Sunday, October 28, 2018

Word Champions

Why do we experience so much joy when our team wins? I didn't play an inning. I don't personally know any of the coaches or players (although I feel as if I do). But it's joy I feel. I just watched the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. They won four games to one over the Dodgers (the one game they didn't win went 18 innings and was the longest game in MLB playoffs history—and yes, I stayed up until 3:30am to watch).

You should know that I've loved the Sox since I was a kid. But this year has been special. Yes, they won 119 games in all (third place in all time most season wins). Yes they dominated the playoffs. But it was special to me (you might think this is dumb) because I watched more baseball—Red Sox baseball—than ever in my life! That's because I broke our TV when we moved back in March. Yes, that's right. And when we bought a new TV, Roku was a free service with the TV that let me choose to have the MLB Network for FREE (I would have broken that old TV much sooner had I known!). I also had a sabbatical this summer. I'm telling you, the only TV I watched all summer was Red Sox baseball, which I could watch anytime I wanted! And did I say it was free? Not just that, but Rich Hatter and I decided to buy tickets to watch the Sox play the Braves in Atlanta way back in February before the season started! He's a huge Braves fan and we thought it would be fun. We joked about how cool it would be if they were both in first place when they played in August—a date that seemed so far away! You guessed it, they were both in first place! And you know who won the game—swept the series in fact—the Red Sox!

The season was full of fun memories: so many late inning come-from-behind wins, so many home runs, so many impossible defensive plays, so many personalities! These guys were serious yet playfully fun. They really like each other. And they were humble. Besides all the other things I love (sometimes irrationally) about baseball, this team was special. And now they are World Series champions. Wow. I can't get this goofy smile off my face!
I was right, now it's official. Red Sox are #1.

Now, why does it give me so much joy?

First, because of something Jesus said. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). As I wrote in a previous post,
To understand [this verse], let’s get the images in two key words: “treasure” and “heart.” 
The word, treasure, is the Greek word, th─ôsauros. It literally means a “place of treasure,” where one puts one's investments. 
The word, heart, is the Greek word, kardia (yes, like "cardio" and "cardiograph"). It can mean the physical blood-pumping organ, but here "heart" is the symbolic “seat of the passions, desires, affections.”  
Now: notice the tenses of the verbs “to be”: “is” (present tense), “will be” (future tense). 
So here’s what it’s saying:
Where you place your investments NOW, that’s where your affections WILL BE.
Yeah, I invested quite a bit of time and interest in the Red Sox this season. I thought about them, I talked about them, I admired them. My affections followed.

Second, because there's something in the human soul that loves winning. It bothers me a little, but it's true. I like it when my team wins. You do too.

Ok, so here's my big point. God loves when we experience joy. It is a taste of the ultimate joy we have in Christ. Now because he is the only thing that truly satisfies here. It's also known as "abundant life." Later in an incomprehensible way when Jesus returns. That's because we win. Not just the World Series. Everything. Jesus conquers all evil and wins the final battle. Good wins in the end. And those of us who love him win big. We get God in all his fullness without hindrance. We get new resurrected bodies that are free from sin. We get the riches of heaven.

That's why we are crazy not to invest ourselves fully in him. God help me learn this lesson and invest in you with all I have and everything I am.




Friday, October 19, 2018

Yummy Low-Carb Brunswick Stew

There are certain rituals I love. Fall has quite a few for me. Yes, there's football, hunting, leaves changing color, MLB playoffs, the weather, fall fruits, and fall food. Regarding the latter, when the weather turns cool and ALCS and NLCS is happening, to spend a few hours making a big batch of Brunswick Stew. I didn’t have the time to do it before THE RED SOX WON THE ALCS (yeaaaa!), but today I finally did. Every year I make a big batch so that I can freeze a bunch of quart-sized containers. Brunswick stew makes the best quick lunch! I love having the option to throw a quart in the microwave and enjoy a hardy bowl of steamy hot goodness during the winter months. But I’ve been thinking for about three years that it would be awesome to have some low carb Brunswick stew, and I’ve looked and looked for a good low-carb recipe. When nothing tickled my fancy, I decided to come up with one myself. 
I must say…I think it was a success.

