Monday, June 26, 2017

Be a blessing

This was first written for the Oakland Independent June 21, 2017. 

When writing an article for local paper, one of my goals is to help Christians understand how we should interact with our local community.

The second great commandment, "love your neighbor as yourself", helps us understand what our attitude should be regarding those in the community. If we can love our neighbors as ourselves we will end up being a blessing to all of those around us, and in the process make our community a better place to live.

Here are some biblical suggestions about how to live out the second great commandment:

First, be a hospitable neighbor. In 1 Timothy 3, we see that one of the characteristics of the Christian leader is hospitality. This should not just be true of leaders, but we should all aspire to be hospitable. A hospitable person is someone who is welcoming and generous to your neighbors. In practice this might mean having a neighbor over for a cookout, letting them borrow your mower when theirs breaks, or bringing them a meal when someone in their household is sick. On a more basic level it might mean just saying hi when you see them going out in the morning. Jesus was a hospitable person who cared enough about the people around him to notice them and help them when he could.

A second way that we can love our neighbors is by living a righteous life around them. In our business dealings we should be known to be fair and honest. We should not gossip, lie about, or speak harmfully about anyone else in the community. We should be careful about what commitments we make and then be careful about keeping the commitments we do make. A righteous person becomes a safe person who can be trusted, and who is seen as an asset to the community.

Finally, the Bible tells us in many places that we are to look after those who cannot help themselves, such as widows, orphans, and foreigners. Often people who are needy are nearly invisible in our society, such as an older shut-in or single mom struggling to provide for her children. To help these people we have to ask God to open our eyes to needs that we would otherwise not see, and then give us the courage to overcome the social barriers and go to them and offer help, because many times they will not have the courage to ask for our help.

Learning to love our neighbors well is one of the ways we learn to be more like Jesus. In this way, we will be a blessing to those close to us and Christians, but is exactly what we should do as we follow Jesus.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Who is a leader?

Last month, I wrote on the reason to become a church member, and now I want to encourage you to see yourself as a Christian leader in the church and in the community.

All Christians begin and continue as followers of Jesus (Matt. 4:18). This is the definition of what it means to be a Christian, namely someone who follows Christ, but in following Christ, we are all also called to be on the mission of making more Christ followers (Matt 28:19-20). This is not just my job as the pastor, but rather is the responsibility of everyone who decides to follow Jesus. Therefore, we are all in positions where we are or should be leaders of one type or another, and this article will focus on the various ways in which we, as Christians, can be leaders.

First, all of us should see ourselves as leaders to those non-Christians around us. Through our love and our witness about Jesus, we should be encouraging friends, co-workers, neighbors, and family to also follow Jesus. Our attitude should be, come follow Jesus with me, and our lives should reflect this as well.

Second, almost all of us have or will and can fill roles where we are responsible for leading others. Here are some leadership examples from everyday life: young ladies leading VBS singing; life guards at the pool; parents; bigger siblings; starters and upper classmen on a sports team; managers / bosses / owners in a business; teachers at school or church; older kids in a neighborhood; older / more mature friends in a group. There are many and varied opportunities for us to be in positions of leadership in life and they come to us almost everyday. 

Third, every Christian is given gifts (Ephesians 4:7-16) to be used for building up the body. Some of those gifts are defined as leadership gifts, but all the gifts are meant to serve one another. As we become proficient in using our gifts, we help others use their gifts and we can also teach those with similar gifts to become more effective in using their gifts. For instance, the gift of helps or service (Romans 12:7), may not seem like a leadership gift, but it is essential for those people who need help and to help free up other leaders to do that which they are called to do as is shown in Acts 6:1-7. 

Fourth, in relationship to the church we have some specific leadership roles defined by scripture and some that are defined by the structure and needs of our congregation. Next month, I will spend time talking about those roles and who can and should fill them. If everyone begins to see themselves as leaders we will have many more people ready and willing to fill specific positions for the church when they become available.

