Sunday, May 24, 2015

THE CHALLENGE TO HOLINESS FROM A SURPRISING SOURCE

I wanted to share with you some reflection on a marvelous book I have been reading (listening to).  It is The Road to Character by David Brooks.  I find it a wonderful and thought provoking work, and very challenging as I am forced to inspect my own character, or character flaws, if you will.

    In this book there is some great critique on the popular culture we all live and breathe in.  I found myself saying "amen" quite a bit as he speaks of the "big me" and the inability of this present generation to make moral choices except according to how things make them feel.  In one fell swoop he explains, without actually saying it, why so many Evangelical young people can grow up in Christian homes yet make moral choices, and socio-political choices, as if there were no moral absolutes.

    As far as I know David Brooks does not profess to be a Christian, though many wonder what God is doing in his life.  If he is not a Christian (at least yet) that makes the book even more interesting to me.  Many Christians don’t seem to think unbelievers or non-Christians really have moral or character struggles. 

    Our Evangelical theology tells us that they are all sinners, and our Reformed Theology tells us they are all totally depraved.  So, we have difficulty believing sinners can have moral struggles, or be moral, or have better morality and better character than we do.  Yes, you read me correctly, I do think the character and integrity of some so-called believers is terrible and shameful, while many non-Christians are seeking to the best of their own "lights" to be "'good."  

   Still other Christians think that once they are “saved” they no longer have any moral struggles, for to fall into sin would convince them they were not truly Christian.  If you have that view then you might be really put off by David Brooks.  However, I think you would be missing a feast of both moral philosophy and intellectual challenge, as well as conviction about how far we all have to go.

    In some ways Brooks cannot help being an elitist.  He is too educated and well read not to be.  I confess that he makes me feel as if I haven’t read anything, nor had a very good or well-rounded education.  I am still thankful for someone like him to be writing about some very interesting people and personalities in history, and the very personal character struggles they went through.

    There is good stuff in this book for young adults, there is good stuff in this book for parents, and good stuff for all the rest of us. 
    As a Christian who believes in both redemption, transformation and deliverance, and the grace of God to help us in a growing sanctification I feel I come to the inner struggle with some spiritual weapons to help me. What I find embarrassing is that a book like this shows me how lightly I take my sins and failings, and how lazy many of us Christians are about our own growth in being more like Jesus Christ.

   I am not sure what David Brooks thinks about sex.  He certainly speaks about it, but doesn’t focus on sexual activity as sinful in and of itself, as many religious people would.  So, while some of the personalities are promiscuous, homosexual, and adulterous that never seems to be their main problem.  I sense just a little bit of denial in how he deals with it. Because of that I don’t think he is actually in touch with how guilty sexual sins make many people feel, except maybe in the case of Augustine, who David Brooks doesn’t think actually had as big a sex problem as Augustine says he did.  This to me is slightly puzzling in what I think is just a terrific book.

    This is not a theological work.  I don't think Brooks understands real grace and faith yet, nor true conversion.   Brooks is not picking a fight with religion nor trying to substitute for one, but he is spot on about the inner struggle of character and brings us into the admiration for people who did see progress in their struggle.


    I hope that the Lord has used this book to drive me to a greater humility, a greater readiness to deal with my own envy, ambition, and pride.  As a believer I agree with David Brooks that the point of life is holiness not happiness and that everyone needs grace and that there is such a thing as redemption.  What wonderful insights.  I am also thankful that I am not left alone to struggle for those things without the very powerful and personal presence of the Holy Spirit,  nor have to bear the shame of my failure without the blood of Jesus. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

IS CROSS CULTURAL WORSHIP AUTHENTIC?

One of the questions that has come up several times in the course of my training churches in cross cultural ministry is in the area of worship.  Once I had a white pastor say to me, whose church was in an African American neighborhood, “we do lots of ministry in the community, but so far we can’t get any African Americans to come to worship with us.”

