On Wednesday, Phillip & Amanda went on the Kiwi Cave Rafting Adventure while Carol and I did Spellbound. On our tour, we went into two caves. The first one was a walking/boat ride to see the glow worms. Quite a spectacular view! The second cave was to view various rock formations caused by rain and rivers. It was a day to experience and enjoy God’s creative work underground.
Monthly Archives: January 2017
Today’s theme is Hobbits. We connected with Amanda & Phillip yesterday in Hamilton and headed for Matamata. This morning we toured Hobbiton, the movie site for the Shire in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbits trilogies. Afterwards, we headed for Waitomo, where we are staying in a Hobbit Motel. It’s been a very enjoyable day.
After visiting family in SoCal, we flew from LAX to Auckland, NZ. We arrived safely in Auckland on Monday morning, got our luggage, rented our car, and then headed south to Matamata, where we will tour Hobbiton on Tuesday morning. Today was a time to get oriented–right hand drive, driving on the left side of the road, and staying alert after a 13 hour flight. As we drove along, we easily imagined the Riders of Rohan galloping across the countryside.
Below is a letter I wrote to our elders & wives at First Central Bible Church on the subject of succession planning. One responded to say she was going to file it under email heading that take your breath away. I replied that at least I got her attention. 😉
Let me say first off that I am NOT planning on leaving or retiring any time soon. I am simply starting the process of thinking and asking questions. When the time comes, I want FCBC to be prepared to make a smooth and effective transition. I want the next pastor to step into a strong, healthy situation.
When I was in California last May for Jonathan’s graduation, my mother-in-law asked me when I was going to retire and I told her, “70.” She wasn’t quite sure how to respond. However, since I will turn 62 while in New Zealand, I have to acknowledge that leaving and/or retiring is somewhere on the horizon. I am closer to the end than to the beginning.
One of the men Carol does bookkeeping for is Tom Fowler of Fowler Financial Services in Bellevue, WA. Tom is an Elder at Crossroads Bible Church and is an old friend. As part of Tom’s business, he counsels families and companies about planning for retirement and succession. He sent me a note over a year ago about a book the Crossroads’ staff and elders were reading on the subject. Tom prompted me to start thinking about the issue.
Over the past 11 months, I have read four books on the topic written to church leaders.
- Transition Plan: 7 secrets every leader needs to know, by Bob Russell, Bryan Bucher
- NEXT: Pastoral Succession that Works, by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird
- The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the unspoken about pastoral transitions, by Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree
- Passing the Leadership Baton: A winning transition plan for your ministry, by Tom Mullins
The books were interesting and had some helpful principles and things to think about. The first and last books are written from a large, megachurch perspective where the pastor handpicked and mentored his successor.
At this point, I would ask for five things:
- Pray that I will know when to step aside. Below is something I wrote in my journal in 2004. The details have changed, but the metaphors are still fitting.
These days I feel like Aragorn of the first two books of The Lord of the Rings—haunted by the failures of the past, fearful of making the same mistakes, reluctant to take on the role for which he was born. I want to be Aragorn of the third book—stepping boldly into leadership, bringing encouragement to the fainthearted, leading a fellowship of people to victory. My fear is that if I stay at I will either become Theoden—listening to the whispers of the enemy and becoming a shell of a man, or Denethor—grasping onto a position of power, marking time, whose senses were dulled to the truth of his situation.
- Let me know if you sense I am losing my passion and/or losing my effectiveness. Let me know if I am becoming resistant to new ideas and/or change. One of my mentors, Pastor Kent Hughes, retired at 65 for this very reason.
- Please let me know when we should put this on the agenda and start talking about transitions.
- Pray that I will be faithful to the task God has called me to.
- Pray that I will finish well.
Thanks for all you do for Christ and FCBC.
“The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.”
First leg of the journey to Middle Earth–Boston to LAX
I attend two pastors’ groups that meet on a monthly basis. At one of the recent gatherings, the topic turned to giving in the church. One of the men said he asked his treasurer for information on how many people in the church gave financially and how many gave a tithe.
Being curious myself, I asked our Financial Secretary at First Central Bible Church to do some research and give me the same type of information. Here’s what she shared with me. (She shared the numbers, but not the names.)
We currently have 194 members. Our average weekly attendance is 219 people.
We have 120 giving units. A giving unit may be an individual, a couple, or a family. A giving unit may be a member or a regular attender. Of the 120 giving units,
- 2 gave $20K or more during 2016
- 11 gave $10-20K
- 15 gave $5-10K
- 45 gave $1-5K
- 47 gave less than $1K
The numbers reflect the Pareto Principle, that 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people, or in this case, 80 percent of the money is given by 20 percent of the people.
The results prompted Carol and I to talk about how much we give and where it goes. The bulk of our giving is to FCBC and a portion goes to support some missionaries we know.
The results also prompted me to review what Scripture says about money and generosity.
