Category Archives: Unity

My Brothers. My Friends.

TGC All

These are my brothers. Pastors from all over the state with whom I meet 4 times a year for lunch, prayer, and discussion. Some have become closer friends who I spend time with in-between meetings.

I get great encouragement from these guys. We’re not from the same denomination, nor do we conduct our worship services the same way. But we are unified around the essentials of the gospel of Christ and unified by our passion to lead God’s people into a closer walk with Him.

I’m thankful for these men – for their prayers, their empathy, their understanding, and their passion. There is great hope in the state of New Mexico – a state not known for its Christian presence and influence. As long as men like these are leading our churches, God’s Word will continue to be faithfully and powerfully proclaimed here in New Mexico.

For more about these men and their churches,
visit www.tgcalbuquerque.com

“Well Intentioned Dragons” aka “Sheep That Bite” aka “Clergy Killers”

Wow. This video clip is powerful. Maybe it’s because I’m considered a part of the “clergy,” or maybe it’s because I do have a sensitive heart (really, I do!), but this moved me.  Especially the last few seconds.  I’ve felt what that pastor is feeling.  I’ve said what that pastor is saying.  I’ve been brought to tears like he is.  Please pray for your pastor.  I (we) understand that everyone has pressure and difficulty in life, but I can speak from years of observation, study, and experience that being a pastor is a hard calling.  There is an intense spiritual battle that wages in a pastor’s life and in his family that is not common to anyone else. I know of many pastors who have asked God to remove this calling from their lives.  I have before.  But He has not, and most days, I’m thankful He has not removed this calling.  But there are days…

Years ago, I was given a book by a fellow pastor called, Well Intentioned Dragons, and the book introduced me to what I would experience again and again in my pastoral ministry: “sheep that bite.”  That’s how one of my pastor friends describe people in the church who cause dissension, trouble, and pain for other church members and for their pastor.  And over the years, I’ve been bitten several times by people in the church that I know and love – people that I thought knew and loved me.  In no way am I indicting any one church that I have served.  All are filled with good and loving people.  But each one has biting sheep among them as well.  As one pastor says in this clip, “I don’t think most people have any clue that this goes on.”  Unfortunately, it does.

I was recently sent this clip from a fellow pastor.  I have not watched the full documentary, but I plan to.  And like I said, this clip moved me.  It resonated with me.  It saddened me.

Here’s the link to the web site with more information on this video.

 

Why I Hate Election Season

I wrote this 2 years ago today during the 2010 mid-term election season. I still feel the same. 

I hate election season.  I’m not anti-voting, anti-democracy, or anti-American.  I just hate the onslaught of negative media campaigns where political opponents slam, slaughter, and condemn one another.  It’s so bad that my kids have caught on.  We try to out-do one another with ridiculous and hilarious fake smear ads.   On the way to school the other day, Taylor and Alexis saw a billboard for one of the candidates for governor here in NM and began spouting off funny smear ads that made me laugh so hard I nearly wrecked the van.  Unfortunately, condemnation of one another is nothing new.  Jesus told His followers to knock it off nearly 2000 years ago.  He said…

“Judge (condemn) not, that you be not judged (condemned). 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5

Judging and condemning one another is standard operating procedure for most.  It’s an American pastime.  So, if followers of Christ are supposed to refrain from judging and condemning one another, then we need to be told how to stop.  From Jesus’ words above, I believe He gives us three very good and practical ideas on how we can stop condemning one another.

1. Recognize that to the extent we do (or don’t do) something, it will be done (or not done) to us by the Lord.

This is what I like to call the Reciprocal Principle of the Kingdom. Jesus makes it very clear in Matthew 6 that if we forgive one another, then we will be forgiven by the Lord.  If we don’t, we won’t be forgiven by Him.  In Luke 6, Jesus again shows how this principle works.  He says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”  Recognizing that we will be condemned by the Lord if we condemn others ought to give us good reason to stop.

