A Theology of Serving

With every passing year, people find more ways than ever to fill their time.  Between work and family and all the extra-curricular actives that go along with that, there is very little time for anything (or anyone) else. For many Christians, just getting to church on Sundays is a major success. “Surely, God understands my schedule.  After all, I can only do so much. So, why should I serve?” That’s the question we have started the year asking at The Gathering. It’s an important question and one that must be asked if we, as the Church and as individual disciples, must ask (even for those who are already involved in life up to their noses).  This is perhaps most important for the “busy” since a failure to prioritize can often lead to a greater sense of busy-ness and decreasing levels of peace and joy!

Recently, I preached on “A Theology of Serving,” attempting to answer that all-important question of, “Why should I serve?”. I have presented four major reasons as to why we should serve, both within your church and in your community. These reasons form the basis of a theology of serving.

  • I serve because it fulfills my purpose.

Many people ask this question: What is my purpose. The answer is simple, but it might not be what you think. Many define their purpose with their job, be it a doctor, a builder, a homemaker, or an accountant. That misses out on purpose. There is a difference in calling and purpose. Calling is what you do (hopefully, based on your determination of what God has called you to do), purpose is what you ultimate accomplish by what you do. For a children of God, there may be hundreds or thousands of different callings, but all have only one purpose! That purpose is nothing more and nothing less than to glorify God! (Romans 11:36, Ephesians 2:10, Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:12). So, in whatever I do, I am to glorify God in the way I serve.

  • I serve because it defines my identity in the Kingdom of God.

I serve because I am a child of the King and to be a child of the King is to serve the King and to serve the King, I serve others. Jesus, Himself set the example by coming not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28). As disciples of Jesus, our identity is found in Him. We serve because we are to be like our Master (Philippians 2:5-7). If you refuse to serve, you are refusing to follow Jesus.

  • I serve to fulfill my role within the Body of Christ (the Church).

Every person who has been adopted into the Family of God (Romans 8:14-17) has been given both ability and responsibility to fulfill a calling within the local church. If God has called you here, to this specific church family, it is for a reason. You matter! If you are not serving in some capacity, then you are not accomplishing your calling and, consequently, are not experiencing the level of joy Christ has for you, and we are lacking in something that God has for His church that you are to provide (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

  • I serve because to do so stands against the spirit of darkness and declares the existence and work of God.

We are the “Imago Dei”; the Image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:26). Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, we have preferred “self-serve”.  Sin has made us into self-centered creatures, living to feed our wants, our desires, our needs and our lusts.  Those who believe that there is no God and that the universe is simply a product of chance observes this tendency towards self-preservation and argues that we have a natural instinct towards the survival of the fittest; that we will only do that which assures our own survival or the continuation of the species.  All “serving” would then be utilitarian with the goal of serving our own interests.  When we give and serve, expecting nothing in return, we are declaring “PURPOSE!”  We are demonstrating the fact that we are made in the image of the living God, reflecting His character to a dying world.

If we are going to call ourselves disciples of Jesus, there is no alternative. If we are not serving, we are not following. Look for ways to serve both your church and your community. Get involved in some of the ministry or pray about what ministry God may be calling you to start in 2016. Whatever it is, get off the sidelines and engage in the ministry you were designed to do!

More Thoughts on Refugees

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote some initial thoughts on the refugee crisis.  I mentioned that there is so much we cannot know in order to determine whether or not we should support taking in refugees.  After listening to endless officials and pundits over the last several weeks analyze and argue their views, I still don’t know if letting refugees in is safe or not.

What I do know is that the idea of absolute physical safety is an illusion.  I’m sitting in front of the TV now watching reports of a mass shooting in San Bernadino, California that is unfolding live before my eyes.  There are no details yet on who did it or why, but if follows closely on the heals of another shooting that took place in Colorado less than a week ago.

My point is simply that whether or not there are refugees, there will be danger.  Always.  Danger is already here.  The potential for and reality of mass killing is a domestic problem as much as a foreign one.  Terrorists can already get into our country and reports are they’re already here.  All of this is outside of my control.  What is not outside of my control is how I think about and what I do for people in need.  I can allow myself to become fearful, paranoid and cynical, or I can choose to live a life of fearless compassion in a dangerous world.

