Monthly Archives: July 2011

Spiritual Gifts Inventory

A healthy local church is the best way to discover your spiritual gift. Attend, commit and serve and let those who have the Spirit within them speak to you in love as to what God has gifted you to do and not to do, to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:7-13).

Here is the inventory as promised. Lifeway Spiritual Gifts Inventory.

Take the inventory and start to serve others in a local church to build up the body of Christ. Then the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35; John 17:20-23).

Is It Worth It to Build?

I was recently asked the question: “Is expending this much money on this project the best use of our money as we aim to share Christ with the world and disciple our members?”

The question as to whether it is worth the time, effort and money to expand our current facility is certainly a welcome and worthwhile question. Because of various influences in my own life and because of convictions and preferences I have developed, I have asked that question periodically along the way of the last year-and-a-half. I know there will always be people who don’t want to build anything because they don’t want to spend money. I know there will be some people who always want to build something because they have money. I know there are some people who can’t imagine that amount of money because they have so little money. So then, how do we know this is what God would have us do? Or we might also ask, “Do we know that God doesn’t want us to do this?”

Having said that, here are some thoughts I thought in response to the aforementioned question:

  • The Bible, inspired by the Spirit, does not condemn buildings or even aesthetically pleasing buildings. It does condemn selfishness, hoarding and waste. Is it wasteful to build or not to build? that is an important question.
  • We get a lot of use out of our building. Some of our building receives unnecessary wear and tear because of its size and layout. Would an expanded facility help with this? I think our current plan would, while still allowing us to get maximum use. If we were building a facility that we had no need of, which would equal no use, then I would not want to build.
  • Functionality can be a barrier for people. Every space is useful to the degree that it is functional for a certain number of people. I have a firm conviction that our current facility will not allow us to accommodate more people on a consistent basis. It is true that we don’t know if that is the problem, but I certainly think it is a part of it.
  • Aesthetics can be a barrier for people. Whether right or wrong, some people identify churches by the way they look. I’m not saying ours looks bad. I am saying it could look better. We don’t want our building to look like Jesus is broke and God don’t care. I would even argue that God does care what things look like based on our ability as creatures to appreciate the beauty in the creation. We will never have an extravagantly ornate building, but we can have a building that appeals to those in our community.
  • Growth needs to be accommodated. Going to two services only solves a fraction of the challenge we face when it comes to space. As I traveled down the hall just before our worship gathering this past Sunday, I had to bob and weave to avoid the people. I don’t mind that. My guess is that not everyone is like me. I dream of the day when we would be strong enough to solve our need for more space by planting churches. I don’t think we are there yet.
  • There’s a real opportunity for unity by building. In some ways a building project is a program or event, and a visible one at that. We must be careful thought to make this “event” one that is a means to a greater end as we work together to trust God for the resources we need and want.
  • There’s a real opportunity for discipleship by building. The bottom line is that there are a good portion of the people who attend Eagle Heights, and many who are members, who are giving nothing or little to nothing. What we do with our money is a discipleship issue. If we have given our life to Christ and not given our money to Him then how can we say we have given our lives to Him. It’s His anyway. I see this as an opportunity to call people to trust God with their money.
  • If there is a better way for us to spend our money, why aren’t we doing it now? Every year we ask for money for missions and for the budget and for Stillwater Life Services and so on, and every year we make do with what we have. Is this project going to keep us from what we have been doing and should be doing? It is true we could spend this money on something else but the question becomes, would we have this money to spend at all? People have disposable income. All of us do. We just spend it on other things. Maybe this will challenge people to give more to other good things once we are done raising the money we need for this joint venture.
  • Leadership. Can we turn around now? Can we shut this down after spending the money we already have? Is that good stewardship? I would suggest we would if God made it crystal clear that we are not to move forward. He may yet do it. But we have prayed and planned with due diligence, and God hasn’t put the brakes on in anyone’s heart and mind yet.
  • The pervading atmosphere and existing culture. Many people are sensitive to the downturn in the economy and I think they are sensitive to the waste we have seen in large institutions. I myself wonder why we think we need some of the things we do, especially when the world lives with so little. Should I give up my house because the economy is tough and so few live with so little in the rest of the world? I suppose I would if Jesus made it clear that this is what I was to do. He has the right to do it. I do know however, we have to balance a giving and generous attitude to all peoples as best we can while realizing we are here trying to make disciples in our own context. We must be good stewards while guarding against a restrictive legalism and self-righteousness.
  • Sandwiches, Buildings and Consistency. It is biblical and right to be a good steward and to want to be sacrificial so as to give to the best things. But be careful to be consistent. When ordering from the menu, do you think the same way about ordering your food as you do about spending money on the church building? Do you buy the most expensive sandwich, but expect the church to skimp and order only from  the dollar menu? Do you  furnish your house ornately, but expect the building the church meets in to look like an empty model home? This could be an opportunity to see if you are consistently rich toward yourself and toward God and His people.
  • The church is not a building but does meet in buildings. This has always been true for God’s people. Whether someone is paying for their house so people can use it as a meeting place, or whether a bunch of people are paying for a community building so they can have a meeting place. Somebody is going to have to pay for a place to meet. It’s really that simple.

