Men, What Do You Aspire To?

The Christian message of humility has led many men into a "ho-hum, I'm not good enough" brand of false humility. Meanwhile, the Bible's take on it is that men should actually desire and aspire to be leaders.

The Christian message of humility has led many men into a “ho-hum, I’m not good enough” brand of false humility. Meanwhile, the Bible’s take on it is that men should actually desire and aspire to be leaders.

1 Timothy 3:1 – “Here is a trustworthy saying: ‘Now if anyone sets his heart on being an elder, he desires a noble task.'”

Men, have you ever thought about being an elder in your church? Have you ever thought about helping to lead a group of Christians? Have you felt discontented with the way y0ur church is being run? Have you stopped to think that those may be biblical thoughts?

That’s right, you can desire to be an elder. In fact you can set your heart on it.

What about being humble?

Okay, so I know this may be a strange line of thought. But think about it. Why would someone set his heart on being an elder? Because it means he wants to see the church run well. He wants to see the Body of Christ exalt Christ, and be a beacon in the community. Probably 90% of suggestions pastors hear for their churches are ways that they could potentially improve their reach in their context. The church needs men in leadership that are passionate about the Church and want to see it operate in Christ’s mission faithfully. This has nothing to do with being arrogant vs. being humble. It has everything to do with your desire to see Christ glorified. If that is your goal, and not having a position of power, you need not worry about the humility question.

Do I just go to my pastor and say, “I want to be an elder?”

Perhaps. It actually might be a huge blessing to your pastor to have a candidate interested in performing the duties rather than men just filling a seat at the table. When that conversation happens, you need to be ready for the pastor to examine you before giving his blessing. The passage following the above verse lists the qualities of being an elder, and [spoiler alert!] it’s not an easy job description.

The idea in the passage is that elders live a certain kind of life in Christ. When you go to your pastor, his response shouldn’t be, “oh, really?!?” but rather, “I think you’d make a great elder!” The evidence of your candidacy comes from a life lived. You will already have authority amongst church members because of the way you are disciplined in knowing and applying God’s word. People will already come for you for advice because you seem to have the parenting thing figured out, or the marriage thing, or the financial thing. The life lived determines your authority. When you set your heart on being an elder, you set your heart on a higher standard for living. Such a standard will qualify you for eldership.

Nobility is tough

Let’s not breeze over the last part of the verse. Leading a church is a noble task. It is worthwhile. It brings with it a certain amount of favor in the eyes of men. It brings with it the opportunity to put plans into action. It also comes with a lot of responsibility.

Throughout history, when men are described as noble, it hardly ever means they took the easy road. When knights’ did noble acts, there is a high likelihood that pain, suffering and sacrifice were included. Being an elder is a noble task. It is hard. Yes, there is hard work involved and a sacrifice of time, but becoming an elder will also put the burden of other Christians’ maturity on your shoulders. That’s a heavy emotional load. Yes people may honor you, but you have a daily charge to deny the urge to let that intoxicate you. You have a call to adhere to the Bible and not culture in all situations. There is honor that comes with it, but only after great sacrifice and discipline.

Eldership is not a fast-track to having people validate you.

You don’t want the opposite

The last thing to point out here is that you don’t want the opposite end of this statement. Especially if you are a man and are reading this. You don’t want to live undisciplined. You don’t want to be greedy, or a belligerent brawler. Men have the amazing ability to think the most of themselves even when no one else does. We want to be excellent, and the life described here is an excellent way to live. Why wouldn’t you desire that? Why wouldn’t you set your heart on living a 1 Timothy 3 kind of life? Isn’t that ultimately at the heart of what manhood is?

How does your church determine its elders? Leave a comment below!

When Prayer Doesn’t Work

Many people over the years have felt like prayer is a waste of time.

Many people over the years have felt like prayer is a waste of time.

[This is the third installment in a series entitled, “When Faith Doesn’t Work.” Read the series from the beginning here.]

“National Day of Wishful Thinking”

A well-known YouTube atheist used this phrase to rename the National Day of Prayer. And protested said demonstration at his state’s capitol.

“Nothing Fails like Prayer”

Signs held outside the building showed just as much skepticism.

Christians hear arguments like this all the time and, if you are not a believer, you can probably sympathize with such sentiments.

Even believers have doubted the power of prayer. We struggle to “be good about prayer” in our own lives.