I have no control over who does or does not come into the Unites States.  So, with so many unknown variables, I fall back on who I am, who I’m called to be and what I believe about God and about people.  I am called to love and care for those God brings to me to love and care for.

Because of what I don’t know, I neither argue for nor against the acceptance of refugees.  As I stated in my last post, there are really good arguments on both sides.  Frankly, I don’t see a reason to pick a side.  I can look at it philosophically, theologically and ethically and argue a position, but last I checked, those who make the decision don’t ask what my views are.  That’s not to say that speaking up isn’t important, but on this issue, I can’t know what I don’t know; I can’t make a fully informed opinion (and there are enough uniformed opinions already out there).

What I CAN do is respond to what actually happens.  I can work towards helping those families who might enter the Country and do what I can to show them the love of Christ, if it is determined that they will be allowed to do so.  That’s what I’m called to already, even though I so often do an inadequate job as it is…but I can work on improving.  I can refuse to operate out of fear. I can trust in a sovereign God who will ultimately determine whether or not refugees from Syria or any other nation enter our borders.  Many times, God calls us out to the Nations…sometimes, God calls the Nations to us.

I can’t decide what will happen.  I can decide how I will respond.

God’s Gift of People

supportI was studying in 2 Timothy 4 this morning where in verse 9, Paul tells Timothy to “do your best to come to me soon.”  Clearly, as Paul goes on in that passage, some things have not gone well. He has been abandoned by everyone, even having one guy, Alexander the Coppersmith,  doing him “great harm.”  I don’t know if he is speaking of harm ministerially or personally, but having gone through similar circumstances, I can tell you that it’s likely both.  It’s hard to be harmed ministerially without feeling it personally and visa-versa.

What Paul says demonstrates something very important: even though Paul says a few verses later that God’s presence and deliverance was all he ultimately needed, he greatly desired the personal touch of someone who would support and encourage him.  That being his dear son in the faith, Timothy.

During my first shoulder surgery two years ago, I felt very alone.  It was a really difficult time in my life when Karen couldn’t get off work and I was at the hospital going through surgery completely alone.  I remember how difficult that was for me.  I desired for there to be someone to “come to me soon.”

This time was very different.  Karen was able to get off work and I had so many people calling and posting messages of support, telling me that they were praying for me right then or had just prayed for me (which gives comfort even more than a simple “I will pray for you”.  Not that that’s in any way bad and much appreciated, but we know how often we say that and then unintentionally forget to actually pray).

At the end of the day, like Paul recognized, God’s presence and provision is all that we really need.  However, so much of His provision is channeled through human beings.  I don’t ever want to forget that.  I want to make every effort to be fully present in the lives of those around me that I’ve been privileged to have in my life.

What about you?  Can you remember a time in your life where you felt abandoned and alone or where you felt so blessed to be surrounded by those who cared and delivered God’s provision to you?   What was that like and what did you learn from that experience?  If you’d be willing to share your wisdom, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

The Equipping Work of God

Our folks at The Gathering have heard me say quite often, “What God calls you to, He equips you for.”  I thoroughly believe that.  Ephesians 2: 10 affirms that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  So, He’s definitely called us.  Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:8 that we would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon [us]…”.  Because that is followed by Jesus telling them that they would be His witnesses throughout the world, the power is what enables the witness.  The writer of Hebrews gives a benediction in Hebrews 13, where in verses 20-21, he speaks a blessing that his readers might be equipped to accomplish God’s will:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

It seems pretty clear, then, that God really will equip us for everything He calls us to. The question that remains is, “how?”

We have to say, first of all, that we may not be able to determine every way in which God may equip us.  Certainly, the act of the Holy Spirit abiding within the Believer means a supernatural and instantaneous equipping can happen at any moment He desires.  We know that in Luke 12, Jesus told his disciples that, “when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  Obviously, then, instant equipping can happen for specific tasks, but is that the primary method God uses?  Probably not.  I believe the way God’s equipping of His people happens most regularly and systematically is found in 2 Timothy 3.

