Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
If you think through two Biblical analogies describing the church, I think you can see the fallacy of believing that one can be committed to Christ without being committed to His church.
Remember that the church is called the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23). Jesus is the head and the church is His body. Now, suppose a man wanted to romance his wife and he said something like, “Honey, I want you to know that I really love your eyes, your hair, your smile, your face. I love everything about your head. But I really want nothing to do with your body…” That man would be fortunate to still have his own head after a statement like that! Why? The head and the body go together! It’s impossible to love the one and not the other! In a similar way, I think it's really offensive to Jesus if you say you love Him without a corresponding love for His body, the church.
The church is also called the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-25; Revelation 19:7; 21:2). Jesus is the Bridegroom and the church is His Bride. Suppose someone invited a man over to his home for dinner. “Please come. We’d love to have you to our home on Friday evening.” The man says, “Thanks so much. My wife and I would love to come.” The host replies, “Oh. I’m sorry. Perhaps you misunderstood. I’m only inviting you over, not your wife. I really don’t care for your wife much at all. I don’t want anything to do with her.” You can imagine that the man would be highly offended and would not accept the dinner invitation. Why? The bride and the groom go together! It’s offensive to seek to relate to one without the other!
If we love Jesus, we must love the church. Jesus and the church go together. So every believer who is seeking to honor Christ must somehow also show honor to the church. Active, committed, servanthearted, loving membership in a local church seems to me to be a reasonable way to demonstrate an active, committed, servanthearted loving relationship with Jesus.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Some believers are convinced that formal church membership is something churches promote only because of tradition and that it has no biblical basis whatever. After all, weren’t those early Christians free from all the modern entanglements that distract us? Surely they wouldn’t have had something so problematic as church membership at that early date! They didn’t even have the benefit of computerized mailing lists. Everything was so blissfully simple then!
Others in our day think to themselves, “I have a personal faith in God. I’m not a member of any church because a lot of hypocrites are there so I’m not going to join.” They live their lives blindly convinced all is well with their souls.
Still others feel like this: “As long as I’ve identified with Christ, what is the need for me to further identify with a local church? Isn’t it enough to simply call myself a Christian and attend services somewhere regularly? What’s the point of participating membership?”
Yes, there are problems with the whole idea of church membership, at least with the careless way it is so often practiced today. The typical church membership roll includes names of persons who may have left the congregation years ago and are presently attending another church or no church at all. Once a person has been baptized into a local church of a particular denomination, he generally remains a Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, etc., regardless of whether he ever attends church again.
Admittedly, the word “membership” is never used in the Bible. But the word “member” is often used. (See I Corinthians 12.) For believers, membership in a local church is implicitly assumed to be normative throughout the Scriptures.
Let’s get straight to the point. Those who say they have an intimate relationship to Jesus but do not want to have a vital relationship to a local church misunderstand the close connection between Christ and His church. Surely, it hurts Him to see so-called believers neglect, criticize, and wound His body and His bride. Every believer must love what He loved and gave His life for - the church!
Monday, February 18, 2008
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Our disobedience affects other people and makes life difficult for them. I was on the phone yesterday with a dad who has been running from God for a long time. He's put his family at great risk. And right now, his wife has had it. And he is missing watching his child grow up.
Proverbs 13:20b says it this way, "The companion of fools will suffer harm" (ESV).
If you’re in a relationship with a runner, you’re at risk. When you hook up with someone who is running from God, your heart may be pure, but you will be hurt. This is why you should never date people who are runners. This is why you should never marry people who are runners. This is why you should never go into business with people who are runners. If you’re in a relationship with a runner, you’re at risk.
Or look at this another way: If you’re a runner, the people you are with are at risk. Runners especially endanger the people who are closest to them. As a runner’s life unravels, people who are close get hurt. You don’t mean to hurt them. It just happens.
Dad, if you’re a runner, your wife and your kids will be injured by the debris from your life. Teenager, if you’re a runner, your mom and dad and brothers and sisters will pay a price. Spiritual leader, if you’re a runner, the people in your ministry will suffer. Runners hurt people, especially the people who are closest to them. You run, they lose. They lose jobs, houses, friends, reputation. All they did was be in a relationship with a runner.
Maybe your whole family or your business is in a storm right now because you are running from God.
There are some young dads who are at CVC who need to stop running. Maybe you're one of them. God is calling you to know Him and serve Him. God is saying, “Stop running. And don’t wait. Don’t wait until it's too late. Don't wait until you've been too busy making your mark in the world only to find out that success isn’t what you thought it would be. Don’t wait until after the divorce and some other man is tucking your little kids into bed at night. Don’t wait until you’re 45 or 50 and time with your kids running out.”
Friday, February 15, 2008
The heart of the problem
"The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart" (I Timothy 1:5, NASB).
My former pastor, Adrian Rogers, used to say, "The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart." "For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you" (Mark 7:21, NLT).
The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. I agree. It's true for ministry, too. The heart of the minister's problem is the problem of the minister's heart.
Let me explain.
