“God designed the city to be first a place of refuge and shelter for the weak.” Redeemer Magazine article, “City”
The city was not my first choice for ministry. To be blunt it was not even in my top 10 destinations to serve. Yet for whatever reason God placed me there and continues to draw me back to it like a moth to light. There are many other much more appealing locations to plop down and call home. If I close my eyes I imagine a white sandy beach and world championship golf courses. Alas, that has not been my ministry story. Instead, it has been raw, hardcore urban centers where there are real hurts, deep pain, and broken windows and lives. Yes, there was violence, danger, and drug addiction, but mixed in with that you find genuine, authentic people who desire more, hope for a different future, and want to make life better for the next generation. It is that backdrop that is often missed when you think of our major metropolitan communities. The sweet souls spoiled by the sinister sin around them.
Why Should the Church care about the City?
The easiest answer to the question is because God cares. In Israel’s time, God designed some special cities as a place of refuge. In a must-read book by John L. Thompson, “Urban Impact.” He quotes from RedeemerMagazine “Today the city is a place where minorities can cluster for support in an alien land, where new immigrants can work together for a foothold in a new world, where refugees can find shelter, and where the homeless and poor can better eke out an existence.” He then adds this compelling statement, “The weak and the powerless need the city because they cannot survive in the suburbs and small towns.” Imagine if you will the impact the Christian church could have if it embraced the kingdom opportunities the city affords them. Sadly, far too often the church has abandoned the city for those white sandy beaches of suburbia.
The City is the Center of all the Action
God designed the city to be the center of cultural and human development. That same RedeemerMagazinearticle, “City” points out, “The city brings you into contact with so many people with different abilities and skills, producing greater works of art, science, technology, and culture.” The city is the epicenter of life, culture, and it used to be, religion. Revelation 18, points out that there is a very present danger that the voice of God could be drowned out in the city.
“23The light of a lamp
will never shine in you again.
The voice of bridegroom and bride
will never be heard in you again.
Your merchants were the world’s important people.
By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.
24In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people,
of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.”
What can the Church Do?
I know you are sitting at your computer going, “Duh!” Possibly even sarcastically asking “so what do we do Einstein?” Simple, you do what the church does best, discipleship. Discipleship is not more classes. We are creating spiritually obese Christians. We are stuffing them with the word of God but not sending them out to exercise the faith they have been ingesting. Discipleship involves us learning how to set a Christ-like example for others to follow. The church needs leaders who impact others for Christ and His kingdom. Imagine the power of leaders who come alongside others like Jesus did to encourage, to equip, to hold them accountable, and guide them through this maze of a post-Christian context, while along the way helping the body of Christ to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their urban community. This method of discipleship helps us create a presence in the city for God.
In the vision for my blog I made my readers a promise. That promise was to be real. This past week my soul grieved. In my church body, we are going through a trying time. Our numbers have been declining for the last twenty years or so. This conflict has led to heated debates on what direction we should take. The natural tendency when you are sick is to ignore all the signs. You just hope the illness goes away, or to try radical new treatments to save the dying organization. Both sides of this pendulum are colliding with tremendous force in my church body. And this week I got caught in the middle of it. I am not on either side. I just want to find a way to connect those far from Jesus to Jesus.
At fifty plus years old I have reached a point in my life where I have no taste for fighting anymore. God’s mission is too important. Those far from God are too important. As we look at Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, the next section deals with unity. Jesus prayed that the believers be united. So, today as I a write this, I have a heavy heart. I too wish we could stop fighting against each other and fight against our common opponent Satan and his army.
A Prayer for Unity.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23
William Wallace, the leading character in the movie “Braveheart” chastised his fellow Scots for allowing minor issues, internal strife, and power struggles to stand in the way of their fight for independence from the English. “We have beaten the English, but they’re back because you won’t stand together.” I feel that is what is happening far too often in the church. The enemy, Satan, has been defeated. When Jesus Christ rose on Easter Sunday, the message was clear. “Satan, you are finished! Christ is victorious.” But with our internal fights and disagreements, we have turned the sweet taste of victory into the bitterness of defeat. Understand, I realize disagreement is a part of relationships, but what is not normal is the inability to move one. When there are issues that need correcting, the church needs to have those discussions. If we fail to teach the truth of God’s word we are doing the work of Christ a disservice. There also needs to be a desire at the end of the day to work together to do our shared mission.
