Do What You Do Well

We’re always trying to figure out how to “do church better.” We have, after all, communities of people surrounding us many of whom have little to no connection to a church (other than, maybe, “oh, I attended VBS there as a kid!”). My shelf is filled with books and conference notes that talk about visions, pipelines, revitalizations, etc., ad nauseum.

Most of these are written by or led by men who pastor large churches, run large organizations, or live in large communities. Maybe, at some point, they pastored a tiny church in a small or rural community, but those days are long in the past.

This is not to criticize them or their ministries. The great majority of them are faithful men who love Jesus and whom God uses to make a Kingdom impact. But, as a small church, small community pastor, there seems to be a disconnect between what they suggest and what can be implemented and successful in such a setting as mine.

Recently, however, I picked up a copy of Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters, and it has been a breath of fresh air. He’s not a guy who started in a small church but has been in a larger church / organization for the last two decades. No, he’s a guy who has pretty much always been small church. And he, too, has been frustrated by the calls to cast some vision, implement this paradigm, and follow that pipeline.

Perhaps the piece of advice that I have found that resonates the most is: Discover what your church does well and focus your energy on doing that.

Though we all serve a God of unlimited resources and power, God does not grant each church unlimited pools of money, people, time, or gifts. And this reality can appear even more prominent in small churches that struggle week in and week out. So, we must wisely steward what we have.

Ever wonder why when you read the list of spiritual gifts in Romans and 1 Corinthians, they don’t exactly match up? God, in his infinite wisdom, knows better than us the needs of each church and community. Perhaps, then, he gives different gifts to one church over another because what works in Rome won’t work in Corinth and vice versa. Instead of seeking everything the other has, we should be faithful with what God has given us in our time and place.

Some examples that Vaters provides in his book include:

  • If your church is small enough, and great at fellowship and teaching, then maybe instead of having a traditionally ordered main service and small groups at another time, you treat your main “service” like a small group. Arrange the chairs in a circle, sing together, pray for each other, and then open up Scripture, read it, and dialogue together instead of having a typical sermon.
  • If your church is good at reaching the de-churched, or formerly-churched, then put most of your energy into reaching them, helping them re-connect and get spiritually healthy, and then send them out to do ministry.
  • If your church is good at children and family ministry, then make sure your facilities scream “kid friendly.” Hang banners and balloons. Deck out the main lobby and hallways with artwork from the kids. Do weekly basketball for kids and backpack ministries.
  • If your church is good at preaching and teaching, then rearrange the order of service to make it one of the first things you do instead of one of the last, where visitors have already formed a first, second, and third opinion based on your announcements, music, and greeting.

This is one of the great things about church—what Francis Schaeffer referred to as “form and freedom.” There are certain elements essential to a church—the Bible, prayer, communion, fellowship, praise, and mission. But the Bible gives no sacred “order of service.” There are no specified ways to design and decorate a church building (or even a requirement to have a church building). There is no demand for a use of a pulpit over a chair or a table. There is no requirement that every church focus on kids ministry, Sunday School, or mom’s night out.

But God has brought us together as groups of Jesus-loving people, placed in communities with different spiritual, physical, and relational needs. So, discover what you do well in your limited resources to impact your community for Jesus. Then make that your main thing and keep doing it well.

We don’t need the latest trends, programs, or ministries. We don’t need the most well-crafted vision statements. We need men and women who love Jesus, love each other, and love their communities being as faithful as they can.

From the Voice that Matters Most – Ephesians 2:11-22 “Tear Down This Wall”

Text

So then, remember that at one time you were gentiles in the flesh—called the “uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, he made no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death.

He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:11-22 CSB

Exposition

During my childhood, I spent a lot of time as an outsider. Being shy and awkward resulted in me not having many friends. Lacking athletic talent resulted in me often being picked last for games at school. I had a hard time feeling like I belonged. Another vague memory from my childhood: One day I was watching TV and the cut in with a news break—the Berlin Wall was coming down. This about two years after President Reagan proclaimed, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Both these childhood realities of mine relate to our text at hand. Writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote to a gathering of believers who, primarily, were former idol-worshiping gentiles. That is until the gospel of the Jewish Messiah fell upon their ears with the power of the Holy Spirit and they believed.

When we read through Acts and the spread of the gospel beyond the boarders of Judea, we find countless non-Jews coming to faith in Jesus along with some of the Jews. Because of this the early church, including its Jewish leaders, faced the dilemma: What do we do with all of these gentiles who are trusting in Jesus, receiving the Spirit, and wanting to have a part with us when they know nothing of our laws and customs?

Perhaps no one in the early church addressed this problem more frequently and deeply than Paul, the one called specifically to take the good news of Jesus to the gentiles (while also not neglecting his fellow Jews; Galatians 2:8, Acts 9:15).

