Wednesday, July 18, 2018

SATAN’S AGENDA FOR THE CHURCH


I am currently attending classes on expository preaching, and in one of the lectures Mike Fabrez challenged us to prepare and preach with expectations and to remember that Satan is a foe who has an agenda for the church, the family, and individual believers. This reality should fuel prayer in preaching. This tremendously challenged my perspective, and I thought I should share the truths I learned in my next three blogs. So, what is Satan’s agenda for the church? 

1.                  To persecute the church
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. Revelation 2:10

2.                  To keep the church apart
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 1 Thessalonians 2: 17-18

3.                  To promote conflict in the church
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:23-26

4.                  To oppose the church’s evangelism
But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. Acts 26:6-18
5.                  To get people to leave the church
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-3

In view of Satan’s agenda for the church, preachers must heed Paul’s solemn charge to the young preacher Timothy—to preach the word and not relent from doing so at any time. The congregation must be devoted to praying for the preacher and the preaching of God’s Word. Furthermore, congregations must demand that the preacher preach the Word so that they can be equipped to submit to God and resist the devil.

It is instructive that Paul says to the Ephesians believers that when members are equipped, they do the work of ministry and the church is built up and is able to withstand the fiery darts of the devil (Ephesians 6:12-16).


Thursday, July 12, 2018

The types of members that build up the church



Studying through the book of Ephesians gives you a fresh view of the church: a diverse group of people who have been radically transformed from their sinful nature by the power of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary where he paid for the sins of the world as a substitute sacrifice. These diverse people who have no reason to live and work together, let alone care for each other, choose to live in love and unity in the church to the praise and glory of the Lord’s name. This is powerful and attractive when it is lived out in a local church. This therefore means that every member has to be devoted to building others up. Previously, I discussed the five types of member that do not build up the church. Today I would like to discuss six types of members that build up the church.

The attending member
Attending is the most basic way members build each other up. It is also the most obvious way one shows commitment to the body just like class attendance is the easiest way a student shows that he is serious about class and studies. There is something encouraging about knowing a brother or sister is going to be present at a church service, and you are going to worship God together. The writer of Hebrews tells the believers to “stimulate one another in love and good deeds” and to “encourage one another,” and the way they are to do this by “not forsaking the assembling of the believers.” (Heb 10:23-25). You cannot build others up if you are not meeting with them regularly and faithfully. It is therefore no wonder that those who are regularly absent from church meetings are often stagnate in their faith and become complaining and grumbling members. Dear Church Member—church meetings are not about you or your convenience. Build others up by faithfully attending church meetings.

The encouraging member
“Encouragement is shared with the hopes that it will lift someone’s heart toward the Lord (Col. 4:8). It points out evidences of grace in another’s life to help them see that God is using them. It points a person to God’s promises that assures them that all they face is under his control.”[1]
The encouraging member commends, recommends, praises, thanks, comforts, urges, supports and complements other members. We often think of encouraging as merely giving praise, like a spectator in the terraces. However, biblical encouragement is more than that; it is a fellow teammate urging you on in a play to either put on a defense against an opponent or take them on in attack. And encouraging is not flattery. It is not just being nice and telling people what they want to hear; rather, it is honest and sincere. It will commend those who serve well, and yet it will also urge those who are struggling in their walk with the Lord. Such kind of member is a great blessing to the body; strive to be one.

The confronting member
As we live together as a body, we will soon discover that we are sinful people. We will sin against each other, and we will struggle personally with sin. The sin will pose a challenge to the unity of the church and the glory of God. This therefore requires members to confront one another in love and with gentleness. The confronting member is the opposite of a gossiper and slanderer. They obey the charge of Scripture to confront and restore people who are living in sin (Matt. 18:15-18, Gal. 6:1-2). What motivates the confronting member is not just that someone’s sin has offended but that the Lord is offended by sin. They confront out of love for God and other believers.

The praying member
I have always been struck by Samuel’s statement to David when he said, “far be it from me that I may sin against you by not praying for you” (1 Sam. 12:23). We have a responsibility to pray for each other. The spiritual and godly member is devoted to prayer. They have learned to depend on God so they highly value prayer. The praying member learns to talk less to people and more to God about people. The praying members are the unsung heroes of churches. If prayer is what drives the church, then the praying member is essential to the health and growth of the church.

