Exalting Christ in Our Leadership

What does it look like to be a good leader in the church?

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

This past Sunday I shared 5 principles about being a good follower in the local church and the greater kingdom of God from Hebrews 13:7-19. Each one of the principles I shared can also be applied to leaders so I promised to share those this week through this blog post. You can find a link to my sermon notes on good followership here.

Jesus Christ is exalted when followers follow and leaders lead. Here are 5 ways that leaders can step up to make a difference in their local congregations based on Hebrews 13.

1. Set an example that others can follow (v. 7). The first generation of leaders may have passed off the scene in the church that recieved the book of Hebrews, but they left behind a pattern that was worth replicating. The best leaders set the tone for others in performance as well as their behavior.

2. Spread the right doctrine (v. 9-14). Like many of the other first century churches, some of the original recipients of Hebrews struggled with false teaching. Christian leaders today would do well by grounding everything they teach in the Word of God. This may seem obvious in theory, but it’s not so obvious in practice.

3. Showcase your sacrifice (v. 15-16). This principle sounds prideful, but it’s not intended to be. These verses describe two practices that believers should engage in regularly, two “sacrifice.” They are the sacrifice of praise and the sacrifice of service. Pastors and teacher in the Church should lead the way in worshiping God and serving others with a spirit of humility.

4. Step up for your sheep (v. 17). Shepherding is one of the most familiar metaphors for leadership in the Bible. Sometimes sheep bite, butt, buck, and wander away (metaphorically speaking of course), but they still need to be cared for. Pastors and elders especially, will be held accountable for the “flocks” of believers under their care.

5. Share your prayer requests (v. 18-19). The writer of Hebrews is transparent about his needs and concerns. His request for prayer in verse 18 should be a model for today’s Christian leaders.

The writer of Hebrews (your guess is as good as mine) was concerned with the believers under his care. He wanted them to be good followers as well as good leaders so that their congregation would grow and flourish. We need good followers and good leaders in our churches today as well.

Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 3)

How should God’s mercy and love impact your prayer life?

Earlier this week I started a three-part mini-series of posts exploring the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This is important because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer. This is the third and final post in that series.

One of the most descriptive passages of God in the New Testament is the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. This parable is more than a story, it’s a picture of the Heavenly Father.

A loving father of two sons experienced great heartbreak. The youngest son demanded his inheritance early so that he could waste it all on himself. After his money was gone, the younger son got a job feeding pig and dreamed about the comforts of home.

Every day, the loving father would go out to the road and look for his son’s return. As soon as he saw him, the father ran to meet his son, greeted him, and embraced him. Instead of punishing the son, he called for a celebration.

This vivid parable teaches us that the Heavenly Father is loving and merciful which means He will forgive you. Love includes a group of virtues like benevolence, graciousness, mercy, and persistence. When we read that “God is love” in 1 John 4:7, it means that He is all of those things.

Jesus included this character quality in His model prayer along with the holiness and trustworthiness of the Heavenly Father. In Matthew 6:12, Jesus urges us to call out to God to “forgive us our debts.”

Here are three tips for receiving God’s forgives through prayer

1. Cultivate a healthy view of your sin. We have a tendency to go to extremes in our understanding of sin. On one hand, we can blow sin out of proportion, making it impossible to to deal with. On the other hand, we can minimize sin to such an extent that it doesn’t really matter.

2. Take Him at His Word – He will forgive. 1 John 1:9 states that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)” This is a promise.

3. Confess your sin audibly if possible, to make it more definite. We can pray silently to ourselves or out loud for others to hear. Sometimes, praying out loud makes our prayer more focused and more definite.

The Heavenly Father is loving and merciful which means He will forgive you We can receive that forgiveness and make it our own through prayer. Thanks for join for this three-part mini-series on the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. Feel free to add one of your own tips for receiving God’s forgiveness in prayer in the comment section below.

Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 2)

What does God’s truthfulness mean for our prayer life?

Yesterday I started a mini-series of posts exploring the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This material is based on breakout session I shared recently at a conference. This is important because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer.

The prophet Jeremiah warned the Israelites numerous times throughout the Old Testament book that bears his name, but one of the most colorful warnings is recorded in Jeremiah 10:1-10. The nations that surrounded Israel studied astronomical phenomena like eclipses and comets so they could worship the sun, moon, and stars as gods. In order to make their worship more tangible, they made idols out of wood and decorated them with precious metal.

Jeremiah described the deceptive nature of these worthless gods with a heavy dose of sarcasm. They looked impressive but they were fake. They were seen as powerful, but they had to be carried around like an infant. They were feared but the idols couldn’t do anything, good or evil, to enforce their will.

