Friday, September 12, 2008

Feeling a Connection with God

We've all been there, if we're honest with ourselves and each other: times when we just don't feel a connection with God. The lack of a connection can be discouraging and most certainly leads to a lapse in our prayer life, our church attendance, our Bible reading, and most things that are spiritual. It opens us up to temptation, wrong priorities, shortsightedness, and emptiness.

When you feel no connection with God, what to do?

1) Admit it to yourself. The most important step in solving any problem is to fully recognize it. King David certainly struggled with his connection with God from time to time. One thing that David had going for him is this: he valued his relationship with God and when he felt disconnected, he urgently pursued God until he felt connected again.

Here is some encouragement for you: David was a man who committed every sin that a person could commit, including murder! Yet, he was described as a "man after [God's] own heart!" (Acts 13:22). David could admit his faults, express sorrow for them, and turn to God for healing. David was able to say, "The Lord is MY shepherd, I shall not want..." Connection re-established!!

2) Admit it to a friend(s). Fortunately, I have numbers of spiritual friends that I can turn to when I feel disconnected from God. I will tell them how I'm feeling, what's lacking, and what's hurting, and often admit that I really don't know how to express my emptiness. Having a real close friend that will hold me accountable and will allow me to hold him accountable is a difference maker. Many times, during these talks, I will feel the need to pray, but not feel the ability or worthiness to pray. My friend will pray for me. A man named Simon, formerly a magician, found himself in this predicament. He requested that Peter pray for him to help re-establish a connection with God (Acts 8).

Find a friend that you can talk to and admit your broken connection with God. Let him help.

3) Admit your disconnect to God Himself. This is often the most difficult part, but not because God wants it that way! For most of us, it is difficult to admit our faults, our weaknesses and our relationship difficulties to anyone, much less a Divine being that we can't see. Yet, despite His majesty, His sovereignty, and His position as the Supreme Creator and Ruler of the universe, God wants very much to have a relationship with us. He has taken it upon Himself to reach out to us and make Himself known to us through nature, through science, and through the Bible.

Our struggle with a relationship with God is often the same as our struggles with any other broken relationship - we just don't know what to say!

Why not simply say to God something along these lines:

"God, I don't know what to say to you. So let me just be direct. Please bear with me and be merciful to me. I want to improve my relationship with you. I want to feel a connection. I want to get to know you. I don't know where to start. But, since you've gone to all the trouble to try and communicate with me, I'll make a feeble attempt at a response. Be patient with me as I get better at talking with you. I recognize you for what You are and for what I am. I will become a better listener. I will try this again soon. I'm reaching out to you because of the door opened by Christ. In Jesus' name, Amen."

We all need that connection with God. It's the only guarantee for improving our immediate spiritual health and ensuring our eternal well being.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Sentencing

They say you might have to die, Oscar.

It won’t be much longer now. Then we’ll know. You seem pretty calm considering the stakes, I’ve got to say. Maintaining such an unruffled demeanor is no small achievement, what with all those eyes, 12 pair to be exact, taking turns zeroing in on you from across the room, trying to read your mind from your manner. But nothing seems to phase you.

There’s something about your eyes, though. They look almost lidless. They stick out like billiard balls, as if maybe your tie is too tight. I guess maybe they’ve seen more than eyes were ever meant to see. And what they saw, no mind was ever meant to replay – but yours has, over and over again.

Conscience bites hard and it doesn’t let go, just like those pit bulls you spent your spare time raising and fighting. What did you say to it after that first time to get it to heel? Did you tell it not to worry, that it wasn’t that big a deal? It wasn’t like she was your real daughter after all. She was your stepdaughter. No flesh, no blood, no relation. Did it help to tell yourself that? But then she said she was going to tell on you and you had to keep that from happening. And you did. So here we are.

They say you might have to die, Oscar. It’ll make for good copy, you know. That’s why I’m here. This is a story people will want to read about.

But it’s not the one I want to tell. Telling your story has been humbling and has reminded me of things; it has reminded me that while the choices I’ve made in life have been different from yours and in most cases better, the net effect has been the same: alienation from God and a sentence of death. That’s what I need to tell: how I’d be sitting right where you are, condemned for crimes too numerous to recount, against Creator and creation alike, if not for a curious fact -- that my judge and my advocate are one and the same. And if not for an even stranger fact -- that my judge, the dignity of his position notwithstanding, gave it all up and took my punishment upon himself -- my eternal prospects would be worth even less than your temporal ones are now.

Watching our justice system at work has a way of reminding me of this story. But unfortunately it’s not the story they pay me to tell. I’ll have to tell it on my time. In the meantime, it looks like they are filing back in. All rise. Their eyes are avoiding you now.

It’s time, Oscar. It’s time.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Greatest Commands?

It is humbling to know that the entirety of the Law is wrapped up in two commands from God: to love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Later, Jesus would say that we should love our neighbor as He loved us - raising the stakes, if you will.

At the same time, keeping the Father's commands is how we demonstrate our love for Him (John 14). And His commands, you see, are fully wrapped up in loving Him and loving each other.

Sadly, in many cases we are guilty of actually scorning those that God asks us to love - no, not those outside the kingdom, but those IN the kingdom! Often, this scorn is over issues elevated to an importance that does not exist in the Scripture.

Scorn for a brother or sister in Christ...!

Can we really afford to treat each other in ways we KNOW are sinful over issues that remain in constant and irreconcilable debate? Is that the goal of New Testament Christianity?

If we learn absolutely nothing else from our journey through the Old Testament, it should be clear that the only thing that is important to the Creator is the dedication of our hearts to Him - and Him alone. That, of course, is not just a verbal exercise, but is exemplified in a genuine and sincere service to the King and His kingdom.

Remember, even Jesus himself admitted that the hypocritical Pharisees knew the Law (Matthew 23:1). It was the condition of their hearts that earned the Lord's disdain.

Election Blues

I know a lot of good Christians are concerned about the November presidential election and I’m right there with them. I sometimes wonder, though, whether the country would really be the better for it, whether the cause of the Kingdom would be any better served, if everything turns out the way we’d like.

When we have “our people” in power don’t we tend to relax a bit? It’s an unstated assumption, I think, that if we can just get our party in, the group that we think best represents our values and makes policy accordingly, then it can turn our country around and reverse our culture’s moral decline. When this happens, when it goes the way we deem as “ours,” the sense of urgency seems to ebb. It’s a natural tendency. (We show it in our fellowships even. We hire a team of qualified ministers, then kick back in our designated pew, write our weekly check and leave the rest to our professionals.)

This all ties in with something I wrote recently about how political action is truly powerless to bring change in the place where change must occur if it’s going to work its way through the culture – the hearts of individuals.

Make no mistake. I shudder to think that a President of the United States could believe it is morally acceptable to take a premature baby who has survived an unsuccessful abortion, even as it cries for its mother, its tiny lungs filling with new air, and toss it aside to die. For a President to hold this position, invoking the so-called “right” to choose as including its protection, the practical consequences may not be great. We’ve so perfected this cruelest of expedients that it seldom fails the first time. What does this belief say, though, of a candidate’s underlying worldview? It’s frightening. Chilling, really.

But again, God often gave wayward Israel the bad leaders it deserved, men who indulged their own and the people’s lusts for all manner of pagan excess, even child sacrifice. As a nation, we’ve become practised in similar rituals. We sacrifice our children to the god Choice. The altars are built by black-robed men, but to our own specs -- all to ringing chants of “rights” and “freedom.”

The point: If we don’t like our leaders, it may be that we’re getting our just desserts as a nation. As Christians, we should certainly pray for our country. Come November, we should go to the polls and do our duty as good citizens, voting as our consciences guide us. Then, whether we get the outcome we want or otherwise, we should forget about it. Put it out of our minds, for all practical purposes, rejoin our brothers and sisters and get on with the hard task of taking Christ to a country that no longer knows its right hand from its left.

