Category Archives: leadership

The Bible, The President, The Nation

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

English: Seal of the President of the United States Español: Escudo del Presidente de los Estados Unidos Македонски: Печат на Претседателот на Соединетите Американски Држави. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I ran across some notes I had taken years ago from an old book, Profitable Bible Study by Wilbur M. Smith.   In my notes from this text, there were some quotes from selected U.S. presidents about the Bible.  These quotes are revealing and perhaps instructive during this election year.  The quotes indicate a good deal about the president’s relationship with God, their conception of their role as a spiritual leader, and their understanding of the importance of God’s Word in their own lives.  Here are a few for your review and consideration:

Abraham Lincoln:  “In regard to the Great Book, I have only to say, it is the best gift which God has given man.  All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.”

John Quincy Adams:  “So great is my veneration for the Bible and so strong my belief, that when duly read and meditated on, it is of all books in the world, that which contributes most to make men good, wise, and happy.”

Andrew Jackson:  “The Bible is the rock on which our republic rests.”

Woodrow Wilson:  “I am sorry for the men who do not read the Bible daily.  I wonder why they deprive themselves of the strength and the pleasure.  I should be afraid to go forward if I did not believe that there lay at the foundation of all our schooling and all our thought this incomparable and unimpeachable Word of God.”

What would you say about the Bible?  Where are you in your assessment of the need for God’s Word in your own life?  Does it make a difference? Does it matter to you how the President views the Bible?  Does it matter to you if the Bible is valued among the population of this nation or any other nation?

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Reformed Theology and Southern Baptists: The Masses Don’t Care

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther...

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther, the initiator of the Protestant Reformation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of my friends and associates work in churches and ministries.  Some of them talk quite a bit about being “reformed.”  They make it a point to bring this up often.  Some even go as far as to include the label on their blogs and websites.  Presently, there are debates among Southern Baptist leaders about who is the most reformed, or whether it is OK to breath the word in the context of their ministries.  Southern Baptists go as far as to offer conferences addressing reformed theology and to issue informal statements about their theological positions in an effort to garner support and approval from like-minded leaders.  Have we taken this discussion too far?  The Protestant Reformation occurred hundreds of years ago.

Can we not agree on whether God is sovereign over all things, that humanity is fallen, that the saved are elect, that salvation is in Christ alone, that sanctification leads to the transformation of persons and society?  Why is this still being debated?  Could it be that denominational leaders are so narcissistic that they want to continue the argument so that they draw attention to themselves and to their own glory for being in such a superior theological position than others?  Or are they afraid they are going to lose influence if they don’t line up with their cronies and continue to draw the unassuming masses to their churches?

I have a response for reformers.  My answer may sound a bit smug, but I don’t intend it to be that way.  My answer goes something like this, “One thing I am sure of—I seek to be conformed and transformed.”  I like these words.  Conformed and transformed.

By now you know that I am referring to a couple of passages in Scripture, Romans 8:29 and Romans 12:2.  Romans 8:29 refers to how God has called us “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”  In contrast to this type of conformity, Romans 12:2 tells us what not to be conformed to:  “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

It seems that all the reformed guys are more intent on being conformed to their reformed counterparts than they are on being conformed to the image of Christ.  I don’t hear much coming from these guys about the “conforming” that God works in us, the ultimate and complete sanctification.  This is the goal of our relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  Conformation implies that there is something already established that is the object of our conformation.  This is God’s will and it is a concept that we must grapple with in order to understand His will.

The act of transformation involves something in transition, namely ourselves and our constant act of turning our mind toward God in each thing we are confronted with in the world.  It is a metamorphosis, a total change from the inside out that is led by the mind.  My mind is transformed as I pray, as I read God’s Word, as I involve myself in fellowship with other believers.  This transformation is essential in discovering God’s will for our lives.

Be careful of the tendency to ignore conforming and transforming.  Sometimes the snare is the theological issue of the day, things that tend to puff up rather than to produce the humility and patience of being conformed to His image.  My prayer is that Christians would carefully examine their hearts to see if God is working in them in such a way that produces this image in them.

