Please tell us

Again I am writing this to anyone who might be reading this blog who is not a professing Christian.

I am aware one of the most credible criticism against Christians is that we are hypocrites. This topic comes up time and time again and I wish I could say it was unfounded. Recently I was invited (with many others) to comment on whether Christians were bad restaurant tippers and I had to agree that in my experience they really are. It’s shameful that people who have been given so much in Christ would be so stingy with their money.

I am writing this after reading a very short book: Agape Leadership. It is a biographical sketch of a man named R.C. Chapman and you will find the review on this site. It details the character of a Christian who really loved people and trusted God the way the Bible tells us to. It was incredibly powerful to see how little I loved others and trusted God compared to the life of this man.

I have a favor to ask of you. Get this little book and read it (it is available at Amazon.com). If you ever see a Christian acting in a manner inconsistent with the way R.C. Chapman did would you please tell them. They may not appreciate it at the time but if they are a real Christian, God will use it in their lives.

Thank you for your assistance. Christians are like everyone else and too often believe their own press clippings. People who do not consider themselves Christians can be extremely helpful to us in pointing out how we are not walking our talk.

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Agape Leadership

Agape Leadership: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership from the Life of R.C. Chapman by Robert Peterson and Alexander Strauch

Robert C. Chapman was a godly pastor in 19th century England. In fact, Charles Spurgeon called him “the saintliest man I ever knew.”

This excellent little book is not so much a pure biography of Chapman as illustrations from his life how he lived out his loving leadership. The title “Agape leadership” sort of gives that away but may understate how excellently the authors blend together the biographical sketch and life principles he modeled.

Like many pastors and evangelists in past days, Chapman abandoned a life of ease and material prosperity to pursue his calling. After being trained by another pastor in London, he was called to lead at Ebenezer Chapel in Barnstaple, County of Devon, England. While he had some significant differences in theology with the church, they called him with the condition that he be allowed to preach whatever he found in the Bible, even if it contradicted their past practices. Many of the leadership lessons in the book deal with the conflicts he ran into as his Biblical theology intersected with their unbiblical practices.

The book covers not only traditional pastoral leadership elements, but also aspects such as practicing hospitality and giving to the needy. It is a wonderful 360 degree view of how a loving church leader ought to conduct himself both around the people of God and those who would oppose the truth.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I plan to give a copy to each of our small group leaders to encourage them with a godly example of what loving leadership looks like.

The Cross and Discipleship

I am reading Detrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship and last night came to his most famous quote. There is one sentence taken out of context that gets all the attention, but the entire section is worth noting. I believe far too many profession Christians think they are supposed to live a cleaned up version of an unbeliever’s life but the reality is we are called on to die completely to self and devote whatever time and energy God provides to serving others. Most of our life should not be committed to the task of loving and serving one another, all of it should be.

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. (Detrich Bonhoeffer from the chapter The Cross and Discipleship)

This Fathomless Love

Our small group has been studying how much God loves his children by watching and discussing a video series by Elyse Fitzpatrick based on her book “Because He Loved Me”. It really has been a rich time. The morning of our kickoff one of our people signed to this song, which was the perfect tone setter for me. It’s a wonderful song and you can listen to it at Sovereign Grace Music (http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Resources/Music/SFTCCL.aspx) .

Lord, what moved Your heart to love lowly man
Before any star could herald Your praise?
And why did You come, abasing Yourself,
Veiled in a robe of frail human clay?
Why would You, the pure, give Your life for the vile –
The innocent seeking the guilty
To be reconciled?

I can’t comprehend this fathomless love!
I’m gripped and amazed at what You have done!
Why would the Adored become the despised
To bear all the furious wrath that was mine?
How awesome this mystery of Your fathomless love for me.

Why would You adopt and take as Your own
Those who had crushed Your one precious Son?
Why mercy and grace towards Your enemies?
Your name they have cursed and Your throne they have shunned.
Oh, how could You choose to show kindness to these –
The ones who would mock You and hate You,
The ones just like me?

I can’t comprehend this fathomless love!
I’m gripped and amazed at what You have done!
Why would the Adored become the despised
To bear all the furious wrath that was mine?
How awesome this mystery of Your fathomless love for me

God’s Love in Haiti

I have been spending a lot of time in 1 John these days. I’m reminded of a time when a teenager I was working with wanted to look at all the 3:16 verses in the New Testament. He figured that John 3:16 got all the attention but there must be some other great 3:16s around as well.

