Get out of the cave.

Last weekend, my wife and I took our children to Carter Caves and toured Cascade Cave.  The guided tour was 75-minutes long and included 225 stair steps.  Our children loved it, and we did too.   At least, the older two that stayed awake.  Our youngest fell asleep towards the end and was carried through pretty much the entire trip.

When we came out of the cave, our signal returned to our phones and messages and voicemails came on them.  We missed a lot of what was going on and valuable communications.  The experience reminded me that we can enter into spiritual caves in our lives.  The cave is not evil itself and is something that somehow provides protection and a place of solace.  However, it is not a place we are meant to stay.  Let’s look at a couple passages of Scripture to learn more.

David.

1 Samuel 22

David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. 2And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.

3And David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me. 4And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold. 5And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah. Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hareth.

Elijah.

1 Kings 19

And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? 10And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

11And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: 12And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? 14And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

15And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: 16And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. 17And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. 18Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

The Rest of Us

John 16:33 reminds us, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  I am thankful that God has provided grace that is sufficient for all our needs.  Thankfully we can experience His grace during our times of grieving and other overwhelming emotions.  While our feelings can betray us, we must still understand that God has created us with these capabilities.  Emotions are just some of the ways the Lord has given us the power to cope with all the ups and downs of life.

However, as far as the emotions associated with sadness and anger go, we must not stay there too long.  In the passages above, we see that David and Elijah went to the caves in time of despair and depression.  However, both were not there for very long.  It allowed for a moment of profound soul-searching.

We can do this deep searching of the heart during this time because typically we find seclusion.  For Elijah, it was a time where God could speak to Him in a mysterious, yet miraculous way.  Saints of old have called these times the dark night of the soul.  These are times when we feel withdrawn and numb in our emotions.  Communication with God may be foggy at best.  However, it is during these times that we can hold on to God’s Word alone by faith and in the end find out that He still reigns.  This is the peace that Jesus talked about in John 16:33.  We can have trouble and should expect it.  However, we can overcome and have peace because of Jesus’ triumph over sin and death.  That triumph extends to every arena of life.

The unwritten rules.

In every group or organization, there are unwritten rules.   Even in church organizations. I am reminded of this daily through observances and conversations.  It is something that most know, but very few pay attention to unless they are directly affected by it.  In this post, I want to point out a few categories that these unwritten and sometimes unspoken rules fall into.  For the pastor of the small church which may not have much in the way of formal organization, leading through these unwritten rules is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

Culture

First up is the foundation that all the unwritten rules create.  Culture is probably the most explicit way for people to understand and discuss the unwritten rules.  Peter Drucker is attributed with the saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  Many pastors and church leaders are often frustrated with a lack of progress when they implement their big plans.  Basically, the unwritten rule of “How we do things around here” undermines any strategy.  If your plan does not account for the culture of your church or group, it most likely will fail.

Expectations

While unattentiveness to culture may frustrate a pastor’s plans for whatever, unwritten expectations are destructive.  A church may or may not have a written list of expectations or duties for the pastor, but they all have expectations that are not articulated.  These range from attendance at events, evangelistic efforts, pastoral care, preaching ministry and more.  These rules become highly problematic as they tend to become unrealistic demands.  When a person is then held accountable in the person’s mind or publicly, they are blindsided and left confused as to what happened.

How do you change the unwritten rules?

  1. You have to become aware of them.
  2. They need to be addressed humbly and candidly discussed.
  3. Solutions presented, accepted, and implemented.
  4. Accountability and reflection.
What unwritten and unspoken rules have you come across?

 

Don’t Quit

This is the recent preaching outline I used for a sermon called “Don’t Quit.”

Job 14:1, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.

Who do you know right now that you would like to tell them not to quit?  Was there a point in your life, maybe even now, that you wish you had someone to say to you, don’t quit?

