The Congregational Leaders of the Early Church were Elders

Part 3 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blog. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago. Truths 1-4 were in the previous blog post.

5. The leaders in the congregations of the early church were elders.

The eldership was not one alternative leadership form among many in the early church. It was wide-spread as far as we know, and it seems there  were always more than one in each church. Consider these texts that show how widespread was the practice of having elders in each church.

  • Jerusalem: Acts 15:22, “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church to choose men and to send them to Antioch.”
  • Ephesus: Acts 20:17, “And from Miletus [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.”
  • All the towns of Crete: Titus 1:5, “This is why I [Paul] left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”
  • All the churches James wrote to when he said, “To the twelve tribes of the dispersion” James 5:14, “Is any among you sick? Let him call the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (assuming that there are elders in every church).
  • All the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia that Peter wrote to:1 Peter 5:1, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed.”
  • Finally, all the churches Paul founded on the first missionary journey (and presumably the other journeys as well): Acts 14:23, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.”

The universal extent of elders in the early church becomes even more obvious when you realize that the term “elder” is the same person designated by “bishop” or “overseer” (cf.Titus 1:5,7 and Acts 20:17,28) or “pastor” (Eph. 4:11; cf. Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-2where elders are given a shepherding function). It is hard to escape the conclusion that God’s will for the local church is that it have a group of elders as its primary leaders.

As we consider the early church model of leadership, it might be helpful to compare and contrast this with current trends in church leadership.  Nathan Finn has helpfully categorized the popular models of church leadership common today in his blog “Between the times” on January 13, 2013.

Option 1 is pure democracy. In this polity, the whole congregation votes on nearly every decision. The pastors and church staff are often treated as mere employees of the church who direct various ministries, but who have no real authority in the church. All of the authority rests in the whole congregation assembled in a church conference or members meeting (often called a “business meeting”).

Option 2 is committee-led congregationalism. In this polity, the church uses democratic processes to make key decisions, but the real authority rests with certain key committees or similar small groups that are comprised of influential church members. In many Southern Baptist churches, the committee that runs the church is the so-called church council. In others, it might be the personnel committee, since these are the folks who keep tabs on the staff. A very common variation of this polity is deacon-led congregationalism, where the deacons function as the chief committee in the church’s hierarchy.

Option 3 is single-pastor-ruled benevolent autocracy. In this polity, the solo or senior pastor is called by the church, but after that, he wields most of the authority. In a larger church, he typically hires and fires all ministry staff, including other pastors. The lead pastor is as much a CEO as he is a shepherd. Members meetings are kept to a minimum; in some churches, only once a year. The pastor is the leader and the people follow his lead.

Option 4 is plural-elder-ruled benevolent oligarchy. In this polity, which is not as common as the others, a plurality of elders rules the church in much the same way as the single-pastor-ruled option. The difference is that the authority is vested in a small group rather than a single individual. In many ways, this polity could be called “poor man’s Presbyterianism.” The church is ruled by her elders, but there is no presbytery or classis beyond the local congregation. This polity also frequently makes a Presbyterian-like distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders; only the former are considered pastors.

No doubt these are simplistic summaries of the various polities found in our circles, but I doubt they are overly simplistic. I’m personally acquainted with many (sometimes tons) of SBC churches that hold to each of these polities pretty much exactly as I’ve described them. Options 1 and 2 are very common among traditional-minded, small and medium-sized churches in small towns and rural areas. Options 3 and 4 are more common in contemporary-minded, larger churches in suburban areas, as well as newer church plants.

Plural-elder-led congregationalism differs from each of these polities in various ways. Unlike Options 1–3, there is a plurality of pastors. Unlike option 4, all of the pastors are elders, and vice versa; the terms are synonymous. All may be paid staff, or some may be paid and some may be voluntary. Unlike Option 1, the elders/pastors have the freedom to exercise biblical pastoral authority over the congregation in matters of teaching and shepherding. Unlike Option 2, no committees or deacon “boards” are elevated to an unbiblical level of authority in the church. Unlike Option 3, all pastors are equals, even if, based upon prudence and giftedness, different pastors have different roles within the leadership team. Unlike Option 4, the final earthly authority still rests with the whole congregation as it corporately seeks God’s will under the lordship of Christ as it is revealed in the Scriptures.

