Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Higher, deeper, broader

I have a friend who asked me about any impressions I may have been getting from God about him.

Here's what I wrote to him. Maybe this will challenge you, too.

***

My impression is this: higher, deeper, broader.

God wants you to set the bar for your holiness and usefulness higher. God wants your loving devotion to Him to be deeper. God wants your effective outreach for Him to be broader.

God likely wants you to be even more fruitful.

And don't forget, you really do have a lot to offer a local church - the flock for which Jesus shed His blood.

Blessings to you, bro!

Tough love for difficult people

A friend wrote to me on Sunday to thank me for the sermon from Titus 1:10-16 and Titus 3:9-11. My friend has been dealing with someone who tends to be divisive and seems to thrive on chaos and drama.

Sometimes, when we are attacked it is best to learn to love from a distance. This can be very hard because it's easy for us to think that it's not loving to no longer desire the relationship and to keep a distance. We have to work hard at getting over a desire to been seen as a nice person and say what needs to be said for the good of all.

Somehow we have wrongfully learned the idea (perpetuated by many church leaders) that real Christians would never say "I no longer desire a relationship with you."

But sometimes the loving thing to do is to “avoid" hurtful people. (See Titus 3:10-11.) As I said in the past weekend's message, no one taught me about this. We just don't learn this in Sunday School either.

God always rewards obedience. As we seek to obey Him and His word in this admittedly counterintuitive way, He will reward us with the joy or obedience. But remember, His rewards often do not look like ours.

Paul, who wrote perhaps the most amazing passage about love in the Bible in I Corinthians 13:4-7a, also had some pretty harsh words about three guys in the Bible.

Check these verses out:

Some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
I Timothy 1:19-20 (ESV)

Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.
II Timothy 2:16-18 (ESV)

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.
II Timothy 4:14-15 (ESV)


How would you like to get into the Bible by being a bad guy who is called out by the Apostle Paul? He warned Timothy in personal letters about these bad guys. Then God saw to it that the personal letters became part of the NT canon. So, for all time, we have example of this kind of tough love we usually don’t talk about at church.

May God continue to help us grow through this kind of pain that comes with tough love. People won't like us. But when we suffer for obeying Him, we grow to “fill up” that which remains in the suffering of Christ. This is a great mystery. But Colossians 1:24, 28-29 says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church… Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” The ESV Study Bible says, “What was ‘lacking’ in Christ's afflictions was the future suffering of all who (like Paul) will experience great affliction for the sake of the gospel.” It’s an amazing thought that this could be true for us as we deal with the suffering associated with "tough love."

Blessings to you!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When coaches call it quits

In light of some conversations about the message on Titus 1:10-16 and Titus 3:9-11 on Sunday, I though I'd repost an older post that sheds some more light on when and how and why to avoid a bad guy in the church.

***

Mark Price was the best free throw shooter in the history of the NBA. All the people who coached him did amazing work. And he was teachable. Look at all the guys in the NBA who shoot less than 70% from the free throw line and it's obvious that not everyone in the NBA is as coachable as Mark Price. Question: Should a coach ever call it quits when it comes to an unteachable player?

Today, a friend from Florida wrote to me about some conflict he's experiencing. He's basically wondering, "Is it ever OK to not answer concerns from people that flow from jealousy and past hurts?"

His question echoes one I've been wrestling with: When should you engage in discussion with someone and when do you withdraw? One night, I spent 2 hours just reading Proverbs 10-31 with that question in mind.

Proverbs indicates that we should refuse to argue with an unteachable person. "If a wise man has an argument with a fool (ewil), the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet" (Proverbs 29:9). Ewil is a word characterizing a long-standing fool – a nagging, whining, “my way or no way” person, a person who is crusty and unbendable. (From “Fool-proofing your Life, by Jan Silvious, p. 32)

Proverbs also teaches us to take into account past efforts to confront. "A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool (kesil)" (Proverbs 17:10). Kesil describes someone with a closed mind. This kind of individual is stubborn and rejects information and feedback from others. (From “Fool-proofing your Life, by Jan Silvious, p. 30)

Proverbs also tells us that there are times to leave the presence of a difficult person. "Leave the presence of a fool (kesil), for there you do not meet words of knowledge" (Proverbs 14:7).

Imagine that you are a coach. A coach can only work with teachable people. If you are a basketball coach and you have a player on your team who struggles with free throw shooting, you’d likely encourage him to point the shooting elbow toward the target. If, over an extended period of time, he insists on aiming the elbow out and away from the target, then at some point, you just have to say, “Well, this guy doesn’t really want to hear from me. I’m for him. I hope the percentage of his free throw shots made increases. But I’m done trying to coach him. Maybe I can coach others, but not him. I’m done.” Then, you move on to work with a teachable player. If things are divisive enough, if he’s undermining your authority, you may have to become comfortable with the fact that he’s not a good fit for your team.

It's easy to see this in the world of sports. It's tougher to see this in ministry. After all, we are supposed to live in unity, right? But sometimes, it's not possible. Romans 12:18 says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."

Like everyone, I have found myself in challenging relationships with people. I've tried lots of strategies to deal with the challenges over a lengthy period of time. I’ve laughed with them. I’ve cried with them. I’ve admonished them. I’ve encouraged them. I’ve begged them. I’ve tried subtle tactics with them. I’ve been straightforward with them. I've tried my best to work things out with them.

But sometimes people just don’t agree with me. They simply aren’t responding well to me. In my mind, they just don’t get it. And I’m sure that in their mind, I just don’t get it. They want to play the game their way. A basketball coach might say, "They don’t want to use my system."

I have found that sometimes people are truly unwilling to hear from us. In those cases, the verses above that I've sited from Proverbs teach that we may not be responsible to keep trying to build a bridge into that person’s life. They are free to go their way. And we are free to work with players who want to be a part of our team’s system.

In those cases, we can support them and pray for them and wish them well. We can forgive them for past hurts. We can ask for forgiveness about any hurts that we may have caused. But having further discussions about ministry is likely unnecessary, fruitless, and, perhaps even harmful.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A missionary cleverly disguised as a neighbor

In light of the passage for the message on Sunday, Titus 3:10-11, a believer at CVC asked a question about how to relate to a neighbor who is not a Christian and who might be a negative influence on the believer's kids. The question: "I know in your talk tonight you said we should silence, rebuke, and then avoid when it comes to fellow believers, but these are non-believers who are so driven by money and control, that I am so at the point of avoiding them. Is this wrong of me? Right now I am focused on the influence they are having on my children more than anything else."

Below is my answer. Maybe it will shed some light for you on a situation you might be facing or might one day face.

***

I would say that it's not a good thing to expect lost people to act saved.

Remember that the passages from Titus were is about dealing with sin in the church.

[Your neighbor is] lost, so why wouldn't [he] live a lost lifestyle and make many bad decisions? [The] decisions won't work out well in the long run. We know that.

Who will be there for [him] when [he] finally sees the bankruptcy of [his] self-guided ways? I hope you (and some other Christ-followers) will be.

Remember, your goal is to win [him] to Jesus. And He will clean up [the] lifestyle. It sounds like you've been seeking to win [him] to Jesus already. Thanks for sowing seeds. Keep watering them. Remember, evangelism takes time.

And as you know, you can't win [anyone] without a relationship. How can [he] see your light shine if [he] never gets to know you - if you pull away?

Remember that you are a missionary cleverly disguised as a [neighbor].

Sounds like [the person is] not always likeable or maybe even safe. But don't pull all the way back.

Now, the difficult part is the influence on your kids. So, this is where wisdom is needed. How can you win [him] without letting her negatively impact the kids? I think you need to think through healthy and holy boundaries.

But remember that you are following Jesus - the One about whom it was said, "He is a friend of sinners."

Seek to see your kids as as "missionary kids." They might be able to understand more about this kind of thing than you think. You can say, "We don't live like they do. Jesus doesn't want us to live that way because it takes away from His glory and it takes away from our joy. They don't know Jesus so we don't expect them to live like Jesus. But we have a responsibility to seek to win this family to Jesus. We are missionaries in our neighborhood. We are not going to allow them to have a bad influence on us. But we aren't going to run away either. We are still going to pray for them and figure out ways to relate to them that is appropriate."

Nate Green grew up in Venezuela as a true missionary kid. And he understood that his dad was on mission to win the Venezuelans. In the same way, wouldn't it be cool if your kids saw God use you that way in your neighborhood?

(By the way, always try to explain to your kids why God says "yes" to some things and "no" to others. Just saying, "The Bible says so" isn't enough. WHY does the Bible say "yes" to some things and "no" to others? Try to explain that to the kids. It will force you to be a practical theologian. And that's a good thing.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Preserving the gospel

Recently, our son, Alan, had opportunity to preach from Galatians 2:1-17 at our young adult service, sevenoseven.

