Friday, June 28, 2019

Wisdom and Might

Daniel 2:20 (ESV)
Daniel answered and said:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.

Daniel 2 begins with a troubled king exercising his power to insist that his men of wisdom reveal not only the meaning of his dream, but the dream itself. Their response? “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand” (Dan 2:10). To do so would require more wisdom and power than resides in man.

Daniel, in answer to prayer, received a revelation of the king’s dream and its meaning. His response was a psalm of praise that recognized wisdom and might as belonging to God (Dan 2:20). The phrase “wisdom and might” is repeated toward the end of the psalm, “you have given me wisdom and might” (Dan 2:23). There is a sense in which wisdom and might is the framing concept of the entire chapter.

A king exercises his might and power to threaten the men who are supposed to be wise. He requires of them more wisdom than they possess. They acknowledge that the wisdom he is looking for is beyond men, yet he insists on using his might to enforce his unreasonable request. Then Daniel, a man of wisdom, asks for a little time, seeks God in prayer along with his friends, and receives wisdom from God. In presenting the meaning of the dream to the king, Daniel reveals that there is a power and might much greater than that of the king. The king is great, but his kingdom will one day fall. The final kingdom, that destroys all other kingdoms, is not a kingdom of man. It is a kingdom of God (Dan 2:44). All wisdom and might belong to God.

We are often intimidated by those in positions of power, or those who understand and use big words or seem to know more than we do, yet there is no wisdom or might but that which comes from God. Romans 13 reminds us that authorities are put into place and taken out of positions of power by God. There is no such thing as a self-made man. Proverbs 2:6-8 says,

For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
 guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his saints.

Kings, presidents, and authorities seek to exercise their might. Scientists and academics flaunt their wisdom. But they forget that there is no wisdom or might except from God. We would do well to remember that any wisdom or might we have is a gift from God. We would do well to walk humbly before our God for all wisdom and might belong to him. We would do well to be less intimidated by man and more in awe of God. Daniel was right, all wisdom and might belong to God.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Dealing With Sin (Pt 8)

In an earlier blog I wrote about canoeing across the lake with a girl we called Romance when I was about 12 years old. We failed to realize that the wind was coming up. We could not get back across the lake against the wind until a boat came and towed us home. When Romance and I paddled across the lake we were thoroughly enjoying the experience, but we neglected to recognize the danger. All we needed to do was look back and see how far we had gone from home, look down and realize how weak and inexperienced we were and look out so see the dangers around us. But even that wasn’t enough to get us home. We had to look up and accept the rescue.

People find all kinds of creative ways to explain away sin. But, if we are truly followers of Jesus Christ, believers who have been redeemed by his grace, then we need to stop making excuses for sin. We need to look back, remembering the pain and consequences of sin in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We then need to look down, recognizing, acknowledging and taking full responsibility for the offensiveness of our sin. When we allow ourselves to be broken over our own sinfulness we are ready for grace. Brokenness is the road to renewal. We can then look out, recognizing the dangers of sin around us. Because of that we are ready to look up to the grace of God whereby God promises that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1Cor 10:13). God has a way of turning brokenness into beauty, ashes into hope, and failure into victory. Look back, look down, look out and then look up and rest in God’s grace.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Dealing with Sin (Pt 7)

In dealing with sin in our lives we need to look back, look down, look out, and look up. Looking back we remember the pain and destruction our sin has caused. Looking down we recognize our own responsibility and guilt. Looking out we recognize the influence of the world around us on our values, beliefs, and actions. Finally, we look up recognizing God's grace (Ezr 9:13b-15, 8).

Ezra acknowledged that they had been punished less than deserved. “And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this” (Ezr 9:13). As a people of God called to be separate from the world, they had instead embraced the practices of the world. They deserved much greater judgment than they received. We may feel that whatever discipline God sends our way is greater than we can bear (see Gen 4:13), but it is always less then we deserve.

Ezra 9:14-15 (ESV)
[14] shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? [15] O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.”

Ezra acknowledged that they deserved nothing but judgment and yet God had shown them grace and mercy. Cain was concerned with being able to bear his judgment (Gen 4:13). Job on the other hand, a man whom God called righteous, acknowledged in his pain, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). Job understood that the righteous God had a right to do whatever he did and that we deserve nothing.

Ezra acknowledged God’s favor in his prayer, “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery” (Ezr 9:8). Any good we receive is a gift and blessing from God. It is not deserved, but gifted to us in mercy and grace.

Too often, rather than recognizing God’s grace we try to make light of our sin by claiming that it’s not really all that bad, justify our sin by blaming others, or live in denial claiming that we’ve done nothing wrong at all. What we need to do is fully acknowledge the gravity of our sin, recognize that we deserve nothing good from God, and throw ourselves on his mercy. That’s what the cross is all about.

In the early ‘70s a friend worked at a store called Pamida. One of his jobs was to watch for shoplifters. I was walking through the store one day when I heard my name being called but I couldn’t see anyone. It was my friend sitting behind the back wall watching for shoplifters through the pegboard wall. He told me that he once caught a man trying to walk out of the store with a large mirror stuffed under his shirt. The man denied that he had anything under his shirt even though my friend could see the mirror between the button holes where his shirt was pulled open.

I watched a television program some time back where a team of experts came into a store and set up surveillance to stop shoplifting. They caught a woman on camera putting a pair of sunglasses into her milkshake. When they confronted her she insisted that she had done nothing wrong. When they finally convinced her to take the lid off her milkshake and the sunglasses were revealed she insisted that the girl working the counter must have put them there even though they had her on camera doing it herself.

