Friday, December 31, 2010

Ready for a Comeback

Last night I was watching the Tarheels "comeback" on the Volunteers in the closing seconds while beginning a journey through Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson's book, Comeback Churches. I thought it was unique that they began with chapter 0 instead of chapter 1.

Chapter 0 was about "foundations". I found the chapter very helpful. It fits well alongside other resources available to pastors and churches such as "healthy church" initiatives like in my home state of NC and the most recent book Transformational Church (which is an excellent book as well). Chapter 0 was simply laid out in a format for anyone to understand.

The chapter is broken down into three primary categories: churches should be biblical, churches should be missional, and churches should be spiritual. Under each category, the authors briefly describe what that means in a meaningful and helpful way that is not overwhelming nor is it done in a way that "ties" their descriptions to any one particular context of church. They can be used over all contexts. Incidently, that is what I am finding most helpful about the "models" employed through our state conventions "healthy church" initiative and Transformational Church as well. The coach-approach in asking questions in the chapter is helpful as well. It helps the reader think through the concepts and statements without being told the answers for the reader in his/her context.

In many of the churches in the United States, it's time for a "comeback". Regardless of the reason, many have fallen behind in impacting their communities. Depending upon the stats that you read, the majority (anywhere from 75-85%) of churches are plateaued and declining--in membership and more importantly in the impact they are having on their communities. It is clear from the beginning of this book that becoming a "comeback church" is a journey, it's a process of beginning with one step, making a turn toward significance, gaining momentum, making progress in significant areas of church life (vision, structure, strategy, or values--thanks NC Baptist), often making some difficult decisions along the way, maybe re-inventing ourselves for a new day according to how the community has changed around us, honestly evaluating where we are, having a "cathartic" moment (just learned what that word meant a few months ago), and believing that God is in the "comeback" business with his people as we respond to His call to be the church he is calling us to be repentance, faith, trust and obedience to His Word, particularly the Great Commission (cf. Revelation 2-3). All of this must be grounded in God's Word and a "prayerful dependence" (from Transformational Church) upon the Holy Spirit of God knowing that apart from His work in our lives, personally and corporately, we will not survive nor thrive. We must come to a point where we are broken in our spirits over the condition of our churches refusing to play the games we have played for so long.

Yeah, my Heels made a comeback last night. Some things fell into their favor near the end of regulation and their were some mistakes made by the other team. It happened so fast, it was pretty hard to believe. Life is a vapor. My time on earth is short. The opportunity to shepherd God's people toward becoming the church He desires for them to be, not according to "my" vision, but according to scripture is now. Sure, God isn't in a hurry, but he has called me to fulfill the responsibilities that he has given me by his grace and through his Spirit while it's still called today to shepherd his people along the journey to become what one writer calls a "church of irresistible influence" in our community for the sake of the kingdom of God and fame of the name of Jesus. We don't have time to play games--this isn't a temporary bowl game, there's no Gatorade coming down on our heads. There's so much more at stake.

Are you ready for a comeback?

An Ugly Picture

In Romans 3:9-20, Paul provides us with a most grotesque picture of our un-holiness apart from grace. These verses parallel those found in Ephesians 2:1-3. Both places are succinct descriptions of the extent of the fall of mankind into sin (cf. Genesis 3). Ever since the fall, mankind has been running away from God with a rebellious and stubborn heart and truly does not "want" anything to do with the one true God. We seek substitutes to fill the void and try to find alternative gods of our own making, ones that we can control and manipulate (cf. Romans 1).

It is a great joy to know that Romans 3 does not end in v. 20 and Ephesians 2 does not end with v. 3. God's work of regeneration in the heart of a person by the Holy Spirit is truly nothing short of a miracle. God takes a spiritually cold & dead heart and awakens it by grace to His great love and mercy. He imparts spiritual life into the spiritually dead. What mercy and what grace!

Rejoice this morning that God, by his marvelous grace, can take this ugly picture and turn it into a masterpiece with the "touch of the master's hand".

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Desires and Actions

Just read this from William Barclay: "Before a man can arrive at a deed there must be a  certain driving emotion in his heart. He may restrain himself from the things that the desire for pleasure incites him to do; but so long as that desire is in his heart he is not safe. It may at any time explode into ruinous action"

God, save me from myself.


