About Gregg Caruso

I have enjoyed the privilege of serving the Church as a co-church planter, pastor of multi-staffed churches, coach, mentor, mission’s executive, trainer, interventionist, diagnostician, and intentional interim pastor. I have served in such varied places as Carson City (NV), Santa Barbara, Oceanside, Boone (IA), London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, the North Shore of O’ahu, the SF Bay Area, Manchester NH, Temecula CA, Torrance CA, Taunton MA, and now in Rehoboth MA. My all-time favorite book on leadership is “Leadership is an Art” by Max DePree. What a great and humbling topic... Specialties: Intentional Interim Pastor (IIP) Gospel-centered theological 'reboot' Change management Organizational development Analytics (3 tiers of diagnostics available) Policy-based governance Conflict management and reconciliation

Holy Week Devo – Day 3

Tuesday, April 7th

What was Jesus doing on Tuesday of Holy Week?

It’s important that, as we move through Holy Week, we begin to see and understand the resolute focus and intentionality of Jesus that is reflected back to us by the Gospel writers…

He, with the Disciples, Passed by The Barren Fig Tree: Matthew 21:19-22

This object lesson teaching of Jesus on faith and prayer emphasizes that the power of prayer lies not in the power of the person praying but, in the power and promises of God. Our freedom from doubt begins to arise from a growing awareness that something is truly God’s will. True faith receives what it asks for. True trust is not presumptive arrogance but submission to God’s will.

The Authority of Jesus is Challenged in the Temple: Matthew 21:23-27.

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus was no stranger to controversy and conflict with the religious establishment. Most Jewish people (including the disciples of Jesus) held a fixed (but wrong) view of how the Messiah should come and what He would do. The demands of the chief priests and the elders emanated from a stubborn place and a desire for personal power and comfort rather than a heart that desired to know and do the will of God.

The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24-25. Excerpt from 25:1-13

Leaving the Temple, Jesus and the Disciples walked up the Mount of Olives, probably to a place that overlooked the city. Matthew 24-25 are the last of Jesus’ five teaching discourses that make up the bulk of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to His disciples, giving them a prophetic overview of events to come in the near and distant future. Here’s how to outline the chapters…

  • Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple (which happened in 70 A.D.). (24:1-3)
  • The troubles before the destruction of Jerusalem. (24:4-28)
  • Jesus foretells other signs and miseries. (24:29-41)
  • Exhortations to watchfulness. (24:42-51)
  • The parable of the ten virgins. (25:1-13)
  • The parable of the talents. (25:14-30)
  • The Second Coming and Judgement. (25:31-46)

 As we can see, Tuesday was a packed day of exhortation and instruction! A concise overview of the day’s focus would be:

  • A pattern for personal prayer that it is not petitioning God to do our will, but a humble inquiring of God to share His will for us.
  • The natural drift of the human heart is toward selfishness, personal comfort, and control. It is essential that we engage the Christian life as humble learners.
  • Jesus will not take His followers around suffering, but through suffering—and we are to be watchful, prepared, and productive along the way—because judgement is coming.

Application:

  • Consider your prayer life. Ask God to draw you after Him in a new and powerful way. “Draw me after you and let us run together!” –Song of Solomon 1:4a
  • Where is personal preference, stubbornness, and control hindering your relationship with God and others? Get real.
  • Where are you stuck in your longing for comfort in the midst of our call to stand firm for Jesus even when it means suffering?

Tim Keller and George Hebert on Prayer

The Christian’s Call to Suffer

Holy Week Devo – Day 2

Monday, April 6th

Mary Pours Out Her Costly Perfume, Matthew 26:6-13

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

A Note of Context: The anointing of Jesus recounted in Luke 7:36-50 is a different incident from this anointing. This anointing is also related in John 12:1-11 and Mark 14:3-9 (although John 12 states that Mary anointed His feet and wiped them with her hair). Mary is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It is Monday evening, two days after Lazarus was raised from the dead and the day after Palm Sunday. Jesus enjoyed a very special friendship with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They offered Jesus warm friendship and their home provided a respite in a world of conflict and escalating hostility (cf. Luke 10:38–42). It is also worth noting that the resurrection of Lazarus was likely one of the main reasons the crowds in Jerusalem were so large and boisterous on Palm Sunday. The word had spread and there was a holy hope and expectation that swept through the city including those who made the trek to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.

Big Idea: The main emphasis seems to be, don’t waste your life on anything but Jesus.

Dig In: Chinese Pastor and Theologian, Watchman Nee wrote a book in the 1930s entitled The Normal Christian Life. The last chapter of the book is titled, “The Goal of the Gospel” and it addresses this idea of waste from Matthew 26. Nee points out that in the parallel accounts of John (12:1-11) and Mark (14:3-9), all the disciples joined Judas in scolding Mary for wasting this expensive perfume on Jesus when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Yet we find Jesus defending Mary by replying, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her” (Matt. 26:13). What does Jesus mean? Nee contends that Jesus is saying, “people should come to Him and waste themselves on Him.”[1] If Jesus is the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field[2] (see Matthew 13:45-46), then it’s not a waste to sell everything we have to buy the field that contains the pearl. To have Jesus is worth “wasting” all that we are and all that we have on Him.

Application: This might seem like kind of an in-your-face question, but I’ll ask it nevertheless—In your mind, what is the difference between a wasted life and an “un-wasted” life? How will you discern whether or not you are wasting your life (or even portions of your life)? I have been wrestling with this question for the last few weeks. Spend some time in this shelter-at-home season and prayerfully reflect on and evaluate your life. How did you get to where you are today? What is God placing on your heart for this next season of life?

