Rss

  • twitter

The Idol of Success

How do you determine greatness or success? The world has a different definition than the word of God gives to us. American culture wants us to believe that it is all about how big our ministries are and how many attend on Sunday mornings. At a recent men’s prayer breakfast the pastor who spoke said, “The world judges greatness by how many people serve us. Jesus judges greatness by how many people we serve.” The drive to be great at something can cause us to lose sight of what really matters if we are not very careful!

We can allow the idol of success to slip in and dominate our thinking and our motives. Have you ever noticed how some can turn every conversation into a competition? If we have a had a major surgery and share about it’s difficulties invariably there is someone whose horror story is much worse than ours. Unfortunately, we want the conversation focused on us more than we are concerned about the other individual’s troubles. If the idol of success begins to control us then we will desire for every conversation to revolve around ourselves.

In Gaining by Losing, J. D. Greear says, “Ministry, you see, is a great place for guys with the idol of success to hide, because we can mask our selfish ambition in the cloak of doing great things for God.” Meditating on this statement has caused me to prayerfully consider if my prayer is truly that of John the Baptist, “He must increase and I must increase.” We must be willing to face the reality that it is not only athletes, movie stars, and other celebrities who can struggle with their egos. Are we using people to build our churches or are we using our churches to build up people?

All of us have seen individuals who blow their own horns a little too much. Have we not also been guilty of that a time or two? We enjoy pointing out that our church is better than your church because of the name we have chosen, the style of music we use, or the number of services and programs that we have. Or we simply imply that another Christian is not as spiritual as we are because of how we follow and serve Christ. We may not openly say it, but we feel like the Pharisee of old, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people!”

The humble love serving the Lord and they do not do it to be noticed. They also do not care who gets the credit as long as Jesus is glorified. In Uncommon Life Daily Challenge, Tony Dungy says, “Have you caught yourself saying or doing something with an intentional ‘look at me’ attitude? It can happen to anyone. And so can falling flat on your face and eating humble pie. A sign of spiritual maturity of a person who is truly seeking God has always been and always will be humility. Isaiah 42:8, “I am Yahweh, that is my name; I will not give my glory to another.”

Could this be why we see other churches as our competition? We have to advertise and market ourselves for those interested in the way we approach ministry. Could this be why most church growth is by other church members changing churches and all we are doing is reshuffling those who already know Christ? With only 17% of the population in church on any given Sunday should we not be looking to reach the unchurched and those who are far from God? Matt. 23:12 says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Here are some suggestions to defeat the idol of success that can raise its ugly head in our hearts. First, pray for your church to experience revival. Ask God to burden your hearts for the lost. Everyone who is a child of God has a grace story that needs to be shared with others. Tony Dungy says it this way, “God is the author of our platform, and He gives us the privilege of using it to influence others.” You may not have the platform of being a Super Bowl winning head coach but that doesn’t mean there is not someone who needs to hear your story of grace.

Second, ask God to send revival to the other churches in your city. Pray that every church will get right with Him and His book and obey His word completely. Ask God to raise up spiritual leaders in every congregation to call their members to holiness and convict the members of their unconfessed sin. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people and if a church is preaching the truth we should be for them. Do not focus on getting more members but focus on what Jesus said, “I have come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Third, be willing to love people until they get it. Jesus challenges us in John 13:34-35 to love others just as He has loved us. Think about people in your circle of influence who would benefit from you loving them the same way Jesus has loved you. Think about that person who is difficult to get along with at work. Think about that neighbor who has a way of pushing your button. Picture that person right now who honestly does not deserve your love. What would happen if you committed to love that person until they experienced the love of God in their own life?

Tony Dungy shares that his high school football coach said, “Talent is God- given—be thankful. Praise is man-given—be humble. Conceit is self-given—be careful.” Be careful of allowing “success” to become your idol. It can cause you to be more interested in “your” kingdom than His kingdom.

Bigger Does Not Mean Better

Kingdom Purpose

Interestingly enough, researches tell us that half of all churches average 100 or less in Sunday morning attendance. If you average 300 or more then you are in the top 5% of all churches in North America. We have become enamored with thinking that bigger is always better and that is not always the case. In listening to Rick Warren’s latest Purpose Driven Church training he reminds us that, “Bigger is not necessarily better. Better is better!” Better should equal healthy, biblical, and faithfulness to the vision God has given your church!

