Forgiveness of Criminal Offenders

We know that “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), but sometimes it is awful hard to love. It is one thing to get over mean little things that people say and do to us on a daily basis, but what about when there is criminal abuse involved? Does love cover the sin of a rapist… a child molester? Could you forgive a murderer? Scripture teaches that if we do not forgive then we will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:15), but where does one even begin when there is a criminal element to the offense? What does forgiveness look like in these situations?

First, the victim never has to say that what the offender did was okay. To forgive is not to say, “Oh, my bad, I misunderstood you. Nevermind. We’re good now. Glad we cleared that up.” When a crime is committed, it is important that justice is served immediately and swiftly. The human authorities bear the sword of God and are in place to punish those who do evil (Romans 13:1-7). To push the prosecution of a sexual assault or abuse of any kind is not to forego forgiveness. Of course, earthly justice meted out by human authorities is not perfect. Criminals sometimes get away. This is one of the many downsides to the fallen universe in which we live.

That brings us to the second thing that is often misunderstood about forgiveness. To forgive is to trust in God’s justice. The offender was not only lashing out at their victim, they were rebelling against God and His created order. God is just and possesses all power and authority. He will not allow them to get away “Scott free.” Punishment and God’s vengeance for their crimes will be rendered in God’s time if not on the earth then certainly in the eternal realm. Forgiveness on the part of the victims and their families involves them trusting that God will do what is right.

Third, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is a unilateral action taken by the victim(s) whereby they place their faith and trust in God to hold their offender accountable for his or her actions. Reconciliation, on the other hand, requires the offender’s remorseful acknowledgment of their offense and the pain they caused their victim. With reconciliation, the victim must be able to accept their remorse and the pain that they endured as a just payment for the offense. Reconciliation is not always possible, nor is it necessary, particularly if the offender is not a brother or a sister in Christ. Forgiveness, however, is always possible and always necessary.

Fourth, while the victim trusts in the justice of God, their earnest prayer should be that their offender would come to faith in Christ and escape the justice of God. This is the really hard but necessary part of forgiving. It requires a keen understanding of what happens when God executes His wrath on evil doers and shows mercy to the repentant. If we really understood the horror of the wrath of God, then we would not wish it on our worst enemies, and just because a person is forgiven does not mean that his or her sins go unpunished. The sins of the repentant and remorseful who come to saving faith in Christ are dealt with at the cross of Christ. Justice was served to Him on their behalf.

The best thing that could happen in the case of criminal offenses is that the criminal receives earthly justice for their crimes. Then, in the midst of their punishment, they realize the horror of what they have done and the terrible justice they will face at the judgment. From there, perhaps they will be moved to plead with God for mercy and trust in what Jesus did for them on the cross. Once transformed, they might be able to express to their victim or the victim’s families the remorse that they feel for what they have done.

Here is my pastoral counsel for any victims of crime: What happened to you is not and will never be “okay.” It is right to pursue justice through the appropriate human authorities. Even when earthly justice is not served, you can trust in God’s eternal justice. Pray that God will break your offender over what they have done so that justice for their offense might be served at the cross of Christ.


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The Fascinating Relationship Between Daniel 7 and the Great Commission

Daniel 7 begins with the prophet’s description of a vision that he had in the night. In his night vision, he saw four beasts. These four beasts represent the four great kingdoms that immediately preceded the coming of Christ; His death, burial, and resurrection.

The first beast that Daniel saw was of a winged lion. Its wings were plucked off and the lion-like beast was given the mind of a man. This beast represents the Babylonian empire. The plucking of its wings and receiving the mind of a man represents the humbling that Nebuchadnezzar experienced during Daniel’s lifetime.

The second beast was of a bear. One side of the bear was much larger than the other side. This beast represents the Medo-Persian empire that ruled much of the known world after the Babylonians. The stronger larger side of the bear represented the Persian component which was much mightier than the Medo component. The bear’s mouth was full of ribs corresponding to the nations and kingdoms devoured by the Persian empire.

The third beast was of a winged leopard with four heads. The leopard represents the Greeks led by Alexander the great. The four heads correspond to the four generals ( Lysimachus, Cassander, Ptolemy, and Seleucus) who ruled the empire after the death of Alexander. Daniel reported that to this third beast was given great dominion.