Be On Your Guard

Christ and The Pharisees

Image via Wikipedia

The situation in Northern Africa this week prompted thoughts on the common traits of corrupt leaders.  Typically these traits center on control.  Their leadership is coercive.  They rely on oppression and force to stay in power.

Along these lines and perhaps timely, Mitch Horowitz provided a short essay for the Wall Street Journal this week entitled, “When Does a Religion Become a Cult?”  Horowitz is editor in chief of Tarcher / Penguin in New York and the author of Occult America.  Through his studies and observations, Horowitz sees common threads among various religious groups that give them the stamp of a “cult.”  These criteria include:  behavior control, information control, thought control, emotional control, financial control, and extreme leadership.

Christians should learn much from these observations.  It should prompt us to “be on our guard.”  How do we guard ourselves?  What does Scripture teach?

Surely this is an important concept because our Lord Jesus instructed His followers often to be alert, take heed, be on your guard.  Paul uses this concept as well when writing the epistles.  For example, Jesus said in Luke 12:1, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees.”  Paul’s closing comments to the church at Corinth include the admonition to “be on your guard” (1 Cor. 16:13).

Take time to study a few more verses that deal with the concept.  I would suggest that Proverbs 22:5 be the basis for your study:  “In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them.”

Review passages surrounding these verses as well:  Acts 20:31 and I Timothy 6:20-21.  Also, Paul’s letter to the Colossian church provides a good study on this topic.

Oswald Chambers, Uncertainty, and the New Year

Many thoughts run through my mind at the beginning of this New Year.  There has been one thought, however, that captured my attention and is worthy of deeper meditation.  It comes from Oswald Chambers and appears in his biography written by David McCasland.  This wonderful biography provides vignettes of Chambers’ service in Cairo during World War I with the YMCA.  Soldiers relished their time under Chambers’ ministry.  War equals uncertainty, and Chambers helped these men deal with the uncertainty they faced day in and day out.

In the year 1916, Mr. Chambers made a statement when questioned about what he might do after the war.  His response came in the form of a simple truism, “Trust God and do the next thing.”  We often want to boil things down to a simple, memorable maxim to carry with us throughout life and Chambers seemed to always excel in this task.  This was his advice to all who were facing uncertainty, “Trust God and do the next thing.”

What does this mean to us as we start the New Year?  I think it means a great deal, and it is a statement that will carry us through the many uncertainties we face.  After all we are His children and we can trust Him when all else on earth fails us.

As I contemplated this statement, I broke it down into two parts.  The first, “Trust God,” calls to mind the nature of our Heavenly Father.  Don’t put you faith in man who will fail you, put your trust in God.  He is worthy of trust because of His nature.  I can trust Him because He is faithful, He is present, He is Holy, He is just, He is worthy, He is loving.  I always think of the “omni” words when describing the nature of our God:  omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

Trusting God also calls to mind Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all you ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.”  Often we get into trouble by relying on our own wisdom in certain matters.  Ask God for wisdom, trust in Him fully.  We trouble our lives when we rely on our wisdom or another man’s so-called wisdom.

Back to the second phrase of Chambers’ maxim, “Do the next thing.”  Don’t we often wring our hands worrying about what to do next?  If the entire path is not mapped out we refuse to move.  This type of “business” thinking has invaded the lives of too many Christians.  Sure, plans fail for the lack of counsel and when we plan to build something we must consider the costs, but should we expect from God the complete picture before we do anything?  This is where the believer gets into trouble and gets into a state of inactivity that God cannot use him to accomplish God’s purposes.

I think of the Israelites leaving Egypt under the leadership of Moses.  Here is an example of how to “do the next thing” under God’s leadership.  Read Exodus 14.  We see here how Pharaoh and his army pursued the Israelites to the edge of the Red Sea, an impossible place of escape militarily speaking.  In their terror, they cried out to God.  God instructed Moses to remind the people He was with them and that they need not be afraid.  He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, why would He not deliver them now?  We see that God told Moses and the Israelites to “move on.”  Moving on is the same as doing the next thing.  Trust God and do the next thing meant moving toward the sea.  I can just picture the scene that as they took the steps toward the sea, God provided a way out by driving the waters back so they could cross on dry ground.  Not only did He provide a way of escape, He provided His presence with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.

