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Archive for October, 2012

A congregation typically will not grow without leaders who are growing in spirituality and cultural awareness in their own lives.

Why? Because the societal and spiritual challenges/opportunities presented to the congregation change over the years. If leaders are not adaptive in method and context, it will matter little if they’re rock solid doctrinally.

Imagine being a high school business education teacher who believes in the importance of workplace integrity and a willingness to study diligently, yet stubbornly maintains that typewriters are more efficient than personal computers linked to printers.

You’d be an unemployed teacher who isn’t preparing students for success and for finding a job.

Yes, the teaching doctrine of integrity and hard work is good. But the contextual irrelevance is not.

Church leaders today are faced with rapidly changing landscapes in how to “do church.” Tie or no tie? Pews or chairs? Choir or praise team? Slacks or jeans? Youth church? Or keep grades 4-6 in the worship service? Women in non-preaching worship leadership roles? Or only as musicians or singers?

The list of methodology questions could go on and on, of course, and not cross into any violation of biblical doctrine. Church leaders should be looking at how to increase the relevance of congregational worship and volunteer ministries in ways that don’t confict with biblical doctrine.

Though methodology should be flexible, the doctrine for leadership conduct should not.

In fact, I believe that a congregation will be more confident about leadership’s changing ministry methodology if the members are confident about the leadership’s behavioral theology.

Here are the expectations for how an elder is to conduct himself. When I see elders who live the way described below — something to which I also aspire — I am more confident that my congregation will make progress toward God’s vision for the church, even as we consider different methodological routes.

“Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” (I Timothy 3:1-7)

I counted 15 characteristics for assessing if an elder is being faithful in his behavior theology, none of which deal with specific doctrinal theologies.

Listen, if the men we’ve selected as elders for our congregations are biblically solid in how they heed the expectations above, then we can have greater confidence that they’ll be biblically solid in how they embrace new ways of worship and ministry for conveying the never-changing truths of the Bible.

Pray for your elders to become more like the above so that their greater firmness in faith can allow your congregation to embrace a greater flexibility in “doing” church.

As always, I love you
Martin

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It’ a wonderful thing when in the midst of a terribly difficult season in our lives, there is someone who intentionally does all he or she can to help us with encouragement, with prayers, with advocacy comments toward others or perhaps a combination of all three.

The load of stress and despair seems less because of such intercessory efforts and we are very grateful.

It’s likely that we’ve also experienced the opposite unfortunately, either because the involvement of some others only made things worse or because no intercessory efforts were made in our behalf.

When people in your circle of influence are going through tough times, how do you respond?

Are they quietly hoping you’ll try to help?

Are they overtly asking for your help?

Are they receiving that help?

Are you encouraging? Praying? Serving as their advocate toward those who need to stop hurting them or to start helping them?

Are you a God-hearted, God-empowered, Spirit-guided intercessor? Or are you a disinterested observer who doesn’t want to get involved because it would cost you something?

God calls us to help others because it’s the Christlike thing to do. It’s also the Golden Rule thing to do.

Let’s not be the person described in a passage from today’s reading in the One-Year Bible:

Like a broken tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble.” (Proverbs 25:19)

Let’s be imitators of God when it comes to helping those in our lives. Let’s be everpresent helpers in times of trouble.

It’s what we want from others. And it’s what we’re called to offer to others.

The huting, frustrated friends and family around us already have enough broken teeth and lame feet without us adding to the list.

As always, I love you
Martin

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A preacher friend and I exchange devotional mailings most weekday mornings. His name is Steve Jones and he ministers with Vero Christian Church in Vero Beach, FL.

Steve’s devotions are designed as ultra-brief insights of a passage from the daily segment of the One-Year Bible. It’s a different format than mine and that’s good because I like reading biblical insights in different forms as long as what is written is true to the Word.

Here’s what Steve shared today:

Jeremiah 29:7
“And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

This advice to the Jewish exiles living in Babylon is good advice for us. Our true citizenship is in heaven but our temporary home is here – we’re “exiles”. While we’re here, we should actively work in our communities for peace and prosperity (from a Christian perspective). Don’t isolate – PERMEATE.

Good advice, Steve. Thanks.

Let’s all choose to permeate our corners of the world today. We’ll have all of eternity to hang out only with believers after we leave this life.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Two things that we Christians should desire most cannot be ours simply we want them.

The fact is that we sometimes have to change how we think and act if we’re to have any hope of having them.

I’m talking about the love of God and the capacity for the perseverance of Christ.

A brief verse in my devotional reading today speaks to this truth:

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5)

By implication, we learn that experiencing and embracing the depth of God’s love and of Christ’s perseverance is not something that comes naturally to us.

Instead, this love and this spiritual endurance are the fruits of a surrendered, submissive relationship with God and with Christ.

We cannot have these to the measure God desires and that we need unless we ask the Lord to guide our thoughts, emotions and actions.

The verse above is not talking about God’s universal love that was shown to all humans when Jesus died on the cross as the atonement for sin. I believe, instead, that Paul is addressing the blessing of an intimate relationship with the Father who saves souls, blesses lives and directs paths.