Maryanne and I were proud as mom and dad. Ryan and Even were proud as brothers.

Alan talked about the importance of preserving the gospel. He said, “In 2008 The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted telephone interviews with a nationwide sample of 2,905 Christian adults. What they found was that 52% of the Christians they interviewed think that at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life. That’s like over half this room believing that!"

He went on to say, "I don’t know where everyone in here stands, but I just want to say that this is a very unchristian view. It’s sad and it’s dangerous. I truly believe that our generation is one of the most accepting, loving generations in history."

Alan expressed a concern, "But with this strength also comes a corresponding weakness. Often we don’t want to offend people we care about. In our culture it’s easy to adopt a relativistic attitude so that each tradition and belief is treated equally as if everyone has saving access to God. It seems that the chief virtue in our society is never having to say 'You’re wrong' and simply letting others have his or her own opinions. That seems to be the way many of us today (even in our churches) think about matters of faith. We often find it hard to settle on anything. Our generation seems OK with questions but answers make us uncomfortable."

Alan said, "Now obviously we aren’t going to have all our questions answered in this life. There are many things I can’t even begin to understand, but here we are talking about the gospel. The good news that Jesus paid it all! He paid for our sins with His death and then rose again. No other faith has a Redeemer. No other faith offers a Savior who can bear our sins. But our Savior has flung the doors to heaven wide open for all who will turn from sin and trust in Him alone. If we are to call ourselves Christians or followers of Christ, of that fact we must be sure. Our LORD himself says, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' This is the Gospel, this is real freedom, and this is what Paul was defending."

Alan continued, "So how can we preserve the gospel? I believe that we can preserve the Gospel today by lovingly holding fast to our precious Christian heritage that says Jesus and Jesus alone saves sinners. We can raise our hands and speak out in our classrooms. We can speak the truth in love to our family and friends when they attempt to place Jesus on the level of mere prophet, and good teacher. And we can live lives of love and service and demonstrate that the Spirit of the risen Savior lives in us. Let’s preserve the Gospel together."

I couldn't agree with him more. Check out a video of Alan's message on the sevenoseven website here.

This weekend, he's preaching at one of our church plants, Church of the Hills. It's an honor to have a son who's helping to preserve the gospel in NE Ohio.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Give blood - a small thing that can make a big difference

In case you didn't know, this year’s Red Cross Blood Drive where CVC partners with the Red Cross and WCRF is approaching quickly.

I am encouraged that we are participating again this year. I signed up to give blood at 7:00 AM. What a nice way to start the day!

This is one of our outreach efforts. Our hope is that the drive will bring many who may not go to church through CVC’s doors, while helping out in a life-saving capacity with blood donations.

I ask you to consider making an appointment to give blood at this year’s drive on Tuesday, August 4. If you sign up early and tell someone about it, then it could prove very motivational for others who might see that you made an appointment. It’s a way for you to lead by example – to encourage our people to do a good deed by giving blood.

If you’re physically able and willing to give blood, let me encourage you do make an on-line appointment in the foyer this coming weekend. You may do so by calling 1-800-GIVELIFE (1-800-448-3543) or by going online to www.givelife.org (enter sponsor code: CuyahogaValleyChurch – new users will need to create a profile before scheduling an appointment). Note: Appointments are especially light between the hours of 11:00am – 3:45pm making it an ideal time frame to make an appointment.

If you have any questions, you can contact either:
- Karen Linhart, Coordinator (khlinhart@gmail.com)
- Gina Rutti, CVC Point person (grutti@cvconline.org)

Thanks for considering this!

This is one way to do the good works that we have learned about as we have been studying the book of Titus. What’s an essential ingredient for leadership in a local church? (See Titus 2:7.) Why did Jesus give Himself to redeem us and to purify us? (See Titus 2:14.) What is a mark of good citizenship? (See Titus 3:1.) What is an evidence of having true saving faith? (See Titus 3:8.) What’s something people should learn by being involved in a local church? (See Titus 3:14.) The answer to all these questions? Good works!

Giving blood is one of those good works – a small thing that can make a big difference.

Women in ministry (4)

Back in 1998, some people at CVC expressed concerns because some women were providing some of the leadership in our public worship services by doing such things as leading worship music, giving testimonies, praying, reading scripture, and making announcements. Some people at the time felt that only men should lead our public services in those ways. The Elders of CVC were asked then what the Bible says about the role of women in public worship services.

This past weekend, we looked at what Titus 1:5-9 had to say about eldership. On Saturday night, we received two questions about the role of women in leadership in the church.

What will follow over the next few days are the results of a Bible study that the Elders of CVC conducted back in 1998. It's called "A Biblical Position Paper on the Ministry of Women in the Public Services of CVC".

For the entire series of posts look here, here, and here.

***

In conclusion, we should affirm the participation of women in prayer and prophecy in the public services of the church. Their contribution should not be slighted or ignored. Nevertheless, women should participate in these activities with hearts that are submissive to male leadership, and they should dress so that they retain their femininity.

Men sometimes have gone father than Scripture and suppressed the valuable ministry contributions of women. There are innumerable ministries with which a woman can become involved in order to further God's kingdom on earth. The ministries women do become involved in, however. should be complementary and supportive of the male leadership in the church.

Such a supportive ministry does not rule out every public ministry of women when men are present. Many borderline cases depend on the demeanor and attitude of women. There are inevitably some gray areas in applying any basic principle of Scripture. We will work hard so that these gray areas do not destroy the fellowship and unity at CVC.

Although it is clear that Biblical writers consistently ascribe ultimate responsibility to men for the leadership of the church, there are also some ways in which women can instruct both men and women if the function of authoritative teaching to men is not involved.

It is appropriate for women to address a mixed audience as articulate and thoughtful representatives of a feminine perspective on many experiences of life. We think of the recent ministries of Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, Kay Arthur, and Beth Moore, women whom God has used significantly.

Once again, a quote from Dorothy Patterson might be helpful. "The church that follows God's plan seeks not to suppress women but to ensure full and proper use of their gifts in a divinely given framework. Scripture affirms that women with varied positions of service, influence, leadership, and teaching ftinctioned in the early church with modesty and order. These women did not teach or exercise authority over men. My fervent prayer is that we as women will work within the clear authority of His word, neither seeking recognition nor demanding higher office, making every effort to serve the Lord and trust Him to open opportunities appropriate to our gifts, giving us usefulness beyond our limitations and expectations."

At CVC, we want to receive all the ministry that God wishes to give us from both sexes. We want to experience both the masculine and the feminine perspectives in our church life and in its services. Therefore, while applying the principles found in I Timothy 3, I Corinthians 11, and I Corinthians 14, we will encourage the participation of women in appropriate "up front" ministries in our public services. Leading in corporate prayer, sharing testimonies, giving greetings and announcements, playing instruments, participating on the vocal team, acting in dramas, and facilitating worship are not only acceptable, but desirable, ministries for the women of CVC.

It is our prayer and confident hope that we not become pharisaical, legalistic, and divisive about these matters. This is our attempt to be faithful to God's word as it speaks to the role of women in ministry at CVC. At the same time, we will seek to apply the following principle: "In essential things, unity; in non-essential things, liberty; in all things, charity." We will seek to love, affirm, and cooperate with other believers who hold to either more conservative or more liberal views concerning the roles of women in ministry. We ask God for the grace to live and minister according to the spirit expressed in Ephesians 4:1-3, "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Sources:

Melik, Richard, "Women Pastors: What Does the Bible Teach?" SBC Life, May 1998, 4-6.

Patterson, Dorothy, "Equal, Yet Different." Discipleship Journal, Issue 77, 1993, 68-73.

Piper, John and Grudem, Wayne, ed. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 199t).

Robertson, A. T, Word Pictures in the New Testament. Volume 4, The Epistles of Paul. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 193 1).

Pastors, elders, and overseers (5)

If you would like to pray for your church leaders, then Titus 1:5-9 gives us at least 4 areas where they need your prayers. Here's the fourth area that can be a prayer focus...

I will pray for my leaders’ teaching.

This is culture where truth is seen as relative. We value a pluralism that says whatever you want to believe is true for you and whatever I want to believe is true for me. In a culture that pormotes a tolerance for any and all conflicting turht claims, God calls leaders to stand strong for the truth of the Word of God.

Titus 1:9 says, "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (ESV).

"Hold firm" means "constantly holding onto and not letting go." The "trustworthy word" refers to the essential truths of the Christian faith--the fundamentals which must not be compromised. "Sound doctrine" is literally "truthful teaching." To "rebuke" is to "correct" or "convince" those who "contradict" the truth.