This is so often how we respond to sin. We deny. We blame. We fail to take responsibility. But when we come clean about our sin we are then ready to look up and receive grace, forgiveness, and healing. When we fail to take responsibility for our sin we can never experience grace in its fullest. Look back, look down, look out, and then look up and find grace and forgiveness in Christ.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Dealing With Sin (Pt 6)

In dealing with sin we first look back, remembering the pain and consequences of sin in our lives and the lives of those around us. We then look down, recognizing, acknowledging and taking full responsibility for the offensiveness of our sin. Then we look out. Looking out means separating ourselves from sin (Ezr 9:10-12). In verses 10-11 Ezra reflects on the truth that God had commanded his people to be separate from the wickedness of the world. The were to separate themselves from the impurity, abominations, and uncleanness of the world. They were not to give their daughters in marriage to the pagan men around them. They were not to take their daughters in marriage for their sons or themselves. They were not to seek the peace or prosperity of pagan nations.

There is always a tension between being separate from sin and being a friend of sinners. Jesus did both. He ate with sinners and was called a friend of sinners, yet he never excused sin nor practiced sin. 1Corinthians 15:33 reminds us not to be deceived, “Bad company ruins good morals.” The passage, which is actually dealing with the issue of the resurrection, goes on to say in verse 34, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” So how do we keep this tension between not being corrupted by “bad company,” but being a friend to sinners? Jude gives us this counsel in verses 17-23:
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.  And have mercy on those who doubt;  save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

If someone is drowning in a pool you don’t just jump in and try to save them. Why not? First, “a conscious drowning victim is most likely panicking. It is amazing the strength a panicked person will have. In their swinging and struggling you are likely to get knocked out.” Second, “the victim’s fight for survival may make you a victim. When a person is drowning, he often does not recognize that you are trying to help him. The victim will use any and all means to propel his body to the surface, which may mean pushing you down to push themselves up.”[1] There is a way to save a drowning person, but you need to make sure that you don’t drown in the process of trying to save them.

Similarly there is a way to connect with a broken world to influence them for Christ, be we do need to be careful that we do not get sucked into their brokenness. As believers we are called to, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all creation” (Mk 16:15). This cannot be done without some connection to the world we are called to go into and proclaim the gospel to. On the other hand, we must be careful not to adopt the values, practices, or beliefs of a very broken world. May we learn to navigate this delicate balance as Jesus did. May the world see Jesus in us.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Dealing with Sin (Pt 5)

When I was a kid my parents owned a campground on Lake Movil near Bemidji, Minnesota. When I was about 11 or 12 a family came to camp for a week or so. They had a girl that we called Romance. They also had a canoe. One afternoon Romance invited me to go paddling with her in the canoe. We paddled all the way across the lake. Unfortunately I was so enamored by getting to be in a canoe with this girl that I failed to look back and realize how far we had come. I neglected to look down and realize how young and inexperienced in paddling a canoe we were, and I failed to look around and recognize that the wind was picking up and blowing us away from home. By the time we turned around to head home we were in trouble. No matter how hard we paddled we couldn’t make headway against the wind. Finally a boat came to tow us home. All we had to do was recognize our need, look up and say thank you.

Two weeks ago I introduced the blog entitled Dealing With Sin. I used the phrases look back, look down, look out and look up as short reminders of the principles related to dealing with sin in our lives. I addressed the first two, throughout blogs Dealing with Sin (Pt 1-4), by saying that when dealing with sin we need to first look back, remembering the pain and consequences of sin in our lives and the lives of those around us. We then need to look down, recognizing, acknowledging and taking full responsibility for the offensiveness of our sin. When we allow ourselves to be broken over our own sinfulness we are ready for grace. This week I would I intend to think through what it means to look out and to look up.

Eza 9:15 “O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” (ESV)

It has been my experience that when we are caught in sin we go looking for affirmation. We seek normal conversations with good people so that we don't have to think about our sin, or so we can convince ourselves that what we are doing is really not all that bad. As a result, when the conversation gets close to addressing our sin we tend to have one of three responses. 

1.     We look a little ashamed, admit that we've made some mistakes, and assure those we are talking to that we are trying to change or have changed. In other words we make light of both the severity of our sin and our personal responsibility. 

2.     We attempt to justify our sin by blaming others, insisting that we couldn't help ourselves, our sin is the fault of how we were made or raised (it is either God's fault or our parents fault), or explain that someone coerced us or deceived us. In other words we make light of both the severity of our sin and our personal responsibility by shifting the blame. 

3.     We insist, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, that we haven't done anything wrong. We may try to explain why what we are doing is okay, or we may simply walk away or get angry because we are being "falsely accused" and attacked. In other words we make light of both the severity of our sin and our personal responsibility by living in denial or by attacking our accusers. None of these responses to sin are helpful or healthy, but we do them all the time.

On the other hand, those throughout the Bible who were honored and used mightily by God never excused sin. David quickly broke down acknowledging and confessing his sin when Nathan confronted him. Samson, on the other hand, always had an excuse. Here in Ezra 9 we find Ezra quickly acknowledging their sin and the justice of God's judgment. He understood that they deserved far more judgment and far less blessing than they had received. 

To their credit, we find the people agreeing with Ezra. They are not trying to pretend that what they are doing is acceptable. They are not trying to shift the blame. They are not trying to make light of either the severity of their sin nor their personal responsibility. They joined Ezra in brokenness over sin, acknowledged their guilt and sought a solution. Ezra admitted, "Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” The people agreed. Dealing with sin begins by laying aside all the excuses and honestly admitting that what we have done is wrong. No excuses. That is hard to do, but it is a necessary step to freedom.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Dare to be a Daniel (Pt 4)

Daniel 2:17-18 (ESV)
[17] Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, [18] and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

What is your first response to crisis? Panic? Reaction? Flight? Fear? Lashing out at the threat? Daniel’s first response was to get some information, “He declared to Arioch, the king’s captain, ‘Why is the decree of the king so urgent?’” (Dan 2:15). Then he sought out his friends and asked them to pray. Daniel’s immediate reaction to the crisis was informed prayer.