The fourth beast was a great and terrifying one that could not be described in the likeness of any creature in nature. It was huge. It was terrifyingly horrible. It had a mouth full of iron teeth. It trampled and devoured everything in sight. This horribly terrifying beast represented the great Roman empire.

Next, he saw “The Ancient of Days,” the personification of God Himself, come and take his place on a judgment seat in the midst of the four beasts. He was clothed in glory and majesty. Fire issued forth from the throne upon which He sat and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him in service.

As He sat in judgment, the fourth mighty and terrifying beast was speaking great and boastful words. In an instant, fire proceeded from the throne which violently and decisively consumed the beast. At the same time dominion was stripped from the other three beasts.

Then, Daniel saw something truly awe-inspiring. “One like a son of man” came on the scene with “the clouds of heaven” and was presented before the Ancient of Days. Now, the prophet describes Him as being “like a son of man” because He appeared as a man, but was obviously divine which was evidenced by the clouds of glory that accompanied Him. We have to conclude that this was the God-man, Jesus.

Jesus was presented before the Ancient of Days. He immediately received three gifts from the One on the throne… glory, dominion, and a kingdom without end. The Ancient of Days also bequeathed to the Son of Man all peoples of every nation and language that they should serve Him.

What set Jesus apart from the beasts was that He was given “an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away… which shall never be destroyed.” He was crowned the eternal King of every nation.

In Matthew 28:18, when Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth,” He was identifying Himself as the Son of Man in Daniel’s dream. He was communicating to His disciples that all other kingdoms had been brought down. His was the only kingdom left standing, thus all peoples of every nation now belonged to no other kingdom besides His own.

This was the driving force behind His command to “go and make disciples of all nations.” The political boundaries had disappeared from the world map due to His victory over the cross and the grave. At that moment, there existed only two types of people—those who had heard, and those who had not heard. The ones who knew Him were commanded to go and tell those who had not and to make them aware that their King had come.

The day is coming when all people from every nation will confess King Jesus as Lord of all heaven and earth. In ideal circumstances, all people would believe on Him in their earthly lifetime. But they cannot believe in a King of whom they have never heard. And they cannot hear unless His ambassadors go and tell them.


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A Pastor’s Perspective on Life

I know God called me to be a gospel minister because I need the gospel more than anyone. Had God not called me to do what I do, I would be a nominal lazy Christian. I would not spend the time I need to spend in the word of God. I would be lazy about leading my family in the Lord, and I would be totally apathetic about the lost world around me.

Being a pastor and having to be intentional about my devotion to the Lord gives me a different perspective on matters of life. I want to share with you 3 things that I wish you could see through my eyes.

1. If you could see the world through your pastor’s eyes, you would be more intentional about your devotion to the Lord. The phone rings. There is a distraught church member on the other end of the line who’s just found the expired body of their loved one. It is imperative that I be able to prayerfully comfort them with a word from the Lord. An angry church member storms into the office; I must be able to be a peacemaker. Sunday after Sunday, I must stand in the pulpit and feed God’s sheep.

The only way I can accomplish this work is through a daily quiet time with the Lord where He feeds me and prepares me for the day’s journey. You would be wise to be intentional about your devotion as well. Take an honest assessment of your relationship with the Lord. It is likely that many of the issues with which you struggle and many of your life’s raging conflicts are directly related to an unhealthy prayer and devotional life. Remember, you do not live by bread alone.

2. If you could see the world through your pastor’s eyes, you would be more intentional about your devotion your family. This is so important in my life because being a pastor is different from every other profession on the planet. Nobody really cares if their medical doctor has been married and divorced three or four times. A lawyer, a CEO, a bank executive can treat his children badly, have them live in total rebellion, and still go to work each day. A pastor, though, is biblically called to manage his household well or else he is disqualified from the office (1 Timothy 3:5).

I also weary of seeing so many families ripped apart. Every wedding I officiate begins the same. A man and woman enthralled with love are ready to take on the world. Every divorce ends with that same man and woman, who never thought it would come to this, ready to destroy one another along with the bond that God sealed between the two of them. This causes me to work even more diligently on my marriage and hold my children even tighter. I plead with you, as well, to be intentional about fulfilling your role in your family. There is no more important role in your life.