An elder must cling firmly to, be devoted to, and adhere wholeheartedly to God's word. This presupposes:

1. A knowledge of the truth.
2. An ability and willingness to proclaim that truth.

The Christian message has never been universally popular. Some have always opposed it. We need leaders who are so well grounded in the truth of the Bible that they can accurately teach it to others and courageously defend the truth when it is attacked.

There are churches in NE Ohio that used to stand on the Word of God. But they don’t believe the Book anymore. Many churches that once stood for sound orthodox doctrine now reject nearly every major tenet of the faith. And now, they are just social clubs.

Churches need leaders who know what they believe and why they believe it and will stand for the truth when everyone else is falling down.

Refuting opponents of God's truth demands courage, effort, spiritual maturity, and knowledge of the truth. The church must be protected from those who speak against the Word, and the elders are called to do that job. (Acts 20:28-31).

Good churches have good leaders who do good teaching. Pray for them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Women in ministry (3)

Back in 1998, some people at CVC expressed concerns because some women were providing some of the leadership in our public worship services by doing such things as leading worship music, giving testimonies, praying, reading scripture, and making announcements. Some people at the time felt that only men should lead our public services in those ways. The Elders of CVC were asked then what the Bible says about the role of women in public worship services.

This past weekend, we looked at what Titus 1:5-9 had to say about eldership. On Saturday night, we received two questions about the role of women in leadership in the church.

What will follow over the next few days are the results of a Bible study that the Elders of CVC conducted back in 1998. It's called "A Biblical Position Paper on the Ministry of Women in the Public Services of CVC".

For the entire series of posts look here and here.

Biblical Freedom for Women in Ministry

That women were free to exercise their giftedness in public ministry can be seen in I
Corinthians 11.

I Corinthians 11:3-10 (NASB)
3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man. and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off,- but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God,¬but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

In this passage, Paul is addressing a disruption caused by some of the women in the church over their use of "head coverings" - a symbol of their relationship to authority. In a carefully reasoned argument, Paul expressed a theological conviction. If a married woman will not proudly wear a symbol of her right relationship to her husband, her family "head," she forfeits her privileges of praying and prophesying in church fellowships. Her ministry in the church is directly linked to her submission to her husband. Paul's words are forceful. Married women have no right to participate in the church service if they wish to assume the prerogative of family headship and/or if they wish to act as though they were single rather than married. Here proper family order is a prerequisite to a woman's participation in the church.

It is public praying and prophesying that the Apostle here has in mind. He does not here condemn the prayers or the prophecies, but the way in which they are done. When a women participates in public worship, she is to not dishonor her head, her husband, by appearing as if she were not in subjection to the man.

Permission for women to pray and prophesy in public

It must be noted that God's Word does allow women to pray and prophesy in a public assembly, according to I Corinthians 11:5. That the praying and prophesying took place in a public assembly can be seen for the following reasons: (1) The context favors the idea these chapters describe public worship. The subsequent topics focus on the Lord's Supper (11:17-34) and spiritual gifts (12:1-14:40), and these relate to public worship. (2) Prophecy was given to edify the community when gathered (I Corinthians 14:1-5, 29-33a); it was not a private gift to be exercised alone. (3) Even if the meetings were in a home, such meetings would have been considered public assemblies, since many churches met in houses (cf Romans 16:5; Philemon 2). (4) I Corinthians 14:33b-36 is best understood not to forbid all speaking by women in public, but only their speaking in the course of the congregation's judging prophesies (cf 14:29-33a). Understood in this way, it does not contradict 11:5. It simply prohibits an abuse (women speaking up and judging prophecies in church) that Paul wanted to prevent in the church at Corinth.

Women can pray and prophesy in public, but they must do so with a demeanor and attitude that supports male leadership because in the Corinthian culture wearing a head covering communicated a submissive demeanor and feminine adornment. Thus, God does not forbid women to participate in public worship, yet He does indicate that in their participation they should evidence a demeanor that is humble and submissive to male leadership.

Today, except in certain religious groups, if a woman fails to wear a head covering while praying or prophesying, no one thinks she is in rebellion. Lack of head coverings sends no message at all in our culture. Nevertheless, that does not mean that this text does not apply to our culture. The principle still stands that women should pray and prophesy in a manner that makes it clear that they submit to male leadership. Clearly the attitude and the demeanor with which a woman prays and prophesies will be one indication of whether she is humble and submissive. The principle enunciated here should be applied in a variety of ways given the diversity of the human situation.

Prophecy from females throughout the Bible

Women clearly functioned as prophetesses in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Miriam is explicitly called a prophetess in Exodus 15:20, and she led the women in singing for Yahweh's triumph over Egypt (Exodus 15:21). The prophetess Huldah was consulted by the messengers of Josiah in II Kings 22:14-20. Other women probably functioned as prophetesses in the Old Testament but are unmentioned (cf. Isaiah 8:3), and Ezekiel pronounces judgment against daughters who prophesy falsely (Ezekiel 13:17-24). Compare also Nehemiah's words against the prophetess Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14). The problem here was not that these women prophesied, but that they did not prophesy according to the word of the Lord. The most significant example of a prophetess is Deborah (Judges 4:4-5).

In the New Testament, too, women prophesy. And there may even be some indication that it was more common for them to do so. The prophetess Anna thanked God and spoke of Him when Jesus was brought to the temple (Luke 2:36-38). Peter cites Joel's prophecy that when the Spirit is poured out both "sons and daughters will prophesy. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy" (Acts 2:17-18; cf Joel 2:28-32). Philip's four daughters are one indication that this promise was fulfilled, for they all prophesied (Acts 21:9). And, as we have seen, Paul also encourages women to prophesy, with proper adornment (I Corinthians 11:5).

Prophecy under authority

That women prophesied to men is clear in the case of Deborah, other women cited above, and I Corinthians 11:2-16. The last passage cited, however, is absolutely crucial for rightly understanding a woman's relationship to man as she prophecies. Again, what is Paul's concern in I Corinthians 11:2-16? It is that women who prophesy do so with proper adornment. Why is Paul concerned about how they are adorned? Because a woman's adornment says something about her relationship with men (11:10). I Corinthians 11:3 is the key to the passage: "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (NIV). Thus, the reason Paul wants women to be adorned properly is that this adornment shows that a woman is submissive to male headship, even while prophesying. The way she is adorned indicates whether the man is the head, i.e., the authority.

To summarize, Paul affirms that women can prophesy, but even in the process of prophesying they are to do so in a manner and with a demeanor that will not violate male headship. Paul affirms that women have prophetic gifts, and he wants them to exercise those gifts in church, but he does not want them to overturn male leadership.

Prophecy vs. teaching

It should be noted that prophecy differs from teaching. Prophecy is based on spontaneous revelation (I Corinthians 14:20-33a), while teaching is an exposition of received revelation. A prophet, therefore, does not hold the same office as a teacher. Prophets speak forth God's revelation to the people, but the people go to the priests in the Old Testament to receive authoritative instruction based on tradition (Leviticus 1O:11; Deuteronomy 21:5; Malachi 2:6-7). It is instructive to note in the Old Testament that some women were prophets, but never priests. It is the priests who had the more settled and established positions of leadership in Israel.

Teaching involves a sustained and orderly exposition of divine revelation already given, while prophecy in the New Testament occurs when someone has a spontaneous revelation or impression, the whole or parts of which may or may not be from the Lord. Each prophecy is to be evaluated by church leadership. Everything is to be done in an orderly way.

It is concluded, then, from both the Old Testament and the New, that women functioned as prophets, and they used this gift for the edification of the people of God. God allows women to pray and speak, but only if their relationships with their husbands are proper.

We think it is prudent at this point to make a statement about the public expression of the supernatural sign gifts (miracles, tongues, interpretation, and healing). While we do not feel that these gifts have ceased, we are not a body where the expression of these gifts is emphasized. Since we are attempting to reach the unchurched in our services, we are sensitive to the fact that the public expression of the supernatural sign gifts often makes unchurched people feel uncomfortable and may lead them to focus on our methods of worship, rather than the Savior
Himself. Our position on the sign gifts is "seek not, forbid not" (I Corinthians 12:31 and 14:39). We will not permit controversy concerning the gifts of the Spirit to bring division to this body. (For a fuller understanding on the position of CVC, please read chapter 13 of Billy Graham's book, The Holy Spirit.)

Pastors, elders, and overseers (4)

If you would like to pray for your church leaders, then Titus 1:5-9 gives us at least 4 areas where they need your prayers. Here's the third area that can be a prayer focus...

I will pray for my leaders’ character.

