Category Archives: Healthy church

P.A.M. (Pastor Appreciation Month)

(This was written in October 2007)

Some time in the not so distant past, someone came up with the idea of a pastor’s appreciation month (P.A.M.). October became the designated month. It’s a good idea; yet it’s sad that we would have to come up with such specific event and time. But that’s the nature of our American culture; and I’d rather have P.A.M. than not.

Some churches don’t observe P.A.M. I’ve had the opportunity to ask the leadership of a few of these churches why that is. Their reasons vary. Here’s a short list of what they’ve said:
· “The pastor knows he’s appreciated.” (Oh? Does he now? Have you asked? Have you been demonstrable in showing appreciation for him?)
· “We show appreciation throughout the year.” (Well, that’s even better and I hope that is true).
· “We made a big deal when he first arrived.” (That reminds me of the husband who explained why he never tells his wife he loved her is because he had told her on their wedding day, and he would let her know if there was any change).
· “We don’t go for anniversaries like that.” (Implying it’s too unspiritual or unbiblical. I’ll wager a dollar they celebrate birthdays).
· “It would only spoil the pastor. We don’t want to contribute to his pride.” (That’s old school thinking; you know – keep the pastor humble and poor. But that’s such a ginormous pile of fufu dung! Thank God the Lord doesn’t treat us that way).
· “The Bible doesn’t tell us we have to do that.” (Uhhh…pardon me, Pharisee, but would you please slither back down that hole with the rest of your brood while I go vomit?)
· “Our pastor is not worth appreciating.” (Maybe that is the case. If he is not worthy of honor, then what is he doing in your church? If it’s a matter of your personal dislike, then someone needs a major attitude adjustment).

P.A.M. was created out of an apparent need. Contrary to popular opinion, pastors are people too. They need “attaboys” and “thank yous” and “we love yous” just like other people do. I appreciate our church’s appreciation for me as pastor. It’s an uplift. It contributes to a sense of satisfaction and joy. And, it’s biblical! Of course the Bible doesn’t have an explicit chapter or verse about appreciating your pastor. There isn’t the eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt appreciate your pastor.” But there are commands to love others, to respect, honor and highly esteem your elder(s). In fact, Hebrews 13:17 tells you that you should bring joy to your pastor, and tells you how you can make your pastor’s work a joy. It says he should be enjoying the ministry and not groaning because of it, and for your benefit!

Paul is such a great example of how a church leader shows appreciation for the church he serves. Paul not only showed them by giving his all, and sacrificing his life for them – he told them. He sent them love letters. Romans, Corinthians , Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians are reservoirs of the love of Christ that cascades down through Paul and into the hearts of men, women, boys and girls. Paul thanked them for their demonstrations of love and appreciation for him. It’s a rather lengthy catalog when you read through those letters: they provided for him, prayed for him, healed his wounds, gave him hospitality, listened to him, obeyed him, communicated their affection for him, supported others when he asked them to, treated him with respect, visited him when he was jailed, suffered with him when abused and persecuted, and more.

Notice something here: they didn’t do these loving things only during a special month. They practiced pastor appreciation moments. Or, you could say, they practiced a good kind of S.P.A.M (Spontaneous Pastor Appreciation Moments)!  The church I serve does that. Oh sure, they surprised me last October with a special P.A.M. event. But that was more like the topping on the proverbial pie. These folks are SPAMmers (of the good kind). This elder will tell me he appreciates what I’m doing. That lady sent me a thank you card for my service. A young lady sent me a birthday card. Another elder prays out loud and praises God for me and my family. The music leader often asks how I’m doing or gives me a big hug from time to time. Deacons have told me they’re grateful I’m here. One man signs his short info emails with “Love, _____”! An elderly man tells me often that he’s glad I’m his pastor. Women express thanks for how I am with children or for the sermons. Children of all ages will converse with me; some will even hug me or give a kiss or two. Couples have us over for supper. And on it goes.

I commend them for being an example of biblical love. They know how to appreciate their pastor. I wish I could package it up and send it off to churches where pastors need the same. These dear folks don’t show appreciation merely because it’s a P.A.M. thing or because they have this duty-bound compulsion to do so. They didn’t stop after their first display of appreciation when my family and I arrived, showering us with baskets of essentials, food and treasures. The obvious displays of genuine affection continue.

You know what else? They are not spoiling me. In fact, if anything their S.P.A.M. is humbling! Over the years I’ve been around too many who thought it was their God-ordained mission to humble me. What they did wasn’t humbling. It was humiliating. And unkind, unloving, unbiblical and un-anything-good. Like Paul, I thank my God in my every remembrance of the people he has placed me with now. Their methods of appreciation are so much like Jesus – gracious, merciful, gentle, and kind. I don’t deserve any of it, but like Christ they show mercy and grace. And that’s humbling.

If you’re involved in a local church, take a cue from Scripture and from the example of this church body (Cornerstone Community). Make a conscious effort at showing spontaneous moments of appreciation for your pastor(s). And if your church doesn’t have a special anniversary to formally appreciate your pastor(s), then start one. It will make a big difference in his life, and more than that, you and your church will reap the residual blessings!

D. Thomas Owsley

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Filed under Encouragement, Healthy church, Pastor & Church Relationship, The Church

Advice to Our Church During the Political Election Year

I’m writing this piece to you, dear people of God, to offer some guidance regarding how we should conduct ourselves during the course of this heated political election season. I (and perhaps you too?) am concerned that we deviate from our main objective and focus as a church, which is Jesus Christ.

We ought to be a church that has as our main concerns the clear perspectives of Christ’s kingdom and teaching.  Social, political, personal and other such important concerns are secondary to loving, honoring and glorifying God through Jesus Christ.  I say clear, because we can often find not-so-clear support in the Bible for our own political or social views which so easily distract or cause us to deviate from our purpose as Christ’s local body.