Because it’s in the trenches of everyday life, not the marble halls of power, where souls are won and cultures are changed.

Friday, August 29, 2008


God is Lord…Lord of all…heaven and earth. There is nothing that is outside His reach or vision or power. He is before all things, the start and the finish, and everything in between. Nothing happens to you, in you, through you or around you that He doesn’t know. And, there is nothing He can’t control. He is, and He is Lord.

Do you believe this? It’s easy to nod your head at this screen. I did as I typed the words. But, do you live by it?

If God is in control, if He is truly Lord – specifically, Lord of my life – why do I feel stress? Why do I worry? Why do I race through each day and forget to count the blessing of it? Why do I battle the same temptation again and again and again…alone?

The sun rises at God’s command. It sets because that’s what He decides. He blesses what He blesses and He punishes what He punishes; this is the lesson in Israel’s fall. He is, and always is, Lord. He just wasn’t their Lord.

Is He your Lord? Are you accepting His command over your life, your specific situations? He is Lord over your problems at work. He is Lord over your strained relationship with your child. He is Lord over your finance and your marriage. He is Lord.

He is Lord. You need only to declare it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shoe-Polish Epitaphs

“Rest in Peace. You will be missed.”

Teenagers scrawl various sophomoric proclamations on their car windows with shoe polish, but I noticed a couple recently of a more sobering sort – memorial messages to fallen classmates. Some kids apparently had died in a tragic car accident and their friends honored their memories with a few words in white shoe polish on their windshields.

The thing about shoe polish, of course, is that it doesn’t last. It washes away after a while and is gone forever. Most of the statements that can be made about our lives, truth be told, are little more than shoe-polish epitaphs – remarks that are doomed to fade away because they have little significance in the eternal scheme. The only statements about us that will really matter in the end are those describing our relationship to the eternal.

Enoch’s epitaph was simple and moving: He walked with God. That’s the only kind of epitaph, the only summing-up statement, that can transcend its ephemeral medium and last through all tomorrows.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A New Heart and a New Spirit

Our Daily Bible reading this week has ventured into the book of Ezekiel, where God's anger against Israel continues to be revealed. In direct contrast to what we often assume about God, his anger is not incidental or without great justification. Quite the contrary, God has been overwhelmingly patient in sending a message of repentance to his people, and, instead of listening to His prophets' message - a call to repentance - the Israelites choose to listen to other false prophets who suggest that "all is well; those other prophets are just negative naysayers."

There is a warning for us in this teaching from the Old Testament (see Romans 15:4). When we are comfortable, enjoying the luxuries of life, and seemingly all is well, it may be good to ask if we are pleasing ourselves or pleasing the Lord. Are we hearing what we want to hear? Do we disdain the Lord's message: to repent, to come out of the world, to be God's people?

At the end of Ezekiel 18, God says, "Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and an new spirit." This Old Testament admonition is a powerful message for me today - to seek out a new "heart" and a new "spirit." It reminds me of the words of Paul in Romans 12:2:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.

A recurring theme in the Old Testament is Israel falling into idolatry - even though God, through his covenant, has promised them blessing beyond comprehension. Thankfully, we don't have that challenge we?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Managing Relationships in the Kingdom

Brothers and Sisters, the most important thing we can do at Open Door is to manage our relationships. Is this shocking to you?!? Some might say that obeying the doctrine on baptism, or confession or repentance is more important, but -- since, as members of Open Door we are already Christians -- I would submit that "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39) is a command (that we must obey) that points right to the need to effectively manage our relationships, including how to form relationships, how to maintain relationships and how to fix broken relationships. I think this command is one of the most important we can heed in the body.

For now, we focus on the maintenance of an existing relationship, and for our text we turn directly to Matthew 18:15 -- "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." This one verse is like a handbook for keeping our relationships healthy and vital. It is also difficult.

By and large we are chickens in managing our relationships. Usually, we talk about people that we have an issue with (or vice versa), rather than obey Christ's teaching on dealing with sour relationships. Notice the key word in this text: "Go."

The onus of responsibility in mending a relationship is on the person who is hurt or has been offended. Why? My own experience has been that more often than not, the "offender" usually doesn't even realize that they've hurt or offended me. Now, that brings up an important point before we "go." Here it is: don't be petty. Many of us walk around with a chip on our shoulder, just waiting to be offended or hurt. Get rid of the chip. Make it a goal to become "unoffendable." Since we're not perfect, people are going to say and do things that will hurt us, even when they don't mean it. So, be gracious.

  • Go Promptly. Time does not heal all wounds. Go as quickly as possible.
  • Go Personally. Don't use email; don't use the phone. Go to them directly.
  • Go Privately. Until you sit face-to-face with the person, don't talk about them or about the problem.
This is mostly common sense, but our fear of going to people with our hurts overrides our common sense in many cases. However, Christ's way is the best way, and in hindsight, our fears are usually unwarranted.

God will not bless a bickering church. If we can't maintain our relationships with each other, how do we expect to maintain our relationship with God? (Matt. 6:14)

I have been witness to Christians working out differences before and I have successfully practiced Matt. 18 myself. It works! Here are some tips for making this meeting with a brother or sister work better:

  1. Sit down in a comfortable, private setting if possible.
  2. Ask the person if you can share something with them that is difficult for you to share.
  3. Ask them if they will be a good listener for a few minutes as you share. In other words, don't create an expectation that you want an immediate response; after all, immediate responses are usually defensive.
  4. Let them know that when you are finished sharing, you will be a good listener too.
  5. Now its time to share: As gently as possible, share the words or actions that YOU OBSERVED the person do that hurt or offended you. Speak only for yourself.
  6. Let them know how you feel. Own your feelings. They are yours, not anyone else's.
  7. When you are finished, be quiet for awhile. If the other person doesn't speak, just relax and let them think. Think along with them. Pray also! Silence can be uncomfortable, but it can be very effective. Don't rush the process!

Seven is a good number to stop with, but the sum of the matter is to be as good at listening as you are with sharing. Try to understand. Don't demand an answer or response on the spot. You might have totally surprised your friend with this revelation.

In most cases, you will "win your brother over" with the gentle sharing and careful listening behavior that you exhibit. In some cases, you will find out that your brother did not even mean to hurt or offend you, which means that you never "lost" your brother in the first place. Typically, things get resolved on the spot. Not only that, but this kind of face-to-face reconciliation strengthens relationships in many cases.

As I think back, most of my very strong relationships have had a hiccup or two along the way. Following the Lord's method was meant to maintain and strengthen relationships. Having seen His ways at work over the years has confirmed our Creator's wisdom and love for us. His ways are not always easy, but they are always best. Having witnessed these principles put to work just recently between brothers, I have been encouraged at where we are going at Open Door. I am just as encouraged about how we're going to get there. Week by week we make a commitment to practice Biblical principles with regards to leadership, servantship, and relationship. Come, share this commitment with us. Together we can make a difference.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What Was Wrong With Lamar

Something was wrong with Lamar.

There just had to have been. To commit suicide is bad enough. But to do it that way -- to walk out to a dark highway, to pick out the next pair of emerging headlights, to turn toward them, waiting, and then at last to step in front of them. I’d like to think that their eyes -- Lamar’s and the driver’s -- locked in that moment before impact. And the horror in hers helped drive the haze from his, granting him a nanosecond of clarity, time for one urgent “Forgive me, Father” before he had his life crushed out of him.

But that’s just wishful speculation. All I really know is that something was seriously wrong with Lamar.

What was wrong with him, of course, is what is wrong with me and you. I did a post last week about a writer who became fascinated with the preserved remains of a two-headed calf and how she came to associate that freakish image with our own divided natures as sinful human beings. She described how the calf’s own deformity had apparently worked to destroy it, how its one perfectly formed head had embraced life, and how its other head, misshapen and hideous, had sought death, to the point even of spitting out all the nourishment its counterpart took in.