It’s basically a modified version of my old Brunswick Stew recipe with the following changes:
I replaced all the sugar with Sucralose (Splenda), the potatoes with cauliflower, and the BBQ sauce and ketchup with sugar-free varieties. I decided to keep the other sources of carbs (like corn and tomato puree), because I don’t know of an adequate substitute, but I cut the amount.
Here’s the recipe, make sure you have a HUGE pot because it makes a lot.

Chad’s Low Carb Brunswick Stew
Ready in 4-5 hours and serves 20 people

Ingredients:
4 chicken breast halves
1 large rotisserie-roasted chicken (yes, from the grocery store)
1 lb. pulled pork bbq (I bought mine from Buddy’s)
1 large onion (diced)
6 stalks celery (finely chopped)
1 bag (1 lb.) frozen shoe peg or white corn
1 bag (1 lb.) fresh frozen butter beans (the big brown/speckled kind, not the lima/green kind)
1 large (28 oz.) cans pureed tomatoes
60 oz of cauliflower half riced and half diced
1 bag (1 lbs.) fresh frozen okra 
2 cups G Hughes Sugar Free ketchup
4 tablespoons (=1/4 cup) sucralose (Splenda)
(Optional) 1 teaspoon dark molasses (to provide that brown sugar taste)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup G Hughes Sugar Free Hickory BBQ sauce
1 bay leaf
6 tablespoons (=3 oz.) salt (more if desired)
5 teaspoons course-ground black pepper (more if desired)

Directions:
In a large stock pot (this makes over 3 gallons of stew), cover chicken breasts with water and cook until tender. Remove chicken from stock (keep stock/broth in pot!) and, when the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull chicken apart, removing any gristle or fat. Pull the chicken so there aren’t any chunks larger than your thumb. While the breasts are cooking, pull all the meat off the roasted chicken in the same way.

Return all chicken and pork to pot with remaining stock. Add celery and onions, and simmer until tender. Add the cauliflower, corn, and butter beans, and simmer an additional 20 minutes.

Finally, add tomatoes, ketchup, Sucralose, BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, butter, bayleaf, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Cover and simmer at least two hours. Add okra last (about an hour before serving). Remove bayleaf before serving.

Stir often and be careful not to burn the bottom!!! Nothing burns like Brunswick stew, and it ruins the whole pot!

Verdict:
I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised about how good it is! I mean, I seriously think I like it as much as the original! That says a lot!! This really makes me happy. I’ll be enjoying Brunswick Stew all winter long—with no regrets!

How many carbs per serving? Here’s my math:
Meats and celery and other- 0
Onion- 10g (net 8)
Cauliflower- 84g (net 28)
Corn- 68g (net 58)
Tomato Puree- 74 (net 58)
Okra- 16 (net 0)
Butter beans- 91 (net 70)
Ketchup- 16 (net 16)
BBQ sauce- 8 (net 8)
Molasses- 5 (net 5)

Total (almost 4 gallons) - 372 (net 251)

Per quart (huge bowl full)- 23g carbs (16g net carbs)

Per cup (little bowl)- 6g carbs (4g net carbs)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Priorities for Growing Leadership

We're walking through the book of Acts. The church is on a roll. Despite the Ananias and Sapphira scandal, the growth of this Jesus movement continued! Acts 5: 14And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. Next, the apostles were jailed and beaten by the Jewish religious elite. But they rejoiced they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus. They didn’t shrink away or retreat, they kept the foot on the gas. Chapter 5 ends, 42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. Which resulted in growth. Chapter 6 begins: 1Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, That’s a good thing! Notice Luke did NOT say “converts” or “attendees" were increasing. He said “disciples.” What’s a disciple? Someone who has followed Jesus, who is being changed by Jesus, and is on mission with Jesus. By use of the term disciple, Luke is making clear that their primary concern is not the quantity of followers, it is the quality. But it's obvious they do want to increase in number! 
I want to clarify something. At Providence, we have said our goal is not to be a megachurch. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to increase in number! We do! We are actually going for world conquest! If we are the kind of church God wants us to be, we WILL grow. The question is HOW do we want to grow? Our strategy is to make disciples and plant churches that make disciples. We just planted Bridge Church, we are already looking to plant another. We’re praying for a planter and for God to show us where the next plant will be. 