So, permit me to lend some guidance for how we can treat these political and social issues, but more importantly, treat others during this intense season.

First, each one of us should be convinced in his own mind about his position.  This is the general or broad principle of Ecclesiastes 7:25 and Romans 14:5.   Each one’s political view is best informed by the Word of God (Psa. 119:169; Rom. 14:5), and not merely informed by one’s cultural, familial or other influences.  At the same time, this is not a call for anyone to be sloppy about his or her political perspective. Again, using a broad application of certain scriptures, one should not be double-minded (Jas. 1:5-8), but should say what he means and mean what he says (Matt. 5:37; Jas. 5:12).

Secondly, each of us should recognize that everyone has an opinion, but that not all opinions are equal, nor are they all always valid (including our own).

An opinion is “The judgment which the mind forms of any proposition, statement, theory or event, the truth or falsehood of which is supported by a degree of evidence that renders it probable, but does not produce absolute knowledge or certainty” (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language).

It would be prudent if each person has a well-informed opinion to share, not merely one that is based upon little knowledge (Prov. 28:26), feeling or intuition (Prov. 25:2).  Well-informed opinions bring a higher value to good discussions. Ill-informed opinions serve no one.
Further, we should respect one another through the love of Christ, even if we do not agree with or respect the other person’s opinion(s). Please note that in our congregation we do have a diverse group of people.That’s a very biblically healthy thing.  Opinions about social and political matters range from one side to the other, with much in the middle. We are to be reminded that Jesus’ own disciples held to quite divergent, indeed hostile, political and social positions. Consider Simon the zealot living and working side by side with his enemy Matthew the tax collector.

Thirdly, each of us is called to have the humble mind of Christ (Mic. 6:8; Phil 2:5ff; Rom. 12:3, 10; 1 Pet. 5:5).

All division, discord or fighting stems from an abundance of pride and a lack of humility (1 Tim. 6:4f; Jas. 4:1-3, 6).  This easily includes the propensity to try to impose our own political or social agenda or perspective upon others. So when we don’t get what we want (such as trying to make others agree with our own views) we make fertile ground for fights and discord within the church.

Humbleness means that each one of us is not seeking to please self.  This is to say that I/you/we are not to be:
(1)  Arrogant (Rom. 12:16; Jas. 4:16)
Which means one does not insist on my own way, ideas, or beliefs just because they are mine.
(2)  Domineering (1 Pet. 5:3)
(3)  Stubborn
(4)  Unreasonable (Ex: Gal. 6:3; Jas. 1:22)
(5)  Unyielding To be unyielding means one must not stand hard on things he believes when the truth and facts clearly counter his position.

Humility will take a genuine interest in others and in what they have to say (Rom. 12:9, 10). Humility is teachability, a willingness to give an ear to other perspectives in order to learn what others believe and perhaps why they believe them.  This is not a call to receiving all other views without discretion or discernment, but it is a call to be proactive in graciously and patiently listening to others.  Too many fights take place over straw men and too many divisions happen because of a deliberate and judgmental ignorance.

Humility is also thinking rightly about oneself (Rom. 12:3, 10, 16, 17), seeing oneself before the face of God. When we meditate on the implications of living before the presence of an almighty, sovereign Lord we will be more aware of such things as who we are even in the midst of a politically heated time, who God is with respect to elections and the future of our country,  and so forth.

Additionally, a humble person is teachable (Job 15:8; Prov. 26:12; Eccles. 7:16; Isa. 5:21; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 8:2), and willing to change his mind about any matter if the other view bears legitimate weight and based upon revealed truth.

Therefore, each person can be (ought to be?) passionate about his position, but not arrogantly obnoxious about it (Prov. 11:2; 13:10; 21:4; 28:25; Mark 7:22; 1 Pet. 5:5).

Fourthly, each one has a right to state his position or speak his conscience in a godly manner (with grace, truth, clarity, kindness, etc.).  However, we should exercise wisdom and choose appropriate times in which to voice or discuss our views.

Fifthly, if it is a matter of an ongoing debate, the discourses should be tempered with humility and other Christ-like qualities.  For example, one should have restrained control of his attitude and tongue through gentleness and patience (2 Sam. 22:36; Ps. 18:35; Gal. 5:22, 23; 1 Thess. 2:7; 1 Tim. 3:2, 3; Jas. 3:17).

The biblical idea of gentleness, a very important character quality and precious to God (1 Pet. 3:4), is not that of being weak or sentimentally passive. Rather, gentleness is that of being patient, mild, reasonable, full of grace and graciousness.  This is exercised by not insisting on  own way or our own perspective. Jesus, the God-Man and omnipotent Lord of the universe was gentle.

The Bible portrays gentleness as seeing people as sensitive beings, deals with people where they are, and treats them with respect (1 Cor. 10; 1 Pet. 2:23).

It really is feasible for us to hold to divergent political and social views and still be fellow believers in Jesus Christ.  I think of the example of J. Gresham Machen, founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and of Westminster Theological Seminary who voted for a Roman Catholic Democratic presidential candidate. On things biblical he was about as conservative as you can get, but on other matters he held to various views.  Fellow believers denounced his opinions and some even vehemently questioned whether he was a Christian because he did not hold to the same social or political ideas as they.  That’s just wrong.

The gentle person shows carefulness in choosing words and expressions so as not to unnecessarily offend (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25; Tit. 3:2). I am not saying that we can or should never offend.  There are appropriate times for that. For example, biblical truth and the Gospel would be a couple of main things that offend others.  Jesus’ exchanges with the high priest, the king and with the Roman governor demonstrate patient restraint. Jesus was blunt and truthful, but not loathsome.  Yet, at other times, Christ gave strong, forceful rebukes which were quite offensive.  Those occasions happened when Jesus was protecting his sheep from wolves, or clearing human or satanic impediments to the mission God the Father had for him.

