Getting people to “buy into” the kingdom of God

Some years back, while watching a news program, I was struck by a statement about our country’s war in Afghanistan.

Less than 1 percent of our (military) people are in that country fighting. The American people are not invested in this war.

I thought that was an interesting phrase.  Invested in a war.

What exactly does that mean? and is there a message here for those of us in the ministry?

The statement meant the American people were not aware of what was going on in that Middle-Eastern country, which meant the struggle there felt remote and distant, and consequently were not supporting it as they would normally.

Most Americans had no personal stake in that war. When we’re unsure of the issues and uncertain of our goal, when we do not know anyone who is putting his/her life on the line there, and when we have no personal ties to anything, we are uninvested.

Who remembers the Second World War? 

World War II movies, especially those made during the early 1940s, actually pulled American citizens together to support their fighting men and women.

In the 1940s, every town in America sent the cream of its youth to the fight. Every radio was tuned to the latest news. Gold stars shone from windows to say this family had lost a son in the service of his country. Dads and grandfathers followed developments with maps on the wall. Drives for metal, rubber, paper and even fats and grease were conducted in every community. Schoolchildren bought savings stamps and housewives contended with ration books.

It seemed that every citizen of this country was enlisted to fight that war. They were invested.

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Write a play, a short but fun one that fits your sermon

In the church I was pastoring in the 1990s, we began inserting the occasional drama into the morning worship service, something we had created to fit the sermon.

Now, let me say up front that if you do brief dramas like this, you don’t have to purchase them.  And neither do you have to buy videos.  You have a few people in the congregation who would love to do something creative and helpful like this.  However, don’t do it more often than monthly, lest it grow old or get out of hand.

Here’s one from Sunday, July 11, 1993.  We called it the “Low Self-Esteem Anonymous Group.”

Margaret called the meeting to order.

Julie stood and said, “My name is Dummy–and I have low self-esteem.  I’d planned to look for a job this week.  But I didn’t.  Probably wouldn’t have done any good anyway.”

David stood to his feet. “My name is Invisible and I have low self-esteem.  I thought about asking a girl for a date this week. But I didn’t.  Who would want to go out with me?”

Jennifer said, “My name is Zero–and I have low self-esteem.  I thought about going to church.  But I probably wouldn’t fit in, so I stayed at home.”

Throughout this, Neil sits aloof, off to one side, making derogatory comments (which brought laughter).  Finally, he has enough.  He stands up, points to the sign and says, “Look at that–‘Low Self-Esteem!’ I love the initials–L.O.S.E.  That’s what you all are. A bunch of losers! I’m out of here.”

As he turns to leave, Jesse calls to him, “Hey Buddy–Egomaniac Anonymous meets down the hall, third door on the left.”

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Grieving for the Lord’s church

“Is Ephraim my dear son?  Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him.  Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will certainly have mercy on him, declares the Lord.”  (Jeremiah 31:20).

“How many times I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not.  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).

Almost daily, I hear of churches firing their preachers, engaged in lawsuits, and struggling with inner conflict.  I know a hundred churches that were strong a generation ago but are fighting to survive now.

These are difficult days for churches, which makes these challenging days for church leaders.

If you are not grieving for the Lord’s church these days, it must be because your mind is on other things.

Let us care for what is happening, and pray for the Lord’s people….

–I grieve for the trendy church which is drawing people in from the smaller surrounding congregations and bursting at the seams, but leaving the smaller ones to shrivel and die.  The huge church often cons its members into thinking they are doing something for the kingdom since they are experiencing such growth. Churches can be so self-centered. Pray the church will be loving toward other churches. 

–I grieve for the church which is having mind-staggering growth but becomes secretive about what it does with the millions of dollars it takes in, protective about the pay it gives its leaders, and dismissive about the questionable personal lives of its leadership.  Churches can be carnal. Pray the church will be led by men and women of integrity. 

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What I wish for the Lord’s church

“That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

The Lord wants the best for His Bride. And so does every right-thinking child of His.

Here is my wish list for the church of the 21st century….

One. I wish the church were less of a business and more like a family.

Our Lord looked around at His disciples and followers and said, “Behold, my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brothers and sisters and my mother” (Mark 3:33-35).  The obedient are His family.

