The Discipleship “Double-Standard”

lightSuppose you’re about to undergo knee surgery. You interview the doctor and he shares with you that he really didn’t study anatomy in school. He did, however, spend a lot of time thinking about anatomy and looking in the mirror, so he felt he was pretty good at repairing knees.

Perhaps your child comes to you and says she has a huge history final this week that is weighted for 25% of her grade. In essence, this test could make the difference on a college scholarship. As you discuss her strategy to preparing, she tells you that she doesn’t see the need to read her textbook or study her notes. After all, she has been thinking about the test and “the past” and all she heard in lectures. She feels very confident that reflecting on these things is sufficient preparation.

Hopefully, I am not the only one who would look for a reason to put off the surgery until I found a real doctor and certainly I cannot be the only one beginning to perspire over the approach of the daughter. The fact is, we KNOW that if we are to be adequately prepared for life, it requires study. Study doesn’t have to be boring or conventional, but it is intentional and it is oriented toward an objective.

Far too often, as I discuss spiritual development/growth plans with friends, I find that they too choose the doctor’s or the daughter’s approach. They have no strategy to focus on studying Scripture. If they do, it is a verse or a paragraph and 300 words of internet commentary. Prayer time is reduced to a brief statement or two between songs while stuck in traffic and asking for God’s blessing on a meal…even if it is a silent request. Fasting is non-existent, financial stewardship is an anomaly and don’t even bring up sharing our faith. That’s for EXTREME Disciples!

What if God expects more? What if the same logic and expectations we have for others on important matters MIRROR God’s expectations for us…because growing to maturity in Christ IS an important matter.

How do you start an intentional strategy?

  • START. Don’t gloss over this. It is far easier to steer a car on the street than in a garage. Do something more than attend church once or twice a month and listen to a preacher for 40 minutes.
  • COMMIT. Don’t commit to convenience but pursue results (Philippians 3:7-14).
  • INCREASE. Prayer time may be 2 minutes when you begin but if you have nothing more to say to God after 3 years of walking with Jesus than “forgive me for my sins and bless all the missionaries” you’re missing the boat.
  • LISTEN to God for you. Stop thinking sermons are about other people. God prepared it for you. If you’re only led to think of how it applies to other people, you’re again missing the boat. Who cares whether Dr. Doolittle’s classmates studied anatomy unless you’re getting a referral to go see them.
  • ASK. You’re not the first person to engage in this process. Don’t let your superficial pride prevent you from asking a pastor or another believer with “spiritual fruit” about their discipleship practices. Ask them to mentor you. I get five or six requests a year from people wanting to know if we can meet. Sometimes we do. Sometimes I connect them with better mentoring fits. That’s what pastors do. We coach people to maturity and we bring authoritative instruction from God.

We know study is important for our doctors or our daughters. Shouldn’t it be just as important for us as disciples?

 

The Moral Compass of a Nation and Women Drafted for War

The US Senate voted this week to require all women turning 18 years of age to register for Selective Service (the draft). a NY Times article covering the development can be accessed HERE. Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary offers commentary HERE, approaching the issue from the perspective of equality.

It is important to note that the Senate decision does not make a law. There will have to be a conference committe to reconcile House and Senate versions of the bills and then it will require executive action for the bill to become law.

My opinion is continuing to be shaped but my concern, that which grieves my heart, relates to the moral implications of this decision.

Though this decision is the logical extension of the current Administration’s policy change requiring that even the most physically grueling and dangerous jobs of combat be opened to women, this next shift make women serving in these roles no longer ONLY voluntary but potentially compulsory. It may also be argued that since our nation has had an all volunteer military since the early 70s, that the issue is merely proforma and is practically unrealistic. My opposition to this Senate action relates not to the likelihood of compulsory combat service for women, but to the possible compulsory service of women in combat.

If this provision of a much larger military bill is signed into law, the proponents and signer of the bill MUST assume that their daughters and granddaughters WILL be called to fight in hand-to-hand combat with a jihadist (for example) in a distant land or within the borders of our beloved country.

