Sunday, May 28, 2006

Helping God’s Hearing - Zechariah 7

Sermon Notes from Zech. 7

Setting: 518 BC - Post-exilic, i.e. back in the land. Same era as Haggai, Malachi. “In the fourth year of King Darius…” (vs. 1 - ESV)

The Delegation’s Question: Now that we are back in the land, shall we continue the Memorial Fasts from when we lost the Temple & were exiled?
2 Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the LORD, 3 saying to the priests of the house of the LORD of hosts and the prophets, "Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?" (ESV)

The LORD’s Answer / Question: 4 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me: 5 "Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6 And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? 7 Were not these the words that the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?"

The Heart of it – A Call to Repentance, Righteousness & Reminder:
8 And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, (cf. 7:1; 8:1; 18)

9 "Thus says the LORD of hosts,
Render true judgments,
show kindness and mercy to one another,
10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless,
the sojourner, or the poor,
and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart."

11 But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. 12 They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts. 13 "As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear," says the LORD of hosts, 14 "and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate." - ESV

1. Sacred acts – if empty or misguided - can be deadly in their deception

2. More important than a Fast is Obedience: Loving God & Others

3. To not repeat history, learn from it! Keep the “they” vs. 11 a they.

4. God not listening (vs. 13)? Who started it (vs. 11-14)? Repent.

5. Though God scattered, He restored. Practice righteousness (vs. 8-10)!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Checking Your Church Connectedness

How connected to your church are you? I am not asking if you are a member, or regular in attendance or giving. But, how much are its people a part of your life and you theirs? Do you see other Christians as family or fellow attendees? Do you think of your church as a “them” or an “us, we”?

A Spiritual Utility Company is how many see church: a place that holds a service where the Pastor meets – or doesn’t meet – your needs. As the Phone, Electric and Cable companies have their role in your life, so does the church.

The Biblical descriptions of a believer’s relationship with the church are vastly different from what many (most?) experience. Many do not seem to know how deeply Jesus wants our lives to intertwine. Others are quite pleased with their comfortable, yet shallow, relationship with their spiritual family.

Few seem to see it as a blood-bought body into which we have been baptized, placed by Jesus; a body that is as interdependent as your own. Sing with me: the wrist bone’s connected to the arm bone, the leg bone… (Ephesians 4; 1 Corinthians 12, 13; Romans 12).

Here is a way to check your church connectedness. Which of these phrases sound like how you describe your church to others?

1. “I go to Pastor So-and-so’s Church.” The Pastor is the church’s main identity point. He is the Man of God that you follow, adhere to, trust, respect, stand-behind… As enviable as that may sound to us Pastors, it is a scary, vulnerable place to let people stay.

What if the Pastor leaves, shows his humanity or worse, falls into sin or serious doctrinal error? Understandably, these are hits in one’s life, but how deep a stroke would it be to you? Do you believe what you believe because a pastor seems convinced enough for both of you, or do you own your faith?

2. “I go to Such-and-such Church.” Its reputation, distinctives, denomination – or lack there of – and even its image are key. You name-drop it for spiritual credibility, clout or even to be “chic by association.” Your church identity is defined by who you are and are not: Traditional, Contemporary, Reformed, Free Will, Baptistic, Presbyterian…

There are thousands of things we own as distinctives: Pentecostal, Non Charismatic, High / Low Church, house church, Emergent, Decaf., non smoking, window seat. These can be great things. Yet, when they define us, they divide us.

We often assert that most of us agree on a few core doctrinal matters - the essentials. Still, we truck in our distinctives, put them up front, give them more weight then they deserve or can bear and start parting company.

Though we may have the Lord Jesus in common, it sure sounds like music styles,
Sunday Evening services and dress codes are a lot more important than our Crucified, buried, risen, coming again Savior. Our connectedness is not Him but our particularities, our differences.

3. “Our church offers. . .” (fill-in a list of programs). If church is primarily for you is a place to be served and catered to, then something is amiss. We have far too many pew people who claim to have known Jesus for years and are still takers, consumers. They are not ministering, using their gifts, laying down their life for others.

Satisfied customers like what their church provides. They show up for many of its offerings and even give, bring goodies and help set up / clean up. But, dare you disappoint, offend or slight them and they are suddenly no longer around, not returning calls, and arriving late and leaving early to the last few events they come.

When the novelty wears off of how well their church “serves the better burger”, and the next “First Church of the Latest and Greatest” bursts on the scenes, reporting remarkable growth (sheep shuffling), they feel the need to check out what “God is up to” there.

4. “That’s my family’s church.” You grew up in the same neighborhood as your parents, went to the same schools, and of course, attend the same church. It’s “where your family goes” since they helped start it. Like three other generations, you were dedicated, and married in that church.

This can be precious, a holy legacy of stability and commitment. There is nothing wrong with a family church, as long as your family knows it is part of a bigger Family where God is in charge, not Grandma.

5. “That is the church family I am part of… Our church…” To use an old, noble term, you are a Churchman. A committed to, serving in, making-happen, plugged-in, need-meeting, class-teaching, stranger-greeting, sick-visiting, meal-fixing, flower-buying, card-sending, family member.

You rejoice with those having babies, getting married and you weep with those facing death, divorce, unemployment or disability. You know and acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, promotions, layoffs and major medical tests. You provide rides to the store, help cut the grass, pay the bills, fix the car, slip cash to, pass along hand me downs, watch the kids, loan the car…

Note this well: each church probably has some of each of these five types of Christians. Their disposition towards Church may or may not be produced or promoted by their church.

Take the risk – again - and be the church. Lead the way by humbly serving one an other as “inasmuchas” people. Jesus said that in as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it unto Me.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Measuring Maturity by Ministry Stages

Take the Test . . .

