Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Common pitfalls for Church-growth guys

1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us how we ALL struggle with temptation.  Those who attempt to build growing churches must be aware of some common pitfalls (these are things I have personally experienced and struggle with):

1) Developing an unhealthy view of yourself.  Pride, an over-inflated view of your own importance, has destroyed many a talented pastor.  Thinking you are the answer to everyone's needs, that you should always be available and approachable, will end up crushing you and your family. Thinking you are above being questioned and shouldn't be held accountable to others in the church is precisely what the devil wants to do to turn God's servant into a taskmaster.

2) Developing an unhealthy view of others.  You may begin to see SOME people as expendables - people who don't bring a lot to the table, as though they only exist to meet some need in YOUR life. Others who aren't your 'yes men' or fail to stroke your ego sufficiently, you will view as your personal enemies - as though disagreeing with you makes them "the spawn of Satan."  You might forget that God puts people in your life to make you better - that you NEED people to help you, to sharpen you, to encourage you, to drive you into the presence of God.  You might view other ministers who haven't risen to your "level of success" as beneath you.

3) Developing an unhealthy view of results.  Deriving your significance from your success will ultimately destroy you.  Pursuing anything above Christ will be like so much sand in your mouth... disappointing... it cannot satisfy.

You were created for God's glory - not your own.  You will face these temptations often in ministry as Satan attempts to make ministry about YOU.  Learning how to navigate these pitfalls will make for a much more fulfilling ministry.  Constantly expose your heart, your innermost thoughts and feelings to the Lord. Pray for pure motives - for honesty/transparency.  Surround yourself with people who love you enough to be honest and to hold you accountable.  Be humble and remind others of your inadequacies. God exalts the humble - if YOU have to do it, then you've got it all wrong anyway.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Importance of Sexual Purity

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

In the forests of northern Europe there lives a little animal called the ermine - known for his snow-white fur in winter. He instinctively protects his white coat against anything that would soil it. His coat, you see, is God’s gift of protection for a little creature with almost no defense against predators. As long as his coat remains white, he remains virtually undetectable from the snow around him. But the moment his coat gets dirty, he becomes easy prey.

Fur hunters take advantage of this unusual trait of the ermine. They don't set a snare to catch him, but instead they find his den and smear the entrance with mud. THEN the hunters set their dogs loose to find and chase the ermine. The frightened animal flees toward its home but refuses to enter because of the filth. That’s right - the animal would rather compromise his safety than soil his white coat. For the ermine / purity / is more precious / than life.

Is purity important to you? According to scripture, the Lord wants His people to keep themselves separated from the filth of this world at all cost. Understand - Your purity is God’s gift of protection to you. He wants to protect you from the awful heartache that comes from sexual compromise; the years of pain and regret; the haunting memories that bring discontentment many years later; the shattered testimonies and damaged relationships that result from sexual indulgence outside of God’s plan.

So AGAIN I’ll ask - Is purity important to you? If so, what steps are you taking to protect it? Have you, like Job, consciously committed to keep yourself from those things that would lead you to compromise? Are you actively feeding your mind those things that are pure and holy? Have you placed safeguards in your relationships so that there is not even a HINT of impropriety? Are you keeping your relationships with God and fellow Christian healthy and strong so that you will be less vulnerable to sin?

People don’t just wake up one day and decide to be sexually immoral. Impurity begins in the mind long before action is taken – that’s why Jesus said, “27You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Whether you are a teen who will someday be married, or a senior-saint who has been married to the same spouse for decades, purity matters. As a Christian, nothing empowers a testimony, nothing brings your witness greater credibility than living a pure life.

Conversely, nothing will destroy a testimony you have worked a lifetime to establish faster than impurity.

Upon his return from Thessalonica, Timothy must have privately reported to Paul his concerns that the Christians there were struggling with sexual purity. It’s understandable that they would struggle –their culture gave widespread approval to all forms of sexual misbehavior. Sexual purity was completely foreign to the Roman mind. Conventional morality saw nothing wrong with sexual indulgence, whether before marriage or after… so the idea that a Christian must keep himself pure was constantly challenged by society. The prevailing sentiment among the Gentiles was that sexual experimentation was perfectly natural and ought to be encouraged, rather than discouraged or saved for marriage.

Because of this, when the Church decided it was time to evangelize the Gentiles, the leaders of the Church met in Jerusalem and specifically charged Paul to teach them the importance of sexual purity (Acts 15:20). This explains why Paul so often addresses this subject in his writings. Everywhere the Christian turned in the Gentile world, he was inundated with sexual permissiveness. // In a world with so much to say about sex, they must often be reminded of what God had to say about purity.