    I asked the pastor to describe his worship style or culture to me.  He agreed that essentially it was a traditional type white or Anglo service, they hadn't changed anything.  I asked him if he thought about adapting the style of the music, of bringing in some African American musicians.  I didn't get around to asking him about the style or content of his preaching.  He asked me, “why would we change the style of our worship, wouldn't that be unauthentic (he probably said, “inauthentic”) and therefore patronizing?”

    I confess the question set me back for a moment.  After all, here he was in a racially changing neighborhood and he wanted to be cross cultural.  He was asking us for help in that regard, yet in the way he asked the question I got the feeling that he didn't really want to change very much to cross ethnic lines.

    Before I give you my response let me assure you that I don’t believe there is only one way black people worship, or should worship.  Certainly there are African Americans who are Methodist, Episcopal, or grew up Catholic in their worship experiences.  There are traditional type African American Presbyterians who have lived their whole lives in a type of “high church Presbyterianism” that is as rigid and particular in liturgy as any white Presbyterian has ever been.  I even knew of one African American Covenanter type church in Alabama that only sang Psalms.  However, you will notice the word “one.”

    The vast majority of African Americans have been in Baptist and Pentecostal churches, and even the Methodists sway a little bit.  In the black community there have been at times churches built on shades of color, and they often sought to put distance between the way they worshiped and the way darker skinned black folk worshiped.  Shade of color, education, and class all played a part in that.  How about theological conviction?   Okay, I am sure there have been some that out of conscience sought a more literary, cerebral, and liturgical form of worship.  Certainly black fundamentalist Bible Church congregations were pretty consistent in being more focused on Bible learning than emotional in their worship.

    I confess I am a learner and admirer of the formation of what is a fairly consistent style of black worship in this country.  It is very pervasive, and all one has to do is go to a “Gospel” service on a military post to observe it.  It is attractive, engaging, and what may be called “cross-over” as people all over the world are drawn to it.  My wife has been in several African American Gospel groups on trips to France, Germany, Japan, and Kenya and has seen the evidence of this.  I confess I believe worship ought to be wholistic, and engage the heart and emotions, as well as the head.  Showing emotion in worship is not the same as out of control emotionalism.

    Having said these things I think my answer to the question that pastor asked me should be amplified by saying it would be silly to attempt to be cross cultural unless you are open to change.  It should also be reassuring that our primary tool in being successful in cross cultural ministry is love, revealed in humility and loyalty.  If you are convinced your worship style is the only Biblical style and therefore cannot be changed, then if you want to reach other ethnicities you had best find ways they can access it and make it their own.


    What I did say to him was, “are you married?”   He admitted that he was.  I said, “have you ever done anything for your wife that you didn't want to do, but did it because she wanted you to do it; was that patronizing?”  I think he got the point.  Love gives us a flexibility we never thought we could have, not to sin, but to win the hearts of others in authentic relationship.  We all give up something to cross cultural lines, but together we gain so much more.

Friday, May 8, 2015

AS YOU WOULD HAVE OTHERS DO TO YOU...

If loving your neighbor as you love yourself means fulfilling the golden rule, i.e., "do unto others as you would have others do unto you," then what you say and what you do should rightly be taken as the way you want to be treated and the way you want others to speak of you.  Do I have that right, is that logical?

   I am thinking about this in regard to the recent circumstances in our nation concerning the behavior of the police, especially toward black men, and the behavior of citizens when their anger and protest explode into violence and civil unrest. The events of which most of us are aware have been surrounded by most of us as a media witness to those events usually via phone videos.  Then we become a witness to the media coverage of the reaction to those events, and we become participants  and witnesses as we make comments and  react to those consequent events usually through social media. 

  As we look for opinions that seem to express what we feel, or opinions that we adopt as our own we need a filter inside ourselves to be sure that what we are emotionally caught up in is actually true.  Surely some of what we read is ignorance, some articles reveal concern, some reflect sympathy, some reflect anger, some reveal and reinforce racism, and those comments add fuel to the fire of discord.

