7 Ways to Guard Hearts at Church

Worshippers2We have thought about guarding hearts at a conference/ministers gathering, and at Bible school.  But what about the local church?

The church is a mixed group of people, and there will always be some who are feeling very fragile or weak.  They may not show it.  Nevertheless, we need to be people who guard hearts in the church environment.  Good music and good preaching is not enough.  Many a great church service was undermined by thoughtless comments in times of fellowship.  So, here are 7 ways to guard hearts at church.  You can certainly add more, and I might too!

1. Pray biblically for the church people.  Take a look at the prayers in Paul’s epistles, they are not full of “be with” and “just really bless” prayers.  Pray for people in your church to have the eyes of their hearts enlightened to know God more profoundly, to grow in their relationship with Christ, to grasp the richness of union with Christ, to be gripped by the hope to which God has called them, etc.  Bring people to God’s throne and you will find yourself caring for them more carefully at church.

2. Look for ways to serve, don’t just be a consumer.  The church is not a social club paid for by others and provided for your consumption.  The church is a gathering of Christ’s people who worship together, learn together, serve together, and grow together.  Consumers drain, but you can serve.  There are probably several ministries in your church that feel stretched for people, ask and you will find opportunities to serve.

3. Build others up in every conversation.  In one visit to church, or to home group, you might interact with 10 or 20 people.  Can you imagine the impact if you built up every one you spoke to?  Encourage.  Thank.  Smile.  Ask questions.  Show interest.  Share resources.  Share Bible highlights.  Celebrate people.  Value.  Well-handled conversations are priceless ministry in the life of a local church.

4. Be a dead end for gossip.  “Does he know you are telling me about this?”  That question tends to stop an evil report in its tracks.  Someone has to.  Gossip is like a cancer that can ravage a church.  “Please don’t talk to anyone else about this, please go to him.”  This is the best follow up with someone talking about a situation rather than doing the right thing. People should forgive and bear with, or forgive and lovingly confront.  Don’t let gossip be an option.

5. Trust people.  Many of us are great at assuming the worst and speculating about other people.  Andy Stanley nailed this issue when he preached a message about filling the gap between expectations and experience with trust.  When there is a gap between expectation and experience, fill the gap with trust.  If you can’t do that, then go to the person and ask them to help you fill the gap with trust.  Settling on distrust is not loving for them because either you are wrong (it does happen), or they need the opportunity to grow.  Settling on distrust is not healthy for you or the church, either.

6. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  He is very alert to interpersonal relationships and wants them to be truly united.  Be sensitive to any comment that causes someone to pull back.  It could be humour, or criticism, or even a misunderstanding, but handle relationships and feelings with tenderness and care.  Ask God to help you love others well – the Spirit is very motivated to coach you in that.

7. Be thankful for leaders, and others, and tell them.  It doesn’t take any spiritual maturity, or personal skill, to be destructively critical.  You can do massive damage to your church.  Since God loves the church so much, being destructive seems inherently foolish.  Support and encourage leaders at every level.  Be a person who communicates gratitude to leaders, and to Sunday School teachers, and to children’s workers, and to people working the sound desk, and to the setup team, etc.

This is only a start, what would you add?

Holy and Blameless Before Him

holy-blameless-300x180We have just refreshed the look of the Cor Deo website.  Please click here and head over for a look around.

I just posted a new piece on sanctification called, “Holy and Blameless Before Him”

“There are lots of debates about how sanctification works. Presumably because the common views don’t work. What are the common views? In simplistic terms there are essentially two: one is that sanctification is by my personal effort, the other is some variation on the notion that it either doesn’t matter or that God will do it.

Typically we think that the solution to two extreme views will be a blending of the two. So in this case, is sanctification best understood as a cooperative effort where God does his bit, and I do my bit? I don’t think that will help us. Our flesh will corrupt that model. Instead, let’s ponder the big biblical framework for sanctification. . . ”

Please click here to go to the post.

