Category Archives: Church Life

How to View a Crisis

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There are a lot of reasons why I am glad that I was not born in China. Among those reasons would be that, according to what I’ve read, the Chinese language has about 50,000 characters or ideographs. I have enough trouble with our twenty-six letters!

I have read also that the character for crisis is really a combination of two other ideographs. The Chinese put the character for danger and the one for opportunities together to form the word crisis.

I think that is an interesting way to view a crisis. Sometimes all we seem to be able to see is the danger in a crisis. Maybe we need to also look for the opportunities that crises present to us. 

A couple of those opportunities come to my mind readily. There are many, many more than two, but for our space here we will mention only two.

First, if we will practice that way of looking at things, we will have a positive impact on others. We may, in fact, “preach” a better sermon by our actions during a crisis than any actual sermon delivered by a talented and knowledgeable preacher.

Second (and probably most importantly for us), a crisis gives us to learn by experience our dependence upon the Lord. We will be much better people for having done so.

I am thinking of one person about whom we read in the Old Testament. It is obvious that Joseph faced a great number of crises in his life. Hopefully, as I look back on the ones in my life, I can say what he said to his brothers:

…you meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good… (Gen. 50:20, NASV)

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The Problem with Comfortable Churches

I am thankful for a comfortable place in which to worship. Throughout the years, I have been blessed to worship with people who kept the building clean, nice, and comfortable. That is a wonderful blessing.

But sometimes, our churches can be a bit too comfortable.

No, I am not talking about the church building. I am talking about how many of our congregations can become places where we use the guise of worshiping God as a cover for really worshiping our own comfort.

Think about it. How many of us decide where to worship based more on “what this congregation can give me” than “does this congregation glorify God?” How many families leave a congregation over nothing more than deciding the church did not offer just the right programming or have just the right “feel” for them?

Several times, I have heard Thom Rainer (on this podcast) talk about how the Baby Boomer generation treated church as something where we come to “get” something. That mindset grows into our programming, as most of what we do is inward focused. We think more of the comfort of our own than about reaching the lost.

Additionally, we sometimes wonder why those from without will say they are uncomfortable coming in. After all, we are comfortable; why shouldn’t they be?

Maybe it is because we can be too comfortable with nothing more than being comfortable!

I still believe there are people who are wanting to connect with God and with other people. In fact, Generation X started a movement that the Millennials are taking to new heights. That is making sure the horizontal of a congregation (how they treat other people) matches up with what they say the vertical is (how they praise God and preach).

We preach forgiveness, but when someone responds to the invitation, are we more concerned about the extra 5 minutes it is going to keep us away from our noon meal?

We preach unity, but do we just head out the door with no conversation as soon as the “amen” is said?

We preach evangelism, but when someone from the “outside” comes in–as obvious of an evangelistic opportunity as there is–do we just walk by silently?

We praise God that He is no respecter or persons, but when someone comes in dressed in something we do not consider the “Sunday best,” do we look at them as if they are out of place?

It can be easy, if we are not careful, to make the church more about my comfort than about truly glorifying God. Such is nothing more than idolatry, and I become the idol.

Be thankful that you have a comfortable building. Be grateful that you can feel comfortable being around your brothers and sisters in Christ.

But may we never make our comfort the highest aim of the Church. There will be many in hell who were very comfortable for a couple of hours each Sunday, but who never deeply sought the will of God at any other time.

How to Stop Quarreling

When I was growing up it was a pretty normal thing for kids at Studebaker Elementary to be found somewhere fighting. It was a part of the social order. Kids dared each other, challenged each other, and put each other up to it. There were always the willing participants, and those who were forced into action against their will, and then there were the people who never fought but just loved to watch it and talk about it. Looking back I only take one major lesson from all of the fighting I saw on the playground, at the park, in the cafeteria, and on the walk home: Most fighting never solves anything.

I think sometimes in the church quarreling exists because we have the same three classes of people. Those happy to fight, those thrust into the fight, and those who love to watch and talk about it. While for Christ’s sake we are commanded to defend the faith, about 99% of the battles that we deal with are battles of our own invention.  I don’t know what one of the three categories you fit into, but let me at least give you a quick formula for how you can walk away from the whole event altogether.