3. If you could see the world through your pastor’s eyes, you would be more intentional about your devotion to the lost and hell-bound. Every person who is lazy when it comes to personal evangelism should have to officiate the funeral of a person who was obviously lost at the time of their passing. Such a task is heart-wrenching. There is nothing like realizing you have been derelict in your evangelistic duty after it is too late.

The Bible is not a fiction book. A just God exists. He will be glorified by all. Born again believers will glorify Him by ruling and reigning with Him in a renewed earthly kingdom. Others will glorify Him as the smoke of their torment goes up from the lake of fire. We are not responsible to make decisions for people, but we are responsible to warn and pray for them (Rom 10:14).

Take this advice from a pastor, a fallen man who was given this opportunity because he needs this perspective more than anyone. It is essential that you take your personal time with the Lord seriously. It is absolutely essential that you cherish, defend, and lead your family. On top of all this, the lost world is counting on you to be an ambassador for Christ.


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Mother’s Day 2018

Another Mother’s Day will soon be upon us. For many, like myself, it is a happy time of remembrance and honoring of mothers. It is a day filled with visits and phone calls, lunch dates, cards, and flowers. For others, though, it is a day of mourning. It is these that I want to encourage you to remember and minister to this year.
 
*Remember those whose mothers have passed away. It is coming up on four years since Jen lost her mother. The two dates on the calendar that are most difficult for her are the anniversary of her passing and Mother’s Day. It is a phone call she does not get to make, a lunch date that she cannot enjoy, and a card she cannot send. It grieves her. I and the children grieve that we cannot comfort her because we do not fully understand. Remember her, and others like her who are in your circle. Any heartfelt gesture expressing your remembrance of them during this difficult time will be well received.
 
*Remember mothers who have lost children. Again, for them, Mother’s Day represents a visit that they will not receive. As a father, I cannot imagine what it would be like losing a child and how bad it would hurt to be reminded of the loss every year. Our Heavenly Father hurts and grieves with those who have lost children, and grants us the opportunity to be His voice and His healing hand to them. Do not pass up an opportunity to minister to grieving mothers.
 
*Remember those mothers who are mothers at heart but who have yet to receive the blessing of a child. I think of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 longing for a child and pouring out her heart unto the Lord. For Hannah, her prayer was answered. For many, today, for reasons only God knows, that same prayer is not answered… or at least not in the way they hope. These ladies who are mothers at heart should be remembered on Mother’s Day. They should be ministered to, loved on, and encouraged. 
 

*Remember the mothers who are not perfect. I do not think we fully understand the pressure that mothers, especially young mothers, endure. She is expected to be maid, nurse, phycologist, and taxi all-the-while juggling a job outside the home and keeping her husband happy. She has so many balls in the air, it is no wonder that she often drops one or two here and there. Then, she will come to church on Mother’s Day and the preacher will trot out the “Proverbs 31 Woman” and remind her of all the ways she falls short (I will not be doing that by the way). This year remember the mothers who struggle daily, sometimes alone, and often under unreasonable pressure to be perfect.


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What is the Fear of the Lord?

Some people have difficulty with this phrase that is found all through Scripture, “the fear of the Lord.” Is the Lord to be feared? Is He a being who is out to get us… a quick-tempered tyrant who could lash out at any moment? If so, it would seem to contradict the fact that he is identified in the book of 1 John as the personification of love. If God is love, then why is He also to be feared.

I have grown tremendously in my understanding of what it means to fear the Lord since I started keeping honeybees (about a year and a half ago). Honeybees are the most fascinating creatures I have ever encountered. I was in love with them from the first time I helped a friend harvest honey from his beehive. I was surprised that when he lifted the lid off the box and I heard the rumbling buzzing of thirty thousand honeybees inside the box; it had a soothing and relaxing effect on my spirit. It is a sound that I have grown to love and appreciate even more over the last year and a half.

I have learned that honeybees are actually gentle little creatures. Unlike wasps or hornets, they have nothing to prove and are not out to inflict pain with indiscretion. All they want to do is gather their nectar, raise their young, and make enough honey to last their colony through the winter. As long as I respect them, they behave respectably. If I take proper precaution in observance of their power and might, then we can all get along painlessly, and they will share with me some of the fruits of their daily labor.