Deeper Dive: In Paul’s letter to young Timothy he provides some sage advice…

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. –1 Timothy 4:15-6 (emphasis added)

The two verses above offer a context for regular moments of reflection and evaluation. First of all, the goal is not perfection, but progress (v.15), and secondly, a consistent and thorough evaluation of ourselves and our message will lead to the furtherance of the gospel (v.16). This requires courage because we must be willing to confront the most brutal facts of our current reality, whatever they might be.

And returning to the idea of waste, on May 20, 2000, in Memphis TN John Piper delivered a message to thousands of college students at a one-day Passion Conference. The message was titled Boasting Only in the Cross. Piper made a passionate plea to that generation to avoid the dangers of a wasted life, calling on them to take risks and make sacrifices that will matter for eternity. Piper called for a single-minded, soul-satisfying passion for the glory of God that seeks to make much of Him in every sphere of our lives. Subsequently, that sermon has been called, a “message that moved a generation” and had a ripple effect through that generation (see below for a 7-minute clip—or the link above for the full message). As Nee wrote in The Normal Christian Life, “A life spent in selfless devotion to Jesus is not wasted, but a life spent on self is totally wasted.”

 

[1] Pgs 186.

[2] By-the-way, this “pearl” passage goes both ways. You are also the pearl of great price that Jesus purchased for Himself.

Holy Week Devotional – Day 1

Palm Sunday, April 5th — Jesus’ Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem, Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [see Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9]

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” [See Psalm 118:26]

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Thinking it through: The big question seems to be, would you have recognized Jesus?

Someone has said, “Expectation is the root of all hurt.” Think about it. If you were to go back and consider the times in your life where deep relational woundedness occurred, it most likely includes someone disappointing or hurting you in a way that was completely unexpected. Expectation is a programmed assumption. Sometimes our expectations are legitimate, and the wound is raw and real. Sometimes our expectations are illegitimate and the wound, while it may still be piercing, has been self-inflicted. The Jewish people were looking for a Geopolitical King to liberate them from Roman oppression; instead, they got a Servant King, intent on liberating the soul.

Here are three questions for you to consider…

Are there areas in your life where you have placed unrealistic or unbiblical expectations on God?

In a blog post Christian author Randy Alcorn identifies six false expectations that diminish true happiness…

  1. God’s Love for Us Should Look Just Like What We Want
  2. We Won’t Be Persecuted for Our Faith
  3. Jesus Must Return in Our Lifetime
  4. Life Will Go Smoothly and We’ll Always Have Health and Wealth
  5. Life Will Be Fair and People Will Treat Us Kindly and Thoughtfully
  6. Churches Owe Us Better Treatment than We’ve Received

Do you still carry woundedness or bitterness from your past as a result of unmet expectations?

All of our pain resolved or otherwise, is important to our heavenly Father. Your feelings, right or wrong, are valid. Nevertheless, consider real hurt vs. perceived hurt. Read Psalm 22; a psalm of David. He’s confused and in deep anguish—and yet he turns to God in his anguish. David is famous for being a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22), yet we sometimes fail to recognize how he repeatedly paid attention to loss, grief, and disappointment. As King, David led Israel to God through his own experiences of grief and loss.[1]

Are your aspirations, hopes, dreams, and expectations rooted in a developing biblical theology?

As Matthew notes, the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was foretold in the Old Testament. Those who were deeply familiar with the Scriptures would have recognized what was happening.

So, what is biblical theology? Biblical theology can be contrasted with experiential theology, which defines God through personal experience, emotion, and the subjective discernment of reality. Simply stated, biblical theology is seeing the whole Bible (both Old and New Testaments) as a single narrative. A more robust definition is the lifelong endeavor of tracking the whole story of the whole Bible as Christian Scripture in its proper context. It is one story that moves from creation to sin, to judgment, to reconciliation, and finally, to the restoration of all things.

Many Christians have never seen or understood the difference between experiential theology and biblical theology. Experiential theology will keep us trapped in immaturity and set us up for repeated disappointments. This could be a main reason for people exiting the Church—they’ve never been taught how to study and embrace the full single story of the Bible. And consequently, they didn’t recognize Jesus when He showed up in their lives. Unrealistic expectations and the resulting disappointments have hijacked their lives.

Is this happening to you? Do you know someone who is on the fringe or who has exited the Church because of poor instruction? If this describes you, go back to the Beatitudes: acknowledge your spiritual poverty, mourn over your sinful condition (along with the condition of the world around us), become a humble learner once again, and you will begin to experience a hunger and thirst for God. If you know someone who is deeply disappointed with God and/or the Church, invite them to meet and ask to hear their story. Don’t try and fix them, listen to them, affirm their feelings, and continue to love them. When the time is right, offer to read a book with them. One of the best books to help someone get back on the right track is Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller. It’s a retelling of a biblical narrative from Luke 15 that we often get wrong. Both brothers were prodigals and the main character is not the younger prodigal but the older one. Keller tells us there are two ways to miss God, 1) rebellion (younger prodigal) and 2) religion (older prodigal). The gospel is the third way. Read this book with your friend (Spouse? Child? Co-Worker?), walk together and let God do the rest.

Here are some additional resources to further consider biblical theology:

[1] Adapted from Enlarging Your Soul and Church Through Grief and Loss by Peter Scazzero.