One of the 3:16 verses that I’ve been reminded of is 1 John 3:16. It explains how we should identify and measure love. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” There is even a Steve Green song based on it, but that never occurred to me until recently. Our responsibility is to follow in the Master’s footsteps and lay down our lives for the brothers. It’s actually incredible to think how far I fall short of doing just that – often choosing to pursue my own leisure or hobby to really giving of myself in a way that costs me something.

That passage goes on. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. Our love should be demonstrated in such a way that it is visible to those around us. After all, they’re supposed to be able to see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. (Matt 5:16) It’s kind of hard for unbelievers to see our love when it is invisible or so modest in its application that it is essentially unnoticeable. If you are a Christian and you demonstrate your “love’ in the same way an unbeliever would you are simply not doing it right. You are capable of so much more and God demands much more.

How does this involve Haiti? After all, Haiti is a spiritually dark place famous for voodoo dolls and corrupt government. The people there are heathen who have rejected every aspect of the Gospel, and don’t deserve our help, right?

Not exactly. There are lots of good Christians in Haiti who are suffering a lot. There is a good chance they have suffered more in the last week than you have in your entire life. We have friends in the Dominican Republic who work with Haitian churches. Here is a recent report:

A church of about 500 collapsed while having special meetings as the earthquake hit. Most people are still in the rubble. Some have gotten out.
They were singing “God will take care of you” when the building collapsed. This is very moving personally to those who know and have met these people in previous ministry.

Also, of the 150 pastors who Pastor Angel works with in Haiti and who were involved in previous training, 70 of those pastors are now dead.

Pastor Angel said there are a bunch of dead bodies, and people dying in the streets. For the people he already helps and knows, there is an immediate need for food, water, bandages, first aid help. There are many with broken bones. A team of Christian doctors from the DR are going to help him. They have a good set up to help. Any money sent below will help him buy food, water, and supplies. He is bringing food and a large gas stove from the DR to come and cook for all these. He said people who survived are all gathering in certain areas but need for basics are lacking. He is mobilizing Christian doctors to help the injured. He said there is need for disinfectant and all.

We have a duty to these Christians to love them with our resources even if we have never met them. Read the book of Acts and see how much time the first century church spent generating resources for brothers and sisters in Jerusalem who were struggling. In most of these cases the recipients were total strangers. I encourage you to support relief efforts for this reason, even if there were no other reason. World Relief is a Christian relief ministry committed to delivering resources through local churches. Additionally, our church will funnel resources to our sister church in the Dominican Republic to support their hands on efforts in Haiti.

But there is a greater point to make. To see the people of Haiti in this light is to forget where we were before God arrested our hearts and drew us to Himself. As bad as the Haitians may be as a nation, they compare much more favorably to us than we did to a perfectly holy God who loved us enough to send His Son to die a horrible death simply so we could be reconciled to Him. There is simply no comparison at all. We should be gracious because our Heavenly Father is gracious. Do the corrupt and spiritually dark Haitians “deserve” our support? Of course they don’t, but we deserved salvation from our sins much less and God paid an infinitely higher price than we would by opening our checkbook and sending some of our savings.

If you are inclined to support the Haiti relief through our sister church in the Dominican Republic there is information below.

Faith Bible Church, has multiple families from a large, like-minded church on the other side of the island and with which Josue has long-term relationships. It is apparent that relief, at least for some time, may be channeled through Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on the other side of the island from Port-au-Prince. Together, they are surveying the situation and seeking to minister to and mobilize local Haitian congregations for church-centered and Christ-honoring relief ministry. We are all concerned that God receive glory in the midst of this catastrophic tragedy. Doing so through good local churches should solidify a witnessing presence and Christ-honoring testimony in the recipient communities as well as place sound Haitian churches in a leading role in expressing Christ’s love to a hurting nation on all our behalf.

Faith Bible Church has agreed to be a channel for relief funds to be channeled by Josue and administered under the general oversight of our church, locally, and, on site, Josue along with leaders from our sister church (IBSJ) in Santo Domingo for Haitian relief. At this point, funds can be sent to Faith Bible Church earmarked for “Haiti Relief”. We will try to set up a PayPal donation web page by Sunday (Jan. 17th) so that people can give from overseas or through credit/debit cards and bank checks. A link our our church Internet home page (www.FaithBibleChurch.us) will go to the donation page and from there, as the Lord enables, further news updates and financial accountability information.

