IT MAY BE WHAT YOU THINK, BUT IS IT NECESSARY?

I have been corrected (rightly so) for sins I have committed.

I have been corrected (rightly so) for careless words or actions that were unintended.

I have also been criticized to my face (and more often behind my back), for actions that were treated as sins, when in reality, my critic simply had a different opinion.

I have been criticized in people’s hearts and to others (without me being present) for reasons that were misinformed, misunderstood, or simply arrived upon by speculation.

None of these situations were pleasant.

Some of these situations were necessary.

But many of these situations were unbiblical.

If there is any lesson we should learn from the aftermath of the recent Presidential Election, it is that there are bad ways to express our disagreement and our disappointment.

As people of the gospel, Christians should have a clear grasp of what is an appropriate expression of disagreement, and what is an inappropriate – or even sinful outflowing of our heart.

What are the guidelines to how you express your disagreement?

Are you careful to make sure you came by your opinions and attitudes by a biblical process?

Has it occurred to you that holding negative opinions about people without valid information is slanderous? Even if you have not spread your opinion, you have slandered that person in your heart.

The famous “Love” passage in 1 Corinthians 13 ends with this description of how love acts:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”

It would be worth spending a few minutes to consider how this declaration about love should affect the way we think about other people. The Bible is not telling us to ignore the truth about people, but it is instructing us to think the best we can about them. This is “Treating people the way you want to be treated 101″

Accountability is good for the soul, but so is being gracious

For more thoughts on “confrontation”, read this excellent article by Tim Challies as he describes an incident when someone aggressively confronted him after a speaking engagement.

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 11.28.16

 Members Care for Their Church

by Eric Huber

The Bible established two offices for the church – elder and deacon. 

Elders are called by God to teach, lead and protect the church and her members through the ministry of the Word. 

Deacons are responsible to ensure proper care is provided to those who are most vulnerable in the church – the sick, the elderly, and the widow.  Deacons are to work alongside the elders to ensure a gospel-centered ministry in the church of both word and deed. 

These are complementary offices in the shepherding of the local church.

Elders and deacons do not do all the work in the church. 

Together, they equip and mobilize the church for ministry.  God calls every believer to commit to some local church in order that we all would experience church life as shared ministry together as we care for one another.

Members of the local church are to be equipped for ministry (Eph. 4:11-16). 

As a church, we build ourselves up in love as Christ works to grow us through our life together.  We grow only as each part is working properly in the context of our shared life together as our leaders equip us for one-another ministry.

We are each gifted for ministry.

God also gives us spiritual gifts for our one-another ministry. 1 Cor. 12:7 tells us, “To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  God gives spiritual gifts not primarily for our personal benefit, but for the benefit of others. They are given for the common good – our life shared together.

God gifts and empowers each of us to serve one another.  When we do not use our gifts for life in the church, then our shared life together is impoverished.

We are also to be obedient for ministry. 

God calls us to submit to and obey the leaders in whom God has entrusted our spiritual care (Heb 13:17).  Those leaders will give an account to God for how well they cared for us as they lead us to fulfill the biblical picture of life together in the church. 

Now, that does not mean that we cannot disagree on how things should be done.  We can, but God instructs us to follow their leadership as they seek to follow Christ.

We are gifted for ministry, and we are to be equipped and obedient for ministry. 

Finally, we are to be involved for ministry. 

We cannot receive or give the care and encouragement God wants for us if we are not living in community with the other members of our local church.  We are a spiritual family called to love and serve one another, which requires knowing one another. 

It can be scary to be vulnerable with others, but the pay-off is greater because God has promised to work in our shared life together. 

May God’s Spirit enable us to see, understand, and live out the truth of the local church as Christ’s loving Kingdom on earth.

 

WHAT DO PASTORS LOVE TO HEAR?

 

When I saw this article, “10 Things Pastors Would Love to Hear from Their Church Members”, I was obviously interested in seeing what was on the list and comparing it with my own experience.

#1 on the article’s list is undoubtedly first on my list as well (you have to read the list to discover what that is).