A gentle person reflects care, affection and goodwill toward others (1 Cor. 13; Eph. 4:2). He is not callously abrupt, obnoxiously critical or arrogantly judgmental.

We must not be pugnacious. Literally, this means one is not a striker, not prone to violence, and not a fighter. We are not to be physically abusive. But by implication one is not is not to be mean-spirited with words. He doesn’t lash out when someone says something about which he disagrees. Neither does he incite arguments or alienate people through an attacking manner.
He does not follow through with an uncontrollably hot temper (Prov. 3:30; 15:18; 17:14; 20:3; 25:8; 26:17; Phil. 2:3).

A gentle, humble, godly person must not be quarrelsome. That means he is generally averse to verbal fighting or contentious arguing.  This is different from debating where you present and argue your position. The wise person knows what, when, and how to argue/debate rightly.
One ought not to be eager to make his point in order to get his way.  He is not to be a contentious disputer (1 Tim.6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:22-26; Tit. 3:9)  Biblical gentleness does not relish or overly delight in crushing others by defeating their ideas and beliefs.
On the positive side, the godly person has a sense of peace, tranquility, and calmness.  He is a peacemaker – one who is able to bring calm to a stormy situation; not stir up a storm (Eccles. 10:4; Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18; 14:19; Heb. 12:14; Jas. 3:17).

As believers, we are called to be just (Tit. 1:8). This means to be upright, righteous, and impartial in dealing with people. A just person is able to forget personal interests and seek the truth in situations, in interpersonal conflicts, or as an umpire over differences, especially differences of opinions.  Being just also calls each to speak what is right, while maintaining the  ability to hear various sides and weigh the evidence, facts, or arguments honestly (Deut. 16:20; Ps. 82:3; Prov. 21:3; Isa. 56:1; Rom. 13:7; Col. 4:1).

In short, the godly believer exercises the fruit of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:23; Phil.4:5), especially in the context of the life of the assembly of God’s people.

If one cannot persuade others of his own position he should be content that he tried, and follow through according to a biblically informed conscience.  At the same time, one should be mature and secure enough to permit others to hold their views without condemnation, rebuke, or ridicule.

Having said all this allow me to conclude by providing specific ways to apply this:
1.     We have such a divergent group of people when it comes to political and social views. This is not a bad thing. We need to continue to actively respect one another and refrain from judging (condemning) each other.

2.     Unless we are having an obvious discussion about certain “hot” topics we should refrain from making political or other statements that are not germane to the subject at hand.  There are opportunities and venues we could arrange for us to do this. Note: I am not saying we are to be quiet about our views. It’s a matter of when and where to say them.

3.    We should be careful about making personal political pronouncements during times when we have guests (especially during worship).   For example, you might feel passionate about a     political position and voice that opinion, but to voice that with guests present could too easily     distract them from knowing that we are first and foremost about Jesus Christ and not about, say, a conservative or  liberal social or political agenda.  In other words, it would be simply wrong for someone to go away believing that we are primarily about “right-wing     Republicanism” or “liberal socialism.”

In any case, we always need to exercise discretion, kindness, and love while uplifting and making much of Jesus. Other matters are secondary (even if important) and are appropriately discussed in other contexts.

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Filed under Church Leadership, Conflict and the Church, Healthy church, Wisdom and the Church

Characteristics in People of Biblically Healthy Churches

by Bill Vermeulen

1. A sincere love for fellow believers in Christ.

2. A genuine love for those who are lost without Christ.

3. A sense of significant purpose.

4. A high level of expectant faith.

5. A positive spirit rooted in God’s promises.

6. A strong outward-focus and desire for an abundantly spiritual harvest.

7. A deep concern for the glory of God.

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Filed under Church Growth, Healthy church

Pathetic Legalism or Authentic Love? (part three)

The previous two articles focused on the negative side of  the attitudes and behaviors of a segment of American Evangelicalism. Certainly not all believers in Jesus Christ are gripped with legalism and live accordingly. One of my main points is that to think and behave in the manner many Evangelicals do is contrary even to the rudimentary tenets of Christ’s teachings.

The irony for these legalists (of which I’ve labeled myself a recovering one), is that to live contrary to Christ’s teachings, indeed to live contrary to the empowered life of God’s Spirit, is to violate God’s Law in the third commandment:  “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” How is that?  Briefly, to take God’s name in vain is not merely to misuse the name in crude speech.  The Scripture teaches that the application of that commandment is broader than that (see the explanation given in the Westminster Larger Catechism). To wear Christ’s name, yet to deny him by living legalistically, hypocritically or by rejecting his clear teachings, is to take his name in vain.  For fuller discussion on this important issue, I commend the Westminster Confessional Standards, and the writings by John Frame and Jochem Douma on the Ten Commandments. So legalism at its core violates God’s basic legal code!

Legalism is pathetic, and it has done terrible harm to the reputation of Christ. Counter to legalism is the positive side of the life of Christ and the life in Christ.  As I stated before  the early Christians had the reputation for their love of Christ, for one another and for their neighbors.  Theirs was an authentic, proactive concern and care for others. They were living the Christ life.  This is how it should be with Christians today.

Their love was not motivated by sentiment, nor even merely because they were trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Their affirmative, dynamic love flowed from the plain teaching of Scripture, the infusion of Christ’s spiritual life, the supernatural empowerment and fruit of God’s Spirit, as well as the model of Jesus.