Jeremiah presents a sharp contrast in verse 6. Rather than being deceptive, God is trustworthy and lives up to His reputation. He stands above any other supposed god. He is great and mighty. He is real and alive, not fabricated. Jeremiah’s God was a real and truthful so He can be trusted.

Once again, Jesus brings out this aspect of the Heavenly Father’s character in his model prayer in Matthew 6:11. After acknowledging God’s holiness, Jesus asks the Father to “give us this day our daily bread.” This simple request is an expression of dependance and trust in the Heavenly Father.

Here are three tips for building your trust in God through prayer:

1. Focus on God, not just His blessings. Some folks only pray when they need or want something. God the Father loves to bless and provide for His children, but He also loves to spend time with them. Try to set aside time to pray even if you don’t need anything.

2. Be persistent, which is a sign of dependence. When you do make a request, repeat yourself often and be consistent. Not in a ritualistic way, but as a way to express your dependence on God.

3. Write out your prayer requests so that you can document His faithfulness. I tend to be forgetful. When I forget what I prayed for in the past, I miss an opportunity to praise God for His faithfulness in the present. Writing down you prayer petitions make it easier to trace out the trustworthiness of God.

God is real and truthful so He can be trusted. We can build our trust in God through prayer. Join me again tomorrow as I trace out another silhouette of the Heavenly Father. Feel free to add one of your own tips for expressing reverence in prayer in the comment section below.

Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 1)

What does God’s holiness mean for our prayer life?

Recently, I got a chance to participate in a conference by leading a breakout session on the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This was an exciting study for me to share because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer. This blog post will kickoff a miniseries of blog posts on Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father.

One of the most illuminating stories about the character of God on the Old Testament is Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-9. Moses had a mixed-up family tree. He was raised by a Jewish family and then adopted at an early age by the princess of Egypt. He grew up in the palace but eventually rebelled left home. When he found a wife on the backside of the dessert he also found a and a job taking care of his father-in-law’s flock.

While Moses was working he encountered a burning bush near Mt Horeb. It wasn’t unusual to see a bush on fire in the desert, but it was unusual that it wasn’t consumed. When Moses approached the fire to investigate, the Lord called out to him and told him to take off his sandals. Removing one’s shoes was a sign of reverence and humility in the presence of a holy God.

The fatherhood of God is assumed throughout the Old Testament. He always cared for and protected His people as His promises were passed down from generation to generation. That’s why it’s not surprising that the Lord introduces Himself in verse 6 as, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob.”

God was about to call Moses to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt, but first Moses had to learn that God is holy. Because God is holy He must be revered. Reverence is an attitude of fear, awe, and respect for someone in a position of authority.

Jesus Christ makes the connection between the fatherhood of God, God’s holiness, and prayer in His model prayer in Matthew. 6:9-14. After addressing His prayer to “Our Father who is in heaven,” He prays, “Hallowed (or holy) is your name.”

Here are three tips for expressing your reverence for God in prayer

1. Adjust your posture accordingly. The posture that we use as we pray is a reflection of our inner attitude towards God. You may need to stand, knee, or even lay prostrate to express your reverence toward Him.

2. Focus on God’s awesomeness before your need. Our innate selfishness pushes to focus on ourselves first before anyone else. Try listing out some of God’s praiseworthy attributes in addition to His holiness before you list out what you a looking for in prayer. This will help you put your wants and desires in perceptive as you approach the God of the universe.

3. Make every request contingent on God’s will. We often pray for the will of God to be done, but do we really mean it? Praying according to God’s will means He may have a better way of dealing with your request than you could have ever thought of. It takes humility and reverence to see that on a consistent basis.

God is holy and therefore He must be revered in our prayers. Join me again tomorrow as I trace out another silhouette of the Heavenly Father. Feel free to add one of your own tips for expressing reverence in prayer in the comment section below.

Do You Have Any Fish Yet?

A mysterious encounter leads to a boatload of fish. But that wasn’t the most surprising thing that happened by the Sea of Galilee.

Photo by Eduardo Goody on Unsplash

Jesus appeared to his disciples twice after the resurrection, but the disciples were still confused about should happen next. At some point, Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, and John went back to fishing. After a long night with no fish a mysterious figure showed up on shore. The figure inquired about their catch and then told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. As soon as they did their net was full to capacity. Peter immediately jumped into the water and swam to shore recognizing the mysterious figure as Jesus.

Jesus was already cooking fish by a charcoal fire when the rest of the disciples arrived. As they hauled their catch on land, they heard Jesus uttered these remarkable words: “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught” These words were remarkable for three reasons. First, because Jesus was there to say them in person. He had been executed on a Roman cross and laid in a Jewish grave. The very fact that Jesus was alive again was amazing.

