Category Archives: Ministry

Character affords the opportunity (Lesson 2)

  • In our continuing series of the Top 10 Lessons I want to share to my congregation – this is Lesson #2: Character Affords the Opportunity!

The Word of God gives us ample information and background on many of the heroes of our faith.  We can consistently see that the character of the individual opens the door to the opportunity that God has for them.  Here are three Biblical examples:

Esther.  The Bible tells us that Esther made a very positive impression on Hegai (2:9),  the one appointed to look after the young women chosen to be presented before King Ahasuerus.  She was not vain or needy by evidence of her refusal of complimentary items(2:15).  The Bible also tells us that even as Queen she  listened to Mordechai, her cousin that raised her, just as she always had (2:20).  Is it any wonder then that the King was so pleased to see her when she presented herself at his court?  Any wonder that he “hasted” to her dinner both the first night and the second?  Her character in the little things opened the door when things looked dire.

Nehemiah.  In chapter 2 of Nehemiah we see that this cup bearer for the King was troubled by the information he had just received concerning the tragic condition of the city of Jerusalem.  Nehemiah’s countenance was fallen because of this news.   Verse 1 of chapter 2 tells us that the King noticed his demeanor because he “had not been beforetime sad in his presence”.  Wow!  He had never shown up to work sad before.  This was so out of character for Nehemiah that the King of the largest and most powerful empire in the known world at that time stopped all of the business of King’s court to find out what was troubling him.

David.  In 1 Samuel we see the story of young David in the familiar showdown with Goliath in chapter 17.  David’s attention to detail cannot be understated.  In verse 20 we see him rise early and leave his foremost duty (tending to the sheep) in the hands of someone else.  He makes his way to the battle as his father had commanded him to do and leaves his dad’s carriage in the hand of another keeper.  He is coincidentally berated by his older brother Eliab in verse 28 for showing his interest in the events of the battle.   Eliab even questions why he abandoned his sheep to come to the battle. Of course, the Word of God had already told us that he had not abandoned his duties.  Isn’t also interesting that even though David was not watching sheep this day – he still had his sling and his pouch to carry the ammunition?

Esther, Nehemiah and David.  Why did God chose these servant for the tremendously important events for which we know them? Perhaps much can be said for their character in the little details of life which mattered so much to God.  So much so that He recorded these little details in His precious Word.

I’ve said ‘No’ to heterosexual marriage ceremonies many times.

The recent supreme court ruling on homosexual marriage has ignited a firestorm surrounding whether or not a church and or minister should be required to perform a same sex wedding.  Can a minister deny performing a same sex wedding on the basis of his/her faith?

The assumption is being made that Pastors marry heterosexual couples without hesitation. This is simply not the case.  Any Pastor with standards and a high regard for marriage evaluates every potential marriage ceremony individually.  There are multiple reasons a Pastor may excuse himself from performing a wedding.  I have personally declined several. The Word of God commands individuals to not be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers”.  Scripture forbids a minister from marrying a Christian and a Non-believer in marriage.  The first question I always have is in regards to their faith.

The issue of divorce and remarriage is also a hot topic among church leaders.  This issue alone will affect the decision of many ministers in whether or not they will perform the wedding.  I require three sessions of pre-marital counseling which some couples don’t want to go through.  This eliminates some potential ceremonies.  I have a pastor friend which requires potential spouses to take a test first to gauge how well they complement each other.  There are others who want a marriage reception atmosphere (alcohol and music) which is against my standards and they find other arrangements for their ceremony.

Marriage is a sacred union that must be taken seriously.  I feel it is important to note in our discussion of marriage today that the issue of heterosexual vs. homosexual may be grabbing the headlines but I for one take many, many other things into account.  I have several members of our congregation which respect my high standard for marriage and while I was not able to perform their own wedding they are still a part of our church. Marriage is a divine picture of Jesus’ relationship with the Church and is not to be taken lightly even in a heterosexual ceremony.

 

God is my Trail-manager Part 12 ‘Hiker Hunger’

When hiking the Appalachian Trail the hiker is burning calories at a tremendous rate. When coupled with the fact that the hiker can only carry a small amount of food with him, the hiker is always looking for the next town, restaurant, hostel or anywhere else he can buy a meal.  Hikers love to find buffet’s where they can eat as much as they want.  The hiker is often surprised at how much more they can eat now at a single meal than they ever would have eaten before.  They refer to this appetite as ‘hiker hunger’.

