If not NOW – When??

January 12, 2010 by  
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The Gordian Knot – The Barna Report on December 21, 2009 shines the light of reality on this issue of Leadership and an Objective Metric for the evaluation of ministry in the local church. Why was this not been incorporated as an essential and standard component of Denominational structures years ago? Good and godly men saw the decline coming and sounded the alarm. They conducted themselves as Watchmen on the Wall. They were ignored with impunity and regarded with disdain, nay-sayers, troublemakers. For the most part, they still are. Serious and lethal mistake. Consult the work of David Olson  (The American Church in Crisis) www.theamericanchhurch.org for confirmation of this statement. Decline is the MO of virtually every denominational entity in the USA. Yet, there remains a rigid and unrelenting resistance to the evaluation of real Transformation and Spiritual Formation.

Theme 4: Effective and periodic measurement of spirituality – conducted personally or through a church – is not common at this time and it is not likely to become common in the near future.

“There are two levels on which evaluation of where we stand spiritually can take place,” noted the California-based author. “There can be external measurement, such as that conducted by pastors, teachers, coaches or peers, and there can be self-evaluation. At the moment, we’re seeing very little of either form of review related to a person’s spiritual condition.

“Not surprisingly,” he continued, “our research found that a majority of churchgoing adults are uncertain as to what their church would define as a ‘healthy, spiritually mature follower of Christ’ and they were no more likely to have personally developed a clear notion of such a life.

“It may well be that spiritual evaluation is so uncommon because people fear that the results might suggest the need for different growth strategies or for more aggressive engagement in the growth process. No matter what the underlying reason is, the bottom line among both the clergy and laity was indifference toward their acknowledged lack of evaluation. That suggests there is not likely to be much change in this dimension in the immediate future.

By The Content of Their Character

January 19, 2009 by  
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I am writing this BLOG Post on the eve of Inauguration Day. Two reasons for this. One, I want to make some observations that have to do with the incoming Administration. Two, I am leaving the country and will not return until the day this post will be sent to the recipient list. Today is the date set aside in our calendar of Holidays as Martin Luther King Day. He is credited with the quote that serves as the title of this BLOG Post.

Historically the Clergy have been “Watchman on The Wall” of culture and nations. The incoming Administration is cited as supporting numerous social policies that are utterly and absolutely in direct and arrogant defiance of the Scripture, the Special Revelation of God to man. I am going on record as a Watchman to state publicly with clarity and grace my opposition to those policies. That opposition is rooted and grounded in the text of Scripture. This issue is not one of political affiliation, Republican or Democrat. It is not one of race; Black, White, Asian or any other ethnic derivation. We are not a hyphenated people – we are Americans! It matters not one iota what any opinion or legislative action states when such opinion or statements are in defiance of the clear declarations of Scripture. The basis for my comments is a joyful endeavor to live in alignment with the revelation the Sovereign God of the Universe has given us of Himself.

Character is an objective issue. The definition of good character is based upon Truth that is Absolute. That Truth never changes thus character and the constructs of social policy are also static and stable, not fluid and ever changing. The issues to which I refer are:

Abortion – the incoming administration supports the termination of fetal life, even fetal life outside the womb in a viable condition. That is pure and simple murder. Life begins at conception and enjoys the sacred privilege of being an Image Bearer. I stand opposed to any and all abortive procedures for this reason. The pursuit of happiness is a trite and meaningless blather when you are not granted the dignity of life.

Homosexuality – The incoming administration supports the practice of homosexuality. This conduct is condemned by Scripture and must be recognized as sin pure and simple. It should be pointed out that theft, greed, drunkenness, slander and swindling are also condemned in the same passage. As a culture we do not favorably endorse any of these other sins. Why? Because they are just that. Christians do not hate homosexuals. We in fact are one of the few elements of our culture that truly loves them by expressing with compassion, gentleness and candor the Truth about this conduct.

Socialism – I have invested 15 years in exchanges with the editorial board of our newspaper addressing this issue. When benevolence is conscripted, it is not benevolence, it is legalized plunder. Taking resources from those who have acquired those resources legally and honestly is theft even though it is sanctioned by the powers that be. The redistribution of wealth by government thuggery is theft regardless of what euphemistic labels that government may choose to disguise this fact. We live in a nation among people who have discovered that they can, in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, ‘vote themselves largess’.

I will pray for the incoming Administration as Scripture commands that I must. I do so to honor the God I serve. I also see in these policies the destruction of all that our nation was built upon and has stood for over the two centuries plus that we have existed.

I say with Habakkuk “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint (Hab. 2:1). May God sustain us and bless our land. May the Shepherds of this land raise their voices as one man in defiance of all that is sin and dishonors our God. Sola Deo!