As a church that desires to know and serve the Lord and take His message to those who are lost, we battle two temptations when it comes to discussing sexual purity: the temptation to EXCUSE (“young people will be young people”), and the temptation to EXECUTE. We’ve gotten to the place where we either close our eyes to clear violations of God’s Word, OR we want to condemn those who have failed. Both responses are wrong.

Somehow, we’ve got to battle through all the emotions of this issue and all the messages of our culture and find what God has to say about this subject. There are two points Paul makes in this passage:

1. First, Paul reveals the Lie the world promotes. The lie the world promotes regarding sex. Notice vv. 4-7, “4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”

An internet site for men, called “AskMen.com,” recently conducted a survey investigating WHAT a REAL MAN looks like. Given the nature of the online magazine, most of the answers given came from a non-Christian perspective. One of the questions was: “Should a couple live together before marriage?” 81% answered “yes.” In this age of self-gratification, we shouldn’t be surprised by that overwhelming endorsement of cohabitation. In fact, the world has a thought-out response to the church’s “sexual rigidity.” It comes in three parts:

First, the world says sexual desires are natural and therefore should be acted upon. Not that they look to God for anything other than an endorsement, but in their minds, since they have these desires God must have made them this way – and they use that as a justification to indulge. “God wouldn’t give me these desires if He didn’t want me to ACT upon them” is the reasoning.

Second, the world says that, “not only is sexual experimentation natural, it is wise. After all, you wouldn’t buy a car without first test-driving it, so why would you marry someone without first making sure you are sexually compatible?”

Third, the world says, only that which hurts people should be avoided. If both parties are willing, what could it hurt?

In a world where self-gratification is king, you can understand why the church is ridiculed for teaching abstinence and marital fidelity. Sadly, the world seems to be winning the culture war – for even those in the church are questioning centuries of church teaching.

Many in the church no longer take God seriously and have chosen compromise. The church has chosen popularity over purity AND SINCE preaching purity is no longer popular, we are sending mixed signals that imply virtual endorsement and unqualified support even though our young people are violating clear Biblical teachings. Since the world has applied so much pressure, and since we want to be liked, we have weakened our stance on sexual purity. We say little about it anymore. And many “Christians” are guilty of surrendering any credibility they might have had because they are guilty too.

The world tells us that “acting on desire is fulfilling.” And because of this, they trade future happiness and God’s blessings for short-term gratification. And when their whole world blows up and they are dealing with regret and shame, they aren’t able to make the connection between their own wrong choices and their resulting unhappiness. // The Lie the World Promotes.

2. But THEN we should notice the Line the Word Provides. First - the Lie the World Promotes, then The line the Word provides. Notice vv. 1-4, “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honor, (skip to v. 7) 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God.”

No matter how much the world resists and resents what the church has to say about moral issues, no matter how much you or I might be ridiculed for our convictions - called “out-dated and out-of-touch,” it doesn’t matter. The establishment of rules and the ensuing penalties for breaking those rules, is God’s prerogative…not yours or mine. There are two things that demand our attention here:

First, I want you to notice how God’s Word clearly marks what is God’s Will. God’s will is mentioned explicitly and implicitly. Explicitly, God says that it is His Will for us to “abstain from fornication.” The Word “fornication” pertains to sex outside the confines of a marriage relationship. Sexual activity outside of marriage in any form must be avoided at all cost. You must protect your mind from exposure to the illicit. You must make it clear in all your relationships that you are committed to purity. You must make a conscious decision not to put yourself in a position where you will be tempted to compromise. That’s God’s will for you. Purity is not optional for the Christian, but a mandate.

One of the best ways to do this, if you are single, is to make a commitment before God that you will not date anyone who does not share your convictions. It doesn’t matter WHAT they look like if their heart isn’t right with God. Remember, it is God’s will for you to remain pure; therefore, you have no business dating anyone who has not made that same commitment. Those who do not know the Lord, do not share your convictions.

Implicitly, God’s will isn’t simply that you abstain from sex outside of marriage, but that you actively pursue those things that will help you better live the Christian life. I am to be obedient to the Lord. I am to be a person of honor and integrity. I am to love the things that are going to help me glorify God. It’s not enough that we “don’t do” certain things – there are many things we must DO. I must make the pursuit of God’s will my singular ambition in life. You will not be content, you will not know peace and purpose living outside of God’s will for your life. It’s not enough to say you “believe in Jesus” – you must put that faith into action. THIS is God’s Will for you.

But THEN we should notice God’s Warning. God issues TWO warnings. In verse 6, God lets us know that when we compromise sexually, that decision doesn’t just affect us – it brings judgment upon the person we have been disobedient with. It hurts those who love us specifically and the cause of Christ as a whole.

God draws a line, beyond which we must not go. The line is simple: no sex outside of marriage. To go beyond that line is to “wrong” somebody. “So, God has written “No Trespassing” over every man or woman who is not one’s own wife or husband. AND, on that sign He has written, “violators will be prosecuted.”