In the Christian life we are supposed to be “hungering and thirsting after righteousness”. Too often it seems the Christian is nibbling at the Word of God or sampling at the truth. The Christian should have ‘hiker hunger’ – a strong, unabated desire for the truth of God’s Word.  There should be a deep seated hunger to learn more, hear more and study more about God.  Christians don’t have a hiker hunger for God because they have become couch potatoes for God.  We are content to nibble and snack here or there.  It’s time we get hungry for truth and righteousness!

God is my Trail-manager – Part 6 ‘Trail Magic’

All along the Appalachian Trail people from the local communities will reach out to the traveling hikers and help them in a variety of ways.  They’ll leave food along the trail, they’ll offer rides for hikers, they’ll pay for their meals at a restaurant or offer them some other assistance as needed.  The hikers refer to these unexpected moments of help as “Trail Magic”.

Isn’t is amazing when God allows unexpected help to come our way.  The card of encouragement, the word of wisdom, the Bible verse just when we need it.  It’s not magic of course – it’s the help we need, just when we need it.

This walk of life would be all the more difficult if it were not for the people that God sends our way just as we need it.  Scripture reminds us that we are “one body, fitly joined together”.  We need each other.  The importance of church fellowship cannot be overstated.

God is my Trail-manager – Part 3 ‘Trail Name’

One of the unique attributes of trail life is that everyone on the Appalachian Trail has their own unique Trail Name.  It is usually given to you by others along the way.  You may show up with a name you like – but it may not be the one you end up with.  You can usually veto a name that you can’t tolerate.  The bottom line though – you end up with a name that you earn or that best describes you.

Names people have ended up with include ‘Compass’ – a guy who just had a difficult time heading the right way each day.  He would routinely begin his day packing up and heading off the wrong direction. So his name was clearly tongue-in-check.  Other obvious names include ‘Slow-walker’, ‘Sunshine’, ‘Young Beard’, ‘Stinky’, ‘Tiny’, etc.

What would it be like if we were given Spiritual names as we lived our Christian life?  What if the people around us named us?  What kind of name would we have?  Hopefully we would have names like ‘Faithful’, ‘Joyful’, ‘Prayer-Warrior’, ‘Gracious’, ‘Kind-hearted’, etc. We might be shocked to find that those that know us best would name us things like ‘Angry’, ‘Bitter’, ‘Ship-wreck’, ‘Selfish’, etc.

Thankfully we don’t get ‘Trail Names’ in our spiritual life.  We will however stand before Jesus at the Judgement Seat of Christ and we will be given rewards for what we did or did not do for Him.  Now is the time to determine which rewards we will be given and whether or not we will hear from Him those most cherished words: “Well done, though good and faithful Servant”.

What will the Church look like in 2040?

untitledI attended a conference this week which concluded with this question put to the panel: What will the church look like in 2050?  I felt that the panel did a great job explaining our current challenges and a look ahead to maybe 2015 – but they did not give any indications of what to expect 35 years from now.

I felt that it was a questions worth addressing – though we’ll narrow it down to a 25 year time frame.  I have included statistics that we know and trends we are witnessing and I concluded with some specific predictions that I make:

Statistics:

1)      Aging population – The youngest Baby Boomers are turning fifty years old in 2014 and many are beginning to retire.  The Boomers are the age group that give the greatest dollar amount and percentage of their income to charitable organizations.  As they begin to fall into ‘fixed incomes’ the church should expect to see giving decline – as is currently the trend. http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/173447-how-the-coming-boomer-crisis-will-impact-your-church.html

2)      We are in a post-Christian culture where the knowledge of God and the Bible is clearly waning.

3)      Churches, in general, are following the decline of culture and are not standing in contrast to this erosion.

4)      We see a large amount of mail-line protestant churches closing each year.

5)      Mega Churches with celebrity Pastors are the growing trend in church culture.

6)      Technology is and will continue to advance quickly.

7)      The Church is under attack from culture (hate speech) and from Government (through regulations).

 

The effect upon our churches:

1)      Giving is down and will continue to decrease.  The younger generations have not been taught to give (tithe). They also have grownup under the idea that all charitable donations and giving are equal (according to the IRS).  Therefore, the money they give to their children’s school fundraiser, the donation to the Red Cross when the natural disaster strikes and the dollars they give to your church are all equal.

2)      The culture – both in and out of church – is now in a new paradigm:  Children always come first.  Above all else! This is reflected in the areas of:

a.        soccer practice for my ten year old is now more important than a church service

b.       if my children are not happy and content at church we will go somewhere else or

stop going to church all together

c.       Volunteering in my children’s ministries is more important to me than sitting in

a service.

d.      I will provide whatever religious education I think they need at home.