That’s what I want. More importantly, that’s what I need. I cannot reach the place of receiving these blessings simply because I think I should have them. I need to take God’s hand and allow Him to lead me to that place of surrendered blessing.

And so it is with the enduring godliness and graciousness of Christ. My flawed nature is incapable of Christ’s goodness and determination on my strength alone. I’ve tried in the past and fallen short enough times to know that I need help to become like Jesus.

I need the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide me in the choices and disciplines that will mold me more into the pattern of Christ.

Listen, we’re all tempted to think we can be godly without God’s help.

Doesn’t sound like a very smart way of thinking, does it?

Let’s be smart. Let’s take God’s hand and trust that we’ll experience more of His love in our life journey and gain more of Christ’s strength for those times when the journey gets hard.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Sometimes we might wonder why the Bible states the obvious such as with the following: “….reject whatever is harmful.” (I Thessalonians 5:22)

In fact, it would be patronizing of scripture to tell us what we already know IF we were 100 percent compliant in this regard.

But we’re not.

We periodically behave as if we have forgotten the teaching to reject whatever is harmful, and so we make choices harmful to ourselves or harmful to others, or both.

The reality is that we need reminding to reject whatever is harmful.

Our God-ordained mission in life is to be God’s hands and voice to people in a lost and dying world. We are to be agents of Truth and blessing.

That’s why our words and actions should only build others up rather than tear them down.

The specific context of the Apostle Paul’s teaching was with the religious teachings given the Thessalonian Christians by various speakers. Paul told them to respectfully listen to whoever claimed to be preaching or teaching God’s Word, but to embrace only that preaching and teaching that was “good” because it was true to scripture.

Any other teaching that didn’t correctly communicate the purposes of God and the pure, passionate person of Christ was harmful to Christianity in general and spiritually deadly to whoever received them.

As important as it is to not put unhealthy food, drinks and other substances into our bodies, it is even more important that we reject harmful teachings that undermine the authority of God, the deity of Christ and our responsibility to maintain a sanctified, saving relationship with Christ.

Examine the lives of those leading your congregation. Check as the Berean Christians did in Acts 17 to make sure that what is being taught is 100 percent accurate to the Bible.

If it’s not, ask God to lead your to a congregation where the preaching and teaching are truthful, not harmful.

There’s just too much at stake to get this wrong.

As always, I love you
Martin

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A conversion testimony can be powerfully influential when given to those who knew the believer’s life before he or she came to Christ.

The magnetism of a better life transformed by the regenerating grace and power of God is, in fact, quite strong to those who concede that their lives lack the peace and purpose they desire.

But I read something this morning that reminded me of something we Christians don’t sufficiently recognize.

I’m talking about the testimony that speaks to those who’ve already “named the Name of Jesus Christ.”

I’m talking about the testimony of those who became believers, then strayed and then came back home spiritually.

This is the sort of testimony that doesn’t get as much play in our churches because it requires humble admission of personal failure.

But it’s also the sort of testimony that is more commonly needed and can touch more lives, it seems to me.

I’m talking about the believer who speaks openly and humbly about the journey from submission to rebellion and back.

This is a journey of every believer to varying extents during the course of his or her life. Sometimes the waywardness is brief and minor. Sometimes it is extended and major.

Whenever it happens, it is wrong and requires repentance.

We convert once in our lives. But we require repentance many times in our lives.

The more we’re willing to open up to others about our weaknesses and God’s restoring grace, the more the Gospel will be lifted up and the more that people will be drawn to Christ.

And that’s why the verse below spoke so clearly as to the potency of the restored believer’s testimony:

“However, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when people will no longer say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their ancestors.” (Jeremiah 16:14-15)

The testimony of one restored from the dark days of rebellion and chastening into the peaceful, purposeful presence of the Lord has a powerful message to share regarding the restorative love of God.

Let’s open our hearts to the possibility of sharing a testimony about how God mercifully restored and strengthened us following a time a spiritual error.

This type of testimony just might reach far more people in the congregation who are long removed from their conversion experiences.

As always, I love you
Martin

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If you’ve ever had a close friend turn into a traitor — for whatever reason — you know how hard it is to restore that person back into your inner circle.

Perhaps you have yet to do so.

Sometimes that betrayal shatters a victim’s emotional DNA and he or she is never the same.

I’m grateful that God’s character and compassion and desire for relationship are greater than the destructive power of man’s selfish pride and that His empowerment helps us to overcome the emotional-defense barriers we erect to protect our lacerated hearts.

The passage below from today’s devotional reading points to God’s mind-blowing grace that offered to forgive the Hebrews’ chasing after false gods, something that broke God’s heart.

I can’t promise that I would have shown the same grace had I been in God’s place.

“And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people.” Jeremiah 12:16

When somebody sincerely apologies for betraying us, we are to forgive them and give them a place in our lives — just like God did with the exiles who returned from Babylonian captivity.

Perhaps our relationship will be on a different, more guarded level, but we clearly are called to let go of all grudges and let God’s love and Word flow through our lives into the lives of those who turned the corner toward doing what is right toward us and in God’s sight.

It won’t be easy for either party, but it will be pleasing in the sight of God.

As always, I love you
Martin

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