I have also learned, though, that when I fail to pay them the respect they are due, they have the power to inflict a lot of pain. If I lift the top on a hive without wearing any protective equipment on a warm windy day, they will remind me of their power and put me back in line. I have learned to turn the muffler on the tiller away from the opening of the hive while working the garden to avoid inducing a painful attack. Even my dog, Harley, has learned to steer clear of their watering spot and not snap at them in the air or she will taste their wrath in the form of a barbed stinger in the roof of her mouth.

God is like a honeybee in this way… He does not have anything to prove by wielding His power indiscriminately. He does not want to inflict pain on us. He wants to love us, and He wants us to love Him. He wants to share with us the bounty of His riches and tender mercies. He would never execute His wrath without cause.

Scripture teaches that if we approach Him in humility and respect in recognition of His mighty power, then He is more than happy to share with us. In return for our respect (“fear”), He grants us one of the most precious commodities known to man… wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). Along with wisdom and knowledge, respect for the Lord brings about long life (Proverbs 9:11) and honor (Proverbs 15:33, 22:4). Those who respect the Lord are granted influence (Acts 9:13) and an unceasing drive to persuade others to love and fear Him (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Like with the honeybees, the inverse is also true. A failure to fear the Lord will result in pain, poverty, and the loss of hope (Proverbs 23:17-21). In Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu failed to show the Lord the respect He was due, so he broke out against them and killed them. It was not that God was behaving rashly, but that Nadab and Abihu were behaving foolishly. They paid for their lack of fear as did Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:7 and Ananias and Sephira in Acts 5.

We fear God, not because He is rash in His judgments, but because He is righteous and holy. As long as we approach Him with the respect due Him, we can enjoy His blessings for all the ages to come. However, we must never forget His awesome power. The one whose voice created the stars has the power to destroy our very souls. So, we treat Him with respect. This is what it is to “fear the Lord.”


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Is the church building the house of God?

Growing up we were told that the church was the house of God. Adults would call out to the children, “No running! Remember you are in the house of God.” We dressed in our “Sunday best,” the term used to describe our holiest of outfits because we were going to God’s house. Loud talking and noise-making by the children were prohibited because God’s house was a solemn place. No fun was to be had, only reverence.

The question needs to be asked. Is it true that the church building is the house of God? Is our church meeting place the place where God’s presence literally dwells? These questions deserve an answer, not from us, or our parents, or grandparents, but from God. Thankfully, we have His answer in the scriptures if we have the humility to ask honestly.

The first time God commissioned His people to build a dwelling to for Him was in Exodus 25. He commanded Moses to build a tent known as the “Tabernacle” or “the tent of meeting.” This tent was an elaborate setup with two chambers and an outer courtyard. The altar for burnt offerings was erected in the courtyard. The holiest place was located in the innermost chamber where the Ark of the Covenant rested. Atop the Ark were two golden cherubim whose wings met in the center of the top of the ark. The place where the wings met was known as “the mercy seat.” The mercy seat was to be the throne of God, the place where His presence literally dwelt.

Much later, once the Hebrews settled in the promise land, the Tabernacle was replaced with a more permanent dwelling. The new building, built by King Solomon, was known as the temple or “the house of God.” The temple was built after the plans of the Tabernacle. It also had two main chambers and an outer courtyard. The temple was larger and more ornate than the Tabernacle, and it was attached to the ground.

Only the priests and Levites were allowed in the house of God. There were strict laws governing the type of clothing the priests were to wear and how often they were allowed into the sanctuary. A violation of these laws most often led to the instant death of the offender. The house of God was a solemn and most holy place; the holiest place on the planet because it was the place where God dwelt.

The temple was destroyed after Israel fell to Babylon. It was rebuilt upon the return of the Exiles to the promise land. It was renovated once more under the reign of Herod the Great.

Two things happened that led to the demise of the temple. First, when Jesus died on the cross, the veil that separated the innermost chamber was ripped in two from top to bottom making the holy of holies just an ordinary room in an ordinary building. Then, in 70 A.D., the Romans invaded to put down a Jewish rebellion and the temple was totally destroyed in the battle.