Thought this was an excellent quote about "devotional" books:

"Devotional guides tend to offer short, personal readings from the Bible, sometimes only a verse or two, followed by several paragraphs of edifying exposition. Doubtless they provide personal help for believers with private needs, fears, and hopes. But they do not provide the framework of what the Bible says—the “plotline” or “story line”—the big picture that makes sense of all the little bits of the Bible. Wrongly used, such devotional guides may ultimately engender the profoundly wrong-headed view that God exists to sort out my problems; they may foster profoundly mistaken interpretations of some Scriptures, simply because the handful of passages they treat are no longer placed within the framework of the big picture, which is gradually fading from view. Only systematic and repeated reading of the whole Bible can meet these challenges." DA Carson

Something from the blogosphere this morning

Practicing Hospitality (what a great way to minister & build relationships with people)

Books from and about Church History (looking for a good book to read, pick one from this list)

Dropbox application (interesting way to share documents)

Holy, Holy, Holy (great reminder of the holiness of God in poem form)

A Bible Reading plan on steroids (check it out, you might like it)

Resolutions from a Worship Perspective (good thoughts here)

Where there is no encounter (excellent post about "community" and what it means for churches)

I pray that you will enjoy these.

Some reflections from my reading this morning

Romans 2:24 - "for as it is written, 'the name of God is blasphemed (spoken against) among the gentiles because of you"

Are people trampling the name of Christ because they see a disconnect in our lives between the Jesus we "profess" and the lifestyle we live? Our lifestyle (that is, of holiness--conformity to the will and character of God) is not our only witness, but it gives credibility to our verbal witness and proclamation of the gospel.

Romans 2:28-29 - "for no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God"

Neither being of natural, physical descent of a Christian nor the external participation in religious rituals makes one a Christian, but a heart whose trust is solely in the person and work of Jesus Christ upon the cross in our place and for our sins. Externals of religious activity are not the incontrovertible evidence of true faith or right standing before a holy God, but the condition and direction of one's heart through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Exchange We Don't Want to Make

Romans 1:25 - "because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature than the creator, who is blessed forever! Amen."

It's disturbing when so many evil things are going on around us, but then we take a deep look inside ourselves only to discover that the greater evil is in our own heart (Genesis 6:1-8). The idolatry spoken of by Paul in Romans 1 is deadly, damaging, and destructive. And, we are all prone to stumbles into this idolatry, including Christians. We all have the potential to "serve created things rather than the creator". This can happen within the church as well. We have the potential to serve our traditions, our man-made systems & structures, our own methodologies, our programs, as if they are "ends" in themselves. Now, is it wrong to have traditions, or structures or systems or methodologies or programs? No, as long as they are "servants" to the mission of the church and do not become masters. Instead of these "things" being "tools" & "servants", they can become the masters. And, as I am learning, they make terrible masters. They distract us from that which is most important to our lives as Christians and as churches. These things become what we focus on even if they no longer function in a way that serves the mission of the church, and therefore, the mission takes back seat. They also become the triggers for quarrels and backbiting and power struggles (James 4:1-2) within the church, which fuels broken relationships and unnecessary conflict.

How can we detect that these things might becoming masters instead of servants? Think about what would happen if we try to change one of them in the least little bit. Our idol becomes threatened and we get defensive, we try to hold on to our idol for security and stability and significance and meaning. All of those things we are supposed to find in Jesus, and in Him alone, aren't we?

Certainly, we can all agree that this kind of mentality is not "healthy" for the church, her mission, nor God's kingdom. And, unfortunately, the change that is necessary is not external, but internal. We may change the "way" we do things, but if the heart does not change, the "new way of doing things" will eventually become a "new master" one day--a vicious cycle that only has one cure--the gospel--a consistent exposing of ourselves to the gospel of God's sufficient grace demonstrated most completely and fully in the person and work of Jesus, a consistent calling back for us to be gospel-centered and cross-centered in everything we do and every decision we make.

I read this quote this morning from James Montgomery Boice: "Our hope, then, is Jesus, the Son of God. His death was for those who deserve God's wrath. And his death was fully adequate, because Jesus not need die for his own sins--he was sinless--and because, being God, his act was of infinite magnitude"

We all have the potential and propensity toward this kind of idolatry, including pastors, maybe even especially pastors. For us pastors, it probably takes a different form, but nonetheless, it is "crouching at the door". It is crouching at the door of many churches today. And, unfortunately, it has already pounced on some churches and they are being strangled to death by its grip.

For the sake of His mission and our assignment...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Set Ablaze

Read this from Oswald Chambers this morning:

"From that point we either go toward a more and more slow, lazy, and useless Christian life, or we become more and more on fire, giving our utmost for His highest— our best for His glory."

The above is from the updated language one. I prefer, in this case, the other version in the last part of the sentence: "or we become more and more ablaze for the glory of God".

As we approach the end of 2010, in which direction is our Christian life heading? Are we becoming a useless branch (cf. John 15:1-8) or are our hearts becoming "more ablaze" for the glory of God?

Not sure? That's why there is grace; "grace, grace, God's grace; grace that is greater than all my sin." Not only forgiving grace, but enabling and empowering grace.