In this High Priestly prayer notice how often the word “one” is used. “One” it appears in verse 21, twice in 11 and 22. The unity of God’s church should reflect the unity of the Father and the Son. Verse 23 reveals to us the nature of this agreement: the Son is obedient to the Father, and the Father loves the Son (v 23). Paul describes us as many members, but one body (Rom 12:4-5, Col 3:15).
To be crystal clear, to be one is not the absence of opinions. Opinions are healthy. But this unity is the lack of divisions. The church causes the greatest damage when it allows disagreement and disunity to grow in the body like an open sore. That open sore unchecked only festers and swells and spreads until it kills the body. Disunity weakens the effectiveness of the gospel. It scatters the flock. Disunity muffles the church’s witness in the world. The outside world looks at a church without unity and asks, “Who can believe their message?”
Let us not be divided, but united, to grow the church into what God would have it be. A pastor reminded me when I started in ministry, “there is nothing on earth like the local church when it is working right. It has the power to transform and changes lives.” Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ know that He is praying for you.
Jesus wants us to live as children of God. He promises to give us the strength to face whatever comes. Remember to pray for those around you and those far away. Bear in mind that we are to be salt and light to a bland and dark world. Bear in mind that Jesus is praying for us. Be like the tree of Psalm 1, “…their delight is in the law of the Lord…They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in due season.”
Other posts in this series on Prayer:
As I read and studied this movement, it brought back memories of my childhood. When our church pews were most often filled it was at harvest home. This was the season we gathered together to worship God and share a meal. It was our time of celebration at the rich bounty of God’s abundance in our lives over the past year. We gathered to rejoice and experience community, lay aside any differences and for the sake of unity. Harvest home provided much-needed fellowship centered around, good food, Christian friends and a shared mission. And the music, oh the music, especially this communion hymn.
Some say this old spiritual song, dating back to the 18th century, was the password used by slaves to allow entrance into secret, forbidden worship meetings in Virginia. Originally, the first line was evidently, “Let us praise God together on our knees”.
Let us break bread together on our knees, (on our knees)
Let us break bread together on our knees. (on our knees)
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.
What has happened to that sense of community? Our lives are cluttered, our sense of community measured, our lives too often internally focused. I long to venture back to the Acts concept of community. Read it and be inspired, encouraged, motivated. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
What is it?
Paul Nixon of The Epicenter Group has an excellent explanation of the phenomenon.
“It is one of the fastest growing formats for Christian gathering in North America. Dinner Church is multiplying by one of the most organic methods: people are copying other people. While you might find an occasional network here or there – or intentional planting of new dinner gatherings in a few places – most of the time, Dinner Church begins in a new place because a group heard about it in another place, went and visited, and decided that it would work back in their hometowns. This form of gathering is possibly as easy to replicate in our culture as Methodist class meetings were two hundred years ago. .
Why Is it Working?
This movement is exploding because it is organic, easily replicated and mobile.
You have a gathering of people who meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. At the heart of the ministry, attraction are some of my favorite elements, food, faith, and fellowship. All the important things happen at the dinner table. Wasn’t that the truth for many Americans, the dinner table was the epicenter of family life. Here there is a meal, but the group does not meet first and then eat. Nor do they eat dinner, and then go to church. The beauty of Dinner Church is worship, fellowship, and food all happen simultaneously. The dinner table is the place where an authentic community is formed. What is most amazing about this movement is who it’s attracting: the unconnected. More on the why of that in the coming weeks.
“20 Look! I’m standing at the door and knocking. If any hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to be with them and will have dinner with them, and they will have dinner with me” Revelation 3:20. A great reminder of the heart of Jesus. He still likes having dinner with sinners and He invites His followers to set the table.
Stay tuned more movement studies to come!
In The Service of an Awesome God!
19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” Joshua 24:19
Our deep dive into the heart of servant leadership continues. In the first post, we covered the subject that leaders are bold and courageous. Today we unpack the call for boldness.
Myron Rush identifies tough issues facing every Christian leader in The New Leader. These two qualities will serve as the basis for this post and Joshua will be our test subject.