Biblical principles of giving
- It all belongs to God (1 Chronicles 29:11-12)
- We give back to God what he has given us (1 Chronicles 29:14-16)
- We worship God with our first and best (Proverbs 3:9-10)
- Promise—If we give, God will meet our needs (Proverbs 3:9‑10; Malachi 3:10-12; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
- Sequence—We give to God first, then God meets our needs (Proverbs 3:9-10; Malachi 3:10-12; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
- Challenge—Give generously and see what God does (Proverbs 3:9-10; Malachi 3:10-12; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
- Rather than tithing (giving 10%), the New Testament teaches generosity (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
- While tithing may not be a requirement, it is a good guideline, since it was the pattern of godly people before the Law was given (Genesis 14:17-20; 28:10-22)
- Our giving should be periodic, personal, planned, proportionate, and properly protected (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)
- Generosity is best determined by what we give when we have little, not when we have much (Mark 12:41-44)
- We have been blessed in order to be a blessing (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
- Use all you are and all you have for God’s glory (Matthew 25:14-30)
- Excel in the grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7)
Let me encourage you to review what Scripture says about giving. Ask God to search your heart to see if you are obedient in this area. Ask him to show you how much he would have you give in 2017. Ask him for the grace and strength to obey him and to trust him to provide for your needs.
Book Review: Meet Generation Z: Understanding and reaching the new post-Christian world, by James Emery White
The cultural landscape has changed dramatically. We have the rise of the “nones,” those who when asked about their religious identity respond by saying “nothing.” Now we have Generation Z, the first truly post-Christian generation, and numerically the largest.
Pastor and author James Emery White has written, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and reaching the new post-Christian world, to share insights about this new generation and how to reach them with the gospel.
If the heart of the Christian mission is to evangelize and transform culture through the centrality of the church, then understanding that culture is paramount. It is toward that end this work is offered as a hopeful complement to my earlier works: Serious Times and The Rise of the Nones.
White divides the book into two parts. Part 1 describes the challenges facing the church today. He includes the latest research on the new post-Christian realities facing the west before describing the characteristics of Generation Z. Part 2 focuses on how the church should respond to this challenge. The author presents ideas on how we can become countercultural as well as how to speak to culture in ways that are winsome and compelling. He also includes suggestions on new approaches to evangelism and apologetics. The author closes the book with three sermons preached at his church on issues relevant to our culture—gay marriage, mapping out the spiritual world, and using science as a pre-evangelism bridge.
Having read and benefited from his previous book, The Rise of the Nones, I found this one helpful as well. It provides insight on the cultural realities and gives food for thought on how the church should adapt and respond to the challenge.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
Perhaps you remember learning about litmus tests back in high school chemistry. The main use of litmus paper is to test whether the solution is acidic or alkaline. We’ve adapted the concept and use it as a social indicator to classify someone favorably or unfavorably. Issues such as one’s position on abortion, same sex marriage, defense spending, economy, and others are used to categorize a political candidate as conservative or liberal.
What is the litmus test that determines if a person is truly saved from sin? Is there a test to determine if a person’s faith is real or phony? According to the apostle John, our behavior always reveals our beliefs. In 1 John 2:3-6, John explains that obedience is the litmus test of love for God.
In this passage, the apostle asks two questions that helps determine whether one’s faith is real or phony. Do you walk the talk? Do you walk the walk?
Do you walk the talk? (3-5a). John’s thesis statement is found in verse 3: Knowing God is evidenced by our heartfelt desire to obey him.
Ancient Greeks believed you could know God through your mind. Modern Greeks placed on emphasis on emotions and experience. The Jews believed you could know God through the Law. John said that to know God and to love God is to obey him.
Obedience is not a popular word today. Some may have grown up in a homes or churches where obedience and righteousness were pounded home so often that today they reject the idea. That is what John is combating. Real knowledge of God contains an intellectual, moral, and spiritual component that cannot be separated.
Verse 4 is the converse of verse 3. It explains that the one who claims to know God but is consistently disobedient is a liar. The one who keeps God’s word (5) is indwelt by the truth and the love of God has done its work in their life.
Our conduct should match our testimony. We should obey the great commandment—love God and love people—and the great commission—share your faith and make disciples. Obedience is the litmus test of love for God.
Do you walk the walk? (5b-6). Love is incomplete if it does not produce any deeds of love.
Abiding in Christ is another synonym for having an intimate relationship with him. John’s point is that a person who is abiding in God will obey God just as Jesus obeyed the Father and demonstrated his relationship with him.
We demonstrate our relationship with God by living in the same manner that Christ lived—servant, humble, spoke the truth, kind, patient, compassionate, forgiving, and sacrificial. An intimate relationship with God will be shown in Christlike behavior. Obedience is the litmus test of love for God.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 22, 2017. It is part of a series on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
Samuel Rutherford once stated that we should “praise God for the hammer, the file and the furnace.” He went on to explain that the “hammer molds us, the file shapes us and the fire tempers us.” All three experiences of course are painful, but we can praise God for them because we know and love the God who wields them.
A. W. Tozer, commenting on Rutherford’s statement, wrote, “The devil, things and people being what they are, it is necessary to use the hammer, the file and the furnace in the holy work of preparing the saint for the sainthood. It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”
(Gene Getz, Joseph: Overcoming Obstacles Through Faithfulness. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996, p. 109.)