The Value of Faith

lightDavid had enough. “That’s the last straw! I am sick and tired of hearing sermons and lessons and illustrations about money! It seems like all the preacher ever does is talk about money!” This outburst came from David, a man with a job and a family and expenses that seemed endless. He walked a tightrope between satisfying the obligations of his lifestyle and financial disaster every month.

Fortunately, David had a friend…someone who had walked in faith for a little longer season of life. His friend simply offered this thought:

“Perhaps it isn’t the preacher’s message but the Holy Spirit’s working in your life and conscience. It was that way for me…and I discovered that what I thought was a constant beating was actually God’s invitation for me to find victory over a stronghold of disobedience in my life.”

So, David decided to try it. Let me just see if I can be obedient. He looked at his bank statement, multiplied his payroll amount by 10% and made a payment to the church for the full tithe…right down to the decimals. $243.11. V.I.C.T.O.R.Y.!

Only what David found very soon is that obedience requires faith and faith is costly. All was good for a few weeks.

  • Then it was the washing machine. $155.00 unexpected expense.
  • Then the left rear tire of the car. $179.21.
  • Then the water bill arrived and was doubled because the toilet in the hall bath was constantly running.

David’s obedience had not resulted in a sudden windfall of money appearing in his account. Instead, there was an almost audible “sucking sound” as the account drained off his reserves. Then the next payroll period arrived. What do you do now? Replace the reserves? Cut back on that “outlandish commitment” you made to the Lord? This is the place where faith is exhibited and developed. Obedience requires faith and faith is costly.

My faith journey is pretty similar to this. Getting me to trust God with “my money” has been a difficult (from my perspective) undertaking, but God has patiently persevered in His role of drawing me to trust Him. For me, I decided to make the “tithe” to the Lord through my church and trust God for Discover Card. As a friend of mine counseled me in those days… “If you are going to owe someone something…do you want it to be Discover Card or God?” That has been more than two decades ago and we have never missed our tithe. Not because man inspected it but because I recognized the NEED to obey and realized that obedience required faith and faith is costly. By the way, I’ve never missed a payment, or a meal, or sent my children to school without shoes. There were many times when we chose to forego what my neighbors were “into” in order to be faithful, but I never missed one essential thing. What I gained though was invaluable!

I could hear other things in sermons and lessons than “money.” I learned about forgiveness, hope, joy, and purpose. I learned to default to prayer. I learned (and am learning) to rest in the Lord’s promise even when it was unreasonable to expect. I learned some empathy…since I came to recognize in others the indicators of strongholds that were true in my life…and knowing how difficult it was for me, I could pray for them and counsel them in better ways. I learned that God is and always has been faithful to Himself and loving toward His people. He really will provide all of our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

What work is God doing in your life to draw you toward holiness?

What stronghold exists that is impeding your growth in faith?

What area of obedience is difficult but necessary?

How is your faith “costly”?

Perhaps, like David, you just need to draw the line and step across. Real joy and peace lies just beyond the line of faith.

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Are You a… (part 2)

Church.Image1In the last post, I observed that many in the local church have lost the sense of what it means to be a member of a church. Partial responsibility rests on leaders who have failed to teach on this in an understandable way. To some degree, we may cast blame toward the culture which helps establish the norms of our lives. Still, some responsibility must rest on an audience that “tunes out” uncomfortable or contrary information…regardless of its source. Today I want to expand on the idea that having the different “classes/types” of people (Examiners, Consumers, Participants, and Partners) in the assembly of saints (the church) is actually helpful.

Perhaps you’re asking, “How can unbelievers amid the church be helpful?”

  • First, we must recognize that Paul observed the presence of unbelievers in the church and even argued that some consideration should be given to their presence (1 Corinthians 14). You don’t include such considerations unless their presence is a reality and somehow consistent with godly design. Part of the “helpfulness” is mission. When missionaries engage new people groups, they first seek to learn culture and then establish bridges between the gospel and the new culture so that the gospel can be communicated contextually. If unbelievers are present among the assembled church, a bridge has been identified that facilitates gospel communication.
  • Second, the presence of unbelievers serves to sharpen and equip believers in their missional skillset. Again, a bridge exists and if it is appropriately used, believers gain valuable insight and even empathy toward those who are far from God.
  • Third, the presence of unbelievers makes for a more natural engagement with a gospel witness. If an unbeliever is at a church service, it is not unusual to ask (or be asked) about spiritual condition. In fact, it is expected.