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.  The local church should be a smaller expression of that larger, forever family.  I wish more of them were.

A real family nurtures its members, is always there, makes a big deal of each one’s special moments, and puts each other ahead of anyone else or anything else.  To paraphrase Robert Frost, “A family is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Families are not about numbers, divisions, classes, and groups.  Family members are related by blood and joined at the heart.  The weep when one of their numbers weeps, rejoice when they rejoice.  They don’t compete, except in a fun way, and are proud when one gets an award or honor.

People looking for a new church often will hesitate before joining one for the simple reason that they are in effect joining a family.  Their unasked question is “Do I want to be family with these people?”

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Church: The power of working together

“Don’t try this alone.”  –advice on a thousand exercise devices.

Years ago, the Readers Digest ran an article titled “What good is a tree?” Here’s a quote–

When the roots of a tree touch, a substance present reduces the competition.  An unknown fungus links together roots of different trees, even of dissimilar species.  A whole forest may be linked together.  If one tree has access to water, another to nutrients, a third to sunlight, the trees find a way to share.

Wow.  Who knew that?  I certainly didn’t.

We could all take a lesson from the forest.

When I was a teen, someone set out a small longleaf pine in my grandmother’s yard.  Year after year, it remained a dwarf, refusing to grow. After her death, an uncle who owned the property set out hundreds of trees across the front yard. Suddenly, that lone, dwarfed pine had company and began to prosper.

The Lord knew you and I would be needing help in living for Him in this fallen world. So, when He saved us, He “added us to the body” (see Acts 2:41).

God never intended any of us to live this life in isolation.

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Biblical truths many of the Lord’s people do not believe

From the beginning, the Lord’s people have always talked a better game than we live.

So many biblical truths look good on paper and sound great when we’re spouting them.  And yet, judging by the way we live, here are some biblical truths which it would appear many of the Lord’s people do not believe….

One.  God sends the pastor to the church. 

Churches survey their congregation to find the kind of pastor everyone wants in the next guy.  People lobby for a candidate they like and rally against one they don’t.  And they vote on the recommendation of their committee.  And after he arrives, when some turn against him, they send him on his way.

Do we really believe God sends pastors to churches?  They are God’s undershepherds (see I Peter 5:1-4) and appointed by the Holy Spirit as overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).

Some years back, as I was moving my family to a church in North Carolina, I found out later that some were already holding meetings to agree on ways to get me to leave.  Why? Even though we had never met, they had decided I was too conservative for them.  In the next church, some began meeting to oust me because they decided I was too liberal.  Neither group believed God sends pastors.

Two.  God hears our prayers, cares for our needs, and answers our prayers.

In the typical congregation, what percentage of the people are serious about their prayer life?  Nothing tells the story on our faith like our prayer life.

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21 ministry lessons learned the hard way

I began serving the Lord when I was 11 years old, began preaching the Word when I was 21, and began pastoring a year later. At the moment, I’m 83 years old.  Here are a few lessons this life of ministry has taught me….

One. Never tell anyone anything you don’t want repeated.  The single exceptions are the Lord in prayer or your wife in the bedroom.

Two. Never put anything negative in a letter.  It will still be circulating and poisoning people against you long after you’re in the grave.

Three.  Never fail to check all the references of a prospective staff member.  And then check a few more.

Four. Differences of opinion–in a church or on a staff–can be healthy, but dissension/competition should be nipped in the bud.

Five.  Neglect your family and you will have a lifetime to regret it.

Six.  A sense of humor can be a lifesaver–if you know how to control it and when to let it loose.

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A note to perfectionists: Stop it!

“Be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:48) 

It sounds so good to call ourselves perfectionists. We have higher standards than others. We go for excellence. We don’t tolerate mistakes. Nothing mediocre about us. Nosirree. Only the best is good enough for us and our Lord.

It sounds good but it may be as self-destructive as anything you can do to yourself.

This means, of course, that we may be misinterpreting that well-known command of Matthew 5:48.  Let’s think about it…

You and I are not capable of perfection. Maybe in typing a letter or baking a blueberry pie, we are. But not in a single one of the really big issues of life.

A man cannot be a perfect son, brother, husband, or father.

A woman will never be a perfect daughter, sister, wife, or mother.

The pastor cannot be a perfect shepherd of God’s flock. The church member will never fulfill his/her duties perfectly.