    I think the words of Jesus give us some perspective on how to judge our own opinions and actions. If we approve of police acting as judge and jury in the apprehension of young black men, and so execute (kill) them, whether from innate racial animosity, or from adrenaline, or from fear, or from rage, then shouldn't we want our own sons to be treated this way by the police, if they should do something stupid?  I am asking if the logic follows, assuming that we should do to others as we would have others do to us?

   I am wondering that if we think it okay to start a fire to burn someone's car, or store, or house, then shouldn't we approve if that fire consumes our own car, and store, and house?  It seems to me that the fire you start inevitably burns beyond your planning, has a tendency to not be satisfied until it consumes not just the stranger's house, but your own.

    It seems to me that if we excuse violence because we are angry at the way authority has abused its commission, then we should find it acceptable when others excuse their anger and the violence they might unleash on us.  If we excuse a stranger being grabbed off of the street, or out of a car, or out of a store and beaten by a mob because of the color of their skin then surely we should have no problem when that happens in reverse to ourselves, or someone of our particular race, isn't that right?

   If we find it acceptable for another person's son to be arrested and then while in the custody of police to be brutally beaten, even killed, and then have no one held responsible for it then shouldn't it be acceptable for that to happen to our own sons, and shouldn't we keep our mouth shut and just trust our legal authorities to have done the right thing?

    In almost all of these situations of suspected police brutality, all of which were terrible in outcome, but some having if not justification then at least explanation in confusion and human frailty while others were simply murder, there has been correct and righteous outrage and protest.   Some of this protest took great courage and real self control.  It was done with respect, even when it wasn't given respect.  Others in their rage became stupid and in their violence overwhelmed the legitimate voice and cry for justice.  Now all our eyes are on them, and some of our eyes are filled with dismay and tears, if not tear gas.

   The younger generation may not know this yet, but this never works out well.  Order is usually re-established and if necessary brutally so.  Some rioters will be terribly injured before it is over, some will be killed, and for a few moments of the feeling of heady power while in a mob, some will sit for a long time in prison.  Many will suffer in neighborhoods of burnt out buildings that will sit idle for a decade.

    For Christians there cannot be two moralities.  One hears people saying stupid things, such as, "if he breaks the law he doesn't have any rights."  We have said this about terrorists, about undocumented immigrants, or simply about someone running away from the police.  The issue of human rights is dead center when someone seems undeserving of them, that is usually when it is most important to protect those rights, for all of our sake.

    One hears stupid justifications of riotous behavior, of the refusal to label someone a "thug" when they act like a thug simply because they are being a thug while black and angry about injustice.  Redefining terms to make heroic what is actually ugly behavior doesn't really fool anyone, except maybe the pundits vying for a reputation that they stand for radical justice.   Justice is supposed to be blind, so the sword of its execution falls upon all equally.  

   In case you missed it, I am speaking to both sides in this conflict.  We dare not lose our moral compass, and with it the moral gravity of justice, with which we call authority and power to account.  If we reduce the struggle to identity politics, black versus white, wealthy versus poor, police versus citizens, then justice becomes relative and we lose the power of a compelling moral authority.

Monday, April 20, 2015

THE FAITH BASED NON-PROFIT AND THE LOCAL CHURCH

SOME IDEAS FOR NON-PROFIT COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATIONS AND THEIR RELATIONSHIPS WITH LOCAL and INDIGENOUS CHURCHES:
1.     WORK ON YOUR WANT TO…   What I mean is that the leadership of the NP should want to have good relationships with local churches.  The NP leadership should think about the long term benefits of having local churches see them as a positive institution in the community.  NPs might want to examine their own theological opinion about the place of the local church in God’s plan, and question if their organization supports it or hurts it.

2.     THINK OF YOURSELF AS A BROKER…NPs should not just think of themselves as receivers of support from wealthy or supporting congregations for themselves, not if they are working in poor communities, but as a funnel to help several inner city congregations.

