Monthly Archives: February 2011

Monday Pastor – Encouragement in the Midst of Grumbling

This past Sunday we tried to understand and apply Acts 6:1-7. There was a problem; a legitimate concern voiced in an illegitimate way and the potential for the apostles to be distracted from their calling (vv. 1-2). There was the solution from the leaders and congregation; Men of Godly reputation and character who were full of the Spirit and able to exercise wisdom in solving problems.  There was a progress report that demonstrated the problem was addressed; The word of God kept spreading, disciples were increasing and people were becoming obedient to the gospel.

Every Leader Faces Opposition.

Sometimes it is the leaders fault that he or she faces opposition. Sometimes a leader can make a bad decision and sometimes they simply fail to recognize and address every potential concern and problem. Both remind us that we are fallible human beings.

But even great leaders have their critics; those who complain about or against them. In Acts 4:32-37 there is a summary report of the extraordinary work of the Spirit in the life of the Jerusalem Church, which is expressed in sacrificial generosity that is meeting the needs of those who truly have needs. It says in verse 35 that people are selling their possessions and laying the money at the feet of the apostles  and the money was then distributed to those who might have need. But as the church is growing, so is the burden of this important ministry that is validated in the Old Testament. By this time the church is well over 5,000 and the disciples keep increasing (6:1).  It says in verse one  that the Hellenistic Jews are complaining against the Jews who spoke Aramaic because the widows of the Hellenist were not having their needs met.

It appears that the issue is only between these two groups; one complaining against the other. But ultimately the buck stops with the apostles since as the leaders they are the ones who are overseeing the distribution of money to those who have need. These grumblings are ultimately against the apostles and their leadership.

Were the apostles bad leaders? Were they incompetent? At the most we might say that the magnitude or success of the situation produced by the Holy Spirit, overwhelmed their ability to adequately carry out the administration for this rapidly growing church in Jerusalem.

How does this help us as leaders today?

First, no leader is perfect. As always we are driven to rely on and trust in Jesus, the perfect leader. Second, no leader can be perfect. Everybody drops the ball sometimes, if not frequently. Third, even if a leader is incredibly adept at the art of leading, no leader escapes grumbling, mumbling and criticism being directed at them. If anyone deserved some slack it was the leaders of the church of Jerusalem who have seen their ministry explode from 120 to over 5,000 in about six seconds (several months). The apostles did not escape criticism and neither does Matt Chandler, John MacArthur, John Piper, Rick Warren, John Maxwell, John Wooden, or Barack Obama. No one does. Not even Jesus escaped criticism and opposition.

Criticism or having grumbling directed our way might mean we are leading poorly, but it might also mean leadership is hard work and no one is ever going to please everyone all the time.

It’s what we do when people grumble at us that shows what kind of leader we really are. Do we handle the situation with  patience, seeking wisdom to solve the problem in a way that brings glory to God, or do we only validate those who criticize, showing ourselves to be sketchy leaders? If we don’t handle grumbling with solid problem-solving as the apostles did, we will only facilitate more problems that lead to greater distractions that keep us from doing what we are called to do.

So we should pray earnestly for wisdom as leaders, just as Solomon did (1 Kings 3:6-9) at the beginning of his kingship. But we should also be careful not to think that we are better than Jesus or the apostles in a fallen world. Criticism cannot be the gauge of our effectiveness in leadership because everyone will have their fair share in this life – at least if they try to lead.

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No One Should do Everything – Including the Pastor

Acts 6:1-7 is a helpful look at the young and rapidly growing early church in Jerusalem. It is not surprising to find out that some of the same problems and distractions that plague churches today also threatened the Acts church. Looks like we haven’t learned a whole lot over the last 2,000 years.