The love of Jesus is demonstrated in the four Gospel accounts.  It is also clearly taught throughout the rest of the New Testament. However, the most succinct and straightforward teachings on Christ’s love is found in the thirteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians (New Testament).  The context of this chapter is in a section where St. Paul is explaining how Christians ought to conduct themselves and to live with one another and with the world.  The core of their living is in Christ, and the expression of that Christ-life core is love.  This love is genuine affection, and for those who are in Christ by faith, Paul says this love is necessary, expressed, permanent and superior to everything else.

1

Paul begins each of the first three verses by stating an existing condition.  Then he shows the results of that condition when there is an absence of love. In the first verse, he says you can speak any language, earthly, or heavenly for that matter, but without true affection, you are no better off, as the ancient church Father Chyrsotom said, than a “positive nuisance.”  By speaking many languages, Paul implies the one has knowledge, so-called wisdom and eloquence.  But words of a brilliant master linguist without love are irritating, senseless clangs.

To have, according to verse two, the best of all spiritual gifts as Christians but without love, we are nothing.  And we might give to others or offer up our lives sacrificially as Christians our offering might have some benefit for others, but it is of no profit to ourselves if there is no love.  His point is that love is an absolute necessity for the Christian life.  Remove it and all else is ultimately empty.

2

The second thing he points out is that true affection is expressed (chapter 13, verses 4-7).  He paints for us a picture, as one person put it, “of putting on love’s matchless beauty.”   True affection is expressed unselfishly (13:4). For one, authentic love is patient. Patience is restraint when you have the right to act.  Jesus give a parable of this in Matthew 18:21-35, of a king whose servant owed him an insurmountable debt that he could not possibly owe.  Yet the king was very patient with him.  The debtor, in contrast, was very impatient with his own servant who owed him a small amount of money.  This kind of loving patience is also the ability to delay a response, especially when wronged.  Jesus did this for our sake (1 Peter 3:20).  He was patient with the soldiers who apprehended him, patient with the religious and political powers that tried him,  knowing his restraint from acting with supernatural power would lead him to the cross.  It was his destiny to pay for our sins (in fact, for our lack of love and impatience) on the cross.

This authentic love is also kind (to illustrate just read Luke 6 and Ephesians 4).  In a sense, patience is a passive quality – a restraint.  Kindness is an active quality – a bestowal or giving.   Kindness is not to be confused with niceness.  Nice connotes a passive pleasantness or sweetness.  Kindness is assertive and proactive.  It may not be masculine to be sweet, but it is manly to be kind; for the God-Man Jesus is kind.   Kindness proceeds from a tender heart.  It contributes to the peace and happiness of others.  It is the opposite of one’s disposal to do harm to others.

3

The third quality of this genuine affection is that it is not jealous.  This kind of jealousy is a selfishness that boils with intense desire. In the bad sense, it is like envy, that feeling of “uneasiness at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by someone else, accompanied by some degree of hatred…often with a desire to depreciate the person or to have pleasure in seeing him depressed”  (Barclay).  This is what we see going on in Acts 5:17, 7:9, and 13:45.  This envy-filled jealousy springs from pride and ambition. It is shocked that another has obtained what one has a strong desire to possess.  True affection has a desire that others would find success and happiness in their lives.

4

Still another characteristic of true love is that it does not brag.  It is not anxious to display itself like the little banny rooster who struts around because he thinks his early morning crowing caused the sun to come up.  Love is not ostentatious, putting on a display to build up oneself at the expense of others, parading oneself and campaigning to be at the center of attention.  In contrast, true love is humble (2 Corinthians 10:13).

It is also not proud, or more literally, it does not “swell up like the bellows of a sail boat.” This Christ-love is not puffed up.  Paul made it clear that a central problem the Christians were having in the city of Corinth was that they were indeed proud.  And their pride manifested itself:  they were contentious (4:6), had a bad attitude toward Paul (4:18), were arrogant in their speech (4:19), were apathetic toward sin and evil (5:2), and displayed an intellectual arrogance that repulsed even non-Christians (8:1).  Reverse those things and you have a view of Christ’s love.

5

The next major thing Paul points out about this authentic Christ-love is how it is expressed behaviorally (13:5-6).  He has five ways of how love acts, though he puts them in negative terms.  First, it does not act unbecomingly.  That is, true love is not rude or deliberately does something to hurt or embarrass another. Next, love does not seek its own selfish ways and benefits as explained above.  Not that love is totally devoid of self, but rather self in an arrogant, self-absorbed way that becomes the source of impatience, unkindness, bragging, and unseemliness.

Thirdly, love is not provoked by wrongs or evil.  Love desires justice and what is righteous;  it even seeks those things.  Love’s response toward sin and evil is not a desire for personal revenge, but rather earnestly desires good consequences would come about so that the sinner or evil doer would change, or repent, or pay so that those who suffered at his or her expense would be properly, fairly served.  Love is not triggered to seek revenge nor allows unjust wrongs to provoke and embitter.

Along with this is the fact that true love does not take into account a wrong suffered.  There is not doubt you will be wronged.  Love for another does not put the wrong they did to you into a mental registry for which there is a plan to retaliate.  Instead, love desires grace and mercy to come upon the offender so that there would be restitution, reconciliation or repentance.

Note, the thrust of the good news about Christ’s life and work is that he took the registry of our sins, even the sins against him as our God, and paid for them through his sacrificial, loving death upon the cross.

The fifth point Paul makes is that love does not rejoice in or over unrighteousness.  It takes no delight in sin or evil. Love is grieved by wickedness, evil, and injustice.

6

The apostle goes on to present us with a positive way how love behaves:  genuine love rejoices in the truth.  Since love does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but does rejoice over truth, then love is never apathetic or neutral.  This is not merely truth as facts, but moral truth that has its connection to God and his good character.  Love and truth are intimate companions, one person said.  Another wrote, “Love does not avoid truth, and love does not compromise truth.”

