The Decisions for Divisions.

The Decisions for Divisions.

I hate it and it breaks my heart.  Over the past six months I have witnessed up close the division in two churches unleashing emotions of sorrow and anger but for different reasons.

In the first situation, a church was searching for a new senior minister and one of the associates asked to take the lead role even though he had no formal Bible college experience.  While the younger leader did have some great qualities, the eldership reasoned that this position required a more solid theological background than what the associate possessed.  The request for the position was denied.  Instead of choosing to accept the decision of the eldership, the associate first attempted a church coup to overturn the elder’s lead and when that proved unsuccessful, he initiated a church split and took half the people with him.  There was no immorality on the part of the eldership or foreign doctrines; they simply required a higher standard of education for the lead role than what the associate had.  Because he didn’t get what he wanted – he initiated a split.

In the second occasion, the church eldership asked the lead minister to resign.  In this situation, there was no immorality on the part of the minister or practice of heretical teaching. Rather, he was working to take the church out of complacency toward a more aggressive and missional path.  The eldership on the other hand was satisfied in playing life safe and controllable.  But the real difference in the two situations was in how this leader responded to the decision of the elders.  He had enough people who loved him in the church that he also could have initiated an eldership overthrow and if that did not work, could have launched a full church split.  However, what he chose to do was humbly release it into God’s hands and step away.

In both cases, my heart goes out to someone. In the first situation, for the people of the church body that kept their cool and suffered the wrath and hysteria from those who split the church. In the second, for the minister and his family who cared more for the church even though they were the ones wronged.  They could have staked their claim in pride. They however, humbly blamed no one, chose peace, and walked away leaving the whole situation in God’s hands.

In thinking again about the Bride of Christ and how we treat the church, these two real illustrations remind me of a very profound passage in 1 Corinthians chapter three dealing with divisions in the church.  In verse 17 Paul warns the readers that “if anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him, for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”

Early on when I read that passage, I thought Paul was talking about persecution and that those who attacked the church would eventually receive God’s wrath and judgement if they did not repent.  While there is probably some truth to this assessment, that interpretation does not fit the context.  The section deals with divisions within the church at Corinth with various factions following different leaders. Some followed Paul and some followed Peter or someone else.  Thus they ended up putting human leaders ahead of unity in Christ. This was not about differences in imperative doctrines, but personalities and possible preferences.  They divided on what they wanted instead of what was really important and Paul made it clear this was no small deal.  As noted in a blog post a few weeks ago, Jesus loves the Bride of Christ and so should we.  From 1 Corinthians we should also glean a little bit of fear and trembling.  Messing with the church for selfish reasons is not only destructive to people, but insulting to Christ and Paul indicates this can be a very costly mistake.

What about the church body that you are aware of or connected to?  Are you working to put the mission of Christ and the local church ahead of yours?  Are there times of clear heretical teaching, such as denying the deity of Christ or the clear teaching on sexuality in a world of confusion?  Yes. Such issues should be dealt with and are worth going to the mat for. However, the sad reality is that many of the divisions in churches are usually because of personal choice rather than real doctrine.  The results are both bloody and sinful.

We can, however, live another way.  What can you do today to strengthen the unity of your local church?

A Remembrance of Praise!

A Remembrance of Praise!

One evening during my study break this past summer I found a documentary over George Washington on Amazon Prime.  As Debi and I watched the preview for the docudrama, she got the sense the flick was more hero worship than historical.  We didn’t take in the show so I can’t make a review.  But I did wonder if maybe a little hero worship might not be a bad thing these days.

You see, we live in a culture of criticism today where anything that is not 100% aligned with our feelings is speculative and everything is open for potshots.  Cynicism is supreme and praise is problematic.  No, we don’t want to deify people nor turn a blind eye to blatant sin.  However, when we are geared toward tearing down, we miss so much good intertwined with the weeds that we pull up the whole plant and have nothing to encourage ourselves with or learn from.

One arena where this is especially seen is in discussions about the church.  Even celebrated Christian writer, Francis Chan, noted that his objective in a recent book was to “point out areas where the church is lacking.”   Areas where the church is lacking?  We all know that local bodies of Christ have issues.  I’ve been in some form of Christian ministry for over 25 years and I can tell you plenty of stories of dysfunction.  The question though is one of focus.  What will we choose to spend our time looking at; the problems or the praise?  This is especially true for followers of Jesus.  Yes, there are issues to be discussed and strategies to be employed for improvement.  However, when we do nothing but throw stones at the church, we are ultimately harming ourselves.

When I look around at the world today and see all the pains and problems, I am also quickly reminded that Jesus has the answers in his body, which is the universal church.  Loneliness is alieved when people connect passionately with Jesus at the center.  When the local church family is embraced, we find healing and purpose in a world of self-centeredness.  In short, while there are issues arising from our broken humanity, we owe it to ourselves and those who come after us to pursue and praise the local church which is to reflect the authentic universal and eternal Church.

But on a more intimate note, one of my favorite Biblical pictures of the church is the Bride of Christ.  It’s interesting to see the tension of this illustration with a book by Dan Kimball entitled, “They Like Jesus but Not the church.”  Here’s the deal.  I am not perfect nor is my wife. However, if someone began to trash talk my bride and say they liked me, but not her, well then, our relationship would be over with.  You just don’t talk bad about my bride.  Jesus probably doesn’t like it much when people talk down His Bride especially with a caviler attitude.  That ought to challenge us.

I’ll be making some posts this fall on the church and I hope they will be of an encouragement to you. I hope that at the end of all this, you will love the church as much as I do.  Yes, there are and will be problems.  But it is my desire that we might own up to our responsibilities and stand together to praise the Bride of Christ as much as He does.