This bill requires every able-bodied woman to take up arms to defend a nation if the government requires it. A young mother will be required to stand before an enemy and kill or be killed according to the orders of her officers even if her commander is an able-bodied man in a tent miles behind the protected line.

I am disturbed that the morality, not to mention the common decency of this action, is even open for discussion. How does this fit in any narrative that honors God? Have we as a nation moved so far from a moral compass that we would demand that our granddaughters take up arms to kill on our behalf?

As for me, I cannot with good conscience ever expect or willingly permit a woman to stand between me and evil. My perspective is not based on her ability; rather, it is based on her value as precious and my GOD ORDAINED responsibility to protect and care for her…as a man.

I am interested in your thoughts as I grieve over this atrocity and malfeasant reckoning of logic by our elected representatives. I pray there is still time to draw a line between opportunity and responsibility  as it relates to women in military service.

Dads, moms, and faith for generations to come

Bible glasses (2)Is Faith “Taught or Caught?” The Answer is YES! In this article in the Huffington Post, which may or may not be on your daily culture reading list, we find the conclusions drawn from a recent survey on the factors that most effectively contribute to faith practices in young adults. In short…parents who communicate and demonstrate the importance of faith in THEIR LIVES through their PROCLAMATION and their ACTIONS transmit the importance of faith to their children/teens…and it “sticks” through their young adult years when most studies claim that most people fall away from their faith.

Note:

“…sociologists Christopher Bader and Scott Desmond found that children of parents who believe that religion is very important and display their commitment by attending services are most likely to transmit religiosity to their children.

Of course it is anecdotal on my part, but I believe that my faith was directly communicated by my parents…both good and bad. I came to faith in Christ at a church service when my dad AND mom took me to church (age 9). When “mean people” in that church acted judgmentally toward my dad (age 10 for me), we stopped attending. I did not see the inside of another church until around age 14 or so. Then, dad took us to another church where he was committed and served and invited me to serve alongside him (as a Junior Usher no doubt). I even began wearing a slick little sport coat to church and everything.

In fact, dad taught me my early beliefs about “giving an offering” at church in those early days. I still remember the message he taught me (which was biblically wrong then and he would reject himself today). Later in my late 20s and 30s as I felt the calling to ministry and began to preach, Dad again shaped my faith. He went with me on most occasions that I preached in other churches. [This deserved the big award…since those were horrible sermons…but he went and offered great encouragement. He even called around to help me schedule additional opportunities.]

The point is, I learned much about the importance of faith through what my dad said and did. Honestly, I learned much of the substance of theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, apologetics, etc. from my pastor, Bible college, and Seminary…but my “heart” for “faith” was first transmitted to me by my dad. Many of the early anchor points (good and bad) were transmitted to me by my dad.

So, as a pastor and dad myself now, it often grieves me when I see moms and dads transmitting dangerous faith lessons to their kids: when they prioritize travel ball over church, or cheer practice over student ministry, or fishing over soul winning. I am grieved when they teach their kids to hold loosely to community allegiance by changing churches so that their kids can experience the latest “cool” thing in ministry (insert your flashiest new outreach or ministry program here). I am grieved when faith is rarely discussed in the home or when opportunities to demonstrate reliance on God are passed up in times of major decisions or planning.

In closing let me offer one last tidbit: moms and dads, you communicate more about the importance of depending on God when you speak of and live dependently. Actually PRAY before major decisions. Actually plan vacations around church events. Actually be “caught” reading your Bible and serving in your church. If you do or do not…you’ll be amazed at how your faith shapes the faith of your children throughout their lives.

NOTE: I spoke of my dad throughout this article. In no way am I diminishing my mom’s contribution. She was a woman of faith. She was there throughout the journey. I simply watched and emulated my dad more. I believe part of that is the fact that, well you know, I am a guy. The other part relates to the biblical reality that dads have amazing and God-ordained leadership roles in the lives of their children. Single moms have it tough. Married moms with husbands who are disinterested in practicing their faith have it TOUGHER since mom now has to counteract the influence of the father and attempt to win her children to a strong faith position even though her husband is ACTIVELY leading the children to another faith position, though not faith in God. THANK GOD my mom did not have to overcome my dad’s influence…and THANK GOD she too was influenced by it and communicated a consistent message to her children. 

