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Sunday, March 21, 2010

How my life can be worse than dung (Luke 14:34-35)

It's really pretty amazing that Jesus could get away with saying some of the things he did--well, he didn't really. He just managed to escape death for a while.

I didn't realize, until recently, that he was explaining to me, through His Word, how my life could actually be worse than dung. I've seen some lives that have been pretty darn crappy -- including my own at times. But Jesus says there is a life spent that is not even fit for a pile of crap -- that's right, not even fit for the dung heap.

What got me thinking: Luke 14: 25-33 chronicles the height of Jesus' ministry (if you judge height, as many do, by # of people following you on tour). Instead of trying to make his ministry bigger, he those that wished to follow him that, compared to a passionate love for him, every other kind of affection toward anyone else better seem like "hate" in comparison (Luke 14: 26). And if you're not able to give up all that you own, just save your feet the corns -- no use walking with him (Luke 14:33).

Jesus calls people to count the cost and judge him more worthy, a greater treasure than any other possible cost (Luke 14: 27-32).

Then Luke 14 ends with two verses that seem like they accidently wandered over from the Sermon on the Mount (like a Flava Flav going front row at a Depeche Mode concert).

"Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears let him hear" (Luke 14: 34-35).

I have ears, Jesus, but I've never understood what that has to do with following you being worth whatever it costs me.

Esplain: So I did what people call "research." Discovered that in the Palestinian world of Jesus' time bakers covered their ovens with salt to have a catalytic (or sparking) effect on the burning fuel. (Kind of like lighter fluid on some hot coals). The fuel was usually, ta-da, cattle dung. After a time, the effect wore off and the salt was thrown away -- no longer fit for the "manure pile" (14:35).

Jesus' point (err, i think): Our lives remain salty when we treasure Jesus as worth any cost we might have to pay. To fail to weigh Jesus as worthy of any cost and, thus, fully trust our lives to him, is a tragic waste. A life that doesn't value Jesus as worth whatever it costs isn't even worth the dung heap. (This put a healthy fear into my priorities & made me consider how I'm directing my affections).

In the famous words of missionary Jim Elliot: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep (ie. his life) to gain what he cannot lose (ie. Jesus)." Parentheses and ie.'s mine.

So here's what I'm thinking: Counting the cost isn't so much about the cost, it's about the treasure. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, what am I really sacrificing for Jesus right now? Now, at times, this is obvious. But sometimes it's not. But either way: I'm asking myself the wrong question. The question is: Am I currently treasuring Jesus above all else?

Do I value Jesus & his words, as Simon Peter did, when hundreds had visibly started to leave Jesus upon a hard teaching?

" So Jesus said to the Twelve, 'Do you want to go away as well?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6: 67-68).

In the face of public humiliation of sticking it out with Jesus, Peter's view of Jesus' great worth remained crystal clear. There is no one else.

Everyone else is retreating to a crappy life.'s even worse.

Friday, March 12, 2010

God's plans: How they start becoming our plans.

I recently listened to a sermon by Pastor Tim Keller on Proverbs 16 entitled, "Your Plans, God's Plans." In it, Keller draws out a misunderstanding on what of my favorite Proverbs, Proverbs 16:3:
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and your plans will succeed.

I've often thought this to mean: If I offer my wise, well-thought-out, even prayed-over plans to God, he will help them succeed. Ehhhh...not so much. Most commentators agree the sense is this: Radically commit yourself to God, to every circumstances He plans & puts in your life, and to the little things -- then you will find that you will begin to form plans according to God's will and, in fact, find yourself in the "current of God's will" (as Keller describes it).

Keller, who is 60, goes on to say that if the desires of his heart had come to fruition in his 20's, about 1/3 of them would have actually been good for him. Thankfully, the circumstances God ordained drew Him away from many of these decisions and He learned to radically entrust Himself to God in the little things & in the circumstances.

It's true, isn't it? What fool would actually be upset that the desires of his/her heart failed to happen?! I Thank God most haven't happened in my life. God has had something better planned every time.

I want to share one very vivid example from my own life. I converse with a Prayer Team Katie and I've assembled back in the States. They labor in prayer for us in this awesome endeavor of shepherding & loving Sunrise Community Church. Well, about 10 days ago I asked for prayer regarding occasional feelings of isolation and melancholy. One of the strange things about being the Senior or Lead Pastor of a church is that you are always everybody's pastor. If you meet your doctor on the golf course, the relationship ceases to be doctor-patient. Meet your therapist at a dinner party -- if you want to talk, let's schedule an appointment. Not so being a pastor - it's always a reality in every church relationship (and I love me my local church fellowship...would never want to do without it!!). So I asked for prayer on these issues...