The serving member
Attending is good and important, but members should do more than just attend. They should serve. They do the work of ministry. They use their gifts to serve God and serve other members. They build up the church with their gifts and talents. There is great encouragement that comes from knowing you are not the only one on the team. There is great comfort from knowing that you have teammates fighting with you and encouraging you as you battle. People who are not serving in the church are very discouraging to the rest of the body.

The patient member
This may seem a bit odd to some but patience is a virtue that is very important for the individual believer and the congregation as a whole. The Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon. Our walk with the Lord is a process, and we will not grow over night. This therefore means that we have to learn to endure with each other’s weaknesses and short comings. We have to learn to forgive without holding grudges and disciple one another with all patience. A patient member graciously puts up with other people’s failures and realizes that no church is perfect, and as a result, they are joyfully patient. A church with patient members is a church where members confront one another, encourage one another, confess sin to one another and forgive each other.

Conclusion
Dear Church Member—pursue these things in your own life and encourage them in other members. These are good things to pray for one another. The type of members that build up the church are faithful in attendance, committed to encouraging others, while confronting sin. They serve faithfully and are patient with others. This builds up the church of Christ.


[1] https://www.9marks.org/article/encourage-one-another-giving-grace-with-your-words/

Saturday, July 7, 2018

THE TYPES OF MEMBERS THAT DO NOT BUILD THE BODY



Studying through the book of Ephesians gives you a fresh view of the church: a diverse group of people who have been radically transformed from their sinful nature by the power of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary where he paid for the sins of the world as a substitute sacrifice. These diverse people who have no reason to live and work together, let alone care for each other, choose to live in love and unity in the church to the praise and glory of the Lord’s name. This is powerful and attractive when it is lived out. However, that is not always the case. It is true that churches are made of diverse people and unfortunately not everyone pursues unity. So what kind of members do not build up the body of Christ?

-          The arm chair critic
Cynicism is the new cool. In a world dominated by social media and all kinds of platforms for self-expression, being cynical is easily mistaken for wisdom and enlightenment. In Christian circles people build entire ministries on cynicism; their purpose is to tell you what’s wrong with everyone else. And in our self-deception we have managed to veil our critical spirits as wisdom. The arm chair critic is the member who is bent on finding fault with what others are doing while doing nothing themselves. They are apathetic to things that are going on and are disappointed when you succeed. They are quick to condemn and slow to commend. They have falsely placed themselves as judge, yet ironically you never hear them admit wrong. Cynics can never be pleased nor satisfied.
“Cynicism is so undetectable because it is so justifiable. It wears a mask of insight and godliness, but it conceals festering wounds of harbored bitterness against God and neighbor. We need to understand cynicism, because the masks we wear tell us about the wounds we hide, and point us to the Savior who yearns to mend them.”[1] More often than not, cynicism hides the wounds of hatred and bitterness. This type of member destroys the unity and joy of the church.

-          The non-attending member
It is amazing how many people are eager to be members of a local church and yet not all of them are willing to be faithful and committed. It seems it is common to have discrepancies between the membership roll and actual participatory members. Most churches have more members on paper than they have in actuality.

The New Testament model for believers is for them to be meeting weekly to worship God and serve one another (1 Cor. 11; 16:2), and it even warns believers about non-attendance (Heb. 11:23-25). This invariably means that non-attending members are willfully disregarding the Lord’s command to fellowship with other believers and pursue discipleship relationships. Granted there are some valid reasons for not attending (i.e. you are in another town in which case you should work on finding a church, or health reasons which need comfort and encouragement). Non-attending members do not want to serve and use their gifts to edify other believers, and by not attending they actually remove themselves from the platform where they can minister and be ministered to. 

-          The divisive member
Divisive people are often driven by the desire to win and be in charge. They want the point taken and implemented. They want total agreement from everyone else. They also expect you to consult them about an issue, and if you do not (consult them in particular), they rise up in arms. The funny thing about people with a divisive spirit is that they may actually have a sincere concern about an issue or the church’s well-being. However, our true nature is revealed and Jamie Dunlap sums it up perfectly: “We rally support to get people to see things our way. Behavior like that, no matter the virtue of the original concern, quickly causes factions and dissension within the church, something Paul lists alongside idolatry, witchcraft, and fits of rage (Gal. 5:20). We must address discontentment carefully because it so often bears the fruit of discord.”[2]

-        The busy body
Meddlers are often gossipers. They are in the business of gathering information about people and their affairs with the sole purpose of sharing it with others. They have an inquisitiveness masked as care and concern, when in actual fact they simply cannot mind their own business.
Such people make healthy discipleship relationships very difficult because you have to be guarded around them, for fear of your issues been shared with someone else. Busy bodies also bring strife between people and are always in the middle of conflict between people.

