Let me be honest right out of the gate–this is a hard article to write. I am sure it will be received well by some and not-so-well by others. Nonetheless, the biggest problem in your church, my church, and EVERY CHURCH needs to be addressed. This is not an isolated problem, but a growing problem in many churches. What is this problem? It is the problem of commitment! I do not like to talk about problems. Who does? I would rather view problems as possibilities. After all, that is the positive approach, right? But, I am afraid we need to be positively honest about this problem! There is just no other way to put it.
I have heard it said, and I have even said it myself, "Our problem in the church is a lack of commitment." Honestly, it's more than a lack of commitment, it's "no" commitment from many of our "members." One of the most amazing things I have noticed as a pastor is that often the "attenders" to my church are more faithful than some "members" of my church!
In his book, I Am A Church Member, Thom Rainer speaks of church membership as "functioning membership." Rainer writes, "We who are church members are all supposed to function in the church. The concept of an inactive church member is an oxymoron. Biblically, no such church member really exists" (p. 16). At the end of the day we are either committed church members or we are not committed church members.
One thing I have learned, personally, is that I am committed to those things which are important to me...
I am committed to my walk with Christ. I cannot depend on anyone else for my spiritual growth. Yes, we are called to disciple one another in a maturing walk with Christ, but at the end of the day I am ultimately responsible for my relationship with Jesus. As a pastor I have had to come to terms with the fact that I cannot "make" someone have a passion for Jesus. That work rests in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I am also committed to my family. My wife and kids are the most important people to me on this earth. Next to God, they deserve the best of my time and energy. One day someone else will pastor the church where I lead. Another man will sit in my office and stand in my pulpit. But no one else can be the daddy to my kids like me, their dad!
I am committed to my church. Not only am I the pastor, but I am a church member. Yes, God has uniquely called me to lead this particular group of people, but I am called to serve and function in the local body, just as every other member. Part of my functioning means that I am to support the ministry of the church through consistent tithing, actively serving, and faithful praying.
As I look across the landscape of "the church," I cannot help but see a tremendous lack of commitment. It is no secret, in our own Southern Baptist Convention, baptisms are declining, less people are serving, and fewer are supporting their local church through tithes and offerings. The more I think through this problem, the more I realize that it actually goes deeper than commitment. It is a matter of love. I am afraid many believers have followed the steps of the Ephesian church and have "left their first love" (Rev. 2:4). You see when we love Jesus, as we should love Jesus, we will be committed to Him and His church! No excuses!
So, how do you know that your commitment to Christ and His church is waining? How do you know if you are on a path of "leaving your first love?" Here are some signs that your commitment to the local church might be waining...
I am sure there are other signs, but these are a few of the first thoughts that popped into my mind. So, what can we do to avoid these landmines?
Last week my wife and I were invited to speak on a panel of adoptive parents for the agency we used to adopt our two sons--Bethany Christian Services. The panel discussion was part of Bethany's new family orientation. These couples are just beginning their adoption journeys. Our assignment for the panel discussion was to address the issue of waiting. I guess they thought we were pros at this, considering we have gone through the adoption process not once, but twice.
When it comes to waiting we definitely know a thing or two. Our first son, Caleb, was adopted in 2012. From the time our adoption paperwork and home studies were approved, to the time of placement, we waited eleven months. Looking back that really was not a long wait. However, in the moment it seemed like an eternity. What was a long wait was the two years we waited for our second son, Camden. Honestly, this wait was almost unbearable.
The wait for Camden was difficult for our whole family, including Caleb. We were open and honest with him about his siblings adoption. He had to sit in on meetings and interviews as we went through the home study process. For the first year of waiting, almost every night, Caleb would ask, "When is Jesus going to bring us our baby?" I wanted so desperately to be able to give him a definite answer, but I could not. I always responded with the same answer, "When He's ready, son. When He's ready." While this might not seem like much of an answer, I believe it is actually the correct answer. God always responds to our prayers when He is ready! Not a minute before or after.
Are you in a period of waiting on God? Maybe you are waiting on a job, a healing, a relationship, an answer to prayer...you fill in the blank. Here are a few truths to remember while you wait...
1. Remember God is sovereign!
You see at the foundation of waiting on God one must have a strong view of the sovereignty of God. To believe God is sovereign is to believe the He maintains absolute control and authority over humanity and all of the affairs of creation and life. When we have a strong view of God's sovereignty we can find comfort therein. R.C. Sproul said, "No truth is more comforting that God's sovereignty over suffering." I think we could include His sovereignty over waiting.
2. Remember God is working!
It's been said, "While we are waiting, God is working!" I believe this is an absolutely true statement. God never sits twirling His thumbs. The Psalmist was clear when he said our God "neither slumbers nor sleeps" (Psalm 121:4).