The idea was put forward that we are all two-headed calves -- creatures burdened with split natures, each of our halves working against the other, always at cross purposes. There’s an answer to our internal division and it involves a Cross and a purpose. But if we do not avail ourselves of it, the death head will win out like it did with Lamar. It is only by the Cross that we will find life and wholeness.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Prophet's Curse

One of the definitions for a prophet is "a spokesman for God." In the Old Testament, the prophets of Israel received inspiration from God and were commanded to preach repentance to a drifting nation. These men often foretold the future -- for nations and for individuals.

In re-reading about the prophets, as a part of our weekly Bible study groups, I have come to appreciate these unique men in a deeper way. Of course, their own people did not appreciate them. Society viewed these men as misguided zealots, troublemakers, misfits, unsophisticated, and even insane. All were persecuted (Acts 7:52); many were slain for their preaching. Interestingly enough, many times that were posthumously viewed with reverence, once their preaching had been silenced and they were gone from the earth.

Although not directly inspired, today's gospel preachers are spokesmen for God. As they read, study and preach and teach -- remaining faithful to God's Word -- they are no less His prophets than those men of old that we read about.

They are also often viewed as misguided zealots, troublemakers, misfits, etc.

Faithful preachers command us (yes, they have that authority as they speak the truth in love) to be pure, faithful, love each other, love the Christ, and repent from our sins.

Faithful preachers command elders to shepherd the flock, to visit the sick, to pray for the church, to teach and set an example.

Faithful preachers point out the "exceeding sinfulness of sin" and the destination of the lost if they do not obey the gospel.

Like the prophets of old, the prophets of today are not perfect. Sometimes we -- like the Israelites of old -- want to point out their imperfections so that their message of repentance is obscured. We want a reprieve from our conscience so we rally ourselves against their imperfections and allow ourselves to become indignant at their humanity.

It's easy in that environment for a preacher to feel alone (1 Kings 18:22). It's easy for the preacher to feel like no one is listening (v. 21). Recently we read about Elijah and his confrontation with the "prophets" of Baal. What intrigues me about this confrontation is the response of the congregation when Elijah challenges them: "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."

The Bible says, "But the people said NOTHING."

The next time a spokesman for God challenges us to be more Christ-like, to shepherd, to renounce the morality of the world, to resolve disputes, and to love each other... what will be our response?

The prophet's curse is that he is often not appreciated until it is too late. Thank God for men who preach, teach and live lives to encourage us to change; thank Him while you still have breath.

Thank the men themselves for overcoming their own insecurity, loneliness, and humanity to speak God's truth to us; thank them every week.

At Open Door, we are privileged to have two wonderful preachers. If you are blessed to hear them week by week, THANK THEM. If you have not had the opportunity to hear them, come and see.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Culture And How To Change It

I notice in today’s paper that one of our Oklahoma state lawmakers has proclaimed herself "a cultural warrior for Judeo-Christian values."

While I have no doubt that she means well, I think her statement springs from a sentiment that has taken deep root among American Christians in recent years -- the idea that the best way to get our morally adrift culture back on the right course is through political action.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about laws and government and who our elected leaders are; we certainly should be. But if that becomes our central concern, we are focusing on a symptom and missing the real problem, which goes much deeper. Real change for good occurs on an intimate personal level, as individual hearts come to realize their alienation from God through sin and find reconciliation in Jesus Christ. That and only that is how individual souls, and by extension groups of people, will find their bearings.

As long as the individual hearts of our country are turned away from God, it is going to be reflected in their collective whole -- the culture at large, of which our laws and governing institutions are but an emanation. Laws are top-down solutions to problems that originate at the bottom of a society: the individual hearts of its members. Laws are necessary but they are ultimately ineffective at getting at the real source of corruption. Even if you could somehow magically transform all our laws overnight to reflect Judeo-Christian values, it wouldn’t change one single solitary heart and our society’s slow backwards drift into spiritual narcolepsy would continue unabated.

As for this particular lawmaker, whose intentions I’m sure are noble, if she is committed to the cause of Christ, she would serve it much better by spurring her fellow Christians to get out of their church buildings and take their message to the streets, getting involved in their communities through acts of service -- not acts as ends in themselves, but as avenues for reaching individual hearts with the Good News about Jesus.

That, brothers and sisters, is how you change a culture. Anything else is confusing effects for the real cause.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Two-Headed Calf

Wrapping our finite earthbound minds around infinite spiritual concepts is tough and that’s why metaphorical language is almost always necessary. To that point, I ran across a striking image recently that I believe offers an excellent depiction of our central dilemma as fallen creatures and I wanted to share it: It comes from a chapter in Alan Jacob’s excellent new book “Original Sin,” in which Jacobs recounts the true story of author Rebecca West’s journey to Yugoslavia in the 1930s to work on a history of the country. At one point, West and her husband visit a museum where they discover several oddities, including:

“...a stuffed two-headed calf in a glass case, an animal ‘strangely lovely in form,’ so that ‘it was a shock to find that of the two heads which branched like candelabra, one was lovely, but one was hideous…’ The museum’s custodian affirms that the calf lived for two days ‘and should be alive today had it not been for its nature.’ West’s husband expresses puzzlement at this statement, and the custodian explains that when they fed milk to the calf through its beautiful head, its ugly head spit the milk out, so no food got into its stomach, and it died. This account prompts West to meditate: ‘To have two heads, one that looks to the right and another that looks to the left, one that is carved by grace and another that is not, the one that wishes to live and the other that does not; this was an experience not wholly unknown to human beings…’”

Observes Jacobs of this story: “The whole history of Yugoslavia, West comes to think, is the story of a two-headed calf, and maybe the whole of human history … ‘[Quoting Alexasandr Solzhenitsyn] The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart.’ In other words, each and every one of us is a divided self, a two-headed calf … (West) sees with an absolute clarity our innate dividedness, the immovable and constant presence of an ever vigilant ugly head, always determined to expel nourishment and thereby to reject life and to choose death instead …”

A two-headed calf! It’s an image right out of a carnival sideshow. But like effective metaphors can do, it should stick with you, giving your imagination something concrete to work with in helping you make sense of a difficult spiritual subject. I know it has done so for me.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I Want It Now!

In our "what's in it for me today?" society, we have been conditioned to solve all problems in the space of a half-hour sitcom and look for immediate success in every endeavor, lest we be viewed as a failure. Christians -- just like the world --are a "want IT now" kind of people, whether "it" is the latest gadget, a bigger house, a newer car, or immediate success in our latest personal or church venture. Is such thinking Scriptural? Is it even rational?

Examples of this "right now" philosophy are apparent everywhere you look. Newly married couples, just graduating from college, are buying homes bigger than their parents have ever lived in. Car payments today are more than mortgage payments were 20 years ago. Our financial sector leads the way with this type of thinking. Wall Street demands that company results improve quarter after quarter with no slack or slip. And why not? Mega investor shareholders want a return on their money RIGHT NOW. No longer can Americans "build a great company" that provides stable, measured earnings over the long haul. Profits must increase quarter after quarter at all costs. Any deviation from this expectation is met with harsh, immediate action in the form of lay-offs, spin-offs, mergers and other forceful action in the public eye. Unfortunately, hidden in the executive suite, leaders are often pressured to falsify statistics, hide expenses, and keep two sets of books in order to maintain the appearance of ever-improving "shareholder value". Slow, steady improvement is sacrificed for the sake of the appearance of bold, immediate results. Nobody in America is immune to the "I want it now" mindset.

As I said previously, we're guilty in the church of demanding immediate, successful results in all of our endeavors. Every year a new set of programs is implemented with the expectation that these innovations will attract and keep an ever-growing number of people; have to pay for that new building, you know. The mass market, "want it now" mindset has invaded -- yea permeated -- the thoughts and actions of the church. As one preacher said, "We spend what we don't have, to buy what we don't need, to impress people who really don't care." How do we, as Christians, stop this madness?

