Four Ways to Choose Faith Over Fear

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 There’s a new virus spreading across America and its effects are much more deadly than COVID-19. The new sickness that’s spreading is fear. People are afraid to leave their homes because they might catch the COVID-19 virus and die. In some communities, they are afraid to leave their homes because they might get caught up in a violent protest.  Friends and neighbors are hesitant to look at each other in the eye at the grocery store for fear of being judged for not taking enough precautions or for taking too many precautions. Unfortunately, the nation’s politicians and news outlets are fanning the flames of fear to grab headlines and boost their ratings. Make no mistake about it, COVID-19 and racial injustice are serious threats – but fear is the greatest threat in our country right now.

Those who are familiar with the Old Testament will remember another time when fear was a great threat to God’s people. Joshua stepped up to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land in the first chapter of the book that bears his name, and he was afraid. The Israelites had already failed once to enter the Promised Land and the people there were fierce and powerful. Even though Joshua had some good reason to be afraid, he chose faith over fear. As we follow his example in this chapter, we find four ways to choose faith over fear in our present situation.

  1. Experience God’s Presence (vv. 1-6).

God wanted Joshua to know that He was the one leading Joshua before He called Joshua to lead His people. In other words, God promised that He would always be with Joshua. The newly-appointed leader’s success didn’t rest on his performance, but on God’s sovereign presence and power

The same is true today. God takes care of His people like a loving Heavenly Father. There is nothing that happens to us that does not pass through His sovereign hedge of protection. Even when we can’t understand why He allows something painful to happen, we can trust that He has a plan.

  1. Establish God’s Word as a Priority (vv. 7-9)

God promised Joshua success if he obeyed The Law – God’s Written Word. He was to be so focused on it that he would not deviate from it to the right or the left. Even though Joshua was involved in a military and political operation, God wanted Joshua to know His heart.

I am not trying to minimize the dangers we are facing right now. I am saying that it is much easier to walk by faith in God when we read and study His Word regularly. Political crises, healthcare emergencies, and natural disasters will come and go, but God’s Word remains forever (1 Peter 1:25).

  1. Embrace Biblical Community (vv. 10-15).

Once God prepared Joshua, he shared his plans with the rest of the Israelite people, even the Reubenites, Gadites, and part of the tribe of Manasseh. These three tribes had made special arrangements to settle on the east side of the Jordan River. But Joshua knew that if they were to be successful, they would need everybody to be involved.

The greatest source of community and encouragement in the New Testament world is the Church. The COVID-19 crisis has made it difficult to meet face-to-face the way we always have, but that doesn’t mean we should give up the practice altogether. Faith is encouraged and fear is kept at a distance when we know we are not alone.

  1. Energize Yourself and Others to Move Forward (vv. 16-18).

The Israelites responded positively to Joshua’s instructions. But Joshua knew they needed more than good intentions to conquer Promised Land. He reminded them of God’s promises and pushed them to move forward.

Fear tends to paralyze us. We can fight that tendency by moving closer to our goals, even if it is only one small step at a time. Giving up and giving in to fear is not an option if you know that God has a great plan for your life.

Joshua’s courageous example inspires us to choose faith over fear. As we read in the 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (HCSB). We must use the power, love, and common sense that God has given us to vaccinate ourselves from the virus of fear that has infected so many in these times.

Three Books to Read Before You Go to Seminary

 

pawel-czerwinski-yqp59hghp8y-unsplash.jpgSeminary offers intense instruction and specialized training for those called into various leadership roles in the kingdom of God. Seminary exposes students to wide variety of Biblical, theological, and practical themes. It also inevitably involves a lot of reading. Here are three books a student should read before he or she goes to seminary.

1. How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

51crijZbWGL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_This suggestion is not a put down. Before I went to seminary, I didn’t realize how bad I was at reading, analyzing, and interacting with written text. Alder’s and Van Doren’s book on how to read gave me the tools I needed to become a better reader, which a must in seminary. This book is  especially for those who already think they are a good reader and those who would like help improving their skills in this area.

 

2. Who Needs Theology? by Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson

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In this book, Grenz and Olson describe why everyone is a theologian and why theology (especially good theology) matters. Then they explain how to “do” Christian theology well. The authors go into the tasks, traditions, and tools that are available to a theologian in order for him or her to do their work. This book is good for the student who may look past the reflective side of seminary in a rush to learn the more practical skills of ministry.