Are you in a place this New Year where you are uncertain about your future?  Maybe a job change, maybe a relationship issue, maybe a physical challenge.  These all are happening under the eyes of our Loving Heavenly Father.  He cares for us and we can trust Him.  I am thankful that Oswald Chambers reminded us to “Trust God and do the next thing.”  Let’s face the New Year with this one thought in our hearts and mind.

Dramatic Need for Hispanic Church Leader Training

In response to rapid Hispanic church growth in the United States, the Bible Training Centre for Pastors (“BTCP,” www.bibletraining.com) has formed a consortium of ministries that will address the training needs of Hispanic pastors and church leaders.  Founded in 1990 by Dennis Mock of Atlanta, BTCP has extended non-formal theological training to the world’s untrained pastors in 85 countries through the help of unique partnerships with other ministries.  Over 57,000 pastors and church leaders have been trained since 1990 around the world due to the work of BTCP.  Near 35,000 currently are in training.

According to Mock, President of BTCP, there is “no known strategy to be found” for addressing the theological training needs of Hispanic pastors in the United States.  The needs are dramatic, Mock insists, because of low educational levels, lack of resources, and limited availability of facilities.  “The vast majority of these bi-lingual, bi-vocational Hispanic pastors will never be trained in traditional Bible colleges or seminaries,” says Mock.

The goal of the newly-formed Hispanic ministries consortium is to develop and implement a large numbers strategy to take non-formal theological and ministry training to the untrained Hispanic pastors and church leaders in the United States.

Research corroborates these needs.  In a study of Hispanic Bible institutes from 1998 by Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier of the Claremont School of Theology, the need for training will reach unprecedented proportions soon.  She states, “The Hispanic population is projected to be the largest minority population in the nation.  This places the Hispanic church in a key position as a positive contributing factor in the life of Latinos in the United States.  If, however, the leaders of the church do not receive the theological training necessary for contextualizing its ministry so that it responds adequately to the complexities of issues affecting the well-being of this group, then their future stands to be adversely affected.”

With a systematic and integrated curriculum and a solid educational philosophy, BTCP’s Consortium is now positioned to be involved in the training needs within the U.S.  The well-being of the Hispanic community is affected by the spiritual wholeness of the community and its future.  This is an opportunity for strengthening Hispanic churches that must not be neglected.

The Consortium’s new Director, Miguel Montenegro, has already started multiple classes in 12 states with over 1050 leaders in training.  According to Miguel, “Hispanic pastors need more than just basic training to be able to teach and lead their congregations.”  Miguel and his wife Maria seek ministry partners who may help train leaders and support the work of the Consortium.

For further information on this Consortium, please visit the BTCP website at http://www.bibletraining.com or e-mail consorciohispano@btcp.com.

A Third Man? Christian, Think Again

Not too long ago I used to run up and down the road doing development work for a college.  During that time, I would stop by the public library and pick up some of the newer books on CD to take along for the ride.  This was a new experience for me.  I know that sounds a bit behind the times, but I discovered the joy of following a story in much greater detail and length than most of us experience among our tweets and texts these days.

One particular joy unwrapped itself in the telling of Ernest Shackleton’s great adventure to Antarctica on the Endurance.  Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition provided the perfect escape from the day as I moved to and fro.   If you don’t know this extraordinary feat of an expedition, you must find the book.  I have been captivated only a few times like this.

For time’s sake, I can’t get into a detailed retelling.  But I do want to focus on one moment where I sensed something beyond me, something that was quite spiritual.  In fact, I was moved to tears.  Toward what was to be an end to their journey and at the most extreme fatigue and impossible circumstances, Shackleton and two of his crew, Worsly and Crean, walked across a mountain without any equipment for mountain climbing.  It would have seemed that death was close, however they moved on in determination to save their expedition and the lives of the other men waiting behind.

They made it under conditions beyond human endurance.  At a later point in comparing notes about the trip, Shackleton shared that he had a strange feeling that there was a fourth person in their party.  Crean confessed the same thing.  All three remembered a strong arm helping them down the mountain.  Hallucinations are not unusual under extreme conditions of suffering, but all three men shared the same account of a fourth man.  You’ve got to read this book.