Preparing for the Next Great Awakening

Here’s a quote I came across a few days ago…

“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” —John Piper

Have you thought much about what God is wanting to say to you in this shelter in place moment? I keep thinking this disruption is a major opportunity. It’s a time to get real with God and it’s a time to get right with God. Getting real, or owning our own stuff, is the best (and fastest?) way to get right with God. We all accumulate idols.

Idols are those activities that we engage in when we’re stressed out and looking to medicate. In this 21st century culture, idols are everywhere. We have music idols, sports idols, Instagram idols—and we even have a long-running television show to make our own “American Idol” (which I have generally enjoyed by-the-way).

Within the sinful nature of our human hearts, there is a need, a hunger to idolize. Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, explains that Scripture teaches the human heart is an “idol factory.”[1] Idolatry quietly and subtly slips into our lives when we allow good things to become ultimate things.[2] Another way to understand this is to think of idols as functional saviors. Jerry Bridges defines functional saviors in the following way: Sometimes we look to other things to satisfy and fulfill us—to ‘save’ us. These ‘functional saviors’ can be any object of dependence we embrace that isn’t God. They can become the source of our identity, security, and significance because we hold an idolatrous affection for them in our hearts—which often begins as a dalliance. Idols can begin to preoccupy our minds and consume our time and resources. They make us feel good and sometimes, they can even make us feel righteous (religion can become an idol). Whether we realize it or not, they begin to control us, and we worship them.[3] It’s been said that all sin is idolatry because in that moment we are worshiping something or someone other than God.

Still another way to understand the contemporary form of idolatry is to think of it in terms of defining where we obtain our hope. At the heart of every culture lays its main “hope.” Any dominant cultural “hope” that is not God Himself is an idol.[4] We tend to think of idols as bad or evil things, yet they almost never are. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect the idol to satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything or anyone can become an idol, especially the very best things in life.[5]

So, in this anxiety-filled downtime let’s identify the primary idols that hold a prominent place in our hearts? Here are ten common idols: self, security (or control), approval, relationships, success, wealth, health, food, sex, and comfort. All legit things, right? Perhaps a good conversation with your spouse or close friend might be to identify and confess those idols that are attempting to become a primary hope in our lives? (One of mine is comfort.)

I believe that God is up to something big in this moment of history. We must make the decision to no longer tolerate our idols and our low levels of faith, our personal dysfunctions, and give ourselves over to God’s longing to remake us in Christlikeness. Only God can do the changing, but we can choose to surrender afresh.

The next great awakening in the Church and in our country must be centered on our hearts being changed by God. It will begin by replacing the pseudo-Christianity of the consumer-driven lifestyle enhancement model of church (i.e., what can I get from God and church?) with the Spirit-filled faith of biblical Christianity model (i.e., we surrender to Him our whole heart, soul, and mind). Then we, as the church, will offer the renewal of authentic godliness to those who are being malformed by the plethora of cultural idols in the deepest parts of their hearts.

[1] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods: xiv (quoting John Calvin).
[2] Ibid. Adapted from Keller.
[3] Jerry Bridges & Bevington, The Bookends of the Christian Life: 72.
[4] Andrew Delbanco. The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope. Quoted in Counterfeit Gods: 129-130.
[5] Keller: xvii.

Ruth 2 — THE Most Important Question of Life


[This sermon is from a series on Ruth taught at Community Covenant Church in Rehoboth MA where I currently have the privilege of serving as the Intentional Interim Pastor.]

The title for this sermon is THE Most Important Question of Life (this side of heaven) and we’ll be looking at Ruth 2. Why Ruth? The primary reason we are studying Ruth is that transition and change has become so common in our contemporary culture that we can become numb to it. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “The only thing you can really count on is change.” In addition to the transitions and changes each one of us, and our families are going through, we’re also experiencing transition and change as a church. And my challenge to us is to ask the question, “God, what do You want to teach me, to teach us, through the significant transitions of life?” Ruth is a narrative account of some pretty severe and significant transitions and we get to see how the main characters handle them. Here are 3-takeaway lessons from chapter 1:

  1. Even in the midst of dark, difficult, and chaotic times God still works on our behalf for His glory and our joy.
  2. Even when we’re disobedient it does not thwart the sovereignty and the ultimate purpose of God.
  3. There is a great benefit in being in community in the same way that Naomi and Ruth needed one another.

Today we will be introduced to the third main character: Boaz. So, we’ll be reading all of Ruth 2.  You might be asking are we going to be reading whole chapters every week?  This month, yes.  I would remind you of Paul’s exhortation to young Timothy in 1 Tim 4:13: “Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.”:

“Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.  One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.’  Naomi replied, ‘All right, my daughter, go ahead.’ So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech.  While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. ‘The Lord be with you!’ he said.  ‘The Lord bless you!’ the harvesters replied.  Then Boaz asked his foreman, ‘Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?’ [a poor translation, “who is” is better] And the foreman replied, ‘She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.’  Boaz went over and said to Ruth, ‘Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.’  10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. ‘What have I done to deserve such kindness?’ she asked. ‘I am only a foreigner.’  11 ‘Yes, I know,’ Boaz replied. ‘But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’  13 ‘I hope I continue to please you, sir,’ she replied. ‘You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.’  14 At mealtime Boaz called to her, ‘Come over here and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.’ So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some leftover.  15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, ‘Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!’  17 So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket.  18 She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was leftover from her meal.  19 ‘Where did you gather all this grain today?’ Naomi asked. ‘Where did you work? May the Lord bless the one who helped you!’  So, Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, ‘The man I worked with today is named Boaz.’  20 ‘May the Lord bless him!’ Naomi told her daughter-in-law. ‘He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband.  That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.’  21 Then Ruth said, ‘What’s more, Boaz even told me to come back and stay with his harvesters until the entire harvest is completed.’  22 ‘Good!’ Naomi exclaimed. ‘Do as he said, my daughter. Stay with his young women right through the whole harvest. You might be harassed in other fields, but you’ll be safe with him.’  23 So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law.”–Ruth 2:1-23