In Acts 6:1-7, there is a complaint or grumbling (Phil. 2:14) about a problem in the Jerusalem Church. The apostles hear of it and address it by involving the people who are a part of the problem. But in verses 2 and 4 Luke makes clear that one of the biggest problems that apostles want to avoid by addressing the complaint is to keep from neglecting the word of God as those who are specifically called to be teaching and preaching witnesses. In his commentary on Acts, John Stott comments:

True, pastors are not apostles, for the apostles were given authority to formulate and teach the gospel, while pastors are responsible to expound the message which the apostles have bequeathed to us in the New Testament. Nevertheless, is a real ministry of the word to which pastors are called to dedicate their life. The apostles were not too busy for ministry, but preoccupied with the wrong ministry. So are many pastors. Instead of concentrating on the ministry of the word (which will include preaching to the congregation, counseling individuals and training groups), they become overwhelmed with administration. Sometimes it is the pastor’s fault (he wants to keep all the reins in his own hands), and sometimes the people’s (they want him to be general factotum). In either case the consequences are disastrous. The standards of preaching and teaching decline. And the lay people do not exercise their God-given roles, since the pastor does everything himself. God calls different men and women to different ministries.

May God give us Spirit-led wisdom so as not to be distracted from His word. But may God also help every member of the church, including the pastor, do what they are supposed to be doing so that churches will stay on mission. No one needs to be doing everything.

The Gospel Facts and the Facts Applied

The Whole Gospel (Acts 5:21; 20:27)

  • There are the necessary facts of the gospel story. It is News.
  • There is also what the gospel means. We must apply the facts; the news.
The Necessary Facts The Facts Applied
God is the Perfect Creator. God is holy, holy, holy. God is the owner of His creation. We will all give an account.
People are rebellious and sinful. We have tried to create our own goodness. We want it our way. We are not holy. People are born sinners and have rejected the LORD God. People are hopelessly separated from the perfect creator.
God sent Jesus, who is both God and man. 

  • Jesus lived perfectly.
  • Jesus died as a substitute.
  • Jesus was resurrected defeating sin and death.
God sent Jesus, His only begotten Son to die in our place because we could not live the perfect life He lived.
 

You must get this: “Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves. You can’t earn God’s favor. Jesus did that for you with his life and then death on the cross.”

Our Necessary Response. We must commit our lives to the Whole person of Christ by repentance from sin and faith in Christ. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.
The Spirit indwells us. God’s Spirit changes us and keeps changing us into the image of the Son. We are a new creation empowered by the Spirit to obey and live to righteousness. This is the evidence of Salvation.

Are You A Miserable Christian? It Could Be Worse

Ephesians 1:13 and Romans 8:9-17 are crystal clear; if you are truly saved then the Holy Spirit lives within you. If the Holy Spirit does not live within you then you are not saved. The Spirit is the sign of the New Testament Covenant. This then begs the question: How do you know the Spirit lives within you? The Spirit gives evidence by bearing fruit (Galatians 5:22). How do we know that a tree is a fruit tree – a person is a Christian? They both produce fruit. How do we know a person is a Christian? The Spirit produces fruit in them. Paul says that the authenticating mark of the Christian is that the Spirit bears testimony with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). In other words, our spirit or soul displays or gives a testimony that the Spirit  indwells us. Jesus also spoke about the role of the Spirit for those who follow Christ in John 16:5-15.

This is daunting and it is here that we might find hope in misery. After all, who obeys God all the time? Only Jesus did this. That’s why we need Him and should cherish Him and put our faith only in His life, death and resurrection. But there are some who don’t repent daily of sin and they have tried to make peace with sin by accommodating it in their life. The problem is this however, if you are a Christian and the Spirit dwells within you, the Spirit does not accommodate sin. If you are a miserable Christian, it’s because you are forcing the indwelling Holy Spirit to coexist with your unchecked sin. So if you are miserable this is a good sign, because the Spirit won’t let you be comfortable with the same deeds of flesh that sent the Son of God to the cross so that you could be forgiven of sin and live to righteousness. The Spirit and flesh (sin nature) are at war or opposition with each other (Galatians 5:17) Because the Holy Spirit convicts and makes miserable the Christian who carries out the deeds of the flesh, it is the so-called Christian who sins and is happy about it that is in the greatest danger of hell (Galatians 5:21).