3.     BECOME A RESOURCE TO INNER CITY CONGREGATIONS BY PROVIDING RESOURCES AND TRAINING….If the NP doesn't want to be seen as a competitor to the local church they have to actually provide a resource or service to help poor congregations accomplish their mission.  A good NP can provide skill training to local churches in such things as mercy interviews, how to set up food pantries and distribution, how to acquire information and make referrals to other agencies for more support, etc.

4.     ENCOURAGE THE LOCAL CHURCH TO BE THE PROVIDER OF RELIEF, WHILE YOU FOCUS ON DEVELOPMENT…If the NP does all the relief work people will see no need of asking the church for help; not even their own church.  Since development ministries usually take some specialized leadership and organization it is much better for NPs to focus on that side of ministry.  The local church is much better suited for long term relational and accountable mercy than an NP.

5.     DON’T SIMPLY TELL LOCAL CHURCHES WHAT TO DO, OR WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO DO, BUT ASK THEM WHAT THEY NEED AND ASK HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM….Too many outside organizations come up with programs they want local churches to buy into, then wonder how come they don’t get much cooperation.  Don’t forget local churches have their own traditions and concerns.  It takes time to motivate, encourage, recruit and train church members into new ministries and a NP can overwhelm a pastor with programs that seem to compete with things he is already trying to get his people to do.

6.     TAKE THE TIME TO DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS WITH LOCAL PASTORS, BUILD TRUST WITH THEM, AND PATIENTLY SHOW THEM HOW YOUR NP CAN ACTUALLY HELP THEM…If a local pastor begins to see you as a “time thief” he will have little use for you. He doesn’t want to lose his people to you so that they now serve with you and not with his church.  You have to convince pastors you can both win in the relationship.  This doesn't mean the NP has to forsake its own mission or spiritual standards.

7.     REMEMBER THAT THE MORE YOU HYPE YOUR NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION AS THE “ANSWER” TO THIS PARTICULAR COMMUNITY THE MORE YOU IRRITATE THOSE WHO WERE THERE BEFORE YOU…Human beings are not immune from jealousy, coveting, and resentment, especially if their efforts are overlooked.  What you mean as a good story for fund raising can seem like glory hunting, or even shading the truth, to those who know the fuller story.  NPs have to fund raise, but be loving, truthful, and even humble as you do it.

8.     IF THE NON-PROFIT IS LED, STAFFED, AND CONTROLLED BY THE MAJORITY CULTURE AND WORKS IN A MINORITY CULTURE HOW WILL THEY CONVINCE THE COMMUNITY THEY ARE REALLY THERE TO SERVE? … There is a difference between being a “colonizer” and a missionary.  There is a difference in using a marginalized community for your experience, or study, or employment and actually bringing resources into that community so it can help liberate and develop itself.  What active and working plan does the NP have for leadership development and ownership of the NP itself by indigenous community members?

9.     REMEMBER, PASTORS IN POOR COMMUNITIES DON’T USUALLY HAVE THE SAME ELECTRONIC OR SOCIAL NETWORKING APPARATUS THAT NPs MIGHT HAVE,… Personal relationships are everything, so stop getting mad your phone calls don’t get answered, and professional type appointments don’t seem to work out.  Keep showing up, visit their services, engage in their ministry and life, and you just might find a friend.  Pastors often don’t answer calls from those they feel are selling them something, they focus almost entirely on their members and what they think is good for their members.

10.  IF THE NP RAIDS LOCAL INNER CONGREGATIONS FOR INDIGENOUS WORKERS OR LEADERS IT OUGHT TO BE GIVING SOMETHING BACK…. Yes, the NP ought to be an opportunity for ministry employment in the community, but it would certainly be planting the seeds of good will if it could return blessing to the local churches from which these new workers emerge, or even bless those churches by having a solid and dependable means by which those unchurched folks the NP has reached are then referred to and placed in good local churches.