Jesus told a parable about a man who had 100 sheep. One of the sheep got lost, and so the shepherd left the 99 and went after the 1. He searched in the wilderness until he found it. When he found it, he laid it upon his shoulders, rejoicing (Luke 15:3-5). Good shepherds relieve weary and wandering sheep. They cause their troubles and anxieties to cease. They save by resting the hurting lamb on their shoulders. They climb with the sheep and carry it to higher ground. Jesus was telling a parable about Himself. He was telling us that He is to be identified as a shepherd. Shepherds are peaceful beings. They live a life of peace and they care for helpless animals. Love and joy and kindness characterize the way of the shepherd. The only fighting they ever do is a last resort, and the intentions are still to deliver the innocent.

What if we tried to be more like the shepherd? Jesus said many are like wolves.  Jesus said some are only helpless sheep. Jesus said some are not true shepherds, but rather just hired help, willing to stand by and watch the fight. But the loving shepherd is the one who really cares. He stands in the gap. He thinks of ways to feed and refresh the sheep. He considers it his pleasure to watch them live and grow in peace. He gets personal with them. He invests in relationships with them. The last thing he would ever want to see is one of his sheep in the middle of a fight.

We don’t have to be so quarrelsome. It is possible to go from a trouble maker to a peacekeeper. Peter went from sword slinger to soul saver. Paul went from persecutor to preacher. And since Pentecost, people have allowed the story of Jesus to change their hearts from insolence and hatred to hearts of knowledge and purpose and love. This is the gospel’s aim.

The easiest way to stop fighting is to be like the Shepherd. We do not have a Father who has His arms folded, accusing. We have a Father who is running to us with arms open. He knows the only true battle remaining is the battle we are having with ourselves. And He is here to catch us. He is here to end it. He is here to solve the problem. He is here to give us peace.

“He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” – Isaiah 40:11

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Bigger and Better

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Recently a young man whom I have known since he was a boy was (in his words) “dismissed” from a congregation where he was preaching.  As I was reading some of the comments on Facebook about this, I noticed that some of his friends were hoping for bigger and better things for him.  What you will read below are some of the things I said to him via Facebook.  I have changed some of the details and reworded some of it, but the words below still share the essence of what I said.  I am presenting them here because I believe–or at least I hope–that others might benefit somewhat from them.

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I had already told the young man that I was sorry to hear his news.  Then I posted at least a version of the following:

I’ve seen a comment or two about hoping for bigger and better things for you. I’d like to weigh in on that.

As you know, I left a church that had over 400 worshiping together on a typical Sunday morning for a job that looked at the time like it was bigger and better. It was my privilege to work for Freed-Hardeman University for 4 1/2 years and to wear an impressive title: Director of Off-Campus Advancement. It didn’t take all that long for me to realize that I needed to be preaching full time again. So…14+ years ago, my wife and I began working with a church whose members were overjoyed if there were 60-70 people worshiping on a Sunday morning. I am told that, at one point, the number was more like 35-40.

I could have viewed this as a “dead end job” or a “stepping stone to something better.” I chose neither one of those courses. I determined to do as much as I could for as long as I could right here. Without any doubt, I can honestly say that the Lord has blessed our work and our lives.

We are not perfect and we have, indeed, had our challenges, but in my (admittedly prejudiced) opinion, there is nothing better. “Bigger”–bigger memberships, bigger salaries, bigger buildings, bigger houses, bigger names in the brotherhood–may not always be better.

In my opinion, what is better is to find a group of people who love the Lord and love each other and who will let you work with them (not for them) to bring glory to God and bring the lost to our Savior. THAT is my prayer for you, your wife, and your kids.

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Episode 23: What Families Can Do to Support the Church {Podcast}

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March rolls on, and we continue on the podcast to talk about the relationship between the church and the family. This week, Leah could not be with Adam to record, but the show much go on, so Adam speaks about some things families can do that will support the church.