#10 “I will never compare you to a previous pastor” has never been an issue for me. The pastor who preceded me had an unusually powerful ministry. I don’t mind that his ministry “shoes” are bigger than mine. Plus I love him too much to worry about comparisons.

#7 “I will make certain your family has an adequate income.” Like everyone else, I could always use more money, but God and our church have always cared for my family.

#6 “I see my role as one who will confront the perpetual critics in the church.” I must admit, that is a nice one.

And #9 is pretty sweet as well.

#8 “I am available to babysit your kids.” This was helpful at one time, but now I have grandkids and you’re not taking any babysitting opportunities away from me!

Items that belong on the list:

“Let me tell you how God is using me in someone’s life”

“What are some helpful books to read?”

“This is how I have been growing lately in my love for God”

“I love my church”

“This is why I am thankful for the people of our church”

“I am interested in going on a mission trip”

“Let’s get some coffee”

“This pie I baked for you is still warm”

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 11.21.16

Deacons Bring Strength to Their Church     

 

The establishment of deacons is described in Acts 6:1-6

The role of deacon came in response to weakness in the church. The Greek speaking widows were receiving the same care as the Hebrew widows

The Apostles recognized that word ministry had to remain their top priority

They realized this problem must be addressed, but that they should not be distracted from word ministry to organize the solution.

The role they established to help this need was taken seriously v3

Deacons were not simply good church members who were available and willing

Everything that a church does represents Christ and his kingdom. All we do should have gospel priorities

The Apostles made the point in v3 that deacon work flows from the ‘Holy Spirit’ and requires biblical ‘wisdom’ 

The deacons were commissioned v6

The significance of this is that the seven were not just given a task to solve, they were given an ongoing ministry role in the church

The word “deacon” not used in Acts 6, but the intention seems clear

An ongoing role was established in Acts 6; and later we see the church has an office called deacon

If this was not the beginning of the deacon role, then the Bible has given the church an undefined office to fulfill

The title deacon is the Greek word for ‘servant’ – diakonos, which is used twice in Acts 6

v1 “widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (or deacon)

v2  “It is not right we give up preaching the word . . to serve (or deacon) tables”

We can see how the role established in Acts 6 soon became known as ‘deacon’

 

The role of deacon appears solidified in Philippians 1:1

Philippians 1:1 is the first time the word diakonos is clearly used as an official office in the church

Paul groups deacons with overseers which indicates the  prominence of their role in that church

 

Qualifications for deacon 1 Timothy 3:8-13

This list directly follows the list of qualifications for pastors in vs 1-7

Just as the qualifications for pastors focuses on godly character, so do the qualifications for deacons

The main difference in the two lists is that deacons are not required to be “able to teach”

Churches often view elder as a spiritual role and deacon as a practical role

Yes, it is true that elders have a word ministry focus, and deacons have a deed ministry focus

However, the point of the two lists in 1 Timothy 3 is clearly that both roles are spiritual

These are complimentary roles that together bless the church

Pastors/elders have authority over deacons based on:

(1)  Pastors are responsible for Word ministry which directs all that the church does

(2)  Pastors also called overseers, indicating their role of leading the church

(3)  Pastors are given significantly more emphasis in the New Testament

Like the office of pastor, the deacon role should be essentially unchanging

Like pastors, what deacons do in a church is what deacons in every church in every culture and age should do. Obviously some of the practices change with time, but the heart for being a deacon or a pastor are set by Scripture and should not be altered.

From the context of Acts 6, our view is that deacons are called to represent the church in caring for the sick, hurting and vulnerable within the local church

Like pastors, deacons are not responsible to do all the work, but coordinate all the church in it

v13 tells us that to be a deacon is blessed role

Deacons help make sure the church is unified demonstrating love in action and in putting works to our faith

Each church should honor its deacons and be grateful for their work before God

A faithful deacon is a blessing and a strength to their church!

IS THERE CLARITY FOR THE FREE WILL DEBATE?

The issue of whether people have a ‘free will’ has been hotly debated for centuries. It is a debate that will likely continue until Jesus comes.