I know I do. So here are my thoughts as to why we might feel this way. These are the causes that lead to thinking prayer is broken, I see these mindsets in the arguments of non-believers (PLEASE COMMENT if you feel I miss the mark, forget something, etc.) but, sadly, I see just all of these as prevalent problems in the church as well. It’s no wonder prayer doesn’t “work.”

A Change In Our Definition

What do we mean, “prayer doesn’t work?”

Typically it means that we pray and bad things still happen. We pray and don’t “hear anything.” We may even pray for deliverance from sin and yet continue to be tempted.

Could it be that we are defining effective prayer wrong?

Even John the Baptist (who Jesus called the greatest man to ever live – Matt 11:11) questioned whether all his faith was “working” as he sat in prison and even questioned Jesus. He thought that because he was faithfully following God, prison should have been an impossible outcome.

Spoiler alert: He was later beheaded because of his ministry.

Prayer is not just some “magic trick” to fix all your problems. Prayer is an opportunity to grow in a personal relationship with the God that created the universe. It is an opportunity to share your heart with him, to tell him where your hang-ups and frustrations are, and to align yourself to his will for you. 

Prayer might not “work” because we expect something from it that is not promised in Scripture.

A Change In Our Request

Check out these popular verses about Prayer.

It would seem that Scripture paints a picture of prayer being answered. These passages definitely look that way. Didn’t Jesus say that if we truly believe, we could command a mountain to throw itself into the sea? When was the last time that happened?

There is an important caveat in passages like these though: “Whatever you ask in my name.” When we pray, we are often focused on ourselves. This was John the Baptist’s problem. “In my name” is a statement of submission to his mission above our mission.

We pray for God to heal people that we can’t bear the thought of living without. We pray for safe travel. We pray for a promotion. A job. The bid on that dream home to be accepted. Very seldom do we follow these things with, if it is your will.”

The above-mentioned list isn’t bad in itself, but they are self-focused. Comfort-focused.

Praying “Jesus, let your will be done” will usually follow with Jesus saying, “This is my will. Go let it be done.” A response is implied.

It could seem prayer doesn’t “work” because our requests are not “in Jesus’ name.”

A Change In Our Hearts

A heart that harbors hatred won’t hear Jesus.

1 Peter 4:17 – “Be self-controlled so that you can pray.”

Matthew 5:23-24 – “If you are coming to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gifte there in front of the altar. FIRST, go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and worship.”

James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to one another and pray…”

Harboring sin in our hearts shows a lack of understanding of the Gospel. Being angry with someone that has wronged you shows that you don’t understand what Jesus has already done for you. Keeping secrets and hiding hangups in shame shows that you have a performance-based view of his love for you.

1 Peter says to stay self-controlled, because when we have sinned and feel ashamed, the last thing we want to do is pray. We don’t want God to see us in our imperfection. Sin separates us from God because of US. It makes us want to hide.

This is one of the reasons that we need to preach obedience. It is through obedience that we grow closer and closer to God.

It could be that prayer doesn’t seem to “work” because you are harboring sin, resentment or bitterness in your heart that is causing your heart to avoid God.

What have you noticed about prayer in your own life? Leave a comment below.

What do you mean “Faith Doesn’t Work?”

Many people in our country look at the pain and suffering around us and feel like faith is a useless factor in life's equation.

Many people in our country look at the pain and suffering around us and feel like faith is a useless factor in life’s equation.

This post is the second in a series entitled, When Faith Doesn’t WorkIf you haven’t read the first post, I encourage you to go back and read it first.

If you have been around the church enough in your life, you know that people attack faith often. Much of the time, there is some kind of connection to suffering in their attack.

“Your faith did you a lot of good when you got diagnosed with _________.”

“Where’s God in the natural disasters that are killing thousands?”

“If God is real and the Bible is true, why can’t I stop __________?”

What is typically meant by these is that a given person thinks faith “Doesn’t Work.” Something about it is broken, because any belief in an all knowing, all loving God can clearly leave no room for human suffering. I can totally understand why these people are frustrated, and maybe you can, too. Maybe you hold this view. It is, in essence, saying, “There’s no point in believing in God.”

I can sympathize with on a human level, but my answer to the question is that we may need to rethink what the goal of our faith is.

