Church Impossible

The 68Mission: Part 3 - What Does It Look Like?

This is the 3rd article in a series called "The 68Mission." The series examines the potential impact of Micah 6:8 on the church today. In "Part 1 - God's Case Against His People," I described how Micah 6 is presented as a covenant lawsuit that God is bringing against Israel in Micah's day. In "Part 2 - The Nature of God's Requirements," I examined the three timeless commands God gives to all people: do justice, love steadfastly, and walk humbly with God.

How does Micah 6:8 relate to churches today?

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An application of Micah 6:8 would have us live in three directions at once: toward God (though humility), toward one another (with steadfast love), and toward the world (with justice). We must always be mindful that God created us for relationships. In Genesis 1:26-27, we relate to God as our Creator, to each other as male and female, and to the world by dominion/management of it.

Micah 6:8 is fundamental to being spiritual. A parallel New Testament verse that describes our spiritual obligation is James 1:27: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." Echoing Micah, James compels believers to let their faith in God permeate their lives and, by extension, the church.

Much has been written about the role of doing social good in the name of Christ without the gospel. And much has been written about sharing the gospel without showing Christ's love through our deeds. We must do both! Peter described Jesus as going about "doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him" (Acts 10:38). And Jesus did not become a human only to be an example of someone who did good deeds; he died and rose from the grave to make us right with God (cf. 1 Peter 3:18).

Could a life—or a church for that matter—be centered on the three principles of Micah 6:8? Could our very reason for existing to be on mission with God to do justice, love steadfastly, and walk humbly? This is The 68Mission.

The 68Mission practices justice by caring for orphans and widows, standing up for those who cannot defend themselves, and rescuing those who are trapped in destructive lifestyles (such as those captured in human trafficking). The message of the gospel must be intrinsically tied to these kinds of actions.

The 68Mission loves steadfastly by becoming a part of a holistic, missional Christian community. A 68Mission church would not be a church with small groups, but a church of small groups—where each member is encouraged to use his or her giftedness to impact people with the love and gospel of Christ. The groups would not focus simply on understanding Bible content, but on the transforming power of God's Word on our relationships with God, one another, and the world.

The 68Mission walks humbly with God by truly submitting to his Word and his Spirit. Like the Jews in Berea, it receives "the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so" (Acts 17:11).

A 68Mission church does not have a number of disparate tasks, programs, or functions, but the mission of God is its function. At its heart, it doesn't exist for the sake of programs, nor does it use programs to try to make disciples of the nations. Instead, it creates disciple-makers through relationships—disciple-makers who come to understand that every day they live is another day to do justice, love steadfastly, and walk humbly.

The 68Mission: Part 2 - The Nature of God's Requirements

This is the 2nd article in a series called "The 68Mission." The series examines the potential impact of Micah 6:8 on the church today. In "Part 1 - God's Case Against His People," I described how Micah 6 is presented as a covenant lawsuit that God brought against Israel in Micah's day.

Micah 6:8 establishes God's most fundamental and universal demands on humans. The requirements placed upon ancient Israel here are essentially the same requirements placed on us. These are not requests, and God has not changed his standards.In an exposition of this verse, Elmo Scoggin writes, "Three very clear, simple, straight-forward principles are delineated.... Each of the principles is to be incorporated into the routine of daily living. They are not to be 'tacked on' to conduct. They are to be as characteristic of the godly person's conduct as they are of God's own conduct."

Principle #1: Do justice. To do justice means to right wrongs. It is looking out for the welfare of our neighbors. In short, it is to treat people like God treats people.One of the best examples from Christian history of someone doing justice was William Carey. He is most widely known as the father of the modern missions movement, but in India he is famous for helping to end the practice of Sati, in which a recently widowed Hindu woman was burned alive on her husband's funeral pyre.