3. Remember God is faithful!
In Psalm 143 we find a powerful prayer from David. It is a prayer of deliverance as David is fleeing the pursuit of his son, Absalom. In his prayer, David begins with this declaration v. 1 - "Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness." In this verse David calls on two powerful attributes of God–His faithfulness and His righteousness. David was in essence saying, "God answer me because that's who you are and that's what you do--you answer prayer!" God cannot help but to answer your prayers. He is bound by the attributes of His character to answer. Now, we must remember that He will answer in His way and according to His schedule. His answer could be "yes," "no," or "not now!" But He will answer.
There could be one hinderance to your prayer though–unconfessed sin. Psalm 66:18 says, "If I regard sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Stay clean before the Lord, confess the sins of your heart to Him, and trust that He is faithful!
A few weeks ago I preached a message from Philippians 2:12-18. In this passage, the Apostle Paul admonishes the Philippian believers to "appear as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:15). Time would not permit me to say all I wished about this passage, but especially this verse. Here are 2 ways we can let our lights shine in the midst of a dark world who so desperately needs to see the light of Christ and know the love of Jesus...
1. Live a consistent life of Christian character.
It's been said that character is who you are when no one else is around. It's the real you. Often our character shines forth when we have a slip of the tongue in the office because our boss has upset us. Our character speaks loudly when our children have pushed us to the limit and we respond with anger and outrage. Perhaps it's the "real" you that shines forth when you're not with your "church" friends. Who are you? Do you live a life consistent with the Bible's description of a follower of Jesus? Paul gives us a great check list in Galatians 5:22-23. We know this as the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the character traits that should mark our life if we are going to "appear as lights in the world."
2. Don't become distracted by things of the world.
In this same verse Paul instructs believers–"prove yourself to be blameless and innocent, children of God...." The key here is "children of God." These are contrasted in Eph. 2:3 with "children of wrath." It's pretty simple–you are either a child of God or you are not a child of God. You are either a son/daughter of God or of Satan. Children of God remember who their Father is and are not distracted or pulled away by things of this world. In fact, Paul describes the world as "a crooked and perverse generation." This is the complete opposite to our calling as children of God. Peter reminds us that as followers of Jesus we are a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).
Sure there are lots more ways to let our light shine for Christ. However, if we'll start with these two, we'll be well on our way to living as shining stars in a dark world.
On July 4, 1776 our Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia and signed a document declaring our independence from Great Britain. Many do not realize this document had a 2-fold purpose. First, the Declaration of Independence declared our independence from a nation of tyranny. Second, this document declared our dependence upon Almighty God of heaven. The Declaration of Independence begins with the bold proclamation that we are subject to the "laws of nature and nature's God." It ends with these words - "With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." In declaring their reliance upon God, our Founding Fathers staked everything they had, and who they were, on God.
As we reflect on this special day in our nations history, let us celebrate the faithfulness of our God. Indeed, He has blessed America. For over two centuries God has indeed "shed His grace" upon us. However, a quick glance across the landscape of America shows a nation who has turned her back on God. A nation that declared her dependence upon God seems to be calling for independence once again. Independence from the God whom we once proclaimed our dependence. We have become an atheistic, agnostic, and apathetic people. We no longer hold to absolute truths–the very truths upon which our nation was founded. We no longer fear the God who made us. Instead our nation laughs in His face and scoffs His name.
I realize this paints a depressing picture of our nation–and it should. The reality of our condition should break our hearts and drive us to our most deepest place of dependence upon God. Before we point our fingers at those around us, let us examine our own hearts. What contributions have we, the American church, made to this cultural, moral, and religious demise? In the words of an old Puritan prayer, let us "repent of our repentance." In other words, let us repent of our lack of repentance.
So, what should be our response? In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God spoke to Solomon, giving him a word for the people of Israel. While these words were never intended for America, there are some principles we can draw and applications we can make as a nation. God said, "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). A nation who desires to live in dependence upon God must fulfill 4 obligations. We must turn from our pride (humble ourselves). We must turn to God in prayer (pray). We must place our dependence upon Him (seek His face). We must repent of our sinfulness (turn from wicked ways).
In the days ahead as we reflect upon our nations independence, let us carefully examine these four obligations. Let us seek to understand the expectations God has placed upon us, as we seek His favor and blessings upon our nation. After all, these word were give to the people of God. It is only after the people of God fulfill their responsibilities that God promises to hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and heal our land. We do not need independence from God, but a full dependence upon Him–now more than ever! I believe the ball is in our court.
