The Light of Our Legacy

When you look at the stars in the night sky, are you aware how long the light from each of these stars has traveled to reach the earth? Light travels at the speed of 186,282 miles per second. The nearest star to our galaxy is 4.5 light years away. The light from the stars we see in the night sky began its journey thousands of years ago!  Because it takes so many years for their light to reach us, it is very possible many of these stars no longer exist.

Just as the light from a distant star continues to shine long after its life span, so it is with us. Long after we are gone, the light from our lives will shine on through many generations.  What kind of light shines from our lives?  Is it the kind of light Jesus spoke about in Matthew 5:16?  He said, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.

Last week at the Evangelism Conference for our Baptist State Convention, we were challenged by the testimony of a father and son – Tom and Stephen Wagoner.  Although they are very different in their methodology and approach to ministry and disciple-making, their common ground is a profound love for Jesus and the Gospel.  The respect, love and grace they have for each other is a shining example of how the legacy of the Gospel is passed from one generation to the next.

Many of us can think of people in our family history, from whom the light of their legacy continues to shine.  My great-great grandfather, Richard G. Doyle, pastor, church planter, and supporter of missions, is someone I treasure as a light from the past.  His love for sharing the message of Christ led him to take an unpopular stand for missions, a stand that cost him the support of his home church.  They accused him of, “having fraternized with missionary preachers, and allowed them to preach in his church.” (A History of Kentucky Baptists from 1769 to 1885).

I think of A. B. Lamastus, my great grandfather on my mother’s side.  I remember attending his funeral in1965, and I recall my mother telling me about this dear man, a deacon, and charter member of the Walnut Grove Baptist Church in Dickson, TN, who felt called to take young pastors under his wing and teach them the “art of soul winning.”  Before “Pap” Lamastus died at 95, he held the record for attendance at the annual association meetings – in 59 years he only missed one meeting of the Judson Baptist Association.

Forgive the personal references, but they go to show how our lives will influence others far beyond the limits of our lifetime on earth.  This is a fact we cannot ignore.

Another example of a light from the past that continues to shine, is the great revivalist and preacher of two centuries ago, Jonathan Edwards.  The legacy left by the Edwards family demonstrates the effect of a gospel-centered home.  Of the four hundred known descendants of Jonathan and Sara Edwards, fourteen became college presidents; roughly, one hundred became professors, another one hundred ministers, and about the same number became lawyers or judges. Nearly sixty became doctors, and others were authors or editors. The Edwards family pictures Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Paul wrote to the Philippians about the fact that our lives as followers of Christ should shine as luminaries or stars in a dark world. (Philippians 2).

What legacy will be left behind by the light shining from your life today?  Perhaps, a better question is, how and where is your light shining today?  Because, the light you shine today will impact others for generations to come.

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Go Home and Tell

In the New Testament, there is an intriguing story about Jesus not allowing someone to follow Him. In fact, the story is so important that it is found in three of the four Gospels. In the book of Luke, the story is found in chapter 8, verses 26-39.  The setting is the graveyard in an area known as the Gerasenes, or Decapolis, literally, “Ten Cities.”

The story sounds like something you might see in a fictional movie. An unnamed man, possessed by a number of demons, lived near Gerasenes. The community tried to bind him with chains because he was so dangerous and uncontrollable. When that didn’t work, they drove him out of the community to live among the tombs and graves.

As Jesus and His disciples crossed the sea of Galilee and landed near this graveyard, the demons who possessed this man recognized the power of God in the person of Jesus. The possessed man came running out to meet Jesus, and the demons yelled out, “Why have you come to torment us?”  The demons knew Jesus had power and authority over them.  They were afraid, and begged Him to allow them to leave the man and enter into a nearby herd of pigs.  Jesus agreed and ordered the demons to come out of the man, and enter the pigs.  When they did, the entire herd of pigs ran over a cliff, into the sea, and drowned. The man was healed.

As you can imagine, word of this spread quickly. When the townspeople heard what happened, they came to see for themselves.  When they arrived, they found the man sitting at Jesus’ feet, completely free of the demons.  Fear gripped the townspeople and they demanded Jesus leave their area, and return to Galilee.

Jesus complied, and He and His disciples started toward their boats to leave.  The healed man asked Jesus if he could come with Him. Jesus’ response may surprise us, but in His response is a powerful lesson. Jesus was indeed very concerned about this man, but He was equally concerned about the condition of the hearts of the the people in Decapolis. Jesus could see the big picture.  He could see beyond the miracle of casting out a legion of demons and setting one man free.  His plan, however, included more than just the transformation of one life. He wanted to set them all free from the “demons” in their lives. He wanted to heal them all.

