Christ Intends Us to Gather Together–But in the Right Way


Christ never intended His people to remain solitary. He intends us to gather. Hebrews 10:24-25:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Disciples gather under godly leaders who teach the Scriptures. Why? To stoke the fire in our hearts and lives toward “love and good works.”  We cannot stir up one another if we remain solitary. I cannot tell you how many times I hear of people who, when going through a rough patch in their lives, fall into the lie of Satan in believing staying away is the answer. Guilt and shame are part of the steps the Spirit uses to convict us of sin, but Satan apprehends them to develop a habit of staying away. 

Why? Satan does not want you to love others, only self. Satan does not want you to do good works in God’s name, only good works in your name. And, most definitely, Satan does not want you to be encouraged (that is, to have courage poured in you by others). He wants us afraid and apathetic—and away!

Yet, one of Satan’s other tactics is to be physically present, but spiritually withdrawn.  We can gather, but the preacher not preach the Word. We can gather, but not bring up or encourage anyone around us in the things of Christ. We can gather and talk about last night’s game, our stock portfolio, the political climate, or even using our conversation to gossip about our brother and sister in Christ. 

So gathering for the sake of gathering in a small group, church, or even a conversation isn’t enough.  We gather to help stir up one another and encourage each other that Jesus is enough for our heart, soul, mind, and strength—and in our relationships with our FRANs. 

What does this have to do with multiplying disciples?  In our excitement to multiply, we must be sure we multiply well. It’s good to gather, but not just for gathering’s sake. We can avoid gathering, but we can gather for the wrong reasons. 

We can also love gathering with each other so much that we do not want to give each other up for any reason! But we are calling to gather in order to go, being sent to provide other environments for others to hear the gospel so they can send and provide other environments, etc.

Why to we gather?  We gather to grow in the Word, to love each other, to serve inside and outside the church, and then go to tell others about Jesus.

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Writing the Right Narrative of a Personally Difficult Situation

Whenever we go through a difficult situation personally, our immediate tendency is to write the narrative in our minds that make us the heroes and others the villians. TWhether someone cut you off in traffic or you were fired from your job or someone slandered you, etc., our tendency is to tell the story only with information that makes us the victim and others the villain.

In the book Crucial Conversations, we see the significant problem when making ourselves look good in telling a ‘clever story’ to justify our actions:

And what transforms a clever story into a useful one? The rest of the story. That’s because clever stories have one characteristic in common: They’re incomplete. Clever stories omit crucial information about us, about others, and about our options. Only by including all of these essential details can clever stories be transformed into useful ones.

What’s the best way to fill in the missing details? Quite simply, it’s done by turning victims into actors, villains into humans, and the helpless into the able. Here’s how.

Turn victims into actors. If you notice that you’re talking about yourself as an innocent victim (and you weren’t held up at gunpoint), ask:

Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem? 

This question jars you into facing up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, you did something to help cause the problem. Instead of being a victim, you were an actor. This doesn’t necessarily mean you had malicious motives. Perhaps your contribution was merely a thoughtless omission. Nonetheless, you contributed.

For example, a coworker constantly leaves the harder or noxious tasks for you to complete. You’ve frequently complained to friends and loved ones about being exploited. The parts you leave out of the story are that you smile broadly when your boss compliments you for your willingness to take on challenging jobs, and you’ve never said anything to your coworker. You’ve hinted, but that’s about it.

The first step in telling the rest of this story would be to add these important facts to your account. By asking what role you’ve played, you begin to realize how selective your perception has been. You become aware of how you’ve minimized your own mistakes while you’ve exaggerated the role of others.

Hard conversations and hard decisions will happen. The key is to make sure we are ambassadors of the truth when it comes to both sides of the story.

How to Take a Compliment 

How should a pastor or a leader take a compliment?  You may think this would be an easy question, but many leaders struggle with this.  Many minister for the glory of God, not for the accolades of men. I still, to this day, struggle with processing compliments, especially when they are directed toward me as a person rather than the effect the Word had. Here are some ways to take a compliment without being arrogant and off-putting.

  1. Walk in to your worship gathering or any other meeting humbled at the privilege of serving Jesus!  We were destined for hell, but Christ rescued us and set us upon that solid Rock (Psalm 40:1-2). We must walk, humbled at any and every blessing He provides.
  2. Remember what the Apostle Paul said: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
  3. Do not fake modesty by refusing a compliment.  That’s actually not humility, but pride. Use it as an opportunity to glorify God, even saying as much!  “Your sermon really spoke to me today.  Thank you!”  “Glory of God!  Thank you for the encouragement!”
  4. At the same time, don’t believe your own press. C.J. Rhodes said, “When people praise you, don’t let it go to your head. When they criticize you, don’t let it go to your heart.” Any good thing that happens comes from above (James 1:17).

