Leadership: Pleasing God First

1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Acts, Church, Galatians, Leadership No Comments »

“We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:4

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else.” ~1 Thess. 2:6

Paul and Silas and Timothy tell the church in Thessalonica that they all ought to follow their model of Christian leadership: We “make ourselves a model for you to follow (2 Thess. 3:7, 9). A critical component of their leadership style is their commitment to pleasing God instead of people. Paul’s ministry — his whole life! — is characterized by this attitude.

“Am I trying to win the approval of people, or of God? Am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” ~Galatians 1:10

Paul is not one to take a vote or check the opinion polls before doing what he knows needs to be done in his capacity as a Christian leader. President Harry Truman had a similar disdain toward catering to the whims of the people:

“I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt? What would Jesus Christ have preached if he’d taken a poll in Israel? Where would the Reformation have gone if Martin Luther had taken a poll? It isn’t the polls or public opinion of the moment that counts. It’s right and wrong and leadership, men and women with fortitude, honesty, and a belief in what’s right that makes epochs in the history of the world.”

We’ve been entrusted with the Gospel (1 Thess. 2:4) as stewards of God’s Good News. So we are responsible to God, not people. We seek to please God first, not people. This was Peter’s leadership style, too. In Acts 5, Peter tells the Sanhedrin in the face of Jewish persecution, “We must obey God rather than people!”

But there’s such a strong temptation to please people. It’s human nature. We want to please people, not just to be popular, but because we don’t want to make anybody mad. We don’t want to make enemies. We don’t want to come across as mean. We want to keep the peace. Elders want to keep their members. Preachers want to keep their jobs.

Well, hold on. We don’t want to offend or upset our weaker brother. We’re responsible for our weaker brother.

You know, that passage in 1 Corinthians 8 is one of the most grossly misapplied passages in all of Scripture. The weaker brother Paul’s talking about is a brand new Christian. He’s just been baptized. He’s still wet behind the ears, figuratively and literally. He’s from a pagan, idol-worshiping, bacon-loving background. He doesn’t know anything. He hasn’t had time. He’s just a baby. That’s the weaker brother of the Bible. But I’m afraid sometimes it’s the men and women who were born and raised in the faith, baptized 20, 30, or 40 years ago, who are using weaker brother arguments to thwart Christian leadership.

When I was interviewing here at Central almost six years ago, the leadership told me, “We’re a Church of Christ. We’re always going to be a Church of Christ. We’re proud of our Church of Christ heritage and we uphold our Church of Christ traditions. But when those traditions come into conflict with the Gospel, we’re going to go with the Gospel every time.”

Sold! I love that!

Strong Christian leaders keep their eyes on the goal, they’re focused on the big picture. They lead with courage in the will of God, to please him. What’s going to challenge us and mature us? What’s going to lead to Christ-likeness? What’s going to move us toward more sacrifice and service? What’s going to make us more accountable to God and one another?

Well, that makes me uncomfortable. I’m not comfortable with that.

Who said anything about comfortable? That’s why they put crosses up in church buildings, to give you a clue that this is not about being comfortable!

Leaders worth following don’t pay much attention to the polls or public opinion. Pleasing God, not people. Remember, Jesus was OK with letting the rich young ruler walk away.

Peace,

Allan

In Spite of Severe Suffering

1 Thessalonians, Acts, Christ & Culture, Church No Comments »

The early church in Thessalonica is described as a “model” church by the apostle Paul. In the opening lines of 1 Thessalonians, the author says they have become a “model to all the believers,” while explaining why he finds them to be so ideal and receives from them so much joy. There are many reasons listed in the first ten verses of this letter. Among them is this line about their commitment to Christ in spite of the hardships it brings:

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord in spite of severe suffering.” ~1 Thessalonians 1:6

This Thessalonian church was persecuted early and often. Luke tells us in Acts 17 that Paul was run out of town right after he established this church, maybe within just a few weeks. The church was meeting in Jason’s house in Thessalonica. He was arrested along with several other believers. And persecuted. It was serious. And real.

A lot of it had to do with economics. If I’m running a burger joint or a chicken shack here in town, I don’t need you and some group stirring up a bunch of low-fat, vegetarian fanatics. That affects my business, my bottom line. It impacts my way of life. So the makers of idols and religious trinkets rose up and opposed Christianity.

The other part of it was the polytheistic culture of the day. It was dangerous to ignore or offend the gods. If there was a fire in town or a flood or drought or plague or some other disaster, the thinking was, “Our gods have always protected us from these things! These Christians must be ticking off the gods!” So they would torture and kill the Christians.

Now, trust me, I’m aware, there’s nothing easy about this. There are no simple answers. It’s complicated because we’re so compromised.