America, the land of the ME

Let’s face it, we live in a land that teaches us to focus on ourselves. Everything from Personal Pan Pizza (because Heaven forbid we all eat the same thing) to the recent emphasis on boosting self-esteem tells us that we get what we want. Even the founders of our country have been distorted; the foundation they forged with the nation’s best interest in mind has now been reduced to, “if I want to drink a 147-oz soda every day for lunch, I should be free to do that.” I love personal freedom, I’m just saying I don’t think that’s what they had in mind. We are a people of ME.

History tells us that humans are communal, that they are collective in nature. We are social creatures. And so we need to stop and reconsider — and at the very least be honest about and aware of — our tendencies to look after ourself. If we aren’t careful, the gospel becomes about Jesus loves ME, not Jesus loves US. Faith becomes about going to heaven and what God will do for ME. My prayers are about God fixing what’s stressing me out in MY life from illness to travels to exams to relationships). When we do pray for others, it is — again — about reducing stress level. We expect God to fix all the discomfort in our personal lives.

It’s no wonder we get so offended when that God would allow pain and suffering.

The Young Bold and the Restless

The early church was relentlessly unified in their mission. Paul celebrated the success of other churches even while he was in prison (Phil  1:3-11). He prayed for them and asked them to pray for him. And what did he ask them to for? It wasn’t “Pray that God would deliver me from prison, since I’m here on false charges.” His request was that they would pray for him to be bold (Col 4:2-4)! After Peter and John received the beating of their lives from the Sanhedrin and were told not to preach, the disciples gathered and said,

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with Great BOLDNESS (Acts 4:29)!

When we lose sight of the mission we gain sight of ourselves. We need to raise our vision to Christ and his mission, rather than focusing on what troubles we have right in front of us.

Redefine what a “WIN” is

It is especially tempting to think that God’s goal is to bless us. We’ll talk about pain and suffering later in this series, but take a look at just a few verses to describe what the “purpose” of faith is:

  • “In this world you will have trouble, but TAKE HEART! I have overcome the world!” -John 16:33
  • “You are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:9
  • “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” -Galatians 5:1
  • “Imitate God, as dearly loved Children.” -Ephesians 5:1

God’s goals are not necessarily here and now, but eternal and big-picture. We should come to the table not saying, “Christ what will you do for me?” That reflects an unappreciative perspective toward what he has already done for us. Instead, we should come to him offering, “Jesus, what would you have me do for you?” out of appreciation and gratitude for the life he has given us.

Maybe faith “doesn’t work,” and maybe we are using the wrong metrics to measure it.

How do you hear people making this argument? Leave a comment in the section below!

“The Bible” on the History Channel

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The Bible is a 10-hour epic miniseries on History Channel that portrays the Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation. It premieres March 3 at 8pm EST.

You don’t want to miss this.

In the weeks following this post, a good portion of America might actually be engaging in conversation about the Bible. Let that sink in. Your coworkers may watch. Conversation started. Maybe your kids may tune in. Ice broken. Maybe you even invite someone over to watch, or just invite them to watch. groundwork laid.

I’m talking, of course, about History Channel’s new miniseries on the Bible, produced by Reality TV mogul Mark Burnett, and his wife, Roma Downey. There has been a lot of press around this miniseries, hitting from all angles, to be sure. Without going into the critical analyses (especially having not seen it yet, myself), suffice it to say you cannot produce a 10-hour epic portrayal of the Bible without some push back.

God’s Word, The Greatly Abridged Version

But what should Christians think about such a series?

Glad for the conversation

As Christians, we ought to be very glad whenever discussions are started around what we believe. Heck, we ought to be thankful for conversations about the opposite of what we believe as well! People are about to watch the story of God’s chosen nation, Israel, and his loving provision for them. They will watch and learn about not just Jesus’ crucifixion but his resurrection. They may get a visual of what it means to be a disciple.

It’s time we just got excited about the conversation.

But what if it’s all “Hollywood?”

This is probably true. There will probably be inaccuracies. I’m sure there were some “punches pulled” so that various people groups wouldn’t be offended by the content (see this CNN writeup). But the real question is why are we trying to “punch” people with the Gospel?

It’s Hollywood! Ultimately, Burnett and Downey, as well as the History Channel and the A&E family of networks are after ratings! Liberties will be taken, stories that you and I might consider “crucial” will probably be left out. It is possible that this will be one big 2nd-grade Sunday School lesson, just portraying the biblical stories.