The positive side of love is that is it expressed optimistically (13:7).  True love covers over all things. It keeps things in confidence in order to protect another’s reputation.  That doesn’t mean love keeps quiet about another’s sin or crime.  Love in this instance is such that it does not wish to broadcast to everyone something bad, even if it is true (1 Peter 4:8; 1 Corinthians 9:12).

It also believes all things; meaning that even when love has no forensic evidence, it believes the best.  Not that a loving Christian is to be gullible, easily fooled or conned, but rather s/he puts the best construction on things, unless of course there is sufficient warrant to believe otherwise.  For example, when a child tells his parent something, even if the parent is in doubt, out of love the parent will take the child at his word until such time as there is proof otherwise.

Love also hopes all things.  True love is biblically optimistic.  We often think of hope as the wish for a possible, positive future.  But this loving hope is not a hope found in situations, history, the environment, or in people. It is an assurance of a certain future that is rooted in a sovereign God who has all things under control and works all things together for our best (Romans 8:28ff).

The other positive aspect of this love is that it endures all things.  For the sake of Christ and the sake of others, love perseveres and endures whatever comes to it, positive or negative.
Another perspective on this is Paul means to say:

Love deals well with all things.
When love has no evidence, it believes all things;
When the evidence is adverse, love hopes all things;
When hope is disappointed, love endures all things.

(I believer Barclay said this)

We have seen that in contrast to pathetic legalism, the authentic love in Christ, that flows from Christ is necessary and expressed through certain behaviors.  Now we conclude by looking at the last two qualities about this love: it is permanent and it is superior.   Authentic love has a permanency about it (13:8-12).  True love is enduring. Its affects endure.  Other things, even the supernatural gifts that the Christians in Corinth so highly prized, are transient. Not so with love.  Furthermore, love is mature.

7

Finally, true affection is indeed superior (13:13).  Of the greatest virtues in the Christian life: faith, hope and love, it is love that is of the highest significance and importance.  And it is the fundamental quality of the character of a true Christian – not the law and not legalism.  Faith and hope are far greater and better than any law-produced virtue. In fact, love is far superior to even those virtues! As Paul points out in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, love fulfills the law!  Authentic love will love and worship God and him alone. Love will rest in God, and seek him always, but especially on God’s special day.  Love would never dishonor parents or authorities, or betray a marriage bond, or murder, or steal from others, or injure their reputation or falsely accuse another, and love would not be enviously greedy.

Conclusion

For the genuine Christian who has placed saving faith in Jesus Christ, authentic love is a necessity in life. Authentic love which comes from Jesus Christ and by faith, is at the core of the true Christian’s renewed soul.  It is expressed in a certain way, which by the way does mimic Jesus. It is also permanent, and is it superior to all other virtues.

This authentic Christ-love is what ought to motivate us as Christians today. This love is not motivated by sentiment, nor even merely because we are trying to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. This affirmative, dynamic love flows from the plain teaching of Scripture, the infusion of Christ’s spiritual life, the supernatural empowerment and fruit of God’s Spirit, as well as the model of Jesus. And it flows from us in a positive , godly, good way to one another and then to all people.

© D. Thomas Owsley

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Filed under Character, Healthy church, Legalism, Love in the church

If It Ain’t Broke… (or Why Change?)

Jj recently asked, “Why change?”  A very good question.  As they say, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” The simple, and maybe obnoxious answer, would be “Why not change?”

So, allow me to begin by suggesting some rather good arguments not to change.  First, keeping things the way they are offers a level of stability for the individual and/or the group. Second, maintaining status quo provides some sense of security.  In an era of constant change and flux (in the West it is at a dizzying speed) security can be a good thing. Every person is different, and therefore there are those, for whatever the reasons, where tolerance for change is extremely low.  They need security for their emotional or mental state.  Third, concurrent with the previous two reasons, no or low change brings no or low stress. Of course I am speaking in relative terms since all of life is stressful to one degree or another. It is the capacity to deal with stress (or more properly stated – distress) that factors in to a person’s or group’s response to change.

There is another reason for not changing things, and that is the benefit(s) of tradition. Much has already been written on the good that tradition brings, so I won’t belabor the point here. Traditions inform and help to form the culture of a group. Tradition not only brings stability, security and a lack of stress to a person or group, but it offers connection to others in the past, present and even into the future. That can certainly be a good thing.

Now, back to the original question:  why change?  First, let me say that the change about which I speak has to do with the life of a person who has a saving faith in the life, death, burial, resurrection of the God-Man Jesus Christ. The God who became man to live the life of purity, holiness and righteousness on our behalf and then died to pay our debt to God so that believers would be made right in time and into eternity with God.  Even more, the change about which I speak has to do with the community of believers called the church.

When talking about change in this context I am presupposing:

1.   Not all change is good. Good change is good. Good change that is defined, described or derived from God’s Word is unquestionably good.

2.   Change is inevitable. However, from our human perspective change can be serendipitous or intentional, incidental or incredibly significant.

3.   Spiritual, social and numerical growth in the life of a person and church requires change.

4.   To get from one point to another necessitates change.

5.   To move from a sinful condition to a glorious one demands change.

6.   True, biblical reform comes through biblical change.

Not all change is good.

Good change is good. Good change that is defined, described or derived from God’s Word is unquestionably good. The history of our U.S. culture is one that reinforces the idea of progress and that all progress is positive.  Yet, as we know, not all progress is beneficial or positive.  I leave it to you to think about all the relatively good things or advances made over the past two hundred years, which have also brought challenges and problems.

For the believer in Christ and the local church, we must be careful to evaluate the “why” of change against the “what” of Scripture. For example, if our personal or corporate worship life is anemic then God clearly demands that to change. If we are being faithful to the Lord in terms of exercising the New Testament “one-another” commands then we ought not to change.  Our starting point and measurement must be what God tells us, not what the latest innovation, scheme, program, method, model, fad or trend says.