Well, I started thinking about this the other day when I read in the Wall Street Journal about a new book coming out next week called The Third Man Factor by John Geiger.  Geiger retells the Shackleton experience among other accounts of humans that survived and transcended extreme conditions.  Each of these accounts describe some force, some presence, that helped them survive or that guarded them from danger.  Geiger surveys the theories behind the third man phenomenon and seems to endorse a biochemical explanation for this response.  He does not shoot down any of the other theories for the third man, including the spiritual.  But I am curious about this quote by the author, “Imagine the impact on our lives if we could learn to access this feeling at will.  There could be no loneliness with so constant a companion.  There could be no stress in life that we would ever again have to confront alone.”

I just reached down from the laptop to pet our cat Celeste, a constant companion as we sit on our porch.  But I don’t think Geiger was talking about pets.  Geiger comes to the edge of admitting a spiritual presence, but leaves us with his physiological theory of accessing this companionship at will.  I felt sorry for Geiger, or I should say I feel sorry for Geiger because he is afraid to accept the existence of God.

Christian, think again.  God is with us.  He is ever present.  His name is called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  One of His characteristics is His omnipresence.  Are you award of this as a believer, as one who is experiencing salvation?  I take great comfort in reminding myself of this each day.  When I awake, when I work, when I play, when I lie down again, God is with me.  I don’t have to summon some biochemical response to remind me.  The Holy Spirit reminds me.

If you don’t realize this as a believer, find something in God’s Word to awaken you.  One of my favorite thoughts is expressed in James 4:8, “Come near to God and He will come near to you.”  Approach Him with clean hands and a pure heart.  God has said, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 as quoted from Deuteronomy 31:6).  Does that not excite you?  Wow, the God of the universe is with me!

It is reassuring for the Christian to know these things and it helps us understand when others try to explain the phenomenon of a presence they can’t explain.  We are His creation, we belong to Him, and He is present with us all the time.  Our senses are surely heightened when we are in stressful situations and I am thankful that God made me that way, so that I  draw near to Him during those times and am reminded of His presence.

The Disciple’s Dilemma—Realizing the Source

Imagine the first steps you make as a follower of Christ and think about the strength it took to make those steps.  When you really did something that you did not have the power to do, it became very real to you Who you were following.

The dilemma of Jesus’ disciples was just that.  They responded immediately in obedience, but as they moved on in their followership it became apparent that something transformed their service.  It was the power of the Lord.  After all, He is the source.

This morning I read in the Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6, that power was coming from Jesus and healing all of them who came to Him.  Can you imagine such power?  What could that power have been like?  It probably seemed like a force field or something of that nature.

This power spoken of here had two agents:  a source and a recipient.  That’s the way all power works.  Your electrical power has its source in the power plant.  The power plant reels in the force and tames it to move toward the recipients.  The recipients pay their bills in order to obtain it.

Well, our bill as a follower of Christ has been paid.  The penalty for our sins, that is, has been taken care of.  If the bill has been paid, then we have access to the source.  Believing is part of the process.

Jesus’ disciples encountered this same power when they were involved in feeding the five thousand.  Jesus asked them to look for some food and they found only a few loaves and fishes.  Jesus told them, “You feed them.”  They probably looked at each other and wondered what to do.   Go ahead and feed them was their Lord’s instructions, so they started.  Pretty soon, they began to notice as they reached the end of the food line that there was bread left over.  We did it!  Wait, Jesus did it through us.  His power was expressed through us.

Well, let’s now go to the other side of the lake ahead of Jesus.  How many times have we done this?  Let’s go on now to the next thing ahead of Jesus.  The disciples rowed and rowed, strained until about 3 in the morning.  Head winds kept coming.  Then they say a figure coming toward them on the water.  It was Jesus and as soon as He got into the boat, the wind died down and they were able to make it over to the other side of the lake.  Whose power?  They forgot the lesson of the loaves and fishes.

This is so like us today.  The dilemma in doing things in our own power, instead of relying on the power the Lord who is ever present with us.  Israel forgot as well.  In Psalm 78:42, it says “they did not remember His power.”

Today, take time to ponder whether you need power on high to do something.  Better yet, make sure what you are doing is following the Lord and His will so that His power carries you through to the other side.