Nehemiah’s rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem started with prayer (see Neh 1-2). Ezra succeeded because God stirred the heart of a pagan king and the good hand of God was on Ezra (Ezr 1:1; 7:6). Certainly this was partly in answer to Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9. The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament Apostles were men of prayer. Peter took the gospel to Cornelius because God spoke to him in a vision when he was in prayer while waiting for a meal (see Acts 10). One of the key things the early church devoted themselves to was prayer (Acts 2:42).

It seems like sometimes we talk about prayer more than we pray. Are we, as believers, truly devoted to prayer? Are we, as churches, truly calling people to prayer and providing opportunities for prayer? Do we really believe that prayer is important, or do we just give prayer lip service? Daring to be a Daniel is not so much about taking a stand or opposing the enemy. It is primarily about being devoted to God. In Daniel’s life one of the evidences of that devotion was his commitment to prayer. He ended up in the Lion’s Den, not because he set up a rally to oppose the king’s new rule about praying only to the king for 30 day, but because he continued to faithfully pray (see Dan 6). Do you dare to be a Daniel? Then let us pray.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Dare to be a Daniel (Pt 3)

Daniel 2:46-49 (ESV)
[46] Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. [47] The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” [48] Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. [49] Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

There are three observations we need to consider in the above text.

First, we need to consider Nebuchadnezzar’s response when Daniel revealed the vision and interpreted it. The king “fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him” (Dan 2:46). He is certainly treating Daniel as royalty, but we might say that he is treating Daniel as deity. There is apparently no record of how Daniel responded to this. It doesn’t appear that he rejected the honor. Whatever the king’s intention, Daniel appears to accept it quietly. In chapter 5, when he interprets the handwriting on the wall, Daniel will tell the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another” (Dan 5:17). Nevertheless, here in chapter 2 Daniel accepts the honor. We must be careful that we do not take a narrative passage like this, or like chapter 5, and assume that it is the equivalent of a clear instruction on how to always respond in certain situations.  

Second, what we do need to recognize is that Daniel’s actions influenced a pagan court for God. We must be careful not to assume that if we stand for God we will always succeed. That is observation three, which will be considered in the next paragraph. Neither should we assume that because Nebuchadnezzar called Daniel’s God, “God of gods and Lord of kings” (Dan 2:47) that he is necessarily saved. Words are just words, and they are often ambiguous. This, or course, could mean that from that point on Nebuchadnezzar chose to serve God. On the other hand it could simply be a momentary expression of being overwhelmed by Daniel’s revelation. Either way, we do recognize that Daniel’s presence and actions pointed a pagan king toward the Almighty. My prayer is always that in my presence people would sense God. May that be true of all of us as believers.

Third, the king’s present favor does not necessitate future favor for Daniel. If you are familiar with the book of Daniel then you will recognize that Daniel’s friends will be thrown in a fiery furnace, and Daniel will be thrown in a Lion’s den. Obedience and faithfulness to God does not always result in success. Victory is one thing. Success is another. In the very next chapter Daniel’s friends will be faced with the fiery furnace. They will respond, “Our God . . . will deliver us . . . but if not . . . we will not serve your gods” (Dan 3:17-18). They were victorious even before they were delivered from the furnace. We must not assume that obedience will always result in success. Hebrews 11 reminds of those who were faithful, but not successful.

Hebrews 11:35-38 (ESV)
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. [36] Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. [37] They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— [38] of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

We do not know what future God has for us. What we do know is that he calls us to faithfully represent him no matter what. Is my presence an expression of Christ whether I succeed or fail? When people see me, do they see Jesus?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Dare to be a Daniel (Pt 2)

Daniel 2:24, 27-28 (ESV)
[24] Therefore Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will show the king the interpretation.”
[27] Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, [28] but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these:

I find it fascinating that Daniel asked that the wise men not be destroyed. He then gave essentially the same answer as the rest of the wise men. They said, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demands . . . except the gods” (Dan 2:10-11). Daniel said, ““No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God” (Dan 2:27-28). Daniel could have said, “Don’t destroy my friends and me. We serve the true God and have the answer. The other wise men serve false gods and don’t deserve to live.” But that is not what he said. He asked for the preservation of all the wise men, and pointed out that there was nothing special about him, only about the God he served.

It makes me wonder. I heard a speaker yesterday challenge us not to focus on those with whom we disagree, but to love those we lead. God told Jeremiah to warn the people of God to work for the good of the people and the land to which they would be exiled (Jer 29:7). That is what Daniel was doing. Too often recently evangelical believers have been characterized as people of hate. Part of the reason for that is that we live in a culture where to disagree is to hate. That, of course, is hardly true. But, there is a second reason. That is, believers have too often hated. We can rally, carry banners, and shout down the opposition with the best of them. But we were never commissioned to correct sinners. We were commissioned to make disciples. It must start with a change of heart.

We have been going about it backwards, trying to change behavior first, hoping that it will lead to a changed heart. God forgive us. Have we learned nothing from Daniel and Jeremiah? Our presence in a community ought to have at least two influences. First, our presence makes the community better for everyone, not just for believers. Daniel didn’t ask just for the preservation of his people, but the preservation of all. Second, our presence speaks truth and grace, not in an antagonistic, attacking manner, but in a healing, restorative way.