Change is inevitable.

However, from our human perspective change can be serendipitous or intentional, incidental or incredibly significant. God did not make a stagnant universe, therefore nobody lives in a stagnant environment. In his providential way, the Potter oversees his creation as it changes (shifting of the magnetic poles, the rise and fall of mountains, the blessing of rain and the curse of monstrous storms, etc.) He also manages the affairs of life from the toss of the die to the rule of dictators. In his redemptive way he is bringing history to its culmination, all in his good time and according to his ultimate design.  God works providentially and intentionally. In fact, God originally designed our planet and the universe to move from one state of glory to another (see below)!

The effect of nature’s activities bring about slight or enormous changes to us. We are more apt to accept natural events that change us than we are to accept intentional change introduced or imposed by others. And, how we perceive the change will impact our response or reaction to it.

In any case, change happens. The real question is not so much “why change” but rather what shall our response be to it?

Spiritual, social and numerical growth in the life of a person and church requires change.

We live in a created world that was intended from the beginning to move from one condition (glory)  to a better condition (glory).  This was even when God declared His original creation as good!

Original man, Adam and Eve, were required to change. How? They were to grow in knowledge of themselves and of God (this was their prophetic function). They were to learn about God, his creation, about self and others by thinking his thoughts about such things.

They were to grow in their relationship to and worship of God. This was part of their priestly function. They were also to grow in their relationship to the rest of creation as they glorified it by ruling over it as faithful and good stewards, and fashioning it according to heaven’s model. This was their kingly function. Through their God-directed and God-anointed labor they were to take the raw materials and re-form them into something beautiful and useful, and presenting the fruit of their labor to God. The moment he began to take care of the garden in the land of Eden, things changed.

As stewards they were to cultivate the earth. As stewards they were to exercise dominion over God’s creatures.  Note that the moment Adam named the animals things changes. They were to be fruitful and multiply, which of necessity breeds change! Even without the introduction of sin and evil, change would have taken place as God’s people would have re-formed creation from one condition of glory to the final consummation of all things in glory.

However, sin brought a different kind of change into the world, reversing that which was good. It corrupted the design for positive and glorious good change into a spiritual, social, and physical entropy.

God’s plan not to be undone, the redemption he brings  causes change in creation, reversing the reversal of sin. The whole point of the Bible is to record this changing dynamic in the universe, a change brought about by God’s recreative and redemptive work through Jesus Christ.

As believers in Jesus Christ and as a local church in Jesus Christ, we are being changed and we must work toward that change from sin to glory.  Granted, it is by God’s Word and Holy Spirit that true, redemptive change takes place. Nevertheless, we are told to deliberately and intentionally labor in God’s saving work as God works in and through us (Philippians 2:12-13). This process of change is, in theological and biblical language, repentance and faith. God desires, expects and demands us to put off the old by repenting and put on the new by faith. This means change.

This God-inspired and God-directed change affects our own and our church’s spiritual and social growth. For the local church this healthy maturity into Christ-likeness means growth, and often, but not always, means numerical growth.

To get from one point to another necessitates change.

This statement should be obvious. But, this statement also begs the question: to what point are we going? What’s the goal?  Ultimately the goal for the believer and the church is a state of Christ-like glory.  If the person or the church is not moving in that direction, then here is a central reason why change is important – it is because change into Christ-likeness is unquestionably necessary!  That is God’s design for us and our final destination. Anything that impedes this must be put aside, removed or destroyed.  Anything that promotes and fosters this must be accepted and employed. This then leads us to and supports the next statement:

To move from a sinful condition to a glorious one demands change.

One of the prevailing themes in the New Testament is that of repentance and faith, going from a sinful condition to that of a glorious one; moving out of the realm of old darkness into the kingdom of God’s marvelous light. To reject this demand for change is to reject Christ.  So, for one example, Hebrews makes plain that an unwillingness to repent, to mature in Christ and to take the pilgrim’s upward path toward that heavenly city will bring about God’s discipline (for true believers) or wrath (for pretenders of faith). 

True reform comes through biblical change.

Since we are called to and designed for dynamic change into Christ-likeness, then change is inevitable and required.  Personal and corporate change as those who believe in and belong to Jesus must and will take place.

This purpose of knowing Jesus Christ is to love him. To truly know him is to love him. to love him is to become and live like Christ. This is transformation and re-formation at its best. Having said this, it must be understood that transforming and reforming people and the church is not the ultimate goal.  The objective is not change for change’s sake. Sometimes we, particularly in the United States, assume that change is what we need – just because it supposedly means progress.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that.

Having been a Christian for forty years I have observed and participated in the numerous programs and models churches have used in order to change, to re-form.  There are a myriad of reasons for adopting and implementing these changes.  We can hear and read compelling arguments, such as “to make a difference in the world,” “to change the world,” “to save the church from impending death,” “to be relevant,” “to grow,” ad infinitum and often ad nauseum.Those reasons are not insufficient, and all too often bring about more harm than good.

That brings us back to the first main point: not all change is good. Good change is good. Good change that is defined, described or derived from God’s Word is unquestionably good.

So, Jj, in answer to your question, Why change?  We are to change personally and corporately because God wants us to change to become more like Jesus Christ.

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Encourage Your Pastor!

