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The Honor of the Standard Bearer
Eph 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places].
The world has always seemed to be a stage for war. Tales of armed conflict fill written history. The Korean War had ended shortly before my arrival on planet Earth. Vietnam dragged on through my college graduation. American troops have fought and died in Grenada, Somalia, and our current endeavors in Afghanistan and Iraq. Regardless of the cause, it seems that there will always be conflict.
As we look back in history, we see one of the most powerful armies that ever walked the globe, The Roman Legions. In those ancient days there were no radios, satellite cell phones, or laser guided bombs. Discipline and order ruled the day. This army conquered the known world using three basic tenants.
1) Uniformity. The centurions all wore the same uniform. They understood that they were part of something bigger than just themselves. They carried a flag-type standard called a vexillum, which showed what legion they belonged. Each century (a 100 man detachment) carried their own standard called a signum. These standards helped the troops to keep in the right positions during battle.
2) Communication. A general would relay his commands to the cornice, (Latin for ‘horn-blower). Each command had a unique set of sounds. The cornice had the duty to blow the exact order from his commander. Under penalty of death he could not, by pride or mistake, change the order he blew through the horn.
3) Loyalty. The Legion carried a portrait of the emperor, the imago, this was to remind the troops they owed their loyalty to him. “. . . just as we make Rome great, it is Rome that makes us great. Without Rome, we are nothing”. (quote from Caerleon.Net)
The eventual destruction of Rome occurred when they dropped their qualifications for membership in their army. Where Roman citizenship had been a requirement, outsiders, or barbarians, were allowed in as paid mercenaries. Discipline and uniformity were dropped in favor of attracting large numbers. Communication broke down due to language barriers and lack of formal training. The commands blown through the horn were not understood. Additionally there was no loyalty to Caesar or Roman culture or values.
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I hope that this little series has been provoking to your thinking. I hope that the ministers who are reading will delve into Bunyan’s The Holy War and discover that there are some fantastic sermon nuggets and Bible study thoughts that can be derived from it. Before progressing along with the Ear-Gate analogy, I think that giving a setting of what took place after the capture of Mansoul can contribute to the interest factor of this allegory.
Chapter 2 gives the description of the actions taken by Diabolus after Mansoul had been taken down. Immediately Diabolus instructs Mr. No-Truth to deface the large image of King Shaddai that was prominently located in the city. Additionally, he instructs Mr. No-Truth to go and create a similar image of Diabolus as a replacement for the citizens of Mansoul to have to come into contact with as they move about the city in their business dealings.
Diabolus is very focused on changing the nature of the city and that plot leads him to take all of the laws, statutes, morals, and principles that had been established by King Shaddai and destroy them. His whole purpose is to turn Mansoul into an absolute brute. His two primary henchmen in accomplishing this are Mr. No-Truth and Lord Willbewill. What a play on words that Bunyan uses in this allegory! He seeks to tear down truth and in doing this he lets the citizens be run entirely by the whims of their own selfish will.
Diabolus also knows that the city council has to be replaced with suitable men who will continue to contribute to the demise of the town. His new mayor is Lord Lustings, who has no eyes or ears, and is completely run by the beastly impulses that move within his sorry soul. His secretary is Forget-Good who cannot remember anything that is good and is solely run by mischief and does everything he can hurt people in whatever capacity that he can. The remaining men who sit on this troubled council are Mr. Incredulity (Skepticism), Mr. Haughty, Mr. Swearing, Mr. Whoring, Mr. Hard-Heart, Mr. Pitiless (Ruthless), Mr. Fury, Mr. No-Truth, Mr. Stand-to-Lies, Mr. False-Peace, Mr. Drunkenness, Mr. Cheating, and Mr. Atheism. As you can see these men have the ability to greatly harm any positive direction that Mansoul might have in recovery.
Now we come to the Ear-Gate, which was one of the primary ways that Diabolus managed to get into Mansoul to capture it. After its fall, Emmanuel determines that He is going to rescue the city from Diabolus and his unholy hordes. To do this, He will have to go into the same gates that Diabolus compromised at the beginning. He understands that the chief way to accomplish this task is to go through the Ear-Gate. As the story unfolds, Bunyan particularly enforces the idea that the voice of the preacher is what attacks the Ear-Gate. Again, you have to appreciate the names of the characters that Bunyan uses in his allegory.[ read more...]
As pastors and spiritual leaders we have many things on our plates. We have schedules, deadlines and appointments to fulfill. Our calendars are filled up with church meetings and conferences before we even get a chance to plan a family vacation. We run out of room to write in our daily planners. We are busy with Kingdom work. We are constantly about our Father's business. It would be all too easy to just quit and justify our quitting with being "burnt out." However, if we could see with our spiritual eyes just how close we are to reaching our final destination. If we could know exactly how close we are to the coming of the Lord, we would work faster and harder than we have ever worked before. We would load up on Bible studies and go teach our whole neighborhood the Word of God. If we could only see!