What are some positive memories or praises that you can give about the universal Church or your local body of Christ today?

Francis Chan, Letters to The Church (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2018), 211.

Serving the Summons and Choosing to Serve!

Serving the Summons and Choosing to Serve!

I received a Jury Summons in the mail the other day.  My first thought when I saw the envelope and purpose within was not a nice one.  My angst was probably driven by a number of reasons.  I was spinning a dozen or more mental and emotional plates all at the same time that day and the thought of driving to downtown Houston in early morning traffic is a favorite of no one.  This duty just added to my present depletion.  Finding a way out of it was probably my second thought.  Reschedule? Quickly move out of state? Join the Marines?  Fake symptoms of the West Nile virus?  After all . . . I had been in Africa three years ago.

When the dust cleared and after a couple of days of processing, I was able to reassess the situation and reminded myself of how blessed I am to be an American citizen.  I have often suggested that the best education for American teenagers would be a requirement to live for a month or more in a third world socialist country before graduation. That would sure reduce the amount of complaining going on these days.  In addition though, I’m also thinking that this might be a good thing for many Americans of every age.

Despite whatever problem we might be dealing with, I can assure you there are other places on the globe where your conditions and contextual expectations would be much worse.  I also thought about whoever the poor souls might be who are facing legal trials over the next month and possibly the ones I’d be expected to serve on a jury for.  If I were in their shoes; would I want someone doing everything they could to get out of this role, or someone being still and compassionately listening to all sides of the case and truly working to discern accurate justice?  Honestly, I’d probably want someone like me who is trying to follow Jesus as a juror member of whom I knew would be praying for wisdom.  Thus, that is what I needed to be.

This whole process also caused me to look at the local church as well.  Often times we look at the local body of Christ as something which exists for us.  We ask questions of the church in regard to what we are going to get out of it.  What are the others going to do for us?  How are we going to get our needs and desires met?  However, when there is a need for our attention or time, we suddenly become too busy with other life pursuits to lend a hand.  Sometimes this is just a sad reality. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it.

Yet when we look at what the authentic church is and what Christ calls for, we have new reason to serve instead of firstly being served.  In numerous places in the Bible we see illustrations of the true church being comprised of many different people who all fit together tightly being blessed by each other and blessing others. Then of course there is the pattern of Jesus who said that he did not come to “be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” and “greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.” Truly, Jesus demonstrated the greatest act of service by dying for your sins and rising again.  Jesus offered salvation and showed us a new way.

America, or any country for that matter, would be a better place when its citizens were first looking out for others rather than for number one.  This application is obviously true for followers of Christ who have tasted the grace of Jesus. The more we look for ways to serve instead of expecting to receive, the more the love of Christ will expand and in fact, we will all be blessed by this sacrificial fruit.

Yes, there will be tough times when our schedules must be interrupted or our desires set aside for others. But the end game will be much more beautiful for all concerned.

What about you?  How can you serve others today?

The Problem with “Pastor” Steve!

The Problem with “Pastor” Steve!

I’ve never really been a fan of religious verbiage. I especially hate it when people call me Pastor Steve. God doesn’t call me that.  But the problem with the word pastor, in the English language, is that it means just about everything. Thus it sometimes doesn’t really mean anything.  Anything specific that is. The problem with me is that I tried to do and to be everything associated with the word and it just about killed me.  But maybe, in truth, the real problem belongs to all of us who call on the name of Christ. (more…)

Does it Work?  (Christianity that is.)

Does it Work?  (Christianity that is.)

Sometimes Boris would drive me nuts.  I mean really drive me nuts.  Ok, sometimes I suppose he just ticked me off if we’re being honest here.  I remember well the afternoons that Boris would come into our office at the college we rented from in Moscow, Russia.  We’d play chess and discuss everything from politics, to Christianity, to philosophy.  I liked playing chess with Boris because he was just about the only Russian over the age of 12 that I could actually beat.    The reason Boris pushed me to the edge sometimes was because he clearly had little interest in discussion for discovery, but rather just for the sake of being argumentative.  Boris longed for the Communist to retake the government in the national elections of 96.  Boris quoted Paul McCartney with as much reverence as the apostle Paul.  Boris referred to both Vladimir Lenin  and John Lennon with equal admiration while joking about Jesus.  Boris would deny the credibility of the Bible while all the time never acknowledging the proofs I’d give for its inerrancy.  Boris just liked to argue and I suppose that’s probably normal for a young man in his late teens and early 20s. I’m sure I’ve got my own history of annoying folks with my arguments as well.  So if you’re out there Boris, please know that I really do love you and miss you.

One of the criticisms of Christianity that Boris would level at me periodically was the supposition that Christianity was simply not practical. “It didn’t do much,” he’d say.  Maybe he was contrasting me to the Bolsheviks of old or something.  But for whatever reason he had that idea, I tried to illustrate to him that Christianity is anything but impractical.  (more…)

Life from Death.

Life from Death.

SNDCan a dying church live again?  The Bible tells us that Jesus came to bring life and life to the fullest.  Yet the first application there is to us as individuals.  So what about a local community of Christ? While we know that the eternal and universal CHURCH will never be defeated there is a question mark on local churches throughout the ages.  In history we can see that a number of churches have ceased to exist and places like the country of Turkey are key examples of this.  Do all churches merely have a life cycle?  Can churches that have lost their life be turned around? Join us this Sunday at 8p Central as we welcome our guest, John Davis, who is a pastor in the throes of this difficult ministry. Working with God to see a church turn the corner from death to life is a tough job and I’ve had some experience in that realm myself.

If you love the CHURCH and the church as it should be then this week’s show is for you. (more…)