  1. The function of the elders was to feed and lead.

Or to say it another way, the elders are responsible for teaching and governing the congregation. As leaders they give guidance and direction to the church. As teachers they oversee the life of the church to preserve its biblical faithfulness. They are wardens of the Word of God.

Titus 1:9 says that the elder “must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.” The elders are the trustees of the truth in the life of the church.

And they are the governing overseers. 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well (govern, or oversee, or manage well) be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” So it is clear that there is a diversity of function among the elders. All must be able to handle the Word of God and be able to recognize false doctrine and correct error; but some “labor especially in preaching and teaching.”

Jarrod Scott

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Basic Truths of Any Church

Part 2 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blog. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago.

As the pastor serving Green Pines and teaching the word of God, there seems to be an understanding in Scripture of church authority that I don’t see in this local expression of the church.  And so I want to  present some statements to you that are right there in Scripture.  These are not statements original to me, but are clearly connected to the verses included.  John Piper was instrumental  in helping me see the simplicity of these statements.  I bring this Scripture to you to consider and pray together.
1. Jesus Christ is the head of his church.
So the church is like a body that gets its leadership and its nourishment from its head, Jesus Christ. The church is not a mere human organization. It is not a mere organization because it is an organism, a body. And it is not merely human, because its head is divine; the life he gives is supernatural life. So the way a church is run should not simply copy the way a human organization is run. There should be structures and practices that let Christ the head govern, lead, and nurture his church. Our structures should flow from who Christ has declared us to be.  He has declared us as His fellowship, body, flock, and bride.  Therefore the structure should point to unity, operate by Spiritual gifting, be led by shepherds, and revolve around Christ.  A bad structure may emphasis differences and restrict ministry changes, and revolve around tradition.

This governance was given through the authority of the apostles and their close associates (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; 7:17; 14:37-38; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). Today Christ still rules through the words of his apostles as they are given to us in the inspired writings of the New Testament. Therefore, we want to conform the structure and procedures and spirit of church governance as closely as possible to New Testament guidelines.  The end goal is to promoting the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel (1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 1:25).

This governance is also mediated through the Holy Spirit.

2. All the members of Christ’s body are Priests and Ministers.

1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Revelation 1:5–6, “He loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.”

The New Testament does not teach the priesthood of the clergy. 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” We all go directly to God through Christ, not through professional priests nor through Mary. Every Christian is a priest under Jesus Christ.

And every Christian is a minister. The word “minister” does not define my pastoral office in the church. It defines my function. And it defines your function. Ephesians 4:12 says that pastors and teachers exist to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” You are all ministers (cf. 1 Peter 4:10–11). And you are all priests (cf. Matthew 23:8–11).

A good church structure will free the members to the primary ministry of the church, which is to make disciple-making disciples of Christ.  Therefore secondary ministry (those which support the primary ministry) should be kept minimal to allow more time on the primary ministry.

3. Under Christ the local congregation is the final authority in the church.

I don’t mean that the congregation is above the Scriptures, because the Scriptures are the word of Christ. We submit to Christ by submitting to his word in the Bible. Nor do I mean that the congregation is above the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. We submit to Christ by submitting to his Spirit in the church.

What I mean is that under Christ—his Word and his Spirit—the congregation, and not church officers, is the body that settles matters of faith and life. This is not only implied in the priesthood of all believers, but illustrated in Matthew 18:15–17 where the church is the last court of appeal in church discipline:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:4–5.)

So the church—the congregation—is the final court of appeal in matters of church discipline where decisions about membership are made. Since this is the most basic authority in the church under Christ, this shows that the congregation as a body is the final authority in the local church. This does not mean local churches shouldn’t form associations and fellowships for mutual encouragement and guidance and ministry. It only means that the local congregation decides its own matters under the Word and Spirit of Christ.

So far then, Christ is the head of the church. All members of his body are priests and ministers. And therefore these members, as a congregation, are the final authority in the church under Christ, that is, under his Word and Spirit.

4. God calls some members of each congregation to feed and lead the church as servants of Christ and his people.

In other words, even though there is equality before God as children and heirs and priests and ministers, some, and not all, are called by God to serve as leaders. For example,

Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith.”

Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.”