7 Ways to Guard Hearts at Bible School

Classroom2After the post on guarding hearts at a Christian conference (or ministers gathering), I was asked about Bible School.  Here we go…

The opportunity to study in a Bible School (college, seminary, divinity school, etc.) is a real privilege.  I thoroughly loved my experience at two great seminaries.  To spend your best hours receiving instruction in the Bible, maybe in the original languages, in theology and church history, in personal spirituality and in pastoral equipping to better serve God in the church and in His world, this is a wonderful privilege.  Add in new and sometimes lifelong friendships, numerous answered prayers, extended conversations and seeing growth in yourself and others, and it can sound like a glorious utopian experience for the man or woman who loves Christ and wants to love him even more.

Solomon was given great wisdom, and what did he say?  Above everything, guard your hearts . . .

How?

1. Walking with Christ is not the same thing as academic exercise.  You will be hearing and reading wonderful material.  You will hopefully be expected to read your Bible and other good books.  You will be required to research, read, think and write about God.  You will also enjoy spiritual conversations with faculty and fellow students.  And you will be tempted to let all this be your devotional life. But walking with Christ is “with Christ,” not just “about Christ.”  Be sure to keep the conversation going with God in the midst of your studies.  Why not talk to Him about this question: “Father, why is it that so many passionate Christians grow dry and cold in Bible School?”

2. Human glory is toxic.  The academic environment is not positive, or even neutral, for maintaining devotion to God.  I certainly loved being on campus and enjoyed some great times with God there.  But don’t let a beautiful campus or warm atmosphere distract you from the dangers inherent in the system.  Receiving grades for your work will feed the competitiveness of your flesh.  Receiving speedy feedback and affirmation will feed your flesh’s desire to build its identity in itself and its own achievements.  The comparative environment means that you may stand out in some class or other, and thus feed the autonomy impulse of your sinful flesh.  Glory from other humans (students, teachers, and outside friends) is both toxic and addictive.  Beware.

3. Pride is profoundly destructive.  Jesus warned the scholars of his day that seeking glory from humans is mutually exclusive to a healthy relationship with God.  (See John 5:38ff) Why?  In part it is because glory feeds the prideful tendency of my flesh which thinks I am a god, and as a result push God away.  God opposes the proud, even in Bible school.  Beware of reinforcing the glory/pride system.  Seek to pray and guard the hearts of fellow students and faculty as well as your own.

4. Keep relationally Bible saturated.  Never settle for required Bible reading assignments.  Make sure that you are soaking your soul in the fresh water of the Word and maintaining that conversation with Christ throughout your studies.  Do a fast-paced Bible read through.    Keep talking with Christ about the lure of sophisticated speculation (arms length playing with ideas that no longer stir your heart).  What you need most is not successful education, or sophisticated knowledge, or academic awards.  What you need most is Christ.  Share your Bible highlights with others, other people will need to be re-infected with a simple love for Christ too.

5. Christ loves the church, stay connected.  The people at church may not know about the things you are learning.  The leaders at church may not do things the way you’ve been taught to do them.  The sermons at church may feel lightweight compared to your lectures.  Nevertheless, you need to stay connected at a local church.  Serve where you can.  Don’t be an annoying critic.  Do look to love others whenever you can.  (Incidentally, pursue learning from faculty who are actively loving the church, not distant destroyer-critics.)

6. Let the stresses push you up against God.  There will be stress at Bible School.  Deadlines.  Financial strain.  Impossible verb paradigms.  Schedule overload.  Pressure on your family. You will be tempted to grow your independence and determination muscles, as well as your ability to function on little sleep.  Instead, let the pressure push you up against God.  And by faith get some sleep!  Remember that your stress impacts your spouse, your children, your room-mate in the dorm, your church, etc.

