Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
It’s hard to have balance while times change. Some seize current social realities and use them as opportunities to push unbiblical ideas (God’s design for marriage, leadership in worship, leadership in the home, etc.). As a result, our human nature kicks in and we’re ready to swing the other way. After all, we don’t want to be associated with groups who don’t teach or practice what God wants, right?
Balance is way more difficult to maintain than reactionary practices in either direction. Both are extremely harmful to the church! Compromising doctrine is never acceptable, but gaining a reputation for being old-fashioned or otherwise incompatible with modern culture is equally harmful.
I Corinthians 9.19-23 is an awesome text for this. We’ll look at a few key points in this passage briefly.
- It’s About Serving Other People (9.19)
- It’s About Winning Them (9.19)
- It’s About Meeting Them Where They Are (9.20-22)
- It’s About the Message (9.23)
We do what we do because we want to save souls. We cannot maintain a church culture based on reaction because it does not save souls. It is not a sustainable culture and has led to many viewing the church as being incompatible with the modern world. This was never God’s design! We must never compromise doctrine, but we must always try to win souls. We need to do what we can to meet folks where they are and show them something better.
“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (9.20).
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
The original Hebrew name literally means, “In The Wilderness.” Later on, Greek translators referred to these inspired writings as “Numbers.” For the Israelite people, it was the historical record of how they were shaped and Divinely-groomed while making an unnecessarily long hike through desert lands (Not to be confused with “dessert land” which sounds far better). The book of Numbers also served, and still serves, as a way for God’s people to get a bird’s-eye view of how our lives are significantly better when we are following our Leader. While there are far too many spiritual applications to be in just one article, here are three great ones.
- There is no one more patient than the Lord. It’s easy to cringe when the Israelites complain or rebel time and again but God showed them more patience than any of us are capable of.
- God always keeps a promise. It may have taken them 40 years to reach Canaan, but He kept His promise. We’re on a wild ride right now as a country, but God is predictable when it comes to keeping His Word. You can make a no-risk bet that heaven is coming and it’s better than what you imagine it to be.
- God is always glorified in the end. When you look at Numbers and the big picture, God is the hero. He’s rejected and tossed aside by the people on several occasions, but just like at the end of this age— He gets all the glory.
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Jethro is one of my favorite Old Testament people. His efforts in Exodus 18 seem to be what he’s remembered most for. Yet, he is quite an impressive person from the time we meet him in the beginning of the book of Exodus.
- Jethro was an appreciative man (Ex. 2:20). Moses met Jethro’s family after fleeing from the Pharaoh’s wrath following Moses’ murder of an Egyptian taskmaster. Moses helps Jethro’s seven daughters by fending off some mischievous shepherds and caring for the man’s sheep and family’s water needs. When Jethro heard of this, he asked his daughters, “Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” Jethro was eager to quickly, tangibly show his thanks for Moses’ kindness.
- Jethro was a spiritual man (Ex. 2:16; 3:1). One of the first facts we learn about the man is that he is “the priest of Midian.” He likely was the chief representative of the people in religious sacrifice, though it seems that when Moses meets him he has not yet learned who the true and only God is. That realization comes later (Ex. 18:10-11), but his role as spiritual leader is introduced to us from the beginning though with no details of it in the text.
- Jethro was an accommodating man (Ex. 4:18). When the time came and Moses heeded God’s bidding to confront the Pharaoh, it meant separating himself from his work and living arrangements in Midian. Moses pleaded with his father-in-law, and Jethro made that easy for him, telling him, “Go in peace.” Jacob’s father-in-law had not been so kind. What a contrast in this man who saw the bigger picture and made his son-in-law’s departure that much easier.
- Jethro was a sensible man (Ex. 18). This is the quality of the man about which we have heard most. Jethro’s appeal to Moses’ common sense, to get help from the people in judging the people, has served as a role model in spiritual leadership for centuries. Jethro could see the effect of the old, broken system on both Moses and the people. He sized it up, saying, “The thing that you are doing is not good” (17). But, a sensible man does more than raise the specter of the problem. He offers a solution (19-23), and it works beautifully (24-26).