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Show Outline

6 Things Families Can Do to Support the Church

1. Teach and show proper respect for authority

2. Maintain proper discipline

3. Teach and maintain proper priorities

4. Grow a love for the local congregation

5. Teach and show basic concepts of stewardship

6. Cultivate an appreciation for true worship

Why Do We Often Fail to Do This

1. It’s hard!

2. We’re too busy doing our own thing.

Episode Resources

[Podcast] “Training Your Children for Worship

[Podcast] “Our Thoughts on Smart Money, Smart Kids

[Book] Smart Money, Smart Kids

[Printable pdf] “Training for Worship” Family Devotional Guides

More from A Legacy of Faith

To subscribe to A Legacy of Faith by email for free (and get a free eBook) click here.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

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Find us on Stitcher Radio

Visit the show archives

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Music Credit

Opening theme: “Josie Has the Upper Hand” by Josh Woodward

Closing theme: “Afterglow” by Josh Woodward

 

The Worst Thing That Could Ever Happen to You

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The worst thing that could ever happen to you would be for you to always get your own way. That’s right, there could be no greater problem than if your life were completely free from problems. What kind of person would rise from years of nothing but good things happening all the time? Such a person would not have the opportunity to develop character. There would be no leaning on sources of greater strength. There would be no need to work on any type of solution. There would be little thoughtfulness of the plight of others. A problem-free life is a life devoid of the existence of a deep and abiding faith.

Noah became Noah through the flood. Abraham became Abraham through the offering. Moses became Moses through the wilderness. David became David through the battle with the giant. What was only unrealized potential in these heroes of faith would never have surfaced without the circumstances for which they would have never asked.

How would you like to live through 120 years of boat building only to see the world nearly come to an end? Or how would you like to have to sacrifice your child? Would you want to be exiled for 40 years in a desert, or would you be excited about facing a nine-foot warrior one-on-one with the fate of your nation hanging in the balance?

There is life as we see it and then there is life as God sees it. It is absolutely essential to our personal growth that we meet difficult and sometimes insurmountable challenges. God knows we cannot face these challenges alone, and so He operates in such a way to allow for these challenges so that we can rely on Him to deliver us. Paul said,

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

Funny, isn’t it, how we pray for things to go just as we hope they will? Later on, we find out that we were much better off not getting what we wished for. Even in the lean times, when we have desperately cried out for the removal of a situation or circumstance that we never wanted, we end up realizing that the answer was not for God to immediately remove the obstacle from our path. Christianity is the discipleship of Jesus, who Himself prayed for the cup to pass but instead was glorified by the drinking of even the very last drop.

The next time you think you are in the worst place you have ever been, the next time you see no hope, no light, no solution – consider Jesus. This is not the worst thing that could ever happen – it already happened to Him at Calvary. It happened so you would not get your own way about everything. It happened so you would realize that His way is best.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord. Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust…”

– Psalm 40:1-4a.

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A Seven-Word Sermon

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Once in a while, we hear reference made to a very effective eight word sermon. The English translation of Jonah’s message to Nineveh is:

“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4).

You can read for yourself the results of that message. The short version is that these few words caused the entire city to repent. As a result of that, their lives and their city were spared.

Recently, I heard a “sermon” that was even shorter than the Jonah’s. It might not have spared an entire city, but it certainly was effective.

Donna and I were visiting another congregation of the Lord’s people. A sister we have known for a number of years “preached the sermon” to us. To be more accurate, she just asked us a question:

“Would you like to sit with us?”

Seven words! That’s all. 

We were not at all in an unfamiliar place. We knew a lot of people there. We knew there were a lot of people who would not have minded at all if we had chosen to sit with them. We would have not minded if we had set by ourselves. We’ve done that a lot of times before. 

However, only seven words made a big difference to us. They made us feel even more at home than we already felt. 

Now (as Paul Harvey used to say) here’s the rest of the story. She shared with us what prompted her to ask us to sit with her and her family.

Here is a little of her background. She “grew up in the church.” Her father was a gospel preacher for a long time. She has had the experience of visiting congregations all over the place for many years. 

