God’s Vision for His Church

stott

John Stott (1921-2011)

God’s vision for His new community – the church.
It is His family which He loves,
His kingdom which He rules
and His temple in which He dwells.

 

As this reality dawns in our hearts,
we “shall constantly be seeking to make
our church’s worship more authentic,
its fellowship more caring,
and its outreach more compassionate.
In other words, we shall be ready
to pray, to work and if necessary to suffer”
in order to make God’s vision more of a reality in our world.
– John Stott

Our Journey to God in Some Poky Little Church

In chapter two of his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis points out that nature, for all its staggering beauty, is limited for the seeker of God; natural beauty can’t communicate God’s truths about salvation and about the contemplative life of following Christ. “Nature cannot satisfy the desires she arouses nor answer theological questions nor sanctify us. Our real journey to God involves constantly turning our backs on her; passing from the dawn-lit fields into some poky little church, or (it might be) going to work in an East End Parish.”

For all of its foibles which at its worst include lousy preaching, political infighting, self-centeredness, stagnation, a gaggle of special-interest groups, the poky local church in suburbia is still the most fertile environment for spiritual development there is. Genuine spiritual progress doesn’t happen without a long-term attachment to a poky local church. I’m all for improving the organization of a local church to make it more biblically effective, but the maddening frustration that prompts someone to leave one church for another may be the precise thing that holds great potential for spiritual progress if one stays. “Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together. “Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.”

Disillusionment with one’s church, then, is not a reason to leave but a reason to stay and see what God will create in one’s life and in the local church. What I perceive to be my needs “I need a church with a more biblical preacher who uses specific examples from real life” may not correspond to my true spiritual needs. Often I am not attuned to my true spiritual needs. Thinking that I know my true needs is arrogant and narcissistic. Staying put as a life practice allows God’s grace to work on the unsanded surfaces of my inner life. In the seventeenth-century Francois Fenelon wrote, “Slowly you will learn that all the troubles in your life, your job, your health, your inward failings are really cures to the poison of your old nature.”

I would add “your church” to his list; that is, all the troubles in one’s church are really cures to the poison of one’s old nature, or, as the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 7, the “sinful nature.” The biggest problem in any church I attend is myself and my love of self and my penchant to roam when I sense my needs aren’t being met.

Staying put and immersing oneself in the life of a gathered community forces one into eventual conflict with other church members, with church leadership, or with both. Frustration and conflict are the raw materials of spiritual development. All the popular reasons given for shopping for another church are actually spiritual reasons for staying put. They are a means of grace, preventing talk of spirituality from becoming sentimental or philosophical. Biblical spirituality is earthy, face-to-face, and often messy.

To Be Trusted

“Trusted” serves as a compelling theme for our church’s stewardship campaign this year! It leaves you wondering who is trusting whom. Are we trusting God in our investment of His resources or does God trust us with His resources? Well, like in many similar dilemmas, it is not either/or but both/and.

Stewardship always involves us in cultivating our faith in God, but I would like to address the theme of God trusting us with His resources. Jesus, in His parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, instructs us on this theme. The Master leaves on a journey and leaves His talents in the care of His trusted servants.

With what are we entrusted? We are entrusted with talents each according to our ability. In Biblical times, a talent was about twenty years’ wages for an average laborer. In our time, a ‘talent’ has a metaphorical meaning and refers to the God-given gifts, abilities, opportunities, and resources for which we are responsible to invest wisely. A talent is anything you have been given by which you may glorify God. Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ’s Church, and our advantages as possessors of the Bible. All of these are talents.

We are entrusted with the Master’s resources according to our ability. This should curb our tendency to compare ourselves with others. Also, it reminds us that we own nothing in our lives. Let me ask you: Are you living in such a way that proves that you believe that you are a steward and not an owner of all you possess?

