Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Does the Whole World Need to Know?

The comment was too good to remain buried at the bottom of the blog. In reference to an earlier post, which detailed our church's efforts to help a member in need, someone asked:
Shouldn't good deeds be left unspoken? Is it right to help someone and then talk about it? Don't get me wrong it sounds like you all really helped out somoene, but does the whole world need to know.
That is a good question. In fact it is one that produced quite a bit of debate amongst some attenders of CrossRoad Church prior to our launch. "Should we let the world see what we are doing or should we keep it on the down low?" The answer depends upon...you guessed it...your motives.
When we were preparing to launch our church, we had a few vocal attenders that thought it was wrong to take up a public offering because others could see who was giving to the church. The discussion then turned to Matthew 6.1-4, where Jesus said

1 Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Taking that verse to the extreme, some concluded that any "visible acts" of righteousness should be avoided (thus the disdain for a public offering. This conclusion raises a question, "Was Jesus' intent in this statement to ban all public acts of service or celebration of said facts? Given the context of the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, I would say no.

Consider the Words of Christ in in Matthew chapter 5:

14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on
its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let
your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your
Father in heaven.

Given these words "that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven," it is impossible to conclude that Jesus wanted us to keep all good acts a secret. The bigger issue being addressed is hypocrisy.

So in response to our good friend that left the earlier comment, the answer in this case is yes, the whole world does need to know. They need to know that God is good. They need to know that His Spirit has brought a group of unrelated people together in redemption and created a bond so tight that we will do whatever it takes to help each other bear their burdens in this life. The world needs to know see tangible evidence of God's love, compassion, and even providence toward his children. By celebrating what God has done to provide a repaired vehicle for our family in Christ we are hoping to do just that. We are not proud of what we have done (which would be hypocrisy and violate Matthew 6.1-4); we are proud of what God has done.

Thanks for a GREAT question. I look forward to hearing from you again.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Word About Gossip, Part I

Last week I provided a post that dealt with the issue of conflict resolution. In my article, I cautioned everyone to avoid gossip. Gossip does not resolve issues; it only makes them worse. As Proverbs 26:20 teaches us, "Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down."

In response to my comments about avoiding gossip (both here and elsewhere), I have been asked to define gossip. After all, it is difficult to avoid a particular behavior if you can't define it. I threw together some random thoughts this morning for you to review. I would eventually like to publish this as an article somewhere, so if you feel that I have left anything out, please let me know.


A Word About Gossip
Few attacks of the enemy are as destructive in the life of the church as the presence of unmitigated gossip. It is a poison that defiles, weakens, and divides the church. Because gossip is such a threat to ALL churches, we must be prepared to defend our family of faith from its negative consequences. I will approach this task in two installments. First, I will help you learn to identify gossip. Second, I will provide biblical guidance about wholesome speech.
A biblical definition of gossip reveals several different aspects of our speech that must be considered.

First and foremost, gossip is malicious speech, intended to spread vitriol about someone else. In Ephesians 4.31, the Apostle Paul commands the church to "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." These are behaviors that are unacceptable for someone that has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. Again in Hebrews 12:15, we are commanded to "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." Christians are commanded to keep their motives in check and to protect the church from themselves when they are angry. A question you can ask yourself if you are unsure if speech qualifies as gossip is this, "What is my motive for sharing this information or concern about someone else?" If your motive is hurtful, spiteful, or intended to express frustration with someone else, you are better off keeping it to yourself.

Second, gossip violates a confidence. In Proverbs 11:13, we learn that "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret." This truth is affirmed by Proverbs 20.19 as well, "A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much." The point is clear. We should avoid speech that shares information we are not permitted to share. The second question to ask is, "Do I have permission to share this information about someone else?" In order to keep confidences we must be careful to avoid the ubiquitous "prayer request" which is really a guise to pass along "juicy" information. If you need to pass along a prayer request that includes information that is either sensitive or privileged, leave the person's name out of it. If you feel the need to give guidance on how to pray, leave the details vague enough that your prayer partners don't know who you are talking about. God is omniscient. He will know the name and details of the prayer request as it is offered without being told.

