before they become urgent.

Using this process, you might not accomplish the "not important" things... which is okay since they're not important.

It wouldn't be a bad idea to consider these quadrants not just in relation to a to-do list, but also as a way to categorize our brain time (the stuff we think about). Here's what I mean:

  • thinking about life stuff that is important and urgent = pressure
  • thinking about life stuff that is important and not urgent = dreaming
  • thinking about life stuff that is not important but urgent = stress
  • thinking about life stuff that is not important and not urgent = wasted time

But here's one other thought. Too often we spend our time in two completely different quadrants that Covey never talked about:

  • thinking about life stuff that is important... and past
  • thinking about life stuff that is not important... and past

It's not a bad idea to have memories. Memories are nice and fun and useful... but too much time with memories can be dangerous and unhealthy. If it is hurtful to spend all your time stressing about the urgency of the day that is not really important, it is far more harmful to spend your time thinking about the mistakes you made yesterday.

Basically, I'm saying this:

  1. Spend occasional time remembering past victories
  2. Learn from past defeats, remember the lesson and forget the defeat
  3. Spend a little time thinking about things that aren't important
  4. Spend most of your time thinking about the important things in your future

How Should We Measure Success in the Church?

Most people measure successful churches by numbers in attendance, balanced budget, size of staff, or impressiveness of facilities.

What if we measured success by:

  • The number of cigarette butts in the church parking lot.
  • The number of pictures on the church wall of unwed mothers holding their newborn babies in their arms for the first time.
  • The number of former convicted felons serving in the church
  • The number of phone calls from community leaders asking the church’s advice
  • The number of meetings that take place somewhere besides the church building
  • The number of organizations using the church building
  • The number of days the pastor doesn’t spend time in the church office but in the community
  • The number of emergency finance meetings that take place to reroute money to community ministry

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Metaphors for the Church

Metaphor: Church as Corporation.

There are two types of people, employees and consumers.
There are two types of people, Christ-followers and not Christ-followers.
Which are the employees and which are the consumers?

Metaphor: Church as Sport.

There are two types of people, the team (coaches/athletes/etc.) and the spectators.
There are two types of people, regenerate and unregenerate.
Which are the team and which are the spectators?

Metaphor: Church as Cruise Ship.

There are two types of people, cruise staff and cruisers.
There are two types of people, those who have the Spirit and those who don't.
Which are the cruise staff and which are the cruisers?

Metaphor: Church as household.

There are two types of people, family and guests of family.
There are two types of people, children of God and children of the world.
Which are the family and which are the guests?

Metaphor: Church as body-builder.

There are two types of body-builders, those who work out to look at their muscles and those who work out to use their muscles.

That's All I Have To Say About That...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Storage Wars and Contentment

One of the problems with living in an older house is that the closets aren't very big. I don't know why not. It's almost as if people didn't have as much stuff sixty years ago as we do now.

When we first moved into our current house, we discovered very quickly that we wouldn't both be able to put our stuff into the closet in our bedroom. In fact, I'm pretty sure my wife didn't even put all her stuff into the closet. Fortunately, we had two closets upstairs so I got one and she got one. These days, we have some weird complicated system in which we both have several closets and keep different stuff in dressers, and have boxes in storage, and even have a pile or two. It would be a lot easier if we just had a big closet.

The same problem rears its ugly head when we try to find places to store all our stuff. We have a room in the basement that serves pretty much as a junk room. I'm pretty sure I don't have a clue of what half the things in there are. A few years ago we bought a new shed and I put it up in our back yard. We keep our bikes and sleds in it. It is also a convenient place for the lawnmower, rakes, shovels, and the snowblower. When we first bought the shed, I thought it would be a place we could put some shelves in and maybe move some stuff out of our "junk room." It's full already, and we didn't move anything.

At first I thought I shouldn't write about our organizational woes. I was concerned that maybe no one would know what I was talking about. I thought maybe we are the only family in the world who feels like we don't have enough storage space. Then I realized I was being foolish.

I think Americans are pretty much obsessed with storage. Since Muskegon isn't very big, our Barnes and Noble isn't huge. The "home" section here, though, has nearly 20 shelves of books devoted to house issues. Approximately a quarter of those books specifically deal with getting organized and utilizing better storage solutions. I would guess that the big city bookstores would have even more books about storage. If you watch TV a lot, you know that some channels are nearly devoted to home makeover shows, where the homeowners are almost always given better systems and furniture for organizing and storing their stuff. Most stores have sections devoted to storage solutions, and several specialty stores like Pier One, Crate and Barrel, and Ikea have made an industry of attractive storage.

Drive through a new housing development sometime. The houses being built these days have garages larger than my house. I don't think this reflects a change in the size of automobiles (although more people are driving SUVs and mini-vans because they are more efficient for hauling our stuff... but that's another issue). I think we're building bigger garages because contractors and architects realize that garages are more than just covered parking places. They are storage areas.

A few years ago my brother moved across the state. He had to be out of his current house before his new house was ready so he rented a small storage unit. I hadn't been in one of these before, so being a bit of a simpleton, I was fascinated. It was like he had rented his own garage. He could keep anything in there that he wanted. Day or night, he could just drive out there and get his things. And it wasn't taking up any room in his house. The whole storage unit thing seemed like a really good idea to me. I thought it was something that had a real chance to become popular. On the way home, I noticed several self-storage facilities. I realized the idea had already caught on. I just didn't know it. There was even a self-storage place around the corner from my house!

I started to keep an eye out for these "garages away from the garage". They were everywhere. I realized I couldn't drive anywhere in town without seeing one. Amazingly, they are still being built at break-neck speed. It seems there is no end to our need to store things.