Compliments and criticism both can crush your humility. Compliments can puff up, elevating pride in feeding our notion of how great we are!  Criticism can breed resentment, elevating pride at the notion that someone could actually criticize us in the first place!

What are some ways you as a leader can take a compliment?

What is This Agape Love? (Part II): It Loves the Truth

It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth (1 Cor 13:5b-6)

There’s a story of two shoe salesmen who went to sell shoes on this tropical island—an island neither man had ever been to.  They wanted to see the strength of the market and the potential for shoe sales. One of them sends a telegram back home saying: “Situation hopeless STOP they don’t wear shoes STOP.”  Meanwhile, the other salesman sends a different telegram home: “Glorious opportunity STOP they don’t have any shoes STOP.”

Christ brings us outside the box of our own making. Are we insisting on our own way, believing we are spiritually superior to other imagebearers, or do we insist on Christ’s way, knowing the truth (His truth) of our need of rescue?

RCH Lenski:  “Cure selfishness, and you’ve just replanted the garden of Eden.” It was love of self—selfishness—that brought sin into the world, and needed for Christ to die on the cross. And this phrase, ‘insist on its own way,’ is the very root of fallenness. We are the arbiters of what’s right and wrong.  We wish to have control. 

“Not irritable.” Some of you have heard the word paroxysm, which means to arouse to anger or easily provoked.  “Resentful” can also mean, “keeps no account of wrongs.” My brother is an accountant and around this time is tax season. From January to mid-April, he and his wife are swamped trying to help people keep their accounts correctly. 

Did you know that you can do just that, not with money but with offenses done to you?  You may not keep them in a book (or maybe you do), but they are just as clear in your mind as if you did. I know of people who remember wrongs done to them 30-40 years ago. I watched a Happy Days not long ago where Tom Hanks came back to exact revenge on the Fonz—why?—because the Fonz pushed him off a swing in the 3rd grade.  He learned Taekwondo and had been thinking about it for 20 years.  

But where do we rejoice in the truth? We rejoice in the truth of (1) Jesus practiced every single one of these, and (2) we remember that insisting on our own way means we believe we have a corner on the truth.  Truth comes from above, not from within. Remember, this is a picture of our Savior—the same Savior that rescues us, the same Savior that lives in us.  He no longer holds our past against us.

And neither should we against others. Christ has set us free!

What is This Agape Love? (Part I): It Actually Loves People

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In a recent study, it was determined that Colorado ranks among the worst states in the nation for building healthy romantic relationships. The study’s authors focused on attributes like attachment anxiety (clinginess, worrying a partner will leave) and attachment avoidance (being cold and distant)—both which are considered unhealthy and detrimental in a relationship. Mississippi, Utah, and Wisconsin tied for first place because they had the highest marriage rates and lower rates of people who reported feeling isolated.

Ranked last?  North Dakota.  Colorado was #43.  (Hey, Cindy!  Kentucky was #49!) Why so low?  The researchers said that “secluded, mountainous areas like Colorado tend to attract ‘loners’ and people who avoid a lot of social interaction.

We live in a state where people like to keep to themselves. Their home (or the mountains) is their sanctuary away from the harsh world. Many move to Colorado to escape.  And with Denver being the most isolated metropolitan city in the United States, one understands now why. And with Denver being 94% unchurched, this understanding makes establishing relationships with that demographic all the more challenging.

Last week, we looked at what it was like without love. Whatever good we may say or think or do means nothing if the sacrificial, supernatural agape love is absent.  While we understand that if you say mean things it isn’t love, but saying the right things without love is noise?  Thinking and understanding wrongly isn’t loving (for we aren’t doing our homework to represent truth rightly to others around us), but thinking rightly without love is wrong?  Giving nothing or little of what we have is unloving, sure.  But giving all you have, even your life, without love counts for nothing?

This is what’s so surprising about what Paul says to us.  But now Paul gets in to what love is.  In 1 John 4, we see that “God is love.” Playing off this, John MacArthur rightly says:  “Paul is painting a portrait of love, and Jesus Christ is sitting for the portrait.  He lived out in perfection all of these virtues of love. This beautiful picture of love is a portrait of Him.”

Friends, if you have surrendered to Christ, you have not only received forgiveness of sin, but Christ now dwells in you. Denver, and Colorado, and the world need to see the real thing—the thing they are missing, the thing from which many try to protect themselves.

This is a love that. . .