The second reason Jesus’ words were remarkable was because He gave them credit for catching the fish. Peter and his companions had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus did the most important part by telling them where to cast their net, yet He still gave them ownership over their success.

Thirdly, Jesus’ words were remarkable because the disciples had abandoned and denied Jesus. When the authorities came to arrest Jesus in Garden of Gethsemane, they all ran away in fear. When Peter was questioned about his relationship with Jesus, he denied he even knew Jesus three times. The men who promised to be faithful had been faithless, and yet Jesus welcomed them anyway.

This is a picture of miraculous, gracious, forgiveness. Jesus wasn’t supposed to be a part of their frustration-filled fishing trip, but He was. Jesus didn’t have to help them catch a record-haul of fish, but He did. Jesus shouldn’t have welcomed them to join Him by the fire, but He called out the invitation. Jesus is still showing up and calling us close today.

Is It Still True That All Publicity Is Good Publicity?

They used to say that all publicity is good publicity, but is that still true?

Phineas T. Barnum is famous for the phrase, “All publicity is good publicity.” In this line of thinking, the only thing worse than being talked about badly is not being talked about at all. But is this true?

The 11th chapter of Hebrews is jam packed with believers who are “famous” for their faith. They are held up as examples of faith, but also as reminders of the faithfulness of God throughout the generations. But not all the examples that are listed are positive.

In a closely related passage in Hebrews 12:14-17, we read about the negative example of Esau. This is the guy who sold his birthright for bowl of stew (Genesis 25:27-34). He was more interested in his next meal than honoring his family as the firstborn son. Rather than being famous, He is infamous in the book of Hebrews for all the wrong reasons.

How can we avoid Esau’s negative example? The verses that introduce him contain two clues.

  1. We must pursue peace. Instead of peace, Esau and Jacob were bitter rivals. They let their personal conflict interrupt God’s overarching plan for their family and His people. Verse 15 intensifies this instruction from a negative angle – by avoid a growing spirit of bitterness.
  2. We must pursue holiness. The record of Esau in Genesis doesn’t mention immorality, but Hebrews sure does. His moral impurity led him toward godlessness and away from holiness.

Even though Esau begged for forgiveness his birthright was lost and his blessing was lost. Believers today have similar opportunity to live as children of the Heavenly Father by faith. To fail is to follow the wrong example in Hebrews and to generate the wrong kind of publicity.

Distancing Yourself From Deliberate Sin

Sin is a common struggle, but God gives us the power to overcome. How can we distance ourselves from deliberate sin?

“Social distancing” is new term now in our common vocabulary. We are encouraged to keep our distance from others so that we don’t share germs. A few weeks ago, I shared a sermon from Hebrews 10:26-39 which included the idea of distancing ourselves from sin. Believers will never outrun sin completely this side of heaven, but with God’s help they should create as much distance as they can here on earth. Here are four ways to do that.

  1. Call it what it is and repent. We like to use pet names for our sin like a “white lie” or a “lapse in judgement.” These euphemisms shift blame around and help us to feel better about ourselves. Instead, we need to own our offensive attitudes and actions and ask God to forgives us.
  2. Receive God’s power to overcome. One of the most powerful pictures of salvation is to be free from the slavery of sin. When we embrace “willful sin” we put ourselves back into bondage. God wants to share His power with us to live free, if we’ll only receive it.
  3. Change the habits that encourage sin. One of the best predictors of the future is to study the past. Our previous patterns of behavior can show us where our weak spots are. Figure out a way to change your habit if that habit leads you into rebellion against God.
  4. Invite others to hold you accountable. The book of Hebrews repeatedly emphasizes the importance of Christian community. One of the ways that believers can build this kind of community is by supporting one another in their struggles and their joys.

Sinful attitudes and actions bring guilt, shame, and fear into our lives. In turn, this creates distance between us and God. But God wants to have a close personal relationship with each one of us.

What over steps have you taken to distance yourself from sin? Please leave your answers in the comment section below.

Three Ways That Christ’s Sacrifice Changed the Way We Relate to God

A representation of the Israelite tabernacle

Some moments in time are so significant they shape the course of human history. These turning points are events, eras, and/or developments that bring about significant social, cultural, ecological, political, or economic change. One of the most important turning points, from an eternal perspective, is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

The writer of Hebrews uses the phrase “once for all” three times to describe the decisive nature of Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10). This stands in sharp contrast to the repetitive and ongoing work of the Levitical priest in the Old Testament. Christ’s sacrifice changed the way we relate to God in at least three ways.