1 Thessalonians 5:12, “We beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

Acts 20:28 (speaking to the elders of Ephesus), “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God.”

So the congregation, under Christ and by his Word and Spirit, uses its authority to recognize and affirm leaders whom God calls. And then the congregation puts those people in positions of leadership and voluntarily supports that leadership by learning from their teaching and following their initiatives.

This may sound to some like a contradiction—to have an authoritative congregation submitting to leaders that it puts in place. But it isn’t a contradiction. Because there is a great difference between leadership that inspires and models and mobilizes and teaches and persuades and points the way in ministry and mission, and the corporate authority of the congregation that puts doctrinal and moral boundaries around that leadership and holds it accountable to serve the good of the church. Congregational authority and strong leadership under that authority are not incompatible. They are biblical, and they are vital.

Jarrod Scott

Why Elders Now?

(Note: This will be a five part blog series on the role of elders )

In response to this question, we can speak about this generally in regards to Baptist churches and about our church specifically. For most of those living today, elder leadership seems like a new phase or fad. However, for most of the church history, including Baptist history, there has been a form of eldership leadership that begins with the New Testament. When we look at the plain reading of the New Testament, the concept of elders is hard to overlook.
There are many samples and evidences of Baptist acknowledging an office that is titled both as elder and pastor. Some samples include: The Charleston Association’s 1774 Summary of Church Discipline; W.B. Johnson, the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote “each [New Testament] church had a plurality of elders” in The Gospel Developed and he developed the duties and benefits of a plurality of elders. In 1849, J.L. Reynolds, pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Richmond Virginia, supported a plurality of elders in his Church Polity or the Kingdom of Christ. Other notable advocates of plurality of elders include: C.H. Spurgeon and J.L. Burrows pastor of First Baptist Church, Richmond in his book What Baptist Believe. There are other evidences that plurality of elders were normal up to the
beginning of the twentieth century. (Most of the above research comes from Mark Dever’s book, By whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life)

For most of the twentieth century, Baptists have seen church leadership influenced more by the rising business corporate environment of the twentieth century as well as the military leadership culture. The corporate business world and military chain of command have utilized and shaped many of our men and church leaders for the last hundred years. In both of these environments, the authoritarian ruler or the
trustee board takes prevalence. The popularity of these leadership models has affected congregational churches.

In the late 1970’s the Southern Baptist entered the “Inerrancy controversy “ or conservative resurgence. The leadership of churches, convention, and seminaries were debating the role of the Bible among the churches and seminaries. This period lasted 15 years until all of the Southern Baptist seminaries were led in a Biblical inerrant direction. Once this issue was resolved, Seminaries were free to continue in the teaching and application of the Bible for the future church leaders. More students were focusing on what the Bible has to say about church leadership. Now that most pastors in our seminaries are not debating the inerrancy of the Bible, there is a freedom to reevaluate leadership and apply the Bible.

It was in the late 1970s and early 1980’s, that I began to hear about elders in church leadership with the start of Providence Baptist in Raleigh. The popularity of teachings by men like John MacArthur, John Piper, and Mark Dever and their view on elders began to impact a generation of church leaders. Today, there are growing numbers of Southern Baptist churches, even in our area that are led with a plurality of elders. Some of those other churches include not only Providence but also North Wake Baptist, Christ Baptist, First Baptist Durham, Central Baptist in Wendell, Imago Deo, Treasuring Christ, Summit Church, Open Door Baptist, as well as many other churches. While I was in Seminary, the elder question was one I wrestled with since my tradition was that of a committee led church with a single pastor. I came to conclude that the New Testament did acknowledge a plurality of elders, but I defined that group of
elders as the pastors in a church.

Jarrod Scott

Finally, Vacation!

The Best

Vacations are the best, and the worst.  The beach in summer, the mountains of autumn, a cruise ship when it’s not hurricane season, the ski slopes in winter, and so, so many more.  The options are endless, even when the resources are not.  But vacations are vacations because you are out of your routines.  It could be the routine of where you live.  Just being somewhere else is enjoyment enough.  Staying somewhere different changes everything.  The food tastes better, the tv shows are more interesting, bedtimes are optional, puzzles somehow are inviting, even the dishes are better than your ordinary ones.  One of the things I love is driving to the destination.  Along the way, I get to flip the radio stations and discover songs being played I haven’t heard in a long time.  Classic country, or some rock songs from my youth, or even the pop stuff from the 70s, it all sounds better when going on vacation.