Read the Scriptures.

Jesus spent 30 years preparing for a 3 year ministry. The Old Testament prophets spent most of their lives preaching to a nation that wouldn't listen, and would kill these mouthpieces for God. Hear Stephen in Acts 7:52: "which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute..." The apostle Paul spent all of his adult life preaching Christ, with the constant fear that his converts would fall back into the world. At the end of his ministry he wound up a martyr. Peter, James and others are said to have been similarly executed. Did their "success" come immediately? Were they even successful in the world's eyes?

My view of Scripture is that the church of today (collectively and individually) needs to re-examine how we define success. The world defines success in terms of fine clothes, leather upholstered automobiles, square footage, executive titles, and stock portfolios -- all things that give an impressive appearance FROM THE OUTSIDE. Our love of these things is an abomination to God (Jas. 4:4).

God measures success from the inside - out. Personal success (in God's eyes) starts with a humble walk before Him (Micah 6:8). We must take ourselves off of the throne. We must remove ourselves from the center of our universe. We must recognize who and what we really are. Isaiah characterized himself as a man of "unclean lips" living among a people who were the same way (Is. 6:5). Paul -- the greatest ambassor for Christ the ever lived, called himself a "wretched man" (Rom. 7:24). Instead of comparing themselves with our neighbors, we should become like these servants of God: comparing ourselves with God's ideal and seeing ourselves for what we are: miserably flawed people with no hope outside of God's undeserved grace.

Today, we need to recast our vision of ourselves as both individuals and congregations: we are works in progress, slowly learning and growing day by day. Paul's admonition in Romans 12 to become "living sacrifices" is totally at odds with the language and philosophy of the world. We need to become honest with ourselves and with each other: "transformed by the renewing of our minds" in order to "confess our sins to each other" and not to "grumble against each other" (James 5:9).

At the Open Door church, we are blessed to have two ministers that strive to preach, teach and live God's Word out on a daily basis for our benefit. They are not perfect men, but they labor in trying to teach us how to become like Christ (Rom. 8:29). Spiritual success will be measured by individual transformation, community service and souls knit together in love. Don't you know that a congregation on such a journey will be a light to the world? It might take years to make this journey, but God doesn't measure things in years like we do. Let's get back to the Bible way of doing things. Let the Scriptures define success. Let's be patient and appreciate God working with us as we make the journey.

Interested in joining us? Come and see.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Practical Christianity #1

Practical Christianity -- putting our faith into practice -- is kind of like yard work. I'm not being trite -- this is a serious comparison! But an active faith is really like yard work.

If you are like me, you spend some time on your yard so that it's healthy, looks good and you can enjoy it. Yard work involves some kind of activity nearly every day. There are days when we cut the grass and prune the trees and bushes. There are days when we pull weeds. There are days for fertilizer. There are days for thatching. There are lots of days for watering -- especially in these hot Oklahoma summers! All of these activities, done in the proper proportions and at the appropriate times, ensure that our lawn is healthy and suitable for our enjoyment.

Isn't practical Christianity that way? Don't we have to perform certain activities in the proper proportions and at the appropriate times in order to ensure that our lives are suitable for serving Christ?

For me, I have to constantly pull the weeds out of my life. I'm not talking about the superficial modifications that we are sometimes called upon to make by psuedo-Christians. In Jesus' day, he was confronted by the religious leaders of the day about a bad "habit" his disciples had: "Your followers don't wash their hands!", said the Pharisees (Matt. 15:2). Jesus cleared that one up quickly: "It's not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man", he said, "but what comes out of the mouth... that's what defiles the man (v. 11)... the things that come out of the mouth proceed first from the heart: evil thoughts, murders, adulteries... these are what defile a man" (v. 19). My weed pulling takes place in my heart.

But the activity of weed pulling -- in the yard and in the heart -- is made easier if we use what the lawn people call "pre-emergent". That's a substance that is put on the yard in the spring and early fall to catch the weeds before they ever go to seed. Don't we need to do that spiritually too? I find that its important to keep the truth of God's word in my heart so that when the "weeds" come, I am convicted about my thoughts or behavior (Ps. 119:9). I have also found it important to have people in my life that hold me accountable. I make it a point to tell them that I am giving them permission to take me to task when they observe me being inconsistent.

My heart -- just like my lawn -- needs constant watering. I receive that watering/refreshing from God's presence in my heart. Jesus clearly said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23). The New Testament speaks often of the Spirit of God living in us. What a spectacular thought that our love for God is reciprocated by His dwelling in our hearts: "Christ in me!" (Rom. 8:10).

I find my fertilizer from my private Bible reading and study and from our corporate worship. These things energize and strengthen me. They prepare me for the trials and tribulations of life.

Finally, there's one of these yard activities that I find that God does for me: cutting the grass! Yes, while I'm pretty good at using the lawn mower and wielding the tree and bush pruners for my physical yard, only God can bring the right things into my life to "prune" it. Hardship, trial, unwanted change, and even suffering seem unfair most of the time. But God uses certain events of our lives to get rid of things that are unnecessary or unwelcome. Like someone has said, "You learn a whole lot more from failure than you do from success."

Living out my faith in a practical, godly way is like keeping my yard healthy: it takes all of the important elements and activities -- in the proper proportions and at the right times -- to obtain the results that God wants for me.

The next time you are working in your yard, think about how similar it is to God working in your life. We are his vineyard (Matt. 20:1) after all. At the Open Door Church, we can help you apply the proper elements to your life to make it healthy. Here, we're not afraid to ask questions, discuss the hard topics, and subject our own egos to God's will. Come and see.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Reason

Why are you a Christian? Is it to escape Hell? Is it to be a better person or to have a happy life? Or, is it more?

My daughter and I have a game we play. When she wants something, like a cookie, or to enter my office, or for me to do something for her, she asks. And, according to what I deem good and necessary, I answer. But to complete the interaction, whatever it may be, I always say, “You’ve got to pay the toll,” to which her trained response is a hug around daddy’s neck and a smiling kiss.

I call this a game, but I considerate it vital to our interaction, because the lesson for my little child is that my love for her and her love for me is far more important than anything I could ever give or do for her or she could ever give or do for me.

The truth is, the only thing I want from my children is their love. I doubt many parents would say differently.

Knowing this then, why do you think God called you to Christianity? Is it for you to escape Hell? Is it simply so that you will be a better person or have a happy life? Or is it more?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:34-38

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Trapped by Good Intentions

From Oswald Chambers' devotional (My Utmost for His Highest) on July 12:

"The church ceases to be spiritual when it becomes self-seeking, only interested in the development of its own organization."

It is surprising how easily we can be distracted from the ultimate purpose God has given us. While congregations work diligently to develop ministries and programs that can be very useful and beneficial to its members, it is not unusual to see those things become a means rather than an end.

For example, I have found myself in the past more concerned about developing a ministry or participating in a worthwhile "program" than seeking out the individuals those programs are intended to benefit - failing in the process to encourage, fellowship with, or simply listen to the needs of those people. It was, however, quite easy to develop a sense of accomplishment and self-worth by contributing some time and effort to the activities of the ministry or program.

I wouldn't suggest that everyone falls prey to this trap; I do, however, think it is easy to be deceived by the process of creating activities for the church to participate in with the objective of simply creating participation. Programs and ministries can create a lot of activity and, proportionately, they may create a false sense of security. Again, it's not the ministry or the program that is a bad thing - it is allowing those things to substitute for serving the needs of others in a consistent, personal, and heart-felt way.

If the objective of our congregation were to become more about developing the organization than our "faith expressing itself in love" (Galatians 5:6) as we serve our members and the community, we will have walked right into a bear trap - with a big smile on our faces.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What Is Man?