In my view, much of the distance between believers on this issue is that we have somewhat different definitions in mind about the terms we throw at one another. Once terms are better clarified, there still may be disagreement, but the difference is not as dramatic as we once imagined.

We may even grow to have new appreciation for each others perspective. This is true on virtually all debatable issues within historic Christianity.

I don’t think it is particularly clear or accurate to throw out absolute statements such as, “Yes, we all have a free will” or, “No one has a free will”.

I think Scripture gives us a clear, but more nuanced understanding.

We can certainly say; people choose to act as they do and are fully responsible for their actions. Romans 1:18-32 describes the responsibility people have in “suppressing the truth” and “exchanging” the glory of God for their own wisdom.

Yet, in this same epistle, Paul says the mind set on the flesh “cannot” submit to God (8:7). In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul says that the natural mind is “not able to understand” spiritual truth. Ephesians 2 describes all unbelievers as spiritually “dead”. This language is meant to convey our inability to choose to live godly.

So, do unbelievers have freedom of will?

The answer is yes, but only within their nature. A spiritually dead nature will not and cannot choose godliness until the Holy Spirit awakens their soul to want God.

My favorite illustration is that of the lion and the antelope.

Although the lion and the antelope share the same habitat, the lion eats meat and the antelope eats grass. Neither will ever change their eating habits, because it is not in their nature.

In fact, the lion will starve to death before it eats grass, even though the antelope happily munches on the vegetation surrounding them both.

Lions are free to eat what they want, but their choices are limited by their nature. So it is with the unregenerate person. They are free to act as they want, but they will only choose within their nature.

In the end, all Christians agree that we need the intervention of the Holy Spirit if we are to become a Christ-follower.

This is evident in the way all Christians pray regardless of their position on freedom of will. We ask God to convict and work in the hearts of those who need to receive Christ.

God doesn’t force anyone to believe, but when the Holy Spirit enlivens the soul to truly see and know the glorious Christ, we cannot get to him fast enough!

If you are interested in thinking through this issue a little further, John Piper has this helpful article on the desiringGod website.

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 11.14.16

 Shepherds Care and Protect

Acts 20:28-30

by Paul Long

 

In Acts Ch 20, Paul calls for the pastors of the Ephesian church to give them some final instructions, as this will be the last time he will see them face to face.  His overall concern is how the church is protected and cared for.

 

Shepherding the flock begins with shepherding yourselves

In addressing these pastors, his first instruction is for them to watch themselves. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves. 

Paul will say the same thing to Timothy – 1 Tim 4:16.

Pastor – guard your heart, in the busyness of ministry don’t neglect your own soul.  Don’t get so caught up in pastoring people that you forget to pastor yourself.

Sadly, personal holiness of leaders is not often the standard by which we measure success in the church today.  It is possible for the pastor to have outward ministry success and have a personal and spiritual life that is not pleasing to God.

Personal watchfulness need to be applied to any type of leadership position in the church or in the home.

Your own personal holiness is the starting factor in parenting.

If you neglect your own soul – time with God in prayer, Bible reading, weeding out sinful actions and attitudes – then you are unable to shepherd your children well.

So, whether we are parents, pastors, small group leaders or Sunday school teachers, we are called to this type of vigilance and personal watchfulness is necessary because sin always starts small.

If we personally are not loving Jesus well, then we are not leading the well.

 

Shepherds are also called to watch each other.

Pastors are fellow sheep as much as they are pastors –  so we not only give care, but receive care as well.

 

The purpose of this watchfulness is care for the church  vs 28

A good shepherd is constantly scanning the flock looking for signs of danger so they can care for the flock well.

Overseers are those that have a spiritual alertness for souls under our care.

Watchfulness is driven by what we teach–feeding the flock is the pastors main responsibility, protecting and leading flow out of that.  1 Timothy 1:3, 1 Timothy 6:3-4, Titus 2:1

At Greentree the main avenue of protection and care is through small groups and membership.

Pastors can’t get close enough to everyone to truly know you so small group leaders serve as under shepherds.

The small group is the main channel of discipleship, protection and care.