What are those causes that the Master values in which we must invest? God wants us to spend his money in causes that delight him so that we multiply the things He finds valuable (Matt. 25: 21,23). What are those? Caring for the poor, the immigrant, the sick and prisoner (Matt. 25:35-36); individuals with material needs (Galatians 6:10); caring for your family, aging parents and children (1 Timothy 5:8, Matt. 15:1-9), and the worship, witness, and nurture of God’s people (giving to build places of worship, to support God’s work and missionary enterprise (1 Chronicles 29, Exodus 35-36; Matt.5:24a; Acts 4:32; I Corinthians 16:2). When we use our resources for people’s lives and God’s glory, we buy the only things that actually last forever.

According to this passage, what is the key for living as trusted stewards? Knowing truly and rightly assessing the character of our heavenly Master. He is generous beyond compare in entrusting his resources to us. He has sown His life in us and has scattered His riches to us. He is a good, generous and patient Lord. He asks of us two things: Faith in Him and investment according to our gifts. The third servant failed in this: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid” (vv. 24, 25). The sense is obvious: “I knew you were one whom it was impossible to serve, one whom nothing would please.” How easy it is to think of God as too demanding and virtually throw on Him the blame of our fruitlessness.

What hinders us from living as trusted stewards? The third steward reminds us that investing God’s resources can be a frightening enterprise. Our doubting and sinful hearts cause us to view our Lord as demanding, harsh, stern, and one who exacts more than he has a right to exact. Do you struggle with a similar view of God? Where are you right now opting for safety rather than risk in serving Him? Where are you burying the Master’s resources in the ground? Ask the Lord to renew your courage to step out and take a risk in serving as His steward.

What motivation is given us so that we live as trusted stewards? We have a generous and good heavenly Master who longs for us to share and experience His joy. Think about what will surely be the most exhilarating moment of your life. To enter into the Kingdom that Jesus has prepared for you from the foundation of the world and to experience His unending joy and to hear your heavenly Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your master!” (Verses 21, 23) There is NO GREATER THING!

So, what is the Lord calling you to do? No doubt our Lord has various callings for all of us, but let me give you three broad categories to consider: As His trusted steward, seek a place of active service in your church. Secondly, give sacrificially to God’s work realizing that He calls us to give generously, proportionally, and sacrificially. Thirdly, endeavor by prayer and proclamation to lead others to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Until Christ returns, we are His trusted stewards who possess His talents to invest them in causes that He values to further His fame and glory in the world. May the Lord renew our resolve to heed the counsel of William James: “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

“What kind of pastor would you like as your pastor?”

The Apostle Paul reminds Timothy and us that pastors and all church leaders must be those who “hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9). This hit me with new force today in light of recent pastor scandals in the evangelical church in America.

Alexander McColl once asked his congregation in a sermon:

“What kind of minister would you like as your minister?” Then he answered his own question. “For myself, I would like a minister who had been scorched by the law, melted by the gospel, and much sifted by the temptations of Satan.”

Well, I would like to receive counsel from an elder who was the same sort of man and who had had the same sort of spiritual experience. He could tell, out of his own personal experience, what the Lord means by what he says in his Word, how best to resist temptation and the devil, how to trust in the Lord and his Word, how to make my way through a difficult set of circumstances.

Life is simply too complicated, and I am simply too weak, to make it through by myself without the counsel of others, their correction, their advice, their encouragement. I need wise and godly counsel, and who can give that to me except a man who, as Paul says, holds to the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

John Murray’s Counsel to Church Leaders

John Murray

“Spend at least fifteen minutes every day meditating on some word of God

connected with His promises to His church —

and then plead with Him for its fulfillment.”