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Principle #2: Love mercy. English translations use different phrases to capture this idea: "to love kindness" (ESV), "to love faithfulness" (CSB), and "to love mercy" (KJV). The Hebrew word used here is the word hesed (pronounced ke-sed), which includes the idea of faithful love in action. It is an incredibly rich word that usually refers to God's lovingkindness expressed to Israel: covenantal, unending, and unconditional. This kind of relationship begins as God seeks after humanity with love and mercy.

When we practice hesed love, we reach out with God's love to everyone: even the most unlovable and most difficult people.

Principle #3: Walk humbly. This command is directed toward our relationship with God. We walk humbly as we recognize God as the Lord of all things. Just as we would be humbled to enter into the palace of a great king, God is the King of all kings. Not only does he allow us to be his humble slaves, but he has even adopted us into his family (Romans 8:15; John 1:12).

Scoggin understands our humility before God to be the bond that ties the first two principles together. He summarizes Micah 6:8 this way: "Walking with God, by his rules, in his paths, after his manner, in proper modesty and humility, with all hindrances removed, so that one is prepared or well-pleasing to God, is possible only when and if one is right with his fellow human beings and with God."

Next in The 68Mission: Part 3 - What Does It Look Like?

The 68Mission: Part 1 - God's Case Against His People

In a recent study of Micah 6:8, I came across a 27-year-old journal article ("An Expository Exegesis: Micah 6:6-8," Faith and Mission Vol. 2, No. 2) written by Elmo Scoggin on the passage. This important verse is part of a larger context—a "covenant lawsuit." God has brought a lawsuit against his people, and he plays four different roles as the case progresses: prosecuting attorney, bailiff, judge, and plaintiff. The list below is a very brief summary of the verses leading up to Micah 6:8.

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  • Micah 6:1 - The defendant, Israel, is called to the stand and challenged to speak up in self-defense.

  • Micah 6:2 - The court issues various witnesses—the mountains and the foundations of the earth—to hear the Lord's complaint.

  • Micah 6:3 - With Israel on the stand, the Lord asks, "How have I made you too weary to serve me?"

  • Micah 6:4-5 - Each year, Israel recited God's deliverance of their lives at Passover. Now, the Lord uses the very same tactic and turns the tables on Israel. He recites their history himself. Scoggin writes, "Why, then, not return, repent, and serve God with joy? Surprise! Israel has become so insensitive to the deeper spiritual values that she now misses the point entirely... The glamor of formal, ritualistic religion has acted as a narcotic that has desensitized God's people to the essence of true religion."

Then we get to the heart of the matter.

In Micah 6:6-7, Israel offers a flimsy defense. "With what shall I come before the Lord?" is more literally translated "With what shall I confront the Lord?" Israel was basically complaining, "How much will you demand of me, God? Do you want me to be crushed by religious burdens so that I bow down before you, God? Shall I sacrifice thousands of year-old calves? Would you be satisfied with ten thousand rivers of oil? Maybe I should offer child sacrifices! How demanding can you be, God?"

Scoggin continues, "What had actually happened was that the Israelites had become very religious in a formal, institutionalized way. They had impressed themselves at least with their religiosity.... Israel knew beyond any doubt that offerings that have no basis in ethics and morality, that have no deep roots in character are themselves an insult, an abomination to God. Israel knew that true religion...must issue from a character base built upon and confirmed by ethical behavior."

Then, in Micah 6:8, the prophet answers Israel: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

God cannot be pleased through the sacrifice of thousands of rams, tens of thousands of rivers of oil, or child sacrifices. And every human heart already knows this instinctively. Moreover, God has made it clear in his Word.

Next in The 68Mission: Part 2 - The Nature of God's Requirements

Soil Given By The Lord

In Deuteronomy 26, the nation of Israel received instructions about what they should do after they entered the Promised Land. Once they arrived at the land which God gave each tribe and family, they were to plant their crops. When the harvest came, they were to go to the place where the Lord would establish his name and give an offering of the firstfruits of their harvest. They would accompany their offering with these words: "Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O Lord, have given me" (Deuteronomy 26:10).