Job’s background and Introduction

  • He had great possessions, his family, his health, and his marriage.
  • However, beyond his control, he suffered great loss but remained faithful to the Lord.  God blessed his faithful in the end.
  • We experience these cycles in almost every arena of life.  The cycle move from the promises to problems and many of us never see the prize of being faithful because we quit during the problems.  God help us to not give up.  To not quit.
  • Like Job said, we don’t go very long in life without trouble popping up.

The Promises

  • The first day on the job, honeymoon & marriage, children (Job. 14:1), health, home, education, etc.
  • Each of these

The Problems

  • We tend to settle or surrender.
  • We then quit, give up.
    • Gal. 6:9 and reiterated in 2 Thess. 3:13, And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
  • To not quit, we need to ask ourselves the question, “what wrong things do we need to quit so we don’t quit on the right things?”

The Prize

  • God rewards faithfulness in life.
  • The ultimate reward of faith is eternity with the Lord.

 

  • 1 Cor. 9:24-27, Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.  I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
  • Heb. 12:1-2, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

 

 

F.A.S.T. Church Leadership

What is leadership?  Some understand leadership is Influence – Every person is an influencer.  Good leaders motivate others for the others right.  Bad leaders manipulate others for the leaders good.  Another way of understanding leadership is through the actions of a person during stressful situations.  In either stream, local churches are in need of godly leadership.  Sometimes pastors go into churches, and there are few to no leaders, and they need help to share the ministry with others fast.  Selecting and further development of these leaders are essential where there is lack.  This is a model that I have been implementing.

F.A.S.T Church Leadership

  • This model is about identifying leaders in the congregation.  The four areas are essential qualities of each leaders quality that help you see future growth.
  • This model is about equipping people.  It’s not enough to identify leaders.  They need to grow, and you need to provide them with help for that growth.
  • This model is about shared leadership.  Each quality is more than a personal pursuit.  Leaders work in tandem with other people, not alone.  No one is a leader without anyone willing to follow.
  • This model is about Christian leadership.  FAST reminds us of the spiritual discipline of fasting.  Fasting is about mental fitness, not physical (Mt. 17:21; Mk 9:29).  Ultimately, the unnamed requirement is the person has an obvious relationship with the Lord.  Don’t make the mistake of being desperate enough to just put warm bodies into positions of leadership.  Especially if they have not repented of their sin and professed faith in Christ.

 

Faithful

As implied by the previous section, leaders need to have a personal relationship with God.  This means they are faithful to God (Pro. 3:5; 1 Cor. 4:1-2; Heb. 10:23) and committed to the Church (Acts 2:42, 20:28; Heb. 10:25, 13:17).  It also implies they are available to answer the call to lead in the local church (Is. 6:8; Mk 1:17-18).  

 

Accountable

As stewards of the Gospel and church, leaders need to be held accountable.  They are responsible for honesty (Pro. 11:3; 1 Jn 1:6, 3:18), responsibility (Rom. 12:6-8; Gal. 6:5; 1 Cor. 3:8), accountable to the church (Pro. 17:17; Gal. 6:1-2; James 5:16).  

 

Servanthood

Servant leadership is a great model to follow for further development.  However, in identifying your next leader, there should be some hints of servanthood already.  They should be a servant first, leader second (Mark 10:45; John 13:1-17) They need charisma, but not by the typical definition of an outgoing personality.  Instead, charisma in that they are other-centered (1 Cor. 10:24)  Finally, they need to be content in knowing their identity is found in Christ (Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1)

 

Teachable

The final quality is that this person has a holy discontent with their current state and want to be taught and developed further.  They learn to listen (Pro. 1:5, 19:20, 25:12; James 1:19).  Learn the learning process of action, reflecting, and changing,  (Pro. 1:7, 9:9; 10:17).  They pursue learning opportunities intentionally (James 5:12; 1 Pet. 2:2).  Leaders are open to not only instruction but also correction (Pro. 18:13; John 8:32, 16:13; 2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16-17).

Four Hindrances to Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth.