A Potential Objection

Someone might say to this, “We all have hurts, habits and hang-ups. No one is perfect. We all need grace.” Yes, but Romans 6 is pointed in its rebuke of this excuse to sin. We don’t abuse grace by using it as an excuse to continue on in sin. Grace is for overcoming sin, not for making sin an acceptable norm. It is true that we all have weaknesses, but there are those who by the power of grace through the work of the Holy Spirit are overcoming the deeds of the flesh. Ask yourself this, “Would Jesus, Peter or Paul ever say, “You are imperfect, go ahead and keep on sinning.”

Monday Morning Pastor; Misery and Building

Yesterday we looked at Acts 5:17-33 and asked, “What characterizes a gospel-driven person?” I gave two:

  1. The gospel-driven person knows and explains the whole message of Jesus’ life (v. 20). If there is a whole, full, and complete message of the gospel and what it means for those who believe, this must also mean that we can reduce the message of Jesus, resulting in a gospel that is no gospel at all (Galatians 1:8-9; 2 Cor. 11:3-4).
  2. The gospel-driven person obeys God by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (v. 32). “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God (Romans 8:14). Those who obey God as witnesses for Jesus with all of their lives, have the promised Spirit. Those who have the promised Spirit obey God by living for Jesus. The apostles were honest with the religious leaders when they basically said, “You are not witnesses of Jesus because you do not obey God because you do not have the Spirit of God.” We should never tell anyone they are a Christian if there is deliberate disobedience to the whole message of Jesus.The true evidence of being secure in Christ is ongoing repentance for sin and obedience to God by the power of the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11). This idea is replete in the New Testament. See: Romans 8:9-17; Galatians 5:16-22; 1 John 3:23-24, 4:13. Jesus saves us with His finished work on the cross, but we should also expect that the Holy Spirit has changed us and will change for the rest of our lives.

Are You Miserable?

Ephesians 1:13 and Romans 8:9-17 are crystal clear, if you are truly saved then the Holy Spirit lives within you. If the Holy Spirit does not live within you then you are not saved. The Spirit is the sign of the New Testament Covenant. Question: How do you know the Spirit lives within you? The Spirit gives evidence by bearing fruit (Galatians 5:22). How do we know that a tree is a fruit tree – a person is a Christian? They both produce fruit. How do we know a person is a Christian? The Spirit produces fruit in them. Paul says that the authenticating mark of the Christian is that the Spirit bears testimony with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). In other words, our spirit or soul displays or gives a testimony that the Spirit lives indwells us. Jesus also spoke about the role of the Spirit for those who follow Christ in John 16:5-15.

This is daunting and it is here that we might find hope in misery. After all, who obeys God all the time? Only Jesus did this. That’s why we need Him and should cherish Him and put our faith only in His life, death and resurrection. But there are some who don’t repent daily of sin and they have tried to make peace with sin by accommodating it in their life. The problem is this however, if you are a Christian and the Spirit dwells within you, the Spirit does not accommodate sin. If you are a miserable Christian, it’s because you are forcing the indwelling Holy Spirit to coexist with your unchecked sin. So if you are miserable this is a good sign, because the Spirit won’t let you be comfortable with the same deeds of flesh that sent the Son of God to the cross so that you could be forgiven of sin and live to righteousness. The Spirit and flesh (sin nature) are at war or opposition with each other (Galatians 5:17) Because the Holy Spirit convicts and makes miserable the Christian who carries out the deeds of the flesh, it is the so-called Christian who sins and is happy about it that is in the greatest danger of hell (Galatians 5:21).