3. Why I Am Not An Arminian by Robert A.Peterson and Michael D. Williams and Why I Am Not A Calvinist by Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell

62469585The titles of these two books alone should be enough to explain why they are this list. Too many seminary students have emerged from there first semester of study thinking they have solved a debate that has been raging in the Church for generations. These books should be read together by the student who wants to get better, humbler handle on these popular approaches to salvation.

You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with any one that you know how is thinking about going to seminary.

 

 

 

Three Books to Read about Discipleship

florencia-viadana-DsqgRPnrfW0-unsplashChurches can be as creative as they want to be with their vision, strategy, and values, but  not when it comes to the mission of the church. In the Great Commission, Jesus tasked the church with making disciples in His name (Mathew 28:18-20). The mission of the church is and always has been to make disciples. Here are three books I would suggest about how that can be done in today.

  1. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman

9780800788087This book has evangelism in the title, but it’s really about discipleship. In it, Robert Coleman traces the eight guiding principles Jesus used to train His disciples and to send them out in His absence. Coleman cautions church leaders against prepackaged discipleship programs. Instead, he encourages a more relational approach. This book would be good for anyone who is thinking though the overall process of discipleship and leadership development.

2. Rediscovering Discipleship by Robby Gallaty

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Robby Gallaty builds his case for discipleship in the church on the ministry of Jesus and other discipleship leaders throughout church history. He goes on to suggest a model of progressive discipleship found in Charles Wesley’s ministry. Gallaty gains ground by including  spiritual disciplines like Bible memorization and journaling into his suggested model. This book is excellent for church leaders who want to refocus their churches on reproducible discipleship.

3. Disciple-shift by Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington

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Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington believe that discipleship should be the core focus of the church. To that end, they suggest five shifts to engage the “engine” of discipleship. The shift that is most meaningful for me as a pastor is to go from informing the church to equipping the church. This book is best for those who are already looking to ramp up the discipleship efforts in their churches. Readers will find value insights to help them troubleshoot their revitalization efforts.

You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with the people who know who care about discipleship in the church.

Teaching Truth in a World of False Teaching

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This past Sunday I preached a sermon on the corrosive influence of false teaching and controversy in the church from 2 Timothy 2:14-26. In my opinion, the most dangerous form of false teaching today is what I would call pop theology – spiritual belief for the masses. Pop theology invades our lives and our churches with a thin veneer of spiritual vocabulary and/or Judea-Christian values, but at its core, it is not Christ-centered or biblical. Pop theology appears in many forms but the most popular forms today are consumer spirituality, civil religion, church history conspiracy theories, the quest for personal fulfillment, and insincere objections. In this sense, false teaching is all around us.

The thing that struck me most about this sermon and the text is charge for Christian leaders to gently correct those who are in error. As a minister, I need to have certain character qualities that the don’t usually show up on a job description. Church ministers (and members too) need to engage with those in error with kindness, patience, and an eye towards peace. This can be hard when we live and work in a spiritual battlefield.

I certain don’t do this perfectly, but with God’s help I hope to improve. I pray that God will give me a head for truth, a heart for people, and hands that are eager for collaboration. I have the privilege of pastoring a church named “Unity Baptist” and want more than anything for us to live up to our name.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd

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If you’ve seen any number of cop movies you’ve inevitably seen the good cop/bad cop routine. The “bad cop” takes an aggressive and accusatory tone with the subject while the “good cop” positions him or herself more sympathetically. The subject is encouraged to cooperate with the “good cop” either out of trust or out of fear of the “bad cop.”

Jesus introduces a similar dichotomy during the Jewish Feast of Hanukkah with a parable about the Good Shepherd in John 10. “Shepherd” is a common designation for a leader in the Bible. Hannukkah celebrates a transition in leadership when true leaders took back control from their corrupt counterparts.

How can you tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd in the church today?

Good shepherds act like the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Jesus has a personal attachment to his sheep (v. 2-4). He loves you and knows your name. Like the prophet Jeremiah, God knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb;  He consecrated you before you were born (Jeremiah 1:5). God knew Peter’s name and changed it to fits His work in Peter’s life (John 1:29). Your name is so important to God that it must be written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life in order to get into heaven. Revelation 20:15 says, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (NASB).