However, in all of those years of experience in the church and in all of those years of visiting various congregations, there is one thing that has only happened to her one time. After she asked us to sit with her and her family, she told me something about her reason for doing that. 

The following may not be an exact quote, but it is pretty close. She told me:

“In all of my years in visiting churches, your wife is the only one who has ever asked us to sit with her.  I’ve never forgotten that.  I’d like for you to sit with us.”

It doesn’t take too long to say seven words. The impact of those words may be long-term, maybe even eternal, Why not use them the next time you see a visitor to one of your worship services?

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Episode 22: The Importance of Every Family Member being in Bible Class {Podcast}

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As we continue our March theme of the relationship between the family and the church, we take this week’s program to consider how the Bible school program is a great tool for families to use. But, every member of the family must be involved for it to provide the most help. In this week’s program, we give four reasons why.

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Four Reasons for Every Member to be Involved

1. Bible class provides Biblical education for all ages.

2. Bible class gives parents a great way to lead by example.

3. Bible class allows parents to live out the priority they “say” they have on the Bible and church.

4. Bible class allows each member of the family to connect with others of their own age/life experience.

More from A Legacy of Faith

To subscribe to A Legacy of Faith by email for free (and get a free eBook) click here.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

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Visit the show archives

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Music Credit

Opening theme: “Josie Has the Upper Hand” by Josh Woodward

Closing theme: “Afterglow” by Josh Woodward

 

Churches, For the Sake of Families, Keep It Simple

This month on our podcast, Leah and I are spending time thinking about “The Relationship between the Church and the Family.”

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In our first episode of the month, we talked about one issue that I felt needed to be fleshed out a little more, so we talked about it for a few moments, but decided to also put some of those thoughts in a dedicated blog post.

As a preacher, one appeal I often make is for families to try to simplify as much as possible. Children do not need to be involved in a zillion activities (karate, baseball, piano, gymnastics, etc.) in order to be fulfilled. Too often, parents become glorified chauffeurs, running their children to-and-fro from one activity to the next.

Now, am I against children being involved in things? Not at all. But we all know it can get to be too much. Add to that all the clubs, boards, and so on that mom and dad are in, and a family rarely is spending truly quality together.

And then they come to church and are reminded of that again and again.

But if we are honest, it could be that churches also have some of the blame for families being spread so thin.

The announcements are made on Sunday, and your family can’t help but look at one another and see how this week is going to strain your already swelling calendar. This committee is meeting Monday night. The youth group has an activity Tuesday after school. There is a work night Tuesday evening, a meal before Wednesday night Bible study, and another committee meeting Thursday evening. The men have a breakfast Saturday morning, and about the time that’s done, the young people leave for a day trip.

Oh…and we didn’t mention Sunday worship or Bible classes.

And if sister Sally–who is in critical condition–dies, there will be a funeral to attend (and it’s your month on the food committee).

That may be a bit over-the-top, but for many congregations, that is not an unheard of weekly schedule. Six of the seven days have something (and we usually load up Sunday afternoons as much as possible, too).

And then we wonder why are families are not “as involved as they should be.” Let me ask: in which of those things do the vast majority of congregations expect families to be involved? (The answer, whether we want to admit it or not, is “all of them.”)

If we are going to teach that the family is of utmost importance, maybe it is time our church calendars reflected that. I am all for active congregations; in fact, some who know me may be shocked I’m writing an article on this topic. Activities are good, but there are many more efficient ways to be active without using up every evening…and then chastising families for not being involved in every activity.

Here are a few general suggestions for a congregation to consider.

1. Combine events. Instead of a youth “fun” outing each month and a devotional, why not have the devotional on the bus ride to or from the outing? Move the men’s (or women’s) breakfast to Sunday morning instead of Saturday, since the attendees will be coming to the church building anyway.

2. Cancel some activities. I know, we aren’t supposed to cancel anything, but we can become so bloated with activities that very few are effective. Let some go, and free up more time for families. (Not to mention, it will help the activities that remain be more effective, but that’s a different post.)