– You must be willing to go against public opinion to promote what you believe.
– You must be willing to stand alone.
The Background of Joshua 24.
This section of Scripture is Joshua’s second farewell address. Joshua was speaking to Israel’s leaders and many of the people (24:1). At the center of his message was true leadership, service. During this address, some form of the word ‘serve’ will appear fourteen times.
To be crystal clear Joshua began his message by saying, “‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel …’“ (v. 2). He wanted no doubt in the minds of the people, service is right from the mouth of God. Joshua was not sharing his opinion nor something he gleaned from the latest Canaanite philosopher. His message on service came from God himself. The Ancient of Days was the one demanding their faithful service. Joshua was merely his messenger.
You must be willing to go against public opinion to promote what you believe.
Joshua was fighting an uphill battle. Israel was in a land where many false gods were worshipped. It is Joshua’s task to redefine service, so the people will not mistake God’s will. Joshua’s message from God is contrary to public opinion. The people wanted to have their God and false gods too. God countered this desire by demanding His due while repudiating all false gods.
Service means first and foremost to give God his due, to fear him and then to serve him with sincerity and truth (v. 14). As Ellsworth describes it, “To fear God is to hold him in reverence and awe and to tremble at his displeasure. To serve him in sincerity is to serve him wholeheartedly. To serve him in truth means to serve faithfully.
They could not serve God and other gods. So, Joshua called them to put away the gods which their fathers had worshipped and the gods which were so plentiful there in the land of Canaan (v. 15).”
Joshua lifts this leadership principal for our viewing. As a leader, you must stand in opposition to public opinion. As the culture continues to shift away from Christian values those stands will become more public and more frequent.
You must be willing to stand alone.
As Joshua makes his stand, it appears all is well. The leadership responds, of course, that they will serve the one true God. “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods,…”Joshua 24:16
Joshua sensed triteness in their words. So, He strongly challenged their hollow confession by saying, “‘You cannot serve the Lord …’” (v. 19).
Joshua is warning the people that God is not to be taken lightly, because He is a holy God and a jealous God. God knows their hearts. If they are not sincere in their vow to serve, God would detect it and would judge them.
“If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” Joshua 24:20
Leaders must stand for what is right even when they must stand alone. Joshua would not allow his flock to determine his actions nor shake his unwavering commitment to His God. There will be times as a leader when you must stand alone, but if you are in the will of God you are never truly alone. God stands with you in the gap and upholds you with His might and power.
Stay tuned as we continue to drill deeper into leadership next week.
Other posts on leadership in the series:
It’s Monday and going back to the grind of daily life can be a hard day. Sunday afforded us an opportunity to reconnect with you and be fed and nourished by you. Now, Monday brings the dance of another week all over again it is the beginning of a work adventure, possibly new challenges, new adventures, or new opportunities. This is a week filled with potential and potholes. So, I pray you would help us to embrace this day and trust in you this day.
Let it be a new day and a wonderful day. Help us to see beyond the clouds and embrace the sunrise. Let us not focus on the rain but the ripples of your grace in the oceans. Create in us a passion to embrace those you created and value them as you do as ones loved by the Almighty. Help us not focus on the tensions and troubles in our lives, but live ours with a spirit of gratitude. Monday need not be the grudge day to be endured but the fun day to be embraced. May this truly be a happy Monday. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
“Teach the wise, and they will become wiser; inform the righteous, and their learning will increase.”– Proverbs 9:9
I have this saying. It keeps me grounded and avoids unnecessary frustration in life. During times of frustration with systems, I can’t change. Or situations, where decisions are being made that to not just me, but many others also think, will be disastrous. It is a great time to take a step back and just remind myself, “You can’t stop stupid and trying to fix stupid hurts.” Don’t take this saying the wrong way. It is not a self-righteous approach, in that I know everything and this poor slob is an idiot. No, it is based more on the painful life lessons that you can tell people things to try and help them avoid unwanted pain and agony, but at the end of the day, many of choices people make are out of your hands. For me, the statement is empowering. This philosophy of intervention says that you can bang your head against the wall of resistance only so long, but in the end, you can’t force people to do anything they do not want to do. So, you have a choice keep battling, or sit back and provide support when they fail. A very insightful quote to ponder, “Experience comes from what we have done. Wisdom comes from what we have done badly.” -Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School.