A major factor of human existence which you and I must take into consideration in every aspect of life is the flaw in us.  We are flawed.  You are a sinner; I am a sinner. We were, we are, and we will continue to be so long as we live on this earth.

We call that original sin.  We were born that way.

As if that’s not bad enough, we live in a fallen world. Among other things, that means that everyone else is in the same situation as we. “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10, quoting Psalm 14:3 and 53:3).

When Isaiah was given a clear glimpse of himself, he saw two things that rocked him to his core: he was a man of “unclean lips,” meaning an unworthy heart; and what must have been infinitely more depressing to him, everyone around him was in the same depressing situation (Isaiah 6:5).

We are all failures in life. Starting with the first couple who arrived on this planet fresh from the Father’s hands, no one has earned straight A’s in righteousness on the divine report card. As God said to the Babylonian king, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).

That’s true of all of us. We have all “sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

So, where did this inner yearning to be perfect come from? And, isn’t it a noble thing to strive for the best we can give, to hit a standard of excellence? Didn’t God command it?

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Five church members who are actually atheists

On the surface, the preacher-eaters, church-dividers, and rabble-rousers who would destroy a church in order to have their own way insist they do believe in God.  I say otherwise.  Stay with me here….

Of course, they are religious.  They’re church workers; they talk the talk.

The problem is some of these trouble-makers are living as unbelievers. No, they’re not alcoholics, not frequenting the brothels, and not criminals.  However, their work in the church is being conducted in the flesh and for their own purposes. They are not people of prayer, not people of obedience, and not living Christlike lives.  Even if they are religious.

Whatever belief in God they possess is theoretical. God was in Christ, yes. But He was in the past. And He will be in the future, they believe, when He takes them and others like them to Heaven.

As for the present, alas, they are on their own.

What, you ask, would lead me to say such outrageous things about some people who are members of good Christian churches and who frequently get elected to high positions of leadership?

Two things.

–1) I have six decades of dealing with them. I have met them in every church I ever served. However, it took me a long time to identify the problem.

2) The clue to their atheism is simple: There is no fear of God in them.

The fear of God is the key.

Again and again, Scripture insists that wisdom begins with fearing God. We take “fear” to mean awe and reverence. By its very nature, anyone fearing the Righteous God is automatically humble and obedient.

Nothing of any significance spiritually begins without that awe and humility.

Want to see the fear of the Lord in action?

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What’s a pastor to do when ousted from his church?

An online preacher magazine says a pastor fired because of his alcoholism is bitter at his mistreatment by that congregation’s leaders.  Not good.

I’ll skip that article, thank you.  On the surface, I’d say he deserved what he got.  But then, I’m neither his judge nor their advisor.  But when a fired preacher exudes bitterness, that does concern me.

No one has a right to pastor the Lord’s church.

The bitterness feels like he no longer trusts the Lord.  Read Acts 16 again, preacher, and remind yourself how God loves to use setbacks and what appears to be defeats for His purposes. It’s sort of a divine alchemy.  But the one thing required for that to happen is trusting servants who know how to sing at midnight (Acts 16:25).

That God would allow any of us to preach to His people year after year, declaring Heaven’s message to the redeemed, without giving us what we truly deserve–the fires of hell come to mind, frankly–shows Him to be a God of grace.  Why don’t we see that?

Whenever I hear a Christian talking about not getting what he deserved, I run in the opposite direction, lest the Father suddenly decide to give the fellow what he’s asking for!

So, you were fired.  Okay.  Can we talk?

Call it whatever you will.  Perhaps they dressed up the terminology and told the congregation you were taking an extended leave, with pay for three months.  But you weren’t coming back.  Or, that you were taking a well-needed sabbatical for rest and study. But you weren’t coming back.  Or that you were going to the “wilderness” for some retraining and redirection for your ministry. But you weren’t coming back.

Here’s what you will do: You will hold your head up and go forward and look to the Lord who called you into this work in the first place, asking Him to do with it whatever pleases Him most. Period.

Repeat:  Hold your head up!  Look to the Lord.  Give this whole business to Him.  And keep on doing that until no trace of resentment can be found on your person.  Even if it takes years!

Sure, it’s hard.  No one is saying otherwise.

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