Is there any correlation between size and strength? Once again, Warren challenges us to realize that there is no correlation between the two. A large church can be very wide but not very deep. It can be focused on the wrong values and be more about the show and numbers. But let’s be cautious about automatically assuming that if a church is large they must be compromising the truth and they certainly must be “a mile wide and an inch deep!” There are large churches, mega-churches, that are preaching the truth and are actively leading their people into an intimate discipleship with Christ.

We know that large churches are not necessarily healthy but neither is a small church. Some people readily admit that they love attending a small church – but why is that? Do they love it being small for the right reasons? Just because a church is small does not mean that it is unhealthy. There are many small churches reaching lost people with the gospel, discipling their people, and making an impact in global missions. Someone has said it well, “Don’t judge the size of the dog in the fight but judge the size of fight in the dog!”

When we think about any church we must think about it fulfilling its purpose. What does God want every one of His churches to accomplish for Him? Warren goes on to say, “If your church will make a great commitment to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment then you will be a church with a Great Purpose!” When you look at the Great Commission and the Great Commandment there are five verbs that stress what every church’s purpose is as they pursue glorifying God. Whether a church is big or small these verbs ought to direct the actions of the congregation.

First, Go Make! This is evangelism and every church is to be salt and light. We must have contact with those who are far from God so that we might share the gospel with them. We are called to be His witnesses. Who are you actively building a relationship with so that they may see and know the love of God? Who are you praying for daily so that God the Holy Spirit will convict them and make them aware of their need of a savior?

Second, Baptize them! Next, we are to be actively working on our fellowship with other believers. The church is to be known by the love we have for one another and how we care for one another. We take care of each other and we make sure that others realize they are not in this alone. One benefit of being connected to a small group, Sunday School class, or Bible study is that they can be the “first responders” to those in their group when they need extra attention.

Third, Teach Them! Now we get into discipleship and developing a process that encourages every believer to grow into maturity with Christ. What are those next steps in your church’s discipleship process? Hal Seed uses the analogy of the Sower and the Soil. The next steps are described as Dirt, Root, Trunk, Branch, and Fruit. It is moving disciples from babes in Christ, to maturing in Christ, to mature in Christ, and then reproducing more disciples!

Fourth, Love God! We are to focus on worship! We place Him first because it is all about Him. We have been instructed by our Lord to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Anything or anyone that we love more than God becomes an idol. God will not allow us to have any other gods before Him. He must have the preeminence in our lives and rightly placed on the throne in every area of our lives.

Fifth, Love Your Neighbor! This is demonstrated in the way we minister and serve others. How will you demonstrate the love of God daily in a practical way? We have the opportunity to allow our lights to shine through our good works so they might glorify our Father. This can be done through servant evangelism, random acts of kindness, and figuring out how we can bless those who are far from God.

We are reminded by Rick Warren that these five purposes are modeled in Acts 2, prayed for by Jesus in John 17, and explained by Paul in Ephesians 4. Church health can be seen in the importance of these five purposes. We grow stronger through worship! (This is “loving Christ.”) We grow warmer through fellowship! (This is “Belonging to Christ’s Body” – a church.) We grow deeper through discipleship! (This is “growing in Christ.”) We grow broader through ministry! (This is “serving Christ.”) Also, we grow larger through evangelism! (This is “sharing Christ.”)

These five purposes should “drive” the vision and mission of a church. How well are you loving Christ and worshiping Him? How well are you loving one another and caring for one another? How well are you making disciples who make disciples that make disciples? How well are you serving others and serving the city where you minister? How well are you as a congregation sharing the gospel with those who are in your circles of influence? Begin making intentional plans to fulfill these five purposes.

Healthy churches are driven by these biblical purposes!

Authentic Values

Businesswoman hands holding white card sign with What is important to you ? question text message isolated on grey wall office background. Retro instagram style image

Much has been said and written about values. Are our values preferences or practices? In Acts 2:42-47 we are given the core values of the early church as teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They were not just preferences but daily practices. We know this because we are told they “devoted themselves” to these values. The passage does not say they sat around discussing or debating them but, rather, they were the daily practices of their lives.

In his book Value Driven Leadership, Aubrey Malphurs describes values as either “actual” or “aspirational.” Is there a difference? James 2:18 makes a clear distinction between the two in stating, “But someone will say, ’You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.” James also states in 1:22, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Malphurs describes actual and aspirational values in the following ways:

First, Actual Values are the beliefs we own and act on daily. These values come from inside of you and are who you are. It is authentic because they exist now, in the present, and describe what is true about you right now. Actual values are not just preferences but what you practice daily. When you share your actual values people around you shake their heads in affirmation because they see it and agree with you.