A Potential Objection

Someone might say to this, “We all have hurts, habits and hang-ups.” No one is perfect. We all need grace. Yes, but Romans 6 is pointed in its rebuke of this excuse to sin. We don’t abuse grace by using it as an excuse to continue on in sin. Grace is for overcoming sin, not for making sin an acceptable norm. It is true that we all have weaknesses, but there are those who by the power of grace through the work of the Holy Spirit are overcoming the deeds of the flesh. Ask yourself this, “Would Jesus, Peter or Paul ever say, “You are imperfect, go ahead and keep on sinning.”

On A Building Note

Yesterday we met our initial goal of raising $5,000 to begin the planning process to improve and expand our facilities. I thank God for the responsiveness of our church family.

I see two benefits to pressing forward with plans to build in the days to come. First, there is a practical benefit. If we are to grow and reach more people then we will simply have to have more room to do so. Most people would agree that while we are thankful for what we do have, we were out of room when we built and moved into our current facility.

Second, I see a real opportunity for our church family to trust God in this venture. If there is one thing that people struggle to trust God with, it is their money. This building campaign will force most, if not all of us, to learn to follow God and trust God with our money as disciples. I fear we make money our god so often because it creates comfort and  ease and it allows us to trust ourselves. God instead wants us to trust Him with our money. Big difference. I see this as a discipleship issue just as much as I see it as a practical issue. Improving and adding on to our facility is going to require us to sacrificially trust God.

But it will also require us to trust God by trusting the leadership He has raised up among our local body. I know anytime leaders start asking for money, we get a little nervous. We have all seen abuse from leaders when it comes to money. But unless the leaders have given a reason not to trust their leading, we must submit to God by being willing to follow the leadership that He has provided. This also means that the church must also be willing to trust God by trusting themselves. After all, it was the congregation who voted to affirm the leaders that are leading and serving. Without good reason, to say no to the leadership would mean the same person who opposes the leadership is opposing themselves since they affirmed the leadership in the first place.

Finally, moving forward will give our church family and opportunity to trust God by trusting each other. The Elders and Facilities Team brought this recommendation to the congregation and the congregation unanimously approved the recommendation. To oppose the plan would then be a non-verbal statement of distrust toward our brothers and sisters in Christ who attended the meeting and affirmed the leadership of God through the Elders and Facilities Team.

Everyone of these requires us to trust God instead of ourselves, and you really can’t trust God without trusting each other. May God use this to grow disciples in His church. That is my greatest desire.

The Whole Gospel – Video

“Tell the people the whole message of this new life.” Acts 5:20

“I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” Acts 20:26-27

“Make disciples of all nations……teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20

Do you know the whole, complete, full gospel of Jesus Christ? Or do you know parts of it. Do you reduce it? I hope this video will help you to know and explain the whole gospel. There is nothing more important. Nothing.

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It’s Just the Way I Am – Don’t Buy the Lie

One the greatest lies to fill the hearts and minds of Christians is, “I can’t change because it’s just the way that I am.”

In one regard this is not a lie for everyone. If you are son or daughter of disobedience, who by nature is a child of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3), then you might be able to say this with a good conscious that you are only doing what you were born to do, namely sin.

But if you are in Christ, if you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), you are no longer dead in your transgressions, but light in the Lord, so walk as a child of the light (Ephesians 5:8) and don’t cave to the lie that God can’t conform you to the image of His Son.

If you believe the lie then the lie might not be a lie, but a reflection of who you really are. Because if you say you can’t change then you are really saying Christ hasn’t changed you. Because when Christ saves you the Holy Spirit changes you and if the Holy Spirit can’t continue you to change you then what are saying about the Holy Spirit who supposedly indwells you?

An illustration might help us. Suppose an adult is trying to teach a first grader how to read. But the child insists, “I can’t read. I was born this way and I can’t change. It’s just too hard.” The adult responds, “I’ll teach you to read, give you the resources you need, model reading for you and we will do this together. I will help you.” But the child rejects the help and says, “I can’t! It is no use.”

It’s not that the child can’t read, rather it is that the child won’t read. The child is saying, “I don’t want to read and I won’t read.”