One of the marvel’s of the Bible’s inspiration is seeing the supporting cast of men and women whose lives crossed the people we know best in Scripture. Moses was perhaps the most prominent figure of Old Testament history, so those whose lives he touched show up at several points. Jethro is one of the most interesting of them all.
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
This post is for the lady across the street. She works at the gas station. This post is for Charles. That’s the guy we always call when the office printer breaks down or a leaky roof needs repaired. This article is for my family. My family means the world to me and if my life can help ensure an eternal future together (and I mean every one of them) then I have accomplished something truly great. This post is for my wife. My wife will be in heaven with me— she must be! The truth is, this post is for the faithful child of God, the disgruntled member in the pew, the discouraged elder, and frustrated preacher— this post is for people. It’s for the new child of God that is still dripping wet from the waters of baptism, to the battle-hardened Christian with years of faithful service. God drew a line in the sand long ago after humans fell from grace and separated ourselves from Him. On one side of that line you have the lost. Their sheer abundance in our communities and the world has caused many congregations to become numb to their horrific eternal state. Still, on the other side of that line you have the faithful. No, not the uncommitted pew-warmers, but the faithful. Sadly there are those inside the church that are on the wrong side of the Divine line. Often they blend in with the faithful because they look and act like the faithful do. This is nothing new, but elderships still scratch their heads over stunted growth and disappearing members. Preachers lose their voices as they pound evangelism and outreach from the pulpit. The reservoirs are being depleted by years of drought.
You’ll hear a lot of this kind of talk in some men’s meetings as the guys will sit around the table. After drinking coffee and filling their bellies with biscuits and gravy, it’s common for them to kick back and discuss what’s going on in the church. Obviously there are some big issues! So, who’s to blame? In an attempt to unmask the villain, one middle aged man exclaims, “if the leaders would _______”. A couple of his friends, who have clearly visited this topic a few times, nod their heads in approval. Another gentleman, with a white mustache, grunts as he repositions himself in his tin folding chair. Talk like this is uncomfortable, and it’s exhausting for many of them. The head hog at the trough clears his throat to let the others know he’s about to offer his respected opinion. He squints his eyes, leans back, then makes this statement. “It’s really society, you know. People just don’t go to church like they did when I was growing up!” Following this declaration, most of them will give their affirming “Mmm”’s and “exactly rights.” It’s at this point the tragic generational blame game begins. The wheels spin for a while, then everyone gets up and goes back to their homes to enjoy the rest of their Saturday. Tomorrow morning they dress up in their suits and ties and drive to worship. At worship they sit in the same spot, as the service carries on in it’s usual order.
In a world full of people intent on destroying and demonizing one another, the church needs to be the church— now more than ever. Our communities, friends, family, and nation need us to be the church. That starts with you and me. Paul said, “Encourage and build one another up…” in 1 Thessalonians 5:11. We can’t do this enough, and we can’t overstate it’s importance. Who have you encouraged and built up this week? How will you do it today? The church is God’s way of improving people, and the church is God’s perfect project— for people.
Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross
There was a problem with the shepherds of Ezekiel’s day. They tended to their own needs, but not the flock’s (34:2-3). There were tangible needs and problems, but these shepherds sinned by omission (34:4). The sheep were scattered and these shepherds did not work to get them back or save them from predators (34:5-6). Then, God through Ezekiel utters these harrowing words: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep” (34:10).
In the New Testament, Paul tells the elders of the church at Ephesus to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Guard the flock, watch over the flock, and shepherd the flock. What a weighty work! To be on guard means “to be in a continuous state of readiness to learn of any future danger, need, or error, and to respond appropriately” (Louw-Nida 332). An overseer has the responsibility of seeing to the spiritual safety and proper conduct first of themselves but also of those they watch over (Arndt 379). The idea of shepherding indicates care, concern, love, provision, relationship and intimacy, knowledge, and familiarity (see Kittel et al 902ff). These lexicographers who define what Bible words mean give insight into what elders are to be like as they do this crucial work. Isn’t it incredible and encouraging to see spiritual, albeit inevitably imperfect, men who “aspire to the office of overseer” (1 Tim. 3:1)?