Father, set my heart ablaze for your glory today.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Just read this quote by Leonard Ravenhill about prayer:

"Poverty-stricken as the church is today in many things she is the most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few prayers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere."


Thursday, December 23, 2010


For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
(Gal 5:13-15)

It is always interesting to hear people talk about things in the church. It seems to me that it is very easy to determine the mentality of a church by the language that is used to talk about what has gone on in the church and what is going on in the church. What is that language? It has to do with two very small words, pronouns to be exact (NOOOO, not parts of speech. Yes!). 

What are they? "We" and "they".

When we become part of the body of Christ expressed in the visible participation in a local church, there is no more "they". From now on, it is "we". Even if a person serves on a different committee from someone else, it is still "we". The use of language containing "we" and "they" instead of "we" exclusively reflects a mentality of competition instead of family. It reflects a competition of ideas and opinions and "ways of doing things" that, if not kept in check, eventually begins to resemble a democratic bureaucracy rather than a New Testament church that reflects the "body of Christ" or the "family of God". It also can reflect a refusal to take responsibility for action or non-action on a particular matter, whatever that matter may be. 

Unfortunately, one of the places this shows its ugly head is between "pastors" & "churches". Pastors are notorious for saying "we" when things go well (usually the way the pastor wants them to go) and "they" when things don't go so well. It's pretty sad because I thought "we" were in the same business, the Kingdom of God, right? Sure, we (pastors) may give the reason for our use of that language as "I'm just an outsider", but in reality maybe it's probably more about "us" (pastors) vs. "them" (congregation) because we all know how churches can be, right (sarcasm)? Maybe it's just the "power struggle" mentality that already exists in pastors & churches? Again, how sad the games we play as God's people--congregations and pastors alike. Maybe it has something to do with our view and practice of church, but that's a discussion for another day. Maybe it has something to do with the reality of sin in our hearts. Maybe...

However, it shows itself in the members of a local church as well. it may even exist before a new pastor comes to serve. Herein is the issue of competition again. Instead being "in this together", it becomes more about control and power and keeping guard. Splintered relationships are produced. On the surface, a family atmosphere might be present, but the deep, abiding relationships aren't there. In this environment of competition within the church, distrust, disloyalty, judging of motives, envy, jealousy, selfish ambition, cynicism, manipulation, and deception are bred and a vicious cycle of sin is begun. It festers and festers until this "way of doing church" becomes the norm and nobody seems to know another way because it becomes so en-grained in the culture of the church, it's hard to recognize that there's a better way (cf. 1 Corinthians 13).

The answer--the gospel. Confession and repentance are the cure--personally and corporately. Reconciliation is the result. Focus and clarification on the Great Commission is the goal. "We" are in "this" together. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Simplicity of New Testament Church

I read this post just yesterday. It reflects many of my sentiments concerning the complexities of "church life" today that have "institutionalized" the church to the point that we have become "paralyzed", and even worse--more concerned about the "institutionalized" part than the mission we've been given.

Here it is...even if you disagree with any or all of his points, ponder them and ask, "how much more could we do for the kingdom if we were much simpler in our churches with regard to, well, everything?"

This morning, Dave Black (Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 7:38 a.m.) shared a comparison/contrast of today’s church with the church that we see in the Book of Acts.

He says:
Much of what we call “church” today originated, not in the New Testament, but in post-apostolic times.
  • The Lord’s Supper has changed from a celebration to a ceremony.
  • Worship has changed from participation to observation.
  • Witness has changed from relationship to salesmanship.
  • Leadership has changed from servanthood to professionalism.
  • Mission has changed from being missionaries to supporting missionaries.
  • Body life has changed from edification to entertainment.
  • Buildings have changed from functional to sacred.
  • Child care has changed from the hands of parents to the hands of strangers.
The book of Acts shows us that the need great of modern Christianity is to return to biblical faithfulness and the profound simplicity of the New Testament.


Matthew 12:33-35 "...for a tree is known by its fruit..."

If the "fruit" coming from the tree of my life is not matching up with the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16-26), what does that mean?

At least two conclusions:

One, either I'm not a Christian. Sure, even a non-Christian can have a "flash" of "common grace", but nothing sustainable can ever be produced by "human effort and willpower" alone, at least not in any true spiritual sense.


Two, I'm a Christian who is temporarily and miserably (note the word "temporarily") not walking in the Spirit. We all stumble (slip up) at times when we are off our guard (James 3:2).

A very convicting question for me from my devotions this morning: "If you have children, what would they say?"

Am I walking in the Spirit? Am I being led by the Spirit? Am I being influenced by the Spirit? Am I yielding to the Spirit? Am I obeying Jesus?