2. Recognize that we are often guilty of that which we condemn others for.

Theologian John Stott profoundly says, “Human beings unhappily possess an inbred proclivity to mix ignorance of themselves with arrogance toward others.  We have a fatal tendency to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize the gravity of our own.  We seem to find it impossible, when comparing ourselves with others, to be strictly impartial and objective.”  Jesus may have been being a bit light-hearted when he used the log/speck analogy, but there’s nothing light about it.  How can we condemn others when our sin is often so much more heinous than the sin of the one we are condemning.  Recognizing this truth will go a long way in helping us to stop.

3. Recognize that our self-examination must result in mercy toward others.

Jesus says in Luke 6 that citizens of God’s Kingdom are to “be merciful even as your Father is merciful.”  How can we not be merciful to others when we begin to fathom the unfathomable amount of mercy that the Lord has poured out on us?  As we realize that the Lord loves and forgives us even in light of the huge log of sin we possess, then the speck of sin possessed by our brother or sister in the Lord suddenly doesn’t look so bad.  We may need to address his or her sin in order to bring about their restoration before the Lord, but it should be done in a spirit of gentleness and mercy.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”  Understanding the mercy we have received from the Lord ought to kill any inclination to condemn others for their sin.

So…enough with the condemnation.  Bring on November 3rd! (November 6th this time around.)

Am I Listening?

I recently attended a conference along with 1400 other people where Christian author and social critic, Os Guinness, spoke.  Although I was just one of many in attendance that day, it was as if he was speaking to me.  He said, “In America today, everybody’s speaking and hardly anyone is listening.  Focused attention is rarer than gold in America today.”

A few days later, I read these words from one of my Christian heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Just as the love of God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.  It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.  Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render.  They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

He who can no longer listen to His brother will soon be no longer listening to God either.  This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life.  Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother – but only for himself and for his own follies.

I’m pretty sure the Lord is asking me if I’m listening – to Him and to others.  Is He asking you the same?

Hate the Sin. Love the Sinner.

mugHate the sin.  Love the sinner. I’m really starting to hate this saying.  It’s a phrase that has been used repeatedly by Christians over the years who are trying to figure out how to deal with people who live like hell.  For the most part, the Christian world has endorsed it, but I for one, can’t endorse it any longer, and here’s why.

First of all, it makes the assumption that those who live like hell are the only people who should be labeled “sinner.”  But the last time I checked, the Scriptures say that ALL of us have sinned.  In God’s eyes, we’re all in the same boat.  All of us are sinners and all of us deserve hell.  Therefore, not only should those who live like hell be labeled “sinners,” but ALL of us should.  Christians who say, Hate the sin.  Love the sinner. come across as if they are a notch or two above the person they’re referring to when the say it, but this simply is not true.

Secondly, how does one actually hate something about a person while also showing them the kind of brotherly love the Scriptures instruct us to show to one another?  If I allow myself to hate something about someone, then it’s going to be very difficult (if not impossible) for me to show that person the kind of love that God requires of me.  We should never give ourselves license to hate anything about anyone, because if we do, that hate will eventually ruin our entire view of that person much like making cookies with dog-poop morsels instead of chocolate chips will ruin the entire cookie no matter how good the other ingredients are.

Lastly, the phrase Hate the sin.  Love the sinner. is not found in the Bible anywhere…nor is the essence of the phrase found there either.  It was originally coined by Mahatma Gandhi and printed in his 1929 autobiography, yet Christians toss it around as if it was from the lips of Jesus.  It wasn’t.

Jesus commands us to love one another; love our enemies, love those who persecute us, and forgive those who hurt us (not just once, but every single time).  Does this mean that if we know of a fellow believer who is involved in blatant, on-going sin that we should not say or do anything about it?  No.  That would be sin as well (Matthew 18:15-17).  Does this mean that we should not say or do anything about a non-believing friend or family member who is involved in blatant and on-going sin?  No.  But, no where in the Scriptures are we given license to allow hate to be a part of how we view other people.

The Scriptures tell us that the Lord hates sin and even hates those who practice wickedness and love violence (Psalm 5:5; 11:4-5).  He hates sin so much that in an incredible act of love, He sent His Son to die a brutal and devastating death to pay the penalty for those rotten people who practice wickedness (of whom you and I are included).  Therefore, we have no right to look at a fellow sinner and call him a “sinner” while not acknowledging that we are just as hard to love as he is.