Second, Aspirational Values are beliefs you do not currently own. You know you should own them but you are not quite there yet. Aspirational values deal with what should be, not necessarily what actually is. These are values we would like to adopt such as being evangelistic. We desire to reach people with the gospel, but the truth is, we are really not that evangelistic; not yet. We aspire to be!

With these two descriptions of values by Dr. Malphurs, allow me to share a couple of observations we need to be aware of about values:

  1. Our Biblical values will be tested! For example, it is one thing to say we value loving people but we must realize that unconditional love can be put to the test daily. I John makes this very clear, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen.”
  2. Are Biblical truths our values or our goals? We say we are burdened for the lost but what are we personally doing to reach them? It is wonderful to have the goal of reaching the world for Christ but what daily practices are we involved in that are helping us in that direction? The results will never change if we do not change our daily practices. What will we begin doing differently?
  3. Are Biblical truths our actual practices or just aspirational preferences? Jesus said that “men ought always to pray” but how much time are we actually spending in prayer? We say we value the word of God and should study it daily but is it our daily practice to have a quiet time in the word with our Lord? For our results to change our daily practices must change also.
  4. You cannot fake Biblical values! What you really value always shows up! If you really believe in the importance of sharing the gospel with people far from God, then you are constantly building relationships and bridges to them. You do not just talk about what you are going to do but you actually practice what you preach. Matthew 6:21 says it well, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
  5. Make sure your values are genuine and authentic! Be honest about it! At our church I like to say, “We want to be the friendliest church in the world!” I never say, “We are the friendliest church in the world, state, or even our city!” There is nothing wrong with openly admitting what goals you would like to adopt without claiming you have arrived. You cannot intellectualize values nor can you rationalize them.

Malphurs challenges us to examine our values to determine whether they are actual or aspirational. You can determine this by whether they are verbalized preferences and goals or are actual daily practices. Here are some excellent questions to ask about ourselves and our ministries: What values or beliefs should we adopt? What values and beliefs have we adopted? What would those looking in from the outside say we value? What are our real values? What key value ingredients are missing?

This is where many churches get in trouble and struggle because they resist what they need most; a complete or partial transition from one set of values to another. Do we value keeping members happy or do we value reaching our neighbors with the gospel? Do we value our traditions or do we value reaching our children and grandchildren with the gospel? Do we value our personal preferences or being culturally relevant while remaining Biblically sound?

Realize that conflict in churches often arises from differing values. Some value safety, comfort, and routine. Others value risk, sacrifice, and shaking things up. Every church must decide what they really value and if those values are not consistent with God’s mission for His church they must be willing to do whatever is necessary to be obedient to His plan for His church. Values can be measured by what our calendars contain and by our checkbooks.

Healthy churches and healthy Christians are authentic about what they value and are willing to change to make sure God’s values are genuinely theirs!

INVEST AND INVITE

investandinvitemain

The story is told of a lady who every Sunday would comment to the pastor about what he had preached. If he preached on prayer she would say, “Oh pastor, I aim to pray more!” If he preached on witnessing she would say, “I aim to share my faith more!” After this happening every Sunday the pastor finally remarked, “With all due respect, you need to quit aiming your gun and pull the trigger!” How true that is of so many followers of Christ who have good intentions but struggle to follow through.

Values drive us but there is often a disconect between what we say we value and whether or not we actually live out that value. Be careful about asking God to guide your footsteps if you are not willing to move your feet! The book of James makes this very clear in 1:22 when he says, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” He also says in 4:17, “So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it.”

Here are some values that churches all agree upon. First, the lostness of man! We know that man cannot save himself and is far from God. John 3:18 says, “Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.” Do we really believe that? If we did, wouldn’t we be doing more to let people know that there is a Savior who loves them and desires a relationship with them?

Second, the length of eternity! The soul of man separated him from the rest of creation because man has an eternal nature. Death does not end our existence! Heb. 9:27-28 makes it clear, “And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment —so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.” Should this not make us more passionate in sharing our faith?

Third, the love of God! I love Rom. 5:8 because it says, “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” Jesus said that He had come to seek and to save the lost! He also conveyed who He had come to save in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Shouldn’t knowing and having experienced the love of God move His disciples into action by showing and sharing His love?

If these are truly our values, why does it not change the way we live? Why do polls say that only 5% of people who say they are Christians ever share their faith? There is a disconnect in far too many churches and Christians between what we say we believe and what we actually practice. One necessary thing is to finally admit and acknowledge the gap between the two and begin to do something about it. Unfortunately, we are always “aiming” to do more but nothing changes!