The list of qualifications is awesome. It's consists of things that a pastor/elder/overseer is not. And it consists of things that a pastor/elder/oversee is. As I read through the list here in Titus, I was left thinking, “Maybe I should hand in my resignation right now!”

But one leader said, “Don't be discouraged as you work through this list. No one meets these qualifications 100%! We're not looking for perfection, but rather solid evidence of growth in each area.”

"For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined" (Titus 1:7-8, ESV).

You can be considered good at some jobs even if you have bad character. If you can hit a baseball well or sell houses well or performs surgeries well, it doesn’t really matter is you are cheating on your wife or cheating on your taxes. But character counts in leading the church of Jesus Christ.

Remember that this is an aspirational list. No one lives like this 100% of the time. Paul sets before us a worthy goal--which most of us will work on for a lifetime and still not completely reach. We ought to take this list seriously but also graciously and realistically.

This list is not meant to depress us, but to inspire us to grow.

A veteran 75-year-old missionary assessed his own life in light of this. His evaluation: "I'm above reproach, I'm the husband of one wife, I'm free from the love of the money, I don't linger over wine..." Then he paused for along moment and said, "But I could use some work in the rest of the areas."

Ask yourself, "If he would say that, what about me?" As you survey this list, you may see 5 or 6 areas of strength, 7 or 8 areas of growth, and 4 or 5 areas that need real work.

It's okay to say, "I can't meet those qualifications now." But go on to say, "By the grace of God, that's the kind of person I want to be." What God wants is not perfection, but growth.

Good churches have good leaders with good character. Pray for them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Women in ministry (2)

Back in 1998, some people at CVC expressed concerns because some women were providing some of the leadership in our public worship services by doing such things as leading worship music, giving testimonies, praying, reading scripture, and making announcements. Some people at the time felt that only men should lead our public services in those ways. The Elders of CVC were asked then what the Bible says about the role of women in public worship services.

This past weekend, we looked at what Titus 1:5-9 had to say about eldership. On Saturday night, we received two questions about the role of women in leadership in the church.

What will follow over the next few days are the results of a Bible study that the Elders of CVC conducted back in 1998. It's called "A Biblical Position Paper on the Ministry of Women in the Public Services of CVC".

For the entire series of posts look here.

***

Biblical limitations-for women in ministry

Accepted at face value, two New Testament passages clearly limit the role of women in ministry.

I Timothy 2:9-12 (NASB)
9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, 10 but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. 11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue infaith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.


Paul, in I Timothy 2:12, states, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man" (NIV). This verse is introduced by a statement that women should learn "quietly" and it is followed by the statement that she must "remain silent." The word "quietly" means being possessed by a calmness of spirit and peaceful disposition. It is set as the opposite to "teaching" and "having authority over a man." Paul does not expect that women will not or can not learn or teach (compare with Titus 2:3-5 and 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15). He states that they cannot teach or have authority over men. Thus, the clear instruction in I Timothy is that women should not have a pastoral position or perform the pastoral function, for that puts them in authority over men.

I Timothy 2:8-15 imposes two restrictions on the ministry of women: they are not to teach Christian doctrine to men and they are not to exercise authority directly over men in the church. These restrictions are permanent, authoritative for the church in all times and places and circumstances. The responsibilities and limits have been established by God since creation (I Timothy 2:13, 14).

The definition of "teaching"

"Teaching" is the careful transmission of the truths concerning Jesus Christ and the authoritative proclamation of God's will to believers in light of those truths. The activity usually designated by teach is plainly restricted to certain individuals who have the gift of teaching (see I Corinthians 12:28-30; Ephesians 4:11).

The teaching prohibited to women here includes what we would call preaching (note II Timothy 4:2: "Preach the word... with careful instruction" [teaching, didache]), and the teaching of Bible and doctrine in the church. Other activities - leading Bible studies, for instance - may be included, depending on how they are done. Still others - witnessing evangelistically, counseling, teaching subjects other than Bible or doctrine, sharing testimonies, facilitating worship, exhorting others, and especially giving prophecy (as expressed in 1 Corinthians II: 5) - are not the kind of teaching Paul describes here.

Paul's position in the pastoral epistles is consistent: he allows women to teach other women (Titus 2:3-4), but prohibits them to teach men.

Dorothy Patterson, in an article in Discipleship Journal, wrote, "The real issue is not what women can or cannot do in the church but how they respond to the Bible. Nothing in scripture suggests that godly women assumed positions of authority over men in the home or in the church. Service to God within the church can never be a purely private. Jesus rebuked the Thyatiran church for letting a self-proclaimed prophetess teach; He commended the Ephesian church for testing those who claimed to be apostles (Revelation 2:2). Thus, when a woman 'feels called' to do work that violates not only God's design in creation but also His written word, that must be judged by the church."

Paul's prohibition of women's having authority over a man would also exclude a woman from becoming an elder in the way this office as described in the pastoral epistles.

Paul's prohibition should not restrict women from voting, with other men and women, in a congregational meeting, for, while the congregation as a whole can be said to be the final authority, this is not the same thing as the exercise of authority ascribed, e.g., to the elders. Nor do we think Paul would intend to prohibit women from most church administrative activities. Therefore, having women serve as leaders and team members in a variety of ministries can be affirmed as long as the prohibition against teaching and exercising authority is observed. (It is appropriate to note here that Paul's concern in I Timothy 2:11-15 is specifically the role of men and women in activities within the Christian community, and we question whether the prohibitions in this text can rightly be applied outside that framework.)

I Corinthians 14:29-35, 40 (NASB)
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.


This passage has been used to teach the absolute total silence of women in public services of the church. But when the passage is rightly understood in its context, it is seen to limit only a certain kind of speaking.

Evaluating prophecies

"Prophecy" in the New Testament is an extraordinarily broad category. In common church life, it was recognized to be Spirit-prompted utterance, but with no guarantee of divine authority in every detail, and therefore not only in need of evaluation (I Corinthians 14:29) but necessarily inferior in authority to the deposit of truth represented by the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 14:37-38). Prophecy cannot escape such evaluation, and it presupposes that there is a deposit of apostolic teaching, a given content, that is non-negotiable and that can serve as the criterion both of further teaching and of prophecy.

God is here requiring that the church in Corinth carefully weigh the prophecies presented to it. Women, of course, may participate in such prophesying; that was established in I Corinthians 11 (as we will see in the next section). The point here, however, is that women may not participate in the oral weighing of such prophecies. That is not permitted in any of the churches. In that connection, they are not allowed to speak - "as the law says."

By this clause, Paul is probably referring to the creation order in Genesis 2:20b-24, for it is to that Scripture that Paul explicitly turns on two other occasions when he discusses female roles (1 Corinthians 11: 8, 9; II Timothy 2:13). Paul understands from this creation order that woman is to be subject to man - or at least that wife is to be subject to husband. In the context of the Corinthians weighing of prophecies, such submission could not be preserved if the wives participated.

Paul calls on the church to sort and sift the good from the bad in prophetic utterances: "Do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good" (I Thessalonians 5:20-21). When Paul says, "Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said" (I Corinthians 14:20), he uses a verb for weigh carefully" (diakrino) that means "to sort or sift some things from others." This implies that in New Testament prophecies, not every word would be understood to be the Word of God. By contrast, in the Old Testament, a prophet who spoke anything untrue was to be put to death (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22). Instead, New Testament prophecies are handled not as authoritative words from God but as spontaneous impressions or insights that may or may not be, either in whole or in part, from God. Thus, the church must judge and evaluate prophecies in order to determine whether they, either in whole or in part, are sound.

Therefore, this passage does not prohibit women from speaking in public services. It does prohibit women from evaluating the authenticity, the appropriateness, and the genuineness of what has been spoken. God wants men to exercise their God-given leadership responsibility in this regard.

Pastors, elders, and overseers (3)

If you would like to pray for your church leaders, then Titus 1:5-9 gives us at least 4 areas where they need your prayers. Here's the second area that can be a prayer focus...

I will pray for my leaders’ for my leaders’ family. Titus 1:6 says that a leader must be "above reproach, the husband of one wife..."

In Greek the phrase literally reads "a one-woman man." Paul has in mind marital faithfulness as a character quality of a godly leader. Why is that important? Because if a man is not faithful to his wife, how can he be trusted to be faithful to his obligations elsewhere? If a man cheats on his wife, where else will he cheat?

Here are some questions we ought to ask about potential leaders:

1. Are his affections centered on his wife?
2. Is his marriage a model for others to follow?
3. Is he above reproach in his dealing with the opposite sex?

Does this mean that a divorce excludes a person from being considered? To say that he is "A one woman man" is not to say that a divorced man can never be an elder. Hsi wife may have pursued a non-biblical divorce. Each case needs to be considered individually.