In complete honesty, building a building doesn’t get me revved up. It’s not why I became a pastor. My gift is not capital campaigns. But having the ability to accommodate more people so that we can continue to make disciples, warms me to the idea. Sometimes you need to do things you don’t necessarily desire to do, to get to do the things you love and want to do. I see this as a means to an end and I have yet to believe that God wants us to end the effort to build.  If God ends it, I’ll trust Him still, because He is the end for which we build and live.

I hope this helps.

That Our Pride Would Humble

I was helped yet again this morning by Richard Baxter, who though dead to this world, is more alive with Jesus than ever I could imagine for the now time. After all to live is Christ but to die is gain and more of Christ.

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) lovingly and yet forcefully assaulted my pride with a barrage of words that caused me to yield to a time of introspection and contemplation. Here are a few sentences that helped me this morning to think less of myself and more of God.

  • “Is not pride the sin of devils-the first-born of hell? Is it not wherein Satan’s image doth much consist?”
  • “The very design of the gospel is to abase us; and the work of grace is begun and carried on in humiliation. Humility is not a mere ornament of a Christian, but an essential part of the new creation.”
  • “It is a contradiction in terms, to be a Christian, and not humble.”
  • “And if we know more than others, we must know more reason than others to be humble. How little is it that the most learned know, in comparison of that which they are ignorant!” 
  • “Our very business is to teach the great lesson of humility to our people; and how unfit, then, is it that we should be proud ourselves?”
  • “I beseech you consider whether it will save us to speak well of the grace of humility while we possess it not, or to speak against the sin of pride while we indulge in it?”
  • “I confess I feel such continual danger at this point, that if I do not watch, lest I should study for myself, and preach for myself, and write for myself, rather than for Christ, I should soon miscarry.”

I Want to Know God in His Word; Where Do I Begin?

Yet again yesterday during the sermon I had to jettison some of the application to finish. We were thinking on the necessity of acknowledging and coming under the authority of God’s inspired and special word to us about who He is and what He wants for us. I had planned to share some directives or next steps for the person who might respond, “Alright, I know I need to come under the authority of God by reading and obeying the Bible, but where do I begin?” I have a strong conviction that with the help of the Spirit and some personal discipline, any person can read and understand the Bible in a way that helps them become like Christ Jesus. These steps will help a person wade into the Bible so that one day they might swim in the depths of the wisdom of God.

Eagle Heights Value: Biblical “The Bible is our authority for all we say and do.”

Doctrinal Foundation. The Spirit inspired the Bible (Acts 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:16) so that we might be saved through faith in Christ (2 Tim. 3:15). So that we might not do the will of Satan (2 Tim. 2:26). So that we may be adequately equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17). The Spirit of God will use the word He inspired to accomplish these things in us.

Some Sobering Stats. However, A Lifeway Research Study Found that though the number one predictor of a person’s spiritual maturity is whether they read the Bible daily:

  • Only 16% of church goers read the Bible daily.
  • Only 32% of church goers read the Bible at least one time a week.
  • 25% of church goers never read the Bible.