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In 2012, the Lord gave me new soil from which I was to bring him a harvest. The church was called Cotton Ridge. It began in 2010 when a group of hurting believers joined together to seek God's healing and see what the Lord would do. Through a unique set of circumstances, this small congregation in a small west Texas town seemed destined to invest its resources not in property, buildings, and other temporary things, but in people. For over six years it supported orphans, ministered to widows, rebuilt homes for the needy, fed the hungry, prayed for the sick, witnessed to the lost, and baptized those who wished to follow Jesus. The church was able to accomplish all of this without ever owning a building, a kitchen, or even a baptistery because the people believed a very fundamental truth: people are the church.

The Lord has now shown the church's members that the most effective way to serve God's kingdom is to take that same spirit and belief into other welcoming congregations in the community. Our final worship service together was a commissioning service to carry out that goal. The only thing Cotton Ridge leaves behind is that which lasts forever: changed lives.

As for me, I believe that the Lord is preparing new soil in which I will plant my life and ministry. My offering to the Lord as a pastor will result in a harvest that is accompanied by the same words spoken by Israel: "Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O Lord, have given me."

The Lord gives us both the soil and the harvest. We must do the work.

Does Submission in Marriage Equate to Slavery?

One of the occasional criticisms of complementarians (those who believe that God created men to be the servant-leaders of their homes) is that it is akin to slavery.I think it's time to put this idea to the test.

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This is what the Encyclopedia Britannica says about slavery (numerical listing is mine):

...Most of the following characteristics should be present in order to term a person a slave. (1) The slave was a species of property; thus, he belonged to someone else. In some societies slaves were considered movable property, in others immovable property, like real estate. (2) They were objects of the law, not its subjects. Thus, like an ox or an ax, the slave was not ordinarily held responsible for what he did. He was not personally liable for torts or contracts. (3) The slave usually had few rights and always fewer than his owner, but there were not many societies in which he had absolutely none. As there are limits in most societies on the extent to which animals may be abused, so there were limits in most societies on how much a slave could be abused. (4) The slave was removed from lines of natal descent. Legally, and often socially, he had no kin. No relatives could stand up for his rights or get vengeance for him. (5) As an “outsider,” “marginal individual,” or “socially dead person” in the society where he was enslaved, his rights to participate in political decision making and other social activities were fewer than those enjoyed by his owner. (6) The product of a slave’s labour could be claimed by someone else, who also frequently had the right to control his physical reproduction.

Does a Wife's Submission to Her Husband Make Her a Slave?

Corresponding to the six points delineated above, let's test whether slavery is an honest and valid analogy/criticism for complementarian marriage:

  1. Complementarian husbands do not consider their wives to be property. They are equals, created in the image of God.

  2. As persons made in the image of God, complementarian wives are responsible for their actions.

  3. Complementarian wives have many rights, not few. No man should abuse his wife.

  4. Complementarian wives have kin. Their families of origin should be respected and honored.

  5. Complementarian wives are not "outsiders," "marginal," or "socially dead." They have the right to engage in political and social activities.

  6. Complementarian wives have control of the works of their hands (cf. Prov. 31:16). They have the right to reproduce physically.

I would add that slavery is usually involuntary. Submission in marriage is always voluntary because that is the nature of submission. There is no such thing as involuntary submission. Why? Because submission involves a willing attitude.

Submission is something that is hard to do. It becomes much easier, though, when the authority in our lives seeks our best and loves us. 

How To Deal with Conflict

No area of our lives is immune from conflict. We can encounter conflict in our marriages, with our children, at church, in school, and at work.

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Some people are “conflict magnets.” They seem to attract friction and disputes wherever they go.

Others are immune to conflict. No matter what is going on around them, they are unaffected. They’re like the guy with high metabolism who can eat as much as he wants and never gain weight. (I hate that guy!).

It’s not necessarily a good thing to be unaffected by conflict. That might be a sign of severe narcissism. Hopefully you care enough about people to want peace.

And it’s certainly detrimental to be paralyzed by conflict. Your goal needs to be to deal with it and move forward.