My wife, Linda, and I enjoy watching a few television shows together…We’ve enjoyed many of the British detective dramas because they are not nearly as violent or eerie as their American counterparts. One of the American crime shows that we have enjoyed is Bluebloods. When I was a kid watching a television drama there was generally only one plotline. As I got older, I began to notice TV dramas had two simultaneous plotlines that intersected at the end. A while back it occurred to me that Bluebloods usually has three simultaneous plotlines…And that’s is what we find here in the 2nd chapter of Ruth—3 overlapping plotlines. In this chapter we find:

  1. Boaz is introduced as the third main character (after Ruth and Naomi)
  2. The interaction of God’s grace and human responsibility
  3. The “Christ Connection” in Chapter 2

So, let’s look at them one at a time…Boaz is introduced as the third main character. Three things about Boaz…The first thing we learn about Boaz is that he is wealthy and influential (v.1). The second thing we learn is that he is a relative of both Naomi’s and Ruth’s deceased husbands.  This is where we really begin to see the clouds part and a ray of hope emerge—for two reasons…It turns out that Boaz is one of Naomi’s and Ruth’s kinsman-redeemers. A kinsman-redeemer is a male relative who had both the privilege and the responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, in danger, or in need of vindication. Naomi identifies Boaz, at the end of v. 20 as, one of our family redeemers.” And it’s interesting that Naomi hadn’t told Ruth about Boaz being a relative. It’s another indication of Naomi’s good theology and that she was trusting in the covenant God of Israel as her and Ruth’s ultimate provider. What we find, by God’s merciful providence, is that Boaz can buy back the family farm that Elimelech and Naomi gave-up to move to Moab. There’s a catch though. If there was a widow (like Ruth), the kinsman-redeemer would marry her in the hope that the family name could live on.

Another reason for a ray of hope to shine through is that in addition to being wealthy and influential, Boaz is a godly man. In v. 4 Boaz arrives at the field where Ruth is gleaning and greets his crew with God-focused greeting. If we wanted to know something about a businessman or woman’s relationship with God, we would not necessarily look at how they act on a Sunday but how they greet and treat their staff (or colleagues) on Mon morning. How far down has God penetrated into the details of their everyday life? I think that’s the reason the author adds that seeming bit of trivia. Another thing we need to know about Boaz is just a tiny bit controversial. There is some subtle flirting going on between Boaz and Ruth right from the get-go. As we consider this, it’s important to clarify that nowhere in the text does it state that Ruth was beautiful, or that Boaz was handsome. And furthermore, the text indicates that Boaz was older than Ruth. We know this because he addresses her as “daughter” in v.8. Ruth’s age is probably 25-30 and some theologians think Boaz was in his 40’s, or even his 50s.  (I have daughters so; I’m going to go with 40s :). Notice in v. 5 that as soon as Boaz arrives, he sees Ruth and asks about her. And then they almost instantly get into this intense and politely intimate conversation. And the reason I brought up that the text doesn’t say they were Ken and Barbie lookalikes is because what seems to be at the heart of Boaz’s attraction to Ruth is her kindness and generosity toward Naomi—and then, even more importantly, in v.12 Boaz acknowledges her conversion to the covenant God of Israel when he says, May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’ In v. 13 Ruth responds to Boaz saying, ‘You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.’ The literal translation of the word “kindly” is “heart.”  So, what Ruth is saying is: “You have consoled me by speaking directly to my heart.”  Boom, love is in the air.

In v.17, other translations say that Ruth gleaned about an ephah of barley that day. Do you know how much that is? It’s about 40-pounds of barley or enough to make about 70 loaves of bread. As we read in the text, Boaz made sure Ruth and Naomi would have plenty of barley to eat and to trade for the additional necessities of life.

God’s grace and human responsibility work hand in hand; they are not contradictory. We see this dynamic tension at play here in chapter 2 as we encounter the further unfolding of Ruth’s godliness and character. Last week I introduced the Hebrew word hesed, which has no English equivalent but describes the longsuffering, pursuant, extravagant, unrestrained, covenant love of God. Here in chapter 2, we see Ruth pursuing God’s grace, or favor.  The Hebrew word is chên and it’s used 3-times in this chapter.  I find it a bit more clear in the NASB:

  1. V 2: Let me go and find favor
  2. V 10: Why have I found favor?
  3. V 13: May I continue to find favor

From the beginning of her life with God, we see Ruth demonstrating a consistent life of humility and surrender, which are the markers of true conversion. Yet, at the same time, Ruth demonstrates a proactive resourcefulness. I see in Ruth both humility and assertiveness.  She is both realistic and hopeful. It’s amazing maturity—whether we’re talking about a new convert or a twentysomething. I would see Ruth as one of those people who starts out as the receptionist and eventually becomes CEO of the company. You may find it interesting that in the Hebrew Scripture the book of Ruth comes directly after Proverbs, where many of us will remember that the last 21 verses are a description of the virtuous woman. It’s assumed that Solomon had Ruth in mind when he wrote Pro 31. We saw this humble assertiveness and realistic hopefulness in chapter 1 and we see it even more profoundly here in chapter 2—and we will see it blossom fully next week in chapter 3.