Third, gossip creates division in the church. Proverbs 16:28 teaches us that "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends." Later in the same book, Solomon reminds the reader that "A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much (20.19)." Not only are we commanded to avoid divisive speech, we are commanded to avoid those who partake in it as well. The reason to avoid the man who talks too much is that he can have an adverse affect on how we a particular situation or person. A final question to ask when you want to know whether or not your conversation qualifies as gossip is "Does this conversation create unity in my church or will it lead to division?" As a church, we must work to protect the unity of our fellowship at all times.

It is important to remember that the proverbs are divinely inspired general principles, nt absolute universal laws. In other words, there may be situations when they do not apply. For example, if a friend mentions that they are contemplating suicide, it would be acceptable to violate that confidence for the sake of intervention. In this case your concern for and value of human life would trump the need to keep the information confidential. Basically, the issue of motive would outweigh need for confidence.

I haven't touched on every issue, but I think this provides a start for the discussion. What do you think? Have I left anything out? Is there a hypothetical situation you would like me to address? Are there verses on which you would like me to comment?

I look forward to hearing from you soon,


Monday, May 22, 2006

Reflections on a Great Weekend

This past weekend was such a blessing to me personally. We had our second annual CrossRoad Crawfish Boil (with over 75 in attendance), we had a great worship service Sunday morning (in spite of the technical difficulties), and we were pirviliged to baptize two folks into the fellowship of our local church. What a great weekend!

The Crawfish Boil
Yes, that is my son in the picture above. It is hard to believe that God can use these little critters (crawfish - not kids) to produce fellowship among the saints such as we experienced Saturday afternoon. But fellowship is what we had. I received and cherished the opportunity to learn more about my brothers and sisters in Christ, I got to meet some of your friends and family who were visiting from out of town, and I got to feast on crawfish cooked perfectly by Stephen Lukinovich. A special word of thanks to Stephen who footed the bill to ship sixty pounds of live crawfish up from Louisiana for our special event. We had twice as many folks as last year. I look forward to reaching out to even more next year.

The Gathering
For those of you unfamiliar with CrossRoad's terminology, "The Gathering" is what we call our corporate worship service. It is a time when the saints gather to worship our creator as a body of believers. This Sunday was just a great day in the Lord. The hymns chosen by Todd Weedman taught us great theology and led us to reflect upon the majesty and holiness of God. We had a wonderful opportunity to pray for the Meldrums. We also had more first time guests join us than we have had on a single day since our launch back in September. I appreciate the way our members are striving to live missional lives and reach out to our community. Don't forget our media ministry. If you cannot get someone to join you for a worship service, perhaps you can get them to listen to a particular message on CD as they drive to work. Good job folks, Let's continue to reach out to our community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest blessings of being a pastor is having the privilige to baptize new believers in Jesus Christ. The event itself is a testimony to God's work of redeeming lost sinners and provides a beautful picture of the gift of grace wrought in the life of the new believer. Sunday, as we baptized Maryn and David, I was reminded of the command to make disciples. Baptism is but a small portion of the Great Commission. Our work was not completed in their lives because we baptized them into membership in our church. Our work is just beginning. We now have an obligation to teach all that Christ commanded (that is discipleship in a nutshell, see Matthew 28.18-20).
David Breeden gets baptized...

Maryn Meldrum gets baptized...

The contrast in situations with each of these baptisms should serve as a reminder to approach children's baptisms with great care. David, who has been saved for over ten years, was baptized yesterday because over the course of the past few weeks he had come to the conclusion that he was "baptized" as an unbeliever when he was a child. Baptism is an ordinance of the church and is for believers only. If we baptize children that do not understand the gospel and have not responded savingly to the gospel, we risk giving them a false sense of security with regard to eternal life. Maryn is an example of a child that both understands and has responded to the gospel. The need to be careful does not mean that we should not baptize children or receive them into membership. We just need to proceed with caution.