I wonder sometimes. I just wonder…

I wonder how we can proclaim the sanctity of all life and be opposed to the killing of men and women created in the image of God when our economy and our standard of living is so dependent on wars and rumors of wars. I wonder about the criticism we’ll receive from other Christians when we love and serve members of the LGBT community and the condemnation we’ll receive from the culture when we say pursuing the gay lifestyle is a sin. I wonder about the public rebuke we’re in for when we love and serve immigrants and refugees in the name and manner of Jesus. I wonder about the trouble we’re already in from other Christians for tearing down denominational walls in God’s Kingdom.

Imitating Christ requires hard choices and it results in suffering. Always.

A model church embraces Jesus and his ways, all the way, in spite of that certain suffering.

Peace,

Allan

Sin and Relationships

Acts, Evangelism, Jesus, Luke, Sin No Comments »

brothersheartNearly everybody defines sin as breaking a law or disobeying a set of rules. But in Jesus’ timeless story about the two lost brothers in Luke 15, our Lord shows us it’s possible to perfectly obey all the regulations and still be trapped in sin. Both the younger son and the older son had faulty hearts. One ran away from the father’s house and disobeyed all the rules while the other son stayed at home with the father and kept all the rules. But they both resented the father’s authority. They both looked for ways to get out from under his command. They each tried to tell the father what to do and how to run his business. One rebelled against the father by being very bad. And the other rebelled against the father by being really good.

Sin destroys relationships. No matter what the sin is or what motivates it or who commits it, sin destroys relationship. Neither of the sons wanted the father; they each wanted what the father could give them. They wanted the father’s blessings, they wanted his riches, but they didn’t necessarily want him.

Like the lady talking about her husband and says, “I didn’t want to marry my husband for his money, but I couldn’t see any other way to get it!”

Sin breaks fellowship with the people in your life and with God. Sin wrecks that bond. Remember Adam and Eve hid from God, God didn’t hide from them. The separation doesn’t come from God’s side. The sin and shame and guilt creates the barrier. But even with the sin, God is still reaching out, he’s still seeking that fellowship.

A lot of people think God won’t associate with sinners, that God separates himself from sinners. No, God went out looking for Adam and Eve, right? “Where are you? What’s going on?” Our God walks with Enoch, he shares meals with Abraham and Moses, he dwells inside the tabernacle in the wilderness and inside Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Sin breaks relationship with God; but that’s always on the sinner’s end, not God’s.

God restores those broken relationships. Sin breaks and destroys and separates. But God in Christ came here to the sinners to find what is lost, to heal who is sick, and to fix what is broken. God’s mission is to restore the relationships, to reconcile all sinners back to himself. And he came here in the flesh and blood of Jesus to show us what it looks like.

Notice that at the beginning of Luke 15, Jesus is hanging out with sinners. That really ticks off the religious leaders who think God’s people shouldn’t have anything to do with sinners. But hanging out with sinners — eating and drinking with sinners, talking to and sharing with sinners — seems to be God’s strategy for restoring the relationship.

And sinners love it!

All throughout the Gospels, sinners are attracted to Jesus. Sinners are gathering around Jesus, they’re following Jesus, they can’t get enough of Jesus. And Jesus welcomes them. He eats with them. Exactly like the master of the banquet in the last story Jesus told in Luke 14. God’s strategy is a table. And God is bringing all people to that table. God wants all people to have fellowship with him. Table communion. A righteous relationship with God.

All people.

Even sinners? Yes! Even tax collectors? Yes! Prostitutes? Yes! Blue Jays fans? (……)

Yes, even Blue Jays fans and politicians and bank robbers and murderers and cheats! Everybody is invited! And God himself comes to us to demonstrate in living color what it looks like.

Jesus seeking out sinners and getting to know them. Jesus hanging out with the lost. Peter saw it up close as an apostle of the Messiah and he tells Cornelius in Acts 10:

“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from every nation… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and he went around doing good… because God was with him.”

No wonder the sinners and tax collectors loved him. Jesus went about doing good because God was with him. Jesus loved them! He accepted them! And it seems like he actually enjoyed their company. Jesus was good to sinners. Jesus showed mercy and compassion to sinners. Jesus shared his great joy and peace with sinners. And the religious people didn’t understand it. They wrinkled up their faces and called Jesus “a friend to sinners.” And Jesus said, “Thank you very much!” That’s the nicest thing you can say to our Lord.

What if we had the same reputation? What if we were known for hanging out with sinners? What if people criticized us because we showed so much mercy and compassion to sinners? What if our churches were known for sharing joy and peace with sinners?