3)      People do not see the need for foreign missions.  Why?  Television and the Internet have made the world a much smaller place and we are now regularly told that everyone, everywhere is the same.  Economies around the world are becoming more equal and therefore a church in Arkansas, United States does not see why they need to send money to another church in Bogotá, Columbia.  The buildings look similar, the vehicles look similar, both churches have websites, both have email, both are using audio and video equipment.  Literally, our churches are beginning to wonder why we are sending them money and they are not sending us money.

4)      People live in debt.  The Government is drowning in debt.  The world economy is in crisis because of debt.  Big businesses are re-organizing because of debt.  So why is the pastor so adamant that the church is always in the black?

5)      People question everything they hear at church.  The Pastor will be checked by Google – maybe after the service is over – but most likely right during the service by way of their mobile device.  Pastor’s need to defend the churches position against Wikipedia almost every week.  The Church has lost its trust and is looked at skeptically.

6)      The church (like any other business and individual) is being regulated to death – literally to the extinction of churches that cannot keep up with the regulations imposed upon them.  Building expansions are red tape nightmares.  Regulations are making it more difficult to have children’s ministries, transport people to events, hire and fire employees, maintain facilities, prepare and serve meals, compensate the Pastor and staff, etc.

 

How will churches cope and adjust over the next 25 years?

1)      The growing trend of multi-site churches with celebrity Pastors has not yet shown what will transpire when these Pastor’s retire or are replaced.  We have seen that the mega churches of the past 50 years have greatly struggled when the founder/leader has moved off the scene.

2)      Technology has and will continue to greatly change the way we minister.  Twenty five years ago a local independent church found that half of the children attended public schools and the other half attended local Christian schools.  Today we see that half still attend public schools and the other half are home/cyber schooled and very few go to Christian school anymore.  I believe we will find the same thing happen to our local churches.  Many will begin to have church at home.  Not watching Charles Stanley or John Hagee like some have done for years – but churches will begin to have more effective live streaming and interactive services that you can attend without leaving your home.  If the growing trend today is to attend a church where the Pastor is being shown to you live streamed from another locations, than why not sit at home and have him live streamed? ** Notice the continued affect this will have on giving/tithing.

3)      Churches will find such a struggle between decreased giving and increased regulations – combined with the ease and relatively low price of advanced technology – that the church will become less corporate and more home based.  Churches will not be able to afford facilities, salaries, insurances, etc.  The home church movement will be the ‘trend’ of the day.

4)      More Pastors will become bi-vocational.  They will work a full time job during the week and meet as a small group in the home of a parishioner on Sundays.

5)      Churches that are culturally accepted in 2040 will be, by and large, churches with a weak message and are even heavier on entertainment and social gospel.  Churches with a strong stand upon the Bible and morals will be considered too radical by society and will be forced ‘underground’ (like in so many other countries today).

6) The great need (growing now and even greater in 2040) will be helping the hurting.  With the decline of God and morality in culture – relationships, children, marriages, health and more will be in greater peril with more people contemplating drastic measures such as suicide, drugs, or crime.  Helping hurting people will be the key ministry of 2040.

 

Underestimating False Information

by Pastor Wes Gunther

misinformation

During World War II the British were very effective at using ‘Black Propaganda’ which is better know today as Disinformation – or False Information.  During the War the British began at least two radio stations which both claimed to be broadcasting from Germany. One was geared toward the German citizens and included much information on how Hitler had gone soft and how his government was full of scandal and immorality. The second station targeted the German forces and fed them disinformation on German defeats and casualties – designed of course to lower morale in their military.

Do we think it’s possible that Satan would deploy such tactics?  Could Satan possibly be advanced enough to understand the influence of disinformation?  Of course he understands it and uses it.  Satan is wise and cunning in his attacks.  In the Garden of Eden he immediately took the commandment of God and re-worded it, embellished it, and added a few lies.  “Did God say?”  “You’ll be as gods.”   How is Satan using misinformation today?

1.  False Religions.  Today there are over 4200 religions per a quick internet search.  The truth of God is shrouded in the midst of lies.  No wonder people are turned off to religion of any kind.  No wonder people are so skeptical of the truth.

2. Doctrinal Disputes.  In order for a lie to be effective it must contain some elements of truth.  Doctrinal disputes rage in Christianity.  Clearly Satan is, at the very least, reaping the benefits of the confusion and misinformation that is taught and argued over.  Is the truth in Premillennialsim, Postmillennialsim, Amillennialism, or something else?  Is it Free Will or Pre-ordained?  Eternal Security or is it possible to lose one’s Salvation? Denominations have been formed, split, new ones formed, and split again over these and other arguments.