I heard a comedian recently say that the phrase should be changed to Love the sinner.  Hate your own damn sin. While I think this is kind of funny and is probably a little closer to being biblically correct, I still have some problems with it.  Therefore, I propose that we just stick to the phrase that Jesus used.  Love one another. Period.  No exceptions.

Who’s In Charge of Your Church?

whos-in-charge-picWho’s in charge of your church?  Weird question, I know, but who’s really in charge?  Is it the pastor? The deacon board? The elders? The trustees? The rich old people? The church secretary?  The janitorial staff?  Who’s in charge?

You may think this question isn’t very important, but it’s actually one of the most important questions a church can ask itself.

In Ephesians 5:23, Paul says that Christ is the “head” of the church.  Most church-going folks would grunt an “Amen” to that truth, but how many churches can honestly say that it’s actually Christ who’s really in charge of their church? And, if Christ were to be in charge, what would it look like?

To get the answer to that question, it requires that we understand the meaning of the word “head” in the original Greek. The Greek word is kephale, and to say that it’s meaning has been hotly contested is an understatement.  The word appears 75 times in the NT, and most of the time it is used to mean the literal head of a person or an animal.

However, there are times where kephale is used figuratively and is translated “head” as well (1 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15, and Colossians 1:18).  In these cases, the word translated “head” is not being used literally.  It’s being used figuratively, and when it’s being used this way, kephale (head) carries with it the meaning of “chief, ruler, or authority.”

In 1985, Bible scholar and professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dr. Wayne Grudem, did a massive study on the word kephale.  He looked at 2,336 examples of its use in Greek literature – from Homer in the 8th Century BC to the church fathers in the 4th Century AD – and here’s how he summarizes his 36 page initial report and his 43 page “rebuttal to a rebuttal” in 1993:

Where the Bible says that the husband is the “head” (kephale) of the wife as Christ is the “head” (kephale) of the church (Eph. 5:23), and that the head of the woman is the man (1 Cor. 11:3), the person who is called the “head” is always the one in authority (such as the general of an army, the Roman emperor, Christ, the heads of the tribes of Israel, David as head of the nations, etc.)

So, when Paul called Christ the “head” of the church, he meant for us to understand that Christ is the chief, the ruler, and the authority over the church.  And because of this, we must allow Him to be in charge of our churches, which leads us back the question: If Christ were to be in charge of our church, what would it look like?

Allow me to suggest a couple of ways that a church would look if Christ were in charge…

1. A church with Christ in charge will take marriage very seriously and will do all that it can to build strong marriages.

John Piper says: The meaning of human marriage is based on another greater marriage designed by God in heaven before creation, namely the marriage of Christ to the church. Since this is the case, then we’d better work diligently at building up and strengthening our own marriages in order to properly represent the marriage between Christ and the church to the culture in which we live.

Pastor and author, Douglas Wilson, offers these sobering words about the connection between our marriages and the marriage between Christ and the church:

Every marriage, everywhere in the world, is a picture of Christ and the church. A husband can never stop talking about Christ and the church. If he is obedient to God, he is preaching the truth; if he does not love his wife, he is speaking apostasy and lies – but he is always talking.  If he deserts his wife, he is saying that this is the way Christ deserts His bride – a lie. If he is harsh with his wife and strikes her, he is saying that Christ is harsh with the church – another lie.  If he sleeps with another woman, he is an adulterer, and a blasphemer as well. How could Christ love someone other than His own Bride? It is astonishing how, for a few moments of pleasure, faithless men can bring themselves to slander the faithfulness of Christ in such a way.

Our marriages are meant to be pictures of the loving, faithful, nurturing, cherishing, sacrificial relationship between Christ and the church.  Therefore, a church with Christ in charge will take marriage very seriously and will do all that it can to build strong marriages.

2. A church with Christ in charge will exalt Christ in all that it does and will allow Him to have supremacy over all things.

John Calvin says:

Hence should anyone call us anywhere else than to Christ, he is empty and full of wind. Let us therefore without concern bid him farewell. The body, the church, will be in a right state if simply the head which furnishes the several members everything that they have is allowed without any hindrance to have the preeminence.