What kind of "fruit" is being produced?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Revelation 3:21

Revelation 3:21 - the one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne

What an awesome promise in the midst of one of the most devastating letters to a church. The love of Jesus for his church was being demonstrated through "reproof and discipline". Jesus was trying to get into "his" church and the people of Laodicea didn't even know He had left. He was standing outside the door and knocking to get in. Jesus desired fellowship and relationship with his people, but they had grown cold to his affection and his presence. They had begun to trust themselves, their ingenuity, their appearance...instead of the Holy Spirit and his infinite supply of resources.

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"

Are we listening?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Power of the Gospel

From Oswald Chambers this morning:

"The gospel of God creates a sense of need for the gospel"

"It is God who creates the need of which no human being is conscious until God manifests Himself"

"Nothing can satisfy the need but that which created the need. This is meaning of redemption--it creates and it satisfies."

We don't even know we need the gospel until God creates that need in us. Then, with great love and grace, he supplies for the need that He himself created in us. "Salvation belongs to our God..."

Were it not for the grace of God to create my sense of need, I would never know the one who could meet my need.

"Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let your goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart Lord, 
Take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above"

Strengthened and weakened churches

I read the following in my bible study this morning:

"What makes a strong family? When siblings recognize clearly their commonalities in having the same heritage, and also honor their distinctive differences as individuals. What makes a strong church? When believers acknowledge their common faith, and enter into a giving and receiving relationship with others, when it comes to the function fo their life empowered by the Holy Spirit. What weakens a family? When siblings regard one another as rivals, never fully believing that the parents love each child equally. What weakens a church? When members begin to compete against one another, striving to gain more spiritual power or influence." (Blackaby)

The games of jockeying for position of influence and power and control within "institutionalized" churches played by many members are a detriment to the body of Christ. It reflects a "selfish ambition" and an "ownership" mentality that the Apostle Paul would condemn (cf. Philippians 2:1-11). This kind of mentality disrupts the unity of the church and distracts the church from her primary purpose to "make disciples". Oftentimes, these attitudes are couched in language that seem to express "love" for the church or done in the name of "good leadership", but in reality this language is deceptive and manipulative so as to keep hold of one's "sway" & "control" over the members of the church for selfish gain.

What's the cure? Humility and repentance, from pastors who think they own the church they serve with a bull in a china shop mentality and from members who think "membership" or "family lineage" means "ownership".

What is the Spirit saying to the churches? (cf. Revelation 1-3)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reflections from Malachi 3

"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
(Mal 3:1-4)

What does the Lord need to "refine" in our lives that we might be a "pleasing" offering in his sight? What does the Lord need to "refine" in our churches that we might be a "pleasing" offering in his sight? (i.e., Ephesians 5:26-27)

In order for the "dross" and the "impurities" to be eliminated from our lives, the fire must be at right temperature. We must trust the one who sits as the refiner who makes sure the temperature is just right. Sometimes the process is painful, but it is necessary for us to be "recreated" in the image of Jesus. At times it involves the judgment of God, the conviction of the Holy Spirit over our sin, and the response of confession & repentance from us. The process involves moving deeper into the gospel. This applies not only to individuals, but also to local churches (i.e., Acts 5:1-11). We are God's people through whom God desires to work and reach the nations.

Remember the words of Job 23:10 - "but he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold"

Then, Malachi 3:16-18 - Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. "They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. 

Where am I in this process of refining? Where is my church? What is the Spirit saying to the churches?


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reflections from Malachi 1

"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, 'How have we despised your name?' By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, 'How have we polluted you?' By saying that the LORD's table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.
(Mal 1:6-8)

Though we do not offer blood sacrifices any more because is the "once for all" sacrifice for our sins, we are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices according to Romans 12:1-2. Everything we do, say, and think is an act or expression of worship to God. Therefore, in the same way that the "sacrifices" in the OT were expressions of worship and the offering of blemished or less than the best of one's flock to God was condemned by God, how can we think that God is pleased today when we "offer ourselves" in expressions of worship in such a way that does not reflect the greatness and worth of Jesus Christ?

Because of the worth and value and supremacy of Jesus, He deserves our very best. He deserves that we strive for excellence in everything we do as Christians and everything we do as a church. Does that mean perfection? No, because we are fallible humans, but that is not an excuse for us not to give our very best to the one died in our place and for our sins as an offering of worship to His great name. It is not an excuse to fulfill our calling in life with a half-hearted commitment. It is not an excuse for us to "do ministry" with an "oh, well" attitude.

Though giving our best effort in following Jesus does not earn the favor of God, the intensity of our effort and the motivation for our effort certainly does reflect what we think of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.

Is Jesus not worthy of our best as a response of worship to His sacrifice for us?