Many seem to be living in the vast wilderness between aspirational goals and actual behaviors. Andy Stanley has said, “Knowledge alone makes Christians haughty. Application makes us Holy.” The book of James is all about pointing out that the true believer will never be satisfied with merely knowing the word without obeying the word of God. We are challenged to not only be dedicated to studying the word of God but also to the faithful obedience of it’s commands.

What practices do you have in place that show you really do value the lostness of man, the length of eternity, and the love of God? There are two primary things to consider about practices that will help you carry out your values in this area. They are simple and do not require you to be an expert. If we really value people they way God values them we will develop these practices. Luke 15 shows us that God values the lost and as His followers we must value them also.

  •      The first practice is investing in their lives. Think of ways to show and display the love of Christ to those with whom you have contact every day. How can you help them? How can you bless them? Be prepared to build relationships with them by listening to them. Remember, if you want to be a bridge to people for Christ, you have to be willing to be walked on sometimes. Loving people can be very messy but it is always worthwhile.
  •      Second, make sure you invite them to church, small groups, or some activity where they can be loved by others. The invitation will mean so much more when you already have earned a right to speak into their lives. This takes time so do not get discouraged. Keep watering the seed that you have sown and continue investing in them even when they turn down your invitations. Also, invite them to go golfing, fishing, or some other hobby that has interest for both of you.

There are certain values that we all aspire to but that is not enough. Good intentions will never get the job done or complete the task. Goals help us to see what we are working toward but without tbut edged daily practices they will never be reached. What practices will you begin to implement in order to invest in people who are far from God? What can you do daily that will display the love of Christ in a practical way?

Healthy churches are always investing and inviting!

 

LESSONS FROM MY DAD ON FREEDOM

image

My roots are being born into a military family. Being the youngest of four children I was the only one to have the opportunity to be in the same high school until graduating because my dad retired following my freshman year! He served for almost 27 years and actually lied about his age at 17 so he could begin his service.

We moved from base to base every couple of years and even got to live in the Philippines when he received orders to go to Clark Air Base in 1966. There were challenges but we were blessed to see most of the United States and some of the world.

We were so military that both of my brothers served in the Navy and my sister married a career Air Force man. I never served because at 15 God called me into full time ministry and after high school I headed off to Central Baptist College in Conway, AR.

Some of my fondest memories and favorite pictures of my dad was when he was in uniform. He entered right at the end of WW II and served during the Korean War and Vietnam. He was very proud of his service and is buried (along with my Mom) at the National Cememtery in Pensacola, FL.

One of my greatest memories was the color guard at the cemetery. They represented almost every branch and they snapped his flag so tight and folded it so precisely. It was humurous to us that there was a lady in the color guard. He was very old school and and didn’t think ladies should be placed in the postion of having to go into combat.

He was a TI (technical instructor) in bootcamp for a couple of years and was asked by a nurse if he had any ladies in bootcamp. As he lay on his death bed he replied, “No!” and then after a long pause said, “Thank God!” I was concerned for his nurse but she smiled and assured me that she understood old sargeants like my dad!

There are many things I learned from being a part of a military family that I am very thankful for. We were not afraid of saying the pledge of allegiance to the flag and saying “one nation under God” even though we did not really attend church until I was 12.

Looking back on his legacy there are lessons he taught us through the way he served and how he talked about his country. He was passionate about America and sported a bumper sticker on his car that said, “America – Love It or Leave It!”

He was not right about everything and many times discussed his failures but when we did disagree on politics, policies, or people he would smile and say, “I may not always be right but I’m never wrong!” While he was far from perfect (none of us are) he was right in a lot of areas that shaped me and gave me a strong foundation on what liberty and freedom require.

He was a strong disciplinarian and gave his life to Christ at the age of 43. It was wonderful to watch the transformation that took place in his life as a follower, a disciple, of Jesus Christ. Here a few things my Dad taught me about Liberty and Freedom:

  • Respect the Flag – You don’t burn it, walk on it, spit on it, or disgrace it in any way because of what it represents. He knew America was not perfect, far from it, but he still believed in her. He believed the flag should be respected because it represted a nation of people where all are created equal. We were taught to respect everyone no matter what color their skin was, how much (or little) money they had, what level of education they had obtained, or what religion they were. You earned respect, you were not just granted it!
  • Honor those who served their Nation – Men who served, especially in combat, were heroes. Men like Audie Murphy who was the most decorated soldier in WW II but also all those who served as a support for the soldiers who were on the front lines. I have very vivid memories of seeing many wounded soldiers while living at Clark Base who were brought there to recover. One man I saw in the hospital had scars all over his body after being caught in machine gun fire. Give honor to who honor is due!
  • Freedom has cost many their lives – It is sad how many want to scream and protest the loudest who would never be willing to serve their country and sacrifice the way many have. That free air we are breathing cost many their lives because of their service to our country and to other countries in fighting for freedom. You can argue whether we as a nation should have been in certain wars or conflicts if you want but we must still show the honor and respect due to those who gave the sacrifice!
  • Vote your Convictions – Once again, we did not always agree but he took his responsility as a citizen very seriously. He would look over their voting records meticuously and would not miss any election. He was very mindful of how candidates viewed the military and how they took care of veterans (there is some great wisdom). He instilled in me the need to vote or to be quiet about what was happening in our country! Will we use the upcoming presidential election to get our country headed back in the right direction?
  • Pray for America! – I watched a man go from no interest in church or the Bible to a man who opened up God’s word every morning and would spend time talking to the Lord. He often shared with me what he was praying about and how God had answered certain prayers. He knew our nation needed God even if many did not agree or realize it. The Bible he used daily has underlined in it II Chron 7:14, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

This quote by Darrin Patrick sums up a lot about my Dad and the truth about Freedom and Liberty:

“Freedom is not the right to do what you want. It is the power to do what you should!”

VALUES → PRACTICES → RESULTS

VALUES

Have you ever written down your values, the principles that determine how you will live your life and into what you will invest your time and energy?  Values determine practices and your practices determine your results which are the goals you are working toward.  Your values shape and mold your priorities.  When they are clearly written down they serve as a filter to help you determine into what you will and will not devote your efforts.  Another way of viewing values is to see them as the “rules of the road” for you on your journey.

In The Multiplication Workshop Dave Devries says, “Values reflect a person’s unique beliefs, core convictions, and guiding principles.  These values will guide ongoing attitudes and behaviors.  Often times, values are unwritten assumptions that guide actions. In any situation…Values are confirmed by actions, not just by words.  Values are more about deeds than words.  Core values should be able to be expressed in terms of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.”

In The Leadership Challenge James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner say this, “Values help us determine what to do and what not to do. They’re deep-seated, pervasive standards that influence every aspect of our lives: our moral judgments, our responses to others, our commitments to personal and organizational goals. Values set the parameters for the hundreds of decisions we make every day.”

Values help you make day-to-day decisions.  Remember, your values are not what you say they are but what you are actually doing.  That is what you really value!  You will need to set aside a time to have a prayer retreat in order to be directed by His Word and the Holy Spirit.  Recently, I went through this process to determine the values that would drive and direct the rest of my life.  My prayer is that this simple course of action will be a blessing to you:

  • Write down 5-7 (no more than 10) non-negotiable values!
  • Write out 2-3 descriptions of each value that determine your behavior.
  • Find a quote that explains and supports each value.
  • Ask God to direct to you to the passage in His Word that is the foundational truth for that value.
  • Write out a principle (original or not) that clearly restates your value.

Here is what it looked like for me as God has taught me the value of prayer and my desire to make sure that my values determine my practices.  Prayer is my value to regularly listen to you, Lord.  I will pursue you in prayer through Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield. 

  • Description #1: I am committed to “persisting” in prayer knowing that you hear and answer me!
  • Description #2: I absolutely refuse to give up on talking to you and listening to you knowing that the “urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.”
  • Quote: “Prayer is not preparation for the battlefield, it is the battlefield!” –E. M. Bounds
  • Verse: John 14:12-14, “I assure you: The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”
  • THE POWER PRINCIPLE from Dynamic Church Planting International: Prayer is the indispensable source of God’s power and wisdom in each phase of church planting.  (And in every are of our life.)

As a filter, values enable you to build divinely determined boundaries.  Here is what Henry Cloud says about developing boundaries in our lives, “When we create boundaries, we aren’t saying to the world, “I can’t help you.”  Instead, we’re saying, “I must focus intentionally on the specific things God has placed right now in my direct influence.”  By saying no to people and to things that are not contained within God’s distinct vision for our lives, we’re actually saying “yes” to His sovereignty.  He knows the best way for His will to be accomplished. For us to assume we can handle more is rebellious and counterproductive!”

We cannot just talk about biblical values, we must live them out daily!