 

A great place to start might be Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:18b:

I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

 

Three Priorities During A Season of Change

What are we to focus on during times of organizational change? Here are three priorities for leaders during a season of significant change in your church’s life:

a. Hospitality: Express biblical love for strangers. This is the literal definition of hospitality in the original New Testament. We are called to welcome and listen to those who are experiencing these changes in a very different way than we are. Richard Philips says something profoundly simple yet often forgotten in times of change: “Unity takes place in the context of personal relationships.”

b. Communication: Speak what is helpful for encouraging and building up; guard against gossip and false assumptions. We can discuss anything, but we do so in a healthy, constructive and edifying way. Refuse to be negative and spread slander. Go directly to those with whom you have a problem and, above all, remember you have the log in your eye and others have the speck in theirs. Why? Because our sin is against a perfectly Holy Father. From our vantage point, others’ sin against us is against another finite, limited, sinful human being.

c. Participation: Disengagement is a natural response during a season of change. We can take a “wait and see” attitude. However, our calling as God’s people is to remain fully engaged and committed to each other.  It is important to renew commitments to Christ, to each other, to generosity and to the future of the church. How easy it is to identify problems and armchair quarterback leaders. How difficult it is to craft and implement proactive and thoughtful solutions to those problems. Commit yourself to be a part of the solution rather than strictly diagnosing problems.

When You are Misunderstood or Maligned as a Leader

I was thinking this morning about some of my friends in church leadership who have been critiqued recently for not leading well and strongly enough. Others have been accused of being too autocratic and not collegial enough in their leadership style.

Below is a short portion of a sermon from John Charles Ryle, an evangelical, Bible-believing Anglican from the late 1800s from Liverpool, England, who speaks on why we are not to lose heart at our troubles and trials. May it bring encouragement to your hearts as it has to mine.

J. C. Ryle:

Can I say a fresh word about heaven? Spirit of God help me! This – that we are going to see the Lord Jesus Christ. The one the fishermen saw when they looked up from their nets and he was there standing before them saying, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!” They looked at him, and dropped their tools and followed him. We shall see him as clearly as they did, his face, his smiling eyes, his love for us, his awesome divinity which yet will not terrorize us. “In my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me” (Job 19:26-27).

But I tell you something more wonderful than that. When we see him we shall be like him. You can scarcely believe it. The words are so common and monosyllabic: ‘like him.’ Everyone can understand what those words mean – we shall be like Jesus. But can we begin to comprehend them? As holy as he is. As loving as Jesus of Nazareth. As full of patience, and kindness, and gentleness, and self-control. We shall love God as he does, and love one another too from our hearts fervently and purely. Our bodies will be like his. All that God can do to make his Son glorious will now be directed towards us. The loving omnipotence and creativity of God will be focused on us to preserve our own unique personalities and yet infinitely elevate and ennoble them. There will be my transfiguration when with my eyes I see the one who loved me and gave himself for me. That is our eternal glory.

I will tell you something more wonderful than that. This will be true for every single one of God’s children. Now we are at different levels of understanding and maturity. We have personalities that irritate and grate on other Christians. There are those who say, “I could never go to that deacon for advice.” There are those who say, “That elder is too severe.” There are those who mutter, “I don’t get anything from his ministry.” That will never be the case in the eternal glory. The whole constituency of the redeemed will be as blameless as Christ himself, deeply in love with one another, and appreciative of everyone there from the least to the greatest. The grass will be greener nowhere else, nor the company sweeter. We will be utterly satisfied with the family of faith and the environment, so that every day will be as fresh as the first. We will never grow weary of our companions nor of the place. Can you think of that? Is not that the very sum of heaven, the praises sung on the holy mountain top in that land of song – that all who stand there will be as perfect as Christ himself? No temptation to reach one of you from eye, or ear, or hand. No temptation can hurt you because there will be nothing in you to foster sin. So regrets and memories cannot hurt you there at all. They would be like sparks falling into Cardigan Bay, quenched in a moment.

Loved by God, washed in the blood of Jesus, freshly baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, we shall soon all meet at God’s feet white-robed and white-hearted, as perfect as our Saviour and Maker. That is our eternal glory. Can’t you understand why Paul says here that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v.17). ‘Far’ outweighs them – all put together they are still outweighed, he says, because they were just momentary, here today, but gone tomorrow, whilst this weight of glory endures forever. So that is the second reason why we do not lose heart at our troubles. They are purposive; we know that they are achieving this end.