Month: November 2004

Evans: Serve God in your generation

PLANO?Everyone will die someday and give an account, Tony Evans reminded the sixth Southern Baptists of Texas Convention President’s Luncheon Oct. 26.

Christians are too caught up in living life?school, job, family, retirement, leaving an inheritance?that they give little thought, much less effort, toward what they are sending on ahead of them.

“It’s important to know what you’re here for,” said Evans, pastor of the 6,000-member Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, Dallas. “We are so busy doing other things that God only gets a glance on Sunday.”

He said the reason Christians are not taken home to heaven at the moment of salvation is because God has a purpose for their lives. Evans used the epitaph of David in Acts 13:36?”For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep”?to show that God expects those who bear his name to live this life for eternal purposes.

Evans related a Christian’s impact on society with the influence of a store-front “dummy.” The owners, he said, dress up the dummies in the windows of downtown New York department stores. The dummies are well dressed and good-looking.

“Dummies are making you stop” and sometimes lure you into the store to make a purchase.

“On your best day, you’re a dummy,” he told the crowd. “Everything you have is a gift from the owner ? and given to you to attract people into ‘the store.'”

Too often, he said, Christians use what God has given them for their own selfish gain.

God’s purpose is for each Christian is to impact society just as David did.

“Your job,” Evans said, “is to impact this generation. ? If you do not do that you become a spiritual leech. There is a generation out there that desperately needs hope and help.”

Evans challenged those at the luncheon?which included members of the weekly Prestonwood Power Lunch Bible study?to consider the approach of their death. He said people either have death facing them or the imminent return of Christ. “One day they’re going to close the box on you ? The question won’t be what you left behind but what did you forward ahead?”

What will happen when a Christian stands before God and has nothing to show for the life and possessions God gave him? In his closing prayer, Evans asked on behalf of all Christians, “Show me [God] why you left me here.”

Speaker’s circumstances reveal God’s glory

PLANO?Jennifer Rothschild does not want to be defined by her circumstances but by how God is using her circumstances to reveal his glory. Although blinded by a degenerative eye disease at age 15, Rothschild said that was not the defining moment of her life and that God continues to refine her.

Having gained prominence as a Christian women’s speaker and author, Rothschild became aware that she was known as the “blind speaker”?a moniker she did not protest as long as there was not a period at the end of that descriptive sentence. She told the women gathered for the annual SBTC Women’s Luncheon at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention annual meeting Oct. 25 that learning to walk by faith and not by sight is no more applicable to her because of her blindness. Every woman who knows Jesus has been freed from the bonds of blindness and allowed to see what is beyond her circumstances, she said.

Years ago, when her family received the news of her diagnosis of complete blindness, Rothschild said it was a long, silent ride home. Upon entering the house, Rothschild said she went to the piano. Having not been able to read the sheet music for many months, Rothschild said she sat down and did something she had never done before?play a song by ear. The tune she played was the theme of her discourse with the women at the conference: “It Is Well with My Soul.”

“It does not have to be well with our circumstances in order to be well with my soul,” she said. God uses our circumstances to reform and refine us.

There were times when she did not understand why God?for his glory?did not heal her. She admitted to having a shortsighted understanding of the story of the blind man’s healing in John 9. Rothschild said she had always believed that the miraculous healing of the man was what brought glory to God. Verse 3 says, “? this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

But that very God who chooses to heal for purposes of revealing himself also “allows those very same circumstances to continue so his glory may be revealed in the midst of the difficult circumstances.”

And, sometimes, she added, God allows those circumstances to remain until his work is done. He chooses not to remove his children from their difficulties but see them through.

She told the women that God will choose to keep them on the potter’s wheel until he has completely molded them into the new creation he desires them to be. Quoting Joni Erickson Tada, Rothschild said, “Sometimes God allows what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves.” God hates to see his children suffer, she said, but he loves to see them rely on him completely and develop fortitude of faith amid troubles.

Quoting 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Rothschild said all of the sufferings of a Christian are temporary in comparison to life in eternity and the things people are blind to in this life will be revealed in eternity.

Remembering our place

In his introduction to “Who Runs the Church?” a new title from Zondervan, author Engle Cowan decries the small regard many theologians and church leaders give to the issue of church governance. This neglect, he says, is based on the notion that the Bible says little definitive about governance. This idea has resulted in little or no emphasis being placed on the subject during most seminary training. Cowan’s book and “Perspectives on Church Government” from Broadman and Holman have brought the discussion back to the forefront. I’m working through the two books now and we plan to explore the different models at work in Texas Southern Baptist churches in a future issue.