Years ago, I noticed an interesting way to gage the maturity or ministry development of a church or individual. I have couched these stages of growth in hypothetical comments made to one’s Pastor.

Let me back up a bit. According to Ephesians 4:11-17, a mature church is - among other things - one in which the people are trained by their leaders to do ministry and then they do it.

Such spiritually healthy saints are solid in their beliefs about and walk with Jesus, not vulnerable to the latest spiritual fads or ideas (e.g. Da Vinci Code).

They share the responsibilities of ministry according to their giftedness (read 1 Peter 4:10, 11), contributing to the church body in “which every part does its share” (Ephesians 4:16 - NKJV).

These are people who see needs, take initiative and create and do ministry, not simply follow the lead of their pastor in what, when and how. (The Reformers spoke of the Priesthood of the believers.)

With that context, here are the progressive comments of people growing into ministry maturity, and a pastor allowing and fostering it:

First, we hear: “Great job, Pastor!” This can be an encouragement from newer believers, or the intoxicating applause, of adoring, approving spectators. Sadly, such satisfied customers are fickle and unless they are growing out of this stage, they are drains on the church’s ministry and focus.

Next comes: “Pastor, may I help?” These souls have gone from watching to wanting to lend a hand. It may be from the fear that the “poor Pastor is overworked” or it may be, “I think I could be of help here.” Dare they start to think, “Hey, I can do that”? Read Romans 12:1-8.

Growing even more, we hear: “Pastor, I have an idea. May we…?” These courageous congregants are starting to see church life beyond Sunday morning worship and the sole job of the Pastor.

They may joke he only works one day a week, but know it is more like three, maybe four. No longer mere followers, these are burgeoning leaders. Either stop them while you still can, or add fuel to their holy fire.

Moving into maturity, they declare: “Pastor, we are going to…” These brazen souls have earned trust, cleaned toilets, served, led and faithfully paid their dues. Now, on their own, they see needs and opportunities that God brings before them and they act.

Out of respect and for prayer support – as well as getting first dibs on a room at church – they tell the pastor what is going to happen. Yes, tell him, not ask.

Finally, reflecting a mature ministry mindset, we overhear: “Did anyone tell the pastor that we…?” Ah, these are the heart, the life, the pulse of a healthy church. They have met a need, started a ministry, lead a charge and did not feel the need to “bother the Pastor”. The mutual trust they have developed freed them to “go for it.”

They realize – maybe after the fact - that he might want to know for his own encouragement how God used them, as well as to lighten his load, allay some guilt and prevent ministry duplication.

Truth be told, he might not even enter into their thinking. It ain’t about him, and he knows and teaches that (see 2 Timothy 2:2).

Once a pastor gets over getting “left out” by such saints, he can rejoice. This kind of ignorance is bliss and blessed. Such is the making of a ministry monster – in the best sense of the word.

Such churches blessed with such lean, mean ministry machines are not as strong or weak as their pastor. He is not the end-all. Such people are the strength of the church.

That last category may sound scary: people not running their ideas by the Pastor, Elders or Deacons. Admittedly, there are some people that need to be checking in – and frequently.

However, if at some point some people cannot be trusted to follow the Lord in using their God-given gifts, we have either done a poor job of equipping them or we are control freaks.

I close with a quandary that has haunted me for years. We applaud missionaries for bringing a church to maturity and working themselves out of a job. When the “locals,” the indigenous people are finally leading the church, the missionaries have achieved their goal.

However, that mindset, that grand ministry philosophy seems only worth exporting, not applying here at home. Why is that? Could this failure to free God’s people to serve contribute to the anemic nature of the body of Christ in America?

This quandary – call it a crisis - calls for a response on both sides of the pulpit. Are we pastors promoting people’s movement through these stages, or hindering it?

How about you “pew people” (a terrible term): In which stage do you find yourself and what are you doing to move to the next one?

Mother Mary: a Magnificent Model

Mother Mary: a Magnificent Model

Mother's Day Sermon Notes from Luke 1:38-56

As a reaction, many Protestants shy away from much that deals with Mary, the mother of our Lord. Many reactions are over-corrections in which we rob ourselves in the good name of self-protection. A study of Mary from Luke 1:38-56 yields so many great lessons. Mary is a magnificent model for all of us, not just Moms. Her song in vs. 46-55 is called "The Magnificat", from the Latin for "glorifies". Pretty deep stuff for a teen girl (cf 1 Sam. 2:1).

Mary’s Response to Angel Gabriel’s Birth Announcement:

38 "And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me

according to your word." And the angel departed from her." NASB

* Humbly submissive: "the bondslave of the Lord"
* Obedient: "may it be done to me…"

Cousin Elizabeth’s Description of Mary:

45 "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment

of what had been spoken to her by the Lord."

* Mary was a woman of faith: unlike Sarah, or Zechariah

* Mary’s faith brought blessing to her & all

The Ultimate Mother’s Lullaby: 46 And Mary said:

"My soul exalts the Lord,

47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

48 "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;

For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.

49 "For the Mighty One has done great things for me;

And holy is His name.



51 "He has done mighty deeds with His arm;

He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.

52 "He has brought down rulers from their thrones,

And has exalted those who were humble.


And sent away the rich empty-handed.

54 "He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy,

55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever."

* She knew the Scriptures & the LORD of them. Note all the attributes
* A Lady of Worship: she loved & feared the LORD her God (Deut. 6:4-9)
* Knew her status was due to God’s mercy, not merit (humble)
* Saw herself as part of a People (Israel). Saw her role in its history
* She was indeed blessed of the LORD & a magnificent model for all.