P31- Mother’s Day, Let her works praise her

P31- Mother’s Day, Let her works praise her

Mom,1As I woke this morning in India, I was blessed and a bit overwhelmed to consider that in around 12 hours, many of my family, friends and church families will rise to celebrate Mother’s Day. Today is not a celebration time for all. For some, it is a time full of deep struggle. For some of my dear friends, it is their first Mother’s day without their mom. For others, today remains as a stark reminder of a deep-rooted desire to be a mother and yet they have not been granted the grace to bear children.

I remember my first Mother’s Day without my mom. While my faith has allowed me to be strong in light of her death for several years, I would be disingenuous to say that I am “over it” when it comes to the sense of loss. Yes-I trust in the Lord, and Yes- I know (as well as an one person can know the heart of another person) that she is in the presence of Jesus today, and that her presence there is GOOD and WONDERFUL and a SOURCE OF JOY for her, my Lord,and by faith, for me.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” Psalm 116:15

I grieve with my friends who face today with a sense of loss. I understand. I also exhort them to look beyond the loss we are reminded of today…and consider the truth of God’s precious purpose for a mother…by faith.

2012-05-04 11.34.45I am also mindful that I wake up in India with my wife and the mother of my two great sons. I could not be more proud of the men of character they are and I could not be more mindful of the role that a mother’s nurture plays in their character growth. She has invested in their lives and has taken to heart the great privilege and responsibility of discipling her own children and nurturing them in the Lord. She has provided tremendous balance to my leadership style as a father and they are greatly blessed. She is my true P31 woman (Proverbs 31). Beyond that, she has embraced the clarion call of Titus 2 and invests in other moms so that they too will fulfill their calling to invest and disciple their own children.

I also have the privilege this year to be surrounded by a team of volunteers from my church, most of whom, are moms themselves and chose to join me on this incredible journey of strengthening, equipping, and encouraging the Indian church. They won’t wake to breakfast in bed or to sloppy kid kisses or hugs and displays of affection from their children. This will be a source of pain to some degree…but today they continue to express SA Team, May 2016the reality of motherhood… The life of a mom is a life of giving and serving and struggle and joy and pain.

All of these precious saints have simply continued the role they embraced many years ago…to joyfully sacrfice their lives for the good of others and for the fulfillment of the purpose of God, to the glory of God. As I read again Proverbs 31, I know of no better picture of strength, dignity, and grace, than a mom who would leave her own family for a season to minister to the extended family of God…on foreign soil…and a great personal expense. Truly, these women are bearing witness to the heart and hands of Jesus Himself for all to see and experience the gospel. I BELIEVE that their examples will reverberate in the hearts of their children and all who know them for decades to come, to the glory of God.

10An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.

11The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain.

12She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.

13She looks for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight.

14She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar.

15She rises also while it is still night And gives food to her household And portions to her maidens.

16She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17She girds herself with strength And makes her arms strong.

18She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night.

19She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle.

20She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy.

21She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet.

22She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.

23Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.

24She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen.

25Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future.

26She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

27She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.

28Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:

29“Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.”

30Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

31Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.

Proverbs 31:10–31 (NASB95)

Distractions…

distractionsI was on my way to church on a Sunday morning to preach. For no apparent reason, my mind flooded back many years to conversations with a man who hates me. He wouldn’t say that. He would say that he doesn’t like me or that he thinks I am not a good pastor or the right man for his church or some other form of the thought…but the bottom line is, he hates me. I get that. I have tried numerous times through the years to address the issue and it always ends unfulfilling and in the same place. I am not discounting his experience. He thinks I am a buzzard. I am not his former hero pastor. I get it!

In the ride to church, I am replaying the conversations over and over and saying in my mind all the things I wish I had said back then that would make me feel better. Pulse rate up. Heart beating faster. Adrenaline flowing. Spiritual high ground-SURRENDERED.

Where do these unwelcomed and intrusive thoughts come from? Not from the man. He was nowhere to be found. Not from some recent conflict. Not even from some email or Facebook post. They are DISTRACTING TOOLS OF THE ENEMY.