The Worst

But vacations don’t help at all if you’ve been trying to eat good, or if you’ve got a workout routine, or if you have a particular morning schedule.  Sure, you can be careful with your meals, and exercise is possible in a myriad of forms, but vacations have a way of eroding the resolve and changing the priorities.  Enjoying the moment, treating yourself and others to what you usually consider extravagant pleasures, sleeping at odd hours of the day (and night), all of these seem to be part of the arrangement when you take on a temporarily new address.  And so, I think it’s pretty obvious how one could make a spiritual application to being on vacation and letting certain good things fall by the wayside.  But beyond that predictable point, I want to highlight one other facet of vacation.

The Eternal

Being away awakens within us a joy and pleasure that the rigors of daily life beat down.  Responsibilities of work and issues within the home do not necessarily disappear, but vacation allows us to focus on something different, something more permanent than a career and a tidy home.  Vacation turns our heart in a fresh direction, quickened by new surroundings and unique opportunities.  And God is there amidst it all.  The trick is to see and experience Him when your old zip code returns.  And that requires some effort on your part.  Choices have to be made, to do and to not do.  Joy has to be prized and grasped, and defeat and discouragement left to die on their own.  Vacations are the best.  They only become the worst when we don’t bring them home with us, when we save the joy and contentment for strangers out of town.  So, take a vacation, right where you are.  Break a routine, choose a different reaction, enjoy what you have been abundantly blessed with.  You don’t need to pack up and go to get the best of what God has for you.

Rich Holt

Living with Hurricanes

Image result for Hurricane Irma

In the last few days and the next few days, the topic peppering most every conversation in this area is hurricanes.  We are praying for the people in Texas and contemplating where “Irma” is going to go.  At this point, we may be considering what supplies we have in stock in case a hurricane hits our area.  For those of us living in North Carolina, this is a ritual we go through every August and September, though the season continues through November.  I personally am relieved when we get through September without a major hit.  Perhaps this is because I endured “Fran” in September of 1996. As I watched the news and tracked the storm projection, I had memories of the feelings from experiencing hurricane “Fran”.  Fear was a powerful memory and I could sense it creeping into my mind as I watched the weatherman explain the projections.  Interesting fear was the first memory, but it took a few days to remember the feeling of God’s care and protection I sensed in the storm.  Why is it the first memory is fear and anxiety, but it took days to recall faith and God’s power?

Reading Psalms helps us to move from fear to faith as we use God’s Word in prayer.  I would encourage you to read Psalm 86 when you sense a hurricane coming into your life.

Jarrod Scott

 

“Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am godly, save your servant, who trusts in you – you are my God. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant for to you,
O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For you, O LORD are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O LORD to my prayer, listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I will call upon you for you answer me.”
Psalm 86:1-7

Be Like Christ

Philippians 2:1-11
1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What a challenge the Bible presents to the believer, to be like Christ. That was certainly part of the reluctance I had back in 1989 “to ask the Lord into my heart”. I had little idea of what that meant, but I did know it would involve changes in my life and lifestyle that were diametrically opposed to my [sinful] personal desires. So in March of that year, when I finally accepted that there was a God, and Heaven and Hell were real (a process that took years of research and resistance), I still refused to ask Him into my life. How fearful, how stubborn I was (we are), even in the face of the acknowledgement of eternal damnation, to turn from sin to Christ. What does that say about the hardness of our own hearts and Satan’s influence, that we would trade freedom in sin for a few fleeting moments on this earth, over everlasting freedom in Christ! Even if we were not totally sure (in March of 1989 I was totally sure), it was all real. Even if maybe we could be good enough to enter Heaven on our own works. To take that chance, to roll the dice on our eternal state, how truly crazy are we? And, in retrospect, how much of a sacrifice does following Christ really put on us when we place our burdens on His shoulders, when we have the Holy Spirit leading us through life, when we have the peace which transcends all understanding on this earth and recognize that we are already (even before we get there) citizens of another place of eternal joy?