If we’re going to deal with conflict the right way, we need to identify and avoid the pitfalls.

Wrong Ways We Deal With Conflict:

Gossip is discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem.
— Dave Ramsey
  1. Ignore it. This is the most popular way to deal with conflict. But sticking your head in the sand doesn’t make the problem go away. Pouring your troubles into your favorite escape mechanism just leaves the issues for another day.Conflict is like cancer in one respect: if left alone, it will likely grow worse.Some people refuse to deal with conflict because they didn’t start it. But why would you rather live in a state of disharmony with others than go through the brief pain of dealing with the problem? Healing comes through the application of the proper medicine, and the medicine for conflict is healthy communication.

  2. Gossip. If there is a problem between you and Johnny, griping about your frustrations to Suzie doesn’t solve the problem, especially if Suzie has a big mouth. It won’t take long for word to get back to Johnny that you’ve been griping about him, and then you have conflict about the conflict. That’s not to say you can’t get advice from a third party. Seeking counsel from a wise person is not gossip, but the person you turn to for help needs to be trustworthy, discreet, and willing to love you enough tell you the truth (even if you’re wrong.)

  3. Blame others. You might be thinking, “But it’s their fault!” And you may be right! But before you run off and accuse someone of being in the wrong, you need to be willing to listen.Remember: You probably don’t know all the circumstances the other person is dealing with, and you don’t know their heart. Only God has all knowledge.

The Right Way To Resolve Conflict

  1. Examine yourself. Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).Sometimes we have blind spots which hinder us from seeing our own problems. But if we take a little time to examine our own motivations, words, and actions, we may find that we contributed to the conflict.

  2. Deal with facts. Not everything you’ve heard from the rumor mill is true. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault…” (Matthew 18:15). He might as well have said, “If you know for a fact that your brother sins…” This means that you are certain of the offending party’s words or actions. Rumor and innuendo are not facts.

  3. Take the first step. If you have hurt someone else, you need to make it right. Own it. Tell him you messed up and that you’re sorry he was hurt. As Jesus put it, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).But you need to say more than, “I’m sorry.” Ask the offended person if he will forgive you. Saying “I’m sorry” simply expresses your emotions. But asking, “Will you forgive me?” requests a response and provides an opportunity for the relationship to heal.”But what if I’m the one harmed? Shouldn’t the other person come to me?” It would be nice if everyone who harmed us tried to make it right. But that doesn’t alleviate your responsibility. You still must go to them. “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault.”

    According to Jesus, conflict resolution always begins with you.

  4. Address conflict in private, if possible. Unless the conflict has escalated to the point that it involves other people, the conflict resolution needs to be attempted privately. Occasionally conflict resolution is embarrassing or it doesn’t go well, and it’s better to have those difficult discussions away from other people.

  5. Involve other people, if necessary. It’s been my experience that most conflicts can be resolved one-on-one. But sometimes a mediator or a larger circle of people are needed. They can give a third-person perspective that both of the people in conflict need to hear.

  6. If no resolution can be found, go your way in peace. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). Sometimes, however, there will be a lasting disagreement. But that doesn’t mean you have to be disagreeable. Remember: Be kind to people!

Be kind to people. Everyone is having a hard time with something.
— David Rhoades

Conflict is inevitable in this life, but the path to peace just takes some wisdom and a little effort on your part. If you are willing to deal with conflict the right way, not only will your life be better, but you can improve someone else’s life. And there’s nothing better than being a blessing!

What are some other wrong and right ways we deal with conflict? Leave your comment below!

Greed in the Pulpit

Greed in the Pulpit

Late night musings... I've grown increasingly saddened with the greed of so many prominent pastors. They cast a stain upon the gospel with their profits from their unbiblical teachings. Most pastors that I know have chosen to make sacrifices to serve the Lord in ministry. Yet there remain some whose influence and marketing machinery shines so bright that people miss the falsehood in what they say.