Yesterday is a day I’ll never forget. We tagged along with three elders and their wives as they went around to 26 houses of members of our congregation. Exercising due caution under the current medical crisis, they nonetheless drove to see members young, old, and in-between. They visited with, sang to, and prayed for so many face to face, delivering Dana’s delicious baked goods. Seeing their enthusiasm to do this and watching the genuine joy on their faces as they served and ministered was a blessing that will stoke my spiritual fire for a long time to come.
But, that’s just what I got to see. I’m not seeing the other times they’ve done this. I’m not there as they’re making so many phone calls to everyone. Over the weekend, they met together for several hours to strategize about a reopening and communication plan not just to get back to “normal” but to thrive and grow as we go into the future. Another of the elders has since spent hours piecing together that plan to provide clear communication to the church.
All of them work full-time jobs and are hard workers. All of them have families to love and care for. All of them have hobbies and interests. But, all of them have Christ in the center of their hearts and lives. That last fact is what drives them to know about, care about, and reach out to the sheep.
Thank God for the many churches who are being shepherded through unprecedented times like these by engaged, concerned, and involved shepherds. Church growth, doctrinal soundness, examples of Christ-centered living, and so much more depend on elders who shepherd. Will you take the names of your shepherds to the throne of God each day, imitate their faith, and assist them in their work? They are a vital part of God’s plan to touch and transform eternity!
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
I rarely watch television. I find most programming today unimaginative (e.g. reboots) and fraught with immorality. When I do watch something, it’s likely a sporting event, home improvement show, or vintage sitcom. As I was catching a few minutes of a classic sitcom, my dad remarked that one of the actresses on screen died from cancer during the run of the show. Curious, I looked up information about the show on the internet. In so doing, I encountered a curious expression: “rural purge.”
In 1970, American broadcasters, particularly CBS, put the ax to lighthearted, rural-themed and folksy shows then airing on TV in favor of more socially progressive urban and suburban-set shows. Pat Buttram, the actor who played the role of “Mr. Haney” on Green Acres, is quoted by Ken Berry as saying of the rural purge “It was the year CBS killed everything with a tree in it.” 1 Ken Berry thought that CBS was tired of being teased as the “Country Broadcasting System” since they perceived themselves as the “Tiffany Network” because of their vaunted news division. 2 It had been the executive in charge of programming at CBS who was tired of the shows and canceled them despite their good Nielsen ratings. The absence of family-friendly fare did not go unnoticed by the public, including even politicians like President Nixon. 3
The “rural purge” suggests several Biblical points to me. First, it demonstrates an unfortunate characteristic of fallen human nature that the proven (and wholesome) is often dumped for something else simply because of its “novelty.” God noted this was likewise true in Jeremiah’s day. When He advised them to take the established path, they refused (Jeremiah 6.16). They preferred their new, idolatrous way.
Second, it shows us why leadership matters. Paul warned the coming apostasy would begin with the elders (Acts 20.29-30.) I am mindful of congregations about which I’ve read in some of our brotherhood publications where the Biblical pattern was changed after the elders “reconsidered an issue prayerfully.” The sheep who know that their shepherds are leading them astray are left with a dilemma. Despite nothing being wrong previously, changes were foisted upon them by the leadership. Their family is changed. What will they do?
Lastly, it shows the importance of perseverance.
As the “rural purge” continued, there arose an anomaly. To placate the aforementioned public complaints, CBS reluctantly greenlighted a Christmas special based on a story by Earl Hamner, Jr. They purposely pitted it against popular shows on other networks they felt would crush their program! It didn’t. It was such a hit that CBS had no choice but to develop it into a new series that would run for 9 seasons. The Waltons. Because people refused to give up and give in to whims of the programing executive at CBS, a renaissance of family-friendly programs on all networks began.