The “Christ Connection” in Chapter 2…This is where we ask of the text, how does this chapter point us to the person and the work of Jesus Christ? (Lk 24: 27) This is a pretty easy call now that Boaz is on the scene. I hope you can see that Jesus Christ is the better Boaz who leaves the comfort, majesty, and perfection of heaven to become our Kinsman-Redeemer that He might redeem us from our sin.

As we begin to land the plane—and having established that Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer and Boaz “may be” Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, I want to take you into the conversation between Boaz and Ruth in vs. 10-12:

Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. ‘What have I done to deserve such kindness?’ she asked. ‘I am only a foreigner.’ 11 ‘Yes, I know,’ Boaz replied. ‘But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’

What we see here is Ruth absolutely humbled by the kindness and generosity of Boaz. And we see Boaz complementing Ruth on the kindness and generosity she has shown to Naomi.  But what is also happening, at a deeper level, is that Boaz is acknowledging Ruth’s conversion to the covenant God of Israel. Look at v. 12 again:

May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’

The OT is full of references to God’s people taking refuge under the wings of God. Here’s one:

“For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.” –Psalm 63:7

With that in mind here is the big idea for today:

We are awakened to the unfathomable riches God’s grace as we take refuge under His wings.

I would like to suggest to you that Ruth’s question to her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, ‘What have I done to deserve such kindness?’ is THE most important question of our lives. Have you ever been so enraptured with the beauty, the grace, the majesty, the wonder of God that you, maybe tearfully or joyfully, or both, asked God, “Why me, what have I done to deserve the kindness of Your salvation?” And the answer, of course, is nothing. We have done nothing to deserve the kindness of God’s salvation. When you were at your very worst Jesus Christ died for you.  When you were shaking your fist and cursing God, He pursued you with hesed and loved you with kindness, mercy, and saving grace.

If you haven’t asked the question, “Why me?” you might not be a Christian…

Ruth 1 – Dark Times with a Ray of Hope

[This sermon is from a series on Ruth taught at Community Covenant Church in Rehoboth MA where I currently have the privilege of serving as the Intentional Interim Pastor.]

It’s been said that we are all either IN a significant transition, just COMING OUT of a significant transition, or just GOING INTO a significant transition. It is easy to become numb to significant transitions when they happen so often. So, in the midst of (what seems like) never-ending transition and change, HOW do we find and connect with God in the midst?

As we endeavor to study and consider the book of Ruth over the next 4-weeks, I’m hoping (and prayerful) that we will discover how paying attention to (all) of life’s transitions can help us to see the hand of God more clearly and, therefore, know God more intimately.

Why Ruth?

  • The book is about several significant transitions. A major theme is transitioning from emptiness to fullness.
  • We tend to see the Ruth narrative as a traditional fairy tale type of story—much like Sleeping Beauty awaiting her Prince Charming, yet when we dig a little deeper it’s anything but traditional—as we’ll see…
  • Also, we’ll notice is that there is nothing overtly miraculous in Ruth. No miracles, no visions, and no direct words from God.  What we will see is God working in the lives of His people—even in the difficult (and mundane) seasons of life.

Before we make our way to the first chapter of Ruth, I’d like to stop for a moment at Luke 24:27 (Road to Emmaus):

Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” –Luke 24:27 (emphasis added)

What we see in this verse is THE most important Bible study of all time. What Jesus is doing on the Road to Emmaus is opening their hearts and minds to how they are to view the Old Testament Scripture. What we learn from this verse is, the WHOLE Old Testament is actually about Jesus.

When we add the New Testament we begin to see that the WHOLE Bible only tells one story. It’s the story of redemption and reconciliation through Jesus. So, in every passage we are to ask, how does this point us to Jesus Christ?

Illus – The Sixth Sense[1], a 1999 movie with Bruce Willis. You can only see that movie twice.  The first time the ending is quite shocking.  The second time you see it you will become very aware of all the indicators that point to the ending.  In the same way, once our hearts are awakened to the implications that the whole Bible points to Jesus, we will begin to look at every passage in the Bible differently.

We will begin to consistently ask of every passage: How does this passage point to the person and work Jesus Christ? With that said let’s read Ruth, chapter 1: 1In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So, a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites ([2]) from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.  Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons.  The two sons married Moabite women.  One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth.  But about ten years later, both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.  Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again.  So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland.  With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.  But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me.  May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.’ Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept.  10 ‘No,’ they said. ‘We want to go with you to your people.’  11 But Naomi replied, ‘Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands?  12 No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again.  And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what?  13 Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else?  No, of course not, my daughters!  Things are far more bitter for me than for you because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.’  14 And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye.  But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. 1 5 ‘Look,’ Naomi said to her, ‘your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.’  16 But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live.  Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.  17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!’  18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.  19 So the two of them continued on their journey.  When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. ‘Is it really Naomi?’ the women asked.  20 ‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she responded. ‘Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me.  21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty.  Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?’  22 So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman.  They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest.” –Ruth 1:1-22 [The last verse is the “ray of hope,” from the sermon title]

Today we’ll take some time to wrap our heads and hearts around what we just read. I have four lessons from the first chapter to humbly consider. And then we’ll conclude by asking, how does this first chapter point us to Jesus?  (Please check out the blog on the CCC website where I have posted an overview of our study.