How does God answer? I desired that he give me friends who want to take me out on their yacht, encourage me during my practice swing on the 15th tee, or love to talk about last week's sermon (oh, you mean that poor sermon I preached last week...come, shucks). Instead, He puts me through some a very difficult circumstance, which forced me to tears at times, made us question some things, and compelled me to depend on Him. I thought these circumstances would make me feel more isolated & melancholy. Not so. In fact, He used these difficult circumstances to rally other folks (especially other brothers in Christ) to encourage me, pray with me, and support our family. But each act of support & encouragement has related back to this difficult circumstance.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. -Proverbs 16:3.

Radically entrust your prayers to God, radically trust His bringing circumstances in Your life, and then You can discern His working His will all around you. I see it now. It's our job to be faithful in these little acts of obedience to His Word and to pray, and we don't need to worry so much...we will see His will...because we will find ourselves smack dab in the middle of it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Part III: What does local church leadership look like, esp. at Sunrise?

I'm finishing up my three-part re-cap of our church's first ever Introducing Leadership event that was held last week. So, without further ado...Part Tres

Following the Paul's key principle for leadership expressed in my last post, leaders are those who demonstrate the fruit of this principle: Leading by Following.

How then do we produce leadership fruit? Same principle of John 15:5, but it's also expressed in leadership lingo in a very cool verse from the Book of Jeremiah, where the Lord says about His people:

Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me, for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me ? (Jeremiah 30:21)

I do believe this verse is primarily messianic (its referent is mainly Jesus). However, I do believe it can have a powerful secondary application to us -- especially as we're called to 'follow the example of Christ' (1 Cor. 11:1). The one who leads and rules well, devotes himself well to closeness with God. As I said earlier, being a good leader starts with being a good sheep.

When a person devotes himself/herself to closeness with God, he can't help but produce fruit. Specifically, one starts to demonstrate the qualifications of an elder or deacon/deaconness. We went over the qualifications of an elder (1 Timothy 3: 1-7; Titus 1: 6-9) and a deacon/ness (1 Timothy 3:8-13). You can read these on your own if you like, I won't list them here. Elders & Deacons/nesses are the main leaders of the church as described in the New Testament.

While elders and deacons/nesses (okay, from now on, let's just go with actresses are sometimes called actors, right?) have demonstrate similar fruit/qualifications, their roles or functions are quite different. Again, I don't want to get into too much Biblical data here other than to summarize (you can email me for the specifics I gave at the meeting if you like). An Elders role: To manage, teach, rule, counsel, protect. As one pastor put it, you might say an elder's specialty is leading with words. A Deacon's role loosely involves: Administration, Maintenance, Caring for physcial needs. You might say a deacon's specialty is leading with works. Both serve with works and both serve with words because both MAJOR in loving Jesus and His Church, but they each MINOR in different roles.

I say 'loosely' above for the role of deacons because all we ultimately know about deacons is that they are servants (Deacons are only mentioned in 1 Tim.3, a brief 'hi, how are you?' mention in greeting of Philippians 1, and the verbal version of the word in Acts 6). But that their role isn't more specifically defined is a good thing. Says Pastor Mark Driscoll,

The Bible brilliantly established a theologically and morally qualified ground of senior elder leaders, and grants them the freedom to appoint whatever deacons are needed to help them lead the church, in whatever areas they deem require a deacon to lead. (Mark Driscoll, On Leadership)

Talking with other grizzled veteran pastors, they seem to concur with this statement. A church almost necessarily needs to establish its elders before working through establishing deacons -- because the elders need to assess and determine the needs that they cannot address without neglecting of their biblical functions summarized above.

It's important that I also comment on the disticntion between elders and deacons. I'll just, again, appeal to a feller older and wiser than myself:

It is signifcant that nowhere in the New Testament do deacons have ruling authority over the church as elders do, nor are deacons ever required to teach Scripture or sound doctrine (Dr. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)

For Sunrise, I would also suggest adding the post for Small Group Leader into the leadeship mix. Romans 12:8 does mention leadership as one of the spiritual gifts. While we certainly desire elders to be involved in leading Small Groups or Fellowship Groups, we may not have enough. Also, there needs to be an initial training or proving ground for future elders. Where else but leading small groups? (Where a person gets to teach, manage, and, on a small level, counsel on a bit smaller scale).

What does all this look like at Sunrise Community Church? Pastors & Elders who pray for the church, counsel hurting folks, teach & lead, and make rulings on church matters -- all while laying our lives down for the sake of God's flock (see 1 Peter 5:1-5). Deacons. Deacons are appointed by elders to help administrate & maintain ministries that are established and ultimately overssen by Elders. Fellowship Group/Small Group Leaders - Pracitice gifts of leadership through caring for and leading Fellowship Groups with the help and guidance of Elders. Deacons and Fellowship Group leaders will need opportunities and natural outlets to both provide input to the Elders and have accountability with them.

You can pray that the Spirit helps us with the best way forward in these endeavors.

A final word: Leaders, following the example of Jesus, are always called to be servant leaders (Mark 10: 35-45). If you aspire to serve on God's church, begin practicing being a bridge -- to lay down your life so that you might serve as bridge for others to walk on to get to Jesus. Thanks be to Christ, who gave us the supreme example and empowers us through the cross!