The enemy wants one thing…to steal glory from God. To do that, he will stop at nothing. He will invade your mind. He will argue in your ear. If the enemy can get you to surrender the high-ground, your effectiveness in the gospel enterprise is hampered.

Not to belabor the issue, but I found this to be a recurring tactic. The “noise” of this and many other things was constantly playing in the back of my mind. It created frustration within me, which provoked me to have a shortened fuse whenever ANYTHING did not go “picture perfect.”

At this point, you’re either pushing the mouse toward the top right corner…or you’re saying, ME TOO! What did you do? 

When you are distracted or any time you face the enemy down and he seems to be winning…there is a “best” next step. RUN TO JESUS.

[What I am about to tell you will cause some to want to throw stones saying that I am boasting. God forbid! He knows my heart and I am sharing with you that my motive is not to point to ME but to share something that I hope will help YOU, when (not if) you find yourself here.]

I had to stop and fast and pray. Fasting is a discipline that I have had to embrace through the years (though some look at me and wonder if I ever truly miss a meal:) . I was 2 days into a 3 day fast when I started getting clarity. Clarity about my own soul condition. Clarity about the wellspring of self-centeredness in my own heart. Clarity about the source of the distraction. Following this…repentance, renewal, and restored communion with God. Oh, and food.:)

Some would say, “I can’t do that. I can’t fast!” I say…if you are fighting the enemy’s onslaught…you cannot NOT fast. As hard as it is for me…God teaches me about His grace to do what I cannot otherwise find within me to do. In fact, if I could do it easily, I question if it would even work to bring me back into focus with my loving heavenly Father.

So, how is the enemy working against you? Are you successful in fighting the “good fight of faith?” If not…run to Jesus. Seriously! RUN. RUN to Jesus! There you’ll find help and hope and a fresh start.

 

A difference between “a pastor” and “your pastor”

2015-05-09 13.19.57The observation has taken a couple of different forms in recent days. One was an admonition from Dr. Thom Rainer, the President of Lifeway to not compare “your pastor” to “a pastor/preacher” that you heard on a podcast. You can read the post HERE. The second appeared yesterday in a post noting the “7 personality traits that guests  like in a pastor.” In this latter post, Dr. Rainer provided observations about the qualities that guests find “attractive” in a communicator. From looking at some of the comments (a certain way to drive yourself ‘nuts’ on the internet), it seemed that there was an inadvertent leap by some to an expectation on “the pastor.”

For the record, I don’t think Dr. Rainer is even slightly confused, nor do I think he is trying to overtly correct pastors everywhere and tell them to use humor or more self-deprecating talk as they shepherd their own people. (Certainly though there is a need for some of us to take ourselves less seriously). His observations, which I affirm by the way, are related to the ability of the speaker to connect with an audience that has yet to learn to trust him. There is certainly something to be said for “the pastor” gaining influence with his people by adjusting his style of communication a bit, but that is not the focus of the post.

It is an incredible opportunity for a pastor to stand up in a worship service and present the truths of Scripture in a winsome manner and with such a sweet personality that others who are new to “the room” are drawn into engaging the proposed truths. In other words, a smart communicator uses techniques (or develops personality traits) that attract newcomers to the message.

This is FAR DIFFERENT than the “personality” of the preacher being responsible for the success of seeing souls converted to Christ or seeing attendance grow. Personality is primarily about how to keep people engaged long enough for the Holy Spirit to arrest their rebellious hearts! Personality is not a reason for a church member to love, listen to, or learn from “the pastor.” Could you imagine that argument with Jeremiah or Ezekiel? How about Moses? But you might say, “they weren’t pastors.” True…so what about Jesus? Read John 6. He said some stuff that was not considered winsome and most of the crowd left Him. In fact, the 12 said that the reason they stayed around was because Jesus alone had the words of eternal life! What kept these disciples engaged was the Gospel…not Jesus’ self-deprecating humor or relational skills. What about Peter? There’s a dude that had some personality challenges. Or…Paul maybe? Peter said that the way Paul taught was sometimes difficult to understand…and Peter walked with Jesus for 3 years! Many in the churches charged Paul with being unsophisticated in his communicating ability. Was Paul’s personality really the problem facing the Corinthian Church?