As we pick up in Acts, there is only ONE church, and it’s in Jerusalem. They will be planting churches soon, but God has to push them out of the nest with persecution as we shall see. But for now there is only one huge megachurch. And with size comes problems! Look: "...a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (Luke 6:1b)." Here’s what’s happening: Widows in that patriarchal culture were in a vulnerable place. Without a husband they often couldn’t get a decent job, had very few rights, and many times they suffered. There was no government welfare and as Jesus pointed out, those in the religious establishment took advantage of them. So, as has almost always been the case, the church stepped in to meet the need—it was a great way to be the hands and feet of Jesus. But by addressing this need a faction that had formed in the church was revealed: the Greek-speaking, popular-culture-embracing “worldly” Jews who are now Christians (the Hellenists), are feeling like the more traditional, Hebrew speaking, Bible-thumping Jews are apparently getting more of the benevolence help! What is it about money and stuff?! I’ll say it again, money is a great tool for God, but it is such a temptation for problems. And fallen human beings are as they always have been: given to envy and jealousy, tempted to team up and divide, tend to get their feelings hurt—especially when stuff is being given away. Suddenly there’s a problem that could really divide the church. It’s a terrible thing when a church—a family of believers—choose sides and stop trusting each other. It’s hard to recover. It’s important for the leadership to deal with it openly and swiftly, and that’s exactly what they do:  2And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve [where we get the word “deacon”] tables." The apostles, who were essentially the elders of this first church, were wise in seeing the temptation of being distracted from their primary responsibility—proclaiming God’s Word. I must say, the Devil works really hard to get pastors to do just that—be distracted by doing everything else! Is there any wonder why there is such a lack of transformational preaching today and why so many Christians and churches are so weak? Hear what Paul said to the young pastor, Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:1-5 
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdompreach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (Note: I don’t think there has ever been a generation that better fit this description than ours!) 
As for you, always be sober-minded, (note: that means to be aware of what’s going on, but be steady and not sucked in to fads and trends. The NIV renders it, “Keep your head,” and the HCSB, “be serious.” Be disciplined.) endure suffering, (note: because there is suffering involved, trust me!) do the work of an evangelist, (note: that means share the gospel and plead for people to believe and surrender to Christ) fulfill your ministry.

As awkward as it is for me to say it, my job is important! It must be fought for. For me, proclaiming his Word to the folks at Providence accurately, transformationally, evangelistically, and contagiously is at the top of the list. I admit there have been times when other things have taken precedent—good things—and God was not pleased. At risk of sounding self-serving, I make an appeal to any church members (at Providence or any other): allow your teaching pastor to do what God has called him to do for the church and to keep the priority high. Help him by hiring staff that can do other duties that are also important and allow them to do that. Help him by not having unreasonable expectations. Help him by also sharing with him the ministry needs of people in your church. That’s what the first church did. 
The apostles continued: Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty (Acts 6:3). That is a great description of what is required for leadership in ministry. Notice it’s all character-related, not skill-, experience-, personality-, or knowledge-related. We MUST select leaders—particularly elders and deacons—with the same criteria. Other criteria might be helpful, but these are essential: 
1. They must have a good reputation. Their past—their good name—matters. 
2. They must be full of the Holy Spirit. Their spirituality—their daily walk with the Lord and the visibility of the fruit of the Spirit—matters. 
3. They must be wise. The practical outworking of their faith in wise living matters. You can have knowledge and intelligence without having wisdom. 
These things matter most. The apostles continued: But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). They said this because it takes time to pray. And it takes time to preach. I speak from experience. I know some aren’t going to understand and it sounds self-serving for me to say it, but it’s important that the primary teacher/preacher of any church dedicate much time for prayer and preparation for preaching. I am thankful that I had a pastor that took these priorities seriously, and I am here because of him. I have seen many pastors who didn’t take ample time for these most important duties and their churches suffered: they were weakened and sometimes divided as the Gospel was not pre-eminent. I have also seen churches drift away from sound doctrine when the Word was not central. It is a shame, and both the pastors and their churches are to blame. My doctoral dissertation makes the case that sincere and relevant biblical proclamation is the hope for the church in postmodern America. All churches need praying, Word-preaching pastors.
So the Jerusalem church affirmed the idea, and chose seven men who all had Greek (rather than Hebrew) names, indicating they were probably Hellenists, and Luke wants us to know that one of them was not even racially Jewish! That brought some diversity to the leadership. What was the result of this organizational move? "And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7). Wow! We've seen "added," and "multiplied," and now "multiplied greatly!" Christ’s church just keeps reaching more people—including some Jewish priests! God’s Word is powerful! Don’t you want to be a part of a church like that? 