Jesus also provides for his sheep. The 23rd Psalm can be applied to our physical as well as our spiritual needs. He provides spiritual nutrition and refreshment. He provides rest and restores our souls. He also provides a path to righteousness when we don’t know the way.

The Good Shepherd, Jesus, also He protects his sheep. He laid down His life for his sheep. He laid down His life, so He could take it up again. (v. 17). He laid down his life voluntarily, it was not taken (v. 18).

Bad shepherds act like greedy charlatans.

Bad shepherds frighten the sheep. Bad shepherds are called all kinds of things in this passage: thieves and robbers, strangers, and hired hands. Instead of coming to the sheep through the doorway, they climb over the wall and scare the sheep.

Fear is one of the tools of a bad shepherd. They use their power to threaten or intimidate their followers. They scare people with stories of what may or may not happen. Fear is a good motivator, but a bad master.

Bad shepherds also feed themselves first. Bad shepherds only care about themselves. They steal or hurt the sheep for their own benefit. As far as I know, Simon Sinek is not a believer, but he has discovered the reverse of this biblical principle in his book, Leaders Eat Last.

Bad shepherds flee at the first sign of danger. The hired hand runs away when he sees the wolf coming because he doesn’t care about the sheep (v. 12-13), In the end, bad shepherds are really imposter and charlatans and it’s the onset of hard times that reveals them for who they really are.

According to Jesus, you can tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd by the way they take care of the sheep.

I want to encourage you to only follow godly leaders in the Church. There are all kinds of influences and influencers in the local church and the church-at-large – some good and some not-so-good.  bad. Don’t be cynical, just be discerning.

I want also want you to evaluate your leadership in light of Christ’s example. You may not have an official position of leadership, but you have influence over others. Allow God to lead you so that you can lead others in His church.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is about sheep as well as shepherds. Check back tomorrow for a post about how you can tell if you are a sheep that has gone astray.

The Power of “With”

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The Apostle Paul made an important discovery near the beginning of his second missionary journey. In Acts 16 we read about his visit to Derbe and Lystra. While he was there, Paul discovered a young man named Timothy. Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois brought him to faith in Jesus Christ and mentored him (2 Timothy 1:5). The Christian community in Derbe and Lystra spoke well of Timothy.

The Apostle Paul an even more important decision in Derbe and Lystra. Paul decided to take Timothy with him on the rest of his missionary journey. Timothy would become one of Paul’s main associates he planted churches and ministered throughout the Roman Empire. Timothy stayed with Paul into his third missionary journey and on into his imprisonment in Rome (Acts 20:4).

Paul’s bond with Timothy is evident in the two New Testament letters that bear the younger man’s name. While Timothy was serving as the pastor at the church in Ephesus, Paul referred to his protégé as his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul closes his second letter to Timothy with a plea to “make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Timothy 4:9).

How did Timothy become one of the most influential leaders in the early church? I believe it happened through the power of “with.” Paul chose to take Timothy with him and share his calling with Timothy. Paul was a visionary leader and a high achiever. He may have been able to travel faster, prepare quicker, and accomplish more by himself, but he chose to include Timothy. Paul invested himself in others because he knew the value of along-the-way discipleship and mentoring.

I wonder what would happen in our churches if every ministry staff member, every deacon, every Sunday School teacher, every ministry leader took the time to invest in just one other person? I think it would change our churches for good in at least three ways. First, it would help to close our generation gap. If those who are older and more experienced in their faith would look for opportunities to bring someone younger along with them, it would build a bridge between generations. Second, it would solve our volunteer crisis. If those who know took the time to train others it some of the practical aspects of church ministry, it would go a long way towards empowering others to serve. Third, it would breathe new life and excitement into our churches’ ministries. Leading and be lonely and exhausting. If leaders would slow down long enough to share their load, they might rediscover what lead them to ministry in the first place.

Will you find someone that you can mentor in your own areas of life and ministry? Whatever you do for the Lord, you can share it with someone else so they can follow in your footstep, even if you’re not a “ministry leader.” You will also discover the big power of a small word – the power of “with.”