Sometimes we feel as if our efforts are wasted, especially when it comes to our sinful culture. However, we are told that our labor is not in vain in the Lord. So, we are exhorted to remain steadfast (1 Corinthians 15.58). God ensures that His Word doesn’t return void and gives increase when faithfully spoken (Isaiah 55.11; 1 Corinthians 3.5-7). Therefore, let us stand and let our voices be heard, even if we find ourselves amid a “Christian purge.”
1 “Television Academy Interviews.” Television Academy Interviews, Television Academy, 22 Feb. 2019, interviews.televisionacademy.com/interviews/ken-berry?clip=60761#highlight-clips.
3 “Rural Purge.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Feb. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rural_purge.
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
For the next few weeks we will look at some of the lesser known Biblical accounts, and the lessons we can learn from them.
In Numbers sixteen there is a strange and terrifying event that unfolds. It has all the ingredients of a great movie. There’s rebellion, jealousy, vengeance, and drama but it’s so much more than a story. It’s history, and it’s been divinely recorded for our learning.
Korah seems to be the individual that starts a rebellion against God’s chosen leader, Moses. He hops up on his high horse and rallies together two hundred and fifty other leaders among the people. This group, no doubt, gave him the confidence to directly confront Moses face to face. He says, “You’ve overstepped yourself, Moses! Take a look around at the people you’re trying to lead. They are just as righteous as you, and God is in their midst!” Moses falls on his face, then says, “Tomorrow, God will make His stand with who He chooses.”
When morning comes, Korah and his fellow rebels bring incense to the Tent of Meeting to offer up to God. In the meantime, an intense conversation between God and Moses takes place. God, filled with righteous anger, is about to demolish every one of them in their tents, but Moses pleads with God to give them a chance. So, a warning is given to the people, “stay away from the tents of these evil men!” No sooner had the warning been given, the earth opens up and Korah and all those belonging to him are swallowed up by the earth. Fear spreads among the people as they were afraid for their lives, and who could blame them? God then strikes down the two hundred and fifty leaders with fire— the worship offerings still in their hands. What an account! Of course there are several applicable lessons for us, but here are just three.
Mind your Maker.
God chose for His people who He wanted to be in the leadership positions. When Korah felt that he knew better, the consequences were fatal. May we never fall victim to the mindset that tells us that we know better than God. Our Lord wants us to live a certain way, and worship a certain way. When we make changes to His divine commands, just like Korah, we have overstepped our bounds.
Mind your mingling.
How did so many band together with Korah? They were all mingling in the wrong crowd. Every one of those men made a choice. They chose to grumble and complain together, then they died together. It doesn’t matter how many people think the same way we do if that thinking isn’t Patterned after God’s thinking.
Mind your motives.
What drove these men to take such a stance? They were motivated by pride, discontentment, anger, greed, and self-righteousness. All of these attitudes are toxic for the church today, and all of them still lead to destruction.
While this account is a humbling reminder of God’s reaction to disobedience, there’s more to the story. Although Korah was out of line, his descendants would prove to be more upright (Numbers 26:11). They even go on to write some of the Psalms in the years to come, including Psalm 42. Your upbringing and roots do not have to dictate your eternity. Like Korah, we all have a choice. My prayer is that as these historical events are read we learn from them and press forward, more determined to be faithful children to a perfect Father.
“As the dear thirsts for water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
In Luke 14, Jesus gives a couple of short parables about counting the cost of discipleship. He prefaces them by saying, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” (26-27). If we drink deeply of this statement, we see exactly how challenging it is. The choice is always between Jesus and everything and everyone else. How badly do we want what only Jesus can give? Think hard, then decide!
Then come the parables. The first is a construction parable, of one building a tower. He first sits down and calculates the cost in order to be able to finish and avoid ridicule (28-30). The second is a military parable, of a king going into battle. He first sits down and considers whether or not he can win (31-32). The common denominator in both parables is to first sit down and deliberate. Ultimately, there is action which follows, but the planning precedes it.
