Three Imperatives in the Selection of Godly Leaders

20 03 2018

A Christian community can admirably follow a course of prayerful decision-making only to abort God’s direction in a faithless choice in the final hour.

A latent agenda of a power faction, seeds of doubt, or the desire by a leader to control the outcome – these are among the ways a community can be deprived of God’s appointed leadership, even after prolonged, submissive prayer.

The first congregation resisted this temptation. Peter stood up among the 120, who had been committed to prayer, and said they needed to replace the vacancy created by the death of Judas (Acts 1:15-20). Their example shows us three imperatives in selecting godly leaders: Calling, Message, Unity.

  1. The CALLING to sacrifice must be clear.

Other than places where the church is persecuted, leadership has become a desirable occupation. You should see what some churches use to lure the talented one: the salary, the staff, vacation time, further studies, conferences, attendance numbers, housing package, retirement plan. And you should see the line-up to snag these lucrative positions! Oh, its big business.

Peter said to the congregation, as he looked over at the few men who had followed Jesus and said:

“one of these must become a witness (Greek, martur) with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:22)

Do you want to handle your congregation the way God handled His first church plant? Make sure all your leaders know they are called to sacrificial witness.

  1. The MESSAGE of the gospel must be declared.

The resurrection of Christ was the hope and joy of this mid-sized congregation. But down the stairs from the upper room and into the raucous streets of Jerusalem, the resurrection was hogwash after a downpour.

We must not miss the fact that God’s leaders are called to deliver the very message that is foolishness to the world – the sacrificial death on the CROSS, the BURIAL of His corpse, and the bodily RESURRECTION of Christ to live forever and save the lost.

I grieve what I see and read today, where preachers and writers are reframing the foolish message into a more palatable blend. Yes, justice, compassion, formation, healing, are all aspects of the good news. They can also inoculate from having to give the tawdry facts of sin, judgment, forgiveness, and the cross.

Teachers, we are responsible for what we give. Let us not get creative with the message entrusted to us. Resist the drift! Faithfully tell the old, old story with the fervor of a pardoned criminal.

  1. The UNITY of the people must be guarded.

I recently heard of a church where the pastor of over 30 years has announced his retirement at some time in the near future (Alert: Fuzzy timeline). He says he is going to work with the elders to secure a good replacement (Alert: Controlling). And he does not want an interim pastor but instead wants to guide the new pastor for some time to ensure a minimal loss of attenders (Alert: Naïve).

Sir, I ask you. Whose church is it? Why can you not trust your congregation? And should they mess things up (which they well might) why can you not trust the Head of the church, working with the Holy Spirit, to pull them through stronger in faith?

I note that when the first church of Jerusalem pulled through their leader selection process, the day of Pentecost arrived and “they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).

No selection of godly leaders should ever have an ungodly effect on the congregation. And no casting of lots should ever result in the casting of insults.


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Women’s equality and the resurrection

16 04 2017

Resurrection kills book sales

First of all, the fact that all four gospels record the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that either the authors knew nothing about getting books sold, or they were committed to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Because the resurrection is the hardest pill to swallow and a real popularity-killer.

And the fact that the early church did not edit out the resurrection story further proves that the incredible rising of a dead man back to life was a narrative they were willing to suffer for. Which they did, not only in lack of popularity but in imprisonment and execution.

But now let me mention how the resurrection intentionally affirms the value of women.

You are surely aware that throughout history, women have generally been regarded as having less authority and credibility than men. This continues in many societies today, and it was certainly the case in the period during which Jesus lived on earth.

In fact, a valid witness in a Jewish court of law had to be free (not a slave), passed bar-mitzvah, mentally competent, able to hear — oh, and male.

So if the New Testament writers were scripting a narrative to show the resurrection was a historical fact, the witnesses would by no means be women!

Enter the God of surprises.

She wasn’t even high-born.

The very first person to witness the resurrection was a woman whom Jesus had delivered from seven demons. Here is Scripture that has stayed in the record for close to 2,000 years, “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons” (Mark 10:9)

Culturally speaking, the Apostle Peter would have been a better choice. The outspoken, Type-A “rock” of the church would have commanded attention as the lead witness. But no, God chose for His first witness a woman whose life had been in tatters till she was delivered by Jesus.

