Posts Tagged ‘seeking and saving the lost’

1 Samuel 8:1-9
Israel Requests a King

Last night I finished one of the books I have to read for my next semester (my third semester) in my doctoral program. I am not the fastest reader in the world so I began reading the first of 10 books I have to read before the end of the third week in February on Monday night. This first book was probably the shortest (and smallest) of the books I have to read. It was entitled Autopsy of a Deceased Church. In this short 100-page book, Thomas Rainer had done research on the deaths of 14 different churches and from that research developed the common themes of why churches decline and die. To add to what Rainer states in his book I found that in a recent sermon, Pastor James McDonald from Walking in the Word Ministries revealed these shocking numbers about Christianity in America:

• Of the 250,000 Protestant churches in America, 200,000 are either stagnant (with no growth) or declining. That is 80% of the churches in America and maybe the one you attend, if you attend at all.

• 4,000 churches close their doors every single year.

• There is less than half of the number of churches today than there were only 100 years ago.

• 3,500 people leave the church every single day.

• Since 1950, there are 1/3 fewer churches in the U.S.

Thomas Rainer bolsters the above statistics by saying that only 10% of churches in America are truly healthy, 40% of churches are showing signs of sickness, 40% of churches are sick and dying, and 10% of churches are about to die. The main troubles of sick and/or dying churches, according to Rainer? His research of these 14 churches, these “autopsies” of churches that died, revealed some interesting facts. They became increasingly inward focused over the years. They became resistant to change. Their budgets became less and less focused on outreach and more and more focused on programs to serve the needs of the people within the church. They became more like the old Janet Jackson song from 1986, “What Have You Done for ME Lately?” As funds dwindled due to the slow decline of membership, the first things that were cut was the very thing that they needed to be spending their money on – reaching out into their communities. They became fearful of the world around them and had defeatist attitudes about reaching their town with evangelistic efforts. And most of all, they quit praying fervently in a corporate fashion. Sure, they would pray before church meals and during services but there was no longer is passion corporately to pray for the lost and for ways to reach them. There was little if any discipleship. Church became about traditions and resistance to change. Church became a social club. Often these churches that died, clamored for more people and often switched pastors often when that did not happen. However, pastors who came in and wanted to make sweeping changes to “stop the bleeding” were often rebuffed because people did not ultimately want to give up leadership to new people, did not want to give up traditions. Did not want “that kind” of change. They wanted to continue doing what they were doing but get a different result.

They lost sight of what the church was for. The church is not for them. The church is there for the lost, to draw them unto Christ, and then to develop them into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We must be obedient in this effort as a church or your church, my church, any church will die. What does this have to do with today’s passage where Israel is clamoring to have a king? Everything as we will see. Let us read the passage, 1 Samuel 8:1-9, once again together:

8 As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. 2 Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. 3 But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice.

4 Finally, all the elders of Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. 5 “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”

6 Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. 7 “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. 8 Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 9 Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

In this passage, we see that the people clamored for a king, thinking that a new system of government would bring about a change in the nation. However, their basic problem was disobedience to God. Their other problems would only continue under the new form of administration. What they needed was a unified faith in God not a unified form of governance. Had the Israelites submitted to God’s leadership, they would have thrived beyond their expectations (see Deuteronomy 28:1). Our obedience to God’s commands as his newest expression of “His people”, the church, is crucial to our ability to thrive as instruments of God.

Jesus commanded his church to go. Jesus commanded his church to make disciples of all peoples. Jesus commanded them to baptize people in the name of the three expressions of the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Jesus commanded us to teach them everything that He taught us. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is what we are here for – nothing else. We are not here to build buildings with our names on them. We are not here to use church to build a power base. We are not here for me to have a professional network so that I make all the right contacts “because we go to the same church”. We are not here to have a place to entertain our kids. We are not here to be babysitters for your kids. We are not here to have our names on pews, windows, or classrooms. We are not here to make ourselves feel good. Even in modern church, we are not here to have the cool church. We are not here to have field trips for our teenagers. We are not here to have the most expensive lighting and sound system in town. We are not here to have the loudest band and the band with the most albums out there on Christian radio. Sure, we can have those things but they cannot be the things that we are here. They must be byproducts of a church that is obedient to its calling from Jesus Christ.

We must go. We must focus our money and our people on sharing the gospel in their day to day lives. We must urge them to see the urgency of what is at stake – the eternal destination of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, extended families, all those in our individual spheres of influence. We must remind our people that their a members of a priestly order. They are ministers themselves. They can touch more people themselves than our pastors can ever dream of reaching by themselves. We are the church. Let us go. Let us get out there and share the gospel. Let us share the gospel not in just how we act and carry ourselves but actually sharing the gospel. Let us teach our people to think with a kingdom mindset – to think of every situation as an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. We must “Go” if we are “to make disciples. We must go if we are to baptize. We must go if we are to teach. We cannot do any of the last three subcommands of the Great Commission if we are not obedient in the going.