Daniel spoke truth, but his action also preserved the lives of the wise men who did not yet know his God. You have to wonder how his action affected the lives of those wise men. Some, I am sure, resented him. But perhaps some were drawn to the true God. Only God knows. The question for us is: How does my presence in my community affect my world? Am I working and praying for the good of all, trusting that my words and actions will point people to the true God, or am I working to preserve myself and destroy those with whom I disagree? Dare to be a Daniel.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Dare to be a Daniel

Daniel 2:17-18 (ESV)
[17] Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, [18] and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

As a kid I remember singing, “Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone. . .” But Daniel wasn’t alone – at least not in this crisis he faced in Daniel 2. He had his companions. When he took his stand to request an opportunity to address the king he first asked his friends to pray. Occasionally we have to stand alone, but that is not the norm. God designed us as social beings. The point of the church is that we do not stand alone. We stand with brothers and sisters in Christ.

Church is not just something we must do on Sundays. It is not just a place to listen to the preacher. Church is about the body. It is about coming together to build a support system so that when we face difficulties, when we face challenges, when we are called to stand for truth, we do not have to stand alone. Church is for fellowship. Don’t sneak in the door late, sit in the back, and sneak out early. Stay awhile and connect with people. We were not intended to stand alone.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fathers' Day

Today is Fathers' Day. The classic scripture passage that comes to mind when we think of family is the last of part of Ephesians 5 and the first part of Ephesians 6. In that passage God calls for wives to submit and husbands to love. A husband is given 5 implications regarding loving his wife, and 2 directives for training his children. But lest you think, “I’m not a husband or father so that section of scripture doesn’t apply to me,” let me remind you that Ephesians 5 starts with these words, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph 5:1-2a). Ephesians 5:21 says, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The very next verse, Eph 5:22, begins the section on marriage. In other words, we are all called to love and submit in life whether we are married or not. Therefore, whatever God says to wives and husbands applies to all of us in whatever state of life we find ourselves. Every individual is called to both submit and love. By listening in on what God says about submission and love within marriage, we can learn what that should look like for all of us whether we have children or not, are married or single, are divorced or widowed, these truths apply to us all. Let me challenge you to read through Ephesians chapters 5 and 6 again asking God, "Lord, what do I need to learn here?" You might be surprised.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Husbands and Fathers

On July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event explicitly in honor of fathers, a Sunday sermon in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah, but it was a one-time commemoration and not an annual holiday. The next year, a Spokane, Washington woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower, tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents. She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers, and government officials to drum up support for her idea, and she was successful: Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on July 19, 1910.[1]

Someone once said that the best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. Not every father has that option. Obviously Sonora Dodd, who pushed for that first official day to honor fathers, having been raised by a widower, was not able to watch her father love her mother. Catastrophes and disease rob us of those we love. Divorce happens. Broken relationships litter the landscape of our world. Not every father has the option to love his children’s mother. In spite of that, it is difficult for us to separate the idea of being a husband and that of being a father.
The classic scripture passage that comes to mind when we think of family is the last of part of Ephesians 5 and the first part of Ephesians 6. In that passage we find 5 implications for men regarding loving your wife, and 2 directives for training your children.

5 Implications of Loving our Wives

Ephesians 5.25 is written in the context of verse 21, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” What does it mean for a husband to be submitting to his wife? Note that we are to love our wife “as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for her.” How did Christ love the church, and what does it mean to love my wife the same way?

1. The husband is to act redemptively toward his wife (Eph 5:23, 25) 

2. The husband is to take pleasure in his wife (Eph 5:27a)

3. The husband is to work for the glory of his wife, not himself (Eph 5:27b)

4. The husband is to love his wife as if she were his own body (Eph 5:28a)

5. The husband is to understand that loving his wife is in his own best interest (Eph 5:28b)

2 Directives for Training our Children

1. We are not to provoke them to anger (Eph 6:4)

2. We are to nurture them to maturity by training them and reminding them (Eph 6:4)

Being a husband and a father is not about us. Therein lies the problem. We hear “head” and we think “boss, commander and chief, CEO, authority...” We ought to think “servant.” We read, “Wives submit…” and we gladly embrace the idea without realizing that God is calling us, as husbands, to submit. God is calling us, as fathers to submit. Jesus said, I did not come to be served, but to serve. That’s the example we are to follow as “heads.” Men, God has called us to love our wives and nurture our children. It’s time we act like men by God’s definition.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Ezra 9 - Dealing With Sin (Pt 5)

Too often we have preached a gospel of eternal, abundant life, but not a gospel of offence to a righteous, holy God. The promise of eternal life without understanding the offense of sin is no gospel at all. It is just a benevolent Santa Clause who winks at our indiscretions and lavishes us with gifts because we’re such great kids. But God is a holy, righteous, just and gracious creator before whom we stand in dirty rags that we call righteousness.

Ezra was written to remind those who had come back from captivity that they were a covenant people. Ezra reminded them of God’s grace in allowing them to come back to a land that He had promised them but which they did not deserve. Ezra reminded them of how God moved the heart of the king, how God provided and protected them, and how God enabled them to rebuild the temple and restart temple worship. As a result of this Hesed, this covenant love, of God for his people, Israel is called to a life of covenant love toward God. They are called to righteousness.