The careful reader of Scripture will discover that this was always God’s plan. His plan has always been to make His home, not in a building, but in the hearts of His people. In Hebrews 8-10, the author explained that just as the Tabernacle gave way to something more permanent, so also the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem gave way to a dwelling place for God that is even more permanent. The ultimate house of God is not a building made with hands but in the transformed heart of a believer. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Ephesians 2:22 says, “In him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

When a group of believers gathers together for worship and ministry, a local church is born. The place where they meet, whether it is beautiful Victorian building, or a shady spot under a tree becomes holy when the people of God gather there. But the meeting place is not holy in itself like a temple or a house of God; it is holy because the body of Christ comes together as one in that place.

There is nothing wrong with calling church facilities “holy.” Holy means set apart. Church buildings are holy because they are set apart for corporate worship and ministry. However, the church building is not God’s house. God has made His earthly home in our hearts.


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How to Honor Our Heroes of the Faith

We all have memories of certain spiritual giants… heroes of our faith who have crossed the river into the promised land of rest. In the time that the Lord gave them on this earth, they poured into us. They taught us about Jesus and what it was to walk in faith. Much of who we are today is owed to what God accomplished in our lives through them.

How can we pay back the debt we owe to our spiritual heroes who have passed on? Is there a way for us to honor their memories? Will seeking to honor them bring honor to God? Will our efforts to honor them be of any benefit to us or others? From Hebrews 11:39-12:2, we learn that it is possible to honor their memories in a Christ-exalting way.

First, you can recognize that even though they have received the promised rest and dwell in paradise, there is something missing in the life that they now enjoy. Hebrews 11:39-40 says of the spiritual giants of the Old Testament “all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

I hope you caught that. Those who have gone on before us have received the commendation of their faith. They are at home in a better country. They want for nothing, physically speaking, in the presence of their Savior. However, they have not yet reached the promised perfection. Meaning, they have yet to receive their new bodies. Those promised and perfected resurrection bodies will not be received before the whole world is reached with the gospel. This was by God’s design so that we could be a part of them being made perfect. God has given us the opportunity to honor them by the way we share Christ with others.

If you want to honor your departed heroes of the faith, then go tell the word about Jesus. Your labor with Christ in the ministry of reconciliation speeds along the advance of the gospel and hastens His return and the promised resurrection. You have the opportunity to do your part so that all the heroes of the faith might receive what was promised.

Second, you can recognize that they are looking down upon you. If we know they are watching, then we can live our lives in such a way that will bring them honor and joy. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Your spiritual heroes were your heroes because they ran their race well. They walked with the Lord in daily repentance and endured every hill and valley encountered along their course. Their desire, now, is to see you do the same in your own life. While they only watch across a great divide unable to affect the outcome of your race, they still have a front-row seat. They rejoice every time you repent of sin and endure a hardship in the faith.

Third, you can make Jesus the singular focus of your life. The last thing your departed loved one would want you to do is to make them the focus of your life. The author of Hebrews wrote that being “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” we should run our race while, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

It would be so easy for us, knowing that our heroes watch from above, to stand and gaze up into the heavens wondering what they must be thinking. Our focus, however, should be set on Christ. Our heroes are our heroes because they ran their races well, but no one ever ran the race better than Christ. No one has ever been better at casting off sin. No one has ever done a better job at enduring the cross and the shame. He ran so well because He made “the joy that was set before Him” the singular focus of His running. We honor our spiritual giants when we seek to do the same.


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Is Slavery in the Bible?

My seminary professor once divided the classroom up into groups and assigned each the task of constructing a biblical argument against slavery. It seemed easy enough. We all knew that slavery was wrong. The buying and selling of human beings could not be anything that God condoned. Right? But we quickly ran into problems. In Exodus 21 and Leviticus 25 we saw that God issued laws to govern the slave trade.

Then, in the New Testament, slaves are told to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22). In 1 Peter 2:28, slaves were instructed to “be subject to your master with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” Really? Were slaves to be obediently submissive even to the harshest of masters? In Titus 2:9 it says, “Slaves are to be subject to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative.”