The Correlation Factor – Maturity & Unity

January 12, 2009 by  
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In the recent past I met with a Denominational figure. After considering what IUS offers to churches with genuine and serious interest, he shared the following. “Tom, I would really like to take our churches through the Transformation Process IgniteUS provides. However, I cannot do that. I invest almost all of my time serving as a referee in a variety of church squabbles. The level of conflict just continues to escalate and I see no end to that trend.”

What does that tell us about the spiritual condition of those who make up those assemblies? It seems clear that persons who are embroiled in constant rancor and conflict within the church are at the very least in need of corrective discipline and very well may be flat out lost, unredeemed. Conflict is almost always the result of two sin stained people seeking to impose their agenda on others. Neither considers the word of God. Neither is receptive to a careful exegesis of the text of Scripture. Neither has any inclination to be in submission to their Leaders or to Absolute Truth. They are hell bent on getting “their way” regardless of the cost or price that must be paid to do so.

Denominational structures include entire Departments titled “Conflict Resolution“. If my readers examine the content of the approaches applied by these entities, there is little or no application of the Scripture. The Number 1 reason for decline in the church in America is CONTROL. People are all sinners so the presence of conflict is not surprising. What is utterly astonishing is that there is an attempt to find resolution through a process that is not rooted and grounded in the Bible.

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians concerning the various gifted men that God gave to the church, he cited among others Pastor/Teachers (Eph. 4:12). A chief responsibility of these men is building up the Body of Christ. Then in Eph. 4:13 he equates unity – knowledge – maturity. If there is an absence of unity it may very well be that there is a definite lack of knowledge and certainly an absence of maturity.

I suspect that if we were to gather objective data on each person causing trouble in the churches of America we would find a one to one correlation between their lack of knowledge of God’s Word and maturity in the fulness of the Image of Christ.

So, until the LORD returns Pastor, continue to teach and preach the text. Love people with the love of Christ. Encourage, Rebuke, Exhort, Correct and DO NOT permit anyone to despise you, to “think around you” (Titus 2:15). In doing so, God will use you to save some, even from themselves.

Expository Preaching

October 15, 2008 by  
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I recently faced a stunning reality – I am now the “other generation”. Let me explain.

I had invested an entire afternoon reading, studying and writing on the topic of Expository Preaching. I enjoy a very significant library. The material I examined relfected the perspective that I know as foundational to this discipline. This includes knowing the original languages, diagramming the text, doing word studies, and consulting lexicons and commentaries as well as praying for the illumination of the Holy Spirit. In short, immersing myself in the message so that when people hear me speak it is “Truth through personality” (Phillips Brooks). They have no doubt that the message is God’s and I am merely giving voice to Truth. They see me live it and what I declare is matched by the way I live (cf. 1 Cor. 4:16-17).

That evening I read an article in a popular “Christian” journal. The focus of the article was upon a gathering identified as a church plant. The “message” was impromptou drama, made up on the spot. There was no mention of Scripture. There was no mention of sin, confession, repentance, grace, forgiveness, justification or any of the other terms associated with the vicarious suffering of the Messiah, the Son of the True and Living God who propitiated our sin. There was no connection with history. There was no text and no proclamation of the Truth sealed in the text of Scripture with the blood of the prophets and the saints who died declaring the timeless message. There was no clear gospel. In the words of the hymn writer – - There is A Redeemer, Jesus God’s own Son! Tell the listener this in clear and compelling terms using terms that God chose to shape this message.

I prayed that night with a particular passion. I asked God to cause me to speak with grace and kindness. I ask God to make me (and IgniteUS) a relentless champion of preaching that brings clarity, light and Applied Theology to the lives of those who hear. The objective is the transformation of redeemed sinners into the fulness of the image of Christ (Col. 1:28). Time marches on. Truth does not change. Every great movement of God thorughout church history has been charaterized by – - not drama, not programmatic extravaganza, not slef-help seminars, but Expository Preaching. Sound exegesis opens the meaning of the text and humble, passionate proclamation seals it to the lives of those listening. They are Transformed and God is glorified. May it ever be so.

This is your invitation to immerse yourself in mastering the message God has given us. Then, as Jeremiah found this message burning within his bones, declare it with compassion, weeping and great expectations as to how God will honor His word. YOU may be the spark that God uses to bring renewal to Expository Preaching in your commuinity. That my friend transcends all generations, past, present and future! I am as the ‘flower that fades’, my time will end, but Truth is the same through all generations. Give it voice thorugh proclamation.