Must I remind you that God punishes those who refuse to listen to His warning. Yes, even those He loves. Take David as an example. He committed adultery and thought it was hidden…but God knew. And God sent Nathan the prophet to expose his sin and pronounce judgment. Remember that David repented of his wrong, but God said, “The sword shall never depart from your house.” He was forgiven, but the rest of his life he suffered the consequences of his sin. Yes you can be forgiven – but you cannot undo the calamity you have invited upon yourself by rebelling against God’s Word.

But there is a second side to God’s warning, found in verse 8, which says, “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” All this talk about sexual purity is non-negotiable and unalterable. We can’t say, “Well, that’s just one preacher’s opinion…” Or, “You know, those FWBs are soooo conservative.” No, this is the Word of God – plain and simple.

The Lie the World Promotes – “its no big deal, its natural, its wise, no-one will get hurt…it will bring us closer.” AND, The Line the Word Provides – it is God’s will for us to abstain from sexual activity that is outside the marriage covenant – and its God’s will that we pursue those things that lead to holiness.

Now, what do we do if we have already blown it? First, I want you to understand that God still loves you EVEN if you have rebelled against His Word. But the fact that He loves you doesn’t mean that He will just ignore what you are doing. Neither will He keep you from reaping the consequences of your disobedience. Right now, you need to turn away from that sin… ask God to forgive you… and ask Him to help you hunger for holiness. And God will forgive and restore you. Don’t listen to the lies of this world – God has made it plain – sexual sin is off-limits… no matter who you are or how special your relationship may be – God is not making an exception for you.

The question you’ve got to answer for yourself is – are you going to do what honors God Who has your best interest at heart – OR are you going to follow the “lies” of this world that will lead to your destruction? What will it be? Only YOU can decide.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Objectives of a Men's Ministry

KEY... KEY in a growing church are the men.  To build a stronger, healthier church, you MUST be a builder of men.  What are some basics goals we should have for men's ministry?  You need to:

1.  Pull men IN - In your circle of influence - get involved in their lives.  Surround yourself with men at different stages of growth
2.  Lift men UP - Through mentoring - through teaching - through modeling the Spiritual Man they ought to admire and aspire to
3.  Push men OUT - Men are doers... effective leading of men equips and releases them to serve. You need to give them something to do - you need to trust them to do it sufficiently - and when they don't, don't blow a gasket.  They will learn.

You will never grow a church without men.  Be the man God has called YOU to be and they will naturally gravitate to you

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

3 Keys to growth

Pastors long for church growth for different reasons.  While there ARE a few who have made church growth about ego, most have a genuine desire to fulfill the 'Great Commission.'  What are a few common factors in growing churches?

1) A passionate, visionary pastor.  Though we often downplay the importance of leadership, it is "nigh-to-impossible" to have a growing church without a man who is an enthusiastic, loving, courageous leader.  We must not fall prey to over preoccupation with SELF, but we MUST continue to grow and stretch ourselves as leaders through books, seminars, self-scouting (a sports term for studying your tendencies - your strengths and weaknesses as a leader), and spending time with other, quality men.  Be a learner.  Be a risk-taker.  But above all else, fall in love with your church and the LORD of your church.

2) An outward focused, mobilized laity.  I have been blessed to be a part of several growing churches. And while some had good locations and programs already in place, certainly not ALL of them did.  Some of my most fruitful ministry came while pastoring in a terrible location with extremely inadequate facilities, parking, and music.  What made them successful was a laity with a vision for growth.  Prior to my coming, they had been trained to be public and proactive with their faith.  While the pastor should definitely lead by example, there were two ladies in that fellowship who invited far more people to our church than I did.  If the laity will buy into their pastor and his vision, the challenge will shift from 'How do we grow?' to 'How do we accommodate our growth?' Churches too often make the mistake of hoping their next "big hire" will make them successful - when all they need for growth is already sitting in the pews of their church.

3) A specific plan for growth.  "A failure to plan is a plan to fail."  The church must have a specific plan for growth... from goals to steps for achieving those goals.  From improvement of facilities to development of visitation teams.  From training greeters to decorating nurseries - a church that grows is a church that is concerned with the details.  While we typically think the pastor should lead this effort, he may not possess the vision or following to get it done.  He may be so new to the congregation that he hasn't earned "the right to lead" the congregation.  While involved in the process of growth, the pastor needs people around him who will implement a clear plan for growth.  Most churches love the idea of growth - they just don't know how.  But if you will provide two or three specific things to work on, they will get behind it.

Don't fall into the trap of discounting the importance of growth.  Don't comfort yourself  by emphasizing, "Quality over Quantity."  It is an unwise assumption that for growth to occur it must come at the expense of discipleship.  Hogwash!  God will bless what we do WHEN what we do blesses Him!