Many Christian leaders become discouraged.  The work doesn’t go as one imagines, the church doesn’t grow as one desires, lay leaders won’t cooperate with one’s leadership, people are excessively critical, or finances are down.  The list goes on and on.  Someone said that discouragement is the occupational hazard of the ministry, and Spurgeon was no exception to this rule.  As successful as he was, he still experienced discouragement, and, in his case, it often deteriorated into depression.  He became so depressed at times that he could barely function.  In his lecture on “The Minister’s Fainting Fits,” Spurgeon opened with these words: “As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all the servants of the Lord.  Fits of depression come over the most of us….The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”

Larry J. Michael: Spurgeon on Leadership; p. 191

 

Discouragement and even depression are not the companions of so-called little pastors. Even the “greats” suffered such affliction.  For example:

John Calvin – Calvin received so much opposition in his first ministry at Geneva that the year before his expulsion from Geneva he went through great discouragement and depression.  Writing about this year in his life he said “Were I to tell you only the littlest things of the misfortune – what am I saying – of the adversity which virtually crushed us during the course of one year, you would hardly believe me.  I am convinced that not a day passed in which I did not long for death ten times…”

Andrew Bonar – Writing to his close friend McCheyne said, “I was very melancholy, I may say, on Saturday evening.  The old scenes reminded me of my ministry, and this was accompanied with such regret for past failures.”  He also wrote, “My ministry has appeared to me to be wanting in so many ways that I can only say of it, indescribably inadequate.”

Charles Spurgeon – at the zenith of his ministry said, “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.”

G. Campbell Morgan – At the height of his ministry, Morgan astounded his congregation by telling them that he was a failure. As he thought over his ministry, he said, “During these ten years, I have known more of vision fading into mirages, or purposes failing of fulfillment, of things of strength crumbling away in weakness than ever in my life.

 

So, what can you do to encourage your pastor? Allow me to suggest some ways:

1.   Live with him in the love of Christ by loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and might.

2.  Love him in the Lord.

3.   Pray for him all the time.

4.    Let him rest.

Give him opportunities for personal and familial rest.  Be proactive to make sure he is getting spiritual, emotional, mental and physical rejuvenation.  Encourage him to take off for times of prayer, meditation and reflection.  Leave him alone during his day or days off, unless of course, it is an emergency.  Don’t rely on him to solve all your problems, so don’t keep on going to him relentlessly.  Maybe even raise some funds and send him on a cruise or a study leave.

 

Craig Brian Larson wrote,

Someone has said, ‘Fatigue makes cowards of us all.’ Let me rephrase that in more general terms: Physical exhaustion alters my emotional state.  What I could handle when fresh I no longer feel up to.  Difficulties that I first faced like a problem-solver full of faith now cause me to buckle at the knees.  The challenges that once energized me now terrify me.  While the presenting symptom on such occasions is emotional – depression and weakness – the real problem is physical:  low energy. (Larson, Staying Power; p. 55-56)

 

One day a week scarcely suffices for clergy or anyone to recharge emotionally, physically and spiritually; keep one’s home in order and in repair; and have quality and quantity family time.  Ministers do not move from glory to glory but from crisis to crisis.  Even if they took their one allotted day off, it is not enough to keep them from becoming one of those untimely funerals. (Jane Rubietta:  How to Keep the Pastor You Love; p. 54)

 

5.  Honor and esteem him (Phil. 2:29; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13 cp. Acts 28:9-10, 2 Cor. 7:15).

6.   Do everything you can to pump life into his soul.

Build him up, encourage him, and communicate to him in the very many ways there are, how much his service means to you.  Lift him up, inspire him, and bless him in Christ.  You will reap the residual effects for it. Be a conduit of grace, hope and love to build up your pastor.

A minister’s peace of mind is very important to the quality of his productivity in ministry. It is very difficult to be loving, gentle, and kind toward people when a small group of nitpickers are constantly at him about trivial matters that have little to do with the overall purpose of the church. It is even more difficult to be the gentle pastor, meek and mild, when the accusations leveled at him are contrived and totally false. (Greenfield, The Wounded Minister; p. 104)

7.  Be loyal to him in Christ.

Trust him when he is trustworthy.  Treat him based upon who he is in Christ and for his position as an elder in Christ’s church.

8.  Give to him as he gives to you.

Give, not merely monetary support, but give service to him and his family.  Be imaginative and think of ways you can serve your pastor: give him genuine and valuable feedback; give him moral support; give him time and prayer. Above all give him love and affection!

9.  Speak the truth in love to him and about him.

Do all you can to safeguard his name and reputation, but more than that, build up his name so that it  becomes a name of honor.  Certainly, the pastor must maintain his own reputation and integrity in Christ.  This is not an admonition for you to pretend he is honorable if he has clearly sinned and defamed the name of Christ.  But if he has a character above reproach, then uphold it, maintain it, and promote it.

And finally,

10.  Don’t covet to have your pastor be just like a pastor you admire or idolize.

________________

© D. Thomas Owsley

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The Practices of a Healthy Church

Another good book that I have perused recently, one which I read some time back, is MacNair’s and Meek’s The Practices of a Healthy Church. Drawing upon Scripture and on personal experiences, they wrote the book to help churches and their leaders to evaluate and consider just how healthy their particular healthy church really is.

The excerpts below provide the gist of the material, which may also provide you with some things to consider or even spur you on to getting a copy for yourself.