Knowing all this, Jesus said to the healed man, “No, I don’t want you to come with us. I want you to go back home, back to Decapolis, and tell everyone what God has done for you.”

Jesus knew the best way to break down the barriers of fear, the best way to show  the grace and mercy of God,  and the most effective way to communicate the Gospel to these people would be through one of their own– the man He had freed from his demon possession.  This man was the link, the bridge, the connection between Jesus and the people of the region.  He was, in a real sense, the key to reaching the entire community of Decapolis with the Gospel.

What a powerful story!  Amazingly, the story didn’t end there.  The man who had been demon-possessed did exactly what Jesus told him to do.  Because of this, the message of God’s love and grace spread throughout the Ten Cities.  But, it started with this one man.  The man to whom Jesus said,  “No, you can’t come with us.  Go home and tell what great things God has done for you.”

This is the great commission in living color.  Go home and tell.  Go to the people in your sphere of influence, to your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors, and tell them about the great things God has done for you.

When was the last time you and I did this?  What keeps us from doing it?  God’s plan is to enter their lives, their homes, and their communities. His plan is for you and I to be the bridge into their world.  Just as the people in the Ten Cities were afraid and did not understand who Jesus was, many people around us, those in our circles of influence, do not understand who Jesus is, and they too are afraid.  We can be the bridge to see and know the Jesus we follow.

Will we “go home and tell?”

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Is Your Worship a Service or Is Service Your Worship?

What is the difference between a “worship service” and a “service of worship?” The answer to this question is critical to the future of the Church. It represents what I believe to be the heart and core of what it means to be the Church, the Body of Christ.

For many years, churches of all types and denominations have spent the bulk of their attention, time and resources on what takes place in their church facilities on Sunday mornings, calling these events worship services. Connecting worship to an event and calling it a “worship service,” in my opinion, has contributed to a distortion of the true meaning of Christian worship. The confusion becomes dangerous when these Sunday gatherings, some complete with state-of-the-art sound systems, and audiovisual equipment, become the primary focal point of our Christian life, and the centerpiece of our church’s image before the community. As an example, news reporters often refer to our church building as “houses of worship.”

To be sure, worship does take place every Sunday morning in church facilities across this nation and the world. Calling these gatherings “worship services” obscures the Biblical definition of worship. You do not find the term worship service anywhere in the New Testament. On the other hand, you do find the phrase “service of worship.” In Romans 12:1 (NASB), Paul wrote,

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”

Our “service of worship” according to this passage refers to giving our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Worship therefore, is not a service to attend, but rather a sacrifice to render to God.

There is great value in gathering together for worship services on Sunday. Hebrews 10:24-25 says we should “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some.” In this passage, the “assembling together” is for mutual edification and encouragement, not for worship.

Worship therefore, is much more than a gathering of believers. In the most basic sense of the word, it means to bring God honor, praise and glory!  It is an attitude of the heart lived out in daily actions that glorify God.  Jesus said it like this, “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Yes, gathering with other followers of Jesus is important. However, we must guard against reducing worship to an event, a song, a feeling, or a gathering of people. Genuine, biblical worship springs from our hearts and finds expression through our service to God each day, not just in a “worship service” on Sunday.

I believe churches would have a greater impact on their communities if they spent as much of their resources helping members discover how to worship God through daily service, as they do helping them attend and enjoy worship services on Sunday.

What does worship look like for us? Is it a weekly worship service we attend or is it a daily service of worship we give?

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Releasing the Missionary in You

Let me ask you, “What is your calling?  How many of you are members of a church?  How many are ministers in that church?  How many consider yourselves to be missionaries of that church?  Most would say they are members.   Some would say they are ministers; but only a few would say they are missionaries

The Apostle Paul wrote these words in Ephesians 4:1, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (NIV).

In our tradition we are taught that there is one calling for those who would be full-time ministers, usually missionaries or pastors, and another calling for the lay person.  Yet, when I read the Bible, I do not find this distinction.  There is only one calling of God. 

There is only one vocation to which we have all been called.  As followers of Jesus we are all missionaries.  We are all on mission.  Each one of us are called according to His purpose.  Are we not?  If not, then Romans 8:28 does not apply to all of us.  Paul writes in the verse, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, those who have been called according to his purpose.”  Yes, Paul told Timothy to set aside and appoint elders in the churches, and in his letter to Timothy, he explained the qualifications for those who would serve as elders and deacons.  However, he never said they were to be a different class of believers.  There is no distinction, in terms of their calling, between those who serve as elders and those who serve in other capacities in the churches.