11.  LOCAL PASTORS AREN'T STUPID, IF THEY CAN SECURE A DIRECT PIPELINE TO MIDDLE CLASS MONEY THEY WILL WANT IT FOR THEMSELVES… Non-profits usually have an advantage over inner city congregations because they have the suburban or middle class contacts and relationships by which they can secure or ask for resources.  Some pastors are very independent, they don’t want to work with anyone else and so they will seek to get the resources they need for their ministries directly.  This is as true in foreign missions as it is here in the States. Be careful that you, the leadership of the NP, are honest, generous and inviting to indigenous leaders, and careful not to be so protective of your sources of money that you would slander others to protect it.  At the same time your relationship with your donors should be of such a quality, and your ministry program be of such a quality, that donors won’t be easily pulled away from it.

12.  ALL OF US NEED TO ASK OURSELVES IF WE HAVE A KINGDOM VISION, OR SIMPLY AN “US” VISION?  All of us can tend to be self-focused and even selfish.  This includes those who lead local churches as well as faith based non-profits.  We have people who seem to exhibit good character, but the way the refuse to cooperate with others, or seek to manipulate others, for the sake of the survival or growth of their own organization seems to give a lie to that reputation.  We ought to not simply be good servants for our own organizations, but to help our organizations and churches be servants of God, and of His people, for the spread and growth of God’s Kingdom.

Randy Nabors

Saturday, March 28, 2015

DIFFERENT KINDS OF POVERTY

There are different kinds of poor people, different ways people experience poverty, and different ways they respond to it.

   Some people are momentarily poor, due to a sudden circumstance that throws them into some need they find difficult to meet or satisfy by themselves at that particular moment.  This can be anything from being robbed of your wallet in a strange city, to being the victim of a hurricane or tornado that wipes out your home; or any event or dynamic that suddenly forces you to need help from others.  These moments can be terrifying, fill you with grief over your loss, give you panic, overwhelm you with feelings of desperation.  They don’t usually permanently define you or destroy your self-image, and if you live through the moment might even give you a sense of resilience.

    I don’t mean to be casual or careless about such moments.  For many people such moments are traumatic and even life changing, but unless one falls into depression over it most people pull out of it if they have the spiritual, emotional, social, and familial resources to help them, though they might need outside intervention even to survive through the first hours, days, or weeks.

   Some people are aspirationally poor, and due to their circumstances are in a context of scarcity and want, yet have the ethic, the ambition, and the hope to pull out of such a context.  Not everyone in aspirational poverty is successful in this effort.  They may be in such a context where their freedom is limited, their resources almost non-existent, and out of time or health to change things.  When one is aspirationally poor and have their attempts to change their situation crushed, discouraged, or denied by powers they cannot thwart they can eventually be made to feel as if they are in some way cursed, or inferior.

       Yet, when those obstacles are removed or overcome they can thrive.   We see many such people in developing countries who have nothing, but when given the opportunity are able to grab it and improve their lot.  We see this in immigrants who overcome the obstacle of living in a context of no opportunity by moving to a context where their efforts are met with reward.

    We see others in generational poverty, where the value system that leads to a strong work ethic, personal ambition, and hope are crushed at an early age.  These folk are usually in families that no longer function as a healthy family, no longer providing the nurture and encouragement children need nor the complementary discipline to emotionally mature them.  They live in families where no one seems to be sacrificing or delaying their gratification, but only learning to survive, and even pulling each other back down if someone seems to be making progress.

     If the systems that make up the context in which such individuals live are also failing (extended family, education, neighborhood, religious, municipal) it is difficult for such individuals to climb out of this kind of poverty on their own.  Even if they were given the same amount of help say a person in circumstantial poverty might have been given, or someone in aspirational poverty might have been given, it will not usually bear the same positive results.

    I think I need to add another category, and this one would be chronic poverty.   This could arise from any of the preceding causes of poverty but is especially aggravated when the person or family that is poor doesn't have the value system to take advantage of help that is given.  Chronic poverty is a problem for families, churches, and governments because these folks may need sustained help over the years.  Widows, orphans, physically or mentally handicapped individuals may need years of supplemental help from their church.  It takes a willful effort to be there for them over the long haul.