“Satan’s program is to undermine the authority of the Bible in any way possible.”

 Someone might say: “I want to come under the authority of the Bible by reading it daily, but I don’t know where to start or what to do.”

Next Steps:

1.       Makes sure you have surrendered to Christ by faith. After all, the ultimate meaning of all of scripture is Jesus (Eph. 1:10). It would the tragedy of all tragedies to know, but not apply the answer.  Those who are saved are indwelt and empowered by the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13). Those who are not saved cannot understand the Bible because they are not taught by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12-16).

2.       Determine to Read. Growing in godliness doesn’t happen by accident but rather by intention and effort.

  • Choose a book of the Bible. John is a good place to start.
  •  Start with a manageable goal. Determine to read for 10 minutes or to read one chapter per day.

3.       Read and ask the right questions.

  • Ask God for help. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.” Ps. 119:18
  • Ask: “What did the Spirit inspire the author to mean?”
  • Ask: “What should I do about what I now understand?”

4.       Check yourself.

  • Purchase a reliable study Bible. I recommend the ESV Study Bible. Once you have asked God for help and read the Bible, the study notes will help you to check your conclusions.
  • Meet with someone to talk about how God is changing you through His word.

 “Biblical humility is not about uncertainty; it’s about submitting yourself to the word of God.” Justin Taylor

“When Pride Hath Made the Sermon”

I have recently been spending a few moments learning from Richard Baxter (1615-1691). Dr. J. I. Packer described Baxter as “the most outstanding pastor, evangelist and writer on practical and devotional matters that Puritanism produced.” I have also found him to be a helpful teacher and mentor and this morning I was deeply challenged by this paragraph about the sermon and pride. Baxter writes:

And when pride hath made the sermon, it goes with us into the pulpit, it formeth our tone, it animateth us in the delivery, it takes us off from that which may be displeasing, how necessary soever, and setteth us in pursuit of vain applause. In short, the sum of all is this, it maketh men, both in studying and preaching, to seek themselves, and deny God, when they should seek God’s glory, and deny themselves. When they should inquire, what shall I say, and how shall I say it, to please God best, and do most good? it makes them ask, What shall I say, and how shall I deliver it, to be thought a learned able preacher, and to be applauded by all that hear me? When the sermon is done, pride goeth home with them, and maketh them more eager to know whether they were applauded, than whether they did prevail for the saving of souls. Were it not for shame, they could fin in their hearts to ask people how they liked them, and to draw out their commendations. If they perceive that they are highly thought of, they rejoice, as having attained their end; but if they see that they are considered but weak or common men, they are displeased, as having missed the prize they had in view.

I do believe that the battle to please God rather than people is probably the most difficult sort than any pastor fights. If we seek first to please God, is it not true that God will use us to help people see and seek Him? But if we seek to please or entertain people, then people will see and seek us and not God. Our pride then is not only bad for us but then becomes deadly for others. If week to please ourselves by pleasing people then we will never cease to want. If we seek to please God we will have more than we need.

A Miracle that Challenged – Do I Believe and How Much?

I recently finished reading Revolution in World Missions by Dr. KP Yohannan. Not only were my views about missions intensely challenged, but I was additionally rebuked and exhorted in a number of other ways concerning how I follow Christ Jesus. The following story is from the conclusion of the book beginning on page 203. You need to read this story so that you be encouraged and challenged by it. Yohannan writes:

Bihar-the North Indian state known as the graveyard of missions-how can I ever forget the summer months I spent there with mission outreach teams! We were driven out from many villages and stoned for preaching the gospel. That was in 1968.

Made up of primitive villages with 75 million inhabitants, Bihar is said to be one of the most unreached regions in the world. Gospel for Asia has a missionary Bible college in Bihar to train and send out workers to this spiritually needy area.

Brother Simon was one of the young people who attended. In these schools, the students encouraged to pray and seek God’s face as to where He wants them to go when they finish their training. While he was studying at the Bible college, Simon prayed that the Lord would guide him to a place where he could reach the needy and plant at least one local fellowship. The Lord placed a special burden on his heart for a specific people group in Bihar; and after graduation, Simon was sent there, to serve and reach these souls who he had prayed.