It took me a month… I had to “get some stuff at work done”. I had to clean up some things in my life…. not sins, but just stuff….before I “accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior”.  Boy, if He just wanted to be my Savior, things could have gone much faster, but the Lord part… it took a month of believing it (the Bible) was all true, before I took a trip to Bond park in Cary, walked up on a hill, got down on my knees and asked the God of the universe, Who loved me with an everlasting love from eternity past to eternity future, to come into my heart and save my soul.

A month….. how crazy is that!

Jeff Hilles

Illuminating GOD’S Glory

Lord willing, by this time next week all of us will have witnessed something a little rare……. A Total Eclipse of the Sun.   I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to it because the last one that was visible this area was in 1979 and I can’t really remember much about that one.   But nonetheless, this one seems different, maybe it’s the hype this one is getting that I don’t recall at all for the 79 eclipse.   I mean some schools are releasing kids early, and some are having viewing parties to take it all in and I certainly don’t remember that.  I’ve even noticed the DOT warning signs on the highways are promoting the Eclipse and our need to make plans for the traffic issues that are coming.  And then the internet and media have taken it to the next level as they are full of info on what the Eclipse is, how they happen, when they might happen again, how to watch it, how not to watch it and more, you name it you can find it if you want it.

But one thing I am not seeing in mainstream media and beyond is what even makes an Eclipse possible.  So Let’s back it up all the way to Day 4 of existence and see what GOD did to make 8/21/17 more exciting………

Genesis 1: 14-19

And GOD said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years,  and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.  And GOD made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.  And GOD set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth,  to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And GOD saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

As the VBS kids would say……WOW GOD!  That’s Amazing, Thank you for the Sun and Moon that gives us the Light and darkness we need for our daily life, because without it we wouldn’t survive, we couldn’t see the beauty of your creations and we certainly couldn’t see this Total Eclipse.  And the neat part is, when God Created the Sun and Moon on Day 4, he knew they would cross in this unique way next week and we would get to witness it.  Did you know the Sun is 400 times bigger than the Moon?  God does and he also knows when something 400 times smaller can cover something that’s 400 times its size we will take note and we will be amazed.  I just pray we are more amazed at the power of HIS hand than just an Eclipse which pales in comparison to everything else HE has done for us, HIS Children.

So no matter what the media says, or what teachers are forced to tell kids about it, the Word of GOD makes it clear…….  Without GOD the sun and moon wouldn’t exist and without HIS power over them they wouldn’t rotate in their perfect pattern and give us this opportunity to see this amazing work of our GOD on display.

Let’s give GOD the Glory only he deserves for each New day and let’s celebrate his great power as we watch a light show that only HE can create!

Chris Best

Know thyself?

Image result for Robert Murray Mccheyne "If you could hear Jesus praying

The phrase “Know thyself” is attributed to Socrates and is written on the temple of Apollo at Delphi.  Aristotle and Confucius believed this knowledge was the beginning of wisdom.  Yet how do you know when you truly know yourself or just a version you want to believe about yourself? This was the conflict that Peter experienced when he boasted of his loyalty to Jesus as found in Luke 22:31-34.  Peter’s confidence claim about his loyalty was in response to a troubling revelation from Jesus about the spiritual struggle warfare and warnings of Peter’s faith failure.  In response to Peter’s assertion, Jesus bore down on the prophecy with more specific detail.  We learn something important in this dialogue, Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.

We can learn two other important observations about Jesus in this dialogue.  Note that Jesus said that He was praying for Peter before the crisis hit.  What did Jesus pray? He prayed that Peter’s faith may not fail; “and when once you (Peter) have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Romans 8:34 tells us that Jesus continues to pray for us today. “If I could hear Jesus praying for me in the next room,” How would that make a difference in your day? Lastly, Jesus could look past the betrayal of Peter to the redemption of Peter.  Jesus didn’t just see Peter and us in the dark moments of our lives, He also sees the end result of grace by faith.  He could see the day when Peter would be instrumental to strengthen the discouraged brothers.  In fact, the verdict of Peter’s faith wasn’t given at the fireside of betrayal, but in the days ahead when Peter turns back to Jesus in humility.  If you are finding yourself in the pit of personal failure, pray to see your life from Heaven’s eyes and see that grace is powerful because of personal failure.