As for believers, having participants in the church is part of the discipleship process. There will be believers who grow in relationship and growth is a process, not an event. One doesn’t become a Christian and suddenly become a “Paul” or “Peter” type instantly. There must be “room” in the church for spiritual immaturity to grow toward maturity. As church planters, Jodi and I recognized years ago that we should engage new people quickly in the life of the church. Some were spiritually immature and others weren’t disciples, but how much spiritual growth is required to open a door, hand out a worship program, adjust sound levels, or set up chairs? Often, the “thin threads” of relationship were strengthened through service, paving the way for more depth of discipleship to occur. This last statement must be an intentional pursuit. It is wrong to reinforce that “you’re ok” to an immature believer or a lost person by giving them a place of service without challenging them to grow as disciples. How tragic it would be for a man to have confidence in his unchallenged spiritual condition simply because he fulfills a role in church life and assumes that since no one has challenged him to grow, he must be “ok.”

There are more “comfortable” scenarios than worshipping in a mixed-company room with unbelievers, the spiritually immature, and those who are growing in faith. What the church is called to though, is not comfort but a mission of making disciples. This is our ONE JOB.

Are you a… (part 1)

Church.Image1.jpgI have observed for some time now that many believers, even many of those close to me as part of the church I serve, have misunderstood or are ignoring the fundamental nature of the church. Sure…the discussion of “going to church,” “being” the church, or “joining” the church has caused many tempers to flare…but what is the church?

Theologically (and therefore practically) the church is AT LEAST the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and the image of Christ. This means that the church was sought and purchased by our gracious Lord (Acts 20:28) and that it functions as the physical instrument for fulfilling the mission/mandate of Christ. As we do that, we manifest in a measurable way how the Kingdom of Christ works.

Stated a little differently, the church is the place where people become like Christ through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as the Word and the Body/community work together to fulfill a specific mission. Therefore, there should be observable change, growth, and glory among the saints.

What I have observed is that many don’t “get” the fundamental nature of the church, so they fail to find and fulfill their role in it. Many of these people have bought into the line that the church is an organization or a service provider…a commodity for consideration and consumption. This view has led to an individualistic perspective on church and sometimes…individualism within the scope of the larger Body itself.

It seems to me (while others may use different designations for the classes I am identifying here) that there are four groups/classes of people participating in a local church setting on any given Sunday:

  • Examiners. These people are not part of the church and are “examining” the claims of Christ as they measure them against what they observe as the outworking of those claims through the local expression of Christianity through the church. Some call these seekers.
  • Consumers. These folks evaluate church based on a narrow definition of individualistic intent and primarily choose participation if there is a real or anticipated benefit to themselves. They may or may not be believers. For these folks, the first and primary concern is “what does this experience do for me?”
  • Participants. These are people who are part of the church (so they must be believers) and choose to serve in elements of church but have not embraced the church’s mission as their own. They are not evil or against the mission; but, they are also not owners. They are at different stages of Christian development and are growing as they serve (which is the distinction between participants and consumers).
  • Partners. These people get it. They are believers who are growing in grace and sanctification in Christ and understand the mission of the church. Further, they embrace it. It is their mission.

In part 2, I will unpack some of the implications of these classifications and examine them for biblical warrant…but based on what you see:

Where would you fit?

Do you know your church’s mission?

Do you see yourself as somewhat responsible for that mission?

If the church failed to fulfill that mission, would you feel as if you personally failed as well?

Across the Aisle…

Handshake ImageThere have been several key figures in my life and development as a man and as a follower of Christ. Each one has his own story, but this is the story of a man named George Wyatt.

He stepped across the aisle. Back in that day, we were a church of hundreds. I was a 20-something cop. He was an engineer. I was a high school graduate. He wore a ring from Clemson. Jodi and I were new in the church with a small kid. He had been in the church for a while and was connected, serving, and demonstrating a genuine, fruitful existence. And, he stepped across the aisle.