I look forward to your comments or testimonies about baptism, fellowship, or how this past weekend was a blessing to you.
Yours in Christ,

Friday, May 19, 2006

Reflections on a Week as a Single Parent

My wife has been gone on a business trip since Monday. As I sit here waiting on her flight home (which has been delayed - again), I must say that I now have a greater understanding of the destructive consequences divorce has in the home. For the past week I have been a single father with two lovely children. As far as kids go, mine are fairly tame and follow parental guidance well. In spite of their (mostly) good behavior, this week has been a nightmare. There just is not enough time in the day to do all that needs to be done raising a family if you are on your own.

I have somehow managed to get through this week. I got the kids to school on time (well at least I did twice). I fed them high quality breakfasts of pop-tarts and diet coke in the car on the way to school (late). I made sure they got their homework done, prayed with them, played with them, and genuinely let them know how much our home suffered without their mama. I managed to accomplish all of this because my job as a pastor allows me certain perks (like studying for sermons at 2:00 a.m.). I have no idea how single parents with inflexible schedules managed to get it done. My guess is that many of them manage to get by, but that's about it. If this week has served any purpose in my life, it has been used by God to reaffirm the importance of healthy, two-parent homes in developing godly children. God just did not intend for us to do it by ourselves. I know. I know. We can all point to examples of single parents that have gotten it done on their own. They are the exception. Even if it is possible to raise healthy children in single parent homes (I will be the first to admit that I am not Mr. Mom and so my view is skewed), that approach is less than ideal. There is a reason Scripture includes numerous admonitions to both husbands and wives to be involved in the rearing of godly children: it is a two person job.

In light of this awakening, I am as committed as ever to including the following elements in the ministry of CrossRoad Church.

1) We must reach out to single parents and their children in an effort to show the compassion of Jesus Christ and help strengthen their homes. Children in single parent homes do not get to see healthy interaction between husbands and wives which helps build a foundation for stable homes in the future. Girls may not have female role models from which to learn. Boys may not have (healthy) male role models from which to learn. Kids that grow up in this environment basically start out life with several strikes against them. Healthy families must build strong relationships with these broken families that allows for encouragement, mentoring, and support.

2) We must teach frequently on marriage and relationships in our church. Older couples with healthy marriages must mentor younger couples and newly weds. Younger couples and newly weds must be willing to learn. We must refuse to marry couples in our church unless they submit to pre-marital counseling and that counseling should be geared to actually equip them to live in a marriage that brings glory and honor to God.

3) We must stand with couples when their marriages are in trouble, remind them that God hates divorce, and provide godly counseling and support to help them stay together.

4) We must encourage the men in our church to be men. Many marriages fall apart today because the "man" of the house is just another child that the mom needs to care for. A healthy home needs more than an adolescent in adult's clothing with a decent paying job. The lead characters from "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "According to Jim" may be humorous to watch on television, but they aren't integral parts of strong marriages in real life. Our wives need godly, responsible men that take the biblical admonitions to care for their wives and raise their children in the Lord seriously.

What do you think? Have I missed anything?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Where was the Church?

"Where was God when...?" The words never fail to sting when I hear them. I usually encounter this phrase in my efforts to reach out to discouraged or disgruntled "formerly churched" individuals. The only aspect of these encounters that amazes me anymore is the frequency with which I am confronted by this claim that "God wasn't there for me when I needed Him." The line of reasoning employed by many that make this claim is fairly easy to follow. At some point in their past, they encountered a difficult situation in life (loss of a loved one, loss of a job, destruction of a marriage, etc.). During this difficulty, events were not resolved to their liking or in their timing, so they concluded that God was not there. If that is not the case the feelings of depression, loneliness, or anxiety were often enough to disillusion them with regard to God's goodness, providence, or presence.