So, in our own struggle to live out the righteousness of God we need to learn to first look back, remembering the pain and consequences of sin in our lives and the lives of those around us. We then need to look down, recognizing, acknowledging and taking full responsibility for offensiveness of our own sin. In looking back and then looking down we set the stage to look out and to look up. I'll write about those two principles next week, but for now, have we been honest with God and with ourselves about the nature of our own sin? It is depressing to be constantly talking about sin, but you can’t get to grace until you face sin squarely. Look back and see how destructive sin has been, then look down and see how unclean you really are. When we allow ourselves to be broken over our own sinfulness we are ready for grace.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Ezra 9 – Dealing With Sin (Pt 4)

There is corporate sin and there is personal sin. By corporate sin I mean sin that permeates a nation, a group, or a church. Sometimes patterns of corporate sin develop. A church begins to function on the basis of fear rather than faith. A church abandons foundational doctrines of the scriptures. A nation allows and even celebrates an immoral practice. Patterns of corporate sin develop.

That is what had happened in Ezra’s day. Intermarriage with women of different faiths threatened to undo the very deliverance God’s people had just experienced. How are we to address corporate sin? There first must be corporate conviction. Ezra 9:4 says, “Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice.” They gathered corporately because they were convicted over their sin. Not everyone gathered, but “all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” gathered together.

They gathered because of the faithlessness of those who had returned from exile. They recognized the real potential of serious discipline from the God who had just blessed them with the ability to come home and begin temple worship as the Law required. They didn’t just gather together. They gathered around Ezra. They gathered around their leader who had recognized their sin, was broken over it, and confessed it with deep humility and shame.

What is the posture of confession? Ezra 9:5 says that Ezra rose from where he had been sitting in fasting and grief. He fell on his knees before God and spread his hands out the LORD. The word hands properly means his palms. The posture of confession was one that demonstrated both humility and shame, and faith. Humility and shame were demonstrated by the fasting, torn hair, and torn clothing. Further it was expressed in falling on his knees before God. He wasn’t looking up in reverence. He was looking down in shame and regret.

But he also had faith. His palms spread out toward God indicated that he recognized God’s mercy. They were stretched out asking for mercy and prepared to receive it. He believed that God would forgive. His posture spoke of both shame and faith. When we come to God in confession we come with hearts filled with shame over our sin, but with the faith that God, in his mercy and grace, will forgive. We don’t come presumptuously and flippantly, but neither do we come without hope. We look down, recognizing our faithlessness, and we reach out recognizing God’s faithfulness.

1 John 1:9 says that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The word “confess” means to speak the same thing, or to agree with God. In Ezra’s prayer of confession (Ezr 9:6) he agrees with God. He communicates three things. First, he acknowledges shame over their sin. “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God” (Ezr 9:6a). Second, he admits to their sin by saying, “for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads” (Ezr 9:6b). Finally, he expressed their guilt. “our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ezr 9:6c). It is one thing to say that we did something wrong. It is another thing completely to own our guilt. Ezra doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t say, “We were wrong, but . . .” He doesn’t try to explain how difficult things have been. He doesn’t blame the foreign women for enticing the men. There are no excuses. He simply admits to their great guilt.

Brokenness is painful. As a result we are often too quick to move from confession to forgiveness. We rattle off a quick, “I’m sorry God. I shouldn’t have done that, please forgive me,” without considering the stench of our sin in the nostrils of God. Remembering former sin and its consequences goes a long way toward guarding us against further sin. Brokenness over sin takes us a step closer to victory.

We too often treat God like spoiled children treat their parents, complaining because we didn’t get the gift we wanted for Christmas or our birthday rather than rejoicing that we got anything at all. The truth is that as spoiled children we deserve nothing but a bit of coal in our stockings. Anything more is grace. Ezra understood that. He didn’t complain. He didn’t blame. He didn’t pass the buck. He didn’t say, “They have sinned, or their guilt is great.” As the people gathered around him, he simply and honestly took a posture of both shame and faith. He acknowledged shame over their sin, admitted their sinful behavior, and expressed their guilt.

How does one deal with corporate sin? We pray, and call people to recognize and confess their sin as the People of God did in Ezra. Then we follow Ezra’s example of confession with faith. Daniel confessed privately on behalf of God’s people in Daniel 9 and God answered. Ezra confessed publicly because the public were experiencing conviction, and God answered. As believers we start with private confession, but as leaders we call those we lead to public confession. Sin must be honestly acknowledged in order to gain freedom from it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ezra 9 – Dealing With Sin (Pt 3)

Sin cannot simply be ignored. As we seek to move forward in our walk with God we cannot afford to simply forget about sin. It must first be acknowledged before God. As we wrestle with certain sin habits in our lives we begin by looking back and admitting to God the sin that we have committed. Having looked back, we then look down.

When we begin to see our sin as the offence to God that it is, we are moved to grief over our desecration of the nature, character, and purpose of God, for that is what sin is. Sin is not just an offence against the Law of God. Sin is not just breaking the rules of God. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The glory of God is the visible expression of the nature, character, and purpose of God. When we sin we do not fall short of God’s standards of living. We fall short of the glory of God. Sin desecrates the nature, character, and purpose of Creator God.
Recognizing that desecration – coming honestly face to face with our true brokenness and the desecration of our actions causes us to grieve over our sin. In Ezra 9 the People of God had taken foreign wives. “The holy race [had] mixed itself with the peoples of the land” (Ez 9:2). Not only had the people married outside of their people, but their leaders led them in the sin. The problem here is not mixed marriages. God is not opposed to mixed races. The problem is mixed faith systems. Every time Israel married outside of their people they adopted the religious practices of those they married. That is exactly why they had been carried into captivity in the first place, and now they were doing it again.

Ezra grieved deeply over their sin. Ezra tore his clothing, pulled his hair, and sat appalled. Notice that he pulled his hair, he didn’t shave it. A shaved head would have been a normal sign of grieving. This is more than normal grieving. This is brokenness over their sin. It has been said that alcoholics and drug addicts don’t find victory over their addictions until they hit rock bottom. That is another way of saying that they come face to face with the full depth of their brokenness and despair. That is where Ezra was. He was at rock bottom. This could not go on.