   Still another is the poverty of soul.  This is exactly opposite of what it means to be poor in spirit.  To have a poverty of soul means to be in the process of losing it by attempting to gain the whole world, or even by building one’s life on the things of the world.  Poverty of soul means to be someone who in his mind says, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. “  But they do not realize that they, “…are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  (This according to Jesus in Revelation 3:17.)  In this context it is a local church, which helps us see we can do this as individuals and as groups.   We often self-segregate to groupings similar to ourselves.

   All five of these groups need the missional love of the Church of Jesus Christ through the preaching and living out of the Gospel.  The Church should be there for people who suffer from disaster, we should be quick to respond.  The Church should be there in communities around the world that exist in a context of scarcity, and we can help them not only with material resources but with teaching them skills to grab hold of the resources they actually already hold in their own hands.  We should be there for the immigrant to help them get up on their feet, on which they seem so determined to walk.  We should be there in historically devastated communities and build a new context for them in the planting of the church, creating a new sense of family and new value system as they come to Jesus, and in turn creating a new community.


    We should be there for the rich man, and the well off, and the smug and self-satisfied to show them the shallowness of their lives, and the danger of an eternity without God.  We should be there to show them the joy of generosity, the greatness of living for something other than ourselves, and to proclaim to them that all of us are absolutely beggars in our souls if we don’t have God.  Jesus holds the answer for every kind of poverty.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

THE SECRET

   In my devotional reading, every once in a while, I see a connection between my Old Testament reading and that which I have read in the New Testament.   I am often convicted when I read what Paul says in Philippians 4:11 thru verse 13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

    Man, do I need that “secret.”   The answer of course is in verse 13 where we understand the power that Paul had, and it was a power that came straight from Jesus. 

   The connection that I saw in the Old Testament comes from 2 Kings 5, and it is the story of Naaman the Syrian, and Elisha, and Gehazi the servant of Elisha.   Recently Mark Belz wrote a book for Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing on this wonderful story and I encourage you to get a copy as Mr. Belz unwraps so many wonderful ideas from this passage. 

   Now what I noticed in this story is how much money is involved in it.  First the King of Aram sends a great deal of money to the King of Israel so he will heal his successful general, Naaman, from leprosy.  The King of Aram absolutely loads down Naaman with cash, and in spite of that the King of Israel realized his limitations.  “Am I God?  Can I heal and bring back to life?” 

    There is a lot of good and profound understanding in the King of Israel’s statement, no faith of course, but a solid appreciation of the limitations of money.  There is probably no other place where “money is no object” as much as the place of sickness for the rich and powerful.  See any doctor, go to any country, endure any treatment, and pay any price to get well, if you have the money.  Naaman had the cash, but money can’t buy miracles, and that is the profound human limitation and it is sometimes just what we need to learn so that we as humans will ask, at least to ourselves, “am I God?”   And admit in our boundaries of power, in our finiteness, “no, I am not!”

   But there was a prophet in Israel, and as you know the story Naaman was sent to Elisha, who wouldn't even come out to meet Naaman but sent a messenger and told him what to do, and if he did it he would be healed.  In spite of an initial refusal to humbly accept what he was told, and listening to his own servants, he did bathe in the river Jordon, and he was healed.  This was a miracle, because Jordon’s waters are just that, waters, plain old river water.  Jordon only does special stuff by the word of God, and not by any intrinsic power within itself.

   Here comes the issue of money again.  Naaman is suitably grateful, and has become a man of faith in the true God.  He asks Elisha to take a gift, and Elisha refuses.  So after some other conversation Naaman heads back to Aram, but the servant of Elisha was paying attention, and he says, "My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from  him what he brought.  As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from  him.”

   So Gehazi lies, makes up a story, and asks Naaman for some material goods, and Naaman gives him even more than he asks for; and I absolutely agree with Gehazi that Naaman absolutely owed the prophet and since he was an enemy there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with shaking him down a little.  Except of course Gehazi was lying, and lying to not only Naaman but Elisha too, which seems weird considering the stuff Gehazi had seen Elisha do.