What does it mean to be a faithful church member? Our churches are filled with members and attenders, but what distinguishes a "faithful" church member? In his book, I Am A Church Member, Thom Rainer provides 6 characteristics that describe this person:
1. A faithful church member is a unifying member.
2. A faithful church member will not let the church be about his/her preferences or desires.
3. A faithful church member will pray for the leaders of the church.
4. A faithful church member will lead their family to be healthy church members.
5. A faithful church member will be a functioning church member.
6. A faithful church member will treasure church membership as a gift.
While all of these characteristics are important, I want to pull out one - #5 "a functioning church member."
When I think of a functioning church member I think of a "committed" church member. Unfortunately as I look across the landscape of the church today, I see a lack of commitment. Maybe you're thinking, "well, I attend church every Sunday morning." That's great, but there's much more to being a church member than just showing up on Sunday morning. A "functioning, faithful, and committed" church member is committed in at least 3 specific areas of the church–stewardship, worship, and service!
A faithful church member is committed to financial stewardship. This person regularly supports the the ministry and work of the Lord through their tithes and offerings. The Bible is clear in Malachi 3:10 that we are to "bring the whole tithe into the storehouse." This isn't an outdated, Old Testament, principle. It is the responsibility of every church member to support the ministry and work of the Lord through his or her local church body.
A faithful church member is committed to worship. Hebrews 10:25 reminds us to "not forsake the assembling of ourselves together." I believe this speaks to the regular practice of corporate worship. As Christian American's we should never neglect this opportunity. Many people in our world do not enjoy this freedom. Remember this about worship - corporate worship is a rehearsal for heaven! That's right! When we gather together on Sunday morning we are just "warming up" for eternity! Don't neglect this privilege!
A faithful church member is committed to service in the body. In Ephesians 4:12 Paul reminds us that pastors had been called to "equip the saints for the work of ministry." This means my job as pastor, and the job of our staff, is to prepare and equip you, the body, for service and ministry to the Lord. Let me ask you - where are you serving? Are you serving?
Do you know why the Dead Sea is called the "Dead Sea?" It's because water flows into this historical body of water, but never flows out. As a result of the gathering of this water, the Dead Sea is the saltiest body of water in the world, with 33.7% salinity. Because of this high level of salt, no fish or aquatic plants exists in the Dead Sea. Don't be a "Dead Sea church member!" Let the Living Water of Christ flow through you as you faithfully serve the Lord.
I hope we will all take a few minutes to examine our hearts. Will you join me and ask yourself - "Am I a faithful church member?" Not just a church member, but "faithful" church member!
Do you support the ministry of the church through your tithes and offering? If not, begin today by giving through the means your church has made available.
Do you regularly attend corporate worship with our church family at Temple? If not, make a commitment to be present this Sunday! Don't wait, jump in now!
Do you serve anywhere in the body at Temple? If not, contact a staff member about opportunities to serve. We would be happy to connect you to a ministry where we know the Lord could use you!
If we can't answer "yes" to these questions, I hope we'll take a minute to examine our hearts and motives. Let's do all we can to be faithful church members for the glory of God!
Over the last few days there has been a lot of conversation on the recent release of William Paul Young's book and blockbuster, The Shack. While much has been, and will continue to be said, about the book and the movie, I feel it necessary to share some thoughts and comments. For the sake of full disclosure I have not read the book, nor have I seen the movie. However, I do not feel it necessary to fulfill either of these obligations in order to speak to the concerns at hand. My comments are based upon reviews and hearing Young speak about his life and work.
A few nights ago I watched a couple of episodes of "Redeeming The Shack" on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). Honestly, this is a network I do not often watch, nor do I agree with much of the theology espoused by the founders or leaders of TBN. Nonetheless, the network has recorded several episodes with Young sharing his personal story and the motivations of The Shack. Young was very open about his intentions with the book and the theology he hopes to convey through the continued sale of the book, and newly released, movie.
Having listened to Young share about the story, the characters, and their roles I do have some concerns with the movie. My goal is not to bash Young. In watching the TBN special I was moved by Young's honesty and transparency in discussing his personal story–the good, bad, and ugly. Without a doubt Young is a man of sincerity, but that does not mean he is orthodox in his theology. One should never sacrifice truth on the altar of sincerity.
One of the concerns I have about this movie is not necessarily with the movie itself. While I do have my concerns about the message and imagery of The Shack, my greater concern is with the Christians who flock to this movie, as they have others (such as Heaven Is For Real), looking for answers to questions and meaning in life, which should ultimately be sought in God's Word. Never should our theology be built upon a book (other than the Bible) or a movie. The Scriptures should be our guide in all matters of faith and practice. If we have to look to a novel, movie, or any other source for these issues, we all are most to be pitied.