I am not saying that one side is somehow under ‘Satanic influence’ and therefore the other side is Godly.  I am saying that Satan is still feeding good, educated, well intentioned people misinformation.

3. Plethora of Bible Translations.  A quick internet search reveals that there are at least 450 English translations of the Bible.  Again, let me make myself very clear, I think the vast, vast majority of the scholars that have put together new translations have done so with the very best of intentions.  I believe each one saw a need and attempted to address it.  However, by doing so, we now have a high degree of confusion among many Christians (and non-Christians) that are attempting to read or study the Word of God. There are also many arguments, church splits and denominational differences over the Bible text issue alone.  I think the only one who is getting a kick out of all of this is Satan. If you want everyone to get frustrated and give up on the plan – than give everyone a different set of blueprints.  Not vastly different, just different enough to confuse everyone.

4. Worship Styles.  Churches are automatically defined today by their worship style.  Is it traditional or contemporary?  Do you sing hymns or do you have a praise band?  What – you have both??  The traditional churches think the more contemporary churches have let the world influence them too much.  The contemporary churches think the traditional churches are losing touch with the generation that they are supposed to be winning for Christ.

Mark 9:40 For he that is not against us is on our part.  Let us focus on the lost that need Jesus Christ in their lives.  We’ll let God decide if we are going to sing with electric guitars in Heaven or not and by then the whole Pre-, Post-, Amillennial issue will be a non issue anyway.

Consumed with Compassion

compassion3

 

Our church began 2014 by introducing our theme for the new year: Consumed with Compassion!  The Word of God tells us: And of some have compassion, making a difference.

Looking at the story of the Good Samaritan we see several things:

1). Compassion takes a Vision (Luke 10:33).  The Good Samaritan “saw” the need.  He did not look the other way.  We must have eyes that are open to people’s needs.

2). Compassion takes Effort (Luke 10:34).  The Good Samaritan “went” to him.  The needs of people in our society are great.  It takes more than just seeing their need, we must also take the time and effort to go to where they are.

3). Compassion makes our Hands Dirty (Luke 10:34).  The Good Samaritan “bound” up his wounds and poured oil and wine on the injured to help him.  Often the compassionate work we do gets our hands dirty either literally or figuratively.  It takes going to difficult situations and help difficult people.

4). Compassion takes Time (Luke 10:34-35).  The Good Samaritan put him on his own beast, took him to the inn and then “took care of him”.  The Word of God also tells us that he stayed the night and did not leave until the “morrow”.  Personal Sacrifice is the cost of compassion.

5). Compassion demand Follow up (Luke 10:35).  The Good Samaritan vowed to come back that way again and see if there were any further needs that he could meet.  He did not help and leave forever, but rather helped and than came back to help some more if need be.

Let’s be Consumed with Compassion!

Waiting for the flames

Hell_n2

Watching television with my wife last night we were well into a crime show she enjoys watching when the star of the show stated that pulling the fire alarm doesn’t work for clearing out a building anymore because “people ignore alarms and are waiting for the flames before they’ll leave”.

Right about there I checked out of the TV show as my mind went to the profound truth that was just stated.  People aren’t scared of Hell anymore.  No matter how much we preach about Hell or read what the Scriptures state about Hell people aren’t scared of the warnings anymore.

My wife and I were in the area Children’s hospital a couple of weeks ago for several days with our niece when the fire alarm went off one afternoon.  We looked around and realized that everyone that worked there completely ignored it.  It was much like walking through the parking lot when the car alarm goes off and everyone complains about how annoying the alarm is without anyone actually concerned that someone might be breaking into a car. We are desensitized to warning labels, caution signs and safety precautions.

We preach about the horrors of Hell and I think the message is falling on deaf ears. People aren’t scared of the reality of hell.  Everything around them is warning them of the ‘worst case scenario’.  Which leads them to wonder if the church isn’t  just doing the same thing?

So how do we reach a world that isn’t scared of hell anymore?  LOVE.  We must share the love of God to a lost world.  We may live in a world where people are desensitized to the reality of Hell fire, but we also live in a world that is full of despair, loneliness, pain, depression and hurt.  Love is the answer.  People are looking for hope.  This doesn’t remove the truth of Hell and Eternal Damnation – this just focuses on the needs of the people that we are trying to reach today.  People that are just ‘waiting for the flames’ and we know that waiting until they see the flames of Hell is way too late!