Thursday, January 29, 2015

Be Strong And Of Good Courage: LBC Evangelism Conference 2015

"Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their fathers to give them as an inheritance. Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go."  Joshua 1:6-7

The Christian church in America isn't in the best of shape. According to Thom Rainer, "eight out ten of the approximately 400,000 churches in America are either plateaued or declining." Matthew Bohling of the PCA said, "We can no longer simply ignore struggling churches. We must give attention to these churches before they die or we all lose!" Spend some time with local pastors, and you'll hear them verify those assessments of the church.

If you're a rural, small-church pastor like I am, you're in double trouble. Not only is the church as a whole in trouble, but small churches are in even greater peril. The only real growth trend is away from small churches and to larger churches.  While it may be more impression than fact, it can seem like most of the strategies and resources to rescue churches is geared toward these larger churches.

Couple the condition of the church with the immorality of our culture, resistance to the Gospel, and  opposition to our faith as a whole, and it's easy to see why so many pastors seem to be considering a career change. Of course, if you're called by God, you don't get to consider a career change. You often feel like Elijah - not the Elijah on the mountaintop calling down fire from Heaven, but the Elijah in the valley running from Jezebel. You think about quitting, but you remember what happened to Jonah.

A group of pastors in our community have been praying for revival every week for nearly four years. We have not seen it yet. The last few weeks our church was praying for a one day event with a vocational evangelist. We had a good day. A young woman was saved and many were encouraged. I have been praying that God would do something in my heart and in the hearts of others from my church when we attended the Evangelism Conference. Well, He did.

To face what's before us, we need courage. The best trained and equipped soldier will be defeated without it. The best trained pastor will, too. I didn't know that's what I needed when I went to the conference last week was courage, but that's what I found there.

I saw a denomination with the courage to own up to and take responsibility for the situation. It takes courage to stand up and say, "If we don't change, we die." Polyanna has left the building. Reality has been embraced. The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have a problem. The LBC has done that.

I saw and heard the testimony of others who had done the same, and who had courageously faced the challenge of church revitalization. Every testimony was a story of courage. Pastors, church leaders, and members made hard choices for the work of the kingdom of God. And, God was faithful. Again and again we heard how God honored their courage.

Courage is nothing more than faith in God. Without it, there is no hope. Many, perhaps most pastors will not make the hard choices, will not take the risk of change. They know that most church members would rather their church die than make the uncomfortable changes necessary to become revived, thriving churches. If this were not the case, the church in America would not be in the condition it is in. It takes courage for a pastor to lead his church to change, and it takes courage for the members of that church to allow their pastor to lead them in that change.

That's what I heard this week. I heard pastors and their members say, "We have to face this. We have to do something, and with God's help, we can and we will."  I saw them find hope, find direction, get equipped, and become determined. I heard a person who had been a Christian for over 50 years confess that they had never shared the Gospel with anyone outside the church, and that they had found the courage to do that very thing. I heard a young man who is just now starting in ministry talk about it. He heard all the statistics, has seen all the realities and, after the conference said,  "I'm really excited about what God has done and is doing in Louisiana. Thank You Father for Your blessings upon us."

So, be strong and courageous. Your God is still God.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Even A Kid Can Do It: Building a Christian life

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)

We make it too complicated. It's not. It's so simple a child can do it. Kids get it. Give them a stack of Legos and they'll build. Their minds aren't as hemmed in by all the supposed "realities" of life. They find it far easier to see possibilities, less restricted by the supposed impossibilities. Like this kid. He wanted to build a house, someone gave him a pile of giant Legos, and he built a house.

God made it simple. Not that Peter was necessarily thinking about the seven days of the week, but he did give us seven Christian virtues - one for each day of the week. I think that's a simple plan. Take one virtue and work toward that one each day. Sounds like a plan. Do you have a better one, a simpler one? If so, follow it. If not, give this a try.

Monday Priority - goodness, that means moral excellence, virtue
Tuesday Priority - knowledge, the true knowledge of God's word as opposed to the world
Wednesday Priority - self-control, knowledge puffs up unless it produces change
Thursday Priority - endurance, the week's not over yet
Friday Priority - godliness, living a life that is like God
Saturday Priority - brotherly affection, how can I serve the body of Christ
Sunday Priority - love, the word is agape, self-sacrificing love for God

Each day, ask God to help you make one virtue your priority. Then commit to Christ and to yourself that this day you will strive to live that virtue out.

See what God builds within you.