  1. Loves people (1 Corinthians 13:4-5a).

We saying this is similar to former Packers coach Vince Lombardi coming to his team on the first day of training camp the year after they won the championship by grabbing hold of a football and saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football!”  I basically just told all of you, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a Bible! And this shows you what love is!”  Unless we are intentional, we will be derailed.

We are called to love people, not just have a sentimental, theoretical type of love.  Keep in mind, every description mentioned in this passage is a verb in the Greek.  It’s not just a ‘patient’ or ‘kind’ feeling, but each are actions.

Paul tells us that, “Love is patient, and kind.”  ‘Patient’ deals with being OK with inconvenienced or being repeatedly taken advantage of.  Kindness deals with an active usefulness in generosity. Jesus continually dealt with those around him who would only love those who were like them or who posed no inconvenience or threat.

At the end of Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus said,

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

Then as it is now, it’s easy to love those who are like you.  Our enemies (real or perceived) are just as due our patience and kindness just as much as those who are like us.  At the end of Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus is separating the believers (the sheep) from the unbelievers (the goats).  He first speaks to the sheep:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

As you can imagine, the goats were the ones who refused the hungry, thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned. They insulated themselves from the messiness, the inconvenient, those who may take advantage. Christianity was all about convenience, comfort, safety, and control.

So when Paul said, “Love does not envy or boast,” we see this is a zeal misdirected. The word ‘envy’ comes from the Greek word ‘zeloo,’ which is where we get the word zeal.  It’s a strong desire to either want what others have or, should we not be able to attain it, wishing harm on others.  And should we attain those things, we boast, parading the accomplishments.

When this happens, we become arrogant.  The Corinthian church in chapters 3-4 boasted on all they had. They believed they had arrived, to where Paul reminded them, “What did you have that you did not receive?”  They thought they arrived, but yet in 1 Corinthians 5, they permitted deviant sexual behavior among the members, and in 1 Corinthians 11, they rammed to the front of the line for the Lord’s Supper. They felt they had Jesus, but were puffed up about their position and blind to their sin!  Unrepentant! Their positions made perfect sense to them, but they bore little reflection to Christ and the gospel!

Next, we shall see how this agape love indeed loves truth.

What Makes Hard Decisions Hard for Leaders? (Hint: It’s Not What You Think)

 

Why didn’t someone tell me that hard decisions would be so, well, hard?  And would I have believed them if they had told me?  

I remember when God called me into the lead pastorate, I buckled for about 18 months.  I was serving in a church in South Florida with people I dearly loved.  But that call.  I couldn’t shake it.  Jesus had me, and there was nothing I could do about it. To refuse was to consign myself to a lifetime of misery.  To receive that call was opening myself to a position of leadership that I knew adversely affected many who then left.

I used to be pretty hard on pastors–until I became one. Now? Now, I get it. While I and our church are in a great season, I have had a number of seasons where decisions needed to be made that I tried to wish away. Wishing them away almost did me in.

It’s easy and understandable to question the motives of leaders, especially if you’ve been hurt by one. There’s been times when tough decisions have affected my sleep, affected my health, and (worst of all) affected people. That’s one of the reasons that, when it came to people, I would often move more slowly than other leaders I knew. If some have a staff issue?  Then they would ‘throw the bum out.’ Vision issue?  They would tell the people that if they can’t get on board, let them find another church.

And the beat goes on. Their vision matters more than their people did. 

Bleh. No thanks.

But this is how many perceive every leader. Many who have seen leaders act this way react by going the polar opposite direction. But that’s not helpful to a church either.

All leaders function with their own pain.  I’m coming upon the three year anniversary of one of my best friends dying.  He was a pastor. Who committed suicide. That particular year was extremely difficult, and made decision making at my church next to impossible for me. I worked my best to help others who were struggling with life and ministry to make sure they didn’t hit the edge as well. If my friend could commit suicide, then what could happen to others around me who seemed to struggle?  

And so I avoided hard decisions that I knew had to be made because my pain threshold had hit its limit. I worked with some all day and into the night trying to help them sort out their issues.  In the middle of a very difficult time about three months later, I hit a wall. I remember struggling to get out of bed because I knew what the day would bring (or, more accurately, I had no idea what the day would bring). God had to grab me by the scruff of the neck to remind me of the nature of my calling. 

The pain wouldn’t go away. I had to lead. Regardless of the pain.

You cannot avoid hard decisions. If one needs making and you make it by prayer and by seeking out God’s wisdom, then some may question and even dislike you, but you followed God’s leading as well as possible.  If you avoid making a hard decision, you’ve already made the hard decision by avoiding it. You’ll lose yourself, your church, and your close fellowship with God because you will not be the shepherd He’s called you to be.