When Jesus spoke to the women at Jacobs well in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to John, He spoke on worship.  Jesus stated that God the Father searches for those that will worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23).  The conversation basically boils down to the point that true worship does not depend on the physical location of the person but their spiritual position before God.

So what hinders our worship from being in Spirit and in Truth?  Here are a few issues impacting our personal and gathered worship.

An unrepentant and deceitful heart (Acts 5:4-5 & 8:9-25)

In these two passages, we see the damage caused by unrepentant and dishonest hearts.  Highlighting the necessity of a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, made into a reality by the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.  God is not pleased by anything that is not done by faith (Heb. 11:6).  The activation of faith begins with repentance of sin and belief in God.  If there is unconfessed sin in our life, we are deceiving ourselves and hindering our worship.  We need to come clean with God and allow Him to do the full work of Grace in our life.

Lack of prayer (Mt. 21:13)

When Jesus made his way into the temple at Jerusalem, He was disturbed at the marketing chaos and lack of respect for prayer.  He turned over tables and drove the moneychangers out.  Now, we might say this is a location but let us cross-reference with the Scriptural teaching that our bodies are the temple of God as well (1 Cor. 6:19).  We are to be a people of prayer.  Prayer marks our lives because it is more than a ritual of obedience.  It is intentional dialoguing with God.  If we do not have a habit of speaking with God through prayer, how can we also talk, sing, and serve Him in worship?  Prayer is a part of worshipping and can’t be separated from it.

Limited Biblical knowledge (Hos. 4:6 & Col. 1:9)

Despite those with an attitude of intellectual snobbery, Scripture has much to say about the need for Biblical knowledge.  Knowledge of God’s Word and His Ways in the world have a significant impact on our worship.  Worship is more than emotional outburst and your feelings.  A limited Biblical knowledge leads to shallow worship.  C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity noted a conversation that demonstrates this.  The individual he witnessed to said they did not need the Bible because they thought it restricted what they had already experienced with God through personal observations and feelings.  However, Lewis noted that there is a difference between standing on the beach and going out on a ship into the ocean.  You can only experience so much in the shallows.  But, to go out deeper and experience the totality, you need a map, or you will get lost.  The Bible is our map, and it helps us navigate deeper into our relationship with the Lord.  The more we know of God, the more we can honestly know God.

Toxic attitudes (Phil. 4:8-9 & Eph. 4:32)

Attitudes of ungratefulness, dishonesty, irreverence, pride, jealousy, cynicism, and more also hinder our worship.  We are challenged to think about things that are pleasant and good in the sight of God.  We are challenged to have a spirit of forgiveness and preference of others instead of self.  If we harbor this ill-feelings and negative thoughts, without ever giving them to God, we will find our souls drifting farther and farther from God.

Not willing that any should perish.

Last evening in service we had one of our directors of a foreign mission field.  It was great to hear of the work being done, challenged by devotion despite oppositions, and the significant needs across the world.   The greatest need of all is the salvation that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ.  The Lord is currently providing the opportunity if people would only receive him.  In Scripture, we see that is a free choice of individuals to make.

2 Peter 3:3-10,

“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

Christ will set all things right (vs. 3-7, 10)

One of the oldest positions of skeptics is that the return of Christ has taken far to long.  Peter was acquainted with this critique and provided his response.  He noted that the flood took place as part of God’s previous judgment.  With the certainty of the flood, Peter assures his audience that God’s next judgment was ready at any moment.  Christ will return but it will not be expected.  It will arrive like a thief in the night.  However, instead of a flood, the judgment would be an intense fire.

The Lord is not willing that any should perish (vs. 8-9)

In the meantime, Peter provides an answer as to why the coming of the Lord has not happened yet.  He first remarked in verse eight that time does not impact God as it does with creation.  Many take this to be a literal understanding of time with God, but the truth is that whether a day or a thousand years takes place, God is not affected.  He is eternal.  Peter paraphrased Psalm 90:4 which stated, “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”  Again, the notion is that the Lord is eternal and exists outside of time.