The first lesson involves the first 9 words of chapter 1, which tell us that the time and setting of the Ruth narrative occurred during the time of the judges: “In the days when the judges ruled in Israel…” For those of us who have read the book of Judges, we know that it was a deeply dark and degrading time for the nation of Israel. Consider the last verse of the book of Judges (21:25):

“In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” –Judges 21:25

One commentator wrote: “The book of Judges was teeming with violent invasions, apostate religion, unchecked lawlessness, and tribal civil war.”[3] And if you’ve read Judges, you’ll know that’s putting it mildly! A proper understanding of what’s going on here, as we begin our study of Ruth, leads us to our first lesson, which is also the BIG IDEA for this sermon:

Even in the midst of dark, difficult, and chaotic times God still works on our behalf for His glory and our joy.

As you may have heard, Greenland has been in the news lately. When it came up in the news it, for some reason, reminded me of a science lesson I learned a long time ago…In the sea around Greenland there are lots of icebergs floating and through time-lapsed photography, scientists discovered that the icebergs were moving in different directions. As they sought to determine why that was happening, what they found is that the smaller icebergs were being moved by the trade winds pushing them along and the larger icebergs were being moved by the deeper ocean currents. An important part of this first lesson is that often times imposed transitions or difficult times in our lives are the result of God wanting to capture our attention in order to connect us with the deeper ocean currents of His will instead of being continually tossed about by the surface winds and waves of circumstance.

For the last several years Job’s testimony at the end of the book has been seared into my soul. Look at Job’s declaration:

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You” –Job 42:5

The second lesson from this first chapter is a bit more consoling. God very clearly told the Jewish people not to associate with the Moabites, let alone go and live there.  (As we’ll see as the Ruth narrative unfolds it wasn’t a racial thing, it was for doctrinal purposes.) Whether it was Elimelech who pressured Naomi to move to Moab or Naomi pressured Elimelech, or it was a mutual decision, we just don’t know. What we DO know is it was NOT God’s will. The second lesson from this chapter is this:

Even when we’re disobedient it does not thwart the sovereignty and the ultimate purpose of God.

“God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” –Romans 8:28 (emphasis added). When we sin there are certainly consequences, yet within the sovereignty of God, He uses those consequences as a means to draw us closer to Himself. What we will see in our study of this book is the unfolding of God’s redemptive grace, even in the midst of sin.

Now is a good time to bring up a word that drives the storyline in Ruth. It’s a Hebrew word that has no English equivalent.  The word is hesed. It’s only used three times in Ruth but as I said, it drives the storyline. Hesed is translated in v. 8 as kindness.  Other translations will use lovingkindness, yet it means so much more…

  • Hesed is the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, energetic love of God. Several commentators refer to it as “covenant love.”
  • God consistently practices hesed with a people who are continuously disloyal. That is really what the whole OT is all about.
  • One of the beautiful aspects of the book of Ruth is that we will see the 3-main characters are practicing hesed.

For the third lesson I’d like to provide short character sketches of both Naomi and Ruth. This will help us as the plotline unfolds. As we read, Naomi endured some horrific transitions. Some commentators actually refer to her as the female Job. We will be tempted to see Naomi as a bitter and manipulative woman as the narrative unfolds—and, in fact, she does identify herself as bitter when she returns to Bethlehem (v. 20). She employs a play on words to describe her condition.  Naomi means “pleasant” in Heb, so she’s saying, “Don’t call me pleasant anymore call me Mara,” which means “bitter.”

I find Naomi compelling. I like her.  She’s real and she’s honest.  I like being in a church where it’s okay to not be okay.  Where we can be honest and real about our struggles and our doubts. And I find that her theology is pretty good too, especially when we consider what she’s been through. The last thing I’ll say about Naomi, for now, is found in vs. 8-15. Naomi thanks Orpah and Ruth for their hesed toward her and then Naomi demonstrates hesed toward them…I would say that of course Naomi wants Orpah and Ruth to go back to Bethlehem with her. She’s alone and she’s destitute.  The three of them have obviously had a good and strong relationship, but Naomi knows what they will face as young women alien emigrants in a foreign land, where the Moabites are dispised. So, Naomi is willing to go it alone—and this act of selfless hesed catches Ruth’s attention. Most credible theologians agree that Ruth underwent a conversion to the covenant God of Israel in vs. 16-17 as she recognizes Naomi’s unselfish hesed toward her and Orpah.

Ruth may have heard about the covenant God of Israel from her husband and from Naomi, but, all of a sudden, the dots get connected and she understood what Naomi was doing at this moment—seeking to save them from a degrading and difficult life in Bethlehem—and Ruth undergoes a conversion. The dots apparently don’t get connected for Orpah as she does the “sensible” thing and returns to her family and the Moabite gods. But not Ruth, her declaration of commitment to the covenant God of Israel and to Naomi in vs. 16-17 is one of the most powerful statements in the whole OT.

I have officiated at a lot of weddings over the years and none of the vows have been as powerful as Ruth’s commitment to Naomi. Most wedding vows use some variation of “until death do us part.” Not Ruth, she goes several steps further declaring “where you die, I will die.”

Now, let’s talk about emigration for a moment…That’s a big deal right now isn’t it? What is the primary reason for the vast majority of people seeking to emigrate? They’re hoping for a better life, right? Not Ruth though. She knows her life will be MUCH harder if she returns to Bethlehem with Naomi. She will become the caregiver for Naomi. She will become the breadwinner. And there will be repeated racial degradation and regular threats of violence, with the distinct possibility of repeated violence—or worse. And yet Ruth goes. When God awakens our hearts to His hesed love we are changed from the inside out—and then we begin to love others with God’s covenant love.