5 Tips for Leading More Productive Meetings

Staff-MeetingIf churches are made up of people, than meetings are an inevitable, and important part of church life.  Meetings have gotten a bad reputation, but that doesn’t have to be the case in the place where you serve.  Here are a few tips to lead more productive meetings

  • Have a plan.  The old saying is true: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. You may choose to send out a written agenda ahead of time, or make one up at the start of the meeting. Either way, have a plan and stick to it
  • Be flexible. Flexibility is a necessary complement to good planning. Sometimes new information comes to light or situations change, even during the middle of a meeting. Good leaders take advantage of changing situations and adapt whenever necessary.
  • Solicit input.  The best meetings are a collaboration of the best ideas in the room.  Be prepared to ask open-ended questions, listen, and clarify for the sake of the group.
  • Surface conflict. Not everyone will voice his or her concern or opposition to a decision. A good leader will find ways to bring divergent opinions and disagreement to the surface so that it can be dealt with. This is one way to encourage buy-in and support moving forward.
  • Clarify next steps.  Whether its further research, a follow-up meeting, or a phone call, every meeting can be improved by clarification. Make sure that everyone knows what is happening next and who is responsible for each step.

What other tips would you share with church leaders who want to improve the productivity of their meetings.?

Five Tips for Making a Hospital Visit

pastor-hospital-visitChristian leaders minister to others in crisis situations. One of the most common crises is going to the hospital for surgery. Here are five suggestions to help you be a better hospital visitor.

  1. Be kind and courteous.  Remember, you are there to encourage the patient, not embarrass them. Don’t sit on the bed, make light of their health condition, or get in the way of the hospital staff. Instead, stand where the patient can see you easily, use humor, only when appropriate, and compliment the hospital staff whenever possible.
  1. Respect their privacy.  Patients take their pain and sickness to the hospital, but usually have to leave their modesty at home. It is always a good idea to knock before you enter a patient’s room or excuse yourself if they need to get settled in their bed. You should also be careful not to share too much information with other caring people, even as a prayer request.
  1. Make time for spiritual encouragement.  If you are visiting on behalf of a church, the patient is probably expecting you to pray with them at sometime during your visit. Don’t be shy about leading the patient and whoever else may be present in an uplifting word of prayer. You may also choose to read or quote Scripture as an added encouragement.
  1. Don’t impersonate a doctor.  You may learn details about the patient’s health situation or diagnosis during your visit. The patient may even ask for you opinion. In either case, resist the urge to share your “unprofessional opinion” with the patient or their family.
  1. Don’t wear out your welcome.  Most people are glad to have visitors in the hospital, but they may feel as if they need to entertain you while you are there. Unless the situation is critical, it is best to keep the visit brief; 15 to 20 minutes is usually sufficient.

These are just some suggestions I’ve found to be helpful.  What would you add to it to help others make better hospital visits?

Six Tips for Leading Others in Prayer

How can you lead others in public prayer more effectively?

prayer-part-2-pic-web-586x300Pastors, deacons, and other Christian leaders often have to privilege of leading others in prayer in a worship service, Bible study, or similar gathering. Here are six suggestions to help you pray more effectively in public.

  1. Prepare.  Prayers don’t have to be spontaneous to be meaningful. Feel free to write down some notes or focus your mind for few minutes before hand so that you will feel more at ease.
  1. Don’t apologize.  Nervousness or humility can lead some people to start their prayer out with an apology. Leave it up to the congregation to decide if they are sorry that you were asked to lead in prayer; don’t make their mind up for them.
  1. Match the mood of the service.  Different services have different tones. Some services are energetic and upbeat while others are more somber and reflective. If you violate this principle you may make people wonder if you have been attention to the rest of the service.
  1. Pray for the benefit of other.  Leading others in public prayer is not the same as praying by yourself. Share enough details to draw the congregation in, but not enough to embarrass yourself or the people listening to you.
  1. Don’t editorialize. Public prayer is not the place to air your negative thoughts or opinions on the sermon, the church, or other church leaders. Instead, concentrate on lifting others up and leading them into the presence of God.
  1. Keep it relatively brief.  You will not wear God out, but you might wear the congregation if you choose to drag on with long-winded prayer.   If this suggestion doesn’t make sense, review the previous suggestions till it does.