-D. Thomas Owsley

________________

Assess your church’s health, using these questions from the text:

1.   Are we open to change in order better to conform to God’s will for us as a church?

2.   Are many of our members evidencing spiritual growth?

3.   Do we as a congregation eagerly anticipate God’s blessing on our church, including His adding to our numbers?

4.   Do members sense that their elders both care for and lead them?

5.   Do members sense that their own spiritual gifts are engaged and deemed worthwhile?

6.   Is the importance we attach to Scripture evident in all our meetings and ministries?

7.   In our corporate worship, do we sense the presence and power of the living God?

8.   How is the community different because of our church’s presence in it?

9.   Have we specified a vision and plans to achieve it that realistically reflect our gifts and situation?

10. Are disagreements within our church relatively minor?

p. 16

 

The definition of church as the presence of Christ on earth also indicates what a good church is.  A good church is one which accurately represents Christ to the world, one which is a healthy spiritual organism, fully embodying this mystical union.  Moving closer and closer to Christlikeness, “growing up into the Head, that is, Christ,” is what the Bible says the church is supposed to be doing. p. 24

This means that the church needs to overcome a natural perception, in order to be to the neighborhood the earthly presence of Christ.  Unless we relate personally to people, our very presence will antagonize them. p. 27-28

One church I served as a consultant typified a maintenance mentality.  Ostensibly, they wanted to hire a youth director, thinking that an influx of young people would enable this congregation of people over sixty-five years old to maintain their existence (note the word maintain!).  At bottom, they really wanted to stay the same, avoid change, and preserve the status quo.  But they knew they were dying, and that threatened their commitment to maintenance.

Had they hired such a youth director, that person would have quickly discovered real opposition to his or her use of the facilities—the church wanted to preserve them, too!  They didn’t want the building worn out.  Can you imagine a church not wanting to use its building?  Strange as it sounds, it can be a strong temptation.  You know as well as I do that a building should be used, not just on Sunday, but as much as possible.  The more a church’s facilities are used, the more that church can serve the Lord. p. 30

The mission of the church is to fulfill God’s will on earth.  God’s will for the church consists of the Great Commission, which Jesus gave shortly before He ascended to heaven…. p. 31

To disciple is to seek to influence someone else to accept Christian beliefs, namely the truth of the Word of God.  Every time the Word influences the world, society, culture, families, or individuals, because a church or church member has communicated it, we should refer to it as discipling. p. 32

Some years ago, after conducting a workshop on church health, I spoke with a minister who came forward.  He was weeping quietly. He told me that during his time in seminary, he had grasped the vital significance of the Reformed faith.  In a homiletics class, he had raised the question of its role in his prospective ministry, especially in his preaching and teaching.  He told the professor about the old and rather lifeless church that had recently called him as pastor.  “What should characterize my preaching in order to lead the church into vitality?” he asked the professor.

“Preach the Reformed faith,” the professor told him.  “When people hear it, it will revolutionize them.”

This pastor did just that.  For the next ten years he made the Reformed faith the hallmark of his preaching and teaching.  He taught and preached it as the revolutionary power that his church needed.

However, no move toward spiritual vitality ever occurred.  Now he bitterly expressed his sad realization to me: “I wish someone had told me ten years ago to make the Bible the hallmark of my ministry!”  p. 55-56

 

What we must avoid is an improper use of our system of beliefs. We use a theological system improperly if we consciously or unconsciously expect it to bring spiritual life.  Scripture, and only Scripture, brings spiritual life.  p. 57                                                                                                              

We should strive in our worship services, and especially in the preaching of the Word, to make the Bible a living expression of Jesus Christ.  Our teaching must enable members to know their way around the Bible.  It must challenge them to obey what the Bible says.  It must equip them to ferret out and apply objective implications, and discourage them from making selective, subjective applications.  But above all, hearers should walk away not simply having been chastised or commanded, not merely with more Bible content, but having met Christ afresh, having appropriated His forgiveness, provision, and power. p. 72

 

Healthy Practice #2: The church must engage in regular vibrant worship to God as the ultimate motivation for personal and corporate growth. p. 79

 

The greatest benefit of light fellowship is that it creates the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to develop deeper, spiritual bonds within the body.  The word fellowship, a translation of the Greek word koinonia, carries with it at least four concepts: deep, fulfilling relationships (I John 1:3), a unified body of people (I Cor. 1:9), communication (Gal. 6:6), and communion (I Cor. 10:16). p. 85

Perhaps we can best express the essence of worship by saying that it is a deep-seated longing, a thirsting for God that is satisfied as He reveals Himself to us.  Worship thus contains two basic elements: the soul’s thirst for God and God’s self-revelation. p. 89

Listeners are offered reasoned support, but not authoritative support for what God calls us to do and be.  Absent is any sense that God’s revelation is being declared.  Logic should confirm and commend the declaration of God’s Word, but it should never replace it.  God the Spirit indwells and works through His authoritative revelation.  To replace proclamation entirely with persuasion or logic deprives hearers of the possibility of God’s power in their lives.

Criticism can also inhibit preaching.  If a pastor feels threatened by possible criticism from a segment of his congregation, his ministry of the Word will be hampered, and the presence and power of the living Lord will in that measure be restricted.  I observed this in one church in which I sensed a certain degree of fear under the surface of the worship.  As I discussed this with the pastor later, I learned that a third of his session espoused theonomy, an interpretation of the Old Testament with which he disagreed.  Whenever he entered the pulpit, he feared their criticism: “They’re going to tell what I did wrong.”  He was exhibiting fear and restraint in conducting the service, and in that measure the powerful and active ministry of the Lord was obscured. pp. 98-99

Throughout human history, God has used worship, an encounter with Himself, to motivate action as well as to glorify His name.  The prophet Isaiah’s experience (Isaiah 6:1-8) is paradigmatic.  He had a vision of the Lord “seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  He saw God surrounded by angels who demonstrated and spoke of God’s holiness, shaking the temple and filling it with smoke. p. 100

The elder encourages believing church members to be what God intends them to be: priests (I Peter 2:5), who utilize their gifts for the common good (I Cor. 12:7), so that Christ’s body is “joined and held together by every supporting ligament” (Eph. 4:16)—a people who “always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10).  Paul expresses the elder’s God-given passion to catalyze the church’s growth in godliness: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.  To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:28-29). p. 130

Throughout these discussions, I’ve maintained that healthy, biblical leadership enhances rather than represses members’ involvement. p. 171

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