It is easy to be critical of leaders, that is often why leaders are resistant to listen. If you have served in any leadership capacity, you have learned to be leery of advice. While the outsiders see leaders as resistant to change, often the reality is a long history of being burned by advice. With that in mind here are three ways to support the resistant leader in your midst.
Three Ways to Grow as a Leaders
John Maxwell points out that “managers work with processes – leaders work with people.” 
As servant leaders you are not leading robots, you are shepherding the hearts and souls of saints. To lead people well, you must be transparent and vulnerable. Yes, you will get hurt as you lead sinners. To lead people, you have to give them space to lead and not just be managed. This change in leadership philosophy will move you from a level one manager to a level five leader.
2. Invest in relationships.
“People won’t go along with you if they can’t get along with you.”
One of the most overlooked aspects of leadership is the power of relationships. When I was a young leader, I remember pushing a new vision for the congregation. That vision- casting fell flat on its face because I had not won the hearts of my leaders first. Our number one job as a leader is to connect with people.
3. Know when to push and when to back off.
“Successful leaders make the right move at the right moment with the right motive.”
Leadership is a dance. There are times to push the ministry, and there are times we need to pull back on the reigns. As a leader, you need people around you who are brutally honest such as a team or an individual who has their finger on the pulse of the organization and can see things the leader may be missing or misleading. Reading the atmosphere of the organization will help us determine the appropriate next steps. Leadership is not easy but done effectively it can transform the lives of a ministry.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (ESV) 1 Corinthians 12:4–7
Having served with and on many different teams on this perfectly created biosphere during the course of my fifty plus years of my existence, I have come to the realization that doing ministry is challenging. Team ministry is uniquely challenging because sin has an ugly way of rearing its head and messing with us. Our natural inclination is to elevate and even overestimate our importance to the team, to God and His kingdom. It is so easy to believe that the very life and fruitfulness of the ministry rises and falls on our spiritual gifts alone. The truth of the matter is that a fruitful God-pleasing ministry does not contain one dominate gift nor gift-recipient, like a good salad the perfect team and ministry has more than one recognizable ingredient. A good salad is not all lettuce or dominated by onions or garlic unless you are trying to keep people or vampires away. An effective ministry team like a good salad encompassing a wide variety of flavors and gifts. Each spiritual gift is unique and retains its distinctness but when mixed into a well-oiled team packs and incredible kingdom punch that can meet human hurts and needs in a holistic way, that one single gift could never do.
As a background text for this post, we will dig into the issues the apostle Paul was facing the church in Corinth. The believers in that church were fighting over spiritual gifts. You may have been in a situation where there are people on your team who believe their gifts are far superior to anyone else’s gifts on the team and they have no problem reminding the team how gifted they are. People tend to get enamored with the gifts that are more public. The gifted orator, the dynamic teacher, shrewd administrator and overlook the people whose gifts are behind the scene, but are critical to the success of the ministry. Gifts like hospitality, the ability to welcome the stranger and make them feel like a part of the family. The organizer, who has the ability to take the leaders vision and work out the details of what it’s takes to make this dream a reality. The volunteer coordinators, who can get people to give up their free time to come and join you on a greater mission for the kingdom. In the next two weeks join me on an adventure and learn six lessons about spiritual gifts.
Paul establishes the foundations of his answer in six ways. We will cover three in this post and three in the following post.
The Greek word Paul uses in verse 1 means ‘spiritual matters’ but verse 4 and Paul uses the Greek word charisma to distinguish the shifting of the discussion to spiritual gifts.
The Corinthian pagans should serve as a caution to the church. Their pagan background shows how easy it is to become carried away in jubilant worship and lead astray by a flashy, charismatic orator, even one who is articulating falsehoods in the name of a false god. Thus, Paul is warning the people not to be blindly inspired by the gifts and ignore who it is that is the giver of the gifts, namely God. Our message must be inspired by the Spirit of God. Our gifts must only be used to share with the world the saving message of the Christ and Him crucified. The truth of God’s word is our test for whether the gifts we possess are being used to the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.