The church with Christ in charge will exalt Christ in all that it does, and its leaders will allow Him to have preeminence in all things.  In a day and age when many churches are run like businesses where decisions are made based on finances and “business sense,” and in a day and age where many churches are run like democracies where decisions are made based on the popular vote of its members, allowing Christ to be in charge is rare and radical.

Not only is it rare and radical, but its also messy.  Not being able to hide behind decisions based solely on finances or votes is scary for many church leaders.  Making decisions based upon prayer, fasting, and waiting upon the Lord can be painful and time consuming, but when Christ is in charge, church leaders use His methods for decision-making, not theirs.

3. A church with Christ in charge will submit to Christ’s headship by ordering itself according to biblical instruction.

This means that the senior pastor (and the rest of the paid staff) fully recognize that Christ is the head of the church, not them.  They serve as leaders under the authority and headship of the Lord Jesus Christ and place themselves under the watchful eyes of the other “Christ-called” elders of his church.

God has laid out a clear biblical plan for the leadership of His church through biblically qualified, called-by-Christ elders and deacons (Acts 6:1-7, 20:17-35, I Tim. 3, Titus 1).  Too many times, churches are led by warm bodies who were either elected to positions of leadership or who muscled their way to power through their strong personality, their giving record, or their availability.  In these cases, little or no consideration is given to God’s instruction and requirements for leadership in the church.  A church with Christ in charge will adhere to His instructions regarding leadership, not theirs.

So, I ask again: Who’s in charge of your church? If your answer is anyone other than “Jesus Christ,” then may God grant you the wisdom, strength, and courage to help your church make a leadership change.

Lots of Americans Changing Their Religion

Americans aren’t losing their religion; their changing their religion…a lot. I’m not sure if you caught the article about this at cnn.com on Monday, but if you didn’t, let me share some of it with you.

More than half of American adults have changed religion in their lives, a huge new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found. And there is no discernible pattern to the change, just “a free for all,” one of the lead researchers told CNN. “You’re seeing the free market at work,” said Gregory Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. “If people are dissatisfied, they will leave. And if they see something they like better, they will join it.”

Many people switch because they move to a new community, and others because they marry someone of a different faith, he said. Some don’t like their ministers or pastors; some like the pastor at another church better. And many people list more than one reason for changing, Smith said. “The reasons people change religions are as diverse as the religious landscape itself,” he told CNN by phone.

Some factors that might be expected to drive people away from religion – such as sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, or a belief that science “disproves” religion – actually play a very small role, the study suggests. “I’ve been struck by the very large number across all the different groups who say they just gradually drifted away. Not all of this is the product of carefully considered, conscious decision-making that happens at a specific point in time,” Smith said.

The number of people who have changed religion is much higher than previously thought, the new report suggests. A Pew Forum study released last year concluded that just over one in four Americans had switched. More than four in 10 American adults are no longer members of the religion they were brought up in, while about one in 10 changed religion, then went back to the one they left, the study found. Just under five in 10 – 47 percent – have never changed faith. Some have switched more than once, and a small number have changed three times or more, according to the study.

The survey supported a study released last month in that it found about 16 percent of Americans are not affiliated with any religion. The American Religious Identification Survey, from Trinity College in Connecticut, found the number to be about 15 percent. But Smith warned against labeling those people “secular.” “Upwards of one-third of newly unaffiliated people say they just haven’t found the right religion yet,” Smith said. And many people who had no religion as children later join one, he said.

“More than half the people who are raised unaffiliated are now affiliated,” he said. “More than half [of those people] say they joined their current faith in part because they felt called by God to do so. Just because a person is part of a particular group at this point in time, or a part of no religion, doesn’t mean they are going to stay that way forever,” said Smith.Most people who switch religions do so before they are 24, combined with the finding that older people as well as younger people have changed, suggests to Smith that the trend has been going on for some time, he said. “If I’m 65 and I changed religion at 24, I changed 40 years ago,” he pointed out. “It’s not a new phenomenon.”

Not sure what all of this means for the local church, but I should would like to hear what you think.