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Contentment: The Church’s Goliath

April 19, 2018

And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” 1 Samuel 17:37

David fighting GoliathI have known the story of David and Goliath most of my life. It is possibly one of the most familiar stories in all of scripture. We use it every time we need to illustrate an unlikely hero overcoming impossible odds to defeat a seemingly unstoppable foe. So, as I am studying 1 Samuel 17 this week, thinking about the “foes” whom Christ followers face in our current culture, I am asking myself, “Today, who/what is the church’s Goliath?” The list of possibilities is long. I think I have the winner, but first, here are some things that are NOT our Goliath:

  1. Different worldviews from ours are NOT our Goliath. Whether it is the Muslim world, or atheists, or people who vote differently from you in national elections, our Biblical worldview does not mean our struggle is with these groups. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…Eph. 6:12;
  2. A culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity is NOT our Goliath. It is a fact: from a global perspective, persecution of Christians is at an all-time high. And, though we in the U.S. would be hard-pressed to call our difficulties “persecution” at this point, we have certainly seen the needle moving in that direction as anti-Christian sentiment seems to grow stronger with each news cycle. Nevertheless, we really must stop acting so shocked and surprised by this.  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first… you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out

The Lure of Approval

April 05, 2018

And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?… Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 1 Samuel 15:13-14, 24

Am I the only leader who struggles from time to time with disappointing people? No. I didn’t think so. My guess is, it is a relatively universal struggle. We tell ourselves that, in order to be a Godly influence in people’s lives, in order to be able to say the hard things to people, we need their approval. And we tell ourselves that, as shepherds, that is what love looks like. There are some seeds of truth in that thinking. But the rest of that truth is, for leaders of God’s people, approval ratings (i.e., how much everyone likes you) are insidiously addictive and massively overrated. That was the lesson for Saul (Israel’s first king) and it is likewise the lesson for all of us as Christian leaders today.

As I read 1 Samuel, God clearly did not want a human king for His people, Israel. But when they insisted on one, God relented and gave them one. And Saul was His choice…and was the people’s choice as well. He had the look. He had the demographics. He had the attitude. In short, he was (to use today’s parlance)…presidential. But he was also unbelievably insecure, on so many levels.

So, when he and his rag-tag group of soldiers walked up to the school-yard bullies (the Philistines) and punched them …

I Might be an Idol Worshipper

March 15, 2018

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. 1 Samuel 7:3-4

In this story from 1 Samuel, it took the people of Israel 20 years of being back in the presence of God to finally turn back to Him. It was more or less their version of “just doing church”, without their hearts being in it. Samuel’s word to them at that point was, “if you are serious about your faith, you need to lose your idols.” So what about us? Are we willing to lose our idols?

I might be an idol worshipper if other people’s words on Social Media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. or any combination of them) take up more of my thought time each day than does God’s Word;

I might be an idol worshipper if I spend more of my money on my personal comfort than I do on the furtherance of God’s kingdom;

I might be an idol worshiper if it turns out my god’s heart aligns perfectly with one political party’s platform or the other;

I might be an idol worshipper if my greatest hope for our world’s social ills is the next election;

I might be an idol worshipper if my deepest regret for our world’s social ills is the last election;

I might be an idol worshipper if my ability to listen to you is intractably related to your politics;

I might be an idol …

Hope for the Barren Church

March 01, 2018

Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 1 Samuel 1:6-7

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-cracked-land-image22328576In ancient times, being barren was a major affliction. I suppose it probably still is in many parts of the world. But for Hannah (and for all the other women in the Bible whose stories begin with being barren), it meant no security at all for their future. Once their husbands were gone, with no children of their own and with no ability to own property or to earn a living, they would be destitute. Desperation, then, does not begin to describe their plight.