My new friend, George, invited Jodi and me to join him and his wife, as well as some friends for a new bible study at his house. It was a study on parenting. It was a good study by the way, but the real value of the invite in my life was leadership and love. George and I became friends. His family became special to us. Perhaps most significant…because George took the initiative, I BECAME a better man. He invested in me. Told me tough things while we stood shoulder to shoulder working on a project. He invited me into his world and gave me the “Barnabas gift,” meaning that he affirmed me to his sphere of influence so that I could join in.

George believed in me when I was still trying to figure out who I was. He helped me get into politics. He invited me to join the school board with him for the Christian school our kids attended. He talked about his own life struggles in a transparent manner so I would know that he wasn’t perfect. He made me part of his life. When I sensed the calling to plant a church, he helped us. When I was discouraged, he spoke tough encouragement.

Why do I tell you this? Because there was no manual. No training program. No curriculum. But there was discipleship. George helped me become a disciple, by stepping across the aisle. He made me better by stepping across the aisle. He made me better by inviting me into his world.

As I read the Scriptures and grow in my understanding of the purpose Christ has for his people…this is a big part of what making disciples is all about.

So, look around…

Who is across the aisle from you?

Who is on the outside of your circle of healthy Christian relationships that you can bring in?

Who has God placed in your path to love and lead…to invest in and serve…to speak to and speak for?

Thanks, George. Jodi and I love you, Karen, and your precious girls. Most significantly…I love Jesus more because of you stepping across the aisle.

If you are a George to someone…keep going. Obedience to Christ’s command pays off. If there’s a kid across the aisle…don’t just be available…be intentional. It matters.

Trained at the breast

BF art“You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.” Psalm 22:9-10 (NASB)

“Just a little bit more.” This was the response of J. Paul Getty (1892-1976) when asked: “how much money do you want?” In modern dollars, Mr. Getty died with a net worth north of 8 billion dollars.

Now before you jump on the “1%” train and start to indignantly define Getty as a greedy miser, consider this: Perhaps everything is an economy of scale and his issue was not greed but fear. Amassing wealth, for many, is not so much about the number of zeroes on a bank statement, but the sense of security that a large nest egg brings. It is about how one can weather the storms of life and still come out on top.

In Psalm 22, a messianic psalm, David writes from a low point in his life. He cries out to God because of his circumstances and immediately answers his own cry with a call for praise. It is, as if, the difficulties of David’s life are instruments of God to train him to trust God in all things.

David reminds us in verses 9-10 that our training to trust God is both natural and intentional. It is natural for us as beings because we do not cause our own birth. No person wills himself into being. We cannot choose any part of our beginning. We exist WHOLLY as the result of another person’s choice. (This is a picture of grace). David goes a step further and declares that the ultimate One who makes the choice is God who brought him forth from his mother’s womb.

Not just in origin, but in sustainment, even as an infant, the lessons of trust are inherent. No infant prepares his own breakfast. If the child is to eat, he is to do so at his mother’s breast, by her initiative, and at her pleasure. The infant has no control yet there is rarely a more peaceful picture of trust and contentment than that of a nursing child.

David’s training was also intentional. His mother “cast him” upon the Lord even from birth. (Think of casting him as releasing him wholly to the Lord). She learned to trust the Lord with her child and thus taught her child to look to God rather than her for his daily needs.

Perhaps, the great enemy of our growth in faith is not the difficulties of life, but its excesses. Perhaps our self-sufficiency (or pursuit of it) actually moves us from peace to anxiousness, from potential comfort to perpetual longing.

Is there hope? YES!

Jesus, in the “model prayer,” to His followers to pray in this way: “…give us THIS DAY our DAILY bread.” (Matt 6:11, NASB. eEmphasis added.)

We find peace in the Person of God and in His provision, not in our ability to provide or store up for ourselves that which we anticipate needing. Further, in one of the most arresting proverbs in my life, we are told that this is the way toward true wisdom:

Proverbs 30:8-9 states: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.”