Taking a deep, honest look back at our sin, seeing the hurt, pain, and brokenness it has left behind, and recognizing the dangers of our behavior help move us to rock bottom. The problem is that with most of us, we don’t see our sin as that serious. We hide behind phrases like, “I couldn’t help myself,” or “It doesn’t hurt anyone else, it only hurts me,” of “I’m bad, but I’m not that bad.” We blame others. We blame God. We make excuses, and then we wonder why we never find victory. But an honest look at our sin moves us to hang our heads in shame.

An honest look at our sin moves us to grieve deeply, not over the consequences of our sin, but over the sin itself. Brokenness leads to grace, but the process cannot be short-circuited by attempting to jump directly to grace without realizing the brokenness first. In God’s economy victory always comes out of death. Too often we want victory, but we want to continue to live our lives. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:23-24). Victory over sin begins with death.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Ezra 9 – Dealing with Sin (Pt 2)

When dealing with sin in our lives we often want to forget the past and look forward. The past is too painful. The past is the past. We want to move forward. But one principle related to dealing with sin is the necessity of looking back.

Ezra writes,
After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites (Ez 9:1).
This is a list of nationalities that lived in the Promised Land from its earliest settling. Of these, it is likely that only the Ammonites, Moabites and Egyptians still existed. The list of names is not only to reveal the current sin of the People of God, but to reveal their past sin as well. Ezra acknowledges that their current sin is the very same sin that caused them to go into exile in the first place. He recognized and acknowledged the consequences of their former sin. “From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt” (Ez 9:7). Sword, captivity, plunder, and shame were the result of this sin of intermarrying and following after the gods of their foreign wives. In verse 13 Ezra refers to it as “evil deeds” and “great guilt.” He looked back and “‘fessed up” to their guilt.
After confessing their guilt, he acknowledged the righteousness of God’s judgment. Too often our real goal is not to deal with sin, but simply to escape judgment. Ezra acknowledged that not only was God right to judge them, but that “God judged us less than our iniquities deserved” (Ez 9:13). The following two truths lie at the heart of dealing with sin in our lives and experiencing victory over it.

1.     We need to be honest with God about our sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1Jn 1:8). God will not give us victory over sin until we are honest with him about it.
2.     We need to acknowledge the justice and mercy of God’s judgment. We receive less judgment than we deserve. In fact, in the gospel our judgment is placed on Christ and we receive none of the judgment we deserve. God disciplines those he loves (Rev 3:19), but his discipline is less than deserved.

Remembering our former sin and its consequences, and being honest about our sin and the justice of God in his discipline goes a long way toward guarding us against further sin. I have a book entitled From Nightmares to Sweet Dreams. The subtitle is: Letting the Presence of Christ Transform Our Worst Memories. In the book the author tells the stories of over two dozen individuals who have found peace through Christ after experiencing all sorts of trauma in life from sexual abuse to violence, death and witnessed suicide. It’s a fascinating read, but what struck me was the first two principles he uses with these individuals to help them find peace. He says the first thing we must do is to tell the story and then to identify the feelings and effects the event had on our lives. That is exactly what Ezra is doing in these first verses of Ezra 9.

Ezra goes back and tells the story of Israel’s sin and failure allowing himself to feel the brokenness of their sin. He looked back and then he looks down in shame. As believers we do not live in shame. We live in freedom and victory. But, when we are struggling to gain victory over a particular sin in our lives there value in looking back, remembering and acknowledging our sin, and recognizing God’s justice. Victory starts with admitting our shame and helplessness, and looking to God’s power. There is value sometimes in looking back. Our current struggle is often rooted in our past failure.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ezra 9 - Dealing with Sin (pt 1)

Too often we have preached a gospel of eternal, abundant life, but not a gospel of offence to a righteous, holy God. The promise of eternal life without understanding the offense of sin is no gospel at all. It is just a benevolent Santa Claus who winks at our indiscretions and lavishes us with gifts because we’re such great kids. But God is a holy, righteous, just and gracious creator before whom we stand in dirty rags that we call righteousness.

Ezra was written to remind those who had come back from captivity that they are a covenant people. Ezra reminds them of God’s grace in allowing them to come back to a land that He had promised them but which they did not deserve. Ezra reminds them of how God moved the heart of the king, how God provided and protected them, and how God enabled them to rebuild the temple and restart temple worship. As a result of this Hesed (covenant love and mercy) of God for his people, Israel is called to a life of covenant love toward God. They are called to righteousness.

Under the New Covenant we as believers are also called to a life of righteousness. So, in our own struggle to live out the righteousness of God what principles can we glean from Ezra 9 to help us keep our focus and walk rightly before God? Over the next two weeks I intend to spend some time in Ezra 9. There are four principles that we find in this chapter regarding how to deal with sin in our lives both individually and corporately as a church. In short we need to look back, look down, look out and finally look up.

It is time we stop looking at God as Santa Claus. He is not there to keep us happy. He is a righteous and holy God. As such he is a benevolent and just God who sent his own son to the cross that he might offer us the gift of righteousness through faith. By faith we enter into this New Covenant in which he promised new hearts. By faith his Holy Spirit dwells within each believer teaching us and empowering us to live lives of holiness. It is time we stop sitting by the gate of God’s Kingdom pleading for handouts, and step into the new identity we have in Christ by grace through faith. It is a new identity of holiness and righteous living.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Church Leadership Pt 6

This week I have been writing about what to look for in a pastor and in church leaders. But there is another side to the issue. I have seen pastors abuse churches they lead, but more often I have seen church abuse pastors who lead them. Today let me share with you what I call the Top Ten Things Your Pastor Always Wanted To Tell You, But He Never Quite Dared. 