The men didn’t believe her. (shocker!)

What does she know? Mentally, is she together?  “She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe (Mark 10:10-11).

A mighty angel knocked over guards and assured the women

So a magnificent angel (“His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow” Matt. 28:3) roars into that cemetery. The Roman guards keel over as dead. He assures Mary and some other women who have now gathered, that Jesus has risen. Go tell the men, he says. So they head off, amazed and in shock but joyful.

On the way (this is amazing)…

On the way, “behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’ So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him” (Matt. 28:9).

And He told them to not be afraid.

resurrection women affirmed

God entrusted the most important news of the Bible to a few women.

No novelist concocted this story. But male historians recorded it and came to believe it.

I thank God for His radical view of womanhood.

Our Christian history, our faith, our world would be woefully lacking without women then and now.

Sisters, we need your faith and your voice of truth today.

Go, tell His disciples that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead!


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Here’s why your church has ups and downs

16 04 2017

Everyone has a church story.
…It was wonderful. It was horrible.
…I quit for now. I quit for good.

There are many statements we hear about the church:
…If it weren’t for the people, I would love the church.
…If you find the perfect church, don’t join it because you’ll wreck it.
…I love Jesus. I just can’t stand the church

We often think that when we have a good church experience we do well in our Christian life, but when the church struggles we fall back. This can be the case. Division, apathy, immorality and many other problems can cause harm to believers.

But consider this:

–>> Every church will have struggles and these struggles are essential to spiritual maturity.

One of the primary ways God will conform you to the image of Christ is through your positive and negative experiences in Christian community.

Please allow me to explain with these three points:

1. True Christian community is gospel formed.

By “gospel formed” I mean that the gospel (which at the core is Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ) is the pattern God uses to shape mature disciples. This is true for us as individuals and Christian groups.

I won’t go into a lot of detail here, only to say that when communities go through death-like experiences, it is very hard!

2. Hard times in community call us to greater growth.

The Apostle John reminds us that Jesus’ sacrifice remains the pattern for true community, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:16).

Do you see the death of Christ in that verse? Do you see the sacrifice asked of believers in community? The church goes through hard times so that you can learn to imitate your sacrificial Savior.

I know, not easy to hear!

3. Because Jesus rose from the dead, His communities can experience His risen life.

The community of Christ is to be conformed not only to His death but also to His resurrection!  As we endure, we will experience His grace, and will realize that we are living a supernatural life in community. And the world will see that we are different because Christ is living His life through us.

It is sad that we sometimes bail out on a church in its death-stage and miss out on its resurrection-stage!

That’s why most times we should hang in there.

Would you like to learn about being gospel-formed? God is conforming you to Christ in many ways — not only in community. Also in your family, in holiness, and in suffering.

I have written some lessons which explain it. They are prepared and ready to go. All you need to do is sign up for my “good news giveaways”!

Hope to see you soon!

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A real hope for racial equality

15 01 2017

In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I write out of my burden for our wounded nation. For my African-American friends who I believe when they tell me of their experiences with institutional racism, and for those in the privileged class who are prone to hear but not listen, look but not perceive the plight of so many of our fellow citizens.  So I write briefly to hopefully add light and a challenge:

1. “Racial equality” will never happen across the United States.

2. Cultural and economic interdependence is embedded in the true church.

Let me seek to prove these statements:

First, “Racial equality” will never happen across the United States.

Dr. King, who is a person in American history I deeply admire, invoked Biblical themes in his blend of Christian ministry and social action. One only need read the brilliant and beautiful “I have a dream” speech to hear the echoes of the prophet Isaiah (in chapter 40) who foresaw mountains being leveled and valleys lifted. Isaiah’s forecast referred to making a highway for a visiting king, the Lord.