Today, do not seek security but God’s sufficiency. He can be trusted. You can trust Him. Don’t let the wisdom of the world draw you away from the peace that surpasses understanding. Return to a daily dependence. This is more than ATTITUDE. It requires ACTION. If there is a point of security for you, a place you turn to for hope and comfort other than God…remember that no man can serve two masters. He must choose today whom he is to serve. As for me and my house…we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15).

child

Peppers, Proverbs, and changing the world

mammoth-jalapeno-hot-pepperThis morning as I was making my lunch and preparing to start my “public” day, I had an incredible moment of reflection. When I was a small child, now more than forty years ago, I was spending the summer with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather (Papa Conner) often ate hot peppers with his dinner meal. One evening, he offered me one of his peppers (and if memory serves, may have even induced me to eat it with the offer to pay me a dollar if I did). I recall eating a bite (about half of the pepper and being less than impressed with the flavor. It was like a “bell pepper” taste. Then I went for the second bite. This one included the seed pod which, by the way, created a five-alarm fire in my mouth and caused me to never want peppers again (at least until much later in life). I remember as I was taking the second bite, that my granddad protested as I bit down. He knew what was going to happen, but I was clueless. He could have explained it a hundred times I would never have grasped the fact that the seedpod is hot; yet, one good bite of experience and I can go back to that moment after four decades like it was YESTERDAY! (My mouth is watering at the thought of it).

It was the DOING that caused the KNOWING to stick with me later.

DOING makes KNOWING STICK!

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.     Proverbs 22:6.

This is the heart of the writer’s instruction in Proverbs. Train a child in the things of God early and God will bring them back to mind. Now this is a principle and not a universal formula. Not all children return to God but many do…and if the training is compelling, then so is the draw to remember later and return.

There is much evidence to support that the love of our hearts, our affections, follow our actions. We DO something and then we come to LOVE something. This is one of the reasons that God tells us to train up our children. (It is also why He gives us commands to obey even before we echo David’s words and declare that we love to obey the commands (Ps 119:47).

Mom and Dad, if you want to make a difference long-term with your children and shape a world in the process…teach them by training. Make bible reading an experience rather than an exhortation. Practice prayer rather than merely promote it. Show them how you seek the Lord’s wisdom rather than merely saying God is wise. Respond to your failures with repentance rather than merely reciting that repentance is required by God.

This type of training will take root in the heart and maybe…when they are old…they will remember it, like the taste of a pepper at dinner forty years ago.

“Best’s” best enemy…

open-bible 2John was on his way to his son’s ballgame and received a call. “Come to the church. The mower needs some maintenance.” John was no mechanic. In fact, he is a pastor. He does have “a particular set of skills” that allows him to eventually fix things because he can visually work through mechanical processes, but it is not his sweet spot. The mower is important. So is the ball game. Both are good but only one is best. “Best’s” best enemy is not some evil thing, but a good thing. There is a good thing to do and a best thing to do. Always choose the best.

In Acts 6, the ministry and influence of the early church was increasing exponentially. One of the main roles of the church was to care for the most vulnerable in society, widows and orphans. This is a good thing, and sometimes the best thing. In fact, it is always a “best” thing for someone but not always for everyone. The pressure was on by those who were concerned about the widows. The pressure was really on by those who were offended that THEIR widows were being neglected while others were being cared for and the only reason seemed to be racial bias. The call rose up to the Apostles… (Y’all) come fix this!

Now look at the response:

“The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, ‘It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables’.” (Acts 6:2, CSB)

Now I cannot speak for you, but as for me, even typing that verse made me a little uncomfortable. How can the Apostles reject a ministry opportunity in front of them for Bible Study and Preaching? Don’t they know that “pure and unfiled religion in the sight of God is this, to care for widows and orphans in their distress…” (James 1:27).

Truthfully, OF COURSE they knew this! For the Church (community as a whole) this is a non-negotiable but as for the Apostles, their calling was more narrow and specific. They obviously did ministry and cared for people. They also were charged with a specific task and calling that only they could do while others (who were not charged with the responsibility of the Word ministry) could easily care for the ministry to the widows.

The point is- God has gifted and called you to do certain things. Do that/those. Andy Stanley says (to pastors in the context I heard it), “Only do what only you can do.” The Apostles indicate here that releasing ministry to those who could focus their attention on widow ministry while they ministered the Word was the appropriate response. I have said it many times like this, “The NEED is never the Call…the Call is the Call.”

So, do what you are called to do. Don’t use this verse as “cover” for laziness. Work and work hard. If you can do something…do it…unless it interferes with Best. Then do Best and leave Good for the person to whom Good is Best. If you do, God will be glorified, the church will be encouraged, the needs will be met and you’ll not wear yourself out in the process.