Many Christian men who have never been divorced would have trouble answering those 3 questions listed above. Being a "one woman man" is a higher standard than simply asking, "Has he ever been divorced?" The real question is, "What kind of marriage does this man have?"

To be the "husband of one wife" is a moral qualification, not simply a marital qualification. The issue is the quality of the marriage.

Does this mean that an elder must be married? No. Paul himself, the man who wrote this, wasn’t married. Paul is thinking that most elders will be married, but he does not require marriage. The meaning is, "If he is married, he must be a one-woman man."

Look at the rest of verse 6: "and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination."

This could be translated as having "faithful children." Even the best Christian fathers cannot guarantee that all their children will really believe. But elders must have children who are good people, responsible children.

"Debauchery” means wild, immoral living. It’s "excessive lewdness." "Insubordination" means "to be unruly." This kind of son or daughter brings disgrace to their father. And it disqualifies someone from local church leadership.

A godly leader takes great care with his children knowing that they are his single greatest contribution to the world.

The ideal elder has a family that is committed to Jesus Christ, where the husband loves his wife and the wife is dedicated to her husband's spiritual leadership, where the grown children love Jesus Christ and love and respect their father. That's the picture! A pastor’s family needs prayer.

Good churches have good leaders with good families. Pray for them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pastors, elders, and overseers (2)

If you want to pray for the church and its leaders, then there are at least 4 ways that Titus 1:5-9 teaches us to pray. Here's the first for today...

1) I will pray for my leaders’ work.

What’s the job, the calling, the focus of a church leader? You can see part of the job description in Titus 1:5.

"This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you" Titus 1:5, ESV).

It looks like Paul had at some point been on the island of Crete. He had established some churches there with Titus. But from some reason Paul had to leave. That meant that Titus was leading the churches on Crete.

Paul says, “Appoint elders – leaders – to "put what remains into order." It’s actually a medical phrase. Break a bone and go to the doctor, he or she will set the bone before putting on the cast. It means to "properly arrange".

The church is described as a body in the Bible. The church is the body of Christ. And things get broken in the body. We should never be surprised when things need fixing in a church. The church is made up of broken people. We’re all fallen. We’re sinners. So, lives and relationships and priorities and systems will need fixing in the body of Christ. Some bones will be broken and will need to be set. And that’s what leaders do.

Lots of people know this, but they sayd, "I have problems in my own life. I have problems in my own family. Why would a person want to take on the problems of the church, too?"

I remember once reading Acts 20:28 and the words just penetrated my heart. It says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” It's the phrase "obtained with his own blood" that struck me.

Jesus didn’t shed His blood for a business or for a political party or for a school. He shed His blood for the church. The church matters. And we need leaders who will give themselves to lead the church for which Jesus died.

I decided many years ago that I wanted to work for the good of that for which Jesus shed His blood - the church. What about you? Will you do the work of caring for what Jesus loves and gave His life for - the church? (See Ephesians 5:25.)

Good churches have good leaders who do good work. Pray for them.

Women in ministry (1)

Back in 1998, some people at CVC expressed concerns because some women were providing some of the leadership in our public worship services by doing such things as leading worship music, giving testimonies, praying, reading scripture, and making announcements. Some people at the time felt that only men should lead our public services in those ways. The Elders of CVC were asked then what the Bible says about the role of women in public worship services.

This past weekend, we looked at what Titus 1:5-9 had to say about eldership. On Saturday night, we received two questions about the role of women in leadership in the church.

What will follow over the next few days are the results of a Bible study that the Elders conducted back in 1998. It's called "A Biblical Position Paper on the Ministry of Women in the Public Services of CVC"

***

Introduction

In order to be consistent in the application of Biblical principles concerning women in ministry in the public services at Cuyahoga Valley Church, the Elders of CVCC have surveyed pertinent scriptures and offer the following as a helpful guide for our ministry. It is hoped that this will be a tool that will assist CVC in maintaining unity in the church in light of the fact that many thoughtful people are predicting that this will be an extremely controversial, and potentially divisive, issue for churches in the 21st century.

Affirming the role of women in ministry

I Peter 4:10 says that all spiritual gifts are to be used to "minister" (diakoneo) to one another in the church. And Paul says, "There are different kinds of service (diakonia), but the same Lord" (I Corinthians 12:5). So in this broad sense, anything any Christian - male or female - does to help the work of the church is a ministry. Ministry is a very broad word, stemming from the Greek words diakonia, diakonos, and diaknoeo, and these words often convey the idea of "service" and "ministry" in the broadest sense. We affirm that ministry in the church is not something restricted to men. God commands both men and women to be ministers in the church.

Numerous passages speak clearly and forcibly to the inherent worth and value of women. Women in the New Testament engaged in significant ministry, performing valuable service in sometimes difficult situations. This is readily seen in the Acts of the Apostles. Both Priscilla and Aquila spoke privately to Apollos at Ephesus (Acts 18:24-26), correcting his incomplete and flawed theology. Further, women clearly played a significant role in the work of the Apostle Paul. In his letter to the Romans, Paul identified sixteen significant helpers in ministry (Romans 16:1-16), and at least ten of them were women. Who knows what the health of the church at Philippi would have been were it not for Lydia (Acts 16:13-15), apparently a benefactor to the church, and others such as Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2,3)? And, of course, women made a significant contribution to Jesus' ministry. Luke recalled with appreciation their financial support and company with Him (Luke 8:1-3).

Men often have hurt women. They have treated them as lesser citizens of the kingdom, and some men have denigrated or overlooked their contribution in ministry. An examination of the Scriptures will show that women have played a vital role in ministry. One reason for the current evangelical feminist movement, although not the only one, is that some women are responding to men who have oppressed them and treated them poorly.

Contemporary women should be encouraged by the women in the Scriptures who have contributed to the spread of God's kingdom message. God does not use men alone to accomplish His purposes. Both sexes are created in God's image, and both men and women have been used mightily by God. No woman who has a desire to please God should feel that there is no place for her ministry in the church.

At CVC, we value and affirm women as "fellow heirs of the grace of life" (I Peter 3:7). We underscore the truth expressed in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." We long for women to feel the approval of God and the fulfillment that comes from building His kingdom as they exercise their gifts in biblically appropriate ways.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A family that needs your prayers

A family I know needs your prayers. There’s a mom, a dad, and three kids.

One son is 17. He’s always been a good kid – a good student. But since he got his driver’s license, things have changed. He’s started hanging out with a different crowd. And now, there are these angry outbursts if his mom asks, “Where are you going?” She thought she smelled alcohol on his breath a couple of times. And his grades are slipping. He’s spending a lot of time alone with his girlfriend. His mom is scared he’s going to get her pregnant. She’s talked to her son, but he just blows her off. The mom is asking the dad for some help. He says, “He’ll be alright. I went through some of the same stuff. Boys will be boys.”

The daughter is 14. She has a vibrant personality. Her eyes sparkle. She’s cute. She’s an active volunteer in youth group at church. People say, “In a couple of years, the boys will be knocking the door down to date her!” She’s a point guard on the basketball team. But one night her mom heard noise in the bathroom. She walked in at 3AM and saw her little girl making herself throw up. Bulimia. Her mom’s worried about her health and her sense of self-esteem. She made an appointment with a counselor. They went a few times. The counselor said, “I really need to talk to dad, too.” The dad said he would go, but something always comes up. It’s been 6 months and he still hasn’t made it to the counselor yet. The mom lies awake at night crying, worrying, praying, and listening for those sounds in the bathroom.

The third child is a son who is 10. He was always busy, curious, outgoing. People have always been attracted to him. They’ve said, “I think he’s a natural-born leader.” But he’s been watching his brother’s anger grow and his sister’s self-esteem crumble. And he’s confused. He’s turned inward. He rarely comes out of his room unless he has to. He’s reading sci-fi books and he plays video games most of the time. He’s not talking much anymore to anyone. He won’t look anyone in the eye anymore. And all the dad says is “He’ll grow out of it.”

Talk to the wife and you’ll hear, “I always thought we had a great family. I don’t know what happened to us. We still have a lot of people fooled, especially at church. But I feel so alone. I don’t know what to do. Our kids are headed for trouble. Big trouble. And I fee like I’m the only one who cares – who tries to do something. Whatever happened to the man I married? Why won’t he do something? Anything?

The husband is a great guy. At least he looks that way to everyone from a distance. He was great as a coach in little league. And He really applies himself at work. His boss likes him. His co-workers do, too. They say he’ll give you the shirt off his back. And he shows up at church. He brings his Bible. He’s so… so…. nice. His friends hear from their wives that his wife is crying out for him to step up. So, he’s had a few guys encourage him to do just that. But he doesn’t know what to do. He’s never seen a role model. He didn’t see his own dad dig in and solve problems. So, he feels ill-equipped. He’s not sure he’ll say the right thing, so he says and does nothing. And this family just keeps getting worse and worse. And the members of his family just keep growing further and further apart...