7. Value relationships carefully. You may think it is really just about you and God.  But human relationships matter.  Value every student, not just the impressive (or attractive) ones.  Speaking of attractive, beware of the extra emotional electricity in a high spirituality environment – it is a great place to meet a spouse, but guard hearts, don’t damage them.  Value faculty and care for them, they are real people too.  And finally, know that there will be attacks from the enemy – yet another reason to stick close to Christ and draw others with you.

What would you add to this list?  I know there’s plenty more . . .

7 Ways to Guard Hearts at a Christian Conference

Conference2Attending a Christian conference can be an incredible blessing.  The opportunities to learn, to network, to take a break from normal life, to enjoy abundant food and even to sing together with a large crowd of believers, this can all be wonderful.  But there are dangers too, and since I haven’t seen anybody writing about this, here is a set of points to ponder as you head for the next big event:

1. Don’t leave God out of your conversation.  This may seem bizarre when every session, every song, and almost every conversation is probably going to relate to God and ministry.  But I stand by the point – don’t leave God himself out of the conversation.  It is easy to neglect time with Him in order to stay busy talking about His things.  It is easy to stay up late, get up groggy and rush off to breakfast, conversations and plenary sessions.  What about time with God?  What about letting Him have a voice in your day by reading the Bible?  What about pausing to pray since He is important to you?  If your spouse were with you, your frantic intensity and neglect of conversation would do nothing for marital closeness.  So what about Christ?

2. Lean on God to navigate the stresses of networking.  If the conference is a gathering of people involved in ministries like yours, then it is tempting to buzz around like a manic worker bee trying to connect with every significant person in attendance.  In the few days you have, you may not get to everyone you think you should.  Instead of handling that by your own stress, talk to God about it and walk through the days with a reliance on Him.  He can orchestrate the connections that He thinks you need.  I have experienced both the manic version of conference networking, and the trusting God version of it.  The latter version is healthier, more faith-building and more effective.

3. Don’t feed the hype of a glory festival.  Probably the worst part of some Christian events is that they feed the hype of mutual glory hunting.  Jesus warned the religious leaders of his day very strongly about the danger of receiving glory from one another (see John 5:38ff) and yet we still fall into that trap so easily.  Christian events where leaders are gathered are often rife with the stench of human glory.  Determine not to feed it.  Don’t leave a conversation mid-sentence because your favourite author just entered the room.  Don’t ask for autographs (what is the point?)

4. Value every brother and sister in Christ.  Following on from the previous point, it is tempting to have your radar beeping for the famous or high profile people that may be at the conference.  But if you are trusting God to orchestrate your informal connections, then remember that He may be more excited about you loving an “insignificant” brother or sister than your need to shake hands with someone who is in demand.  The “least of these” applies at the conference, and it applies when Big Name is standing right next to you too.

5. Care for the “profile people” as people.  It is easy to elevate well-known speakers and authors as if they are super-Christians.  They are brothers and sisters in Christ.  If you have opportunity to interact, do so lovingly and with sensitivity to them as people.  Express gratitude for their ministry, but get beyond that too.  Show interest in them as people, not just as fonts of knowledge about your pet subjects.  If they have just spoken, recognize that they may be feeling discouraged or drained.  I stood by as one “fan” missed every cue from a “profile person” who was obviously drained and heading for his room.  After a while I was tempted to step in and rescue the speaker from the onslaught of questions and lack of sensitivity.

6. Don’t forget your family role too.  If you are married, but attending the conference alone, then be sure not to abdicate your responsibilities at home.  My wife does an amazing job at home when I am away for a few days, but it is a thankless task.  That is, unless I thank her.  Phone calls, texts, and notes, all show that you appreciate them.  Sometimes your spouse will just need to talk.  Sometimes you may need to comfort or discipline a child over the phone.  It may not feel as exciting as the opportunities in front of you, but it may be the most important ministry you do all week.