Through membership we submit to a corporate watchfulness of one another as we open our lives up to the other members for the care of our soul.

We should take these responsibilities seriously and they should be very precious to us.

At times, we miss the precious value of what we are caring for.  v 28…to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

 Jesus is the Chief Shepherd who is so committed to his sheep that he died for them.

Jesus is the Chief Shepherd; he is the Chief Pastor & Overseer of our soul.

Pastors are those who are called to shepherd the church of God under the Chief Shepherd.

As pastors, we want to follow Jesus’ example of giving our lives for the sheep- that is the heart of pastoral ministry.

This was Paul’s example in his life.  Acts 20:18-24

Our agenda is to testify to the gospel of the Grace of God.

 

Shepherds protect the flock against threats both foreign and domestic  vs 29-30

The influences of culture is one of the main wolf attacks we face.

Not only do we face danger from the outside but also – dangers from inside.

Shepherds protect from disease within the flock.

NT letters full of examples of those that seek to twist truth and draw others away.  Titus 1:10-11, 3:10-11

 

The Blessings of Protection and Care of Godly Shepherds

 1.  Blessing that someone is keeping watch over your soul

 There is a blessing in knowing that someone is tasked with the job of caring for and protecting your very soul!

Consider the seriousness of how God has designed the church to work for your care and for your good, and thank God for the blessing of someone keeping watch over your soul.

 

2.  Blessing of following and promoting Godly leadership in the church

I thank God for the spiritual protection and care that He has given us here at Greentree.  We have been blessed with Godly leadership, shepherds who keep a close watch on themselves and on the flock and for that blessing we should thank God.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

How you relate to and respond to this command sets a major tone in the church.

 

3.  Blessing that someone is coming after you if you wander

The blessing of the protection and care of the church and of the shepherds God has put in place is that if you wander – someone is coming after you.  The protection is that you won’t wander too far without someone encouraging you to come back.

QUACKERY FOR THE SOUL

 

 

In 1685 Charles II of England suffered a stroke

For treatment, the royal physicians drained the king of two cups of blood. 

Next they administered an enema

and a purgative

followed by a dose of sneezing powder 

Afterward, they drained him of another cup of blood.

All of this had no positive affect.

So, they rubbed an ointment of pigeon dung and powdered pearls onto the king’s feet. 

And they seared the king’s skull and bare feet with red-hot irons.

Still nothing helped!

After all this treatment, the king fell into convulsions so the king’s doctors prepared a potion whose principal ingredient was “forty drops of extract of human skull”.

After four days Charles died.

We immediately see the foolishness and quackery of these treatments which not only did not help the King, they increased his suffering and probably hastened his death.

Great attention was given to the King’s condition, but the doctor’s ignorance distracted them from helpful care.

 

This may seem like a detached incident from history for us.

Yet, it is an all too accurate parallel of how the leaders of our age are trying to treat the ills of the human soul today.

The sickness of the human soul is caused by sin and the only possible cure is to put our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For those who are followers of Christ, continuing spiritual health comes through feeding on the Word of God and applying what it says in our lives. Living on a diet of some biblical truth and some of our own wisdom is a sloppy mix that will leave our soul enfeebled.

None of us want quackery for our bodies, so why would we want it for our soul?

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 11.07.16

Pastors Feed and Lead their Church

 

1 Peter 5:1-4

The title ‘pastor’ comes from the biblical picture of ‘shepherd’. Pastors fulfill their role as shepherds by Feeding, Leading, Protecting and Caring for the flock (we will look at the first two in this message). Understanding the pastors’ role helps guide our expectations of pastors and our responses to them

 

God calls pastors to feed his people

Feeding is essential to the biblical intention of shepherding

The KJV even translated “shepherd the flock” as “feed the flock”

In John 21 Jesus restores Peter who had denied him 3 times, with the 3-fold charge of “feed my lambs . . tend my sheep . . feed my sheep”

Feeding is our primary responsibility, leading and protecting flow out of it

The only food we have to feed God’s people is God’s Word  2 Timothy 3:16-17

God’s word needs to be continuously Exalted – it is to be honored as being “God-breathed”

