Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Are People Basically Good?

One of the core beliefs taught in the Bible is that humanity is fallen, evil, and in need of a savior.

This is not an idea that is easily accepted.

We prefer to think of ourselves as self-sufficient creatures that can to fix our faults on our own.  Many religions teach about improvement through some sort of personally actualized system.  Many Christians also embrace a philosophy of self-salvation.  The concept of an evil humanity is largely rejected in America today.

No one really wants to confront the depravity that is in the hearts of all people, because if we do we have to confront the evil that is in us.  This makes us uncomfortable.

And besides, it is easy to look past the evil of humanity when you live in America.  Things are actually pretty good here.  Just last week I heard a major concern about whether or not the new iPhone had a strong enough case to keep it from bending while carried in skinny jeans.  It is easy to think the world is a pretty good place full of good people when our biggest problems are the strength of the aluminum cases on our phones.

To better understand just how evil humanity is we need to take a look at some of the worries that people of other countries suffer.  When we look at the larger world, our need for a personal savior becomes clear.

For example . . .

In Bulgaria, people worry that Russia will turn off their gas this winter.

In Ukraine, people worry about whether their country will still exist tomorrow or be taken over by a power hungry man.

In Syria people worry about being killed because they are part of the wrong faction.

In Iraq people worry about being beheaded for their beliefs or nationality.

In Israel people worry about attacks from neighboring anti-Semites who want to wipe them off the face of the earth.

And in America we worry that our new iPhone will bend in our back pocket.

And we think it's a big deal when it does.

Do you still think we are basically good?

Do you still think we don't need a savior?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reflections From Hundreds of Churches

One of the great parts of my job is that I have had the privilege of visiting hundreds of churches in several countries over the years.  I have had the chance to see all kinds of worship styles.  It is fun to see the creativity of God’s people.  Though not every style fits with my personal taste, I am hard pressed to find a style of worship that is wrong or unbiblical.

Another thing I get to see is different pastoral styles.  Like worship styles, different pastors have different ways of leading.  In some cases the differences are merely stylistic.  Yet in others, the pastors are leading their congregation in ways that are harmful to the Church.

I used the capital letter on the word Church on purpose.  I’m talking about harm done to the universal Church, not just to the local church.

A while back, I was talking to an elder from a church whose pastor will soon be stepping down.  The elder shared with me how they are making preparations for the pastor’s successor.  This got me thinking about what qualities I would look for when hiring a pastor.  Again, my perspective of having seen hundreds of churches came into play.  I thought of the good pastoral leadership I have seen, and I thought about some of the bad examples.  To a large extent, it seems there is one major discerning factor between a godly pastor and a worldly pastor.

Godly pastors love the Bride of Christ more than anything.  They would lay everything aside for the universal Church, even if it means a decreased ministry in their local churches.

I think of a pastor I knew back in Poland who sent the top twenty percent of his church across town to start a new church in a new neighborhood.  From a worldly perspective he made a big mistake.  His church shrunk 20% overnight.  Most of his best people were gone.  Yet over time both his local church and the one that his former parishioners planted grew, and as a result the body of Christ grew bigger and stronger.

I think of another pastor in Bulgaria who decided to make small groups the center of the church ministry.  The Sunday service would become a worship time, and a time to share stories from the weekly small groups.  He would only give a sermon if there were not enough testimonials from the week to fill the hour.  He met with lots of criticism.  People left his church in droves.  Yet when I visited his church last spring there was hardly enough room to sit.  Nearly everyone had a story about how lives were being changed through their personal ministries.  The Body was strong.  The Kingdom was expanding.  Yet the pastor seemed unimportant from a worldly perspective.

Worldly pastors, on the other hand, often place something else before the Bride.  They place their careers, their political authority, or the number of people coming to their church every Sunday above the universal Church.  They are easy to spot if you know the signs.  They are more concerned about building their empire than they are about building the kingdom.

If they are in a smaller church, they often talk about getting more people to come to their church.  Attendance numbers are a big deal to them.  They need a following.  Their biggest fear is that the church will close on their watch, because that would make them look like a bad leader.

If they are in a bigger church, they are careful to keep control centralized.  They are offended when they are not in the driver’s seat, and they expect you to be offended for them.

Worldly pastors will use gossip, slander, and lies to hold onto power.  They do not release people to start new ministries.  They do not risk.  They do not plant churches.

When a church selects a pastor, there will be great temptation to hire a worldly pastor.  He will come with promises of growth.  He will go to no ends to make his church great.  In the end he will have successfully built his church, not God’s Church.  He will leave a legacy that the world will respect, but that is spiritually a heap of garbage.

A godly pastor will give of himself for the Kingdom.  He will develop ministry workers and pass on leadership to others.  He will send his best people out to start new ministries.  He will empower believers even if it means he has less power.  He will risk closing the doors of his church if it means that the universal Church grows.  He will place the Bride of Christ before his own personal brand.  His legacy may go unnoticed by the world, but he will make an impact that lasts forever.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

First Day of School

Today is the first day of School for most kids in Minnesota.  All three of ours started today.  It is a day we are bathing in prayer.

For most kids, back to school day is no big deal.  They know the school.  They know the system.  They have friends to hang out with and exchange stories about the summer.  For our kids, everything is new.

Our oldest two have spent the last few years in the Bulgarian public school system which is vastly different than the Minnesota system.  None of our girls had ever been on a school bus before today.  They are not only the new kids at the school, they are new kids in the country.

In Bulgaria, the school days go from 8:15 to 12:30.  Here they go from 8:40 to 3:10.  They days are much longer.  Our girls have never eaten lunch at school before.  They have never had a recess before.  In Bulgaria, school is something they do during the day.  Here it is their whole day.

There is also the language issue.  Our girls have studied Bulgarian for the past two years.  Though they can read in English, they have never spent the day in all English learning.

Then there are the cultural issues.  Interaction between teachers and students is different in Bulgaria.  Interactions among students are different.  The way people talk to each other and sit next to each other and stand next to each other is different.

Sasha and I have spent much of the day in prayer.  This is new territory for the whole family, and something that our American counterparts probably can't understand.

Please pray for our kids this year.