I think we can if our churches recognize three priorities:

1. The ministry of the Word is important. 
For my part (and any pastors who preach), it takes dedicated prayer and preparation. This takes time (and discipline to set aside ample time) for these purposes. I have seen various surveys that show that the average pastor spends as little as 6 minutes a week in prayer. There’s your answer to the question, “Why are so many churches dying?” A prayerless pastor is powerless. I have also known pastors who brag that they need only two or three hours to prepare a sermon. I had a pastor friend who told me proudly that he only needed to prepare for 30 minutes! I would rue the day I stood to proclaim God's Word so unprepared. I actually have nightmares of standing up and not being prepared! Seriously, I ask the people of Providence to hold me accountable to do my job well. I ask them to pray for me, and to never let me (or anyone else who may have my job) take this lightly by cutting corners, compromising doctrinally, diminishing the Gospel, or being out-of-touch. If I do, they should replace me. 
For your part, make hearing the Word a priority, hear with your heart what God is saying to you (not some preacher), and apply what you hear (James 1:22). Even if the sermon isn't as polished or interesting or inspiring or in-depth or even accurate as you would like, God can still speak. I visited about 10 churches this past summer and got something out of every sermon I heard. Sometimes the problem is the receiver not the quarterback.

2. Choosing good leaders is important. Five tips from the passage we just read: 
  • We must organize to meet people’s needs and ministry priorities. 
  • We must insist on character qualifications first. 
  • We should choose leaders with a process that includes every member’s voice. 
  • We must encourage diversity in leadership (e.g. race, age, and religious background).
  • We must intentionally grow disciples to lead God’s growing church.


3. Quantitative growth is important, but quality is more! 
In fact, quantitative growth won’t happen (or happen sustainably) if we are not growing people spiritually. Yes, quality is more important than quantity BECAUSE QUALITY (making disciples) RESULTS IN QUANTITY. A church might be able to grow numerically for a while, but without quality, it will not last. That’s the main reason the bigger-is-better, numerical-growth-at-all-costs, mega-church model often fails. The charismatic lead pastor will leave or die or fail morally. The big show on Sunday services will eventually lose it’s wow factor. Eventually the breadth will require depth. So let’s make disciples. That starts with you. Are you a disciple? Have you followed Jesus? Are you being changed by Jesus (that means growing—are you closer to Jesus—more like Jesus than you were a year ago)? Are you on mission with Jesus? That means you’re praying and seeking to be used by God to influence others. IS THAT YOU? If that’s not you, it can be. I pray it will be. Will you ask God to make you a disciple? See, Disciples make disciples. Disciple-making churches plant churches. Don’t be an attender. Don’t be a fan. Be a DISCIPLE. World conquest will be the result!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Worthy to Suffer

Are you worthy to suffer? 

That sounds weird, huh? I mean, my knee-jerk reaction to suffering is, “Lord, why me? What wrong did I do to deserve this?” But (apparently) the opposite is true. When suffering, we should rather ask, “What good thing have I done to be so fortunate?”

