Apr 22

5 Of The Greatest Challenges Facing The Church

empty_pews_smWhile I do not consider myself an expert in anything, I do have a few years of preaching experience under my belt.  Over the past 30 years of working with the church, preaching across the country, talking with elders, preachers, and members, I’ve identified a few challenges the church needs to work at overcoming. What do you think about my list?  Do you agree?

Preaching For “The Choir” But Not To “The Choir.”
The Church doesn’t need professional pulpiteers hired to entertain and please the masses.  What the church needs are men of conviction who will preach the truth in love, in season and out of season.  We need men who are not content to simply preach “for” the church, but to preach “to” the church, challenging her ethics, calling for repentance, upholding God’s doctrine, and leading the church out of mediocrity.

Youth Ministry That Caters To The Strong & Beautiful.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of catering to the advantaged. The first century church stumbled here too.  James had to remind the church that their desire to cater to the rich didn’t make sense since it was the rich who were oppressing the church. They were blinded by status. The rich, the beautiful, the strong and athletic…these people are “easy to love.” But often, they are the very ones who feel self-sufficient because of their advantages in life. We need youth ministry that doesn’t ignore the poor, unpopular, and discarded, and equally reaches out to them as well as the strong and beautiful.

Shepherds Who Shepherd The Flock, But Not The “Fence Jumpers.” 
It’s easy to oversee those who are compliant, but shepherds must also be willing to go, search for, find, and safely return the sheep who have left the flock and jumped the fence.  Elders can easily “busy themselves” with the compliant, but if no time is left to go after the “fence jumpers,” then an elderships’ time-management needs to be reconsidered.

Deacons Who Work at Not Working.
Through the years, I have heard from elders who were frustrated because they couldn’t get the deacons to work. Consequently, elders find themselves doing work the deacons should be doing, and the work that elders should be doing goes undone.  Becoming a deacon is not a “title;” it’s not an “election to an office.” It is an agreement to become a special servant of the church. When a deacon stops serving in that special capacity, he stops being a deacon, for it’s a work, not a title.

Members Who Maintain the Premises, But Won’t Maintain Their Promises. 
The church is stymied when the membership thinks their job is to maintain the premises. When the bulk of the congregation’s work revolves around the building, grounds, fellowship meals, activities, and weekly worship, the church will suffer.  The church needs to remember to maintain the promise they made to make Jesus Lord of their lives.  That promise demands a level of commitment that has to be taken outside of the premises and into the world.

While these aren’t the only challenges the church faces, they do identify five that we can begin working on today. I long for the day when the greatest challenge the church faces comes from the Devil and not ourselves.

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Apr 15

Saving Eutychus Without A Miracle

32483538_sOn one occasion while the apostle Paul was preaching, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep.  While asleep, he lost his balance and fell to his death from a third story window.  However, because Paul was a worker of miracles, this story doesn’t end tragically, but rather triumphantly.  The record states that Paul went down and raised this young man from the dead (Acts 20:7-9).

Since we live without access to the supernatural powers Paul possessed as an apostle, how are we to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring today? How can we save Eutychus without the power to raise the dead?

If you were to ask a preacher what makes people fall asleep during the sermon, your top five answers would probably be:

  1. They take medication that makes them sleepy.
  2. The songs were sung too slowly and drained the life out of everyone.
  3. They stayed out too late on Saturday night.
  4. Disengaged, carnal listeners who zone out when the Bible is preached.
  5. The thermostat was set too high, and the heat made people sleepy.

But did you notice that every one of the suggested reasons place the blame on the listener? Might I suggest that some of the blame might rest upon the preacher, himself? Consider the following:

  1. Preacher, don’t expect your listeners to be excited listening to a sermon you’re not excited to preach.
  2. Preacher, don’t make the Word of God boring to your listeners due to your lack of thought and study put into your preparation.
  3. Preacher, use illustrations that draw people into your lesson.  Finding the right illustration takes time, but it’s the way Jesus taught.
  4. Preacher, don’t use “warmed over” sermons you preached five years earlier.  The “Old, Old Story” needs to be preached over and over again, but do so in “fresh” ways and from new angles.
  5. Preacher, improve your introductions.  Grab your listeners’ attention, create suspense, and bring resolution in your conclusion.

So you see, maybe it’s not just the fault of everyone else.  Maybe preachers are just as much to blame.  So if we’re going to “save Eutychus” today, I offer these three parting suggestions:

  • Listeners, don’t lose sight of what it is you are hearing – the Word of God!
  • Preachers, don’t lose sight of what it is you are preaching – the Word of God!
  • Put bars on the windows.
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Mar 24

Bracketology

bracketFor those of you who are sports lovers, you may be suffering from a little “March Madness” right about now. For those of you who don’t love sports, as much media attention as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship gets, you too may be suffering from a little “March Madness,” even if for different reasons.