Twice in the Psalms, King David makes the statement, “What is man?” The context of both statements centers on the greatness of God in His creation of the universe, the planets, the stars, and all of nature – in sharp contrast to the pitiful weakness and immorality of man. David both saw and lived this contrast… and he was amazed that the God of the universe would stoop to pay attention to man, much less orchestrate man’s deliverance from his own self-destruction.

What was true in David’s time is equally true in ours. Some research into the shallowness and frailty of today’s man and woman gives us additional amazement into God’s continuing love and concern for us. Man is patently bent on self-destruction (Gen. 6:5; Rom. 7:24):

1. Man is self-destructive in his relationships.

We do harm to our marriages.The divorce rate in the United States continues to approach 50% of marriages. The divorce rate for those claiming to be Christians is actually higher than that of agnostics and atheists. The divorce rate in the Bible belt is the highest in the nation.

We do harm to our children. There are more than three million reported instances of child abuse in the United States per year, and officials fear that the actual number is much higher. The death rate from child abuse in the U.S. is 11 times higher than that of European countries. I sometimes wonder if enrolling our kids in every sport, hobby, and extra-curricular activity isn't some form of abuse? Is it any wonder that there is less time for church activities as we rush back and forth to drive our kids to the next, scheduled event?

We do harm to our partners. Spousal abuse is rampant. Abuse can take several forms, including physical, mental and emotional. The most commonly reported is physical and the instance is about 12% of women in the U.S. report physical abuse of some sort each year. Interestingly enough, men were as susceptible to abuse from their wives as were wives from their husbands.

These statistics are not unique to the non-Christian. These numbers reflect so-called "Christian" families. Each Sunday, as a minister looks at his congregation, he is looking at people bent on destroying their relationships.

2. Man continues to self-destruct in his spiritual journey.

Americans are worshipping and living in accordance with our own consciences and desires at an alarming rate. As America has become a more pluralistic nation, our recognition of "sacred" books other than the Bible has increased. In a recent Barna survey, the book of Mormon, the Koran, the Torah and a variety of other books were recognized as sacred texts. Thankfully, the Bible is still the overwhelming favorite -- and exclusive -- sacred book in America. We may not know its contents, but it still occupies the dominant spot on America’s bookshelf.

Among those who consider themselves to be strong Christians and hold only the Bible to be the Word of God, the trends are no less alarming. A recent survey indicates that the conditions of an ideal life for these committed Christians included, in priority order: physical health; integrity; one marriage partner for life (although only about 50% are achieving this); a clear purpose for living; a close, personal relationship with God; close friendships; a comfortable lifestyle; a satisfying sex life; having children; close relationships with family; and a committed faith. One interesting observation is that the condition of “having a comfortable lifestyle” has risen in importance by 20% in the last 20 years, and is seemingly more important to Christians than having a committed faith. Note that Americans spend seven times as much on entertainment as they do on spiritual activities. What if the apostles or the restoration movement leaders of the 1800s had held the same priorities as we?

Finally, “Christendom” is undergoing a vast reformation. While some of us are concerned with restoring first century Christianity, many others are focused on re-inventing the church to be relevant to today’s society. Less than half of today’s “protestant” ministers have a Biblical worldview which includes absolute moral truth, the infallibility of Scripture, the virgin birth, the existence of Satan, the omnipotence of God, and the personal responsibility to evangelize. Many see that we must re-make the church to be relevant to our high-tech, pluralistic, politically correct society.

At Open Door, our "experiment" in shrugging off the man-made traditions and institutionalism to be a restoration church is all the more important in this kind of society. We'd better become bold, courageous and determined in being counter-cultural.

3. Man continues to self-destruct in his personal life.

The United States leads the world in substance abuse. 16% of Americans have used cocaine, which is 4 times the percentage of the next highest country. Nearly 50% have tried marijuana.

More than $10 billion a year is spent on cosmetic surgery.

We spend $360 billion each year on entertainment.

Americans are engaged in an expensive, all-out search for the meaning of life. We have focused our attention on every conceivable idea, gadget and fad available in an effort to understand why we are here and how to obtain “happiness”… everything except to consult and follow the handbook to life that is provided by God.

Do you think that comfort is any less important to us? Next time you walk through the parking lot, notice the late model automobiles that we drive. We do not lack for comfort in our vehicles and our homes. How is it that we struggle to pay our ministers and find a permanent place to worship? Hmmm...


Our reading on the divided kingdom of Israel and the succession of evil and good kings experienced by both the northern and southern kingdoms has provided ample illustration of a nation of people that abandoned God and His ways to succumb to their own wiles and “wisdom.” There is nothing in the reading to suggest that the people and their leaders made a conscious decision that they “wanted to go to hell and be eternally separated from God.” Even at their worst, these people worshipped, prayed, encouraged community, maintained their ministers, and celebrated holy days.

Are we any different? Nationally? Congregationally? Individually? I think not.

Why would God continue to care about a wretched, fallen, rebellious bunch of people like YOU AND ME? Should this not motivate us to submit to Him and His ways? Like David of old, let’s first acknowledge our sinfulness and helplessness and seek Him who can save us from ourselves.

At the Open Door Church, we have made a conscious decision to ask and discuss the tough questions, engage in self and congregational examination, and seek in every way to do better and align ourselves with the Christ of the New Testament. We're not perfect, as the statistics and the Scriptures would indicate. But we're determined to make a difference. Care to join us?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tim Mahaffey

I did not know Tim Mahaffey. But my family and I had the honor of attending a memorial service for him this past Saturday.

It was a moving service, highlighted by a slideshow looking back at Tim's all-too-short life. As we drove home, this young man I did not know lingered in my mind and one part of him has remained with me: His smile.

As the slides rolled and Tim grew from childhood to maturity before our eyes, his smile did not change -- as if it somehow stood outside of time.

Tim had one of those rare smiles, the kind that without speaking a word say volumes, hint at possibilities. Anyone on the receiving end of that smile, without knowing exactly what would happen next, would sense that anything was possible and that they had better be ready.

Regrettably, I did not know Tim Mahaffey. But it was good to join his family in honoring his life. They mourn him now, but when they next see him, I imagine he will greet them with that smile. And like it once did, it will say without words: “Be ready. Here, anything is possible.”

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Heart That Seeks God

Hezekiah, the King of Judah and a religious reformer without equal during the era of the kings, dedicated himself to bringing his wayward people back to God and recommitting the nation to its covenant responsibilities. In the midst of this great return to law-keeping and right worship, the following episode, part of this week’s reading, is recorded:

Hezekiah invited the northern tribes to join Judah in celebrating Passover. Many of them accepted, but of the people who did, most did not purify themselves before eating the Passover meal, a clear violation of God’s commands.

But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying “May the Lord, who is good pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God -- the Lord, the God of his fathers -- even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.

There’s an important principle here, one that Hezekiah understood. The external does matter. But the internal -- having a heart that seeks God -- is what matters most. Keeping God’s commands is as vital under the New Covenant as it was under the Old, but God is most concerned, now as then, with your heart.

To sincerely desire, out of love and gratitude, to keep his commands is the true sign of a heart that seeks Him. Neither a legalistic obsession with rule-keeping nor a cavalier disdain for the very notion of rules -- tendencies that are alive and well in the Church -- are possible for that kind of heart.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


If you love living on the edge, you should trying letting God take the reigns of your life. The thing to expect with God is the unexpected, and that’s the thrill of the Spirit-led life.

I’m not talking about the thrill extreme sports enthusiasts seek jumping out of airplanes at 10,000 feet with snowboards strapped to their feet. With God, it’s not about cheating death; it’s about altogether accepting it.

The excitement begins when we finally realize it’s not about our weakness but about His strength. With God, Gideon defeated an entire middle-eastern coalition of hundreds of thousands with just 300 men. With God, Moses freed over a million slaves from Egypt with nothing but a stick in his hand. With God, Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, went from hunting Christians to baffling the Jewish world in his defense of Jesus, the Christ. The point is God does immeasurably more than all we could ever ask or even imagine.