In how many congregations do elderships or men in the absence of elders never get proactive and formulate a plan for the immediate, intermediate, and far off future? Leadership must cast the vision and deliberate about where that congregation is going and how it will get there. What will be done to grow? How can we get more members active? How can we best utilize the collective resources of the congregation? The Bible reveals all the answers, but it is essential for the church’s leaders to gather around the drawing board.
It was exciting to spend a few hours at the Lehman elders’ 2019 retreat to discuss the short-term plans of the congregation. These men are convicted about the stewardship of the work they eagerly consented to do as our shepherds. They want us to be more effective, but they are determined to set the tone and example for us. I’m amazed at how deeply they care about us and the growth they want us to collectively experience. Words like emphasis, accountability, and purpose continually came up. Building a biblical culture, which works against our contemporary culture of consumers rather than producers, is foremost in their minds. They desire for us to “grow together” as a church, drawing those outside of Christ to our spiritual family.
I cannot wait to see what God will do through such capable leaders in 2020 and beyond. We are blessed with such godly, conscientious elders. Please don’t miss a day praying for Russell, Riley, Kevin, John, Darrell, and Bobby and their families. Also, please never miss an opportunity to express your love, encouragement, and support of them as they strive to do their best to fulfill their God-given duty. Or, as Paul put it, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (1 Th. 5:11-12).
They are first sitting down this weekend, but then they will challenge us all to “rise up and build” (cf. Neh. 2:18).
Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ira Boudway wrote a fascinating article about the perennially successful head basketball coach of the San Antonio Spurs. He called the piece, “The Five Pillars of Popovich.” Gregg Popovich, who has led the Texas team to five NBA championships in a little over 20 years, is the epitome of steady in a league notorious for constant change. Boudway laments that Popovich wouldn’t actually cite his own pillars of success, but the thoroughly researched column definitely exposes the principles that have made this legendary coach tick with exquisite precision. Those five pillars, in order, are:
- Own your luck. That is, be modest, humble, and don’t try to take credit for things you didn’t do.
- Do your work. The same tenacious ethic that made him way more of a player than he should have been has translated into his incredible success as a coach.
- Unleash your anger (strategically). Know when (and how) to get angry, channeling your passion and conviction into others.
- Widen your world. Always be a learner, and inspire others to do the same.
- Know your people. Build relationships, taking time to really know the people in your circle of influence. Former player Will Perdue articulates what so many say of the coach, saying, “I was kind of amazed by how much he wanted to know about you as an individual… He saw you as a human being first and a basketball player second.” In Pop’s own words to Sports Illustrated in 2013: “Relationships with people are what it’s all about. You have to make players realize you care about them. And they have to care about each other and be interested in each other. Then they start to feel a responsibility toward each other. Then they want to do for each other.”
We would modify and adapt the wording of some of the pillars, but the principles are unmistakably sound. When it comes to spiritual leadership, whether in the home or the church, these qualities are powerfully attractive.
Great leaders work hard to give others the credit and, most of all, God the praise. The goal is more important than the glory (Eph. 3:20-21).
Great leaders will not ask others to do what they won’t do (Mat. 23:3-4). They exemplify what they expect (Heb. 13:7).
Great leaders get the difference between the “big stuff” and the “small stuff.” Spiritual wisdom helps them channel their passion nobly. They reserve emotion for the eternal and temperance for the temporary.
Great leaders are learners, growers, and improvers. They hate complacency and disdain settling. Nowhere do they demonstrate this more than their pursuit of sacred truth, as consummate Bible students (2 Pet. 3:18).
Great leaders truly know those whom they lead. Assumptions, perceptions, prejudices, and appearances hamstring and even sabotage leaders. There is no substitute for loving people, genuinely caring about and being intimately involved in the lives of those whom they lead (John 10:1ff).
People are looking for leaders like this. They will follow them to the ends of the earth and, consequently, to heaven! None of these qualities necessitates a Ph.D. or a million dollars. They simply require dedication and discipleship! May God raise up more men who have the will and want to be successful leaders for Him!