You’re not convinced, I can tell.

In our study of Acts, we’ve witnessed an exciting start to this new Jesus movement called the church. Even after the first scandal—the deaths of hypocrites Ananias and Sapphira—the purified and passionate church is growing wildly. Luke tells us, “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). Because of the love they showed to one another, the care for others’ physical needs, and the good news of God’s grace, “the people held them in high esteem” (v. 13). Times were good. But the devil was not going to stand by and let this growing movement go unopposed. Satan knows his end is coming, and the sooner the church accomplishes her mission to take the Good News to all nations, the sooner his time is over. 

Having failed to establish hypocrisy in the church, Satan went to his favorite friends, the hypocritical leaders of Judaism at that time, the Sanhedrin. 

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and [they were] filled with jealousy (v. 17).

We know from the Gospels that these leaders, most of whom were Sadducees, were liberal (they didn’t believe much of the Bible was inspired, and didn’t believe in miracles, or resurrection, or heaven), and they were corrupt, having twisted the religious system to enrich themselves. Jesus had called them out—and they killed him for it. Now Jesus’ followers are the biggest thing in Jerusalem! If someone wants to be vehemently hated, just take the spotlight away from the who’s who. What’s worse? They accused these establishment elitists of killing Jesus! How dare they! So the leaders “arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison” (Acts 5:18). 

The devil is behind all this. He is turning up the heat on these apostles who just a couple of months earlier had fled in fear when Jesus was arrested. “This will scare them and stop their enthusiasm,” he must have thought.

Where God is at work, Satan gets to work. But God is greater. As Luther said, “The devil is still God’s devil.”
The Apostles Delivered from Prison by an Angel. 
An engraving by Philip Galle and Maerten van Heemskerck 
in the 1560s. National Gallery of Art.

What happens next is great. “But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out” (v. 19) There’s nothing God can’t do. He sets captives free. Literally and figuratively. Bars and chains can’t stop him. Neither can drugs and sex (or whatever holds you captive). The angel said, Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life” (v. 20). "What?!" I can sense them thinking, "you want us to go right back into the lion’s den?" I think it is so awesome. I think God wants us to do the same. Persecution shouldn’t stop us. It should steel our resolve. And that’s what they did: Verse 21, “And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.” I love this! Meanwhile, the pompous Sanhedrin convenes that very morning and called to have the apostles brought before them, expecting them to be humbled. Imagine the shock when they were told the disciples weren’t there! Right after getting that news, someone else yelled, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people” (v. 25). They were brought in and grilled: “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us” (v.28). The apostles were unwavering. “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:29-32)

This enraged the elitists and they wanted to kill them. But a respected member of the Sanhedrin warned that they should let them alone. He told them that if this movement “is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39)

As you may know, it WAS of God. 

After agreeing to let them go, the Sanhedrin called them in and blessed them and bid them a kind farewell. Umm...not quite. "When they had called in the apostles, they beat them” (v. 40). Think about this for a second! What did that entail? Did they let the temple guards stand around them with sticks and cane them? Did they chain them to a post and whip them? Did they ask some Roman soldiers to punch them and slap them around? All of those scenarios are real possibilities. It's hard for us to picture because not many American Christians have experienced literal blows because of their faith.

After beating them Luke says the Sanhedrin “charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (v.40).

I've had the privilege to meet people who face violent
persecution every day for Jesus. This is a group of
Christians forced to flee China. When I took this picture,
they were singing, "This is the day that the Lord has made
let us rejoice and be glad in it." Not a sad face among them.
The apostles' reaction? “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (v. 41). Wow, it’s true. Suffering dishonor is honor. 

Jesus said it like this (in Matthew 5:10-12), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” That's relatable even to us American Christians. We do know insults and all kinds of evil being said falsely about us. 

Is it relatable to you?

As crazy as it seems, it’s true. When you suffer persecution for Jesus’ sake, you’re doing something right. You can count it all joy. So rejoice! You were counted worthy to suffer.