In Paul’s instruction to his young son in the faith, he encourages him to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  So, Paul affirms that the systematic learning of Scripture over time leads to godly wisdom.  Then, in verses 16-17, we get the famous affirmation of the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture:

 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

There it is!  How are we equipped? Through the Word of God. By regularly engaging with the Word, which is adequate for shaping us into what God wants us to be, we become equipped for every good work.  Whatever you are called to is wrapped up in that one little word, “every”. 

You want to be equipped for what God calls you to?  Do not forsake the Word.  Abide in it (John 15:5).  Read it every day, several times a day.  Memorize it. Meditate on it.  Pray it.  It is true: What God calls you to, He equips you for…and He does it primarily through His Word.
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Children and Salvation: Is It Ever Too Early?

20130516-084844.jpgMy six-year old was saved Monday.

Well, at least that’s what he told me when he came home from school. As it turns out, a children’s ministry from a local church holds a voluntary Bible club with the kids after school every so often and so, during that time, the salvation bracelet was given to the kids and the Gospel was shared.

I must be quick to say, I am grateful for such a ministry! That a sister church would have such a ministry to our children is both commendable and appreciated. However, my wife and I were more than a bit troubled when Andrew came in declaring, “I’m saved!”

As it turns out, the children were not only explained the Gospel, they were led through a “Sinner’s Prayer” to ask Jesus into their heart. That’s the prayer that is found in, uh…is it John?…Matthew? Hmm…now that I think about it, not sure I’ve ever actually read it***. Anyway , my son is one of those who prayed the prayer.

My concern is in knowing how easy it is to get kids to say the words you want them to say whether or not they understand it or believe it. Because of this fact, my wife and I have been very intentional in talking with our children about the Gospel, praying over them, and leading them down a path that would provide them with ample opportunity to be exposed to Truth and, hopefully, real transformation. Ah, transformation. There’s that word that is often missing in many people’s idea of salvation. Too often, it’s all about having a minimal understanding of the truth…enough to get you to say those words and you’re in. Often, though, you’re not.

An encounter with Christ is about transformation, is it not? For someone who believes that regeneration must proceed confession (Ephesians 2), getting a child to say mere words is troubling, if not terrifying. Now, my son potentially has grounds for actually ignoring a real, inner Gospel call because he’s already “prayed the prayer”. He’s already rubbed the lamp and said the magic words. He’s in.

Is he?

Maybe he is. We will watch and see, talk with him and pray over him. If so, I will celebrate like nobody’s business. If he’s not, things may have gotten more complicated than they need have.

A better alternative?

I think there is one. I believe a better approach would have been for the minister to share the Gospel and then, if there are children who are curious or express interest, stop there and contact the parents. Let them know their child is interested in knowing more about the saving work of Jesus. Then go from there. This is a voluntary club, so the kids are there because the parents want their kids there.  Perhaps the parents want the minister to help them in talking with their child. Perhaps, like us, while appreciating this children’s ministry, they would prefer to wait a little longer on asking for some decision. Instead, they plowed right through and I got a call Tuesday letting me know what happened the day before. A little late.

Frankly, discerning the spiritual condition of a child is difficult. That’s the key, though…discerning. It takes time to watch and listen to the child in order to discern whether there is a legitimate working of the Holy Spirit of God rather than a desire to have a cool bracelet and get dunked in the pool. Some will disagree with me. There was a time in my life I probably would have, too. Belief in a Sovereign God, however, leads me away from pushing my children through the door of salvation. It’s the only thing that gives me peace now as we watch and wait, patient to let the Holy Spirit do His work, realizing that work is not mine.

I came across a helpful article this week about this very thing entitled, How do we discern the spiritual conversion of children. It offers some advice for parents and ministers in helping children rightly understand the things of God. Hope it helps.