Jarrod Scott

Seasons of Life

Over the past few weeks, we have experienced a couple of milestones in our home.  I finally reached the top of the hill and celebrated my 40th Birthday.  Our daughter, turned 11 exactly 4 days later and entered the world of middle school 2 days after that.  For both of us, these were milestones that became intimidating and stressful in one form or another.  For me, it was the realization of the possibility that I have lived more years than I might have left to live.  It was amazing how my reflection of many decisions, failures or accomplishments that I had made in my past came back to mind in a matter of 24 hours in turning 40.  With a new morning came a fresh reminder of the responsibilities that laid on my shoulders and how they didn’t just affect me but also others in my life.  Remembering the past 40 and looking ahead to the next 40 brought thoughts of good, bad, stress, worry and so on.  With those thoughts came somewhat of a challenge to myself to learn from my past and try to be a better steward of the remaining years that God allows me.  A good reminder to me is the wisdom provided to us in Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your Heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

For my daughter, the realization of growing another year older wasn’t so much about the age she was turning but what life would bring her way with a whole new schedule and set of responsibilities in Middle School.  She had completed elementary school and would be leaving her smaller K-5th grade school.  She was stepping into a larger 6th-12th grade school with a whole new day to day routine and set of responsibilities.  Her day would no longer consist of one or two classrooms but she would be in 8 or more.  She would have to learn how to juggle going from class to class, switching books at her locker, much more homework every night, many more test and quizzes and all the other new responsibilities that Middle School would bring.  Not to mention Latin!

As she was going to bed the other night and we were having one of our end of the day talks the stress and anxiety of all these new responsibilities weighed heavy on her to where she was in tears over trying to adjust to it all.  At that very moment, the thought occurred to me that we were in the same place but at different stages of our life.  The opportunity arose for me to share with her how life can be so tough as we try to manage things on our own.  The experiences that I have had in my life over the years and even now in my day to day was an opportunity to point my daughter to the One who is with us through all of it, every day, every second, and even the time in between.   We read in Psalm 121:3b “He who keeps you will not slumber.”  We talked about how it is our human nature to often try to handle things on our own both physically and mentally.  As we grow weary or become stressed or anxious we must remember that our Lord is there to carry us through it all.  In 1 Peter 5:7 we are reminded, “Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”  We talked about the very fact that we grow tired, become anxious and need sleep is a reminder to us that we are human, and He is God our creator.  As we prayed together and my daughter went to bed that night I thanked the Lord for the stressful times in our lives that remind us of how we need Him every second of every day.  I thanked Him for the reminder of the things I have gone through in my past and will go through in the future can be used to teach our younger generation to trust in Him with all our heart.  To teach them not to always lean on their own understanding.  To teach them to acknowledge God their creator in all things and that He will order their steps.

Jason Hicks

Five Vows for Spiritual power

Some of you might be familiar with the books of Alliance pastor, A.W. Tozer.  One of his lesser known books is titled, Five Vows for Spiritual Power.  I came across this information a few years ago and shared it with our church then.  I have found it to be a helpful guide in prayer and thought today.

Five Vows to Make and Keep

by A. W. Tozer

Some people object to taking vows, but in the Bible you will find many great men of God directed by covenants, promises, vows, and pledges. The psalmist was not averse to the taking of vows. He said, “Thy vows are upon me, 0 God, I will render my praises unto thee” (Psalm 56:12).

My counsel in this matter is that if you are really concerned about spiritual improvement – the gaining of new power, new life, new joy, and new personal revival within your heart -you will do well to make certain vows and proceed to keep them. If you should fail, go down in humility and repent and start over. But always keep these vows before you. They will help harmonize your heart with the vast powers that flow out and down from the throne where Christ sits at the right hand of God.

A carnal man refuses the discipline of such commitments. He says, “I want to be free. I don’t want to lay any vows upon myself; I don’t believe in it; it is legalism.” Well, let me paint a picture of two men.

One of them will not take vows. He will not accept any responsibility. He wants to be free. And he is free – in a measure – just as a tramp is free. The tramp is free to sit on a park bench by day, sleep on a newspaper by night, get chased out of town on Thursday morning, and find his way up a set of creaky stairs in some flophouse on Thursday night. Such a man is free, but he is also useless. He clutters up the world whose air he breathes.