From hearing Young speak, the clips I have seen, and the reviews I have read, I do think there are some problematic issues and concerns with Young's understanding and presentation of God, Jesus, and the Trinity. I concur with Dr. Al Mohler's analysis, "The theology of The Shack is not incidental to the story. Indeed, at most points the narrative seems mainly to serve as a structure for the dialogues. And the dialogues reveal a theology that is unconventional at best, and undoubtedly heretical in certain respects." There is no question viewers will be entertained by The Shack. Like every good movie, The Shake includes all the elements of relationships, tragedy, redemption, and hope. It's a best seller! However, those who seeks to uphold a Biblical worldview must use use caution when viewing this movie, or any movie, for that matter. This movie will in now way enhance my understanding of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, because much of its espoused theology is heretical, and at best faulty. Among my concerns with The Shack is it's teaching of universalism, the belief that all mankind will be saved; it's inaccurate theology of sin; and it's unorthodox misrepresentation of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Yes, I understand The Shack is a work of fiction. However, too many professing followers of Jesus simply fall down to anything and everything that "looks Christian." As one review from GotQuestions.org noted - "if you're going to have God as a character in your fiction, then you must deal with God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. By using the Trinity as characters, The Shack is clearly indicating that it’s talking about the God of Christianity. But God has said certain things about Himself in Scripture, and much of what’s in this novel contradicts that."
We would be wise to head John's words in 1 John 4:1 - "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false profits have gone out into the world." Do I intend to read the book? No. Do I plan to watch the movie, probably not. In all honesty I have no desire to see the movie. Should you? Well, in the end it's a matter of conscience and conviction. James said, "to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is a sin" (James 4:17).
As the page turns on another year, I have been thinking about the possibilities of the year ahead. Personally, professionally, and familially, what will the year hold? For most of us there are more questions than answers, however, there is one word that best describes the coming year for me–faith.
The author of Hebrews defines faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). There are alot of things that cannot be seen in the year ahead. I do not know the future, but I know who holds the future. I also know that His plans are good plans. Why? Because God desires the end to be His glory. He desires all things to be for His glory! In this profound truth I find my rest. I have faith that my God is able! I have faith that in His timing He will work. By faith, I trust in Him!
So, what's your word?
Every January as the page turns on a new year we tend to make resolutions. We resolve to spend more time with our families, to lose weight, to eat more nutritiously, to read our Bibles, etc. If the truth be told, we often break many, if not all, of these resolutions by the end of January. This year, I've decided to not make any resolutions! That's right! No resolutions! I have decided to simply do my best to love Jesus more today, than I did yesterday. To this end, here are 3 suggestions that I pray will help all of us start the New Year with Jesus...
1. Start the New Year in Worship, becase Jesus deserves it!
The writer of Hebrews tells says, "Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another --and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:25). In short, we are told to not miss gathering with the people of God to worship God. Much like the audience to whom Hebrews was written, there are many today who have fallen into the "habit" of not gathering regularly for worship. One of the reasons we should do this is simply because Jesus deserves it! He deserves our worship and adoration. He deserves our gathering together. One day, soon, He will return. So, let us eagerly gather in worship as we wait for His approaching!
2. Start the New Year in Community, because we need it!
We need each other! I need you and you need me! Did you know that there are dozens of "one another" statements in the Bible? The Bible tells us to "love one another," "pray for one another," "encourage one another," etc. Life was never meant to be lived alone, but in community! We need the encouragement, support, and accountablity of a group of believers to be successful in living life as disciples of Jesus. I once heard James Merrit say, "You can be a Christian without going to church, but you won't be a good Christian without going to church." This is true becuase we need a community of believers, i.e., the body of Christ, to help us reach our fullest potential in Christ.
3. Start the New Year in God's Word, becuase you can't live without it!
In Matthew 4 Jesus found Himself in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. This was just after His baptism and the beginning of His ministry. While in the wilderness He was tempted three times by the devil. In Matthew 4:4 Jesus responds to one of those temptations saying, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Jesus knew that to survive and thrive, He must find His hope in God's Word! In fact, with each temptation, Jesus quoted Scripture (from Deuteronomy). If Jesus needed the Word of God, how much more do we?
Will you join me in 2017 as we commit to living and loving Jesus? No, resolutions! Just whole-hearted commitment! I'd also love to have you join me for worship on January 1, 2017 at Temple Baptist Church!
Last week I wrote a blog on the Rhythms of Life. As promised I wanted to follow up that article with a series of blogs on what I believe are essential beats that must be included in the rhythms of our life. The first is personal time with the Lord in prayer and study of His Word.