The thrill is being a part of God’s work, knowing by faith that He moved and you were there. As gruesome as it sounds, imagine David’s thrill carrying Goliath’s head and laying it down in front of Saul. David didn’t kill Goliath, and David knew it! God moved, and David was there. They did it together – the unimaginable!

I refuse to believe the unimaginable was reserved for those who lived thousands of years ago when Peter says it was our time that all the angels and prophets longed to look. We live in the time of the glories that follow the sufferings of the Christ (1 Pet.1:10-12). We live in the time of the Spirit, the time of “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27), the time when the power of God is at work within us (Eph. 3:20). No! There is no greater time in the history of all mankind than right now!

So how do we do it? How do we do the unimaginable with God?

The one common denominator among all the “greats” of the Bible is that they all had to step into the unreasonable unknown with total trust in God. Gideon had to send away over 30,000 men before he could fight with God, because God said his army was too big. Moses had to return to the land where he was a wanted man, and face the very man he had defied and who had the power to kill him at will. David had to stand before his brothers, his nation, a giant and the giant’s army alone. Paul had to renounce almost all he knew. And, Jesus had to work his way to Jerusalem to die on a cross.

None of it made sense at the time. No one knew any of the outcomes beforehand – except God. But these faithful stepped forward. The only question is, will we?

There is no limit to what God can do. The only limit is what we believe he can do.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Curing Our Edifice Complex

The opinions are still coming in but if I’m any judge, this week’s Backyard Bible Camp was an overwhelming success -- and, I hope, a model for how we do outreach at Open Door. Even when we have our own facility, the goal should be to get out of it as often as possible and into the community. The Bible Camp did just that. Big kudos to everyone involved!

The fact is, many people outside the Church are intimidated by our facilities. They see them only from the outside. What’s going on inside is left largely to their imaginations, which are colored by popular culture and its generally negative, even hostile, attitude toward organized religion of any stripe. The only sure way to show them who we are and what we are about, our Father’s business, is to get outside the walls.

I’m not knocking facilities as such. They’re tools and if they are used to successfully advance the Kingdom, then great. But if we’re not careful, they can encourage over time a kind of mental retreat from the world outside. A circle-the-wagons mentality has become common across our brotherhood today. We raise our physical edifice, retreat behind its comforting walls and then wait for the world, if it’s interested, to come to us. The mindset often goes with -- and reinforces -- this fractious zeal for defending our turf and traditions that for some brothers has come to trump all other considerations, including the Great Commission.

Let’s work hard so that our Open Door serves not only as an invitation to the world, but as an ever-present reminder of our own charge to go forth boldly into it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Kings Who Would Be Boys

“I will make boys their officials. Mere children will govern them.” -- Isa. 3:4

I wanted to draw your attention to this easily overlooked passage from this week’s Daily Bible reading. What God, through the prophet Isaiah, describes here is clearly an inversion of the proper order of things. Part of God’s punishment for his people’s continuing disobedience, it seems, was to give them, in essence, the leadership they deserved.

“Mere children will govern them..." Sound familiar?

We live in an age where boys rule. Whether it’s in our adolescent-driven, "gimme-gimme" consumer culture or our appalling lack of mature and principled leadership in the public square, we are a childish people.

It hasn’t been this way throughout our history. I’m reading David McCullough’s stirring biography of second president John Adams. The book and the HBO miniseries based on it are both marvelous on many levels and I wholeheartedly recommend them. As I read, I find myself comparing the leaders of that era with those of more recent ones and the differences are glaring.

One difference -- and it’s perhaps the central difference from which all others spring -- is this: The leaders of Adams’ day had a firm sense of the proper order of things. And at the top of that order was a sovereign God, a supreme judge to whom everyone would ultimately answer for how they used the gifts he’d given them, whether standing up for the true, the good and the just or in pursuing their own selfish ends. Even those, like Thomas Jefferson, who had unorthodox ideas about the creator, still acknowledged Him and ordered their lives accordingly.

Not to romanticize the past. These were flawed men who regularly failed to live up to their principles and often disagreed fiercely with each other. But their principles -- and the fact those principles were grounded in a transcendent moral order -- showed in their leadership.

We live in an age ruled by childish fantasies, one where extending adolescence indefinitely is for many the chief goal in life. Our leaders, with some exceptions, reflect this. Whether that’s God’s direct punishment or the natural byproduct of decades of bad choices or both, I don’t know. But I think we can be sure of one thing. Like the people of Judah and Israel, we are getting the leadership we deserve.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Peace! Be Still.

It’s raining again. Thunder, lighting, wind, wet, duck-and-cover - that’s Oklahoma rain! I just cleaned up a tree in our backyard the last storm twisted off the trunk. But the loss of our tree is nothing compared to what many are facing in the Midwest.

Entire cities are flooding. Families are losing their homes. And with each disaster, the economy retaliates with even higher prices for everything. Many are wondering how they will survive this season.

Here is what James says:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

Truthfully, these words are little comfort in the middle of a storm unless you’re a spiritual giant. Who sees joy in suffering when they are suffering? Even Jesus prayed for his cup to pass if it were possible! So, where is the comfort? Where is the pure joy? Keep reading…

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind (James 1:5-6).

The two great questions in the storm are “Why” and “How.” Why is this happening, and how are we going to get through it. James says, God promises to answer both if we’ll but seek him with faith.

Often, what we lack is the conviction that God is always with us, and that He is still in control. Our immaturity is our self-reliance. The blessing of the storm is the opportunity to deepen our dependence on God.

Now if you are in Iowa, you may well ask, “What’s God going to do? I’ve lost my house, all my possessions and I don’t have a roof over my head. What can he possibly do?” My only answer is, I don’t know…but he does. And, this is the faith to which we are called.

The perseverance to which James calls us is not simply to strain to endure or survive the trial itself, but rather to relentlessly decide to trust God again and again and again, no matter what is happening around us.

Lasting comfort is not found in the easing of the storm, but in the presence of the One who commands the storm. Joy is not in the trial, but in the facing of the trial with the One who cannot be concurred.

When all to Jesus we have surrendered, the feelings of being blown and tossed about cease, and we find we lack nothing, because He who is over all, through all and in all has commanded, “Peace, be still.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Be Shepherds of God's Flock (Part III)

One can see the Divine wisdom behind the model for church leadership if one steps back and takes in the full picture. Paul addresses the various functions in the early church in Ephesians 4. During this miraculously gifted age, the Lord equipped some to be "...apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up..."

The term "pastor" is synonymous with "overseer" and both terms refer to the office of the plurality of shepherds who are to pastor or oversee the flock (1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1). The evangelist is to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2), and it requires great study, preparation and courage to speak God's oracles to a disobedient world. Both of these offices were created to prepare God's people to serve the community and become a close knit family -- the body of Christ in a broken and corrupt world.

Unfortunately, the most alarming tendency that I've seen in the Lord's church- and it has been exhibited to some degree in nearly every congregation that I've spent time with - is the evolution of the eldership to a man-made model. Many of today's elderships bear little resemblance to the divine pattern for leadership in the kingdom. The model that congregations seem to have adopted has been one more akin to the business world's "corporate" model of governance - a "board of directors" who meet from time to time, review budgets, attend to personnel actions, and issue decrees.

Are these elders "bad" men? Not at all. But they are often bound up in a failed model that is patterned after the business world. Even those men who are qualified and gifted as elders, and desire to shepherd according to God's plan, often find themselves restricted by a "corporate" model that fails to provide servant leadership to the congregation. The results of this leadership model is that our people are NOT prepared for works of service, and do NOT act as a family of God in the community.