First Things First

October 1, 2008 by  
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In 1994 Stephen Covey’s title First Things First was published. His focus was getting the big rocks in the jar first, correctly ordering life’s priorities.

What is the top “First Thing” priority for a Pastor? As an Image-bearer, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. We must love our neighbor as ourselves. As a husband, we must love our wives as Christ loves the church. As a father, we must lead and guide our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

As a Pastor I want to suggest that the “Fisrt Thing” we must do is accurately interpret the Word of God. As Pastors we are Ambassadors, residents of another country given the sacred task of delivering the message of our Lord. We are not free to add to or detract from what God has given us in the text of Scripture. This means that we must interpret the text with precision and deliver the message to God’s people with passion, compassion and in a manner that results in Applied Theology. God uses our labors to Transform his people.

Transformation is our goal. Not eloquence. Not profundity. Certainly not entertainment or placating the listener. We speak for God and our “First Thing” must be accuracy in the content of the messages we deliver. Preaching has fallen on hard times in post-modern America. Any number of issues serve as the ultimate authority in churches other than the Word of God (Tradition, A Constitution, By-Laws, Robert’s Rules of Order,etc.)

Let me offer a paradigm for what should provide ultimacy in all things in the church of Jesus Christ. We embrace the Sufficiency of Scripture as a statement of faith. This must also be true in practice. Orthdoxy & Orthopraxy are inserpable postulates. Jesus said, blessed are you if you do these things, not merely have knowledge of them and offer intellectual assent.

The Word of God, correctly exegeted/interpreted and proclaimed by the man of
God under the enabling grace and power of the Spirit of God to the people of
God. They surrender unconditionally to God’s message and are Transformed
by his Grace for their good and God’s glory.

Here are the options we have in coming to the text under this premise.
Your interpretation is correct and mine is in error.
My interpretation is correct and yours is in error.
Both of us are incorrect.
But, both cannot be correct and claim that we have accurately interpreted the text.
This is our challenge. How do we resolve this issue? Do we attack the exegete, or, do we submit ourselves in humility to the rigors of serious exegesis? Do we level our bombastic aresenal at ‘the enemy’ and fire away? Do we claim ‘tradition’? Do we champion the denominational or party line? This issue has serious and eternal consequences. Apply this to some of the challenging ethical and cultural challenges of our times. Difficult as they may be, we are responsible to offer a response that is shaped by exegetical and hermeneutical accuracy. What does the text say? Consider James 3:1!

The Holy Spirit had one and only one intended meaning when the human authors wrote what we now possess as God’s Word. Our’s is to surrender to this message rightly understood and communicate that message with grace and power. No capitulation to culture or any other source of opposition.

Yapping Chihuahuas & “Keeping Men on Their Feet”

August 16, 2007 by  
Filed under Pastor

My wife’s Dad had a little four legged companion, a Chihuahua of sorts. ‘Tiny’ was his name. You could not approach their home without ‘Tiny’ sounding off. If his actual ferocity were as real as his ‘yapping’, visitors would have been, pardon the pun, “dog meat”. However, in spite of all that verbosity and noise, he never harmed anyone.

Pastors deal with a whole host of “Yapping Chihuahuas”. They sound ferocious. They terrify those who are not familiar with their routines. Essentially they are territorial little beasts. How dare you invade territory that they have staked out as ‘theirs’? Remember, no matter what the issue is, the issue is ALWAYS control! This is applied to ‘space’; that is MY classroom! That is MY Small Group! That is MY Worship & Praise Team! Get the picture.

Like Tiny, these people seldom bite, they just make noise. The lessons are these Pastor.

Don’t let the yapper, (notice this noun is singular – - there is usually only one) become
more in your thinking than they deserve. Don’t magnify the size of the opposition.

Don’t fight ghosts. Don’t hear a whole pack barking when there is really only one.

Don’t invest more energy than “Tiny” merits, usually none. Serve God and let Him take
care of the yapping.

I wrote this to ENOURAGE you Pastor.

The following will help “Keep You on your Feet”! Many a time a word of praise or thanks or appreciation or cheer has kept a man on his feet. Blessed is the man who speaks such a word.

We must encourage one another. One of the highest of human duties is that of encouragement. There is a regulation of the Royal Navy which says: “?No officer shall speak discouragingly to another officer in the discharge of his duties.?” Eliphaz unwillingly paid Job a great tribute. As Moffatt translates it: “?Your words have kept men on their feet?” (?Job 4:4?). Barrie somewhere wrote to Cynthia Asquith: “?Your first instinct is always to telegraph to Jones the nice thing Brown said about him to Robinson. You have sown a lot of happiness that way.?” It is easy to laugh at men’s ideals, to pour cold water on their enthusiasm, to discourage them. The world is full of discouragers; we have a Christian duty to encourage one another.