What would you say to that man, to that husband, to that dad? It’s a family that needs your prayers. It’s a family that needs the husband, the dad to rise up.

***

That family that needs your prayers? I want to introduce you to that family. It’s our church, CVC. We are a family of faith. And there are members of this family who need help, who need guidance, who need to be challenged, who need to be encouraged, who need to be taught, who need to be loved, who need to be shepherded, and who need to be led and fed.

But there are men throughout our congregation who are great guys. They are active in the community. They take initiative at work. People like them. They’d give someone in need the shirt off your back. They show up at church and bring their Bibles.

But when it’s time to roll up their sleeves and take on the God-given responsibility to shepherd, to lead, to feed, to solve problems in the church of Jesus Christ, they say, “Let someone else do it. I don't know what to do. I'm not equipped.”

In a church of 2,000 to have 5 active elders? It’s not OK.

We have members of our family who need the help of God-called leaders. And too many men are passive. Robert Lewis of Men's Fraternity tells us that a real man rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, and expects a greater reward.

Not everybody is called to eldership. But I'm guessing that more men at CVC have actually been called than have heeded the call.

Rise up.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pastors, elders, and overseers (1)

This weekend, I will be teaching from Titus 1:5-9. And I'm asking God to give us more elders to help lead CVC. Will you pray with me?

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—
6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.
7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,
8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.
9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Titus 1:5-9 (ESV)


Just what do we call these church leaders?

In Acts 20:17-38, Paul addresses a group of Christian leaders from the church at Ephesus. In the passage they are called elders (v. 17), overseers (bishops) (v. 28), and shepherds (pastors) (v. 28). Therefore, we believe that "elder, overseer, and pastor" are related terms used to describe one office of leadership in the local church. The New Testament indicates that the early church was led by a plurality of elders/pastors/overseers.

What does a Godly church leader look like?

He looks like the person described in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. If we want leaders who would be elders/overseers/pastors in more than just the name, then we need to take the truths in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 very seriously.

But who can really live up to all that’s required in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1?

Remember that this is an aspirational list. No one lives like this 100% of the time. Paul sets before us a worthy goal--which most of us will work on for a lifetime and still not completely reach. We ought to take this list seriously but also graciously and realistically.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Patriots (4)

Good citizens – patriots, biblical patriots - speak in love.

Earlier this year, in a series called “Stories” we were reminded that we should be more known for what we are for rather than what we are against. Unfortunately, the church has a reputation for being judgmental.

And I think it’s not because of what we believe as much as because of how we behave. Now, I know that some of us just cave in when it’s time to take a stand on an issue. We just blend in with the world. But others of us can be mean and caustic and nasty when we talk about people and issues. And it’s, frankly, unchristian.

From Titus 3:2, here are some 4 commands for good Christian citizens. "To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people" (Titus 3:2, ESV).

1) Speak evil of no one. This means that the left doesn’t speak evil of the right and the right doesn’t speak evil of the left. Don’t say about other people what you would not like other people to say about you.
2) Avoid quarreling. The Greek word means not a fighter, not a brawler.
3) Be gentle. Sometimes the word is translated “patient,” “moderate,” “fair.”
4) Show perfect courtesy to all people. Sometimes, this is translated “meekness.” It’s a bridled strength, a strength under control.

Think about that: Perfect courtesy to all people.

Showing imperfect courtesy toward some people might not be so difficult. A tllit harder might be showing perfect courtesy to some people or imperfect courtesy to all people. But to show perfect courtesy to all people, even leaders and authorities who are rude and unjust is an assignment impossible to fulfill without special grace from God.

Is that you? The Bible is full of commands like these.

"Speak…the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15, ESV).

"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice" (Ephesians 4:31, ESV).

"Correct… opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 2:25, ESV).

I have some friends who lean left politically. And right now, the attacking seems to be toward Sarah Palin – not with gentleness, but with some very imperfect courtesy. Here's a question for you. How do you talk about former President Bush? With perfect courtesy?

Lots of believers who lean way right badmouth our current President, “He’s a Muslim" or "He’s going to ruin our nation.” Church people who lean to the right feel it’s somehow OK to trash talk almost anyone who leans to the left. How do you talk about our current President Obama? With perfect courtesy?

We all ought to be tired of getting emails from people on the left bashing people on the right and from people on the right bashing people on the left. When we get the attacking emails, maybe we ought to just go to an electronic version of Titus 3:2, cut, paste, and send it to all the email bashers – both on the left and on the right.

What about you… and me? We all probably see some sins in the lives of others that might make us want to condemn them. But think about it. If someone is far from God, why should we expect them to live like someone who is not? Our faith sometimes seems too focused on other people’s faults.

We have to become aware that often the non-Christian world turns us off and tunes us out when we are not civil. In the book "Unchristian," the authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons tell us what the unchurched 18-29 think about the church. "What they react negatively to is our 'swagger,' how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project. Outsiders say that Christians possess bark - and bite. One outsider put it this way, 'Most people I meet assume that Christian means... entrenched in their thinking..., angry, violent, illogical..., and they generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn't believe what they believe. Christians are primarily perceived for what they stand against. We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for" (p. 26).

We must make sure our conversations about issues and people are civil.

We must give support to and participate with people who are committed to bring Biblical principles to influence public policy. At the same time, we must not forget that our primary goal as believers is not to exert political clout or to legislate morality. Our primary calling according the the Great Commission given by Jesus is to stand for the truth of God while demonstrating the love of God in order to introduce those around us to the grace of God - a grace the saves us from our sins, trains us to be holy, and works in us to make us like our Lord Jesus Christ. We will do this most effectively when we relate to others with humility, love and respect rather than with sarcasm, slander, ridicule, or attacks.

Do you speak in love?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Patriots (3)

Good citizens – patriots, biblical patriots - Work for good. Titus 3:1b says, "Remind them…to be ready for every good work" (ESV).

It's true that good works won’t take anyone to heaven. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross to save us. But grace sows up in our lives in the form of good works.

So, patriots are people who do good works.

ALl throughout Titus, we see this theme. "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works" (Titus 2:7, ESV). "[Jesus] gave Himself… to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14, ESV). "Those who have believed in God [should ] be careful to devote themselves to good works" (Titus 3:8, ESV). "Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful" (Titus 3:14, ESV).

One of the purposes of the cross is to create a people “zealous for good works.” Are you zealous – passionate – for good works? Do you ever sit around as a family and talk about what good works you might be able to do? Do you ask God, “What good works do you want me to do today?” Are you on fire to do good works?

"Grace" is the name of the boat that get you to heaven. One oar is named “faith.” The other oar is named “works.” It’s grace that saves. But if you just have faith and no works, it’s dead faith. James says, “Faith without works is dead.” If you have works and no faith, it’s dead religion. Both faith and works are evidence that you are saved by God’s grace.

Good citizenship shows up in good works, in volunteering, in finding some need in our culture and meeting it. Do you do good works? Are you actively volunteering in your community? Are you finding a need and meeting it?

I’m for waving the flag. I’m proud to be an American. But if you have to choose between working for good and waving the flag, work for good.

Do you work for good?

NEO Seminary (2)

The NEO Extension Center of Southern Seminary

A world-class theological education in North East Ohio

The NEO Extension Center of Southern Seminary (NEO Seminary) provides an opportunity for persons to pursue a warm-hearted, forward-thinking, evangelistically-passionate, and theologically-sound education in NE Ohio. Through NEO Seminary the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) of Louisville, Kentucky offers courses at Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC) leading to a variety of Masters level degrees. Students without an undergraduate degree can also work toward a diploma.

NEO Seminary seeks to train people who will impact others through leadership, communication, outreach/missions/church planting, and character development. NEO Seminary is committed to training and sending people into ministry as pastors, missionaries, and Christian workers. The goal is to target and train leaders in NE Ohio who will in turn equip the saints to help others grow to be passionate followers of Christ. NEO Seminary sends out leaders into the harvest in NE Ohio (our Jerusalem), in Ohio (our Judea), in America (our Samaria), and to the uttermost parts of the world. Our ultimate goal is that men, women, and children from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation might live for the praise of God’s glory in heart, soul, mind, and strength.

NEO Seminary will began this fall as one of the first Southern Seminary extension centers to utilize Compressed Interactive Video (CIV). NEO Seminary allows students from NE Ohio and surrounding areas to pursue a quality seminary education from one of the most prestigious theological seminaries in America while remaining in NE Ohio and ministering in their home contexts.