10. My job is not to do the entire ministry, but to equip you to do the ministry alongside me. – Eph 4.11ff

9. There is nothing I can do to make this church grow. God has to do it and we all need to be a part of the process. – 1 Cor 3.6,7; Col 2.19

8. I don’t always hear clearly from the Lord. That is why I need godly elders and patient, gracious church members. – Gal 2.11; 1Cor 12.18-20

7. I can’t be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My family needs some of my time and I need time away and alone. – 1Tim 3.4,5; Mk 6.31

6. I need somebody to feed me too, but I can’t really afford the books, magazines, journals and conferences that might help. – Jn 21.15-17

5. You are the source of my greatest joy and my greatest frustration. Give me the privilege of seeing you growing and ministering. – 1Thess 2.19-20

4. While I am not in the ministry for money, it takes money to live. I have gone to some of the most expensive private schools in the country in order to work in one of the lowest paying jobs. Encourage we with a raise, or additional benefits. (I don’t even want to think about retirement) – 1 Tim 5.17-18

3. I am not always spiritually on top of things. Pray for me! – 2Cor 1.8-11

2. Peace and joy are supposed to be the characteristics of the Christian life. Since I have become a pastor I have experienced more pressure and stress than I ever thought possible. Pray for me! Love me! Encourage me! Give me time to rebuild! – 1Co 2:3; Mk 6:31-46

1. One of the greatest fears of my life is that my children will not grow up loving the Lord, or my wife will become hurt and bitter toward me, toward the church and toward God. Pray for my wife and my children! – 1Sam 2.12, 8.5; Eph 5.23, 6.4

Friday, June 7, 2019

Church Leadership Pt 5

Ezra 8:33 (ESV)
[33] On the fourth day, within the house of our God, the silver and the gold and the vessels were weighed into the hands of Meremoth the priest, son of Uriah, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas, and with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui.

Over the past few days we have discussed the fact that servant leaders do not demand that people follow them. They are followed willingly. Servant leaders do not act impulsively. They lead patiently with wisdom, discernment, and humility. Servant leaders point people toward God, not toward themselves. They are not interested in gaining a following, but in seeing people follow God. Servant leaders protect those they lead by establishing systems of accountability and submitting themselves to accountability. Finally, servant leaders let go.

When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem he did not insist in retaining control of the gold and silver vessels. He weighed them into the hands of the priest. He then passed on to the government officials in the area the instructions from the King. The priests carried out the sacrifices. The government officials provided whatever was needed. Ezra seems to step into the background.

Too often leaders do not know how to let go. They do not know how to delegate. I have watched leaders “delegate” a responsibility to someone only to then do the job for them or tell them how to do it. The leader felt the need to retain control and micromanage. Servant leaders understand how to pass responsibility off to others and allow them to do their job. Insecure leaders feel the need to remain in the limelight. Servant leaders do not need to be seen. Leaders that feel insecure or insignificant feel the need to make sure everyone knows who they are and what their credentials are. They feel the need to be seen at every event. They need to control everything around them. Servant leaders serve.

What should you look for in a pastor and in church leaders? A servant’s heart. A leader who does not need to be acknowledged. A leader who understands and practices delegation. A leader to does not micromanage, but encourages and equips, and then steps out of the way. You need a servant leader. But a servant leader is not one who does everything. A servant leader is one who gets out of the way and lets the body be the body. A servant leader is one who knows how to let go.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Church Leadership Pt 4

Ezra 8:28-29 (ESV)
[28] And I said to them, “You are holy to the LORD, and the vessels are holy, and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD, the God of your fathers. [29] Guard them and keep them until you weigh them before the chief priests and the Levites and the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel at Jerusalem, within the chambers of the house of the LORD.”

As Ezra prepared those he was leading for the trip to Jerusalem he delegated responsibility for carrying the gold and silver to some of the Priests. He also established a level of accountability for them. He carefully weighed out and made records of the amounts he gave to each person. They were then required to weigh it out when it was delivered in Jerusalem at the temple. Good leaders know how to delegate well, and how to establish accountability for the protection of those they lead.

Sometimes you will hear people say, “This is church. If you can’t trust a pastor, who can you trust.” The same could be said of church leaders. If you can’t trust church leaders, who can you trust? But accountability is not about a lack of trust. Accountability systems have two purposes. The first is to protect the individual against temptation. We have an enemy who will take any opportunity to undermine and sideline leaders. A simple lack of judgment can destroy a ministry. Servant leaders not only establish systems of accountability for those they lead, they are willing to submit to accountability themselves.

The second purpose of accountability is to protect the individual against false accusations. In a world of distrust and dishonesty, a simple accusation can sideline an effective ministry even if there is no truth to the accusation. The priests didn’t need to slip some of the gold or silver into their personal belongings. They only needed to be accused of it. Ezra’s system of accountability not only helped them remain honest, it guarded them against false accusations of dishonesty.

What should we look for in a pastor? Proverbs talks about wisdom. Delegation and accountability are evidences of wisdom. Wise servant leaders know how to delegate responsibility, not just tasks. With delegation, they know how to protect those they lead by establishing reasonable systems of accountability. Further, they are willing to submit to, and even establish for themselves, systems of accountability. This guards those they lead. It guards themselves. It guards the reputation of the God they serve.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Church Leadership Pt 3

Ezra 8:35 (ESV)
At that time those who had come from captivity, the returned exiles, offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel, twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and as a sin offering twelve male goats. All this was a burnt offering to the LORD.