Let’s look at another man – maybe a president or prime minister or any great man who carries upon himself the weight of government. Such men are not free. But in the sacrifice of their freedom they step up their power. If they insist upon being free, they can be free, just like the tramp. But they choose rather to be bound.

There are many religious tramps in the world who will not be bound by anything. They have turned the grace of God into personal license. But the great souls are the ones who have gone reverently to God with the understanding that in their flesh dwells no good thing. And they knew that without God’s enablement any vows taken would be broken before sundown. Nevertheless, believing in God, reverently they took certain sacred vows. This is the way to spiritual power. There are five vows I have in mind which we do well to make and to keep.

 

1. DEAL THOROUGHLY WITH SIN

Sin has been driven underground these days and has come up with a new name and face. You may be subjected to this phenomenon in the schools. Sin is being called by various fancy names – anything but what it really is. For example, men don’t get under conviction any more; they get a guilt complex.

Instead of confessing their guilt to God and getting rid of it, they sit on a couch and try and tell a man who ought to know better all about themselves. It comes out after a while that they were deeply disappointed when they were two years old or some such thing. That’s supposed to make them better.

The whole thing is ridiculous, because sin is still the ancient enemy of the soul. It has never changed. We’ve got to deal firmly with sin in our lives. Let’s remember that “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Righteousness lies at the door of the kingdom of God. The soul that sins, it shall die.

This is not to preach sinless perfection. This is to say that every known sin is to be named, identified, and repudiated and that we must trust God for deliverance from it so that there is no conscious, deliberate sin anywhere in our lives. It is absolutely necessary that we deal thus, because God is a holy God and sin is on the throne of the world.

So don’t call your sins by some other name. If you’re jealous, call it jealousy. If you tend to pity yourself and feel that you are not appreciated, call it what it is – self-pity.

And then there is your temper. Don’t call it indignation. Don’t try to christen it by some other name. Call it what it is. Because if you have a bad temper you will either get rid of it, or it will get rid of much of your spirituality and most of your joy. So let’s deal with sin thoroughly. Let’s be perfectly candid. God loves candid people.

2. NEVER OWN ANYTHING

I do not mean by this that you cannot have things. I mean that you ought to get delivered from the sense of possessing them. This sense of possessing is what hinders us. All babies are born with their fists clenched, and it seems to me it means, “This is mine!” One of the first things they say when they begin to speak, is “mine” in an angry voice. That sense of “This is mine” ‘is a very injurious thing to the spirit. If you can get rid of it so that you have no feeling of possessing anything, there will come a great sense of freedom and liberty into your life.

Now don’t think that you must sell all that you have and give it to charity. No. God will let you have your car and your business, your practice and your position, whatever it may be – provided you understand that it is not yours at all, but His, and all you are doing is just working for Him. You can be restful about it then, because we never need to worry about losing anything that belongs to someone else. If it is yours, you are always looking in your hand to see if it is still there. If it is God’s, you no longer need to worry about it.

Let me point out some things you’ll have to turn over to God. Property is one thing. Some of the dear Lord’s children are being held back because there is a ball and chain on their legs. If it is a man, it’s his big car and fine home. If it is a woman, it’s her china and her Louis XIV furniture and all the rest. Take that vase for instance. There it stands. And if anybody knocked it off and broke it, the poor owner would probably lose five years from her life! It is always necessary to remember that we are only stewards of that which is usually called a possession.

3. NEVER DEFEND YOURSELF

We are all born with a desire to defend ourselves. And if you insist upon defending yourself, God will let you do it. But if on turn the defense of yourself over to God, He will defend you. He told Moses in Exodus 23: “I will be an enemy unto thine enemies and an adversary to thine adversaries.”

What do we defend? Well, we defend our talents; we defend our service; and particularly, we defend our reputation. Your reputation is what people think you are, and if a story gets out about you, the big temptation is to try to run it down.

Henry Suso was a great Christian of other days. Once he was seeking what some Christians have told me they are seeking to know God better. Let’s put it like this: You are seeking to have a religious awakening within your spirit that will thrust you farther out into the deep things of God. Well, as Henry Suso was seeking God, people started telling evil stories about the man, and it grieved him so that he wept bitter tears and had great sorrow of heart.