When a Christian who is indwelt with the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead says they can’t, what they really mean is that they won’t. They won’t because it is easier to live in disobedience, and if this is the case it means either one of two things. Either they are not a Christian or they are just a willfully disobedient Christian and if they are a willfully disobedient Christian then they might not be a Christian at all (Galatians 5:21).

Maybe you grew up in an environment of explosive confrontation and anger. Maybe you are compulsively jealous. Maybe you cave to lust often. If so, examine yourself (2 Cor13:5) to see whether you are really in Christ; trusting Christ. If you are in Christ, believing in His finished work on the cross, give thanks to God for Christ who bore your sins in His body on the cross that you might live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). But don’t stop there. Continuing in the deeds of the flesh is not a befitting expression of thanks for grace. As a matter of fact, willful disobedience is a back-handed slap of insult and it should never be (Romans 6). So don’t stop short. Thank God that the Spirit who dwells within you has convicted you of your sin. Thankfulness is a result of being controlled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:20). And then glorify God be being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), by keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18).

So don’t buy the lie that God can’t change you. Jesus died to change you and to keep changing you, so that you might no longer live for yourself and your sin, but for Him who died and rose again on your behalf (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

My Obituary

I am not planning on dying soon, few healthy people do. Funerals though have a unique way of making people stop, pause and consider the seriousness of life and what’s really important. For a pastor this is especially true.

I wonder what Paul’s obituary would have said? Perhaps the local newspaper would have said something like this: “Paul’s departure came on February 17th, 64 A.D. He fought the good fight, he finished the course, he kept the faith; now his is the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, has awarded to him; and not only to Paul, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Tim. 4:6-8

It made me wonder what I will really want to say and what I will really want people to remember about me and most importantly, to know about Christ Jesus my Lord.

Here are the beginnings of what I thought I might want my obituary to say:

God mercifully took Brent Prentice (Luke 12:4) from this broken world so that He could be with Christ, which is “very much better” (Philippians 1:21-24). Because of Christ his mediator, he is now worshiping before the throne of God above where God wipes away every tear; where there is no more death; there is no longer any mourning, or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). Be comforted in this and rejoice for Brent, and if you are not in Christ run now to the mercy seat of Christ and be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20) by calling on the name of the crucified and risen Lord (Romans 10:9-13).

This is a start, and of course I would want to say that I loved my wife and my sons and the people I pastor, along with all the standard things that are said in an obituary.

But what would you write? What would be the last thing that you would want people to know about you, and could you say it with integrity?

Life is short. Death is inevitable. Christ is everything.

Whether in life or in death, that we would proclaim Jesus Christ, the only name under heaven by which men must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Getting Started in “Full-Time” Ministry

For five minutes, this is simply one of the most insightful and helpful videos I have seen. A couple of teaser quotes:

What James MacDonald tells his staff about why they are on staff. “You are working here because you can get others to do things.” Ephesians 4:11

MacDonald on whether God is calling someone to “full-time” or “vocational” ministry. ” “God’s not calling you to full-time ministry until he needs full-time what you are doing part-time.”

How does a person get started in ministry? MacDonald: “Are you in a small group and involved in a local church?”

Perfect for Marriage?

Some time ago Lacey and I fielded questions as members of a panel discussion for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) weekly large group gathering. The questions that we were asked to answer were about dating, love and marriage. As I had anticipated, the question was asked and even addressed to me, “How do I know when I have found the perfect person to marry?” Or “Is there a perfect person for me to marry?”

Save Jesus, there are no perfect people, but the perfect person for you  is the person you make a covenant with before God as witness.

The “perfect one” for you is the person whose name is with yours on the marriage license – the one you made a covenant with that results in a one-flesh union.

Why? Because God has done it. “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” Matthew 19:6

You are not perfect and neither is anyone else in the world. So have confidence in God’s sovereign, marriage-making hand and choose your spouse with great prayer and care, working as a hard as you can not to tear a part what God has done, because God is perfect.