Peter associates the eternal nature of God with incredible patience when it comes to acting in time.  Especially concerning the return of Jesus Christ.  The reason for God’s patience toward us is that He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  God desires all to be saved.  However, we also understand that not all are not saved.  To understand this dilemma, two solutions are considered.  First, the Calvinist redefines the words “any” and “all” to only mean the elect.  Or, the second, is to understand that God has given free will and does not force salvation on any or all people.  Instead, he receives any, and all that will freely choose His Son, Jesus Christ.

God is waiting patiently to send His Son to set all things right because He longs for people to repent and receive His salvation.  If you are not saved, the time you have right now is a gift of mercy because the Lord is patiently waiting.  If you are saved, then be busy about the Father’s business, not wanting any to perish, but working to help all come to repentance.

So great a salvation.

We have been given a great salvation.  However, it can be neglected.  Which means what to the believer?  Let’s search this out.

“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Hebrews 2:1-4)

First, why is this salvation so great?  We will find the answer in the previous chapter.

Salvation begins not with us but the incomparable majesty of the Son.  The glory of the Son far beyond the Old Testament prophets and high above the angels.  Jesus is the only begotten of God, meaning one of a kind.  He is uncreated and eternal present before the creation of the world.  And, He is the one who sits at the right hand of Heavenly Father.  

It is Jesus that has purged us from our sins.  We see this referenced in chapter one and a deeper dive in the second chapter begins to open this more fully.  They center on the truth that Christ became flesh, dwelt among, died for our sins, and rose victorious.  Christ became as one of us to die and cleanse us thoroughly from our sins.

What does it mean to neglect?

It is a moral and spiritual command that we pay attention to what God has said.  Our response is a matter of ultimate blessing or loss.   As the Hebrew writer will explain, we need to be more careful than those at Mt. Sinai who heard the words of God through the angels and the holy man Moses, for we have the Son of God!  They listened to the word but did not mix it with faith.  That is not our path.

How prone we are to “neglect?”  It is so easy to treat the things of God as if they were unimportant, to become occupied without comforts and the affairs of this life.  We wouldn’t want to offend others who have their own believers. We don’t intend to deny the faith – we are just taking it a bit easy and being a bit reasonable.  The writer warns us that such an attitude leads to eternal loss. We shall not escape.

Give a more earnest thing to the things we have heard.

We must wholly commit to learning the Word of God.  We do this through personal and congregational study.  However, it is more than gaining knowledge.  The believer needs to proceed further into the application of the Word.  The sincerity of faith will move us past intellectually discussions and empty feelings.  We must seek to live after God as he taught us to in the Scripture.

Foundational and Functional Values

There are many ways to describe the culture of a church.  But, what about the values of a congregation?  An organization’s values are those underlying assumptions that guide the decision-making and actions taken.  Many times values are put into competition with one another.  As though one category is more desirable than another.  Terms such as maintenance vs. mission or traditional vs. contemporary are used to note these distinctions.

In a pastoral leadership course I took in undergrad, we discussed this dichotomy and the group created two lists of values.  I recently came across it.  The list looked at the values of churches but focused on a healthier set of categories.  The terms used were foundational and functional.   If memory serves me correctly, there were ten students in the class and the professor.  We had students from different denominations and pastoral experience.  This is the list we made during a single class meeting.

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 4.09.34 PM

The table itself brings back good memories of that class.  However, it also reminds me of the need for good teachers who help students get past misconceptions and see things at a deeper level.

While there are indeed some issues on both sides of the table, reasonable thinking would see both sides having desirable values.  We certainly need the timeless foundational values that center around doctrine and the Christian faith.  At the same time, the functional or operational values note that while the message does not change, the method does.  Our local churches would benefit from a healthy dose of excellence.  If we continually pursue mediocrity or worse, our ability to lead people to Christ and disciple them is severely impacted.

Are there other foundational or functional values you would add?