The arm chair critic, the non-attending member, the divisive member and the busy body have one common thread running through them: self-centeredness. They have missed the very essence of salvation which is a transformed life which lives to love God and love people with every ounce that is in their being. These attitudes have missed the fact that the church of God does not exist for their comfort and happiness but for the glory of God. And in God’s design that means loving people with diverse preferences and opinions and yet still loving like Christ loved us. The result? A oneness that displays the power, wisdom and glory of God and becomes a powerful witness to the world.



[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/putting-off-cynicism
[2] https://www.9marks.org/article/class-vii-discontentment/

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Challenges and Joys of a Young Pastor (part 2)



Last week I shared the five challenges I face as a young pastor, and the feedback was interesting to say the least! I do however appreciate all the feedback I get; thanks for taking time to read. I also want to mention that I am glad that I began with the challenges, and I am ending with the joys in this week. So here are six joys of a young pastor.

The joy of learning from others
The joy about being young and a new pastor is that you have many shoulders to stand on. There is a legion of people to lean on and learn from, both dead and alive. I have had the joy of working and learning from fellow elders in our local church and many members in the congregation. I have had the joy of learning from pastors from other churches who have taken the time to invest their time and energies in me. They have over the few years welcomed me in their home and indulged my phone calls asking them complicated questions. I have also enjoyed the privilege of reading about and from other men who have served as pastors through church history. Whether in conversation, observation or reading I am glad that I do not have to reinvent the wheel, and I have the joy of learning from the experiences of others.

The joy of experiencing firsts
A new pastorate comes with the joy of experiencing “firsts”. You have the joy (satisfaction) of experiencing your first elders meeting, your first members meeting (I am Baptist we love those), the first salvation, the first baptism, the first wedding, the first child dedication, the first project, the first missions endeavor, the first funeral and your first conflict (the joy comes from overcoming the conflict through biblical reconciliation), etc. There is an excitement that comes from experiencing these things for the first time that makes them such joyful experiences.

The joy of being deeply involved in people's lives
Pastoring people means you have the privilege of getting to know them at a deeper and more intimate level. Part of the reason is that you get to see people behind the ‘veil’. Every now and then you see people at their most vulnerable such that it either sours the relationship or it develops into a meaningful one (as is often the case). This is an awesome responsibility, and the development of these deep and meaningful relationships is priceless.

The joy of preaching the Word to the people you love
I love preaching. I love preaching so much that is about the only thing I cannot (almost) say no to (to my wife’s annoyance). There is great joy that comes from preaching if you love preaching; there is even greater joy that comes from preaching to the people you love dearly. To do so week in and week out is an enormous bonus.

The joy of seeing souls saved
There is a great blessing to hearing testimonies of people getting saved. Not just as a result of my preaching or personal evangelistic efforts but from the evangelistic efforts of the church as a whole. There is an overwhelming and satisfying joy in hearing people share how they were led to surrender their lives to Christ but also from hearing members of the church share how they had a successful evangelistic effort. It makes you want to shout hallelujah and cry at the same time.

The joy of the “aha!” moment
As you teach and shepherd the people, your eager desire is to see them apply the truths you are preaching and teaching like yesterday! If you have taught effectively (and of course the preacher always thinks he was very clear), the people should live it. Sadly, life does not work that way. There is a reason Paul told Timothy to teach and exhort with all patience. So, you can imagine the disappointment young preachers endure, having waxed eloquently, only to find people have not understood or applied it. Thankfully, as you faithfully preach the Word, you begin to get “aha” moments. People begin to see and apply the truths as they see it from Scripture. It is then that as a young pastor, you also get an ‘aha’ moment!

With all that said, it will be helpful to conclude with a few thoughts in order to give perspective.
1.      Our ultimate joy is found in Christ alone and not the blessings of ministry. So while these things bring us joy, our joy is not dependent on them.
2.      The joys of ministry far outweigh the challenges we face in ministry. And our toils here on earth will be nothing compared to the joy that will be ours when we see Christ face to face.
3.      It is disturbing when pastors, young or old, are grumpy and always complaining. The joy of the Lord is our strength!


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Challenges and Joys of a Young Pastor



Last month marked five years since I was officially ordained into pastoral ministry, and last week was my second anniversary as a lead elder in the church. Pastoral ministry comes with a lot of unique challenges and joys; these challenges and joys become more peculiar the younger you are. I will share the challenges this week and hopefully share the joys next week. Let me state that this is a personal reflection, so I am in no way suggesting that all young pastors face these challenges.

