The Red Umbrella

As the drought continued for what seemed an eternity, a small community of midwest farmers were in a quandary as to what to do. The rain was important not only in order to keep the crops healthy, but to sustain the townspeople’s very way of living. As the problem became more urgent, the local church felt it was time to get involved and planned a prayer meeting in order to ask for rain.

In what seemed a vague remembrance of an old Native American ritual, the people began to show. The pastor soon arrived and watched as his congregation continued to file in. He slowly circulated from group to group as he made his way to the front in order to officially begin the meeting. Everyone he encountered was visiting across the aisles, enjoying the chance to socialize with their close friends. As the pastor finally secured his place in front of his flock, his thoughts were on the importance of quieting the crowd and starting the meeting.

Just as he began asking for quiet, he noticed an eleven-year-old girl sitting in the front row. She was angelically beaming with excitement and laying next to her was her bright red umbrella, poised for use. The beauty and innocence of this sight made the pastor smile to himself as he realized the faith this young girl possessed that the rest of the people in the room seemed to have forgotten. For the rest had come just to pray for rain…she had come to see God’s answer.

Checking For Signs of Life

Most of us are concerned about our health. We try to eat right, exercise, and take preventative measures to ensure a long life. Once a year we have a check-up or a physical to make sure we are as healthy as we seem. If the doctor finds something we endure more tests, procedures, and sometimes surgery to make sure the malady is cured.

How often do we do the same thing for our church? How long has it been since you did a church wide check-up? Have you sat down lately to examine what is and isn’t working? Do you have a ministry that you are hanging on to just because you’ve always done church that way? I believe at least once a year we should sit down with key leadership and talk about the health of the church. This will ensure that we are wisely investing our time, talent, and treasure in that which is making a real difference in the church, community, and our families.

Thom Rainer gives us a clear picture of the trends of healthy churches in America in his post, “Twelve in 2012: Trends in Healthy Churches.” I hope these will help in examining the spiritual condition of your local church family.

Dr. Rainer writes:

1. The churches have a high view of Scripture. A number of research projects over the past four decades point to this trend. Healthy churches have leaders and members who believe the totality of the Bible, often expressed as a view called inerrancy.

2. A large number of church members read the Bible daily. The simplicity of this trend often surprises church leaders. But we can no longer assume that all of the congregants read their Bibles every day. That is a practice that must be encouraged and monitored. In our research on spiritual health of Christian, we found that the highest correlative factor in practicing other healthy spiritual discipline was reading the Bible every day.

3. The churches have a priority and focus on the nations. This priority is manifest in short-term mission trips, in care and adoption of the orphaned, in giving to mission causes, and in the number of congregants who commit their lives to reaching the nations with the gospel.

4. The churches have a missional community presence. The leadership and members do not look at their community as a pool for prospects. Rather, they love their community. They serve their community. The live in their community. They have deep relationships in their community.

5. The congregations have membership that matters. These healthy churches are high expectation churches. Membership is much more than completing a card or walking an aisle. These churches have entry point classes that set the expectations of membership. Church members are expected to serve, to give, to be in small groups, and to be accountable to others. Church discipline is practiced in most of these congregations. Because membership is meaningful, the assimilation rate in these churches is very high.

6. The members are evangelistically intentional. The gospel is central in these healthy churches. As a consequence, the sharing of the good news is natural and consequential. But leaders in these churches do not simply assume that evangelism is taking place. There are constant reminders of the priority of evangelism. There is inherent in many of these churches some type of accountability for ongoing evangelism in a number of contexts.

7. These healthy churches have pastors who love the members. That love is obvious in their words, their actions, and their pastoral concern. It does not mean that a pastor is present for every need of a member of a church member; that is physically impossible. It does mean that the church has a ministry in place that cares for all the members. Above all, though, you can sense intuitively when you walk into these churches that the pastor deeply loves the members, even those who may often oppose him.

