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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A reason for mercy

4 10 2017

If you are a Christian, you belong to a kingdom you did not design. Its design is from its King. The kingdom He brought places a lot of control and responsibility in your hands. Consider this promise:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7).

Do you want to receive mercy from others? Be a merciful person — in words and actions. Show kindness and you will receive kindness.

This idea reappears in a later teaching: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). Jesus even goes on to say that we can measure out the level of judgmentalism we want to receive, and use that same measure in our judging of others (7:2).

Who am I prone to find fault with today? Family members? Church leaders or workmates? Immigrants? Politicians? “Them”?

Am I willing to receive from God the same measure of criticism that I use toward them?

If that is not a comforting prospect, I had better choose a less critical attitude and intentionally have mercy.

He is food for the soul

11 05 2017

I can understand why some disciples left Jesus after they heard this. Jesus seems to have drifted into the terrain of the weird, yet in fact He was plowing further into the soil of truth.

Here’s the background in summary (John 6:1-50):

  • Jesus had fed thousands of listeners on a hillside. He told His disciples that He was the bread of life which would bring not just temporary satisfaction but eternal fulfillment.
  • He’s the bread that ends undernourishment of soul, the supply that can end spiritual starvation.
  • Why? Because He delivers the truth, and nothing but the truth, straight from God the Father. Manna in the desert was great for a while, but 40 years of the stuff got oldy-moldy. But the bread of life is pure satisfaction.
  • Believe it, He says, and you will have eternal life.

If Jesus had stopped there He would have kept His large crowds.

The “bread” I’m talking about, says the One who came down from heaven, is my flesh. If you want to have this life, you must eat my flesh. That’s not all. If you don’t drink my blood you do not have this life I’m talking about. But if you eat and drink, I will raise you up on the last day. “He who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn. 6:58).

At that point, the congregation dwindled. This stuff was too hard. Uncomfortable.

Let’s hang with the inner core disciples and say, in effect, “No we are not leaving because as weird as You are talking right now, you have the words of eternal life.”

What could it mean for us to eat and drink Jesus?

How do we consume a meal?

First, we hunger. We have an appetite for nourishment, realizing that we need food. This must be true whether the food is tasty or bitter. We hunger for food because it is good for us, and often sweet to taste. Peter wrote that we should desire the pure milk of the word so we can grow from it.

Second, we take it in. We put it in our mouths, we chew it, and we swallow it. Some of us heard our mothers say, “Chew your food, don’t just inhale it!” This is a cooperative venture between food and eater, between Christ and the disciple. We slow down and eat His words. We read, study, reflect, ponder. Meanwhile, Jesus functions as nourishment, delivering truth from the Father.

A final thought is that the nourishment becomes a part of us. Ever heard “You are what you eat”? We are changed by the nourishment we intake. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in Him.” The Son of God progressively enters the soul and inhabits a larger space. And, “he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.” (Jn. 6:56-57)

eats my flesh

Where do we go with this today? I got to thinking about this idea of consume.

  • A “consumer” is one who purchases, who uses, who takes for himself.
  • To “consume” is to imbibe or devour.
  • A marriage is “consummated” through profound intimacy.

The Son of God knew this teaching would turn away casual followers, so He pushed ahead and told the whole truth in expectation that a few of us would stay the course.

I want to accept the invitation to His table every day, bringing with me all my emotions, frustrations, and hopes. I want to consume His flesh and blood, and nourish my hungry soul.

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Prayer when suffering

18 04 2017

When I have gone through seasons of suffering, I do not find it easy to pray. Sometimes all I am able to pray is “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help us get through this.”  Or, “Lord, have mercy, have mercy!”

In more peaceful times, I have received insight about prayer during suffering. This kind of prayer brings us back to the cross, and into deeper fellowship with the suffering of Christ. Consider these helps in praying through the four-fold pattern of the gospel cycle:

prayer in suffering

The cup of surrender.  Suffering calls us to surrender in two ways. First, there is the circumstantial suffering –the illness, loss, persecution, job loss, financial crisis, etc. Since this suffering has come to you, surrender to it is not so much a choice as a requirement. But the second kind of surrender is a choice – the attitude of your mind and soul. That is, how will you respond to the suffering? This is the time to pray that the will of God will be accomplished in your heart and in the circumstance.

The cross of sacrifice.  Depending on the nature of your situation, the cost of your sacrifice brings you face to face with intense pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. Unlike any other life experience, you may say “I am crucified with Christ.”  Here you may enter into the profound mystery in which the Son of God understands your suffering and, as with Mary and Martha, weeps with you.

The tomb of abiding.  Your suffering will change you. Your soul will have greater capacity to grieve what was lost while still carrying on in faith. There is no time schedule for abiding in the rest available in Christ. There is no right or wrong way to experience sadness. Pour out your feelings to the Spirit of Jesus who understands.  “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The empty tomb of manifestation. Jesus’ story did not end in the tomb, and neither will yours. The risen Christ, who lives within you, will display Himself in you. This happens as you continue to stay surrendered and as you continue to abide with Christ in your loss. Pray that Jesus will find ways to manifest Himself through you. It is not your job to think of how. You must simply maintain hope that He is able to accomplish His witness through you.

pray in sufferingPrayer response:
Sovereign God
who knows all things
who sees the confusion of my heart
who hears my cry
I am your child
the one who hurts
the one who slogs through this terrible time
the one who does not understand why
I’m stuck in time
others move forward, but I’m frozen in this place
does anyone know?
Can anyone relate?
I can’t think ahead
my faith is weak
I can’t go back and undo
my feet are stuck in mud
Please take charge
guide me through
rescue this mess
take some glory for Yourself

This brief teaching is what I write about in my email series called “Following Jesus.” In those lessons, I explain what God has shown me about the “Gospel Cycle” and how you can deepen your walk with Jesus according to the gospel pattern. I would love to send it to you. Please subscribe below.

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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!

Please let me stay in touch with you….

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