Then one day he looked out the window and saw a dog playing on the lawn. The dog had a mat, and kept picking the mat up, tossing it over his shoulder, running and getting it, tossing it some more, picking it up and tossing it again. God said to Henry Suso, “That mat is your reputation, and I am letting the dogs of sin tear your reputation to shreds and toss it all over the lawn for your own good, but one of these days things will change.”

And this did change. it was not very long before the people who were tearing his reputation were confounded, and Suso rose into a place that made him a power in his day and a great blessing still to those who sing his hymns and read his works.

4. GUARD YOUR WORDS ABOUT OTHERS

Never pass anything on – about anybody else that will hurt him. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). The talebearer has no place in God’s favor. If you know something that would hinder or hurt the reputation of one of God’s children, bury it forever. Find a little garden out back – a little spot somewhere – and when somebody comes around with an evil story, take it out and bury it and say, “Here lies in peace the story about my brother.” God will take care of it. “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.”

If you want God to be good to you, you are going to have to be good to His children. You say, “But that’s not grace.” Well, grace gets you into the kingdom of God. That is unmerited favor. But after you are seated at the Father’s table, He expects to teach you table manners. And He won’t let you eat unless you obey the etiquette of the table. And what is that? The etiquette of the table is that you don’t tell stories about the brother who is sitting at the table with you – no matter what his denomination, or nationality, or background.

5. NEVER ACCEPT ANY GLORY

God is jealous of His glory and He will not give His glory to another. He will not even share His glory with another. It is quite natural, I should say, for people to hope that maybe their Christian service will give them a chance to display their talents. True, they want to serve the Lord. But they also want other people to know they are serving the Lord. They want to have a reputation among the saints. That is very dangerous ground – seeking a reputation among the saints. It’s bad enough to seek a reputation in the world, but it’s worse to seek a reputation among the people of God. Our Lord gave up His reputation, and so must we.

Meister Eckhart once preached a sermon on Christ cleansing the Temple. He said, “Now there was nothing wrong with those men selling and buying there. There was nothing wrong with exchanging money there; it had to be. The sin lay in their doing it for profit. They got a percentage on serving the Lord.” And then he made the application: “Anybody that serves for a commission, for what little bit of glory he can get out of it, is a merchant, and he ought to be cast out of the temple.”

I go along with this. If you are serving the Lord, and yet slyly -perhaps scarcely known to you – you are hoping to get just a little five percent commission, then look out! It will chill the power of God in your spirit. You must determine that you will never take any glory, but see that God gets it all.

Now, it is the easiest possible thing to give a message like this. The hard thing is to make it work in one’s own life. Remember that these five vows are not something you write in the back of your Bible and forget. They have got to be written in your own blood. They have to be made final, irrevocable, if it only comes off the surface, it is no good. Much of our consecration is just that way – it comes off the surface. Many of our promises come off the surface. No, no. Let it come out of the depths of your heart, the deep depths of your spirit.

These vows cut against the old human nature. They introduce the cross into your life, and nobody ever walks back from carrying his cross. When you make these vows, remember, they strike at the heart of your self-life and there is never a place to go back to. And I say, “Woe unto the triflers!”

In America – and maybe in other places too – SO many people are saying, “Try Jesus, try God!” Triflers, experimenters, tasters they are. Like a rabbit with a half dozen holes so if one is stopped up lie can flee to another! No! From the cross there is no place to flee. You don’t “try” Jesus. He is not there to be experimented with. Christ is not on trial. You are. I am. He is not! God raised Him from the dead and forever confirmed His deity and scaled Him and set Him at His own right hand as Lord and Christ. Turn everything over to Him, and you’ll find your life begin to lift. You’ll blossom in a wonderful way.

Now, if you happen to be one of those on whom God has laid His hand for a deeper life, a more powerful life, a fuller life -then I wonder if you would be willing to pray this kind of prayer: -0 God, glorify Thyself at my expense. Send me the bill – anything, Lord. I set no price. I will not dicker or bargain. Glorify Thyself. I’ll take the consequences.

This kind of praying is simple, but it’s deep and wonderful and powerful. I believe that if you can pray a prayer like that, it will be the ramp from which you can take off into higher heights and bluer skies in the things of the Spirit.

Jarrod Scott