This is not an exhaustive list.  What would you add to it to help other pray more effectively in public?

How to Start a Prayer Support Team

prayerWhen it comes to prayer support, there is no such thing as too much.  I’ve never met a Christian leader, paid or volunteer, who complained because they had too many people praying for them, too often, or with too much passion.  If you  need more prayer support, you may want to form a prayer support team.

A few years ago I read The Book of Church Growth by Thom Rainer.   In a chapter on the power of prayer, Rainer listed 6 potential facets of a church-wide prayer ministry.  One of those ideas was to organize a team of prayer warriors called the “Pastor’s Intercessory Prayer Partners” who were devoted to pray for their pastor and his ministry on a daily basis.  Over the past few years I’ve taken this idea and put it to use in my own ministry with some modifications.  I call my team the “Pastor’s Prayer Team,” but you don’t have to be a pastor or a church staff member to benefit from this approach.  You could use it with your Bible study group, international mission ministry, or non-profit organization.  All you need is a ministry, a group of people who are willing to pray for you, and a way to communicate with them.  Here is a 5-step process for starting or improving your own prayer support team.

1. Teach and model the importance of prayer.

Jesus did more than just talk about prayer. He taught his disciples how pray and modeled prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane among other places (Luke 11:1-13, Matthew 26:36-46).  People will not be motivated to pray if they don’t know how to pray or why prayer is important.  They will not be eager to join you in pray if they are not convinced that you are passionate and persistent in your own prayer life.

2.  Ask people to commit.

Some people are not ready or willing to join a prayer support team, but some are!  Those who are willing are just waiting for your invitation.  This can be done in a number of ways, but I would recommend doing it in writing so you have a list of people for follow-up. Depending on your situation you could use a sign-up sheet, a commitment card, but I prefer email.  I ask those who are interested in joining the team to send me an email to let me know.  Then, I use those email addresses to send a return email acknowledging their request and to build a distribution list for future use.

I do not ask my prayer support team members to commit to a specific frequency of prayer.  Instead, I ask them to pray for me, my family, and my ministry on a “regular” basis. If that ends up being daily, great; if it ends up being once a week or every other week, I’ll take it.  My goal is to equip and organize people to pray.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from participating just because they can not make a daily commitment.

3. Share regular praises and prayer requests.

Once again, this can be suited to your situation.  You can send out regular praise and prayer requests via “snail mail,” email, or social media.  They could also be added to a newsletter, either in print or online.  I choose to use email because it is faster and easier than “snail mail,” but more manageable and accessible for the people on my team.

Praises should be shared along with prayer requests because people like to hear good news along with your needs.  Sharing praises is a way of thanking your team for their prayer as well as reminding them that prayer really does make a difference.

Every ministry has its own cycle.  A non-profit organization or missions ministry may operate best on a quarterly or monthly cycle.  The local church runs on a weekly cycle, so I try to send out my praise and prayer requests on a weekly basis.  Whatever your frequency, let your team know your intentions and stick to them.

4.  Be humble and transparent.

This is not as much of a step as it is a general principle.  One of the pitfalls of kingdom work, especially if it is perceived as successful, is pride.  Pride causes us to keep others at a comfortable distance because we are afraid they might see our flaws.  This simply will not work with a prayer support team.  Put yourself in the shoes of one of your team members.  Would you be motived to pray regularly for someone who came across as superficial or fake?  This does not mean you should share every sin and struggle with your team.  It does mean, however, that you need to be open and honest about your needs

5.  Show gratitude and appreciation

Who doesn’t like a little appreciation for their efforts?  Being a part of a prayer support team is usually something that is done behind the scenes.  In order to keep your team inspired and engaged, you need to let them know they are not alone and they are making a difference in your life and ministry.  You should tell your prayer support team how much you appreciate them every time you share your praises and prayer requests. You may also want to send a separate “thank you” note sometime throughout the year.  If you use email like I do, you may choose to send a “pen-and-paper note” for emphasis.  If possible, you could organize a reception once a year to recognize your prayer support team and let them interact with each other.

What methods have you found effective for recruiting prayer support?  Have you ever formed a prayer support team?  How have you benefited from the process?