Three years later, he had already established five churches! All this began with the transformation of one lady named Manjula.

Over the years, Manjula earned the reputation of a holy woman in her village. Many villagers became her followers and came to her for counsel. They would bring gifts and sacrifices to her because she was known for her spiritual powers. She has a reputation for doing many miracles, even causing sickness and death.

When Simon arrived in that area, people told him about Manjula and the powerful woman she was, with all her magical powers and her gods on her side. But then Simon heard that three years before, Manjula had become ill and now was totally paralyzed from the neck down. This young brother realized that this situation was God’s appointed opportunity for him to preach the Gospel to her.

Despite the danger to his own life, Simon set out to visit Manjula and talk to her about the Lord Jesus Christ. It was only on his way that he learned more about her story. For weeks, many ritual prayers and sacrifices had been carried out for her healing. Hundreds of followers obeyed her careful instructions to petition her favorite gods on her behalf, but nothing had healed her. Recognizing that she must be under attack from evil spirits more powerful than she could handle, she decided to approach even stronger witch doctors to conduct elaborate rituals for her healing. But again, there was no deliverance or hope.

It was at this time that Simon came to her area. When he arrived at her home, he began to witness to here about the Lord Jesus Christ. She listened carefully and told him, “For three years I have tried everything to appease these angry gods. But they don’t answer. And now I am confused and terribly frightened.”

Simon asked Manjula, “If Jesus would heal you and make you well, what would you do?” Without hesitating she replied, “If your Jesus Christ can heal me and make me well,  wills serve Him the rest of my life.” Simon further explained to her about the reality of God’s love and how Jesus Christ, the only Savior, could set her free from sin and save from eternal damnation.

God in His grace opened Manjula’s eyes to see the truth. She decided to call upon Jesus to forgive her sin and save her. As he prayed aloud, he also fervently prayed in his heart, “Lord Jesus, this may be my only opportunity to see the entire village come to You. Please, Lord, for Your Kingdom’s sake, touch her and heal her. your Word says that You will work with me, confirming Your Word, and that miracles would be a sign for these people to believe in You.”

As Brother Simon finished praying for Manjula, the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God instantly touched her, and she was delivered and healed immediately. Within a few hours she was running around, shouting with joy, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!”

Hearing the commotion, a large crowd gathered in front of Manjula’s house to see what was going on. There she was, a woman who had been paralyzed for three years, now completely healed. With tears running down here face, she was praising Jesus and shouting His name. Manjula became the first individual in her village to believe in Jesus.

The following week, more than 20 people gave their lives to Christ and were baptized. Manjula opened her house for those new believers to come regularly and worship the Lord Jesus Christ.

What a wonderful and powerful story of the power of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to witness the power of God in this way – people believing in Jesus and being made well as a testament to the power and authority of God’s word.

But then as I paused from my reading, questions began flooding my mind:

  • Given the same opportunity, would I have gone to this woman or avoided her? Our brother Simon saw this as an opportunity, I’m afraid I would have seen it as trouble.
  • Is it possible that our spiritual impotency comes from wanting miracles for the wrong reasons? Do we long for miracles so that Jesus might be made much of and people saved, or do we want to be healed so we can have more of this fleeting world at the expense of having more Jesus?
  • Would I have prayed for her healing in an expectant way? Or would I have just said, “I will pray for you.”
  • Would I have prayed that God would do this for His his name’s sake and for the salvation of the people in the village? Or would I have prayed for protection from this woman who makes deals with demons?
  • Why do I marvel at stories like this but have so little expectation of God’s power through my own life? Is it because I trust what I can do instead of trusting God for only what He can do through me?
  • Conclusion question: Why do I have so little confidence in God’s power to save and change?

I believe God has done miracles and can do miracles, but do I believe enough to live like I believe? What about you?

Two And A-Half Priorities for Choosing a Local Church

Many people have a hard time deciding what local church they want to commit to – I’ve struggled myself on a couple of occasions with the task. It’s a prevalent problem today, especially in the Bible-belt where there are almost as many churches as there are restaurants. In my opinion, the problem stems mostly from not understanding the Bible and what the Bible has to say about Jesus and His body. Initially it’s that simple.