    Have you ever been in ministry and felt you were being taken advantage of and not being given your material due?   Have you ever felt you deserved more recognition, more reward?  Have you ever resented your financial limitations, the squeeze you and your family have to put up with to remain in ministry?  Have you ever coveted those wealthy pastors whose parishioners seem to buy them tailored suits, give them golf memberships, lease them cars, and pay them well?   Gehazi must of thought it nuts to depend on the power of God to stretch the oil, the bread, and other sustenance when here was wealth being offered as a just return for an incredible gift.

   Elisha says to Gehazi, “Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? “  I’m thinking, “heck yeah, I’m due an olive grove or two.”  And then the comparison with the passage from Philippians is there to kick me in the teeth.  “I have learned the secret of being content.”   I pray over this, and I pray over my heart, because that is where the issue really lies.  It is not my need, it is my constant ease into coveting and envy.  It is my avaricious lust for more, it is my reasonable desire to have enough security not to worry, it is my refusal to trust God. 


   Gehazi gets leprosy for his troubles, and I am reminded Whom I serve, and my constant need to relearn the “secret,” by really believing that if Jesus is giving me strength I can do everything, especially getting though this day, and this vocation, and this calling without resentment, and complaining, and constant comparison with everyone else who seems to be doing just fine and having enough.  Of course, I expect they, and you, have a similar struggle.  May the Lord make us more like Paul and a lot less like Gehazi.  Jesus, help us all.

Friday, February 27, 2015

MERCY TIPS FOR PASTORS AND CHURCH PLANTERS

MERCY TIPS FOR PASTORS AND CHURCH PLANTERS
1.     Trouble is coming, so start planning for it.  Figure out how much of your budget you can set aside to handle financial emergencies.  Things like medical or funeral expenses, emergency travel, and housing and utility problems your people may encounter.

2.    Trouble is coming, so figure out who is going to handle it.  Who will you recruit, train, deploy, and support to handle the mercy issues that will arise?  A church planter needs to find this person fairly soon, someone who is gifted or passionate about mercy.  Warning: passion doesn't equal the gift of administration.

3.    Trouble is coming, so decide ahead of time which problems your church can and should meet.  You are not Jesus, and you can’t help everybody.  Figure out your congregation’s gifts, capacities, and seek to do a few things well rather than everything.

4.    Trouble is coming, so begin relationships with people before they come to you for financial help.  We can help people more, both financially and spiritually, if we have a relationship with them before they need our financial help.  Be proactive in pursuing relationships (sounds like evangelism to me) with people in the community.

5.    Trouble is coming, so don’t start more of it by showing mercy without wisdom.  We can start more trouble by making people dependent, not treating them with dignity, not asking them to try and help themselves, or by asking our people to keep meeting needs without giving them the training, resources, and support they need to do it well.

6.    Help is coming, if you will cast vision to your people about compassion, mercy, generosity, and the possibility of change in people’s lives.

7.    Help is coming, if you will use spiritual weapons in physical circumstances.  If you will learn to pray and believe God can change circumstances, if you will challenge people to have faith, if you will encourage people to follow Biblical principles in pursuing work, savings, and sharing.

8.    Change is coming, even for the generationally poor, if you bring them into relational discipleship.  People need to be in good churches, hearing good theology, and being loved on and held accountable, and as they have faith in Jesus their lives will change.

9.    Change is coming, if you will teach your congregation to love their neighborhood and love on the community.  The people of the community need to realize your church has an identity of loving and caring beyond itself, and this will give your church influence in the community.  This influence you should use for doing good and giving glory to God.


10. Change is coming, if you will call on wealthier and suburban churches to help you meet the challenge of poor communities.  God’s people are people of mercy and we need to give them avenues of effective impact to change the lives of the poor to whom Jesus was sent to preach good news.