Monday, March 5, 2012

The Ministry of the Deacon

As the young church began to grow in Jerusalem, the Apostle’s ministry was spread thin. You likely remember the story, how certain widows of Greek origin were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. The social, economic, and governmental structures were completely different than our own day. This was long before Franklin Delano Roosevelt had ever invented Social Security.  In Jewish life, the synagogues took care of widows and orphans financially, and this practice was adopted by the early church. However, a very real problem arose when certain widows of the congregation were being overlooked.  To solve the problem, the Apostles initiated a need-meeting ministry, and in Acts 6 we have the prototype of the modern day Deacon. There are debates on whether or not the seven men of Acts 6were the first Deacons. Whether Deacons or not, we do know that between Acts 6and 1 Timothy, the office of the Deacon was established in the church.
The seven men who were chosen inActs 6were literally “table waiters.” They were men who would ensure that the Windows had all of their physical needs met.  This is the beginning of the ministry of the Deacon.

What does Deacon mean?

The word Deacon is a transliterated, not translated.  There is a big difference!  A transliterated word is borrowed into the English language. One of the most important transliterated words in the English language, as it relates to the church, is the wordbaptize—the Greek word that literally means to be immersed.  I’ve often wondered if we would have debates about infant baptism had we translated rather than transliterated the word. Deacon is another important transliterated word, that is, a word borrowed into the English language. The Greek word Deaconos literally means servant. This makes for a quite simple understanding of the office of Deacon; a Deacon is a servant.
From time to time I’ve heard Deacons say “we are just protecting the church.”  Early in my ministry, I was grateful for these men and their desire to protect the church. As I began to mature in experience and knowledge of the Word, however, I came to realize that protection of the church is not a function of the Deacon. God has created an overseer for the church, and that is the Pastor. Deacons are servants, Pastors are overseers. This is one of the most fundamental understandings that Pastors and Deacons must share in order to have a positive and Biblical Deacon ministry.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Kingdom Error

One of the most pervasive doctrinal errors in the church today pertains to the Kingdom of God.  This error is so systemic within the church that it is almost universally accepted.  In this article, I want to point out the error, highlight the damage of the error, and correct the error.
Matthew 6:33says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, NASB95).  What is His Kingdom and how do we seek it?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When the Pastor Sins

Having previously developed the understanding that God has one ordained office of leadership within the church, namely the Pastor, and that the Pastor is a single position, not a board, and that this position has built-in checks and balances that need no man-made addition, we turn now to the subject of pastoral failures.  Does a church have recourse when a Pastor fails?
The Bible teaches about the discipline of the Pastor by the body itself.  Because the pastor is merely a man, though one called to a holy task, there is the possibility that he may become involved in sinful activity.  Remember, the safeguards of a strong calling, an easily led congregation, the love for the Pastor, and the foot-washing spirit of the Pastor himself will most often provide the guard that is needed to keep a Pastor living a holy life, and leading in a godly manner.  But when these fail, and sin takes root, the congregation as a whole becomes the body of discipline.
Two simple verses in 1 Timothy outline the discipline of the Pastor by the congregation.  “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning” (1 Timothy 5:19–20, NASB95).  These words must be the basis for any action against the Pastor by the church or its members.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Judge Not!

Few verses are more quoted than Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  The verse is almost always misquoted and misused.  As far as I can tell, no English translation has the words in this fashion.  The King James Version says “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”  While this made-up version says the same as the good English translations, the fact that we so continually misquote it is indicative of our misuse of it as well!  The verse is almost always quoted (or misquoted)  in a judgmental fashion, and with the understanding that the verse gives an absolute injunctionagainst ever expressing a judgment. continue reading, click here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Killing the DoDemon