That hints at the reason I say racial equality will never happen across the U.S., because America is not equivalent to the people of God. I wish it were different, but a secular state like America can never muster the selflessness and compassion needed to bring racial equality. As much as I believe that the sacred and the spiritual should not be separated, this is one case where the distinction is necessary. 

The greed, love of power, clinging to comfort and privilege are too embedded in our secular country to expect that which only a sacred people can effect. Government will not bring equality. A movement of citizens will not bring justice.  This leads to a word of hope.

Second, Cultural and economic interdependence is embedded in the true church.

I have sought to choose my words carefully. When I say that racial equality will never happen “across the United States,” I refer to the kind of broad scale transformation which some seem to demand when they speak of America changing completely. Evil forces which divide and destroy will not let this happen.

However, the true church of Jesus Christ offers hope of supplying enclaves of interdependence between people of all ethnicites, cultures, and social standings. Many scriptures support this truth, and I will here cite just one. The Apostle Paul writes about the “body of Christ,” i.e. all those, everywhere, who have placed their faith in the saving work of Christ alone (His sacrificial death, His burial, and His bodily resurrection). In calling this massive host of people a “body,” Paul says that we are inseparable from one another and cannot live out our purpose without each other. We are spiritually and practically interdependent.

The chapter containing this teaching (1 Corinthians 12) primarily refers to the interdependence of Christians with regard to “spiritual gifts” such as teaching, healing, and administration. But there is a reference to social issues embedded in this teaching that is easily overlooked and therefore ignored:

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13 New King James Version)

All genuine believers in Jesus Christ, no matter what their descent or language, whether they are privileged or trapped in cycles of obligatory service, are dependent on each other. The love of Christ, and our love for Christ, is expected by the sacred writings to so dominate our way of life that the divisiveness of society is eradicated by the oneness of our faith. Conformity to the character of Jesus is to create in His followers a “new man” that reflects Him (Col. 3:10-11).

I do not say that it is pointless to work for justice and equality in society at large.  My plea is that we who truly know Christ intentionally demonstrate that the only true way to bring hope to the hopeless and strength to the weak is by realizing our interdependence on each other in the body of Christ. We are incomplete without each other. The new community in Christ can only reflect Christ when we intentionally love those whom the world expects us to hate.

Photocredit: WPImageSmart





How honesty pays

28 12 2016

“Honesty pays,” is a phrase we hear from our youth. I suggest it “pays” in peace of mind, whether or not it pays financially.

Recently my daughter bought a car. I was helping with the transaction, and when we came to filling out the transfer documents the seller suggested he would be willing to falsely lower the purchase price to lower the amount we would have to pay in tax. We declined and entered the actual amount of purchase.

Not an hour after we had left, the seller called and surprised us by saying, “We would like to give back $300 because the tires will need replacing soon, and because you didn’t lower the sale price on the document.” We told him this was not necessary, that it was highly unusual, but very kind. We accepted his gift with thanks!

This incident came to mind again this morning as I was reading the story of Abraham receiving God’s command to take his beloved son Isaac up the mountain to offer sacrifice. You will recall that Abraham, beyond belief, proceeded to sacrifice his son, when the Lord graciously spared the boy and provided a ram as sacrifice. That holy place was named “YHWH Jireh.” This name has come to us as one of our favorite names for God: “The-LORD-Will Provide.”

But the story continues with a vital statement:  “as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (Gen. 22:14). We love to focus on the Lord’s provision, but we detach His provision from His call to the mountain.

Truth-telling must not be lost as our culture grows comfortable with compromise. 

Three years ago I made a mistake when I calculated my taxes. Later I engaged a tax preparation service which offered to check my past statement. I thanked them for this service, but was dismayed when they informed me that I had ignorantly underpaid by several hundred dollars. They gave me options, one of which was to assume the IRS would not find the mistake since they are so understaffed. I said no, send me the form to correct my error so that I can pay the back taxes (which I am still doing in monthly increments).

My application of the text is that I “went to the mountain” of obedience, and the Lord is providing.

. Not only does honesty pay in peace of mind, it says something to others who happen to observe it. Let’s be different, and have fun doing it!


Photo credit: WP Image Smart/Pixabay

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