CIV is virtually like being in the room with the professor. The professors from Southern Seminary teach live and are projected on a big screen TV. While students look at and listen to the professors, the professors look at the classroom live via a camera in the classroom. If a student has a question, he or she can raise a hand and the camera will zoom in on the student. A microphone on the desk will pick up the voice as the question is asked. Students can dialogue live with the professors.

FULLY ACCREDITED
NEO Seminary offers a fully-accredited graduate level program for the Master of Divinity degree (the classic degree for ministry preparation). Southern Seminary is a member of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). That means that the NEO Extension Center meets the rigorous standards of ATS to ensure that graduates have a fully-accredited degree in the field of Christian ministry. With library partnerships in the region plus the growing number of online services directly from the SBTS library, students who study in Northeast Ohio have an academic experience parallel to those who study on the main campus in Louisville, KY.

REASONABLY PRICED
This graduate education is competitively priced when viewed alongside any comparable seminary program. This is especially true for students who serve/belong to a church family that is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. For those students the cost of the educational journey is partially funded by the Cooperative Program (CP). Tens of thousands of churches contribute to an on-going CP mission offering that supports missionaries as well as underwrites the cost of tuition for any student from a member Church. Tuition for 2009-2010 school year: $205 per credit hour for Southern Baptist students and $410 per credit hour for non-Southern Baptist students. (Members of a Southern Baptist church receive a tuition subsidy from the Southern Baptist Convention.)

ACCESSIBLE
Meeting at the Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC) in Northeast Ohio, classes are easily accessed from I-77. CVC is located at 5055 E. Wallings Road, Broadview Heights, Ohio 44147. The location is just north of Ohio’s Turnpike, I-80, and just south of I-480. For directions, visit www.cuyahogavalleychurch.com.

RELEVANT
A primary motivation behind seminary education via extension is the equipping of leaders of NE Ohio in NE Ohio to serve churches of NE Ohio. Students study with colleagues who are preparing for similar roles with churches facing similar challenges. The curriculum is built around what are foundational areas of study to prepare God’s people for various roles of leadership in the local church.

SCHEDULE FRIENDLY
Students in extension sites have busy lives. Life is fast-paced in NE Ohio. Many students have 5-day-a-week jobs. Almost all play some leadership role in their church (from pastor to pastoral team member to Bible teacher to ministry leader). Many have families. All have neighbors and work associates to influence for Christ. So, classes have been developed for 5 week terms, meeting on Friday night and Saturday into the early afternoon. If a student goes full-time (3 classes each semester) he or she will be giving only 30 days over the course of a semester to class time. Some students take a class or two each semester and supplement that with an online class. Students are required to travel to the main campus in Louisville, KY for a few classes over the course of the entire degree program. Those classes on campus in Louisville have been developed into one-week formats.

NEO Seminary
An Extension Center of
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, KY

NEO SEMINARY CONTACT
Rev. Gary Nave
Director, NEO Extension Center of Southern Seminary
440-746-0404, ext. 219
gnave@cvconline.org

Classes are held at
Cuyahoga Valley Church
5055 E. Wallings Road
Broadview Heights, Ohio 44147
440-746-0404

For general information about the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, contact the Admissions Office at 800-626-5525 (ext. 4617) or go online to www.sbts.edu.

Monday, July 06, 2009

NEO Seminary (1)

I am very happy that the opening of The NEO Extension Center of Southern Seminary (NEO Seminary) is happening soon. The Ohio Board of Regents has given the go ahead. Classes will be starting this August. More information about classes and registration will be coming soon.

For now, consider the doctrinal statement for the seminary. It's from a historic document called The Abstract of Principles. The President of Southern Seminary, Albert Mohler, talks about the importance of the Abstract here.

When the original charter of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was adopted in 1858 it contained the following statement which continues as a part of the "fundamental laws." "Every professor of the institution shall be a member of a regular Baptist Church; and all persons accepting professorships in this Seminary shall be considered, by such acceptance, as engaging to teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles hereinafter laid down, a departure from which principles on his part shall be grounds for his resignation or removal by the Trustees."

Below are the doctrinal statements that will help guide NEO Seminary.

I. The Scriptures.

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.

II. God.

There is but one God, the Maker, Preserver and Ruler of all things, having in and of himself, all perfections, and being infinite in them all; and to Him all creatures owe the highest love, reverence and obedience.

III. The Trinity.

God is revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit each with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence or being.

IV. Providence.

God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.

V. Election.

Election is God's eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life -- not because of foreseen merit in them, but of his mere mercy in Christ -- in consequence of which choice they are called, justified and glorified.

VI. The Fall of Man.

God originally created man in His own image, and free from sin; but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.

VII. The Mediator.

Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is the divinely appointed mediator between God and man. Having taken upon Himself human nature, yet without sin, He perfectly fulfilled the Law, suffered and died upon the cross for the salvation of sinners. He was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended to His Father, at whose hand He ever liveth to make intercession for His people. He is the only Mediator, the Prophet, Priest and King of the Church, and Sovereign of the Universe.

VIII. Regeneration.

Regeneration is a change of heart, wrought by the Holy Spirit, who quickeneth the dead in trespasses and sins enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the Word of God, and renewing their whole nature, so that they love and practice holiness. It is a work of God's free and special grace alone.

IX. Repentance.

Repentance is an evangelical grace, wherein a person being, by the Holy Spirit, made sensible of the manifold evil of his sin, humbleth himself for it, with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrence, with a purpose and endeavor to walk before God so as to please Him in all things.

X. Faith.

Saving faith is the belief, on God's authority, of whatsoever is revealed in His Word concerning Christ; accepting and resting upon Him alone for justification and eternal life. It is wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and is accompanied by all other saving graces, and leads to a life of holiness.

XI. Justification.

Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal of sinners, who believe in Christ, from all sin, through the satisfaction that Christ has made; not for anything wrought in them or done by them; but on account of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith.

XII. Sanctification.

Those who have been regenerated are also sanctified, by God's word and Spirit dwelling in them. This sanctification is progressive through the supply of Divine strength, which all saints seek to obtain, pressing after a heavenly life in cordial obedience to all Christ's commands.

XIII. Perseverance of the Saints.

Those whom God hath accepted in the Beloved, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere to the end; and though they may fall, through neglect and temptation, into sin, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, bring reproach on the Church, and temporal judgments on themselves, yet they shall be renewed again unto repentance, and be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

XIV. The Church.

The Lord Jesus is the Head of the Church, which is composed of all his true disciples, and in Him is invested supremely all power for its government. According to his commandment, Christians are to associate themselves into particular societies or churches; and to each of these churches he hath given needful authority for administering that order, discipline and worship which he hath appointed. The regular officers of a Church are Bishops, or Elders, and Deacons.

XV. Baptism.

Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus, obligatory upon every believer, wherein he is immersed in water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as a sign of his fellowship with the death and resurrection of Christ, of remission of sins, and of his giving himself up to God, to live and walk in newness of life. It is prerequisite to church fellowship, and to participation in the Lord's Supper.

XVI. The Lord's Supper.

The Lord's Supper is an ordinance of Jesus Christ, to be administered with the elements of bread and wine, and to be observed by his churches till the end of the world. It is in no sense a sacrifice, but is designed to commemorate his death, to confirm the faith and other graces of Christians, and to be a bond, pledge and renewal of their communion with him, and of their church fellowship.

XVII. The Lord's Day.

The Lord's Day is a Christian institution for regular observance, and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, resting from worldly employments and amusements, works of necessity and mercy only excepted.

XVIII. Liberty of Conscience.

God alone is Lord of the conscience; and He hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in anything contrary to His word, or not contained in it. Civil magistrates being ordained of God, subjection in all lawful thing commanded by them ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

XIX. The Resurrection.

The bodies of men after death return to dust, but their spirits return immediately to God -- the righteous to rest with Him; the wicked to be reserved under darkness to the judgment. At the last day, the bodies of all the dead, both just and unjust, will be raised.

XX. The Judgment.

God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world by Jesus Christ, when every one shall receive according to his deeds; the wicked shall go into everlasting punishment; the righteous, into everlasting life.

Patriots (2)

Good citizens – patriots, biblical patriots - yield with strength. Titus 3:1a says, "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…" (ESV).

The word "submissive" is hypotassō in the Greek language. This word was a Greek military term meaning "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader". In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden".

This teaching is really pretty straightforward. It is our godly duty to obey the laws of the land, the public officials – even if we disagree with them unless in doing so we would disobey God.

If you’re supposed to stop at the stop sign, you stop. If you’re supposed to drive 35 mph, you drive 35 mph. If you’re supposed to pay $1,000 in taxes, you don’t pay $800.