God’s word needs to be continuously Loved – more than simply revered

God’s word needs to be fully Trusted – as the highest truth, and as completely sufficient for our lives

God’s word needs to be continuously applied – that is how it “profits” us

Our spiritual diet has to mature if we are to mature  Hebrews 5:12-14

v12 we must start with the basics and be firmly rooted in them

vs 13-14 but we should not stay there

To shepherd a congregation to fully health, the teaching diet must be healthy

Pastors need to challenge how we think; because we  don’t believe as fully as we think we do

We need to dig in more by reading and thinking more deeply

We saw in 2 Timothy 3 that pastoral teaching is not merely presenting info biblical truths are to transform and mobilize our lives

Word ministry is a serious responsibility  2 Timothy 4:1-4

Pause to digest the magnitude of this “charge” (v1)

Pastors dare not hold back by avoiding or minimizing God’s word

Listeners dare not push off what they don’t like, or receive it casually

 

God calls pastors to lead his people (v2)

Christians are people in motion, we are going somewhere

(1)  We are headed for life in a kingdom that is not of this world

(2)  We are being transformed into the image of Christ

Pastors ‘shepherd’ God’s people in the direction we are to be going  Ephesians 4:11-13

They are to help everyone under their care to become more like Christ, which includes engaging everyone in service to his kingdom

This is Challenging!      

If everyone is to participate in all that maturity requires, there need to be church programs and processes to guide them

If everyone is to participate, those who are lagging must be challenged in the areas where they need to move forward

Pastors answer to God in how we fulfill the role he has given  Hebrews 13:17

It is hard to stay fully and unyieldingly biblical; so it is important that congregations encourage their pastors to remain faithful and as they are faithful

How we lead is as important as the fact that we lead (vs 2-3)

Peter presents 3 contrasting ways pastors can serve

1.  Our Attitude is not to be as under compulsion (drudgery), but willingly for the gospel

2.  Our Motive is not to be shameful gain (money, notoriety, power), but eagerly serving Christ

3.  Our Approach is not to be domineering, but as examples of godliness. We cannot lead where we are not going

Any God-given authority or responsibility is built on God-shaped character (who we are), and desires (what we want)

There is mutual accountability in the church

How the pastors lead and how the congregation follows

“Submission to pastors is not subservience, it is living orderly under the leadership of the pastors”  Scott McKnight

The entire church must be abounding with gospel truths for one another to both correct and encourage

All of us are under the leading and care of the “Chief Shepherd” (v4)

We will never truly understand the church or have a healthy church, unless Christ is our exalted head

MY ELECTION DAY MUSINGS

election-day

When I am in Belarus, people are fascinated by American elections. During each election cycle, I have many people ask for my opinion about the various candidates.

It amazes them that candidates can openly criticize and even mock the sitting President.

Our system is rather messy and in many ways I believe it is seriously flawed. Yet, in the context of world history, the American presidential election is strikingly special.

Our voting privilege is a responsibility to be taken seriously. We should vote and we should use discernment as we vote.

There are no perfect candidates and sometimes the choice is harder than others. The best practice to my understanding is to vote for the candidate who will represent your values.

Two significant factors to include in our decision making:

1.  Which voices will be influencing the candidates?

2. What type of people will the candidates be putting into positions of power? This includes cabinet level offices, but most concerning is who they will be appointing to the Supreme Court.

The warning I give at election time is to recognize that if you think the person you vote for will solve your problems and those of the world – you are greatly mistaken.

The problems of the world and the great needs of our life are met by the person who went to the cross for us. Jesus Christ is the ultimate problem solver. Outside of him, the significant burdens of humanity are a hopeless mess.

If this election is depressing to you, take heart – the kingdom we hope in is not our country, it is the kingdom of Jesus Christ which cannot fail. That kingdom is not only our shining hope, it is our eternal home

A PICTURE WORTH 1000 WORDS

manipulation-10

 

A picture not only can be worth a thousand words, perhaps a picture can stop a thousand unhelpful words!

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  Colossians 4:6

 R