My initial reaction in these types of situations used to be to immediately come to God's defense and remind the individual(s) of His sovereignty and purpose over and through trials in life (James 1.2-4, Romans 8.28ff). The longer I have been in ministry however, the more I have come to realize that this all to common reaction is more than just the expression of frustrated and immature Christian (as true as that may be). I have also come to view these cases and claims as an indictment of the local church. The more I minister to the "formerly churched" and listen to their stories of despair and confusion, the more my heart cries out, "Where was the church?"

Now, before we go any further, let me say that most of the time the claim that "God wasn't there," is rooted in an inadequate understanding of who God is and how He works. For some reason many in the world today have developed a view of God that has reduced Him to favorite neighbor status on Halloween night. You remember the favorite neighbor don't you? They were the family down the street that always had the best candy and gave it away in liberal amounts. All you had to do was don your mask, knock on the door, hold your bag out, and get lots of goodies. Regardless of what TBN's preacher of the week claims, God doesn't work that way! When life gets tough, you can't just throw on your "Christian mask," knock on God's door in prayer, and expect "goodies." We'll save the remainder of the discussion about God's character for the future, but let me remind you that James clearly teaches that for a trial to accomplish the purpose of producing godly character and maturity, we must persevere through that trial.

In spite of numerous commands in Scripture to persevere, we must not forget that one of the means God has given to help us persevere is the local church. Scripture teaches that God will not place more temptation on us that we can bear. Scripture, however, does not call on us to bear this temptation on our own. Rather, the explicit teaching of Scripture is that we are to lean on one another as we journey together to grow in Christ's likeness. Examples of this teaching occur in Galatians 6.1-10, 1 Thess. 4.18, 5.11, 5.14, Hebrews 3.13, and Hebrews 10.25. Other examples can be seen in Paul's repeated sending of teachers to specific churches for the express purpose of encouraging them to persevere in their work of the gospel (Ephesians 6.22; Colossians 4.8; 1 Thessalonians 3.2).

In Galatians 6.1-10, the Apostle Paul provided the church with clear guidelines for "Life Together" (the title of an excellent book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer). In this brief passage, we learn several important truths that should promote and protect the health of the church. First, we learn that we have a responsibility as Christians to mend relationships in the church that have been fractured by sin (6.1). Using the language of a doctor setting a broken bone, Paul commands the church to restore wayward members. This task is accomplished through gentle and loving confrontation of sin (and as we learn elsewhere in Scripture repentance on the part of the sinning person). Everytime we encounter someone that has fallen away from the church and claims that God wasn't there for them, we should ask ourselves, "Where was the church?" If sin had so skewed their view of the church and the world that they walked away from God's people, why weren't God's people there to stand in the gap?

The second truth we learn in this passage is that we have a responsibility to bear one another's burdens (6.2). When life overwhelms us, we should be able to rely on the strength of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Life Together should be a life that is shared. It is the life described in Acts 2 where the early church sold possessions in order to give to those who had need. When life so overwhelms someone that that they begin to falter under the weight of their burden, we as brothers and sisters in Christ should be there to help shoulder the load. There should never be a situation in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ when someone loses a loved one, loses a job, sees their marriage begin to crumble, or is diagnosed with cancer and begins to question whether or not God is there because they are by themselves in the midst of that trial. They should see His presence everywhere they turn as the body of Christ begins to rally around them in support and encouragement. Again, when we encounter someone that has obviously quit following Christ because they quit fighting the good fight, we should ask ourselves, "Where was the church?"