I learned more about the elders from an elder's wife than I have from any elders that I've been around. Over a three year period, I watched as she single-handedly continued to serve the congregation with hospitality, love, teaching, sharing and faithfulness after her husband had passed away. I have no doubt that this couple understood exactly the role of an elder. It was apparent in their children, too. Both of their children and their spouses actively served in their congregations and were just as hospitable in serving and teaching.

As a restoration church, we must strive to fix this failed leadership model, but I fear it won't happen within the context of congregations that have become so "institutionalized" that they cannot effectively change. As we consider men for our shepherds, we have much to think about. Are these men exhibiting shepherding behavior right now? Are their wives true, spiritual partners in their hospitality, teaching and example?

At the Open Door Church, we have a wonderful opportunity to restore the Lord's perfect leadership plan for the congregation. That leadership plan includes assigning the right responsibilities and authority to evangelists, shepherds, and deacons as we move this work forward. It means realizing that these offices work as an interdependent team, not as a hierarchical governing structure. Restoring God's plan means recognizing the contributions of our great women and insuring that their roles accurately reflect the New Testament pattern. It means moving away from a "corporate" leadership model that has plagued many of our sister congregations.

Most of all it means being courageous. Join us at the Open Door church of Christ. We have a place for you.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Be Shepherds of God's Flock (Part II)

The shepherd of yesteryear -- almost unknown in industrialized, western nations -- was an important part of a community. Because sheep were valuable for a number of reasons (clothing, food, and even milk & cheese) it was the shepherd's duty to keep the flock healthy and safe. Moreover, the shepherd was a doctor, leader, an encourager, a servant and a guard to his flock.

Shepherds moved the sheep from field to field to ensure that they always had adequate food, water and safety. The shepherd usually worked with other shepherds in teams to oversee large flocks, and some would go ahead of the flock to prepare fields while others moved the flock along, while still others may have cleaned up behind the flock.

The work of the shepherd involved intimate knowledge of each sheep. There was an emotional attachment to each member of the flock because of their innocence and relative defenselessness. The sheep would often want to cuddle with the shepherd in quiet moments or at night while sleeping. Shepherds had to diagnose health problems and work to treat them proactively. They were not well paid for this work, so they had to truly love the animals and care for their well-being more than any compensation that might come from this vocation.

Is it any wonder that Peter and Jesus draw from the work of the shepherds of their day in describing the men who are to oversee the people of God? Peter's admonition to perform the work out of love for God and man rather than money (1 Pet. 3:3) and Jesus' use of terms such as "thieves, robbers...hirelings..." to describe imposters (John 10:8, 12), leaves no doubt that God wants men who are fully committed to the lives of the flock to serve in this capacity.

Truly, understanding the work of a shepherd sheds great light on the work of the men that we call the eldership. I've often wondered why we call these men elders (a term that refers to age), rather than shepherds (which is descriptive of their work). Thankfully, many congregations are moving to a more prominent use of the term "shepherd" in describing these men because of its rich meaning. The intimacy, the frequent communication, and the selfless service that men appointed to these positions are supposed to exhibit is more aptly bound up in the term shepherd. Jesus described himself as the "good shepherd" (John 10:14), and "I know my sheep and my sheep know me..."

Truly, the work of a shepherd/elder is crucial to the congregation.  The question is not whether or not God has structured His church to be successful, but whether or not we are living out the inspired model in our congregations.

Monday, June 9, 2008

One Another

Love one another. (1 Peter 1:22)

Encourage one another. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Bear one another's burdens. (Galatians 6:2)

Be devoted to one another. (Romans 12:10a)

Honor one another. (Romans 12:10b)

Be kind and compassionate to one another. (Ephesians 4:32)

Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. (Colossians 3:13)

Live in harmony with one another. (1 Peter 3:8)

If we're not careful, we might get the idea that the primary mission of Jesus was to create loving relationships; to teach his followers the value of "one another." Well... Actually, that is exactly what Christ intended:

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus..." (Philippians 2:3-5)

I have often wondered if I am serving God according to His will. Now I think I can know the answer: Am I serving others? Looking to their interests as well as my own? Considering them better than myself?

Do I value "one another"?

Be Shepherds of God's Flock (Part I)

That each congregation of people in the Kingdom of Christ should be overseen by a group of men often referred to as "elders" is readily acknowledged by those with a restoration mindset. According to Paul, Titus was to "appoint" elders in every city (Tit. 1:5) using the Holy Spirit provided guidance given to him. Numerous epistles were written to the "elders and "saints" of the church in a city. While that guidance was miraculous in the first century, it has been set forth on the pages of inspiration by Paul for our benefit today (Tit. 1:6-9; 1 Tim. 3:1-7). When we prayerfully and Scripturally appoint elders today, the Holy Spirit is just as involved in the selection process as He was in the first century.

Having lived from coast to coast and worshiped in dozens of congregations, it is safe to say that our methods of appointing elders to these positions of sobering responsibility needs some work. Nevertheless, in this blog I want to focus on what elders should DO after they have been appointed to their work.

By far the most instructive passages in the New Testament regarding the work of elders are found in John 10, 1 Peter 5 and Acts 20. All refer to the work of elders as that of shepherding the community of God over which they have been placed by having reflected an image of the divine "picture" painted by the Scriptures -- both in qualifications and overall attitude and demeanor. In John 10, Jesus portrays Himself as the ultimate shepherd, and in 1 Pet 5:4, Peter refers to Him as the "Chief Shepherd." What better picture of a shepherd than the living example of Christ could we have?

The picture Paul paints in Acts 20 while in conversation with the Ephesian eldership is one of men who are wholeheartedly devoted to the truth, and who will protect the flock with their lives. Indeed, Jesus said: "...the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). It is understandable that Paul would focus his attention on this aspect of the shepherd's work, since the biggest threat to his ministry was that of the Judiazing teachers who were perverting the gospel (Gal. 1:7). Protecting the flock from false doctrine is an important function of a congregation's shepherds. Indeed it is saving them from soul-threatening wolves (Acts 20:29). However, defense against false doctrine is not the ONLY function of shepherds. Indeed, to focus on this aspect of shepherding without fulfilling all of the other numerous functions of a shepherd would be like defending a group of people from one threat while neglecting them as they perish from starvation or other maladies.

A more well-rounded picture is painted by Peter in his first general epistle. Peter's description includes servant leadership, humility, being a living example, demonstrating loving care, and having an eagerness for the work itself (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

Make no mistake -- shepherding the flock is work!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How Much Strength?

How much strength did God give you today? I ask you this because Paul says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

According to this, Paul could handle the stress of getting a tent made in time for his customer. He could contain his frustration and temper. He could make good judgments. He could see and seize the opportunities God put in front of him throughout the day to bring God glory. Through Christ he was able to keep his thoughts captive and at the same time set his heart free to love unconditionally. He could be content in every situation! Through Christ, Paul says he could do all things!

But how!? It’s one thing to know and even believe this declaration, but it is something entirely different to share in it. How do we tap into this super-human strength that took Paul beyond the limits of our own experience?


(Phil. 4:4-6,10,19) Paul says…“Rejoice in the Lord always I will say it again: Rejoice ...The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God…I rejoice greatly in the Lord ...And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

(Col. 3:17) "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Paul learned that being thank-full makes us self-less. Giving thanks to God the Father in whatever we do keeps us focused on Him, who is our strength, enabling Him to take us beyond our selfish limits.

There is no room for stress when the One who controls the universe is continually on our mind. Frustration and all selfish anger die with thoughts of a dying savior, crucified on a cross for my sin. And, what greater motivation or reminder to love without limit than this very visage! There is no room for unholy thought or deed when our minds are filled with “the great things He hath done.”

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. And so can you! It starts with being THANKFUL.

Nehemiah 8:10b

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Was Blind, But Now I See

A blind girl hated life because of her disability. Her hatred extended to others around her, because they could see and she could not. The only exception was her boyfriend, who was always there for her and had won her heart through love and devotion. When her boyfriend brought up the subject of marriage, she would say, "If only I could see, I would marry you."