A nationwide poll was taken in the United States on religious questions. When asked whether they believed in God, 95 percent of those polled answered “yes.” When asked whether religion in any way affected their politics and their business, 54 percent said “no.” They had a belief, but they did not have a directing faith. Faith is action. Faith encompasses the entire spectrum of life’s encounters and experiences.
No true Christian could call anyone but Christ “Lord,” so this was a definite test of whether or not a person was saved. It is only by the Spirit that we can confess Christ as Lord.
The church is not a gallery where we exhibit the finest of Christians. No, it is a school where we educate and encourage imperfect Christians.
The church has been blessed with diversity and bounded together in unity by our God. While our personalities and our gifts all differ, yet they work together for the health of the body of believers, the Church. We have been gifted at our baptism with gifts from the Holy Spirit (v. 4). Each of us has been called into service by the same Lord Jesus Christ (v. 5). Each of us shares in the workings of the same Father (v. 6).
As we serve with these band of brothers and sister in God’s kingdom it is helpful to keep us grounded to remember why we serve. We don’t serve to puff ourselves up. We serve because we hold to one common faith. We have one common baptism. We serve the one and only one unique Savior, Jesus Christ. This common good is what unites us and binds us together into the perfect team.
 Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively (Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively (Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
My first call into ministry made it apparent that if this ministry thing would work out, I needed to be a better leader. Like so many things in my life, I had to work hard to make progress on that front. I studied at feet of some the giants in leadership. Those leaders were considered on the cutting edge and at that moment in time the best church leaders I could find. One thing continued to rise to the surface, “Leaders are courageous.” For Christian leaders that courage does not come from internal confidence in our ability, it comes from unwavering trust in our God. We can lead with boldness, with courage because we know that the mission we are called to accomplish is the mission God gave His church. With that as the backdrop of what I will say next here is a great piece I ran across about leadership.
Myron Rush identifies tough issues facing every Christian leader in The New Leader. We are wise to ponder them slowly.
– You must be willing to stand alone.
– You must be willing to go against public opinion in order to promote what you believe.
– You must be willing to risk failure.
– You must become master of your emotions.
– You must strive to remain above reproach.
– You must be willing to make decisions others don’t want to make.
– You must be willing to say no at times, even when you’d like to say yes.
– You must sometimes be willing to sacrifice personal interests for the good of the group.
– You must never be content with the average; you must always strive for the best.
– People must be more important to you than possessions.
– You will have to work harder to keep your life in balance than people do who are not leaders.
Paul Borthwick, Leading the Way, Navpress, 1989, pp. 177-178.
Because each of these points is so important, I will over the course of the next few weeks dig deeper into each one. Leadership is complicated, and it often comes at a significant cost. Where many leaders fail is being unwilling or unaware of just how difficult that task of leading is. Some leaders underestimating the value of leading while others are reluctant to take risks. No matter the reason the results of not providing a clear path is churches get stuck in neutral. Whether you like it or not you have been called to serve, to shepherd, to guide and to lead. Leaders help guide to church to find their mission and calling from God and live up to their potential. The goal of this series is not to cause leaders more guilt; there is more than enough of to go around. Nor is it to criticize their choices, no one knows what tough choices leaders have to make until they walk in their shoes. My goal, my hope, my prayer is to encourage leaders and give them the tools they need to lead their congregations into the ministry they were given the divine privilege to do. All this from the heart of one who had to learn the hard way the pain of not leading. I will end this post with the words Paul finished his prayer for the Ephesians. “20 Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; 21glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.” Ephesians 3: 20-21
Other posts in the bold leadership series:
As different as we humans are from one another, we all age along the same great sequence, and the shared patterns of our lives pass into the pages of the books we love. In this moving talk, journalist Joshua Prager explores the stages of life through quotations from Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, William Trevor and other great writers, set to visualizations by graphic designer Milton Glaser. “Books tell us who we’ve been, who we are, who we will be, too,” Prager says.
Fitness From Within
<MIRRORING GOD AND CHRISTIANITY>
A life devoted to living by faith
"She would be half a planet away, floating in a turquoise sea, dancing by moonlight to flamenco guitar"
Broadcasting the Great Word of Our Savior from Faribault, Minnesota to the World!!
Grace, hope and Truth for each day.
Let's work together to overcome PTSD, panic, anxiety, depression in ourselves and others.