Peace,

Allan

We Believe in the Church

1 Corinthians, 1 Peter, Acts, Church, Ephesians No Comments »

Maybe you’ve noticed that people are leaving the Church. Not just your church, not just your denomination — people are leaving churches all across the board all across this country. The numbers are slow, but they are steady. Church attendance and church membership are on a decline. And the shifting attitude can be summed up like this: “Jesus, Yes. Church, No.”

jesusgoodchurchbad

“I love Jesus, but I don’t like the Church.” “I follow Jesus, but I don’t go to Church.” “I don’t go to Church because they’re all sinners, the Church is full of hypocrites” (which is like saying, “I don’t go to the health club because of all the out-of-shape people there). “I serve the Lord every day, but I don’t do Church.” “You can’t organize spirituality.” “Jesus, Yes. Church, No.”

Let me confess right here that I know the Church is a mess. What else could it be? Have you looked at the people who sit by you when you’re there? Yes, the Church is guilty. We’re all guilty of being smug, complacent, self-righteous, racist, misogynist, impersonal, unfeeling, dated, and stuffy — all these things and more.

But Scripture —and the song — says our Lord Jesus purchased the Church of God with his blood. Ephesians says Jesus loves the Church and gave himself up for her. Church is a pretty big deal.

But even “church people” are struggling. All the research and surveys show that the Christian Church and its message do not significantly matter in the lives of its members. Attitudes about sex, marriage, and divorce; ideas about race, poverty, and war; thoughts and actions related to recreation, work, and money — in all areas of life you can’t tell the difference between church members and people who aren’t church members. Lots of people see the Church as really good as long as it gives me personal comfort or meets my needs or confirms what I already think about myself and other people and the world around me. That’s it.

A lot of Christians pretty much ignore the Church as harmless or irrelevant and live their lives like it doesn’t even exist. Christians are increasingly just going through the motions on the inside of Church and, on the outside, the Church is ignored and laughed at for its irrelevance.

I think one of the main problems is that we don’t have a robust theology of the Church. We think the Church is where the theology is packaged. We think church is where religious people with religious things in common go to get their religious stuff. Church is just a place to get your spiritual needs met.

No! Church is theology! Thinking right about the Church is directly tied to thinking right about God.

From the Day of Pentecost right up until this hour Christians have always believed in the Church. That line about the Church in the middle of the Apostles’ Creed — I believe in the holy, universal church, the communion of saints — comes from a baptismal confession from the middle of the second century. Only a few years later, it was being recited together by all Christians every time they assembled. A belief in the Church has always belonged right in the middle of our theology. Just like we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; just like we believe in the dead, burial, and resurrection of Jesus; just like we believe in the forgiveness of sins and the second coming; we believe in what God is doing in and through his Church.

The Church is an utterly indispensable part of what God is up to in the world. Followers of Jesus have never believed anything less.

The Church can’t be treated like an optional extra. It’s not like ordering a side salad to go with your steak: I can take it or leave it, it just depends on what mood I’m in. The Church is the family of God, the called-out people of the Messiah, the baptized, sanctified, Spirit-indwelled, disciples of Jesus who become something together they can never be as individuals. Y’all are the Body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it. Our identity in Christ cannot be understood outside our membership in his Church. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. To him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever!

This week in this space, I want to take a look at the three descriptors in that line about the Church in the Apostles’ Creed. These three words/phrases give us a great outline to point us to what the Bible says about the Church and what Christians have always believed. These three words/phrases — holy, universal/catholic, communion of saints — will give us a better Church theology.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus’ Judgment Will Be Final

Acts, Carrie-Anne, Hebrews, Jesus, Philippians, Resurrection, Texas Rangers No Comments »

“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all people by raising him from the dead.” ~Acts 17:30-31

JesusGloryThe resurrection proves that Jesus is the promised Messiah, it vindicates him as God’s Holy Son, as God’s chosen agent in making all things right. Jesus is the one who creates order and restores what’s been destroyed. When the Son of God returns, the powers of this world will finally be overthrown by the power of God, that power that was so fully displayed at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Hebrews 9 says Christ Jesus will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. His first coming was in humility to bring redemption; his second coming will be in glory to bring God’s salvation purposes to their long-awaited and majestic consummation. Jesus is coming back to restore his people, to rule in righteousness, and to make all things right.

We’ve all been reminded over the past few weeks that this whole world is immersed in evil. This entire planet is motivated by selfishness and greed, this earth is captivated by violence and force.

It’s sickening, it’s unsettling, it’s scary, and terribly sad. It’s awful. But our Lord sees every bit of it. None of this goes unnoticed by our Lord. None of the madness, none of the sadness. Every single tear drop that’s shed and every single drop of blood that’s spilled will be answered for.

If our Lord were not angered by evil, if injustice and wrongdoing didn’t make him mad, what kind of God would he be? If he were just going to ignore evil or pretend like it didn’t matter, he wouldn’t be holy and righteous.

Philippians 3 tells us the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, with the trumpet call of God. He has set a day. And that day is coming.