Un-informed zeal
Zeal is a blessing of youth. Young people are eager to have things done yesterday. When you add an aggressive personality to young zeal, it is often a deadly combination! The problem with this combination is that it is often accompanied by lack of know how. Even the Scriptures warn about the dangers of un-informed zeal (Prov. 19:2, Rom. 10:1-3). 

As a young pastor, I often find that I have overemphasized what one sermon can do and what can be achieved in a year. Yet, at the same time, I have underestimated what the Lord can do with one sermon, and the work He can achieve in a year. Un-informed zeal often leads you to want to change people and then you get impatient when people are not getting it, forgetting that it is God’s work to change people. In my un-informed zeal, I have found that i often do not know when to pick my battles. I am eager to jump into every fight that comes my way, when it would be better for me to let some things go.

Struggle with sin
This is perhaps the biggest challenge of them all. There is a reason Paul urged Timothy to flee youthful passions. The battle with sin is a huge challenge. The hard part about it is that it is unrelenting. Because of my inclination to sin, I have to be daily on guard so that I do not fall into sin either in thought, word, attitude or deed. An even greater challenge is cultivating an attitude of confession and repentance of sin.

This challenge is often made worse by the busy nature of ministry such that if one is not careful they do not have time to take care of their souls. You can easily deceive yourself into thinking all is well, that it is possible to go on “doing ministry” while your heart is far from God and no one knows. 

Identity crisis
There is a real danger for young pastors to feel guilty for being young, largely because of the stigma and mockery that comes with young age. Interestingly this comes from both those who are older than you as well as your age mates. This can then cause a young pastor to disregard his youth. There have been times I have thought to myself; “I am too young to be doing this, and why can’t I just be a normal young man!” It is for this reason that Paul urged Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youthfulness. Instead Paul instructs him to be an example, and when you look at the passage, Timothy is to be an example of a righteous Christian. It is said churches want a 28 year old pastor with 35 years of experience! 

Other people’s burdens
Nothing can prepare you for the emotional, mental, physical and psychological demands of shepherding people. From the highs of rejoicing with those who are rejoicing, to the lows of weeping with those who are weeping or being devastated by a member who falls into sin, to enduring attacks on you and your family (attacks on my wife are the hardest to bare), and still I need to joyfully pastor these people! From the betrayal of someone you have loved, to encouraging someone who is out of employment and struggling financially, the list really is endless, and the rollercoaster ride can take its toll on a young minister and if not checked can lead to depression. 

Phillip Brooks sums it up perfectly when he says “to be a true minister to men is always to accept new happiness and new distress… the man who gives himself to other men can never be a wholly sad man but no more can he be a man of unclouded gladness. To him shall come every deeper consecration before untasted joy, but in the same cup shall be mixed a sorrow that it was beyond his power to feel before”[1]. It makes one resonate with Paul’s cry: “who is sufficient for these things.”

The incipient desire for success
Just like everyone else, young pastors want to do well. That in and of itself is not wrong. It is in fact a healthy desire. However, the desire for success can become the driving force, which is often sacrificed on the altar of faithfulness. This desire, coupled with the church growth movement that is often devoid of biblical principles and full of pragmatic, man centered thinking, results in preoccupation with building reputations, getting numbers, self-promotion and massive investment in programs, which in turn reduces the pastorate to a program coordinator.  Young ministers often face the temptation of getting success at all cost instead of pursuing godliness. The end result is often shipwreck.

Lest I discourage some young man somewhere about to answer the call, here are some encouraging words.

1.     The Lord knows the weaknesses and limitations of those He calls, and yet he chooses to use them anyway. Remember you are an instrument in the hands of a sovereign Lord. Your ministry is not dependent on your know-how or ability but on your humility before the Lord as he uses you.

2.      You are not all knowing. Shut up and learn! There is really no nice way of saying that. In His wisdom the Lord made the church a body so that there is inter-dependency. Do not try to be a jack of all trades.

3.      Find joy in your limitations. You are a mere man; God will not judge you on your success but your faithfulness. The farmer sowed the seed and went to sleep because he understood that it is the Lord who gives the harvest.

4.      Thankfully we do not have to come up with any tricks or schemes. Our primary task is simple and straightforward. Preach the Word!


[1] The influence of Jesus (London: H, R. Allenson, 1895, 191).