Thursday, December 23, 2010

Things You Can Pray for Your Church -- Acts 15

4 Things You Can Pray for Your Church This Week

1.  That in conflict, the church will listen more to the Holy Spirit than personal preferences.  (v. 28)

2.  That your church would have a healthy process to deal with inevitable conflict. (v. 2)

3.  That your church will know what is worth fighting for and what isn't.  (v. 11)

4.  That even in unresolved conflict, grace will abound.  (see final note below)

Thoughts on Acts 15

"Sounds like a Baptist church!" was the immediate response after we read the chapter in prayer meeting last night.

Yes, it is true if you have been in church (Baptist or other) very long, conflict that grinds church life to a halt certainly can sound all too familiar.  But there is a distinction here....this squabble mattered!  The charge against the modern church will not be that we fight too much, but that we fight about the wrong things.

Truth be told, nothing is as likely to cause as much conflict as discussing what are the right things to fight about.  

Three Reasons the Conflict Mattered
1.  It impacted the mission of the church.

Paul and Barnabas had just returned from a mission trip that bore much fruit among the Gentiles.  Would this need to be curtailed?

2.  It impacted the fellowship of the church.

Could the growing Gentile branch of the church share "the pew", the table and the life with the existing Jewish branch of the table?  Would the Gospel divide or disarm?

3.  It impacted the theology of the church.

As large as the above items are, this one mattered most.  What does it take to be saved?  Grace or something like grace plus a few other things?

In the end they choose mission, fellowship and grace.

The role of leadership is fascinating the chapter.

Paul and Barnabas appear before the apostles and the elders of the church.  At this point there is no definition of an elder in the church.  Instead of reading our own preferences into the text I think it is safe to consider the elders as any loosely defined, but easy to identify church leader who was not one of the twelve.

Peter's testimony in the debate is very important.  But it is not the final word.  That belongs to James, the brother of Jesus.  This really puts a hole in the idea that Peter carried a particular authority or would have authority to pass down to others.  

They come to a strong conclusion.

Too often local churches and denominations address conflict by trying reduce the heat and not actually address the issue at hand.  There is a desire to avoid the kind of hurt feelings and broken fellowship that clear winners and losers tend to cause.

Not so here

"The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25it has seemed good to us, having come beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ."
 But their clarity may be just what saved the unity of the church.

A surprise at the end...

After celebrating the success of navigating of the above conflict we are suddenly faced with another conflict.

This one is interpersonal.  I feel deeply conflicted watching two of my New Testament heroes, Paul and Barnabas unable to work together.

Some conflicts are not easily addressed.  In this case I can see the merits of both men's positions.  Which is likely why it was never fully resolved.

But fast forward and we see Paul's later value of John Mark's ministry.  And just as significantly we notice that Luke, so deeply influenced by Paul casts Barnabas in the most favorable lights throughout the book of Acts.  There is something very rich in this.

There are times division will come and maybe even needs to come.  But grace can still abound.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Poor Innkeeper

For the past few Sundays we have been looking over the shoulders of different characters in the Christmas story.  What did they see, what did they feel, what did they know as Christ came into the world?  We have looked at Mary, the angels of heaven, the shepherds and the wisemen.

One character I have avoided has been the Innkeeper.

At times I feel sorry for the Innkeeper.  He seems to get worse treatment in the story than even Herod.  John Phillips, who seems to know the actual name of the inn itself, is particularly tough.

"No room!"  That was not true.  There was the innkeeper's own room, but he never once considered that.  No, indeed!

A few pages later, he seems to go out of his way to take another shot at the innkeeper as he describes the excited reaction of the shepherds.

No one seems to have bothered to rouse the innkeeper and his guests.  They had no room for the Lord of glory in their inn.  Why should they be roused?  Let them sleep!

You get the feeling that John Phillips was once shut out by an innkeeper himself and ended up spending a very rough night sleeping in his car on a very cold night in a very bad part of town.  Don't look for Dr. Phillips at the next National Innkeepers Convention!

Yet I have also heard it pointed out that the only shelter Mary and Joseph had that evening had been provided by the innkeeper.  I remember some even pointing out that the manger area was a generous offer as it provided more privacy for the young couple who were imminently about to become a family.

Whole sermons have been preached  in both these directions.

Interestingly the text only tells us this...

7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  Luke 2:7 (ESV)

Notice...there is no innkeeper even mentioned!  Yet for our preaching convenience we have created him...determined his motives and his just desserts.

The point is we don't know enough for any of this.  Sometimes this makes me think of how I respond to the people in my congregation.  Far too often, I can be tempted to come to entire conclusions about my people -- their lives, their choices, their motives -- with as much information as we have of our unmentioned innkeeper.