Our class’ task was more difficult than we expected, to say the least. Let us take a deep breath and then a closer look. There are actually a couple of different kinds of slavery in the Bible. The first is the form of slavery that we often think about; the kind where human beings are captured and then bought and sold in a slave trade market. This kind of slavery is expressly forbidden among God’s people on the grounds that His people belong to Him. He bought them with a price, thus no one could buy them out of His hand (Leviticus 25:39-40, 55).

This first type of slavery was only permitted in regards to the enemies of God who would be driven out by the promise land (Leviticus 25:44-46). The people of Israel were permitted to own the Canaanites as slaves. They were permitted to buy and sell them and bequeath them to their heirs in their wills. This was only because God had spoken this as a judgment against the people of the land due to their Baal worship and other sins. God would go even farther than permitting them to be enslaved. There were occasions when He ordered His people to kill whole nations including men, women, children, and livestock (1 Samuel 15:1-3).

If you think God is being unfair or partial here, just remember that God did the same thing to His own people whenever they turned their backs on Him and worshipped other gods. The whole Northern Kingdom of Israel was decimated. Later, the whole Southern Kingdom was carried off into captivity and made slaves of the Babylonians.

The second kind of slavery is quite different than what we think what we think of as slavery. Poor people were often forced to sell themselves into servitude after falling on hard times. In some cases, they would sell a daughter to another wealthier person in order to save the family. This was a matter of survival, not enterprise (Leviticus 25:39-43; Exodus 21:7-11). In these cases, the bondage was never meant to be permanent. Every seven years these slaves were set free if they so desired, and there was always an option for the person who was sold into bondage to be redeemed (Leviticus 25:47-51). Their poverty was not to be exploited, and they were not to be treated ruthlessly.

Even though slavery is not uniformly forbidden in the Bible, the harsh treatment of slaves is expressly forbidden. I would be willing to wager that the slavers in the 17th and 18th centuries who used Ephesians 6 to rule over their slaves never expounded past verse 5. Ephesians 6:9 says, “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with Him.” Also, Colossians 4:1 says, “Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

We can count on this: those masters who trapped slaves, put them on boats, shipped them across the ocean, sold them on auction blocks, ripped families apart, beat and raped them will have a Master to answer to in the judgment. Those today, who kidnap and enslave young men and women to profit from the exploitation of their bodies will answer to the Master. He will not show partiality. He will render a swift and right judgment. They will spend eternity paying for their transgressions. His vengeance will be executed, and their victims will receive vindication.


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On Church Conflicts

Anyone who has been a part of any church for any amount of time has a story about a church conflict. They have a story about that business meeting where there was standing room only because the people who had been inactive in the church for years decided that they needed to be there to vote. They can tell you of the experience of being hurt when people that they loved and respected undermined their desire to follow the Lord and minister in the church.

These types of church conflicts have been around since the very beginning of the church. In Acts 5, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira threatened the integrity of the early church. In Acts 6:1-7, a misunderstanding between two parties in the church threatened to divide the fellowship and pull the Apostles away from their duty to preach and lead. There is much for us to learn from these conflicts.

1. Sin must be dealt with. Ananias and Sapphira’s sin could not be covered up. It had to be called out and disciplined so that both the people of the church and the world whom they hoped to reach would know that sin is not okay.

In church conflicts that arise out of sin, the sin which causes the turmoil must be decisively dealt with. Sexual misbehavior, whether among the ministerial staff or the lay membership is not okay. Gossip and backbiting is not okay. Care must be taken to get to the root of the problem and the person(s) responsible. Then, the sin must be exposed and called out in a gracious and loving way lest their sin bring shame on the church and on Christ.

The thought of directly confronting sin scares the living daylights out of most people. We fear how they will react. We are tempted to just stay quiet and let God deal with it on His own. However, in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, we see the horror of what happens when God deals with sin in the church. If we learn of the sin, then we have the opportunity to spare them from God’s judgment. The most loving thing that a Christian can do for their fellow brother or sister who is caught in sin is to go to them and gently correct them. In this way, God may perhaps grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth so that they escape the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

2. When there is a dispute arising from a misunderstanding, other servants are needed to ensure an equitable solution. In Acts 6, the Apostles stated that it would not be right for them to neglect their duty in preaching and teaching the word of God in order to fix the issue at hand. They called on the church to appoint other servants for this duty, “men who were of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). This motion was passed unanimously and the conflict was handled.

