Thursday, January 17, 2013

Developing a True Love for the Word of God

A friend forwarded this to me this morning, I found it very insightful and impacting. Hope it blesses you as well. 

January 16,  Daily Bread
O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97).

We're all familiar with the nutritional listings on food and beverage packages. Most of us are interested in total calories per serving, especially calories coming from good or bad fat, as well as readings on carbohydrates, sugar and sodium. But while these government-regulated fact lists work well for food required by our physical body, what if a similar kind of list were available to help us evaluate the spiritual content of the products we consume? 

What if every TV program, magazine, book, DVD or CD revealed the "recommended daily allowance" of the spiritual necessities it provided--things like holiness, truth, forgiveness, perseverance, grace, justice and repentance? How many of them, rather than supplying anything we need, would be shown to actually deplete us, stripping away whatever spiritual health we already have? 

But there is one product--the Bible--that is guaranteed to provide everyone in your family with the perfect blend of spiritual nourishment. Whether packaged in cheap paper or top-grain leather, the Bible comes complete with "everything required for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3, HCSB). Although most Christians today express a deep fondness for the Scriptures, they are apparently failing to feast on it. 

Noted researcher George Barna has reported that fewer than 4 in 10 born-again Christians read the Bible on their own even once in a typical week. A similar FamilyLife survey conducted in churches throughout the United States found that two-thirds of couples read or discussed the Bible together but only occasionally. If you want a spiritually healthy family, you must make sure that each member consumes a healthy diet of the everlasting Word of God. It's the difference between a healthy spiritual life and lifelessness. 

What are the chief threats to keeping the Bible central in your family's life? What are we saying when we let those things take prominence over the Scriptures? 

Pray for daily consumption of the Word, both in priority and in practice.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Overcoming Sin - Together

During our retreat last weekend, the elders of Glory of Christ Fellowship discussed how we can best help one another fight against sin. The calling to walk together in this way is a hard one because no one--at least no one of us--wants to walk around looking for flaws in others and constantly point them out. Finding problems with other people is the easiest thing in the world to do. It takes no talent, no gifting, and little effort. We don't want to go there. And yet the Bible is clear that we need one another to spot our sin and overcome it. 

Mike Perry had a great insight at this point. He suggested that we look more for patterns in one another's lives and point those out, and then overlook the "one-off" offenses which could have more to do with mood or circumstances than anything. I found this very helpful. So the elders agreed: if we see sinful or less than helpful and upbuilding patterns in each other's lives, we're going to point that out in grace and then walk together to overcome. Good stuff. 

Jordan Pepin then added that if we further develop a "culture of confession" where it's natural, normal, and perfectly acceptable to expose our hearts and sins and difficulties to one another, we'll progress all the more in helping each other overcome sin. Why? Several reasons, I'm sure: confession is humble; confession is honest; confession creates an atmosphere in which sanctification can thrive; confession tells others you're approachable; confession sets up the opportunity for Christ to display his mercy, power, and glory because he's already covered every sin we can ever commit or confess. 

This whole discussion really touched me, and I feel so privileged to be part of a group of Pastors who want to grow in Christ and overcome our sin--together. 

This way of life isn't just for pastors, you know! We should all develop relationships in which we are free to be who we really are, and in which we are growing in the skill of applying the gospel to our real life, everyday problems. I pray that the Lord will provide you with relationships such as these, and that you'll be eager to engage in them, for they are part and parcel of his plan. Growing in Christ is a community project (Hebrews 3:12-13)! 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Privileged to Pray with Sarah and Talitha

This evening Kim and I had the privilege of spending a little time with Sarah Fergus and her ministry partner Talitha, both of whom are heading to Madagascar tomorrow. Well, sort of. 

First they will fly from Minneapolis to Atlanta where they'll undergo a little training and deal with some necessary paperwork. Then on Friday, January 11 they will travel from Atlanta to Amsterdam to Nairobi, Kenya where they will undergo some Africa specific training for about three weeks. Finally, they will travel from Kenya to Madagascar where they will spend about 2.5 years serving the Bara people from their base village of Betroka. 