With the advent of the New Year, one Satan’s craftiest emissaries goes to work:  the DoDemon.  This demon, like the work of his master, covers himself in righteous wrap and spills forth spiritual sounding words in order to woo the Lord’s faithful to do something, regardless of the will and work of God.
The DoDemon gives believers the DoSomething syndrome.  It often looks like this:
  • A monthly meeting is coming up.  Though there is nothing on the agenda, the Chair feels inadequate with what seems to be a purposeless meeting.  The DoDemon goes to work in his heart, and he feels he and his committee must DoSomething.
  • A family has an evening without homework, meetings, ball-practice, or late work, but the DoDemon sneaks in and the family creates another hectic evening because they “need” to DoSomething.
  • A church is not growing like the one down the street.  The Pastor has read the church-growth books, has been to the denominational seminars, and has heard the common consensus that this would all change if he would just DoSomething.  Congregation members, eaten up with the DoDemon, are also pressuring him to DoSomething, making an overwhelming DoSomething wave come upon him.
The DoDemon has so many tools in his satchel:
  • DoSomething else—this tool works by using the leverage of dissatisfaction and lack of contentment.
  • DoSomething more—a tool that has its basis in human ability, believing that “just a little more effort” would make the difference.
  • DoSomething different—What you are doing may work, it just isn’t working well enough.
  • DoSomething new—This tool works best in a society that rejects the ways of their fathers.
Like all the work of Satan, the DoDemon memics the ways of Christ, so his work is often hard to quickly decipher.   Our Lord was not a DoNothing Messiah.  His work, however, was guided by the Father, who told him when it was time to do something!  It appears that there were many times when, by modern American standards, Jesus just needed to DoSomething:
  • He was 30 years old before he began to DoSomething!  Think what he could have achieved had he worked harder to promote himself in earlier years.  He could have really done something!
  • He had a line of sick people atCapernaumwho needed healing.  He chose to leave to another villiage.  Think of the ministry He could have established if He had just DoneSomething.
  • In the midst of a storm at sea His disciples woke him, shouting, “DoSomething!”
  • He could have called 10 legions of Angels to rescue him from the cross.  Why didn’t He DoSomething!
It makes me wonder, if Jesus had a group of modern, corporate Executive Coaches, would they have given the same advice His Father gave?  Something makes me think they would have created mission statements, agendas, action items, goals and objectives.  They would have categorized priorities, challenged supporters, and organized laborers.  They would have DoneSomething!
But that wouldn’t be “my Father’s business.”
When you feel the urge to use the DoSomething tool, consider these unfortunate accounts of spiritual giants who succumbed to the temptation:
  • Abraham and Sarah became impatient and decided to DoSomething, and brought Hagar into the home.  The effects last to this day.
  • Moses became impatient and decided to DoSomething.  In the end, an Egyptian was dead in the sand and Moses would spend the next  40 years as a fugitive.
  • Saul became impatient and decided to DoSomething when the Priest had not arrived.  By hastily offering the sacrifice without the Priest, Saul lost the throne.
  • Peter acted on impulse and drew the sword.  His DoSomething action was rebuked by the Lord.
There are, of course, some notable occasions when God’s people waited on God.  David would not kill Saul because Saul was “God’s Anointed.”  He would leave God’s work to God!  The Apostles obeyed the command to wait inJerusalem, and the fruit was well worth the wait.
As you enter a new year, you may be tempted by the DoDemon and his DoSomething tool.  It is almost foreign to Western thinking to do nothing.  We are programed to action, committed to achievement, and stubbornly leery of meditation, prayer, and waiting.  I am convinced that most churches would be far better off if they would quit doing something and start walking with the Lord, letting Him be the Great Doer.  But, since Pastors feel the need to justify their salary and defend their leadership, they DO.  Church-members encourage the Pastor’s “DoLeadership” and criticize any lack of action on his part.
“We can’t just sit here” are words that have been heard by every pastor.  “We have to DoSomething!”
I wonder…would we be better off just to sit here?
“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The most disgusting picture I've ever seen, and why