And what was his Spirit-inspired solution?

Paul said to the gentiles who had once been excluded because of their spiritual condition and still sometimes felt excluded because of their ethnic background, “I know you’re uncircumcised. I know some of my kin like to use that as a pejorative. I know you feel like outsiders. But Jesus changed everything. And you’re not even the last-picked for the team. You’re a part of Israel, you’re fully a part of the family, and those marks of the skin don’t matter anymore.” Paul pointed back at the crumbled ruins of the dividing wall and said, “Jesus Christ tore down that wall!”

The only thing that mattered was whether or not they had Jesus. If they were “in him” by faith, then all the ways they used to be excluded were now reversed. With Christ, they were citizens, children of the covenants of promise, with hope, and with God in the world. They became the holy ones—a part of God’s household, standing on the bedrock of Jesus through the prophets and apostles, and a part of the holy temple, the house of God’s Spirit.

Paul called this peace. What was once divided had been brought together and what was once two had been made one. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul wrote to all Jesus-followers individually that we are new creations. Here, Paul wrote to us corporately that this new Jew-Gentile family is a new creation. Even with our differences of backgrounds and ethnicities we are one.

And this was no mere implication of the gospel either. Paul called the gospel or good news the “good news of peace.” Paul said that this union of two formerly divided people was brought about “by the blood of Christ.” The gospel unites because Jesus unites. Yes, there is a division between those without Christ and those with Christ. You’re either a part of the family by faith or you’re not. But if we live in Christ, then by default we are to be reconcilers and peace-makers, seeking to tear down walls of hostility that divide.

From the Voice that Matters Most: Ephesians 1:3-6 – Holy and Blameless Children of God

We share our opinions and insights at SBC Voices, but we believe that the Voice that matters most is the one that comes from God’s Word. We present these daily expositional devotions, beginning with a tour of Ephesians called, “Walk Worthy,” in hopes of encouraging our readers to remember to Voice above every voice.

Passage:

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One. ~ Ephesians 1:3-6 (CSB)

Expositional Devotion:

Blessed is one of those church words that we actually hear a lot in our culture. Often if an athlete or actor wins a big game or an award, they will talk about how blessed they feel. When writing this, a quick hashtag search for #blessed on Twitter showed 210 tweets in the last hour. And let’s not forget that you sometimes hear the phrase “Why, bless your heart” from ladies with a southern charm (though the phrase isn’t always used in a positive way).

The word “blessed” basically means to find oneself in a happy position, and we like finding ourselves in happy states. Yet, as Paul launches into the opening of his letter, he focuses far, far away from being blessed in a cultural sense. He assures us that God is providing for our happiness, but where does happiness come from? In Christ—a phrase used in some form multiple times in 1:3-14. And what does happiness in Christ lead to? The praise of his glorious grace—also a repeated phrase. The greatest happiness we can have is found through Jesus and leads us to abundant praise. God wants us to be happy!

God’s provision for our happiness in Christ is not a stingy thing, either. For God has graciously “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” I love the song Come Thou Fount, in fact, it is my favorite hymn to sing, but really the imagery of a spring or fountain of blessing inherent in the title falls short of what Paul is communicating. This is an ocean of blessing, of which we cannot find the shore and cannot plumb the depths.

Paul could have written endlessly on the topic, but instead decided to focus on just a few of the countless ways that God blesses us. The first two, found in verses 4 and 5, unfortunately sometimes get robbed of their beauty in the midst of theological debate. Paul does not shy away from the ideas of election and predestination here, but he also doesn’t focus on them in the way we often do.

We like to argue the means of these. Paul doesn’t address means whatsoever in his words. His intent is not to prooftext a particular soteriology. No, in these beautiful words, Paul speaks to the outcome of being chosen and predestined.

If we come to faith in Jesus, then we are not the same people we were beforehand. In chapter 2, Paul describes our deadness in sin and our enmity with God. That is what defined us before we came to know and follow Jesus. But now, in Christ, we are different. We were dirty, filthy rebels; we are now chosen in love to be holy and blameless. We were enemies of God on the side of darkness; we are now adopted children, destined to forever be a part of God’s family.

This is where Paul wishes us to dwell—our new position and new destiny.

There are days I have, and I’m sure you do too, where I don’t feel very holy or blameless. There are days where sin gets the best of me and I feel like I’m still walking on the side of the enemy or at best I’m a disappointing son. Yet, God says something different to me and to you. In Christ, we have new identities. In Christ, regardless of how we feel at the moment, we have been declared holy and blameless and the day is coming where we will be fully holy and blameless. In Christ, we are God’s sons and daughters and when we stand before him, we won’t be met with a disappointed gaze but the words, “Well done.”