Finally, the writer to the Hebrews says that our Christian duty to each other is all the more pressing because the time is short. The Day is approaching. He is thinking of the Second Coming of Christ when things as we know them will be ended. The early Church lived in that expectation. Whether or not we still do, we must realize that no man knows when the summons to rise and go will come to him also. In the time we have it is our duty to do all the good we can to all the people we can in all the ways we can.[1]

[1]The letter to the Hebrews. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (122). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Membership, Peacocks & Metrics for Ministry

August 10, 2007 by  
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Southern Baptist, ‘strut like peacocks’ as they boast of the 16.3 million members they zealously guard ‘on the roles’. We are the largest Evangelical Denomination in America. Really?

Recently The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) announced at their annual meeting in Chicago that they zealously guard 4.8 million on their roles.

Both of these hypocritical facades are driven by a common cause. What is that cause? What makes well educated men stand before the whole world and God and flat out lie? They would certainly qualify for a seat on the Sanhedrin. Their membership in Pharisees International is current when they pound their puny chests and harrumph about their numbers. LIARS ALL! Worse, they spout this tripe knowing it is utterly and absolutely untrue. Why?

Metrics for Ministry! You see, the measure of church ministry in America is one dimensional. It is driven and validated by numbers – - how many, how much, how often, etc. Most “God is calling us elsewhere” scenarios when a Pastor changes churches are predicated by his going to a larger (that is, ‘bigger’) church. When a Pastor attends a gathering of other Pastors the first question is usually something like this – - “How is the church doing?” Answer – “Oh great. We had 586 this past Sunday.” One of my favorite responses to this baloney was uttered by Howard Hendricks. To his former student, who was full of himself, Howard simply said, “ 586 what?”

Back to the ’16.3′ Million Southern Baptist. According to the ACP (Annual Church Profile), a report produced by the statistics turned in by the individual churches, on the best Sunday of the year the SBC has about 6.1 million people in attendance (37% ). This gets even worse. At the National Convention this past June held in San Antonio, TX, there was a well written and prudent resolution presented to correct this insanity, pretending to be what we are not. The result? The “Committee” would not even permit a public reading of the resolution. If Moses had a Committee, Israel would still be in Egypt. This is hypocrisy of the first order.

The ELCA knows that they have only 30% of their announced total of 4.8 million – - about 1.44 million – - in attendance. Yet they too continue the hypocrisy. Why?

Until the church in America finds the Grace of God that humbles us, until we repent of this Pharisaical charade, we will continue to decline. Worse, we will continue to make the God we claim to serve nauseous. He stated such quite clearly in Rev. 3:16. Read it for yourself.

The legitimate measure of ministry for the church is Transformed people. Ministry is supposed to be dedicated to and shaped by initiatives that lead to the transformation of saints into the fullness of the image of Christ (Rom. 12:2; Col. 1:28-29, 2:6-7). This is possible and more importantly it is required by the clear and compelling revelation of Scripture. Yet, most in positions of leadership (notice I did not say leaders) are not even remotely interested in changing the metrics. They enjoy the chest thumping and the “comparing themselves with themselves” which Paul warned us about (2 Cor. 10:12). They will not consider even an attempt to measure ministry by transformation. The day is coming when that measurement will be applied and there will be not one word uttered in defense of this sham, not one!

Lets stop being peacocks. Lets stop counting nickels and noses. It is time, past time, to make disciples who live to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). Anyone want to join this glorious and Christ honoring initiative?

Tom

The Evangelical Church in America

January 20, 2007 by  
Filed under Pastor

What is your perspective on the Evangelical Church in America? On a scale of 1-10, where are you? Are you a Pastor who is just going through the motions? Is your ‘ministry’ best characterized as filled with passionate hope and a zealous pursuit of all that God promises, or, are you a ‘minister of maintenance’ just managing programs?

What would you like to be? Are you willing to pay the price necessary to be that kind of Leader?

There are a host of “Evangelical Luminaries” that have essentially given up. They have retreated to a variety of ‘alternative forms’ of church. IgniteUS believes that God uses men. He always has and He always will. The church is first and foremost a Theological entity. The problems she currently faces are primarily theological in nature. The solutions are theological, not methodological.

IgniteUS exists to equip & encourage men who have the bold audacity to trust God. We offer a theological principle based process that equips Pastors to function as Leaders. Read 2 Chronicles 15. Asa served in a very dark and spiritually impotent period in Israel’s history. He ‘took courage’ and God used him to turn the nation.

He will use YOU Pastor – contact us – - – info@igniteus.net.