Jesus called out twelve men to be His Apostles; but he never required of them anything different from what He required of all those who desired to follow Him.  To everyone, Jesus said, “If any man would follow me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23 NIV)

There are Spiritual gifts and each believer is given a different set of gifts to serve the Body.  We see this in Romans 12, 1Corinthians 12 and 14, and in Ephesians 4 that  different gifts are given to each person for the purpose of serving and building up the Body of Christ.  Yes, there are different gifts for different functions within the Body.  This is how the Body functions as a Body.  The only difference between these gifted people is the function or purpose they serve in the Body.  Their calling however is the same!

Our calling is to follow Christ and to make disciples everywhere we go.  I would submit to you that everyone reading this blog who has committed to your life to Jesus Christ is called to be on mission!  In other words, we are called to be a missionary – every single one of us, regardless of our function or spiritual gift.  We are called to be on mission and to be about the Father’s business and advance His Kingdom on earth.

If our calling is to advance God’s Kingdom by making disciples, how are we doing?  Are we making disciples?  How are we doing in our mission?  Look at what Paul said to the Corinthian church:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”  (2 Corinthians 4:17-20 NIV)

God called me, not just to be missionary in a foreign country, but He called me to be on mission everywhere I go.  Romans 8:28 applies to me.  I am the “called according to His purpose.” If God is calling me, what does He should I do?  Where does He want me to go?  What does He want me to do within that calling?

I am confident God will reveal the details of the where, the when, the what and the how of your missionary service and my missionary service as we respond in obedience to Him, as we say “Yes!  Yes, I will submit to You Lord!”  Paul wrote:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

God’s will for you is to be on mission for Him.  I pray you will all discover how to release the missionary within you!

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The “Marginal” Church

My article last week was about what it means to be an attractional church.  This week I want to focus on what it means to be a marginal church.  The term “marginal church” refers to the fact that we no longer live in a Christian culture in the United States, and that Christianity no longer enjoys a preferred status in our society.  In addition, the gap between the biblical worldview and that of the American culture continues to expand exponentially.  As a result, the church in Western societies finds itself marginalized.

The Bible has an important word for the marginalized church.  In 1 Peter 2:11, the Apostle uses a phrase to underscore the relationship between the church as a community of Christ followers, and the culture we are called to serve.   Peter refers to the believers as “strangers” and “aliens” living in a land where they have no home or family.  He also uses this same word in the salutation of the letter (1 Peter 1:1-2).

What does it mean to live as a stranger or an alien in a society and a culture you believe is your own?  We really don’t know. Yet, that is exactly what Christians must learn to do in the coming years.

From the time of Constantine (312 AD) until the mid-twentieth century, Christendom enjoyed a central place in Western culture and society – a place of privilege.  Christians assumed the culture of the church was similar to the culture of the world, or could claim it should be.  During the twentieth century, this began to change – beginning in Europe, and spreading to most of the Western world, religious pluralism and cultural secularism pushed Christianity to the edges of society.  Today, evangelical Christians are truly strangers living on the margins of society.

Most Christians however, do not know how to live in a post-Christian culture.  We continue to operate our churches and ministries as if we were still living in Christendom.  It is like waking up one day and discovering you are a missionary living in a foreign country, and you do not know the language or the culture.  You are not only an outsider, but everyone and everything in this new culture is hostile to you and to your message.

The single greatest challenge we face today is learning how to live and serve as strangers in a society that is increasingly hostile to religion in general, and to Christianity in particular.

Rather than being resentful or discouraged over the growing secularization of our culture, we should embrace this as an opportunity to clarify what it means to be a true follower of Jesus, and be willing to suffer and give our lives to glorify God.  Living on the margins of society gives us an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and give a clear witness to the true character of Jesus.

As missionaries in a foreign land, we will discover the methods and strategies used in Christendom, are not effective in a secular culture.  The society, and those who lead this society, have no place for God or religion in their worldview.  There is little or no common ground for conversations about guilt, faith, religion, or God.  Therefore, as missionaries, we must find the bridges into their world by learning their languages and by understanding their worldview.  Most of all, we must learn to do what Jesus did, to love them unconditionally.

The church (And all the expressions of church such as denominational entities, Christian ministries, etc.) must learn to live and serve on the margin of society, Those who do, will become the missionary force that changes the world.  Those who do not, will simply die or fade into irrelevance.

So, is yours a marginal church, or one headed for extinction?

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Attractional Church?