Faith Bible Church
Haiti Relief
4907 E. Highway 34
Sharpsburg, GA 30277

Dying to self

This past weekend I had a chance for a little glimpse into what my wife must deal with on a much more regular basis. Elyse Fitzpatrick was holding a conference about 100 miles away from our home and my wife took our two older daughters there for the weekend to participate and visit the church that was hosting it. BTW – if you are not familiar with Elyse I highly recommend her work, even for men to read. Her perspective captured in her books “Because He Loves Me” and “Idols of the Heart” transformed my wife and our marriage which may be a topic of another blog post if she gives me permission to write about it.

Here’s what I had to work with. From about 2pm Friday until 3pm Sunday I had to watch two kids ages 5 and 6, take care of two daschounds, host a family from church who is temporarily moving out of their house to find work, prepare for a men’s breakfast at our home on Saturday morning and keep the house clean for our normal small group meeting on Sunday evening. It’s easy to say this was an unusually high amount of activity but frankly I think my wife deals with about as much at the close of every week when you consider her home schooling commitments and other ministry obligations.

How did it go? Well, initially not so great. As soon as she left I started trying to coordinate my approach to things as if it were a project from work which didn’t help. The problem with little kids and dogs and people in general is that they don’t fit into a project plan all that well. After muddling around for a while I came to a conclusion. All this was possible if I simply died to myself and my desires and gave myself fully to serving her out of the overflow of the love the Lord has shown to me.

What would that mean? Well, in practical terms I did not get to have nearly the liesure time I would have liked to have. I did not get to read a book I hoped to read in advance of our small group time. I did not get to eat the food I would have preferred because catering to the little ones was more important and somehow they like McDonalds more than Smokey Bones (I know it’s crazy but it’s true). I spent $20.50 to see a 90 minute movie (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) which I enjoyed more than I thought but is not the one I would have picked to see alone. I ate the same leftover pasta dish three times because the little ones liked her taco soup so much they didn’t want to share (I chose grace to them over exerting my rights). I didn’t get to sleep in on Sunday like I usually do when Kristen is around because she wasn’t there to get the kids up, fed, cleaned and dressed for church. I didn’t get to stand around church talking to people all the time becuase she wasn’t there supervise the little ones, get them to their classes, get them from their classes, etc.

Basically, I saw how selfish I am usually and how much having the best wife in the world lets me continue in my selfishness.

What did it take for me to make all this happen? First of all and most importantly it took a total and complete acknowledgement that there was no way I could do it. Jesus said “Apart from me you can do nothing”. He didn’t say apart from Him we couldn’t do most things – He said “nothing”. The reality is this past weekend gave me a chance to see how little I was really doing that any carnal non-Christian wouldn’t have also been doing. The non-Christian would have been the one sleeping in and letting his wife care for their kids, talking to his friends while his wife supervised the little ones at church, enjoyed being the pack leader of the dogs while his kids fed them and picked up their poop, ignored things that could be done on Saturday to prepare for the small group meeting on Sunday (using lesson preparation on Sunday as a convenient excuse to not be more organized so he could be helpful).

Paul said in Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. What I have been doing, at least in these areas where I have let my love of self dominate my desire to serve, is refuse give let Christ live in me.

I am very grateful for the chance to have this spotlight on my sin of selfishness in such a glaring way so even in my think-headedness I cannot possibly miss it and will be asking Kristen to forgive me for the many years I have let my selfish heart take advantage of her lovingkindness to me.

Loving my brother in speech

I had a discussion with a brother in Christ today in which I think I inadvertently upset him. I don’t really know because he rushed away and didn’t say anything. My plan is to try to talk with him later today or tomorrow to mend anything that I did wrong and understand what was going on in his heart.

Since that time I’ve been thinking a lot about how to avoid carelessness in my speech. I’m not talking about actual sin, just not being as intentional with my speech and word choice as I could be to produce the most edifying result in those that would hear me.

I am very pleased to know that the Lord has been working on me. Some of you know that I have a Facebook account and I like to chime in and relate to people on it. Several times in the last weeks I have typed in something responding to someone’s post only to delete it before ever posting it. The Bible says we need to take every thought captive to make them obedient to Christ and it must be so with our words (which are just a verbal expression of our thoughts).