Here are some ideas to help you prepare yourself for leadership. First, every Christian needs to be sold out and submitted to their leader, Christ. Spend time daily in His Word and in prayer. If you don’t know how to start, contact me and I will help get you a plan for reading and studying and some simple ways to begin to pray. Next, begin serving somewhere. Go where you see a need, go where you hear about a need in the church, and go where God puts a need in front of you. In the process you will begin to see where you are effective and learn what gifts God has given you. Along the way, examine your heart and actions and pray that you will be continually transformed into the image of Christ. If you see yourself as a leader then you will understand the need to have the character of a Christian leader. It is not just the Pastor and elders that the world is seeing as an example of what a Christian should be. While never perfected in this life, every Christian should be changing for the better as the Holy Spirit works in and through us. 

As we grow in Christ, we will together help lead many others closer to Him, both those in the church and those who do not yet know Him. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Why should you be a church member?

This is an article that I wrote for the May 2017 newletter for our church Oakland Evangelical Free Church to encourage attenders to place their official membership.

First, membership in the local church is the assumed natural position of all believers in Jesus in the New Testament church. Paul tells us that when we believe in Jesus we are baptized by the Spirit into His body, meaning the church in the universal sense of the collection of all Christians through time, but in reality it also meant you became part of the local gathering of Christians. A lone ranger Christian is apart from a local church is simply not seen or envisioned in the New Testament, and as the following reasons will make clear, Christians are not made to grow and mature in their relationship with the Lord without a local church.

Second then, Christians need a commitment to and from a local church for church discipline and personal accountability to function properly. Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5 lay out some principles for how we can challenge sin in the lives of other Christians and how we should expect the local church to challenge sin in our lives. As a member of a local church we should love and trust one another enough to allow ourselves to be challenged and to be challenged in areas where we are sinning or where we see sin in the lives of other people. Sin hurts and having loving people who can challenge and walk with us through the process of repentance and restoration is a key component in becoming more like Christ.

Third, God gives people the gift of leadership, but for godly leadership to operate, we need to submit to it and if we are gifted in leadership we need to make ourselves available to use our gifts. Christ is the head of the church (Col. 1:18), but he established under shepherds to whom we are supposed to submit (Hebrews 13:17, 1 These. 5:12-13, 1 Tim. 5:17). One of the ways we submit to Jesus then is to submit to the leadership he has established. Leaders are giving the role to shepherd and guard the flock (Acts 20:28-29), but to do this they have to know who the flock is, and that requires that they have committed to a defined group of people and that those people have committed to that body as well. 

The Holy Spirit gives certain people leadership gifts (1 Tim. 3:1, Ephesians 4:11-12), and to use those gifts fully you have to be in a position of trust in the lives of others. If you are given leadership gifts, then your gifts and character need to be affirmed by the body so that they can trust that you are indeed gifted and submitted to Christ yourself. Even if you do not have leadership gifts or calling, you are still called to help affirm, support leaders and to hold them accountable.

The fourth reason you need to be a member is for your own personal growth and for the growth of the church. The three major passages on spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:13-16, Romans 12:3-8, 1 Cor. 12:12-29) all speak about using our gifts in the context of the church and for the good of the church. When we use minister together we learn to lead, submit, create, and help others while getting the benefits of their gifts in our lives. Together we love each other better and also multiply our efforts to reach out to the world.

Finally, Jesus tells His disciples that their love for one another is a way of showing the world what He is like (John 13:35). In a local body of believers we learn to live sacrificial and loving lives. The church is first and for most a family and not just a social organization. In fact, Paul reminds us that if we say we love Jesus then we should love those in the church. The fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23 are expressed primarily with people who are close to you, and in the church we commit to caring for other imperfect people and in the process we learn to love like Jesus loves us. 

So come and join us and help us show the world what Jesus' love really looks like.