***Scripture is clear that we are to repent. Certainly, that involves prayer, but there is nothing that I have found in Scripture where we are to “ask Jesus into our hearts.” Romans 10:13 and Acts 2:21 say we are to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Though often cited as grounds for that particular brand of the Sinner’s Prayer, I don’t believe that’s ample grounds for establishing that as  a step to salvation. I call on His name in repentance.  Splitting hairs? I don’t think so. The biblical mandate for salvation is simply “repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15, Romans 3:20, Romans 10:9-10, Acts 17:30, 26:20). We find nothing beyond this actually in Scripture.  Is it necessary to add a non-biblical step to what Scripture has commanded? Belief involves trust. Trust and repentance are followed by actions. (Jesus even warned that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter into the Kingdom, but He who DOES the will of the Father. John 10:10). That should be enough. Anything more is fertile ground for providing a false sense of security (“I asked Jesus into my heart. Regardless of what I do, I’m secure.”) When the answer to that question is the basis upon which we determine the security of a person, we’re walking on shaky ground.

Have You Met My Friend? His Name is Todd.

todd_field2 Did you get to meet my friend? Some of you did. Others never had the pleasure.  His name is Todd.

Todd is a dear friend of mine with some of the most amazing talent I’ve ever personally experienced.  A singer-songwriter with a gift for identifying the most important things in life and putting them to music, Todd can have you laughing one second and crying the next.

On May 14th of last year, Todd MacDonald moved to his permanent residence to be at home with Jesus.  He had fought a long, hard battle with cancer and finally got to go home.  I’ve never experienced any more grace in one person under trying difficulties than I did in Todd.  He demonstrated for me what happens when God’s kids are called to suffer.

When Todd first called me to tell me about his cancer, I marveled at how he was dealing with it with such strength and courage. When I mentioned to him how I was struggling with the news though he seemed so strong, his words were, “David, it’s all the grace of God and right now and I’m the one who needs it”.  I began to truly understand the nature of God’s provision.

Todd was in the middle of a recording project when he first got sick.  Several of us encouraged him to finish that since the future was so uncertain and his diagnosis seemed so bleak.  He did and it’s an incredible work called Pilgrims Here.

toddmacdonald3What many of us didn’t know was that he had written an additional twelve songs that he completed shortly before his death.  That album was only recently finished and released called World Full of Wonder.

Soon after Todd’s death, his dad sent out a message letting us know of the surprise album. In part, it read:

In May of 2012, before Todd became too sick to continue working on his CD, he was able to complete 12 original vocals with acoustic. In our long stay with him in Nashville, Donna and I continually witnessed a few things about Todd. He was totally aware of what his future held and his faith never wavered. He knew he was just a “Pilgrim Here” and rejoiced in that. He was more concerned about the suffering family and friends would go through after his passing. Typical Todd! He was obsessed with the completion of his CD. So much so, that he would not leave Nashville for his mother’s home until forced to do so. His earthly works were not yet complete; the CD had to be finished!

Recalling my last phone conversation with him, his voice being so weak and frail, I’m amazed at the strength of his voice in these recordings and the depth of his faith and thinking while walking through such a painful and challenging time.  I can only think that it’s an even greater revelation of the grace of God at work in his life.  Especially poignant to me is the amazing message he left for his family and friends, “Don’t Cry For Me.”

I would love for you to share in this incredible work.  If you would, take a few minutes and at least sample some of the songs he has left us.  I know you’ll be encouraged by them.  If you decide to purchase some of the songs or all of the album, the proceeds will be put into a trust to benefit Christian ministries.  As his friend, I will be honored for you both to listen and to take part in sharing his music with your friends.

I believe that God is not done with the music of Todd MacDonald, but instead, has orchestrated this in a way that the ministry He gave Todd will long outlast the years Todd was given on this earth.  I find it a little more than ironic that Todd’s favorite Christian artist is Keith Green, an amazing singer-songwriter whose music continues to reach millions after his own death at an early age (and who I often thought about when facing the prospects of Todd’s death).

So, check it out and if you do, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  Also, if you decide to purchase any of the music, I’d love to know which ones you got. Thanks!

P.S. I miss you, my friend.