Part of the “madness” of March is the bracket.  Sixty-Eight teams are scheduled to play until one team is left standing.  Trying to predict who will will the various match-ups is well… “maddening.”  There’s just too much parity and too much left to chance to successfully predict the outcome of these games. No one has ever predicted a perfect bracket…until now.

Check out the link below and it will take you to my perfect bracket, the outcome of which is certain and not left to chance.  The Perfect Bracket.  Tell me what you think?

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Feb 15

Today’s Sermon: Pew Edition

PlateToday was my co-worker’s turn to preach. However, before he ever got up to speak, a little three-year-old girl sitting in the pew in front of me “preached” the first sermon of the day.

As the collection plates were being passed around, this little girl was tightly clutching change she was going to sacrifice for the Lord. When the plate reached her, she held her hand out over the plate and opened her fingers to drop her money in the plate. However, due to clutching the money so tightly, or because she had sticky hands, or a combination of both, the change stuck to her open hand. So she had to pluck the coins from her hand into the plate. As her dime and nickel fell into the plate, she handed the plate to the man who was collecting them, looked at him and said, “Thank you!”

“Thank you?”  Doesn’t that seem like an odd response after giving away your money?  Usually it is the receiver, not the giver who says thank you.  Because of that, this little girl sent my mind racing.  When’s the last time I gave thanks for the opportunity to give?  I couldn’t remember.  But this little girl had it right.  We should possess a spirit willing to give thanks for the opportunity we have to give.

You see, when we “give,” we “get.”  Not that this is the reason to give.  It’s a serendipity; a by-product of our giving, not the aim.  But we do indeed “get” when we “give.”  For example:

  1. When we give, we get the opportunity to be like God (John 3:16).
  2. When we give, we get blessings and happiness (Acts 20:35).
  3. When we give, we get credit for the good that is done with that money (Philippians 4:17).

So this morning, I got to hear two sermons preached.  One from my co-worker, and the other from the little girl sitting in the pew in front of me.

This morning, I was reminded in a way I won’t soon forget, that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

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Feb 06

A Consuming Fire or Just “The Man Behind The Curtain?”

wizard-of-oz“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24).  In spite of this truth, Israel disrespected God.  They treated God as though he were muzzled, tamed, or even docile.  To Israel, God was manageable and could be manipulated to their own advantage. There was no sense of awe, no reverent fear, and no trepidation when they came into his presence.

No better illustration of how they had trivialized God is seen in the life of King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:1-23).  Uzziah was a very successful King with God’s help, but his success went to his head.  Pride filled his heart, and his pride grew, there was less and less a place for God in his heart. Consequently, Uzziah presumed to violate God’s command, enter the temple, and assume the rights that belonged only to the priests.  No less than eighty men attempted to stop him, but he had so marginalized God and puffed himself up, that he presumptuously disobeyed and paid a terrible price. He was like the occasional tourist who thinks Panda bears are so cute and safe that he ignores the warnings, reaches his hand through the bars to pet them, only to learn too late, that these bears are wild and untamed.

If there was a single message of which the church needs to be reminded today, in my judgment, it would be that God is a consuming fire; a jealous God!  Too many people have trivialized God. When some hear his “thunderings,” they pay no mind as though these “thunderings” originate from the “innocuous little man behind the curtain.”

I believe if we could get “God” right, most of our problems would disappear.  If we would stop treating God as though he were tame and and able to be manipulated, we wouldn’t presume to change his commandments. Our problems today are really not “the role of women in the church,” “the necessity of baptism for salvation,” or “instrumental music in worship;” rather our problem is more singular. We have failed to emphasize and consequently have forgotten that God is a consuming fire!

How else do we explain that when we gather to worship, instead of hearing gasps of “awe,” we sometimes hear “yawns of boredom?” Instead of God being a consuming fire having the power to refine and even destroy, we have reduced him to a safe, flickering candle that barely provides illumination.  We have allowed the familiarity of “sonship” to breed contempt and presumptousness toward God and his commands.

Friends, God is so much more than “the little man behind the curtain.”  He’s more than just a man with a deep, thundering voice (Numbers 23:19).  He can’t be manipulated.  He can’t be marginalized.  He can’t be tamed.  And he can’t be put in a box of our making. He isn’t manageable.  God is God.  He is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.  In spite of revealing himself to us, he remains a mystery. Consequently, we should worship and obey him with awe, caution, and reverent fear.  “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3).

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