It might not be today. It might not be tomorrow. I don’t know when it’s going to be. But God is not going to tolerate sin forever. He won’t put up with violence and injustice and unfairness forever. God overlooked all kinds of ignorance in the past, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. Wicked and evil organizations may have their way for a while. They may kill and cheat and steal for a time. And it may get worse before it gets better. But if they don’t repent, they will pay for every one of their sins.

The resurrection proves that Jesus is the Son of God. The day has been set when he will judge the world. And that judgment will be final.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

RedCrossCarrie-Anne is slowly — very, very, very, very slowly — recovering from her surgery last Wednesday. She’s still really sore, the pain medicine still keeps her somewhat nauseated and dizzy, and her face is still slightly discolored and puffy. But she’s eating more solid food now, she’s talking more, she’s actually walking around the house, and smiling.

Thank you so much to Debbie V., Donna G, Callie Lou, Karen Cooper, and Becky Nordyke for the fabulous meals you’ve delivered to our home. You are dear and cherished friends. And thank all of you for your faithful prayers for my darling wife.

Her follow up appointment is this Thursday afternoon. There’s a chance they remove the two splints from her nasal passages then. We’re hoping so. Her eyes may water for three days afterward, but getting those splints out would be a giant step toward some relief.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

RangersClassicEvery year this decade the Texas Rangers have been in contention, Jon Daniels has made a blockbuster deal or two at the trade deadline to significantly improve the team. Apparently the White Sox were asking too much for pitcher Chris Sale. So JD went out and added a ton of power to his batting order with Beltran and Lucroy, and shored up the bullpen with Jeffress. I would imagine Texas might score more than five runs per game from here on out. It’s possible.

Yes, they gave away a ton of young, talented, minor league pitchers in the deals with Milwaukee and New York, but they’re still just absolutely loaded. Profar and Gallo remain with Texas, Mazara is only 21 years old and Odor is only 22, and the farm system, even after yesterday, is still going to be rated in the top ten in all of baseball. According to Daniels, major league teams inquired about the tradeability of more than 30 Rangers minor leaguers over the past three weeks.

It seems the Rangers have positioned themselves now to capture their fourth division crown in the past seven years. And, if they’re in the same situation this time next season, it looks like they’ll have plenty of talent down on the farm to make the same kind of aggressive, headline-grabbing deals.

Let’s Go, Rangers!
Clap, Clap.
Clap, Clap, Clap.

Allan

Where is Jesus? Part Two

Acts, Heaven, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Resurrection No Comments »

RightHandJesusCloudsOne of the very first things Jesus did when he “sat down at the right hand of God” was send us his Holy Spirit. Christ Jesus our Lord is in heaven — his physical body, resurrected and glorified, his human-self is in heaven. But because of his Holy Spirit, our Lord is also present with all of us right here in this world today. He’s right here with us.

As he’s ascending, Jesus promises his disciples:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8

And then it happened. Peter and the apostles experience it on the Day of Pentecost and then they proclaim it:

“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” ~Acts 2:32-33

Jesus could not send God’s Spirit until he had returned to the Father. He could not be present with his followers and live inside his followers until the ascension. And what it means for us right now is that Jesus is right here with us!

Before the ascension, you had to go where Jesus was. If you wanted to be healed, if you wanted to ask for something, if you wanted to eat with him, if you wanted to be taught or to be in his presence, if you wanted to be saved, you had to go to Jerusalem or Galilee; you had to go where Jesus was. But now he ascends to his throne in heaven at the right hand of God and he rules in a cosmic, universal way. Jesus is still in his physical body, but because of the Spirit, he’s no longer restricted by the barriers of time and space and matter. Our Lord Jesus is everywhere!

RightHandGoingUpChristians do not have a mecca. We don’t believe there’s a place on earth where God’s power and the presence of Christ is more concentrated. We don’t believe the power of God resides in stronger ways or better ways in some places than in others. Not even at ACU, no matter what people from Abilene may tell you. Christ Jesus is no more present with you in the mountains of Angel Fire or at the temple mount in Jerusalem as he is right now at your desk or your kitchen table. Or inside your soul. Jesus is both reigning physically at the right hand of the Father in heaven AND reigning spiritually, and just as real and powerfully, inside us. Here with us. It’s both.

Now, there’s a lot of theology to be done here. This is physical AND spiritual, it’s right now AND future. There’s a lot of deep thinking and reflecting that needs to happen. The ascension of Jesus is a foundational doctrine of the Christian faith, and what we believe about where Jesus is and what he’s doing has far reaching implications for us. What we believe about this will truly impact how we behave. It’s vitally important.

We’ve talked this week about where Jesus is and what he’s doing. Now, where are we in this? What are we doing? Let’s address that tomorrow.

Peace,

Allan