I have been writing about what to look for in a pastor. First, look for a pastor with a servant’s heart. Second, look for a pastor and church leaders who understand how to discern God’s leading and who respond to God’s leading with patience, wisdom, and humility. Third, look for a pastor and church leaders who point people to God and not to themselves. Three times in Ezra 8 it says that the good hand of God or of the LORD was on Ezra. Ezra makes sure that the credit goes to God and not to himself. When the assembly met to leave Babylon for the homeland Ezra called for a time of fasting first. The first thing that the returning exiles did when they arrived in Jerusalem was to offer a burnt offering to the LORD. Ezra continually pointed those he was leading to God.

Ezra wrote in Ezra 8:22-23,
[22] For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” [23] So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.
This was not about Ezra’s reputation. This was about the reputation of God. Ezra had told the King about the power of God. Now if he went back to the King and asked for protection that would undermine his own faith. How could he say that God will protect us and then ask the King to protect them? Ezra’s primary concern was the reputation of God.

We do not need charismatic leaders who draw people to themselves. If we are to be healthy churches and healthy believers then we need leaders who constantly point people to God. We need leaders who are more concerned about what people think about God than what people think about themselves. It is easy for leaders to begin to think highly of themselves when things are going well. There are principles of leadership, and some practice those principles better than others. Some leaders are just more effective. Some seem to draw people around them like bees to a soda can. But the leaders that are effective for eternity, the leaders whom God uses to transform lives by His grace are the leaders who continually point people toward God and not toward themselves. We need pastors and church leaders who are more concerned about God than about themselves.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Church Leadership Pt 2

Yesterday I wrote about the necessity of a servant’s heart in a leader. Today I want us to think about leaders who know the difference between making plans and asking God to put his blessing on them, and making plans that are dependent on the leading and direction of the Spirit. Leaders need to lead. Planning is a part of leading. For some that is a given. For others, planning sounds like presumption. But planning is rooted in the very nature of God. He was a planner. He planned the means of our salvation from before creation. 1Peter 1:20 says of Jesus that, “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1Pet 1:20 NIV). God is a planner.

Planning can be presumptuous or it can be a part of good leadership. The difference is in the attitude of the leader. James warns,
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (Jam 2:13-15)

Notice, James doesn't say that planning is bad, but plans need to be held loosely. They need to be made recognizing our dependence on the leading and direction of the Spirit. We need leaders who know how to listen to God. We need leaders who lead with humility. We need leaders who are willing to put aside their agenda for God’s agenda. We need leaders who listen well. We need leaders who do not act impulsively, but plan, and evaluate with discernment.

Ezra was given the responsibility and resources to travel back to Jerusalem with a large contingent of people and restart temple worship. He could have just said, “Okay, we have all we need. Let’s go.” But that is not what he did. Once he had a group to travel with him he stopped at the river Ahava and did three things. First, he declared a fast. He recognized that he needed not only the blessing of the King, but the blessing of God. Together they sought God’s blessing. Second, he evaluated who was there and who they still needed. He recognized that there were no Levites, so he sent some men to recruit Levites. He knew that they would be needed for the temple worship. Third, he carefully distributed the temple resources between several individuals and established a system of accountability for them.

Ezra led with wisdom and discernment. He didn’t get in a hurry, nor did he make rash decisions. He sought God’s direction and blessing. He made wise decisions. He led with humility, recognizing that he could not do everything. What do we need to look for in pastors and church leaders? We need that kind of wisdom. We need pastors who are willing and able to lead, but not out of their own agenda. We need pastors who are willing to take the time to listen and discern rather than rashly rush forward with them plans. We need pastors who hold their plans loosely. We need pastors who recognize their dependence on God and others.

What we do not need is a pastor with an agenda. What we do not need is a pastor who thinks he doesn’t need others. We need leaders who know the difference between making plans and asking God to put his blessing on them, and making plans that are dependent on the leading and direction of the Spirit. We need pastors who understand how to discern God’s leading, and who respond to God’s leading with patience and wisdom and humility.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Church Leadership

Throughout this week I would like to write a bit about what people should look for in a pastor and in church leaders. Over the years I have watched a few pastors bully and manipulate the churches they were called to serve. I have also watched most pastors I know deeply love and care for the churches they serve. I have watched churches misuse and abuse pastors, and I have seen churches deeply love and care for their pastors. There are lots of reasons for these activities. Some pastors bully because that is what they were taught to do. Other pastors bully out of their own personal insecurities. Then there are pastors who simply ignore some of their congregation while fawning over others. None of this is healthy. Some churches abuse pastors because the Lay leadership bully instead of serve. What does it take to be a healthy leader?

Jesus said,
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:25-28).

Leadership in God’s economy is not defined by authoritarianism, but servanthood. Servant leaders are followed willingly, not forced or coerced. In Ezra 7 the King of Persia instructed Ezra to go back to Jerusalem and set up worship in the temple. He said anyone could go with Ezra that went willingly. Ezra 8 gives a list of all those who went with Ezra. It is interesting that among that group was found no Levites so Ezra sent some men to Casiphia to request that Levites join them.  It was a small contingent of men that he sent to make the request; eleven men. Over 200 responded to his request. This was not coercion, it was a simple request. Leaders call people to a higher commitment, but they do not coerce or manipulate.

So, back to the original question. What do you look for in a pastor and in church leaders? The first thing you look for is a servant’s heart. You look for leaders who understand that leadership is about calling people to follow you into deeper commitment to God, not manipulate you or coerce you into service. You look for a leader who says, “Come and join me in serving,” not one who says, “Come and serve me.” That difference is sometimes subtle, but it is a significant difference. Do you want to be a leader? Learn the difference. Learn to serve. Are you looking for a pastor or a church to join. Look for a leader who has a servant’s heart.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...