There is often more to the story than we know.  In preaching and pastoring, let's be careful about filling in the blanks.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Yes, Virginia, You’d Better Believe there Really is » A Holy Experience

Wonderful post about the Dead Sea Scrolls, Prophecy and Advent.

Yes, Virginia, You’d Better Believe there Really is » A Holy Experience

A New Kind of Hireling

The Unfaithful Shepherd 
A few days ago, Trevin Wax posted a very interesting question at his blog.  Does getting paid make a difference in how you lead your church?

I made me wonder if Trevin and I had wondered across some of the same material as I had recently read some things that caused me wonder about the same question.

Trevin makes reference to the occasional ministerial fantasy of serving as pastor without depending financially on the church for your livelihood.  The assumption being that pastors are potentially held back from doing what God wants them to do by the fear of losing their job (and more significantly their salary).  The obvious solution is to not depend on the church financially.

I have heard of a few minister who through independent wealth or handsome book royalties have been able to do this.  I have heard of far more minister who have wished for such freedom.

The premise is that if the church does not respond to your "near perfect" leadership then you can speak your mind without fear of repercussions....and ultimately just pick up and move away if need be.  Sounds like risk free ministry.  Which is no ministry at all.

This is no way to shepherd a flock.  Ironically this "working for free" makes you nothing more than a hireling.  Connected to a call or to a congregation as long as it is convenient, comfortable and coddled.  Things don't go your way, you just pick up your amble marbles and go home.

I am reminded that Paul tells that we are to expect a real fight in ministry.  So much so, he tells us we are to put on the whole armor of God.  And from what I read, there is no place in that armor to carry marbles!

Does this leave us vulnerable?  Yes.  But that is the call of the shepherd.

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
John 10:11-13 (ESV)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thoughts on Acts 14

One of the primary things that comes to mind in this chapter is the old Kenny Rogers song about "knowing when to hold, knowing when to fold, knowing when to walk away and when to run".
In the face of constant persecution we see Paul and Barnabas dig in their heels (vv. 2-3), hit the road (v. 6), walk back into town after being presumed dead (v. 20a), move on (v. 20b) and double back to all places that had been so tough (v. 21).

Not every circumstance calls for the same response.  But what did not change is they continued to preach in every place when that was the very activity that was making life so dangerous.  But as they shared with the young churches on their return, it is "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (v. 23).  When it comes to faith, tough is the default setting.

I am also fascinating by the three dangers of ministry highlighted in this chapter.

1.  Mistreatment.  (vv. 1-7)

Their opponents did not like them, their words or their ministry.  And they did all they could combat them personally and sought to draw in as many allies for the battle as possible.

If you have been in ministry long.  You know this is no stretch of the imagination.

2.  Exaltation.  (vv. 8-18)

After healing a lame man, Paul and Barnabas are suddenly treated as gods!  The people of the town try to offer sacrifices to them.

While this exact experience may not have ever happened to you, ministers are put on ridiculous exalted pedestals all the time.  Nationally known minister are often quoted and followed more closely than Jesus .  But even in our own places of ministry, we know the feeling of being improperly idolized for our crafted prayers, incredible biblical knowledge and theological insight, timely visits, insightful counsel, and oh so sensitive hearts.  And truth be told, we don't always hate these moments.  

Which is why this might be the greater of these two dangers.

3.  Popularity whiplash.  (vv. 19-23)

Amazing the crowd that stones Paul, is the very same one that was just trying to worship him!

Personally, I may find this one of the most exhausting elements of ministry.  The seemingly constant shifting winds of ministry approval.  "Pastor, you are just what this church needs."  "Pastor, I am really disappointed in you."  "Pastor, I want you to do my funeral."  "Pastor, I was here before you and I'll be here after you're gone." "Pastor...."

Through the years I have tried to remember this piece of advice I heard a coach once share, "you are not as good as they say you are and you are not as bad as they say you are".

So how do we survive?

"...with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed."  v. 23

Stay at the work.  Leave the rest to God, who has far more invested in His church than we ever will!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wondering What To Preach 2011?

Funny thing is that for some pastors that question is way too late to be asking now and for others it is still way too early.

Personally I am in the process of tweaking and moving some things around based on the calendar.

If you are in the process of wondering I would like to point out on interesting feature of this year's calender.  Resurrection Sunday (Easter) falls on the sixteenth Sunday of the year.  May I suggest that message a week from each chapter of Mark will land you at the Resurrection on the Resurrection.

Now, you may not want to rush through Mark's gospel at that speed, but it allow your folks to get the feel of the "Straightway" Gospel.

Just a suggestion.  (But it will be some years before you get another chance.)