Most of the time the church leans on the pastor to handle a conflict. That is not always the best course of action, particularly when the problem is not sin but a misunderstanding. The pastor and ministerial staff, like the Apostles of the first-century, need to be able to devote themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer. The only thing worse than a church split is to have your ministerial staff burn out from having to consistently handle polemic situations where misunderstandings run rampant.

Just be careful how you chose these servants. As the Apostles requested, they need to be of a good reputation. They need to be the most devoted Christians in the church. They need to be wise in their handling of sensitive issues and someone that everyone, and I mean everyone, can trust.

3. Healthy handling of church conflicts leads to a stronger and healthier fellowship. In Acts 5:14 we see that the decisive handling of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira only led to the church growing more than ever. We see in Acts 6:7 that the handling of the misunderstanding led to many believers being added to the fellowship. Even some of the Jewish priests believed. We can conclude then, that as ugly as church fights can be, they can turn out for the best if we will handle them biblically. We should strive for these ends.


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Why is the church not growing faster?

Several years ago, I listened to a challenging sermon from a leading pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). He was lamenting that the makers of Coca-Cola have been more successful in spreading their soda to the ends of the known world than Christians have been at spreading the life-changing gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. His challenge was that Jesus is better than Coca-Cola, and Christians should be at least as successful at marketing Jesus as Coca-Cola is at selling their product. 

Every year, the SBC baptizes fewer and fewer converts. These depressing statistics are always marched out at our convention meetings. Church leaders like myself feel a constant pressure push harder and do more of whatever it takes to get the numbers up to where they were in the 1950’s, but the global Church still is not growing as fast as we hoped. 

Our convention leaders are correct in some aspects of their reasoning. Fewer and fewer people answer God’s call to go a take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Fewer disciples are being made because there is a shortage of laborers for the harvest. Also, many local churches have grown cold in the area of evangelism. There is a constant battle with complacency in which complacency wins out much of the time. 

There are other aspects that should be factored into the reasoning for the Church not growing faster. First, Jesus is not as attractive to the natural man as the brown carbonated sugar water we call Coca-Cola. When a man or woman at the ends of the known world purchases a Coca-Cola, they hand over their money, pop the top, and get an instant fizzy fix of sugar and caffeine.  When that same person comes to know Jesus, they die. That is the cost of following Him, you know? They must count all that they once held gain as loss in order to have Jesus in their lives. It is no wonder that Coca-Cola is more popular than Jesus.

Second, it is not fair to place all the blame for the lack of baptisms on the shoulders of church leaders who are striving to be faithful. While complacency is a real problem in the American church, there are countless church pastors who labor hard for the sake of the gospel and see very little fruit from their labors. Hearts have grown hard in these last days. Like Isaiah of the Old Testament, they consistently preach their guts out to no avail hoping to warm cold hearts. They should be encouraged to remain faithful on their difficult mission fields and not be pressured into using manipulation and trendy church growth models to get the baptism numbers up. 

Third, there are many faithful lay people who love the Lord and love lost people. They want to see their neighbors reached with the gospel. They go on mission trips. They give a significant portion of their income to support local and international mission efforts. These faithful lay people, like their faithful pastors, battle against a demographic of their peers who do not care to see the church grow. The only thing more discouraging for them than the lack of growth in the church is the fact that their friends see the same problems but do not feel led to do anything about it. Those faithful lay people need to be encouraged to stay the course and keep doing the work of an evangelist in spite of the complacency in their peers. 

Novelty is too often valued over faithfulness. We do not need new methods of making disciples. The method that Jesus used… life on life discipleship is sufficient. He personally poured into 12 ordinary men. One was a traitor and left them. The other 11 went on and poured into other men and women, baptized them, and taught them all that Jesus had commanded them. Those reached by the 11 poured into others who poured into others. This led to exponential growth, and that is how we have arrived where we are today. 

We are guaranteed results, but we are not guaranteed the results that we envision, therefore results should not be our aim. We must aim at faithfulness to Christ and His mission. The results do not depend on the ability of the evangelist, but his/her willingness to be faithful in the hard places and in the hard times.


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