7. Be a builder, not a destroyer.  If you put leaders together, inevitably you are creating opportunity for constructive evaluation of everything about the conference.  What did you think of his third point?  Do you like the music?  What was going on with the stewards for the main meeting?  Ministry leaders can’t help evaluating ministry when we are participating in an event, but we can help the tone of our evaluation.  The insecure will criticize and tear down.  The mature in Christ will be careful to build up others in every circumstance.  There will be avenues for constructive criticism – use them to help things improve.  But don’t use conversation to elevate yourself and tear down beloved brothers and sisters in Christ.

Attending a Christian conference is an incredible privilege.  Next time you get that opportunity, why not prayerfully go through these points before you dive in to the crazy schedule?

5 Hindrances to Believing the Gospel of Done

71BuO-qnfHLI am enjoying reading David Murray’s The Happy Christian.  I blogged from an early section here, but let me ponder another of David’s very helpful lists.  What are the hindrances that prevent people in our churches from enjoying the fullness of “the Gospel of done”?  These five hindrances get in the way of people in your church, and they probably get in your way too.  Let’s pray about them for ourselves and preach to help people become aware of them too.

1. Accusing Conscience – The inner prosecutor can be most vehement!  If we don’t confront this with the gospel, then we will be forever bound in a cycle of new resolutions and personal determinations.  And guilt.  Shame.  Remorse.  But the good news is that it is finished!  And this is a cry our souls need to hear, and our churches need to ring with it lest the inner prosecutor crush the life of the Gospel.

2. A Demanding Church – This is one we definitely can influence through our preaching – but it won’t be easy.  Traditionally people have heard “Duty, duty, duty,” as the main message, or perhaps “Disobedience, disobedience, disobedience.”  Preaching in many churches is a never ending to do list.  There is a place for clarification of what it will look like to have the Gospel working in a life, but let’s make sure we preach the Gospel so that it can work in lives!

3. Work-for-Wages Culture – We live in a culture that promotes a simply concept: work leads to reward.  There is a strong case for a Christian work ethic in the Bible and we can make a case for its historical influence.  But there is also a strong case for the Gospel to be a radically counter-cultural message, a counter-fallenness message that goes against the notion that we can make a name for ourselves and be somebody by our own efforts.

4. Unbelief – Murray points his reader to the ten most disbelieved letters in the Bible.  What are they?  N . . . O . . . T . . . O . . . F . . . W . . . O . . . R . . . K . . . S  Our churches are full of people who still assume that we have to do our best and live like it.  Read the Bible until you purge your own soul of this disease and then preach the truth loud and clear!

5. Christian Failure – Some of us are convinced that God let’s us in based on His Done, but we don’t believe we stay in by His Done.  Too many churches preach the Gospel to unbelievers and an anti-Gospel to believers.

If you have read, or are reading The Happy Christian, what are you finding most helpful?

3 Weird Things To Avoid Doing on Social Media

SocialMedia2It is easy to live in the moment and lose perspective.  For instance, let’s think about social media.  As a preacher or church leader, just press rewind and imagine doing the following things back in the old days (i.e. even the 1980’s or 1990’s).  What would it look like if we went back in time by a generation, thus removing social media, but still acted the same way?  Would we really do the following?

1. Mundane Info Sharing.  It’s Monday morning.  You had a busy Sunday and are not feeling too motivated to dive into another week.  So you are running a few errands for the family and decide to sit down at a cafe for a cup of (in those days) regular coffee.  Before you do, you take out your church phone list and drop a load of coins into the public phone just outside the cafe.  “Hey, Roger!  I am just going to sit down for a coffee and unwind for a few minutes.  I might look at a newspaper.  I’m just a normal person!  Thought you’d like to know!”  Several hundred calls later, you get your coffee.  Weird.  Sharing mundane info should have died out after the first six months of Twitter.  It mostly did.  Facebook is another story . . .