Churches often go through seasons of desperation as well.  Maybe you understand what I mean. After years of budget shortfalls and then an economic crisis, there is suddenly a severe conflict and families leaving the church, and then the sudden death of a key leader and then a moral failure on another’s part and so on and so forth…the desperation can pile up pretty quickly.  Then there are the anguishing cries to the Lord, “How long will you allow this to continue?!”  Month after month of praying can turn into year after year.  The landscape of the church turns into a parched, dry, barren land. Heretofore strong, faithful members begin to question whether the Lord has simply lifted his hand from the church…His glory has departed…He has written “Ichabod” across the door.

In such “barren” circumstances, hope for the future is all but waned completely.  It becomes impossible to even imagine a future.  Only the most faithful few even remain.  It can feel awfully destitute…much like Hannah no doubt …

Searching for the Living Among the Dead

February 20, 2018

In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Luke 24:5

What our world often is seeing in our day is a devoted, committed Christian serving God.  But, they are not seeing God.  They comment on what we are doing, “Well, there’s a wonderful, dedicated, committed group of people serving God.”  They, however, do not see anything happening that can only be explained in terms of the activity of God.  Why?  Because, we are not attempting anything that only God can do. Henry Blackaby

“Spiritually Dead” is probably too strong an indictment for the church in America…”spiritually limping” or “spiritually challenged” may be closer descriptions.  But whatever the precise measure, few of us would deny that the church in America is hurting right now.  With the exception of some clear pockets of vibrancy, the church in our culture is simply not the bastian of enlightenment it once was for the world.  Moreover, our two youngest adult generations are running from the church, which does not bode well for our future.

If the Blackaby quote above is accurate, if this lost and broken world is truly looking for God-sized evidence that the church is a place to find truth, then we are in trouble…because they are looking for God-sized evidence in a culture of man-sized efforts.

The American church is blessed.  We have had over 200 years of absolute freedom to grow and to express ourselves and to figure out all the best ways to further our institution without fear of governmental interference (or any other real interference, for that matter).  As a result, we have gotten very, very good at doing church.  We build amazing buildings, produce amazing communicators, have …

God is Bigger than Our Ugliest Moments

February 15, 2018

But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. Luke 23:23-25

I am no fan of politics. As far as I can see, it represents much of human behavior at its very worst. At least in our culture, politics seem to have devolved into the extremists and their screaming voices holding the larger percentage of us in the middle hostage. The more we try to shut those voices out, the louder they become, and the wider the chasm dividing our country becomes. And, in the meantime, every important issue politics touches gets hijacked into the feeding frenzy of labels and manipulation. In short, politics poisons everything it touches.

This week, I am reading the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. It is so filled with ugliness and power struggles and politics and manipulation, it is an amazingly frustrating story to me. A few religious leaders who feel threatened by Jesus incite a virtual riot and use their influence to create an angry mob to ensure Jesus’ crucifixion…it is a portrait of how truly ugly humanity can be when politics take over.

It saddens me that this kind of ugliness has invaded the church today in the same way it did 2,000 years ago. In fact, some of the nastiest, ugliest pictures I have ever seen of an angry mob have been church business meetings or staff retreats or deacons meetings or committee meetings. Crucifixions, as it turns out, have become a dangerously common phenomenon in the contemporary church culture.

Sad, isn’t it?

But if you have been in a leadership role in the church …

The Way Back to Relationship

January 30, 2018

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.  Luke 15:11-12

There are three main characters in Jesus’ story of the prodigal in Luke 15: the father, the younger son and the older son.  Each of them represent a different perspective on common human behavior, and I suspect each of us can relate best to each of them at different times of our lives.  Sometimes we are the one betrayed (like the father), sometimes we are the rebellious one (the younger son) and sometimes we are the one crying out for justice (the older son).  But in every case, Jesus told the story to demonstrate one simple truth: the way back to a right relationship.  And that, it seems to me, can be the most confusing path of all.  I am so glad for what Jesus’ story shows us about how to return to a right relationship, once we have determined to do so.