Am I arguing that a pastor should have no personality? Certainly not! Heaven forbid! I am making the case though that if you really understand the Word of God and the will of God for your life as a disciple, your “reason” for sitting under the teaching of “your pastor” MUST be more than his personality. It SHOULD be that you recognize that He labors in prayer for you. He is concerned with your soul. He is on guard against the enemies that come to destroy you. He is sympathetic to your pain and struggle. He tries constantly to grow you to maturity in Christ. He is intensely jealous for you with a godly jealousy! He desires to present you to Christ with no shortcomings.

If you are a pastor hoping to keep a church together with your winsome personality…you are in for a tough life. Grow in areas that make you attractive to your people, but don’t have the people fall in love with you; rather, help them fall in love with Jesus. Otherwise, when you’re gone, they will be too. If you are a church member intently focused on the mechanics of a message or the smoothness of your pastor’s speech…you’ll soon be gone. Another more winsome guy will preach down the road and you’ll go there claiming that “God moved you,” which is, in my pastoral opinion, probably not the case. You are probably giving God credit for what really amounts to a form of manifested spiritual immaturity.

Pastor, be kind, but don’t bear the weight that people grow or die spirituality because you can or cannot use humor in your teaching. In the words of one of my dear friends who used to preach to students in a suit, tie, and wingtip shoes, “Be comfortable with who you are. Don’t try to become someone you’re not. They can smell it on you.”

Preachers do not “lecture.”They “herald.”

mlk 1I have been thinking for a season now on the nature of preaching and the role it has in the church of God. This Sunday, I shared with my church that we (disciples) are called to kerusso (herald) that which Jesus whispers in our ear (Matthew 10:27). This is the same word that Paul admonished Timothy with, “Kerusso (preach) the word! (2 Timothy 4:2). It is also God’s prescribed means of exhortation in the church during the congregational gathering. (1 Corinthians 1:21). Through the message preached (i.e. the substance of preaching)…He saves some!

This is why we do ourselves a disservice is we see the “Worship Center” (sometimes called the sanctuary) as a lecture hall. I remember a few times in college that I disagreed with my professors. They offered opinions that were different from my own. I would choose to listen to the information…and even memorize it to recite back…but in my heart and mind…I disagreed. Since I disagreed, I could rationalize how I may still be correct in my view even though it was contrary to the professor’s view.

In the church, the preacher is not a professor and the word preached is not a lecture. The word preached is the heralded message from God’s throne to the hearer’s heart. If we as preachers reduce the proclamation of the herald to simply another op-ed piece on life choices, we do a disservice to God and we cripple the hearer.

Admittedly, while I know this to be true, there are times I weaken the truth of this by making the message less “heralded” and more delivered. The fact is, before the “heralded message” there are only two right responses: Obedience and disobedience. Pastor, what about the response of waiting for more information or seeking confirmation in our heart before accepting the word? I know this sounds hard and may even inadvertently carry an air of self-service…but delayed obedience is simply disobedience.

Further, the hearer cripples himself by negotiating with the truth. To place oneself in the judge’s seat, determining if one believes the preached word, is to reveal the independence and insolence of ones own heart. If you are always seeking to judge the word, you cannot simply choose to obey it. I have (through the years) had people who would listen to me preach while constantly disagreeing. That’s fine if you into the assembly…but how could you be in the place of a disciple while rejecting God’s prescribed means of instruction through preaching? If you don’t believe the preacher to be “God’s man” for your church…either repent or run! Find a place where you can yoke up under that authority in your life. God put it/him there. He gave the preacher to you! (Ephesians 4:10-12).

I know that in our cultural norm, we can find a dozen reasons to disagree with this; however, cultural norms often are antithetical to the will of God. In fact, the diminishing of the authority of the preached word is, in my view, a direct cause to the decline of genuine discipleship today.

Now if you disagree…I am happy to hear from you. I invite you to share any biblical objection to this post. I welcome the dialogue.