2. Retweeting Praise of Your Preaching.  Just as the crowded church is starting to head for the door, would you rush back up to the podium, tap awkwardly on the microphone and get everybody’s attention . . . “Hey folks!?  Before you all head for home, I just wanted to share with you what I heard Tom saying in the lobby.  He told a couple of his friends that my sermon was the best he’d ever heard!”  And would you stop on the way, get the sound guy to press the record button on the cassette, then make copies of it and send it to everyone you know?  Probably not.  It is weird. Social media doesn’t make this kind of self-promotion any more appropriate today than thirty years ago.  If other people praise you, be thankful.  But a retweet smells a lot like self-praise.

3. Name Dropping.  As you walk into the dining hall at the conference venue, you spot a “celebrity” Christian.  So you squat down next to their seat and have your friend snap a picture.  Immediately you rush to the nearest one-hour photo place and have a few hundred copies made, before posting them to everyone you know with the note, “Guess who I just met?”  Would you have done this back in the day?  Probably not.  This is also weird behaviour.  There is certainly a place for public acknowledgement of people you appreciate, but sometimes it can feel like the smiling you is the real centrepiece of the picture.

Bonus – Time Wasting.  You have two hours before your next appointment.  So you sit down to read a book.  You never get to it.  This may have happened back then, but maybe less than today?

I am sure all of us fall foul to this list now and then, but are any of these things your standard way of functioning? Social media is an amazing resource, but as preachers and church leaders, let’s be sure to use it well!

Any other weird behaviours you would add to the list?

7 Ministry Diet Tips, From David Murray

71BuO-qnfHLI have been really enjoying reading through The Happy Christian, by David Murray.  When I finish it, I will offer a review, but meanwhile I will post some highlights along the way.  Murray suggests rebalancing the diet we are taking for ourselves, and offering to others, in the following ways:

1. More Salvation than Sin

“…the gospel message must begin with “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  But we don’t want to linger there any longer than we have to.  Some preachers, teachers, and parents love to dwell in the smoke and fire of Mount Sinai more than the love and grace of Mount Calvary.”

2. More Truth than Falsehood

Here Murray suggests we learn from banks who train their workers to spot counterfeits by handling the real thing.  It is easy to give ourselves to critiquing and spotting the errors and heresies around us, but we need to enjoy the truth of what is right and good.

3, More Wooing than Warning

Murray is right to urge us to offer more of Christ than the devil, more of “the attraction of heaven than the fear of hell,” and more of the beauty of holiness than the ugliness of sin.  He urges us to show people “how much Jesus is willing and able to save and how much He desires and delights to save. He does not save because He has to but because He wants to and enjoys to.”

4. More Victory than Struggle

Do our sermons, blog posts, prayers, and songs reflect the biblical emphasis on the power of life in the Spirit, or do we lean more toward a primary focus on the struggle and difficulty?  It is right to highlight the sufferings of persecuted Christians around the world, but let’s also be informed about the number of people coming to faith and the impact of the gospel in the world.

5. More Celebration than Lamentation

Just as there’s a time to mourn, there is also a time to laugh.  “When we consider how many blessings we have compared to so many, we must sometimes sound like spoiled children, whining, whining, and whining for more. . . . Remember the apostles even managed to celebrate that they were counted ‘worthy’ to suffer persecution for Christ’s sake!”

6. More Life than Death

Murray points to the missionary death and martyr story emphasis in books, rather than the inspiring stories of lives being changed.  We need more life narratives than death narratives since most people will live ordinary everyday lives for the vast majority of their lives!

7. More Strengths than Weaknesses

It is easy to focusing on fixing weaknesses, but why not give more energy to cultivating and developing what is working well already?  Murray doesn’t deny the call to complete transformation, but he has a point in respect to where we put our energies.

While our ministry needs to include a certain amount of deconstruction and helpful critique, let’s make sure that the balance leans more toward offering the Good News of Jesus in all its richness.  Less of me and more of Him.  I imagine Murray’s list might feel quite convicting for some of us.  Let’s pray through this and be thankful that we have something infinitely constructive and helpful to meditate on ourselves and offer to others!