As for this evening, we spent a little time visiting with Sarah and her family, as well as Talitha and her family. It was good to get to know them, to talk about this and that, to share some laughs, and to eat together. But then we broke open the Word of God together, focusing mainly on 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. As Kim and I drove away from the house, we spent a little time rejoicing at the great privilege that was ours to be at the table with them, encouraging them in the Lord, and blessing them in prayer. What a glory to Jesus that he would take sinful, broken people like us and not only forgive us, but then also include us in his great global work. Wow, I'm speechless and very grateful to the Lord. 

As for this blog post, I will close with the words of 2 Cor 5:14-21: 

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 

"From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Thank You for Praying for the Elders' Retreat

Thanks so much to those of you who lifted the elders of Glory of Christ Fellowship up in prayer over the last couple of days. We had a very good and fruitful time. We did gain clarity about the Lord's direction for the life of the church in 2013, but perhaps my favorite part of the retreat was a little game we played called, "No, really, how are you doing?"

Each of us took about an hour to share about our personal walk with the Lord, our victories, our struggles, our hopes, our concerns, our marriages, our children, our health, etc. As each man shared, the others listened, asked questions, gave some good counsel, and learned to walk in love with one another.

I told the other elders on the way home that that time was just as important, perhaps more important, than the other business we accomplished. Even in sports, the teams that know and care for each other off the field, fight with more passion and unity on the field. Our care for one another and knowledge of one another, translates into the desire and ability to engage in the work of the Kingdom of God with passion and intensity and consistency and camaraderie.

Love is more important than strategy or details, and the Lord led us in this way--praise be to His name!

And thanks so much for praying, it means so much and I really appreciate it. 

Friday, January 04, 2013

Please Pray for the Elders' Retreat

In about fifteen minutes or so, the elders of Glory of Christ Fellowship will be heading off to the Timber Bay Retreat Center near Lake Mil Lacs in central Minnesota. The plan is to spend this afternoon and evening together, and then most of the day tomorrow, praying, visioning, and planning for the 2013 ministry year.

Please pray for us. It is among the easiest things in the world to say, "Let's go that way," but "that way" may not be God's way. We desperately need to be desperate for God and his wisdom, so please pray:

(1) That our hearts will be eager and humble and teachable before the Lord.

(2) That we will listen well to one another, hearing one another's hearts and not just the words.

(3) That we will discern the Lord's specific direction for GCF for 2013 and have wisdom to articulate that in accurate, understandable, and compelling ways.

(4) That we will be bold to lead as God has called us to lead, and to serve as God has called us to serve.

Thank you so much for your partnership in prayer! 

Pro-Life Cause Winning? Time Magazine Thinks So

This January is the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I haven't had the opportunity to read the article yet, hopefully I'll do that when the pastors of Glory of Christ Fellowship return from our Friday-Saturday retreat, but it seems that Time Magazine feels the pro-life cause is winning the debate. I hope this is true. Some 3,300 completely innocent human beings are killed every day via abortion in the USA alone, and this is a tragedy I find hard to comprehend and adequately describe. May the Lord be gracious and grant wisdom and power to those who fight for life! And may those who fight for life love those we're trying to persuade, may we stand with women who choose life, may we walk with families who choose life. 

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Office of "Deacon" in the Life of the Church

One of the 2013 goals of the church I serve (Glory of Christ Fellowship in Elk River, MN) is to identify, train, and appoint deacons. Accordingly, I prepared a brief paper for the Elders (also called Pastors), part of which I've decided to post here. I hope it helps you as you think about the nature and office of deacon. I would love to hear your feedback and constructive criticism as well. 

Lexical Definitions and NT Usage 
From the time of Sophocles (fifth century B.C.), the word diakonos referred to one who was a servant (though not a slave), attendant, or domestic helper. It was most likely derived from another word that meant “one who executes the commands of a superior” (Thayer’s Lexicon). This broad usage of the word is, in fact, displayed in the New Testament in texts such as Matt 22:13, Luke 8:3, John 2:5, 2:9, and Rom 13:4.   

In the course of time, this word was further used to refer to those who served in Greek temples under the direction of pagan priests. Thus, it developed a religious connotation while retaining its broader usage in society (Vocabulary of the Greek NT), which is probably why various NT authors utilized it to describe the office we now call the deaconate. 