The third truth we learn from this passage is that we have a responsibility to carry our own load (6.5). The word for load here is different than in verse two and contextually can be interpreted to understand that it refers to every Christian's responsibility to grow in Christ. This load is similar to the pack that a soldier would carry on a journey. It may be difficult to carry, but with the grace of God it is a manageable load. Whenever I encounter someone with a faulty view of God's providence who has decided to lay down their cross rather than bear it, I still ask "Where was the church?" Were they equipped with a biblical worldview and the means/knowledge to employ the spiritual disciplines so that they would persevere through difficulty? Did the church do its job of "teaching all that [Jesus] has commanded" in discipling new Christians? If trials produce not only godly character, but perseverance itself (James 1.2-4) then we must be careful to walk with new Christians because they have neither.

The fourth and final truth we glean from this text today is seen in verses seven through ten.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction;
the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

You reap what you sow
. Many Christians know this text but they strip it from its context. For proper application of this final truth, you have to remember what Paul has said in verses one through six. Churches reap destruction when they fail to restore broken relationships and bear burdens (their own and others'). This work is hard work. That is why Paul admonishes the Galatian church not to become weary in doing good - especially to the family of believers.

"Life Together," it is a beautiful sight to behold. Over the past few weeks our church has had numerous opportunities to share the load of our brothers and sisters. A member is diagnosed with breast cancer and the women's ministry commits to fast and pray frequently for healing and spiritual growth through the trial, to help with the housework until treatment is over, and to provide meals and childcare whenever needed.

This past week, as a church, we were able to help a family that has experienced a number of financial difficulties over the past few years as they have pursued the ministry to which God has called them. Two years ago a vehicle that had purchased in 2002 developed severe engine problems and quit running. For a reasons we won't go into, the warranty would not cover the engine. Regardless of the reason why they couldn't get the vehicle fixed, there it sat in the parking lot of the service department for over two years, useless. They honored their promise to pay on the note for the car and as a result were forced to make do. Over the past month, members of CrossRoad Church, recognizing a need (a burden), rose up and sought to help shoulder the load of this couple that is new to our church but already dear to our hearts. A mechanic in our fellowship mentioned that if we could get an engine, he would install it free of charge. Behind the scenes, members began to collect the money to purchase the engine. Our mechanic (with permission of the dealership) "kidnapped" the vehicle, towed it to his shop, and installed the engine. We presented the vehicle to our family in Christ this past Wednesday evening (hence the picture of the Jeep Liberty at the top of the blog). They were speechless. They had no idea we had set out to help. As the husband sat there in shock, the wife (who was weeping) simply said "God is good."

He is good. And He is there, in the midst of their trial (and the cancer patient's trial), through the action (and even confrontation) of the church. In the past few weeks, as I have shared with friends about the blessings of belonging to CrossRoad Church, many (both members and nonmembers) have said, "I have never been a part of a church like that." What a shame. As I read the New Testament, it seems that it if we were more diligent in applying Scripture, we would all belong to churches like this one. CrossRoad Church has a long road ahead as we seek to become the local church God wants us to be. We are in our infancy as a local body of believers, but I praise the Lord that he has surrounded me with brothers and sisters in Christ who are committed to sharing their lives and pushing me to be all that I can be in Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Unity and Division in the Church

Unity and Division in the Church

Well, this effort is my first attempt at blogging. I hope it is received well. In this week's edition of the CrossRoad Connection, I included two articles about unity and conflict in the church (I have included the text below). Given that this is an electronic newsletter, I am assuming that most of you are reading these articles while you are online (your preaching pastor is brilliant isn't he!). While I am thrilled with the capabilities that electronic publishing presents, it will never surpass that value of dialogue. For that reason, I have decided to begin my blogging efforts by offering recipients of our church's newsletter (or those who stumble across our website) to respond to the articles you have read. Was I clear? Was I biblical? Is there a "hypothetical" situation with which you would like me to provide additional clarification? Is there a topic that you are dying for me to address in the newsletter or on this blog? Here is your opportunity.

If you have already read the articles, please provide your comments. If not, enjoy my humble contribution to the blogosphere...

Christians, Unity, and Conflict in the Church?