In 1952, young Florence Chadwick stepped into the waters of the Pacific Ocean off of Catalina Island, determined to swim to the shore of mainland California. She'd already been the first woman to swim the English Channel both ways. The weather was foggy and chilly; she could hardly see the boats accompanying her. Still, she swam for fifteen hours. When she begged to be taken out of the water along the way, her mother, in a boat alongside, told her she was close and that she could make it. Finally, physically and emotionally exhausted, she stopped swimming and was pulled out. It wasn't until she was on the boat that she discovered the shore was less than half a mile away. At a news conference the next day she said, "All I could see was the fog... I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it."[ read more...]
“A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” Prov 18:19
Bob stopped me a while back to thank me. A trustee and board member in his church, he explained that he and his wife were greatly offended by a situation and people in the church. He told how one Sunday without knowing their situation, I encouraged them. I told them that “they were very important to the work of God there” and a “wonderful example to me”. I didn’t know they had already decided this was their last service in that church. He told me that had it not been for my encouraging them that day, they never would have gone back.
I wonder how many Bob’s leave the church without anybody noticing.
It is often said, “If we could just win back those who have already left, that would be a great revival. My question is, “how did we ever let them get away in the first place”?
In my years of pastoring and ministry, I’ve found that people usually leave the church because they were never truly assimilated into the family of God to begin with. Once a person is established into the church and have formed nurturing relationships, it’s less likely they would become offended and leave.
We think that we have to “get them into the choir right away” or “find them a position or job in the church” to keep new converts. This may help that person feel more attached, but it will never assimilate them into the church.
Why do people exit the church? Many times, a person leaves because they were never provided the proper relationships within the church.[ read more...]
I stared out of my office window. In 3 hours my congregation would be filling the auditorium to receive watering for their souls and seek direction and inspiration. The prospect used to snap my adrenaline to attention and send me bounding through the sanctuary straightening chairs, adjusting microphones, checking thermostats. Anticipation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry would stir my faith with expectation. It was my favorite time of the week – then. I managed to continue preparing messages, but careful planning of the services overloaded the limits of my emotional energy. I winged it more Sundays than I care to admit. Routine pastoral tasks were postponed or neglected. Knowing I wasn’t giving the pastorate my best effort nagged my conscience and compounded my distress. Thankfully, I survived. Ministry once again puts a bounce in my steps. My devotional life has regained its pulse. Vision and purpose flow through my veins. I’ve come through to the bright side of the “valley of the shadow of death.” Here are some things I learned about surviving when the well runs dry.
- Recognize the Adversary. According to I Peter 5:8, we have an adversary who seeks to devour us. Satan’s strategy is seen throughout the Scriptures – to strike shepherds and scatter the sheep. For instance, he assaulted Timothy with insecurity and inadequacy. I was Timothy. Satan harassed me with thoughts: You’re a failure. You’re a terrible pastor. Your aren’t gifted enough. The church would be better off without you. You’ve missed your calling. They hounded my mind continually, and I gegan to believe them. Then I had to trust that He would equip and enable me to get the job done. I went to the Scriptures that speak of endurance and perseverance. Deep down I knew I had to press on, and God would see me through. He did. I’m thankful I didn’t quit.
- Settle the Commitment Issue. Another breakthrough came by committing myself anew to the call of pasturing. Discouragement caused me to entertain ideas of quitting the ministry and pursuing other professions. Mentally I packed my bags daily. The fantasies provided brief oases in my desert, but ultimately they sucked me down into deeper depression. Indecision frustrated and complicated my state of mind. I became angry that the ministry forced me to say “No” to other options. Then Jesus’ words began to impress my thoughts, “Whosoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25). I was trying to save my life. Leaving the ministry would be a cop-out and would cost me long-term blessings and character development. Therefore, I determined to stick with it and be faithful to the call. Even if it killed me, I would give myself to the ministry. It was a turning point. The distracting, conflicting desires faded. Contentment came, followed by genuine joy.
There’s a difference between leadership and management. Management consists primarily of three things: analysis, problem solving and planning. If you go to any management course, you’ll find it revolves around those three things. But leadership consists of communicating your Vision and Values.
If you don’t clarify the purposes as the leader, who will?
Here are a few guidelines:
Believe it or not, the bigger your vision, the easier it is to reach. People are rarely motivated by small visions. They will follow a big vision easier than a little one. People need a purpose. Giving them a grand vision will enable them to connect as some level with that vision. If your vision is narrow, you may fail to interest some people. However, if your vision is large, it will leave plenty of room for others to get involved.