After that it often becomes an issue of preference. In other words, if there are no core and biblical convictions about what a local church should be, and be doing, then it really boils down to taste. It comes down to what meets a subjective need. Choosing a church becomes like picking a restaurant to satisfy a craving and the problem with a craving is that it may change and change frequently. I used to really like Chic-Fil-A, but now, not so much. I just go somewhere else until I’m tired of that. Maybe that’s why so many people can’t seem to stick in a church. It’s hard to be committed when they don’t know what they need. American churches are full of church-goers with good intentions who are consuming resources instead of committed to King Jesus and contributing to His Kingdom.

I’m not saying preference isn’t important as a part of choosing a local church, but it can’t be primary. For example, I don’t think it is wrong to like modern and loud music, but I do think it is problematic to make musical style the sum total criterion for choosing or not choosing to be committed to a local body of believers. Why? Because the Bible doesn’t mandate a musical style. If we can first identify the priority of God through His word and find several churches that are God-centered, then we can seek God in prayer and vet the church by our preferences. But we must know what God’s directives are if we are to find what God wants for us. If our criteria for choosing a church is not biblically driven, then we might drift from one place to the other like a ship on the sea without a rudder.

So what does the Bible prioritize by prescription and description? What is a biblical priority for choosing a church?

First, the local church must be committed to Jesus and His Mission. If we are in Christ, if we belong to Jesus by grace through faith, then we should desire to follow Him. Luke 14:25-33 and Mark 8:34-38 plainly show how radical our devotion to Jesus should be and if Jesus asks us to make disciples to the remotest parts of the earth (Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8) then that should be our priority too. Consequently, it should be the priority of local churches and if it is not then why would we want to be committed to a church that isn’t committed to Jesus? Who knows what a church with its own agenda might ask you to do? We have to start with Jesus and His mission. It’s that simple. And by the way, a church that gets this part right is likely a church established on the authority of God’s word.

Second, the local church must be committed to each other to advance Jesus’ mission. If we belong to Jesus Christ then we are connected to each other in Christ. He is the head and we are His body (Ephesians 4:1-16; 5:22-30; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13). We are joined together in Christ to Christ, but we are also have a Spiritual union with others. The local church is the visible and identifiable expression of this reality. I find it both interesting and troubling that many people say they love Jesus, but apparently not enough to be committed to His body in a tangible and visible way. They just want to attend, critique and consume. This might be largely due to ignorance from poor disciple-making, but the prevalence of this disconnect is disturbing and a poor example to the world of how a Christian should live in community. How do you do John 13:35 if you are not committed to a people? I have become fond of saying that if you aren’t close enough to forgive and be forgiven as God forgave you in Christ then you are probably not committed to a local church in a biblical way (See Ephesians 4:32). Most people have never connected the dots between loving Christ and loving His people. A biblical local church will be committed to each other to advance the mission of Jesus because they belong to Jesus and are connected to each other by the Spirit.

But here’s the half. If the local church is committed to Christ and committed to each other for the mission of Jesus, then the church will be committed to love and care for each other to accomplish that mission. This requires practical acts of doing what is best for those we are committed to. A local church that desires to follow Jesus and live for His purposes is a church that will strive to care for each other. If a local church talks about the mission, or a mission that they assign to Jesus, but don’t care for each other, then something is wrong. Loving each other is a part of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. If there is a commitment to Jesus then there will be a visible and loving commitment to his people for the world to see (John 13:35).

So there’s a commitment to Jesus and His mission. There’s a commitment to each other to live and tell that mission. The commitment involves living life together and caring for each other.

Keeping in mind that there are no perfect people or churches, if a local church isn’t making serious effort to do these two and-a-half things, I would keep on moving. But if you find a church that is committed to Christ in these things, give yourself to Christ and His visible and local people. If you find several churches that do these things, then you can move on to your list of preferences. But seek Jesus first, delighting yourself in God’s inspired priorities, and then you will find what you’re looking for in a local church.