Mammoth Cave National Park, in south central Kentucky, is one of the oldest tourist attractions in North America.  People have visited this site since 1816. I often wonder what attracts people to these places. Is it the 400 miles of underground passageways in the longest cave in the world, or the hundreds of acres of woodlands in the beautiful Green River Valley surrounding the historic cave? Or, could it be the weird names of some of the small towns in the area such as Horse Cave, Cave City, Bear Wallow and Uno?  I have a deep attraction to that part of the world for a totally different reason. It is my home, the place where I grew up, and where my family lived, and still lives today.

Discovering what attracts people is multi-billion dollar business!  Corporations and businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year trying to attract people to their products, services, and places of business.  The same is true for churches and religious organizations. For the last twenty years or so, many Christian denominations have focused most of their resources and training efforts to help leaders and pastors develop “seeker friendly” strategies.

It is important to make sure our churches and the events held in our buildings are attractive and welcoming.  We need to be sensitive to those who are seeking answers to life’s questions, and to those who need help sorting out all the many challenges life brings. However, we are not simply selling a product or drawing people to an event.  There is an eternal dimension to who we are, and to what we do as followers of Christ that cannot be overlooked.  It is found in Jesus’ words to some of the Gentiles who were visiting Jerusalem.  Evidently, they heard about the miracles Jesus was doing, and they came to His disciples asking, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:20 ESV)

How did Jesus respond?  He talked about His death and resurrection.  He spoke of His disciples following Him.  And, then He said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.” The dimension we must always keep in mind is that Jesus is both the attraction and the attractor. It is not important how they see us, but it is very important how they see Him.

What really attracts someone to God?  What draws someone into a relationship with the Living God, and ultimately compels them to allow this attraction to transform their lives?  It is Jesus! It is not what we believe about Jesus, or what we say about Him.  It is Him.  Do they see Him?  Do they see Him in the way we treat one another in our churches?  Do they see Him in how we demonstrate compassion for the poor?  Do they see Him when we demonstrate forgiveness and mercy with each other and with total strangers?

As pastors and leaders, we need to learn, it is not about building attractional buildings, programs or events, but growing an attractional community – the community of faith.  This is what really matters!  I think this is what Jesus had in mind when He said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, ‘If you have love one for another.” (John 13:35 NKJV)

Frankly, it does not matter how you greet people coming into your church building, or how impressed they are with your worship services, if they do not see Jesus in you, and in the way you live your life.  If they do not see Him, their attraction to your church will be superficial and short-lived. Make sure they see Jesus! He should be the main and the only attraction in our worship services!

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The Ultimate Undercover Boss

Personally, I do not care for most “reality” television shows today.  There is one exception however. I really enjoy Undercover Boss.  I especially enjoy watching people’s reaction when they learn they have just spent a day working alongside the CEO of their company.

In each episode, hidden cameras follow a different executive each week on an undercover mission to examine how their company functions. The executives step out of the comfort of their cushy offices to work alongside their employees, and in the process discovers how decisions made in the corporate office impact the average employee. They get an “up-close” and personal look at both the good and the bad. Occasionally, they discover incredible, unsung heroes -people who make their companies great.  Often times the mission turns up some mediocre performances and disappointing attitudes.

I’m still not sure why I like it so much.  Perhaps, at some level, I enjoy watching the poor performers get their just desserts. You have to admit, there is a bit of “sweet justice” when a jerk comes face to face with the boss who saw them for who they really are.  On the other hand, it is also inspiring to see an unsung hero discovered and rewarded for his loyalty and sacrificial service.

On a deeper and more important level, as followers of Christ, we have the Ultimate Undercover Boss!  Jesus spoke often about the “Father, who sees in secret” (Matthew 6:6), and examines the motives of the heart.  Psalms 139 speaks of the One who “knows when I sit down, and when I stand up”, and “knows my every thought from afar.”  He even “knows what I am going to say before I say it.”  Then the Psalmist concludes, “Such knowledge is too great for me to comprehend.”

He is ever-present, and all knowing.  In a real sense of the word, God is the Ultimate Undercover Boss!  Perhaps that’s why Paul urged the believers in the church at Colossae, “Whatever you do, work at with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Col. 3:23), and to the Corinthians he said, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

On the show, people put their jobs, and even their future, on the line by not recognizing their boss is right in front of them, watching and listening to how they are treating customers and co-workers.  In the same way, the Ultimate Undercover Boss is always listening, always watching, and always aware of the unspoken attitudes and feelings in our hearts.

Paul reminded his readers, “So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home, in the body or away from it.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:9-10)

In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about of the separation of the sheep and goats at the final judgment. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did (or did not do), for one of the least of these my brothers, you did (or did not do) for Me.

What would you do, or say differently, if you knew the person with whom you are speaking today is, in fact, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe – the Ultimate Undercover Boss!

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