Last 5 Itchy Ear Preachers

Presenter4People are prone to collect preachers to suit what they want to hear.  Paul warned Timothy about this.  We’ve seen a first set of five, followed by a second.  Here’s the last:

11. Preacher Passion – it doesn’t matter what this preacher says, the listeners just love the passion. The preacher could present the telephone directory, just as long as it is done in his passionate style.  Why?  Perhaps the listeners live in a blah world of the daily mundane so much that this provides welcome relief.

12. Preacher Now – this preacher can say whatever he wants biblically, just as long as he is sure to mention the latest movie that was released yesterday.  These listeners get a sense of tribal identity from listening to a cutting edge preacher-ista who has his finger on the required sub-cultural pulse.

13. Preacher Nationalist – this preacher would fit on a soapbox in the town square and treats the church as a safe alternative.  Ears are scratched as the preacher rages against the oppressive enemies and foams in zeal for their particular political ideology.  It doesn’t take much to tie this to the Bible and therefore call it preaching.

14. Preacher Self-Esteem – this preacher has a life mission to make you feel better about yourself.  Never mind that the Fall in Genesis 3 curved people inwards and made our sinful default a me-centred universe, this preacher reinforces your me-centredness with liberal amounts of biblical misquotes to stroke your ego and build your self-esteem.  The crowds will flock to hear this.

15. Preacher Nice – this preacher thrills people by a gracious demeanour, good looks, attractive accent or some combination of these.  The perfect hair and rich Scottish accent makes the ladies swoon.  Doesn’t matter what he says, they love to listen.  Or maybe he is a surrogate spiritual leader (unlike the weaker man they married).  Or maybe he is the cool friend people want to have on Facebook and count as their’s.  This preacher is the local touch of Hollywood glitz and itchy ears love to have him around.

As before, take stock, and take any nagging similarities very seriously.  These alternatives to genuine biblical preachers can do inestimable damage to the church.  Have I missed any?  Which do you think are more prolific in our generation?

5 More Itchy Ear Preachers

Presenter3Paul warned Timothy about the time when people would gather teachers to suit their own passions and preach to itchy ears.  We already considered five last time.  Here are five more:

6. Preacher Worm – this is a variation on Preacher Hard.  Unlike the spiritual personal trainer, this preacher meets people needs simply by making them feel bad.  Woe is me!  I am a worm.  Bizarrely, this can be attractive to human flesh (sort of spiritual masochism)

7. Preacher Prof – some people love listening to an apparently intelligent and well-informed preacher.  I say apparently because they don’t necessarily need to be able to understand, but it does something for them to watch a scholar in action.  Strangely, this kind of intellectual curiosity, even when bereft of life and relevance, can scratch some ears.

8. Preacher Cliché – this preacher is neither intellectually rigorous, nor homiletically purposeful.  Rather than seeking to preach meaningfully, this preacher satisfies listeners by parroting clichés and stock phrases in Christianese.  What they say may amount to nothing, but they may thrive on the praise that comes their way after they finish.  Some listeners love a good dose of clichés.

9. Preacher Deep – this preacher may or may not say things that are deep and spiritual, but this preacher sounds deep and spiritual.  Their poetry helps.  And their frequent references to their own amazing times with God.   Listeners feel the inadequacy of their own spirituality and so love to be in the presence of one so deep and spiritual.  The anointing is tangible.  The preaching is almost irrelevant.

10. Preacher Bash – all this preacher needs is a target that is acceptable to the listeners. It could be the enemy atheists, or the pagan culture, or people of a specific race, or another denomination . . . as long as the listeners appreciate hearing a good bashing of absent enemies, the preacher will scratch itchy ears time and again.

Just like before, if any cap fits, quit the ministry for a while and get sorted.  Next time, another five . . .