When we quit going, we start dying. When we are disobedient in the going, we quit thriving and a church begins its slow death march to the closing of the doors of a church. Just as Israel clamored for a king, thinking a change would make them thrive again, we often clamor for change as our churches decline. However, just as Israel did not change its ways and continued in its disobedience to the Lord and it began its slow death march toward the end of what we knew as ancient Israel, we too as churches cannot expect renewal unless we are obedient to the commands of the Lord. We must change our ways or more churches will close. We must move away from church becoming self-serving. We must never forget the passion for the lost. We must not lose our love for the going. We must not lose our love for baptizing and teaching. We must not lose our love for making disciples.

The commands are simple. That is what we are here for. That is what we must be obedient toward. Nothing else. It’s all very simple. It is about going. It is about making disciples. It is about baptizing. It is about teaching. If your church or my church becomes about anything other than being obedient to this commands, then, we too like many other churches every year and like the nation of ancient Israel, we will die. God does not bless disobedience. He blesses obedience. Everything we do as a church must be measured by whether it represents:

1. Going
2. Baptizing
3. Teaching
4. Making Disciples

Everything. Everything must be measured by our obedience to these four simple commands. Anything else is not worthy of doing. Anything else is disobedience.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 12:1-7 (Part 1 of 2)
Ephraim Fights with Jephthah

As you know, I am a big Clemson Tiger football fan. This past Saturday, Clemson passed one of what will have proven to be one of the toughest games of its season by season’s end. They defeated the Auburn University Tigers by the score of 14-6. It was an old-fashioned slobber-knocker of a defensive struggle. It was a throwback to an era gone by in college football. Nowadays, with changes in defensive rules and in offensive philosophies, offenses reign. Nowadays, a defense that averages giving up 17 points a game or so is considered a great defense. Back before wide-open offenses, a team that scored 17 points a game was considered a pretty good offense. So, this game was a throwback to times gone by. Clemson and Auburn have two of the best defenses in the country this year. Everyone knew that it was not going to be your typical 35-31 type game that you see nowadays. Everyone knew it was going to be a struggle. No one expected that there would be only twenty points scored by the teams combined and no one expected Clemson’s defense not to allow Auburn into the end zone at all. If you like defense and I do, this game was treat. Clemson did just enough more on offense than Auburn did to post two touchdowns (one on its last possession of the first half and one on its first possession of the second half). Clemson’s defense was spectacular as Auburn did not cross midfield except once after its first drive of game (and that one time was because Clemson fumbled the ball on its own 10 yard line). Auburn’s defense seemed to have Clemson’s number as well, except for giving up those two long drives for touchdowns.

And if you are a college football fan, you know that after winning the national championship last year, Clemson lost a lot of its star offensive players to graduation and to the NFL. Clemson had to, this year, replace almost 80% of its offensive yardage production from last year. That’s a lot of talent gone. So, this year, the offense is young with a lot of new skill players everywhere. So, after scoring only 14 points in the game against Auburn, there are critics in the press now and even among fringes of Clemson fans that are saying that the Tigers are in trouble offensively. After watching the team play what seemed very conservatively after getting an 8 point lead, many are criticizing the offensive coordinators for calling such a lame game in the second half of the contest. Last year, this team averaged nearly 40 points a game and over 500 yards of total offense per game so the critics are out. Clemson has lost its offensive mojo. They are going to get creamed by the offensive juggernaut that is Louisville this coming weekend (with its all everything defending Heisman trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson). They are saying that the defense might have won the game against Auburn but Lamar is going to light our defense up and our offense will be putting along with 14 points again.

All I can say is wow to these critics. Yes, Clemson was amazing on defense this past Saturday. Probably one of the best defensive performances I ever seen. Auburn could do nothing, I mean nothing, after their first drive. They made Auburn’s new and highly touted quarterback seem like a pee-wee football quarterback who did not know what to do. But, yet, at the same time, Auburn’s defense had as much to do with Clemson only scoring 14 points in the game. Auburn’s defense was almost as good as Clemson’s. Running lanes were small and passing windows were smaller. They have a great defense just not as good as Clemson’s. All teams are going to struggle to score against Auburn this year, plain and simple. But listen to the critics out there, Clemson is in trouble. They blame the offensive coaches for calling a conservative game. They blame the new kids on offense for not being ready for the big stage. They are saying that it was the talent on the field the last few years that made Clemson great not the coaches. Wow. Just wow. Clemson over the past 7 years now have gone through now what is the third offensive transition from one group of talented players to the next group up and they’re still winning. This group of new kids showed toughness and grit in scratching out two touchdowns against a highly rated defense. Let’s just wait and see before we say the sky is falling. The game was won in a mighty defensive struggle. Not flashy but effective. Let us wait until this week before we criticize this young team and its veteran coaches. If the Clemson offense struggles against a lesser defense this week and loses a game to the highly powered offense of Louisville then OK we got problems.