Reading on the subject naturally brought to mind the snares and excesses I’ve seen in churches that wrestle with leadership issues. There are naturally two parties in church governance: one is the recognized leadership whether employed, elected, appointed, or born to the position; the other is the congregation, which gives assent by voting and/or supporting and participating in the ministry. Both groups have crucial roles to play as they work together within the body of Christ.

Leaders exist to serve the best interests of the body. This is not always identical with the felt needs of the group or the personal vision of the leader. It is apparently difficult to negotiate this narrow path. Some leaders have become irrelevant as they seek to stay ahead of the whims of the majority. Equally amiss is the tendency to think that people are obligated to follow as the leader pursues an agenda that fulfills him.

Leaders must also know themselves. Those who seek to insulate themselves from accountability are like the man in James 1:23-24 who forgets his face after leaving the mirror. We are imperfect and subject to temptations. Unless we accept the counsel of others knowledgeable of our lives, we will fade and fall.

A leader who knows himself will work to avoid temptation. So much in prominence plays to our vanity. Good leaders have been ruined by loving flattery. We all need those people who say kind things to us whether we deserve it or not. It levels out those for whom we can do no right. But when we dwell on praise, we may start to believe we deserve it.

Leaders may also be tempted by a sense of self-importance. Our ministries are of little eternal value if we are their focus and power. A leader who sees himself as frail and dependent on his Creator will take comfort in the fact that his work will be significant beyond his ability to lead it. Others may find such a notion unwelcome.

The leader who cannot see the boundary between himself and his ministry may also come to see his own desires to be synonymous with the good of the ministry. This is more often seen in long-tenured leaders. He is trusted, comfortable, and more effective than in earlier days. His whole day and energy may be tied up in his ministry; so the line between private agendas and ministry-related ones is hard to judge. His friends, hobbies, mail, phone calls, evenings, and even vacations might arguably be called ministry-related. He may therefore see the resources of the ministry to be justly at his disposal.

A second danger of this same mindset is the urge to protect the ministry by shielding its trusted and effective leader from the consequences of his mistakes. In more than one notable case, church leaders conspired to conceal and ongoing extra-marital affair involving their leader, “for the sake of the ministry.” It seems extreme but it is only different in extent from the behavior of leaders who believe that they are the ministry.

Just as many of us are leaders in one context or another, we are also followers in other settings. That role also has responsibilities necessary for the health of a church or institutional ministry.

Followers must also be committed to the good of the larger body. It is common for church members or board members to see their role as catching their leaders in a mistake. That attitude is as self-serving as any vain thing a leader might fall into.

When Paul says love “hopes all things” in 1 Corinthians 13:7, I think the opposite of that is the cynicism that causes us to assume that our leaders are trying to pull something. That is usually not the case. Most errors are honestly made and do not require a harsh punitive reaction. When we hope good things of our leaders, we trust God to correct his own servant and his own ministry. If we are diligent (not paranoid) followers we are doing our part to maintain the purity of the ministry. Assuming the worst is seldom constructive.

The urgency of world missions

My first trip overseas was startling. I went into Russia a couple of years after the fall of the Soviet Union on an evangelistic trip. I didn’t want to be there much more than Jonah wanted to preach in Nineveh. A generation of Americans grew up thinking of “the Russians” as the main threat to freedom and safety in the world. As a nation, I didn’t love Russia. Of course that changed as I actually met people and lived with them for a few days. Scores of the Russians we met accepted Jesus. It changed my heart also.

The trip also startled me because I had come to consider my part in preaching and evangelism to be more important than it is. Preaching and witnessing through a lost interpreter for a week emptied whatever persuasion existed in my words. The Holy Spirit was on his own and glorified God in spite of my clumsy work. God wanted me to be there but the work of evangelism did not depend on me. It’s an important lesson.

People will say a lot of things on behalf of world missions during this season. The mission is urgent. The laborers are too few. The necessary resources are already in the hands of God’s people. We should give and send and go as we are able. I believe these things but we should also avoid thinking or saying that God’s will is captive to our strategies. There are plenty of solid reasons for supporting missions.

First I offer a couple of warnings. There are some inadequate reasons for evangelism and missions. However well intended, work laid on a shaky foundation will be limited and temporary. For example, we note that our obedience does not obligate God. We cannot secure the salvation of a country, group, or individual by mere strategy. Perhaps it is his will that we preach or otherwise serve without any apparent harvest. Our continued service is not contingent on our evaluation of success. Our Master will judge our work, and decide when it is sufficient in scale or duration. Smart planning is great and worthy; a great harvest is exciting and blessed. Our success is not cast in these terms, though.