1. It changed the focus from who we are to who Jesus is. The Bible is clear about who we are as human beings – we are hopelessly flawed sinners. Despite our best intentions, the stories of our lives always end up in pain, brokenness, tragedy when we try to make ourselves the main character. But Jesus Christ has the power to rewrite the story of our lives if we let Him become the main character.

2. It changed the focus from what we are doing to what He did. The book of Hebrews highlights the dangerous temptation of self-made righteous, even for those who know about faith. We may want the new life Christ has to offer, but we want to pay for it somehow through our good deeds and good works. But this the whole purpose behind Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice for us.

3. It changed the focus from the strength of our words to the strength of God’s Word. The Old Testament Law is chock-full of instructions, commands, and promises. These messages all point to the one final statement that God would make in and through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). His words and actions trump everything else. We must lean on and lean into God’s faithfulness when our faithfulness comes up short.

Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection was a turning point in human history. In one moment, He changed the way we relate to God forever. That deserves to be celebrated in the history books and in our hearts.

An Anchor for the Soul

Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. One of the three, Horseshoe Falls, is the largest and most powerful waterfall in North America. Just before the falls the water is turbulent and violent, but father upstream the river’s current is gentle and easy to navigate. At one point a small bridge spans the river holding the following warning:”Do you have an anchor?” followed by, “Do you know how to use it?”

An anchor was a familiar site for the seafaring people in and around the Mediterranean basin. Because of its usefulness, it became a symbol of strength, stability, and hope.

In Hebrew 6:19-20, the writer describes the nature and promises of God as “an anchor for the soul.” God’s nature came into view when He promised to bless “all the families of the earth” through Abraham. That promised was confirmed and developed throughout the Old Testament as God interacted with His people, the Israelites, through the priesthood and the sacrificial system. That promise came into shaper focus when Jesus Christ fulfilled the priesthood and the entire sacrificial system single-handedly.

As Jesus Christ emerged from behind “the veil” of the heavenly temple, he inaugurated a new era of hope. This hope serves as an anchor for those who are tossed about by the waves of doubt, suffering, or even persecution. The chains that fasten us to this anchor are forced by God’s unchangeable nature and His unbreakable promises. We can trust Him and plan even when we are flooded by the storms of life.

Photo by Kevin Woblick on Unsplash

The Freedom to Forgive

This is a guest post from my friend, Clay Woford. Clay is a husband, Seminary student, Director for Business Development for Coastal Wealth Management, and an Engineer for Marathon Petroleum.

You have been wronged, maybe small – maybe large – maybe for the last time? You feel you deserve justice, or revenge – that you need it. You seek counsel from friends and they support you that you deserve better, you deserve justice, that you don’t need to forgive this person who has wronged you. When you are wronged, you can lose an endless amount of time dwelling on what happened. Yet, your faith calls for different and there is freedom found in Christ from this bondage.

Your faith in Jesus Christ leads you to 1. Delayed Justice and 2. Unconditional Forgiveness.

Delayed Justice

Hebrews 10:30 – “For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”

Romans 12:19 – “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Our Christian worldview guides us to not seek out our own justice through revenge or disparage someone. Our ultimate justice is coming in that God will judge all according to their deeds.

Unconditional Forgiveness

The idea that forgiveness might have limits or that at some point it isn’t deserved is not a new thought. Peter asked Jesus this question to find out when forgiveness was exhausted. Jesus responded to him with a parable comparing what we have been forgiven, and how we should respond to this grace.

Matthew 18:21-35 – “Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents (60 million days work) was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii (100 days work); and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way, that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Matthew 6:12 – “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Unconditional Forgiveness is given by those who have been unconditionally forgiven. Our view, as Christians, on forgiveness is from a place of grace. Understanding that the forgiveness we find in Christ is of such magnitude that it should lead our hearts to forgive others. God has forgiven us of a debt we could never pay, we owed far more than 60 million days of labor, and that it should be our pursuit to forgive people who hurt us. You are “Paying It Forward” or paying your grace forward. That we are responding to our hurt or adversity, with generosity.

Forgiveness is baked into the essentials of faith with forgiveness being in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. Forgiveness is essential to our Christian living, but it doesn’t mean it is easy. That in life if forgiveness does not come quickly, resentment can set in and weigh heavy on your life for years, if you let it. If you find yourself struggling with forgiveness, lean on God to strengthen you for this task. I encourage you to not struggle alone if you are wrestling with forgiveness or resentment, that you share your burden with another Christian to walk together. That in Christ, you find forgiveness and the power to forgive others.

Clay can be contacted at rcwoford@gmail.com