Seasons of Rebellion. We all have some connection to the prodigal himself, because we have all made decisions which we knew (even at the time we made them) were disobedient to God.  We knew His desire for us and we simply went in a different direction.  It was (and is) rebellion, plain and simple.  Sometimes it is a short season followed by an immediate “what was I thinking?” head-slap.  But sometimes it is a prolonged season when we withhold from His Lordship some particular slice of our life which we just are not willing to submit to Him.  Either way, it is rebellion.  And the way back from any rebellion is, quite simply, confession.  You will not find a more perfect confession in …

40 Days of Prayer for the City

January 16, 2018

What might happen in a city or a community if all the churches began praying for the same things at the same time? How might genuine transformation look in that community if God were to respond to those prayers in a powerful way, making His manifest presence known?

The folks over at Waymakers.org have been working on answers to those questions for the last few years with excellent prayer guides for 40 Days of Prayer for the City leading up to Palm Sunday. I came across this material last year and found it to be especially meaningful. Especially powerful. So, this year, I am inviting you to join me in the prayer for our cities.

You can order the 2018 material here. Better yet, if you’re like me and prefer an app for your smartphone rather than a paper product, look here or go to your app store and search for “Seek God for the city 2018”. You will love the experience!

The 40 Days of Prayer for the City begins on February 14. I will be praying for my home city of San Antonio, Texas, as we celebrate our 300th anniversary this year. You pray for your city. Let’s do this together. More importantly, let’s get our churches doing this together!

Imagine the possibilities!…

A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Magi

December 21, 2017

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  Matthew 2:1-2

At the risk of spoiling your nativity scenes, here are the facts about the magi (separated from the myths): (1) they probably were not kings, (2) we do not know how many there were, (3) they never saw Jesus as an infant, nor the manger, nor the shepherds, (4) we do not know their names nor their nationalities.  We actually know surprisingly little about them.  The sum total of what we do know, we learn from 12 small verses of scripture in Matthew’s gospel.  That is all.  But it is enough for us as peacemakers to continue to learn some important truths from the Christmas story.

These magi (however many there were), were apparently scholars and apparently familiar enough with Jewish prophecies to understand that the “king of the Jews” had been born.  They were also men of science, familiar enough with the night sky to recognize a star which did not belong there.  They were also shrewd seekers of Jesus, not thrown at all off track by Herod’s deception or malicious intentions.  These are all good qualities for peacemakers.

A peacemaker among God’s people is a student of the Word.  I know I’ve already made this point in this series, but it bears repeating.  The truth of God’s Word is critical to peacemaking among His people.  Peacemakers therefore immerse themselves in the Word regularly…even in all the woes and warnings of Old Testament prophecies.

A peacemaker studies the landscape of relationships and recognizes things that do not seem to

A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Shepherds

December 14, 2017

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  Luke 2:17-18

The Shepherds had a pretty simple, but critical role in the Christmas story, right?  Go and observe, and then tell the truth about what you heard and observed.  They did not elaborate…they did not speculate about anyone’s intentions or possible motives…they did not add their own opinions into the mix.  They heard from the angels, observed the baby Jesus, and then they simply reported what they had heard and observed.  They did their job well…God took care of the rest.

As a peacemaker, I could learn a thing or two from the shepherds in the Christmas story.  I could learn to remind myself that my role in the peacemaking process is not complicated.  More times than not, I am merely speaking the truth in love.  The role is actually simple enough unless I find myself beginning to interject my own opinions and speculation about motives and behaviors.  That is when I get myself into trouble.

A peacemaker must speak the truth about what he has heard from God’s Word.  For this reason, faith-based peacemaking is different from the secular concepts of genuine mediation.  It is slightly less conciliatory and slightly more directive, at least in the sense of being grounded in the Word of God as the source of all truth and of all solutions.  Among Christ-followers, there is almost always a spiritual element to conflict.  Spiritual problems demand spiritual solutions…and spiritual solutions come from God’s Word.  For me to be an effective peacemaker in the church, I must be listening to the Word of God and I must be representing it accurately…just like the Shepherds  …

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