That idea of always being the critic, that armchair quarterbacking, that happens among football fans is similar sometimes how we complain in the church about how the preacher does things, about how we didn’t get asked to participate and how we could have done it better. Let’s read through the silliness of the Ephraimites in this passage:

12 Then the people of Ephraim mobilized an army and crossed over the Jordan River to Zaphon. They sent this message to Jephthah: “Why didn’t you call for us to help you fight against the Ammonites? We are going to burn down your house with you in it!”

2 Jephthah replied, “I summoned you at the beginning of the dispute, but you refused to come! You failed to help us in our struggle against Ammon. 3 So when I realized you weren’t coming, I risked my life and went to battle without you, and the Lord gave me victory over the Ammonites. So why have you now come to fight me?”

4 The people of Ephraim responded, “You men of Gilead are nothing more than fugitives from Ephraim and Manasseh.” So Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and attacked the men of Ephraim and defeated them.

5 Jephthah captured the shallow crossings of the Jordan River, and whenever a fugitive from Ephraim tried to go back across, the men of Gilead would challenge him. “Are you a member of the tribe of Ephraim?” they would ask. If the man said, “No, I’m not,” 6 they would tell him to say “Shibboleth.” If he was from Ephraim, he would say “Sibboleth,” because people from Ephraim cannot pronounce the word correctly. Then they would take him and kill him at the shallow crossings of the Jordan. In all, 42,000 Ephraimites were killed at that time.

7 Jephthah judged Israel for six years. When he died, he was buried in one of the towns of Gilead.

Here, in this passage, we see that the people of Israel had just won a great battle, but instead of joy, there was pettiness and quarreling. The tribe of Ephraim was angry and jealous that they had not been invited to join the fighting (although Jephthah said he had invited them). They wanted to kill Jephthah and his whole family as a result. This is not the first time the men of Ephraim complained about being left out or given what they perceived as something lesser than. In Judges 8, they complained that they were not given the best job in the attack on Midian. They complained there that they were relegated to “mop up” duty of capturing the escaping Midianites. Some people are quick to criticize it seems, especially when they have risked nothing or risked less than others.

Are you jealous because the pastor did not hand pick you for a project or a position at church? Do you criticize everything that goes on at church, even in the victories? Do you want a spot out front in an event or be on stage instead of operating behind the scenes? Do you get mad because you are not given a star role in a ministry? Do you criticize the church staff but yet you did nothing? Do you think you could do it better but never do anything? Do you criticize how the church is falling apart but never give a dime to the church? Do you complain that the church is not doing enough in the community but do not tithe? Do you spend a great deal of time justifying not tithing so that you don’t have to but yet throw the word tithe around as if you do? Do you criticize the fact that the church is doing nothing for disaster relief but do not (1) give to the church or (2) have the willingness to lead a disaster relief ministry?

Just as critics of the Clemson offense need to check how well they really did against the second best defense in the country, so too should we as Christ followers need to check ourselves before we start in-fighting within the church? We need to check our pride. We need to check our hearts of service. We need to check our love for our Lord and Savior. He calls us to be a unified body. He calls us to work together for the good of seeking and saving the lost and edifying the saints already in the church. He calls us to love another as an example of what Christ looks like. That is the distinctive for us according to the Lord himself – how we love another.

There are those that think that no matter what we do in leadership at churches that they could have done it better. They often don’t know the facts and are often those who stood on the sidelines when action was required. It’s easy to criticize. It’s harder to actually be in the game. Let us build up and not tear down. Let us set our egos aside and do what is best for the church. Let us focus on the things that we need to focus on. Let us focus on being unified so that people are drawn to how we love one another. Let us focus on seeking and saving the lost. Let us celebrate the victories of when we have played our role in supporting the Holy Spirit drawing people unto Christ. Let us major on the majors! Let us celebrate together and love each other as we call on the Holy Spirit to drench our church and our people in His power. Let us be united in calling on a Holy Spirit revival in our church and in our community! Let us be united in our efforts to support the spread of the gospel to the point that our churches are full of people seeking God!

Amen and Amen.