The fourth lesson is short and sweet: We need to be in community in the same way that Naomi and Ruth needed one another. Naomi and Ruth were beset with significant transitions.  Naomi was feeling empty and bitter, but Ruth was hopeful like many new believers are.  Sometimes we need a Ruth in our lives and sometimes God will want to use us as a Ruth in someone else’s life. I would strongly encourage you to get into a Community Group this Fall.

As we draw to a close, let’s think back to Luke 24, where we began with Jesus telling the two disciples that the whole Old Testament was about Him. So, how does this passage point to Jesus?

Ruth, the emigrant, reciprocates covenant lovingkindness (hesed) to Naomi. Jesus, however, is the better Ruth as the ultimate Emigrant, who left the comfort, perfection, and majesty of Heaven to emigrate into our brokenness with covenant lovingkindness and He also promises to never leave or forsake His called-out ones (Heb 13:15).

So, here are some questions for you:

  1. Are you a “called out one”?
  2. Have the dots been connected for you?
  3. Are you beginning to see that the covenant love of God has been pursuing you and that even in the dark and disturbing seasons of your life, God has been drawing you with lovingkindness?

Here’s a caveat if you’re here today and considering the claims of Christ: The Christian life is not the easier life many hope it will be. In the classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis provides us with an illustration of the Christian life. He writes,

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing…But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts…and does not seem to make any sense [to you].  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of…You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”[4]

 

[1] An 8-year-old boy is visited by ghosts and he is too afraid to tell anyone about his anguish, except for Willis who plays a child psychologist. (M. Night Shyamalan)

[2] The word Ephrath in Hebrew means “fruitful,” and Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Most scholars believe that Ephrath and Bethlehem are actually two names for the same place.

[3] Robert L. Hubbard Jr., The Book of Ruth (New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT), Eerdmans 1989: 84.

[4] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan 1960: 160.

Criticism

This comes up in my world again and again (sometimes I deserve it and sometimes I don’t :)…

“No leader is exempt from criticism, and one’s humility will nowhere be seen more clearly than in the manner in which one accepts and reacts to it. Samuel Brengle, who was noted for his sense of genuine holiness, had been subjected to caustic criticism. Instead of replying in kind or resorting to self-justification, he replied: ‘From my heart, I thank you for your rebuke. I think I deserved it. Will you, my comrade, remember me in prayer?’ On another occasion, a biting, censorious attack was made on his spiritual life. His answer was: ‘I thank you for your criticism of my life. It set me to self-examination and heart-searching and prayer, which always leads me into a deeper sense of my utter dependence on Jesus for holiness of heart, and into sweeter fellowship with Him.’”

Sanders J. Oswald. Spiritual Leadership, Moody Press, p. 120.

The Joy of True Repentance

As the Diagnostic Division Leader for VitalChurch Ministry, I write a lot of reports for churches. While we see similar issues in many churches throughout North America and the U.K. I seek to address each church individually and prophetically. One consistent observation is that every church has the need for ongoing repentance. At VitalChurch we would adamantly assert that every church (and every person) has a collection of sins and sinful patterns that require an ongoing lifestyle of repentance.

Repentance (with accompanying humility) is always the best way forward to begin a season of transition that moves toward revitalization and renewal.  Martin Luther launched the Reformation by nailing the “95 Theses” to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The first of the theses stated that “our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  At first glance, this seems dreary and depressing. Luther seems to be saying Christians may never make much real progress in transformation. But, actually, Luther’s point was just the opposite. Luther was saying that repentance is the BEST way to make progress in transformation. Indeed, pervasive, all-of-life-repentance is the best indicator that we are growing humbly and deeply in the character of Jesus Christ. And when others encounter this, they often want it too. This is also how the Sermon on the Mount begins—by acknowledging our spiritual poverty and mourning over it is the beginning point of becoming citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Here’s how the late, great Eugene Peterson said it in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:  “Repentance, the first word in Christian immigration, sets us on the way to traveling in the light. It is a rejection that is also an acceptance, a leaving that develops into an arriving, a no to the world that is a yes to God” (p. 33).

Consider how the gospel affects and transforms the act of repentance. In “religion,” the purpose of repentance is basically to keep God happy and placated so He will continue to bless us and answer our prayers. Religious people continue to ask, “What must we DO to please and placate God? What this question means is that for the religious, repentance is actually selfish and self-righteous because the ultimate goal is to benefit self. The gospel is actually more about what Jesus Christ has already DONE. A gospel view and practice of repentance is to repeatedly surrender afresh to the wonder, beauty, joy, and majesty of what Christ has accomplished on our behalf, which will weaken our impulse to do anything contrary to God’s heart. This happens best through (listening) prayer and through worship.

True repentance is not simply a one-time act that occurs at the time of our regeneration, rather an intentional ongoing daily submission to the God of mercy and grace for our sins of both omission and commission. True repentance then, is the unlikely route to joy.