Camp Meeting Time! 5 Reasons for going to Camp Meeting.

Last month, I posted a blog that shared the top responses of why people go to youth camp (check it out here and my reasons here).  This month is our annual camp meeting.  I love camp meeting personally. In 2017, I wrote on how to pray and get involved (click here and find the 2018 schedule here).

This time around, I am sharing the 5 top reasons shared for going to camp.  In order of least to most:

Staying at Camp

Why do we go camping in any form, really?  To get away from it all.  Several responses noted that staying in the dorms and campers was a highlight of their year.  There is no better safe space than a sacred space like the Church campgrounds.

The Food

Yeah, this is a typical activity for us.  Where Christians meet, Christians eat.  There is actually some scriptural background to this thought in that Jesus ate his regular meals is the same pattern He shared the Last Supper.  But, I that’s not what I’m writing about.  Instead, the food at Church camp is fantastic.  And, my favorite dish is the ribs that they make.  Yum!

Physical and Emotional Healing

These comments focused on the truth that getting away from discouraging environment allows for spiritual healing.  The atmosphere at camp is transformational and healing.  Not only have I seen broken lives healed, but I have also seen broken bodies healed at camp.

Seeing People Saved

The greatest type of healing is when a person receives salvation.  Camp meetings have always been evangelistically geared.  This reason and the next were mentioned by every person.

The Services

In some form or fashion, the services or at least parts of the worship gatherings were brought up.  The preaching, singing, and everything else in between was central to each respondent.    I have to agree.  There is nothing like camp meeting services.  Believers from different churches and even denominations gathering together to worship Jesus Christ through word, testimony, song, and more.  Nothing can beat it.

Reasons for going to Youth Camp

It’s beginning to look a lot like camp meeting time!  A few years ago I wrote a blog sharing my reasons for going to youth camp as a teen (check it out here).  Now I am going to share the reasons others have given to me in an informal survey.  The following list is a general summary of the responses received.  Check out these eight reasons for going to youth camp.

8. Staying in the Cabins

Oh yes, the cabins.  When I think of the cabins, I think of my years of supervising the camps, and the thing about the cabins was the smells.  Anyways, the responses that talked about getting to stay in the cabins loved the rustic feeling of getting to feel like they were camping.

7. Healing

I love these responses.  Several responses talked about the spiritual and mental healing they received while at camp.  The camp that our church supports, Peace Valley, really has earned its name.

6. Activities

The games, crafts, and Bible lessons really struck many as a favorite reason for going to camp.  This is an area that takes a lot of planning and preparation.  When you hear these types of comments, it is very encouraging.

5. Saved

These responses were either about the person being saved at a youth camp or the joy of seeing others come to faith in Jesus Christ while at camp.  I can attest to this, my fondest memory of youth happened when around 70 youth and adults came to Christ in faith during an evening service at a youth camp in Morehead, Ky.

4. Worship

Several talked about the worship, which includes statements about the services and music/singing.  I know the personal impact it made on me to play in the worship bands.  The responses noted how they love the full groups that come together at camp and how the young people are able to share their gifts in music and voice.

3. Get away

Let’s face it, going to youth camp is a great getaway.  In the responses and other conversations, so many people enjoy a week or two disconnected from the spiritual darkness encountered in the world.

2. Learn

I love that this response was mentioned so frequently.  Teaching and preaching were given as a huge reason for going to youth camp.  Again, I know that camp meeting preaching was very formative in my own experience.

1. Fellowship

The number one reason given for going to youth was fellowship.  I grouped this with those that mentioned a love for the feeling of belonging.  The camaraderie that develops between the youth from the beginning to the end of camp is fantastic to watch.  The relationships formed at youth last and make a significant impact in their walk with Christ.  It is encouraging to our youth to fellowship with other young believers from different churches.  They light up when they know there are others following Jesus just like them.

I hope this article encourages you and the youth are your local church to get ready for camp.  Feel free to share it with your kids and let us know how it has helped you.