I started to wonder if one of these self-storage units was the solution for my closet problems. Obviously I couldn't store my clothes at Bob's Store-N-Lock. Apparently law enforcement officers look poorly on driving without clothing. My clothes need to stay in the house. I began to think about the things I could store away from the house. My list slowly grew, but eventually I decided I couldn't justify paying out a monthly fee just because I had too many things for my house. Maybe, I thought, it would be better to just get rid of some things. Since then, I've become a regular contributor to our area thrift stores (This is another issue that should be addressed, why do we think it is okay to "charitably" give away the stuff we don't want? Are we supposed to feel good about ourselves when we do this?).

One summer I spent a week in Chicago with a group of high school students. We went to several different soup kitchens and helped make the food, set the tables, serve the meals, and clean up. During those evenings I felt alive and in touch with the mission of Jesus. I also met some incredibly fascinating people. After the men and women ate their meals, some of them were willing to stay around and talk. I listened to their stories about which church's served the best meals in their basements, and which parks the police were most likely to kick them out of, and what was the best way to keep your bag full of things from getting stolen.

They didn't talk very much about their storage problems. No one complained that their closet was too small. One guy commented that he wished the basket on his bicycle was larger. It wasn't quite big enough to hold all his stuff.

All his stuff.

He could almost fit everything he owned in a bicycle basket.

The first time I left the country, I went to Jamaica. I was in ninth grade. I remember riding in a van through Kingston and seeing real poverty for the first time. Our driver pointed to what appeared to be a dumping ground for old waste lumber. "That's one of the poorer neighborhoods in Kingston", he said. I couldn't get my mind around that on several levels. I wasn't seeing anything that even remotely resembled a house, let alone a neighborhood. Looking closer, i realized that the piles of scrap lumber I was looking at were really houses the size of refrigerator boxes. Once I understood that I was actually looking at a neighborhood, I realized that our driver had said, "one of the poorer neighborhoods." I couldn't believe that he was implying there could possibly be a poorer place than what I was looking at. "Yeh Mon!" he said when I asked. There was much poorer.

Until that moment, I really didn't know how good I had it. Now I know that Kingston, Jamaica is not even as bad as it gets. Plenty of places exist which are far poorer. One thing you'll never find in these places is a self-storage facility.

An enormous number of people in our world would look at our Bob's Store-N-Lock and wonder if they would ever be able to look inside such luxurious townhouses. We just open the door and throw in the stuff we don't want to have around.

Although writing about this makes me feel guilty, that's not my point. I don't think God expects us to feel guilty just because we have more than other people. I don't believe there is an inherent spiritual value in being poor. I think it is altogether possible (although arguably more difficult) for a rich person to be a deeply devoted follower of Christ. Jesus did not say "Blessed are the poor". He did say, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Throughout history, many Christians have chosen to take vows of poverty, to give away all they own, and even to become destitute for the sake of their relationship with Christ. While that may work for them, I have yet to reach the conclusion that every Christian is compelled to rid themselves of all wealth. i think Christ is far more concerned with how we use our wealth.

God has always been concerned with the plight of the poor.

If you spend some time reading through the writings of the Jewish prophets, you'll quickly discover that one of the main reasons God allowed the Israelites to fall to the Assyrian empire was because they were oppressing the less fortunate. Several of the prophets wrote at great length of the evil being perpetrated on the poor by the privileged. Amos wrote,

"You trample on the poor
and force him to give you grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine." (Amos 5:11)

These are some of the kinder words you'll find written on the topic. In the previous chapter, Amos calls the women of Samaria "cows" because they were crushing the needy. The prophet Micah wrote that God detested the worship of the Israelites because of the great lack of justice. Jeremiah warned the king of Judah that his palace would become ruins if he did not take action to end the oppression of the innocent. History demonstrates that the warnings of the prophets fell on deaf ears. The rich and powerful of Israel and Judah continued to accumulate stuff (I wonder if they had extra storage facilities?) at the expense of the poor and under-privileged. Finally, God intervened through the empires of Assyria and Babylon. The oppressors were killed, captured, and imprisoned and the sovereign nation of Israel disappeared from the face of the earth.

After Jesus left earth, his followers had a pretty good grasp of the purpose of wealth. Around AD 100, a guy named Justin wrote about what happened when Christians got together. He wrote:

"there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need."

In those days, the "well to do" didn't accumulate stuff and fill their storage units. They gave it to the orphans and widows and those who were in need.

God doesn't want us to be destitute. He doesn't mind if we are wealthy. He does want us to utilize our wealth rightly, though. He wants us to think about others rather than ourselves. He wants us to use our money and possessions to demonstrate love to those who are hurting and oppressed and needy. I don't think He expects me to give all my money away, I think He expects me to think about Him and others before myself.

Apparently, in Jesus day, some people were already building storage units. He told a story about a farmer who had a great harvest. He accumulated so much grain he couldn't keep it all in his current house and garage. So he began to draw up plans to build an off-site storage unit. Since Jesus lived in an agrarian society, he called these storage units "barns". Then the man died.

Jesus called him a fool. He said, "That's what happens when you fill your barn with self and not God." (Luke 12:21)

I can't look at Bob's Store-N-Lock the same anymore. It's become a constant reminder to me. I've got a lot of stuff. Am I using it for me or for others. Is it bringing pleasure to me or to God?

Monday, July 9, 2012

2 Severe Misconceptions About Church

Thinking Biblically About the Church
Two severe misconceptions which should be corrected:
 A) Pastors do the work of the church.
 B) The work of the church happens on Sunday.

Biblically, the reality should be: 
 A) Pastors equip the church to engage Christ's mission
 B) The work of the church happens in the world.