I recently saw a Facebook post of a photograph by Michael Belk.  The picture turned my stomach, and the caption made me angry.  The photo was that of an actor portraying Jesus, carrying the gun and knap sack of a Nazi soldier, presumably the “second mile” (which is the name of the photograph).  The caption (not added by the photographer) said, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” and referenced Matthew 5:38-48.
The picture was meant to be a powerful reminder of Christ’s love and of our need to forgive, even our worst enemies.  It was, however, woefully, terribly, and disgustingly misinformed and misguided.  It was a picture which, I’m sure, the Devil himself would enjoy hanging in his office. 
I am offended by the picture on so many fronts.  The long-haired hippie style Jesus would have quickly been rejected in the Jewish world in which he lived.  Long hair was anathema to Jewish males in the first century.  Even the Romans wore short hair (as can be seen in any statuary or art depicting the Roman Emperors).  I’m not sure that there is any benefit in trying to depict a face we have never seen.  We know from our own experience that our personal accuracy in doing so is dismal.  The tendency toward iconism makes me hesitant to embrace pictures of Jesus.  But, if we are going to have a depiction of Jesus, it should at least be a more accurate depiction than the common long-haired Jesus.
But were it just the long-hair, I wouldn’t be writing this article.
The picture has Jesus walking with a Nazi officer down a pastoral scene which looks something like the Big Sky country of Montana (I’ve learned the photograph was taken inItaly).  Had the artist any desire to be more historically accurate, he would have placed them in the Nazi death camps, with some of the six million naked, emaciated, starved-to-death or gassed-to-death bodies of innocent Jews piled eight feet high in the background.  Or perhaps a scene from the edge of one of the trenches where fellow Jews were forced to dump the bodies of their family—dump them by the thousands—so they could be covered up, nameless, for the world to forget, so that the Nazi officer could continue on in his perfect Aryan society: blue eyed, blond haired, and Jew free.  Would you be so inspired by a picture that portrayed such historical accuracy?
Should we want to get truly historically accurate, the picture would be of the Nazi soldier taking the gun and shooting “Jesus” point blank in the face, with no remorse, regret, or even hesitancy.  Then we would see the officer walk away, leaving the bloody Jew dead on the path.
This disgusting and inaccurate picture is an example of how brainless the Christian world has become today.  We have overdosed on teachings of love and kindness.  We feel compelled to send Ahmadinejad flowers to express Christian love.  We express remorse over the death of Osama bin Laden.  We use effeminate voices to talk in tender tones about forgiveness, mercy, and love.  We refuse to consider context and the totality of scripture when we post Bible verses like Matthew 5:38-48.
Would we consider putting as the caption to the picture, ““Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6, NASB95)?  After all, these words of Jesus come from the same sermon!
The arrogance of using Matthew 5:38-48 in this situation is the result of very poor Biblical interpretation.  For me to personally forgive the Nazi regime is totally misguided.  Outside of the ripple effect, I have no interaction with the Holocaust.  It is like me forgiving your wife’s rapist on her behalf.  A scripture that is meant for personal application can only be applied personally.  There are scriptures which apply to governments, others to individuals, others to certain members of the household, others to religious leaders, etc.  When we misapply scripture, we have a misguided teaching that always leads to error.
At the root of it all is a method of interpreting scripture that is so inaccurate that it has created a “Christianity” that is not reflecting the God who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  If our Christianity cannot adequately incorporate God as revealed in the Old Testament as well as Jesus in the New Testament, then our faith does not find its foundation in the Bible.  We have created a god of our own liking, labeled him the god of the Bible, and fooled ourselves.
This article is available in a downloadable PDF with enhanced graphics.  Click here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Life After Death: What Happens When a Believer Dies?

The water was slowly dripping from my umbrella as I walked through a light sprinkle of rain after finishing a grave-side service.  With each step on that long walk to the car, my mind wandered from the pit of the grave to the doorstep of heaven.  I do not know whether my mind was triggered by the pain of losing a close friend, the look of despair on some of those at the burial, or perhaps the dreary nature of the day, but I was now fully consumed by thoughts of the afterlife.  Questions I’ve heard so many times before started flooding my mind: what happens when a Christian dies?  What does it mean to sleep?  Are Christians stuck in the ground until the rapture?  As I again pondered these questions, my heart began to find great comfort and hope in the clear words of Scripture.
Though this scene I just described is not from a graveside funeral that I am thinking of specifically, it remains a familiar scene, I’m sure, not only for me, but for many other pastors as well.
I believe that all Christians can and should know with confidence what happens to a Christian after death. There is such hope and a great promise that cuts through the gloom and provides assurance, even when you are in the midst of dealing with the rainy storm of death.