8. The churches allow their pastors to spend time in sermon preparation. Our research has confirmed over the years that pastors in healthier churches spend more time in sermon preparation than those in other churches. For that to take place, the congregation must understand the primacy of preaching, and they must be willing for their pastor to forego some areas of activity and ministry so he can spend many hours in the Word.

9. There is clarity of the process of disciple making. Such was the theme of the book, Simple Church, written by Eric Geiger and me. For the healthy churches, the ministries and activities are not just busy work; instead they have a clear purpose toward moving the members to greater levels of commitment toward Christ.

10. These churches do less better. They realize that they can’t be all things to all people; and they shouldn’t have such a flurry of activities that they hurt rather than help families. So the leaders of these congregations focus on doing fewer ministries, but doing those few better than they could with an overabundance of activities.

11. The process of discipleship moves members into ongoing small groups. A member is almost guaranteed to leave the church or become inactive in the church if he or she does not get involved in an ongoing small group. These groups have a variety of names: Sunday school; small groups; home groups; life groups; cell groups; and others. The name is not the issue. The issue is getting members connected to ongoing groups.

12. Corporate prayer is intentional and prioritized. Prayer is not incidental in these churches. The leadership regularly emphasizes the importance and priority of prayer. The congregation is led regularly in times of corporate prayer.

To see the entire post please visit: Twelve in 2012: Trends in Healthy Churches.

Leaving a Legacy

Regardless of the accolades we may receive in this life from our peers, the greatest honor we can receive is affirmation from our family on how we lived what we preached, that we were not hypocrites, that we walked the walk, and talked the talk.

This is beautifully illustrated in the following post by Tony Reinke on “Keeping Home Priorities in View.”

Bible scholar Don Carson cautions us about parental hypocrisy by recalling the enduring impact of his parents’ prayerful example:

My father was a church planter in Québec, in the difficult years when there was strong opposition, some of it brutal. Baptist ministers alone spent a total of eight years in jail between 1950 and 1952. Dad’s congregations were not large; they were usually at the lower end of the two-digit range.

On Sunday mornings after the eleven o’clock service, Dad would often play the piano and call his three children to join him in singing, while Mum completed the preparations for dinner. But one Sunday morning in the late fifties, I recall, Dad was not at the piano, and was not to be found.

I finally tracked him down. The door of his study was ajar. I pushed it open, and there he was, kneeling in front of his big chair, praying and quietly weeping. This time I could hear what he was saying. He was interceding with God on behalf of the handful of people to whom he had preached, and in particular for the conversion of a few who regularly attended but who had never trusted Christ Jesus.

In the ranks of ecclesiastical hierarchies, my father is not a great man. He has never served a large church, never written a book, never discharged the duties of high denominational office. Doubtless his praying, too, embraces idioms and stylistic idiosyncrasies that should not be copied.

But with great gratitude to God, I testify that my parents were not hypocrites. That is the worst possible heritage to leave with children: high spiritual pretensions and low performance. My parents were the opposite: few pretensions, and disciplined performance.

What they prayed for were the important things, the things that congregate around the prayers of Scripture. And sometimes when I look at my own children, I wonder if, should the Lord give us another thirty years, they will remember their father as a man of prayer, or think of him as someone distant who was away from home rather a lot and who wrote a number of obscure books.

That quiet reflection often helps me to order my days.

Source: Don Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayer (Baker, 1992), page 26.

“The Reason for Joy”

Here is a great quote from Timothy Keller on “The Reason for Joy.”

If you’re a Christian, you know that Christianity is supposed to be about joy. You probably also know that you’re supposed to experience joy in spite of circumstances. The Bible clearly teaches that joy is available that should make us happy no matter the circumstances. There’s a joy that the deepest trouble can’t put out and, if properly nourished and nurtured, can even overwhelm the greatest grief.

When Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:13, he prays for us – his followers. He says, I pray that ‘they may have the full measure of my joy within them.’ One chapter before, he says to his disciples, ‘You will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy’ (16:22). That’s pretty amazing! He’s talking to the twelve disciples, men who are going to be persecuted. They’re going to be robbed of everything they own, tortured, and put to death. Yet Jesus promises to give them a joy that will withstand all that. Nothing – not disease or persecution or alienation or loneliness or torture or even death – will be able to take it away.

I often wrestle with that concept. I have to ask myself, ‘Why do things affect me so much? Why is my joy not relentless?’ Sometimes I wonder, ‘Do we have that kind of impervious joy?’ I’m afraid not. I don’t think we understand the nature of this joy.

Romans 8 is all about living in a suffering world marked by brokenness. Paul talks about trouble and persecution and nakedness and poverty and how Christians are supposed to live in a world like that. In 8:28-30 he offers three principles for finding joy in suffering. Paul tells us that if we follow Christ, our bad things turn out for our good, our good things cannot be lost, and our best things are yet to come. Those are the reasons for our joy.

The Good Shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever (Ps 23.1-6 NKJV).

I Am the Light of the World!

Most of us wouldn’t consider trying to feel our way through a strange building filled with danger. We would want a bright light to illuminate our path in order to make it through without harm. However, sometimes we don’t think about the danger and just try to make it on our own.  I remember a time when I was wandering in a dark building and almost took one step too many. If I had kept going I would have fallen down fifteen feet into a giant hole. Thankfully, an uneasy feeling prevented me from going any further without a flashlight. When I returned, I was able to make it safely around the hole and through the room without any bumps, bruises, or broken bones.

In John 8.12 Jesus cries out, “I am the light of the world!” Ok, He is the light, but what do we need His light for? Why should I trust His light? What is His light going to do for me? These are just some of the questions we will be answering on Sunday, March 25th as we continue our study on Jesus’ “I Am” statements.

Will you please join us tomorrow at Living Oaks Baptist Church as we worship together, and then learn a few lessons about how Jesus’ light can help us, protect us, guide us, and save us. Our worship service begins at 10:45 a.m. You can find direction to Living Oaks by visiting WWW.LOBC.NET.

God’s Perspective

Here is a wonderful parable of God’s perspective as told by Casandra Lindell.

Bert looked into time from heaven and saw the atrocities carried out in the human realm. Absolutely aghast, he pointed to one unspeakable scene and asked God about it. “How can you allow it? Look what evil is setting in motion down there?”

“There’s no one better than the devil for creating a tragedy like that!” God said.

“But God, that man is one of your people…oh, that poor man!”

“I gave the freedom to choose between good and evil,” God said, his face sad. “No matter what they choose, they all live there together. Sometimes, those who choose my way are impacted by those who don’t.” He slowly shook his head. “It’s always painful when that happens.”

“But those people right there have no choice,” Bert protested. “Evil is being crammed down their throats! That isn’t a choice!”

“Now, Bert,” God said patiently, “have I ever let pain go unavenged?”

“No…no, but…” Bert cringed from the sight, unable to bear anymore.

“Watch!” God put his arm around Bert’s hunched shoulders and turned him again. “Look right over there, by the wall.”

“That one? He looks nearly dead. Is he praying?”

“Ah, Bert, you should hear his prayers!” Intense love flashed in God’s eyes like lightning. “Simple prayers from an aching heart. This is triumph over evil. Trusting me-that is the choice.” God smiled through sparkling tears of love. “Isn’t he magnificent?”

Together they stood in silence, and Bert began to see as God did.

“Now watch this, Bert.” God spoke softly, never letting his eyes leave the scene. He called for Michael and the archangel appeared.

“Go down and get him, Michael.” The tears of divine joy spilled over. “I’ll arrange the party.”

It is impossible for us to understand the ways of God as they are so much higher than our ways. From our perspective life on earth seems to be nothing but chaos; however, the Bible promises us that God is in control. Regardless of whether we understand God’s plan, we can always trust His love for us. His love is clearly seen in the death of His own Son, Jesus!