I've been thinking through issues in I Timothy, one of the pastoral epistles. The apostle Paul is giving Timothy Spirit-inspired instruction about church leadership. In I Timothy 1:3-7 he says, "As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions."
Note that some people ("certain persons") are in the church, but have a wrong agenda. Sometimes, people in church are looking for a platform to confidently promote their wrong doctrines, myths, genealogies, speculations, and vain discussions. Paul tells Timothy to watch out for these people. Their aim is wrong. What they produce is not love, but anti-love.
In verse 5, Paul tells Timothy that "the aim of our charge" - "the goal of our instruction" - is love. In a not-so-subtle way, he's saying that the goal of these "certain persons" is not love.
This is challenging. Love defines what we want to be about at CVC. Love God. Love one another. Love the world. That's our aim. I pray for grace that we could hit this target better and better. We have a long way to go.
Note in verse 5 that this kind of love issues first from a pure heart. Yes, our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). But we have been redeemed. God takes out of us a heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. Old things pass away and new things have come.
So, even though we will never be free from sin in this life, there is a sense in which we can lead from a purified heart. If we don't come to that conclusion, then I Timothy 1:5 doesn't make any sense. On the flip side, then, there is also a sense in which we could lead in the church from an impure heart.
As leaders, therefore, we constantly must be dealing with issues in our hearts. God is always evaluating our hearts. "The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (I Samuel 16:7, ESV). Therefore, we must pray things like, "Lord, show me the impurity of my heart. See if there be any wicked way in me. And cleanse me on the basis of the precious blood of Jesus. Help me lead Your people more and more from a pure heart because I want love for You, for others, and for the world to be what my life and ministry are all about." If we ever come to the place where we think that our hearts are pristine and that we never need to pray "Search me, O God" then we are in trouble and, even, dangerous.
We all have wounded hearts. And on this side of heaven, none of us can fully understand the depravity that exists in our hearts. But some of us are more wounded than others. And some of us are more unwilling than others to look deep into the heart to explore our woundedness.
So, to use Paul's term from I Timothy 1, "certain persons" don't have as their aim love from a pure heart. Perhaps they don't even partially understand the woundedness in their own hearts and, therefore, they haven't dealt with some of the pain that's there. Perhaps it's simply too painful for them to look at their heart because of the severe damage that took place in the past. Perhaps they are seeking to minister from a heart that's deeply wounded. Perhaps there is a void in the heart, a hurt in the heart, a dark place in the heart that has unintentionally and unknowingly become the driving force in their quest to be successful in ministry.
If at the depth of my heart, I'm insecure and asking a question, "Am I loved?" then I will be seeking to validate my worth and value through my ministry. I may read my Bible and pray, but it's not truly to get to know God. Instead, I read my Bible and pray in order to somehow appease an angry God in an effort to manipulate Him to accomplish my agenda so I can validate my existence. I develop vision, goals, plans, strategies, and tactics to get things done. But at the end of the day, the people around me do not feel loved, but used. Why? They have become tools that I used to accomplish something in my attempt to validate my existence. In violation of I Timothy 1:5, the ultimate end of my ministry will not have been love. If my heart is not pure, then my ministry will be more and more about me and less and less about God.
But if at the depth of my heart I'm secure and making a confident assertion, "I am loved!" then I am free to build the kingdom of God without a personal agenda. I read my Bible and pray to get to know God. I feel His pleasure and I am set free to listen to His voice and seek His agenda for my life because I have an abiding sense that He has already validated my existence through Christ. I develop vision, goals, plans, strategies, and tactics to get things done. At the end of the day, the people around me do not feel used, but loved. Why? They have become partners that I serve so we can together accomplish something for the glory of God. In fulfillment of I Timothy 1:5, the ultimate end of my ministry will have been love. If my heart is pure, then my ministry will be less and less about me and more and more about God.
This is why it is vital to spend regular unhurried time with God day after day after day. It's in that time with God that we experience the brokenness, repentance, confession, cleansing, affirmation, encouragement, and blessing needed to keep the heart as pure as possible this side of heaven.
So, Christian leader, guard your heart! "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life" (Proverbs 4:23, NASB). We must be vigilant about the heart of the problem in ministry... our own hearts. "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (I Timothy 4:16, ESV).
Sunday, February 10, 2008
One day, when I was playing a baseball game in Nashville, I made it to first base somehow. And the pitcher tried to pick me off. I dove back into the bag. I was safe. But when I got up, my shoulder was hanging down several inches lower than normal. And I was hurt. I don’t know how many times I had gone back to the bag in that very same way. And nothing bad had ever happened. Baseball players dive into the bag that way all the time.
I saw that God was at work through that injury. He was pursuing me. God was saying, “Stop running. Get rid of your idol. Get on mission with Me. Make My agenda your agenda.”
I hate to think what might have happened to me if God hadn’t dislocated my shoulder – if I hadn’t stopped running – if I hadn’t given up my idol. Maybe I would have married some neurotic woman and wasted the last 30 years of my life.