Don’t worry about solving the problem before casting the vision. A good example of visionary leadership would be the United States President, John F. Kennedy. Regardless of what you think about his politics, Kennedy stood up one day in the early 1960’s and said, “We will put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.” He was clear; he was precise; and the vision was something people could look to. Now, here’s the interesting thing – when he said it, the technology to put a man on the moon hadn’t even been developed. That’s visionary leadership! Just because you don't have all the pieces of the puzzle just yet, does not mean that you can't share the vision. Let others come along side you who will bring those pieces to the table.
Your God determines how big your goal is. So, how big do you think God is? The issue is not who do you think you are, but who do you think God is? In your dreams for ministry, don’t limit yourself by saying, “What can I do?” Instead ask, “What can God do? What can God do in this place?” Then, use every single tool and resource that God puts in front of you - no matter what it looks like. Judging whether or not a resource if "of God" will limit God's ability to bless you in your work for Him.[ read more...]
Here are a few things to remember when taking up the offering.
Don’t be timid or embarrassed to ask people for money. It takes money to make ministry happen.
Teach your people to give financially to the church. You are robbing them of a tremendous blessing if you are not teaching them to give tithes and offerings. It is the job of the ministry to instruct people how to give financially to God’s work.
Be the first to give. Instruct your ushers to take the offering from the platform first. The Pastor should be the first to give and then anyone who is seated on the platform. Preachers, musicians, singers, everybody should be instructed to be an example in giving in every service. Rule number 1 – If you are on the platform, you must give in every offering. (This serves as an example to the rest of the congregation. You will be amazed at the increase in offerings when your congregation begins to notice the leadership of the church being the first to give.
Tell the ushers to slow down – Recently I visited a church where the ushers went so fast collecting the offering that people did not even have time to get their wallets out before the ushers were finished. Slow them down. People need time to dig deep.[ read more...]
Twelve questions to keep your personal accounts in order.
- Am I content with who I am becoming? Every day I get one day closer to who I will ultimately be. Am I satisfied with who this will be?
- Am I becoming less religious and more spiritual? The difference: I can control religion, while spirituality controls me.
- Does my family recognize the authenticity of my spirituality? If I am growing spiritually, my family will recognize it.
- Do I have a flow-through philosophy? As a Christian I am to let the blessings flow through me to others.
- Do I have a quiet center to my life? There is an important difference between the fast track and the frantic track. Peace is the evidence of God.
- Have I defined my unique ministry? Unless you know the things you can do uniquely well, you end up doing many mediocre things just to please others.
- Is my prayer life improving? One test is: Do my decisions have prayer as an integral part, or do I make decisions out of my desires and then pray?
In the past, I have written on church trouble from the angle of people in the congregation who found great enthusiasm for tormenting pastors until they finally ran them off. The religious landscape is littered with men who no longer pastor churches and gave up the calling of a ministry because of a situation where they found themselves in great contention with the hidden powers that ran the church. If you are interested you may read those old Barnabas Blog posts from a couple of years ago (Part 1 & Part 2). Since writing those posts, I have observed a few more of these unfortunate situations as they unfolded.
On the other hand, there are also churches that have had endure terrible abuses at the hands of heavy-handed, manipulative, and dark pastors who fall into the category of being a spiritual abuser.
I must say from the outset that this kind of activity to me is totally foreign because of the environment that I grew up in with my own pastor (and now father-in-law) Joe Patterson. Because of his spiritual leadership, I grew up with the idea that the church was the most incredible, warm, and safe place on the earth. It was only after I begin to travel around a bit and grew up some spiritually and mentally that I was exposed to the dark side of the church and ministry. To be quite frank with you, it was a bit unnerving and initially faith-jarring.[ read more...]
Failure – In the business world, this word isn’t an option. But in the church, it almost seems like a requirement. Look at the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. While the Bible lauds their faithful successes here, check out their Old Testament stories, and you’ll find that God used people who repeatedly failed and doubted him.
So the next time you feel like a failure or even a hypocrite – encouraging your congregation to live one way when you’re failing in that very same area yourself – remember God’s amazing penchant for using seemingly imperfect, irresponsible, and faithless people to further His kingdom. In fact, here are some specific places where you might be feeling like a failure, along with promises for you to claim.
Correcting and confronting people about sin when you know the pitiful condition of your own heart. Remember that God detests sin, but he already knows that you’ll fail Him. Victory doesn’t come through any power of our own, but only from God’s strength over evil. Approach God and admit your weaknesses. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9)
Preaching on quiet time when you don’t have one. Change the terminology if you need to. A quiet time is just a means of recharging your own spiritual batteries on a semi-regular basis – even if it’s not a daily quiet time. “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Being still is hard to do if you’re running in the opposite direction. What will happen if you stop and listen to God? “You’ll be made new in the attitude of your minds; and you’ll put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23- 24)
Speaking on bringing people to the Lord when you haven’t led anyone to Him in years. Double-check your source and motivation. Jesus said that only people plugged into Him could be fruitful. “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. I am the vine; you are the branches. If[ read more...]