The unique NT usage of this word began to take shape when Jesus said that he came to serve, not to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28). I take this to mean that Jesus envisioned himself as a Deacon of God, sent to seek and save the lost on his Father’s behalf and for the glory of his Father’s name. Paul, in fact, says as much when he refers to Jesus as God’s Deacon to the circumcised, sent to display God’s truthfulness and faithfulness to the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Rom 15:8). 

Then, as an overflow of Jesus’ own spirit and manner of life, he taught his disciples that the great among them would be the deacons or servants of all, and that the greatest would be their slaves (Matt 20:26; 23:11; see also John 12:26). He did not hereby appoint all of his disciples as deacons in the church, rather, he called them to have the disposition of servants no matter what their position in the church. Every position and all authority in the household of God is to have the flavor of servant-hood. 

It is no surprise, then, that the great Apostle Paul was not ashamed to refer to himself and his fellow laborers in the proclamation of the gospel as deacons (2 Cor 3:6, 6:4; Eph 3:7, 6:21; Col 1:7, 23, 25, 4:7; 1 Tim 4:6). This does not imply that Paul and the others held the position of deacons in the church, rather, it implies that as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers they embodied the spirit of servants of God. They were imitators of Jesus and thus displayed his spirit in their manner of ministry, whatever their official position in the church. We might say that they were all deacons of God appointed to various offices in the church. 

With this Christ-like disposition in mind, the office of deacon emerged in the early church when the Apostles faced issues that threatened to impede the progress and spiritual prosperity of the church. There were, it seems, interpersonal conflicts between Jews of different cultural backgrounds, conflicts that were substantial and required significant attention to understand and mediate. However, the Apostles boldly declared that they could not allow themselves to be distracted from the ministries of intercession and proclamation in order “to wait on tables,” that is, to serve as deacons. 

We should not infer from this that they thought themselves above such service but rather that they rightly discerned the vital nature of the calling God had placed upon them. In a very real sense, they were in fact deacons of God who were appointed as Apostles in the church for his glory and the common good and thus their verdict was not the rejection of a servant-spirit, rather, it was the preservation of a divine calling. But in order to fulfill that calling in the church and the world, they needed Spirit-filled, Christ-like men and women to rise up and serve under their authority for the glory of his name and the common good. 

Accordingly, they commanded the church to choose seven men of good reputation who were filled with the Spirit and wisdom, who they would then appoint as deacons. Later, women were also appointed to this service (see Rom 16:1-2) so that the office of deacon became that position designed by God to uphold the cause of the gospel by attending to the pastoral and practical needs of the church under the supervision of the Apostles, and later the elders of local churches. 

Functions of Deacons in the Church 
There is very little indication in the NT of what deacons actually did in the life of the church but I think we are on safe ground to say that they served God under the supervision of the Apostles, and later the elders, by attending to the pastoral and practical needs of the church. Thus, deacons are called of God to do things like conflict mediation, biblical counseling, training and mobilizing, as well as things like administration, supervision, and general assistance to the elders and the church. 

Qualifications for Deacons in the Church 
Thanks be to God, the qualifications for deacons are spelled out in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. I see seven specific traits in this text which must be further defined in another document. A deacon must be (1) dignified, (2) not double-tongued, (3) not addicted to much wine, (4) not greedy for dishonest gain, (5) a true believer, (6) faithful to their spouse, and (7) good managers of their own households. Further, their spouses must be (1) dignified, (2) not slanderers, (3) sober-minded, and (4) faithful in all things. The only substantial difference between these criteria and those for elders is that elders must further be able to teach sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (2 Timothy 4:1-5; Titus 1:9; Titus 2:1), and elders must be men. 

As for those who are qualified to serve as deacons and do indeed serve God and the church well, Paul holds out the promise that they will gain a good and godly standing before God and men, and that they will grow in their confidence “in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” Financial compensation for this service, though not forbidden, is not normative, and this service will often be consuming and trying. However, the rewards substantial and eternal, and I think Paul wants the God-ordained servants to know that.