But they’re still portraying biblical stories.

So what do Christians do?

We embrace this, full force. This will be 10x more visually engaging than any sermon, and we live in a visual culture. We live in a world that loves story. To prove it, complete the following quotes:

  • Go Ahead, _____ ______ _____.
  • You had me at _________.
  • Life is like a _____ __ _________.

Most likely, you don’t just know the rest of the quote, but you can picture the scene, context and dialogue surrounding the quote. This is great for our culture.

When we do have conversations, we must “have an answer for anyone that may ask” about the Hope we have, the faith we claim. And we need to “do it with gentleness and respect.”

Let’s embrace this advancement of God’s Kingdom and use it to point people to Christ!

Bring Back the “R” Word

R-repent copyIt’s time we bring back the “R” word.

I know it’s controversial.

I know it’s hard to hear.

I know it’s offensive.

But it’s time we talk about it in openness and boldness. It’s about time we stop allowing ourselves to be offended by it. It’s long past time we stop applying it when talking about our own lives. But the word stirs up so much controversy that it’s almost impossible to avoid. It makes people angry. It breaks relationship. The word I’m talking about, of course, is “Repent”.

The first and greatest commandment.

We live in a world where people want to quote Jesus’ statement of the “first and greatest command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” [emphasis mine] The way our culture talks, it seems “Loving your neighbor as yourself” comes first. Everyone wants people to be all lovey-dovey to one another. This makes for a world where no one can tell anyone that anything they do is wrong. In fact, it has created a world where nothing can be known to be right OR wrong.

This is bologna.

The first commandment is to LOVE GOD. And not just have nice feelings toward him, but to LOVE him, to LOVE his commands, to LOVE his plan for us and to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that he has put a plan in place to redeem us.

Jesus’ First Message

Focusing on our love for God requires submission. And it requires admitting that I have a heart that wants so badly to resist him. It requires an admission that “I want to be my own god, and my default mode is denying you (the God of the Bible) that role.” That is why Jesus’ very first message was for his listeners to:

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is Near.

That’s right, Jesus, the orchestrator of Love and Acceptance, said that we are to REPENT! We are to turn away from the fact that we think we know better than God. It is to turn from the fact that we think we have evolved past needing him. It means to actually trust him with our lives, and not just go to church, while trusting our own instincts to take care of us.

Why this makes us squirm

This is a tough message because we don’t like to be told we are wrong. We also don’t like to think that we are not the one best-suited to guide our own lives. We all think that the truth is the best policy, until someone tells us the truth about how we are. We don’t want to hear that we are wrong, but that is the story of the Christian life.

Jesus said “Come as you are.” He never said, “Stay as you are.”

A life devoted to Christ says, “this is where I am, now shape me into what you’d like me to be.” In order to take that approach, we have to REPENT and turn from our old ways. We must turn from our pattern of thinking that says we know better than God. A life devoted to Christ gives him KINGship, not just SAVIORship.

And those who lose their [own] lives will find them [in Christ].

Why is it so hard for us to hear the word, “repent?”

Three Lessons for the Start of Lent

[Credit where it’s due: The inspiration for this post comes from a recent sermon from Pastor Tim Lucas at Liquid Church in New Jersey. Listen to/watch their Lent sermon series HERE]

With yesterday’s celebration of Ash Wednesday, the season known as “Lent” has officially begun. Lent is a 40-day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter, meant to represent the 40-day period that Jesus spent in the desert at the onset of his public ministry (Read the story here).

While in the desert, we are told that Jesus fasted, and so one of the most notable markers of Christians celebrating Lent is selective fasting for forty days — giving up any number of things for the forty day period. Some examples of the most common items are listed below (based on twitter #lent hashtags, source: Christianity Today):

Most common things being given up for lent; size represents frequency.

Giving something up can be a great thing. Denying our fleshly desires and using that energy to focus on God can be a great spiritual discipline. But I think this story teaches a couple other lessons, and that all believers would do well to glean some wisdom from this narrative. (For reference purposes, I will be following Matthew’s account of the story).

THE SPIRIT DID THE LEADING (4:1)

The first fact we see in this story is that Jesus was led by the spirit, for the purpose of being tempted. If the Spirit would lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, he might similarly lead us into times of dryness. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in your weakness.” We shouldn’t live our lives focusing on staying within a comfortable situation, assuming that trouble is always the Devil’s doing. The devil doesn’t show up in this story until the end of the 40 days. Before that it was just a time of hardship. Times of dryness and periods in the “valley,” offer Christians opportunities to feel their own weakness and rely on God’s strength.