A Christ-following citizen - a true patriot - yields.

In Paul’s day this was radical teaching. Paul was a Roman citizen but he was also Jewish. Most Jews viewed the Romans as oppressors. But Paul urges the believers to be supportive of the state rather than to take the approach of the zealots who constantly opposed the state. Romans 13:1-2 says, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment" (ESV).

The verse doesn’t say that God has established only every authority that we agree with, or only those authorities we believe are good. We are told that God has established every authority. There is no one who is in a position of authority that is not in a sense representing God in his or her service.

In the day this was written, Paul’s day, Caesar was the authority. When Nero was Caesar, he was a very, crazy tyrant. Yet Paul still says that we ought to obey even this leader.

This isn’t saying that God is pleased with every leader. But it is saying that we should respect the principle of authority even when it is being administered poorly. God can still work through the godless leaders.

See, God is in charge of the people in charge. And He uses authority for our own protection. If we rebel against the people in charge, we are no longer under the umbrella of protection. And we place ourselves in a dangerous place.

I Peter 2:13-14 says, "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good" (ESV).

Here, we see the function – the role – of government. Leaders are in authority reward good behavior and punish wrongdoing. It’s why we need to pray for them. I Timothy 2:1-3 "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior" (ESV).

Pray for those who are in authority. Pray that leaders are guided by God’s wisdom. Pray for their ability to handle the stress, to resist the temptations that power brings. Pray for their families because they too must deal with the consequences of authority.

This does not mean that we should remain politically inactive. Maybe you are supposed to run for office. Be informed as to where your representatives stand on various issues. Write your officials when you disagree with them on an issue. And vote since we have the opportunity 2 or 4 or 6 years to vote for new leaders.

But what if the one in authority goes to far? What if they use their God given authority to rebel against God? For example, what if the government passed a law that said we could no longer worship? What if we are told we must not talk about our faith? What if the government says to a pastor, “You can’t talk about what the Bible says about this or that issue”? How far are we to take our submission? The principle is this: whenever an authority seeks to overrule God, we must resist.

We should not obey the government when obedience would mean disobeying a command of God. This is indicated by several passages showing approval of disobedience to governments. For example, in Acts 5 when followers of Jesus were commanded not to talk about Jesus, they said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Yield with strength, remember?

Now, here’s a question for you. Is revolution or a War of Independence ever right – even biblical, ever approved by God?

Believers have differed over this question. Should God's people ever support revolutions against evil governments or wars to gain independence from evil governments? Some Christians historically have said that the commands in places like Titus 3 and Romans 13 say “No. Revolution is wrong.”

But others say that Paul’s commands here are for private individuals and that lower public officials who are under a wicked higher official have a responsibility to resist. These lower officials have a responsibility to protect the people they are leading. And they might be obeying God by leading a revolution or fighting a civil war against wicked rulers. So, to protect their people, they are fulfilling their responsibility before God to resist evil and promote good. A Biblical example of this would be how Moses led a revolt against Pharaoh in the book of Exodus.

Bottom line question for you: Do you yield with strength?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

How your union with Christ helps you grow spiritually

Today, I had a conversation with a teenager who is really, really struggling at home. It's not good. Not at all. His relationships with his dad and mom are very, very stressed. On top of that, his girlfriend just broke up with him. She said, "I can't handle all this stress." Now, he's wanting to restore that relationship. He's heartbroken.

I encouraged him to consider that this might not be the best time to pursue a girlfriend relationship. I said, "You might be seeking a relationship with a girl because of a void in your heart that can only be filled by your relationship with Jesus."

I went on, "You might have question mark at the core of your being. You might be asking, 'Am I loved? Amm I worthy?' at the core of your being. So, you are using strategies and tactics to answer that question. And the people around you know intuitively that they are being used to fill a void in your life. That might be why they are running the other way."

He seemed like he was listening so I kept going, "Perhaps now is the time for you to focus on your relationship with Jesus - to really lock in on your union with Christ, your identity in Christ - to know who youa re in Jesus. Then you can relate to others with an exclamation point at the core of your being. You'll be saying, 'I am loved! I am worthy!' When that happens, you will live with strategies and tactics that are coming from a full and healthy place, not from a void. And the people around you will know that they aren't being used. Instead they feel they are being loved."

I'm hoping that he really gets this. I gave him some scripture to read. It will take some time for him to lock in on these truths and live in light of them. Not many Christians do. How about you?

We must understand who we are because of our union with Christ and then live in faith in light of our union with Him. We fail to grow and fall into sin when we forget what has happened to us in our union with Christ.

Consider Romans 6:4-7: “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”

One of our problems is that we don't understand the reality of what happened to us when we trusted Christ. The rule, the reign, the control of sin was broken at the cross. Whether we know it or feel it, it's still true. We must not forget it.

We value far too lightly what has really happened to us. We were in the domain of darkness and now we are in the light. It is an utter transformation. We must have this knowledge of the facts, meditate on these truths, and then step out in faith to live out what we really are in Christ.

Think about the men and women who pay $2,000 to role play at a fantasy baseball camp. Watch them for a while and you will notice that they are imposters. They run slow, throw weakly, and struggle to hit the ball out of the infield. They are pretending to be major league players. But a couple of weeks later, the real pro players come to camp. Watch them for a while and you will see that they are the “real deal.” They run fast, throw hard, and hit the ball 400 feet. The difference? They are “doing what they are.”

Well, God, in His grace through our union with Christ, has made us “major leaguers.” Whether we realize it or not, we are the “real deal.” We need to remember who we are and start to “do what we are.”

Think about what God says is true about our identity in Christ.

10 truths about us after becoming “new” in Christ.

1. Hebrews 10:12-14 - You were declared perfect
2. Hebrews 10:15-17 - Your sins were forgiven never to be held against you.
3. Romans 8:11 - The Holy Spirit lives in you.
4. John 3:1-8 - You have been born again.
5. 1 John 5:11, 12 - You were given eternal life.
6. II Corinthians 5:17 - You were made into a new creation.
7. II Corinthians 5:18 - You were reconciled to God
8. Romans 5:1 - You are no longer at war with God.
9. Colossians 1:13,14 - You are redeemed from the enemy’s authority.
10. Colossians 1:13,14- You were brought into the kingdom of God.

What God says about the new you is what you must choose to believe about yourself. It's also what we must choose to live. This is called "living by faith."

It isn't just good for teens. It's good for everyone. Especially you. And me.

Patriots (1)

There are always extreme views when it comes to God’s people and any nation. And that includes the views of God’s people about the USA.

One extreme is a kind of left-leaning, flag-burning approach.

Last year, we were introduced to Jeremiah Wright, President Obama's pastor for the last 20 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's south side. In 2003, he literally cursed America in a sermon “for treating our citizens as less than human.” And on the Sunday after Sept. 11, he said that the United States had brought on al Qaeda's attacks because of its own terrorism. He preached, "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost.”

That’s one extreme: Left-leaning, flag burning. The other extreme is a kind of right-leaning, flag-idolizing approach.

There’s a church near Louisville, KY filled with people who are so proud to be Americans that last Saturday celebrated the birth of our nation and the Second Amendment by inviting the community to bring guns to church. They celebrated with a handgun raffle and patriotic music. The pastor Ken Pagano said, "We're just going to celebrate the upcoming theme of the birth of our nation. And we're not ashamed to say that there was a strong belief in God and firearms — without that this country wouldn't be here."

That’s another extreme: Right-leaning, flag-idolizing.

Left or right. No matter where you are on the political continuum, there are things you no doubt would like to see changed about our nation.

But we have to remember that true, Biblical Christianity is neither left or right. Some Biblical positions might seem very left to people on the right. And some Biblical positions might seem very right to people on the left. Bible truth doesn’t come from the left or the right. It comes from above.

For some of us, it’s easy to go along with the government. For others, it’s easy to be cynical about anything related to the government. But according to God’s Word, both attitudes are wrong.

Take a look at a little letter in the NT called Titus. It's named after a young leader of a church on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. His mentor, Paul, is writing to tell him some of the marks of a good church.

The people who first received this little letter were notorious for being quarrelsome and impatient with authority. Polybius, a Greek historian, said that they were constantly involved in “insurrections, murders and… wars.” The people of Crete were not happy to be under Roman rule. So, what does good citizenship look like for the church in that day?

The older leader Paul tells Titus, "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people" (Titus 3:1-2, ESV).

The instructions for them are instructions for us. Whether you’re way left, way right, or somewhere in between, I see three principles for us today.

Yield with strength.
Work for good.
Speak in love.

Does this describe you?

More on each of these over the next few days.

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