Some might say that I'm envious of their wealth. Really, I'm not. The Lord has more than blessed me with the provisions needed for life, and with that I am content. What concerns me is not other people's status, but whether I might displease my Lord. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and I do not see enough fear of God in pastors today.

God, Weather, and the Church

Icy driving conditions prompted the church I serve, Cotton Ridge, to cancel worship services today. The plans for my family was just to stay in the house where it was nice and warm. But I was wrong, as we needed a few critical items from the store.

The young lady who took my groceries to my car (yes, we still have that kind of service in Levelland, Texas) mentioned that her family moved here from another state just over a year ago. I asked her if they had found a church home, and she said no. I gave her a business card and invited her to come check us out.

This little bit of impromptu outreach reminded me of some important truths: Church is not some event we go to, but something we are. Church is not in a particular location or building, but is wherever we go.

By the way, here's a brief summary of some things the Bible says the weather:

  • All weather -- sunshine, rain, wind, and thunder/lightning -- is controlled by God (Job 37:9; Ps. 74:15-17; Eccles. 1:18).

  • Weather is a sign of God's power (Ex. 19:16; 1 Sam. 12:15-19; Ps. 107:23-25).

  • Sunshine is a blessing for life (Deut. 33:13-14; Job 8:16), can be falsely worshiped (2 Kin. 23:5; Jer. 8:2; Eze. 8:16), and will be absent in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:23). Figuratively, sunshine can point to the glory of God (Ps. 84:11), the glory of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:16), and the glory of believers (Matt. 13:43; Rev. 12:1).

  • Rain can be sent as a blessing (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17) or as judgment (1 Sam. 12:17). It can also be withheld as judgment (Lev. 26:19; 2 Chron. 7:13). Rain can come or cease through prayer (1 Sam. 12:16-18; Jas. 5:17-18).

  • Wind is something that Christ calms by His command (Mark 4:39; Mark 6:51).

  • Lightning and thunder is sent by God (Ex. 9:23-24; Ps. 104:7) and can be used for judgment (Isa. 29:6).

Cutting Out the Gossip

Here's a summary of a great article by Rebecca Watson called "How To Stop Gossiping."

1. Define gossip. I've always like Dave Ramsey's definition of gossip: "Discussing anything negative with someone who can't help solve the problem." Maybe your definition of gossip would also include positive comments of someone who isn't around. Determining how you define gossip establishes boundaries.

2. Redirect conversation. Change the subject with someone who wants to gossip with you. If possible, connect the dialogue to something similar; it makes it less obvious. Once the conversation has been steered away from gossip, it becomes more difficult to return there.

3. Stay quiet. Not responding at all can be a very effective way to stop gossip. Most people get the message.

4. Empathize with the subject of gossip. Turn the conversation to yourself or the person with whom you are talking. Nothing stops back-talk faster than recalling your own flaws. We’ve all got them.

5. Call it what it is. If the other techniques haven’t worked, this one definitely will. You can soften it a bit by saying something like, "I'm trying to stop gossiping."

A Proposed Structure for Elders and the Congregation

A church's structure is key to its long-term success or failure. Earlier in my ministry, I pastored a church that had a structure that maintained control in the hands of a few. This led to a great amount of frustration among anyone (myself included) who wanted to use their gifts to serve the Lord. These key leaders found themselves handicapped from the outset and obstructed from obeying their calling.

Clicking the image to the right will download a PDF of a proposed basic structure for ministry and church life. It is not comprehensive, as it does not yet feature a diagram dealing with Deacon Ministry (which Cotton Ridge does not yet have) or church membership. However, it is a start to dialoguing how we can accomplish a few key biblical principles: (1) keeping the focus of the Elders on spiritual affairs, and (2) providing accountability and open communication.

The proposed idea is to create an Admin Team that will handle the "business" affairs of the church: finances, property, and personnel. They would be made up of faithful church members whom God has called to this important task. The Elders would provide guidance for those on the Admin Team, especially as it is being formed.

Is having an Admin Team a good idea? What do you think?