SATAN USED SCRIPTURE (4:6)

We need to be seriously watchful against this. Satan knows the Bible, and probably better than you or I. He knows his opponent, has advanced scouting reports and has watched lots and lots of game film. Don’t take him lightly.

Seriously, though, it needs to be pointed out that Satan knows what the Bible says, and in this story he shows that he is okay with mangling it to serve his purposes. He doesn’t say anything that’s unbiblical, but he tries to apply it to meet Jesus’ personal desires. Likewise, as we approach all kinds of cultural issues, we can see many people support their agenda with Scripture but often times they don’t take into account what the whole of Scripture has to say on the topic.

Sometimes it can be a great thing to challenge the “establishment.” But we must be cautious of Scripture being used to push our own agendas. Lies are simply false statements, but deceptions are lies wrapped in truth. Satan is a master deceiver. Be wise in how you accept these arguments and ground yourself in the Biblical text first.

JESUS DIDN’T HAVE A BIBLE WITH HIM

This isn’t explicit. But it doesn’t say that he said, “Wait a minute, Satan, let me look up what the Bible says about this before I respond.” Jesus had internalized Scripture. He knew the tempter’s schemes, and he had Scripture ready to go at every turn. When temptation strikes, it can be a great thing to turn to the Word. If it’s not available, though, you’re in trouble. Believers should know what they believe. We should be ready to combat Satan and his lies. We should invite God’s spirit to speak through us by verbalizing his Words on our lips.

Lent would be a great time to start building an arsenal for just such occasions. There will be times when you feel exhausted from the desert you’ve been going through, and that is when Satan will wish to deliver your final blow. God’s wisdom is the sword with which we fight back.

I hope these lessons give you something to think about  as we start this Lenten season this year.

What about you — how are you celebrating Lent this year?

God’s Will For You Today!

“Be Joyful Always; Pray Continually; Give thanks in all circumstances. This is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.” -1 Thessalonians 5:17

I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s will lately. Everyone wants to know God’s will, and wants to wait for him to show it to them. There is a crucial lesson for Christians to learn. Jesus taught it, Paul reiterated it. I’ve condensed it here. It comes from Luke 19:11-26. It’s the Parable of the Ten Minas. Click the link and read the parable before you go on.

I’ve been thinking about how practical God is in the way that he guides us. The principle in this parable is that those who can be entrusted with a little will also be trusted with a lot. How sensible! This should ring true with any parent, project leader, administrator, business owner, or anyone else who is in a position of authority over others. When you have a task that needs to get done but the person to whom it is assigned falls through, you would never turn around and give them a BIGGER task! At the very least you would give them another task of similar size and start training them up in responsibility, follow through, diligence, etc. Someone that cannot fulfill the most menial task would be destined to fail if they were assigned something much bigger.

God works the same way. Sometimes it’s financially, as on the surface of this parable. As you are a faithful steward of your resources, you will find your money going farther and, in some cases, strange blessings will come your way because you are wise, disciplined and faithful. God says that if you are wise with a little, the same principles will lead you to wise choices when you have a lot. If you are foolish with a little, you would likely be foolish if you suddenly had plenty.

This parable goes deeper, though, and God treats our spirit the same way. We often want to know God’s specific plan, or his will in the particulars of life. We want to know what he has in store for us — where to go next, what to do next, etc. Maybe you are not in a time of spiritual plenty. Maybe you want more from God. You want him to reveal himself, or for a spiritual relationship with him to just “happen.” This parable teaches us that you have to be faithful with what you’ve got. Are you busy? You will always be. Make time for God now. Make him a priority now. Are you financially strapped? That will likely not change too much unless you start changing your money principles now. Do you not feel like God is close? Do things to close the gap and build that relationship now. Don’t wait for him to talk to you out of the clouds. Be a faithful steward of the position you are in today.

1 Thessalonians tells us, plain as day, “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will in Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). God may have remarkably specific plans for you, but his will for all of us is that we find contentment and trust in him. Be joyful. Pray continually. Be thankful for your present circumstance. When you prove that you can be trusted with a little, God will often begin to entrust much more to you.

What is it about this simple teaching that seems so difficult?