One day, her doctor informed her that a pair of eyes had been donated to her. The operation was performed and when the bandages were taken off, she was able to see! She could see the world, she could see her surroundings, she could see her boyfriend. To her horror, she discovered that her boyfriend was blind also. She was shocked to see his closed eyelids.

He asked her, "Now that you can see, will you finally marry me?"

She declined, stating that she hadn't expected him to be blind, and she didn't think she could go through the rest of her life caring for him.

Her boyfriend left in tears and days later composed a note to her saying, "Take good care of your eyes my dear. Before they were yours, they were mine."

It's funny how the human brain works. When our status "changes", few of us remember what life was like before, who our friends were -- and who was always by our side.

One faithful church member told the preacher, "If I were a rich man, I would surely give much more to the church for the sake of the gospel." Shortly thereafter, oil was found on his land and he became a millionaire. As the money began to roll in, his attendance at church services became more sporadic, to the point that soon he failed to attend at all.

The minister went to visit him. "Brother," the preacher said, "you were always so faithful in your attendance and your involvement before you made all this money. We have all noticed that you are not coming to worship with us lately. You're not taking part in church projects. What's happened?"

"Preacher", the newly made millionaire said, "Before I had the money, I had the desire. Now that I have the money, I don't have the desire anymore."

Where is your commitment level to Christ? Has something changed in your life that has distracted you? Turned you in another direction? Provided you with different priorities?

Our Master said to "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matt. 6:33). Regardless of our status in life, our disabilities, our challenges, or our privileges, it is His will and way that we are to seek.

Will you consider joining us at the Open Door church of Christ in seeking to live as Christ has directed? As a community of Christians, we're devoted to one another and to truly living the life Christ wants for us, regardless of economic status, job title, or the challenges of life. Of course we each have our emotional "ups and downs", but it is surprising how helpful it is to have a family member to talk to and share life's challenges with.

We'd be privileged to share with you also. Come and see.

[Photo: Copyright 2008 Faye White. See this image at]

Today I See A Tree

Today I see a tree. It’s standing in front of my window. Its leaves wave hello to the Maker of the dawning sky and the gentle morning breeze. It’s been standing there for longer than I know. It’s never moved. I’ve never seen it in the backyard or over at the neighbors’. It’s never even tried to come into the house or sneak into our car in an attempt to discover new things or places. It’s always just stood there…content.

It’s not that this little birch has never changed. No, in fact it clearly has a longing to be more. Occasionally, when I stop, I notice it reaching. Not straining, as if it were trying to become a great oak or anything, it looks more like it just wants to be all that its Maker made it to be.

It has more leaves this year than I have ever seen. Its roots are longer and seem to have deepened and tightened their grip, drinking in all its Maker provides. Its reach is at its highest point yet. And quietly, ever so quietly, it’s trying to shed another set of old clothes.

And God says, “Dan, that’s all I’m asking for.”

Today I see a tree. God showed me.

Psalm 1

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Calls to Action

John's lesson today created a lot of thought. The primary message, it seems to me, is that God - in appearing to individuals throughout the Scripture - always included two "calls to actions": a call to repentance and a call to service.

His appearance to Saul on the road to Damascus is a good example. The Lords asked Saul to quit persecuting the church, turn away from a lifetime of Judaism, and serve Him in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

The example of Abram stirred my thinking the most. In Genesis 10, God asked Abram to pick up and leave his native country along with the bulk of his family - without telling him exactly where he wanted him to go or what his specific mission would be. Although God did promise Abram that there would be blessings for him, the Scripture doesn't indicate that Abram had any more details upon which to make a decision.

This, however, is not our nature. It certainly isn't MY nature. Yes, I want to do God's will, but I want all the details! I want to figure out if God needs my help with His plan. I want to weigh the pros and the cons, and I definitely want to know where I will wind up...

However, God has called me just like He called Abram: he has asked me to pick up and go; he has asked me to keep my eyes open along the way and do those works He has prepared for me (Ephesians 2:10); and, He has asked me to look at people much differently - to love them as He loved me (John 13:34). And, he has promised me enormous blessing, just as He did Abram...

Such is the nature of faith - as Paul told the Corinthian church: "We live by faith, not by sight" (1 Corinthians 5:7). I suspect that God knows the journey will require effort, even sacrifice, on my part, and it is in my best interest not to know the destination until I have arrived. I suspect that our Father is probably teaching me that the journey itself is just as important as the destination.

"Thank you, Father. Give me strength for the journey - and the faith to repent, to go, and to serve."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Little girls

My wife and I have two little girls, as I’m sure you guys are aware.

I'm not sure when I first realized it, but little girls have become something of a frame of reference for me, an interpretive guide: I see the world in terms of pigtails, PB&Js and stuffed puppy dogs.

I covered a story this week about a local soldier returning from Iraq to his family and small community. As a surprise, his friends and church had his old run-down 1973 Plymouth Barracuda restored while he was gone, just to show their love and appreciation. They’re presenting it to him this weekend. He still doesn’t know. It’s a nice heartwarming story about people doing good things for each other, the kind everyone likes to read.

The soldier and his wife have two little girls, ages 5 and 4, very much like my own. That’s the best part of the story: Two little girls get their Daddy back. That’s what I noticed most because, as I explained, I see the world in terms of little girls.

God knows I wish I could end this post here, with everything right with the world. But I can’t because the world isn’t all right. Fact is, this world is hard on the innocent. That’s one thing about my job. I see that side of it more often than I would like.

I covered another story this week – I won’t go into the specific details – about a father who was stabbed in the back by a convicted felon recently released from prison. His spine was severed and now he’s lying in the hospital in a coma and quite possibly will never wake up again. He has a wife and yes: Two little girls. Ages 9 and 4.

So just as two little girls, God bless them, are getting their Daddy back from Iraq, two other little girls may have lost their Daddy forever.

I see the world in terms of little girls -- what blessings they bring to it and how it treats them in return -- and it doesn’t make my job any easier. In a world where little girls can lose their Daddies for no good reason at all, there’s only one hope and it begins and ends with one name: Jesus Christ.

Please pray for the children tonight, church family. Pray for them every night.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Simple Struggle

How do I become the man of God I want to be? How do I live each day as I long to live, escaping the temptations, attaining the righteousness both God and I want for me? I don’t understand why I fail. Do I not love enough? Is my faith too weak?

Marrying our spiritual life with our “every-day” is a battle. There is no question about it. The apostles, Peter, Paul, John, and all the others, they struggled the same way. Just read Romans 7! These guys wrote with empathy, not condescension. Paul even writes,
Not that I’ve already obtained this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Phil. 3:12)

First, what beautiful, comforting words! Not so much the confession, but the proclamation “that Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Paul means that not just for himself, but for you and me, too! He’s got us! Jesus has taken hold! What a wonderful thought!

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1a)

Second, listen to these words of the Psalmist…

The unfolding of your words gives light;

it gives understanding to the simple.

I open my mouth and pant,

longing for your commands.

Turn to me and have mercy on me,

as you always do to those who love your name.

Direct my footsteps according to your word;

let no sin rule over me.

Redeem me from the oppression of men,

that I may obey your precepts.

Make your face shine upon your servant

and teach me your decrees.

Streams of tears flow from my eyes,

for your law is not obeyed.

(from Psalm 119:130-136)

Look at the bold words. On whom are you relying?

God has tremendously high expectations for us:

Be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48)

” holy, because I am holy. (Lev. 11:44; and echoed in 1 Peter 1:16)

But, God never planned for us to do anything alone. Our job is to seek Him and His word. He means for the rest to come out of the overflow of our time with Him. That’s it! That’s the secret! It is that simple.

The truth is, you know this, and so do I – and so does Satan.

Father, give us understanding of the simple. Please help us. And let us find the joy you’ve prepared for us there.