What a way to start a section about our happiness in Christ! What a reminder of what God has done for us, for which he deserves all the credit and praise! What a reason to lift our heads and smile—because of Jesus we are the children of God and he will usher us into his presence holy and blameless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World Needs More Foster Parents

Fostering—I’m writing on this topic being by no means an expert but being involved. When my wife and I married, we entered our union with a shared conviction: No matter what God gave us for biological children, we wanted our home to be a place to welcome children in need via fostering and adoption. We even moved from our rental to our first owned home recently, a purchase we made specifically to become a foster home.

Though there are many avenues, we decided to work through our state and local offices. We attended the informative sessions, took the classes, did our home studies, and received our license. Then, three weeks ago we welcomed our first placement.

Having not yet had children, it has been quite a change to welcome an energy-filled nine-year-old boy into our lives and quiet home. Though I know his is a temporary arrangement with us, it didn’t take long for the “dad” instincts to kick in with a boy who calls me by my first name.

Our first experience has thus far been positive, though we realize this will not always be the case. We have family and friends who have fostered, and we have heard some of the “horror stories” in addition to some of the things they warned us about in class. These kids, after all, are in the system for a reason though the reason is not a fault of their own.

Children in foster care are there because they have experienced trauma or loss. Their parents have died or they have been abandoned, neglected, or abused. Many of them have experienced in just a few short years things that most of us will never have to know in our entire lives. They are victims either of the circumstances of a fallen world or of adults mistreating them in gut-wrenching ways.

They have their scars and those scars often manifest in bad or unloving behaviors. There’s an adage you hear in foster care: The kids who need the most love are often the ones who ask for it in the most unloving ways. Yet, they are children.

They are children in need. They are the ones of which the Bible speaks:

Jesus said, “Leave the children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to me, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14 CSB)

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me…” (Matthew 25:35-36 CSB)

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:17 CSB)

There are two realities for the church when it comes to foster care:

First, the world needs more foster parents. (And I should add, especially Christian foster parents. Perhaps in part because we live in rural Missouri, we have found the state and county to have a positive relationship with people of faith in terms of the foster system.) In Missouri, we have over 13,000 children in foster care with over 1,200 having no identified adoptive home once their case has moved from reunification to adoption. In the United States as a whole, over 400,000 children are currently in the foster system.

It’s not an easy thing to welcome a stranger to live with you, even if that stranger is a child. But as Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you took me in.” As mentioned above, these children come with their traumas and scars, some more severe than others. It will be an interruption to your life. You will have to consider many things—due to our perceived abilities, situation, and life experiences, my wife and I have certain cases that we are not comfortable accepting. After agreeing to take in our foster son, we got a call on anther case and had to say no because we did not believe the situation would work. There are choices you have to make in addition to sacrifices.

But it will also be worth it. A friend, who took STARS training classes at the same time as us, said (paraphrasing a little here, I don’t remember the exact quote), “We want to love the children the best we can for as long as they’re with us.” And that is the point. A child might never call you mom or dad. They might never fully trust you because of how many adults have hurt them in their past. They might shy away from the hugs and the I love yous that we typically expect from our children. They might even due physical damage to your home. But it’s not about what they offer us, it’s about the love we can give them.

So, I want to challenge you: Prayerfully consider becoming a foster parent.

But there is also a second reality: Fostering is not for everyone. We need more foster parents, but not everyone is in a stage of life where they are able to do it or even called to do it. Just like we need more international missionaries but not everyone is meant to hop on a plane and fly overseas.

If you have never thought or prayed about fostering, I think you should. If, however, you have and you feel like it’s not right for you or your family then there should be no shame or guilt in that.

And if that is you, I would ask that you would still pray for, love, and support those you know who do decide to foster.

Thankfully, as we have set out on this journey, we have experienced the full support of our families. Both my wife and I have immediate family who have had various experiences with the foster system. They are all in for what we decided to do. Unfortunately, we know of those with a different experience—those who have had family and friends pull away because of a decision to foster or adopt. Don’t be those who pull away.

Also, don’t question others who decide to foster. We know one couple who was asked by church-going friends in regard to their fostering, “Why on earth would you want to do that to yourselves and your kids?” The answer is simple: Jesus.

Every single one of us enters into God’s family as an adopted child. We’re the broken, the rebellious, the outcast, the neglected, and the poor…spiritually speaking. We’re all the one’s not naturally born. Yet God said to us, “I want to be your Father and love you as my own.” And Jesus said to us, “I want to be your brother and I’ll even die for you to make it happen.” We as Christians should understand the drive to foster and adopt better than anyone on earth.

No, it might not be for you personally, but if you’re a Christian you should be among the most supportive people on earth when it comes to it. So, even if you never foster or adopt, please be a support and an encouragement for those who do.