When “Judging” Isn’t Judging: Thoughts on Matthew 7

1 Judge not, that you be not judged.2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?4 Or how can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is the log in your own eye?5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

We need to make sure we understand this passage rightly. Jesus is not making a blanket statement that to point out the speck in someone’s eye is to always be judgmental. It is conditional: IF I have dealt with the log in my eye AND IF my attitude is to lovingly and humbly help a brother with an issue he’s having, THEN I can address that with him in a non-judgmental way. That is in keeping with Jesus’ ministry and teaching.

There is a huge attitude difference here. Pointing out someone else’s issue to shame them or make myself look or feel superior while ignoring my own is hypocrisy. That form of judging I am never to do. However, when I see someone with an issue and “judging” that to be something that could be potentially be harmful to them and their relationship with Christ, it should actually motivate me to examine myself and deal with my own issues so that I can minister to their needs.

We have to stop looking at this passage as to equate pointing out the speck in someone’s eye with automatically judging. Jesus is plainly giving the prescription for being able to help others with their “speck”: “THEN YOU WILL SEE CLEARLY TO TAKE…”.

I know for me, I often need help in dealing with the painful and irritating specks in my own eyes…just make sure you clean out your own eyes first so you don’t damage mine.

Church, 7 Days a Week

Love this video. Don’t know where this church is, but if they’re also preaching the Gospel like they seem to be living it, they’ve got it going on. This needs to become the goal of The Gathering (and every other New Testament church for that matter).

What Does Organic Church Really Look Like, Anyway?

Thinking a lot about church lately.  Yeah, I know – it’s my job.  But I’m thinking more in terms of reformation and growth.  You know, what we’re really supposed to be…and be about.  At our church, we’re in a place where we’re re-thinking how things are done – What’s important.  What’s NOT important.

Christ Church StellartonI find that much of what we do (read: churches in America) provides little that is actually transformative in a person’s life (I understand that could be an overstatement).  We do it simply because we always have.  No one has ever stopped to actually ask, “Does this really make a difference?”  Unfortunately, somewhere down the line, those things have become sacred.  I mean, we’re clearly told in Scripture what the church is supposed to be about, but we’re given no specific instruction on how the church is supposed to specifically go about it. I think the reason we’re not told specifics of how we’re to function is because of the organic nature the church was designed to be.  To put it simply, we’re to function simply.  We’re supposed to be able to quickly adjust to the changing nature of the world so we can most effectively communicate the unchanging message that Christ is in the business of resurrection.  We talked last night at Downpour how miraculous it is for someone to come to Christ.  It is nothing less than someone who is dead coming to life.  That’s miraculous.  It’s the work the church is called to engage in…introducing people to Him and watching Him do His work in them.  I’m afraid we’ve become so institutional that we fail to even understand where people are and are even less equipped to help them.

laughterI am convinced that so much that people call essential for the church simply isn’t.  We tend to try and do so many things, mostly badly, instead of finding the most important things and doing them exceptionally.  Our churches are packed full of mediocre programs and burnt out people.  What if we said “no” to a whole bunch of stuff (I’m talking programs, classes, pot-luck lunches, whatever), but looked at those few things that really led people into a deep relationship with God, with each other and gave opportunities for them to make an impact on the world.  What if we put all our energy into those few things?  Instead, we’re tired.  We’re “there every time the door is open.”  Funny, nobody ever says that with a smile on their face.  Wonder why?  Could it be that the door is open too often?  That sounds heretical, doesn’t it?   Don’t tell anybody I suggested it.  But maybe if we could focus on the most important, life-changing things we would actually look forward to those things.  I know that Christ brings joy and satisfaction and excitement to life.  His church should, too, shouldn’t it?  I’m afraid too often we know what we need to do, we just lack the courage to move in that direction.  Change is a fearful (and sometimes fearsome!) thing.  Trust me, I know!

So, what do you think?  Is church something you look forward to or do you read this and hunger for something more like what I’m describing; something that actually adds meaning and purpose to your life; something you can’t wait to be a part of?  Am I way off base?  Or maybe you have had this kind of experience, either good or bad.  Please share it with me…I’d love to learn from it.

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