3. Be respectful of the clock. If you say an event will only take 60 minutes, it should only last 60 minutes (maximum). The more something drags on, that time is taken from families.

It is a delicate balance, to be sure, but to be consistent with what we preach and teach, the church does not need to contribute to the problem of families being too busy. For the sake of family, I urge churches to take a serious look at the calendar, simplify where they can, and encourage families to spend more time together as families.

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The Charismatic Comeback

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Pentecostalism and its tenants arose around the beginning of the 20th century. This religious group first began with a reclaiming of the miraculous spiritual gifts that were characteristic of the apostolic age. To date, their church historians boast over 200 million members worldwide who would fall into the category of “Denominational Pentecostals.”

Slightly separate–but not altogether removed–from the rise of Pentecostalism was the Charismatic Movement of the mid-20th century. The influence and popularity of the notion that the Holy Spirit was once again working miraculously began infiltrating the denominational spectrum. This movement brought forth the creation of “Charismatic Christians;” that is, those who believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament are available to contemporary Christians. The gifts are viewed as supernatural, manifested by miracles, signs, and wonders. The specific nature of the gifts include, but are not limited to, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, healing, prophecy, knowledge, and spiritual discernment.

As the Charismatic movement began to spread, so did televangelism. Networks like PTL quickly sprang up and gave rise to money-making schemes and charismatic personalities. But the Jim Bakkers and the Jimmy Swaggarts of the movement soon left the effort lagging and unpopular. Preacher’s mansions, stories of adultery and scandal, combined with the imagery of churches robbing widow ladies of their life’s savings took away quickly from excitement of the charismatic community. Before long momentum was lost, and it was back to denominations doing their own thing as usual.

The 21st century religious culture is different. The charismatic movement is back, and stronger than ever. It just wears a different face. People are once again “hooked on a feeling.” And the modern view of the Holy Spirit is providing the people who love to feel for God exactly what they want. People are shying away from denominationalism. Instead, they are interested in churches that can’t be put in a box. Even people in the Lord’s church have been persuaded into a desire for an anointing that resides somewhere outside of the Biblical text.

The churches with the biggest rise in numbers are basically lingering shadows of Pentecostalism in their beliefs and practices, but they don’t want the name. Instead they want the name of a mountain, or a river, or a creek, or a fruit of the spirit. They want to sound holy, inspirational, and transcendent. They want the world to believe they can come to their church to receive enlightenment and a holy awakening. They tell millennials that they don’t have to believe what their parents believed. And the disgruntled, over-structured middle-aged and the post-high school idealists are flocking to them.

The problem lies in what is being lost in that which seems to be a worthy attempt at spirituality. There is an overall lack of respect for the authority of Scripture. People who attend these churches are often sold on the social aspect of a Christian community, but the community has no true depth. Churches now resemble coffee houses or indoor theme parks.

True Christianity is not outward but inward. It is a taught religion. Its very identity is found in a deep and meaningful study of the word of God. God’s word is unchanging. It is settled in heaven. And the church that is His is not a new church, but rather the same church that Jesus built on Pentecost. It is a pre-denominational entity, the one body of Christians to whom the New Testament was written. The true church still wears a Biblical name, is organized by the authority of Scripture, and worships and practices according to the divine text.

The charismatic comeback has no concerns for such notions. Whatever appeals to the senses, whatever entertains the masses, whatever fills the pews will happily be provided by these new user-friendly churches. It has become less about God and more about the people. It is no longer what can I do for the church, but what can the church do for me? It is no longer what church should I belong to, but it is what is the church of my choice?

The same spirit that said over a century ago, “We want the miraculous gifts back,” is now saying, “We want our right to feel the way we want to feel.” Either way, it is the same spirit. It is the spirit of humanism over the humility that enthrones God. In the end, it will lead to the same destiny. The people will be allowed to shape God into their own image, and in the end the god they serve will cease to be Jehovah. And in the judgment scene this god they have created will deliver about as well as the gods of Mount Carmel. And that won’t be a feeling anyone will want to experience.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” – 2 Timothy 4:3-4

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