Guideline Number One: The Church Must Pray for Unity
This point cannot be over-emphasized in the ministry of our church. The Scriptures are replete with examples of the importance of unity in the local church. Perhaps the clearest example occurs in John 17, where Jesus prayed that those who believed in Him would be one (unity), just as He and the Father are one.
This prayer is important for at least three reasons that relate to conflict. First, we are reminded that the Lord Jesus desires unity in his church. Second, we are told that when the church “is one” just as the Father and Son are one, it is a testimony to the world that Jesus is from the Father. Third, and this point is frequently missed, Jesus prayed for unity while he was praying for protection from the evil one. In praying for protection from Satan, our Lord taught us a key strategy of the enemy: to attack the unity of the church.
In other words, it is not a good idea to wait until a church is wracked with division to start praying for unity. While I am hesitant to say it is too late at that point, a church that waits until it is facing division in the ranks to pray for unity faces an uphill climb. Few churches ever recover completely. What does this have to do with CrossRoad Church? Everything!
We are not a church with division in the ranks. We are church with a unified purpose and mission: to glorify God by making disciples. Given our Lord’s prayer in John 17, however, it is unlikely we will remain that way if we do not pray for unity. The enemy is on the prowl and his goal is to divide us!

Guideline Number Two: The Church Must Learn to Handle Conflict Biblically
Let’s face it. Everyone of us (your pastors included) is, by nature, selfish. This character flaw is a result of the fall. As a result, it is very easy to get our feelings hurt because we go through life with a natural tendency to view life only from our perspective. When events (or non-events) transpire that happen to upset us, it is as though something inside of us compels us to assume that something or someone is wrong. Once this assumption is made, relationships suffer because (as we all know) it is just easier to be upset, mad, or discouraged than it is to sit down and clarify why we are upset with the offending party.
I have been in ministry for nine years and I speak from personal experience: it is not easy to go to someone when you are mad at them or you think they are mad at you. Scripture, however, COMMANDS us to do just that! In light of the biblical admonitions to protect the unity of the church, not to trust our sinful hearts, and to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to follow the guidelines established in Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5, and Galatians 6, I have developed a step by step process that can help all of us protect our church from the attacks of the enemy. I have listed them in the subsection at the bottom of this article. It is not an indepth discussion, just some advice onhow to handle the initial difficulties that "life together" presents. Just remember, good intentions count for very little. These advisory steps will not work unless we employ them.

Guideline Number Three: Pray for Unity
As a church, we will never reach the point when we can afford to stop praying for unity. Will you join me in praying for the Lord's protection of our flock? Chris

Guidelines for Handling Conflict in a Godly Manner

Step One: Take a Deep Breath!
This step is a very important one. Events are rarely as bad as they seem in the heat of the moment. That is why in Hebrews 12 we are told to look at Christ and not our circumstances lest we get tired and quit. James 1.2-4, and Romans 8 both remind us that perspective changes as we reflect on events from a Scriptural point of view.

Step Two: Give the Benefit of Doubt
In the heat of the moment it is tempting to think that someone has intentionally offended you (or me). Let’s be honest though. Do you (or I) really think that brothers and sisters in Christ are out to hurt you or make your life more difficult? Even if they have hurt you, it does not follow that they have done so intentionally. We all make mistakes (yes—that means YOU, and of course we all know that I make mistakes). That is what grace is all about - forgiveness. When someone makes a comment that is hurtful or does something in their ministry that makes your life more difficult, give them the benefit of the doubt! Assume that YOU have misunderstood their actions or intentions and seek clarification.

Step Three: Talk It Over
The problem you have encountered will never get better swept under a rug. You (as the offended party) are obligated to go to the person in question to seek reconciliation. Not to do so is a sin. Venting to someone else in frustration only makes the problem worse (and probably makes them mad as well—not to mention its gossip). With a peaceful spirit, go and talk it over. You will be surprised at how the Lord will use such conversations to His glory! God will honor your efforts to honor Him.

I look forward to your questions and comments. Chris