On a related note, we don’t go to the world because we think we might hurry or hinder the return of Jesus. That reading of Matthew 24:14 has reared its head a couple of times in modern history (one that comes to mind was the inception of Bold Mission Thrust back in the 70s, when an SBC agency head suggested that the initiative would impact the Lord’s plans). It ignores passages like Colossians 1:6?where Paul refers to the gospel bearing fruit in “all the world”?and redefines the “imminent” return of Jesus so that we know at least when he can’t come. Pursuing missions for these reasons becomes a doomed attempt at manipulation. It implies a level of control over God’s will that the Scriptures do not support.

The best reason to go is that God tells us to go. “As you are going?” is my favorite reading of the first phrase of the Great Commission. As we go through our days, as we travel on business, as we go on vacation, as we go to the bank and so on. We also have the example of Paul and even his non-apostle friends that some of the going should be intentionally missionary. Some churches aided Paul in his journey as they were able, and beyond that.

Sure, God tells us something of his purpose and even his methods?he does not keep us ignorant. The point remains that obedience is a sufficient reason for missions and evangelism. Because of our own stubbornness, other reasons will not always compel us. God does not have to convince us that he is right. It is enough that we are convinced that the Lord is God. That was the lesson for Job and Elijah.

Like Jonah and me, Christians go because we must. The blessing is that joy usually accompanies our obedience if we will have it. It worked that way in my Russian experience but I’m not sure how Jonah finally felt about things.

There is also an indebtedness that accompanies our redemption. Paul refers to this in Romans 1:14-15. God’s revelation of himself is the key to eternal life for all who hear. The gospel we carry is God’s and the debt is ultimately to him, but he also gives it to us for delivery to others. Salvation is ours but we are additionally like UPS guys carrying a package with someone else’s address on it. We deliver.

As implied above, we are further motivated to missions by love for others. It is the natural result of God’s love shown to us. Maybe you’re like me and have trouble loving a nation or the faceless crowd, but we cannot be indifferent to individuals whom God loves. It’s not in our new nature. Love for others is both a result and a demonstration of our love for God. If we love God or people we will do something about it. Missions is thus the natural result of our sanctification.

OK, if we have good and biblical reasons for world missions, why do it according to the Southern Baptist model? Several reasons seem pertinent in our day.

Cooperative missions is a biblical concept. The churches in the New Testament era provided support for one another as well as for missions work. Cooperation also reflects that fact that we have some very important things in common through the indwelling Spirit and the lordship of Christ. These transcend many cultural barriers, even among those people of the same nation and language. The more we have in common with other churches in matters of interpretation and practice, the more closely we can cooperate in missionary endeavors. That’s what it means to be in a denomination.

The wisdom and stewardship of this model is also biblical. The fact that cooperative missions works honors biblical principles of wisdom and stewardship.

An Empty Chair

We are in the midst of the holiday season. It is amazing that Christmas comes earlier each year or maybe that is just the way it seems to me. It is the wonderful time to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ!

This summer June, Nathan and I visited the North Pole. Actually, it was North Pole, Alaska, a small town outside of Fairbanks. My wife starts Dec. 26 preparing for the next Christmas. To visit North Pole, Alaska was truly a treat for all of us.

Christmas has always been a premier family event in our home. We seek to honor the Lord. Usually one of the children reads the birth narrative of Jesus. We pray together.

From a purely fellowship aspect, food takes center place. This year will be different at the Richards’ home. There will be an empty chair. June’s dad and my mother both passed away last summer. When we sit down with our families, for the first time in our lives the chair will be empty where our loved one sat.

Theoretically, I have known that holidays were difficult for many people. Experientially, it happened to me about 10 years ago when my dad went to be with the Lord. Now, with Mother gone to heaven I have no childhood home where I can go for Christmas.

During this tremendous time of gift giving, food and family, there are those who sorrow. The empty chair is a reminder. Let me share with you some lessons I am learning.

?The Holy Spirit ministers strength through the circumstances of life. We do not operate “under” the circumstances but “above” them.

?Focus on the Lord Jesus. While Christmas is for families, it is intended to be Christ-centered.

?Especially remember those who are alone, in sorrow, sick or otherwise in need. By caring for others, our loss is easier to bear and we are showing the love of Jesus.

Take time this holiday to enjoy your family. Keep Jesus the pre-eminent One in your festivities. Thank you for letting me share my heart with you.

Your servant in Christ.