Practical Equipping Strategies (Moving From ‘Minister’ to ‘Equipper’)

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  –Ephesians 4:11-13 (emphasis added)

The Greek word translated “equip” (or “perfecting” in the KJV), is KATARTISMOS (καταρτισμός), which means to completely furnish or to fully prepare.  This equipping is an internal work manifesting its fruit in external ministry service.  The verb form of the word is KATARTIZO and means to render fit or complete; to repair, to make an adjustment, or to mend.  As we trace the usage and application through the NT (see Mat 4:21, Gal 6:1, Heb 11:3, 1 Thess 3:10) we will find that the most effective equipping includes both “repairing” and “preparing” the people of God.

The “Why” of Core Equipping Competencies

In order to move permanently past 1,200+ people, the ministry has to be increasingly accomplished by teams of volunteers.  When churches are smaller, relationships carry things; in very large churches competencies carry things.  There is a need to create multiple reproducible structures and systems that are suitable for volunteers to do the majority of the ministry.  While volunteers often do not have the same proficiencies as professionals (teaching skills, Bible knowledge, etc.), real ministry increasingly needs to be accomplished in smaller groups through lay leaders who are growing in their conversational, facilitational, and emotional health skills.  (We cannot be spiritually mature without becoming emotionally healthy!)  People will stay connected while their lay-leaders are searching out answers for them; whereas, if a professional doesn’t have an answer for them—they will be less likely to stay.  People begin coming to a church for many reasons, but they (ultimately) stay for just one—it’s the social/community factor that keeps people, works with them, and supports them over time.  Ultimately, people are bonded by their relationships, which is certainly consistent with biblical teaching.

The “How” of Core Equipping Competencies

There are mandatory disciplines for serving momentum in a church.  Surges will continue if they are serviced.  Growth catapults churches into a new dilemma.  In smaller congregations, most problems are solved informally by the way people behave.  In a very large you can’t ignore problems and think (hope?) they’ll go away.

The following are general descriptions of the core staff competencies essential for pastoral/program staff at very large churches—and apply broadly to all staff.  These may not cover every competency required; yet they are essential skills that will move staff members from a “minister” (or, chaplain) role to an “equipper” (or, team builder) role.

Intro

Management guru Peter Drucker[1] asked the following (now famous) questions:

  1. What business are you in?
  2. How’s business?

Very large church staffs are in the people development business—seeking to Recruit, Train, Deploy, Monitor, and Nurture (RTDMN) as many as possible into fruitful and effective ministry.

Core Staff Competencies

Recruiting Skills:

  • Intentional about prayer and individually seeking out volunteers to staff, develop, and lead ministries (Mat 9:38)
  • While almost anyone can be trained to facilitate a group, approximately 20% of people have some form of leadership capacity. Look for the 1 in 5 that have leadership potential and develop them to their leadership capacity (see Ex 18:17-26)
  • Uses an invitation of positive language and our intention of offer life development skills (not just “church skills”) to “sell” the vision (Eph 4:12)
  • Start with the “why,” then move to the “how” and the “what”
  • Be clear about specific roles and opportunities
  • Be clear about the commitment required (time, preparation, responsibility, how long?).  Generally speaking, ask for a 3-month commitment

Training Skills:[2]

  • Help leaders plan effectively (ministry and training events)
  • Ability to create an environment that is safe for people to grow, disagree agreeably, and to make mistakes—which increases innovation
  • Able to resist the temptation to interrupt/take over (seek to become a non-anxious presence)
  • Ability to give clear and constructive feedback on a regular basis (Eph 4:15)
  • Ability to emphasize the positive over the negative (“sandwich” negative between two positives)
  • Willingness to regularly invite feedback

Deployment Skills:

  • Willingness to release people into meaningful ministry
  • Clearly stated short- and long-term goals and objectives
  • Realistically and proactively communicative about parameters, expectations, timelines

Monitoring Skills:

  • Establish consistent check-in times
  • Set-up consistent, effective, and agreed upon monitoring and feedback loops
  • Establish appropriate metrics to track progress

Nurturing Skills:

  • Follow-up with developmental care and input, not just ministry goals
  • Facilitate the personal growth of leaders (life skills not just church skills)
  • Ability to listen—reflectively
  • Schedule ongoing care, support, and training
  • Ability to build relationships that last
  • Provide special care and attention at crisis points, looking for opportunities to pastorally “equip the saints” – i.e., repair/prepare (Eph 4:12)

Developmental Coaching Skills Evaluation

Estimate your skill level in each of these areas using the following scale:

1 = Serious concern / 2 = Needs improvement / 3 = Good / 4 = Very good / 5 = Excellent

  1. Recruiting skills                      1    2    3    4    5
  2. Training skills                          1    2    3    4    5
  3. Deployment skills                   1    2    3    4    5
  4. Monitoring skills                      1    2    3    4    5
  5. Nurturing skills                        1    2    3    4    5

Additional skills:

  1. Regular prayer for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done—in and through the ministry  1    2    3    4    5
  1. Gospel-centered preaching and teaching 1    2    3    4    5

Action Steps:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. What new skills do I need to learn?
  3. Who can coach/mentor me in this area?

 

[1] Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author, (and Christian) whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation (1909-2005).

[2] Discipleship Loop:

  1. Jesus modeled kingdom life & ministry in public
  2. Jesus taught his disciples in private.
  3. He let them do it – and debriefed them afterward.
  4. He let them do it alone & they reported back.

The Grace of Surrender

I want to start looking for words or phrases in my daily Bible reading that move me or capture my attention and ponder them for a few moments. Today it was Psalm 142. David finds himself in a cave and at the end of his own resources. His soul is exhausted and imprisoned. For you and me a prison could be any interior battle or situation that holds us captive.

Bring my soul out of prison,
So that I may give thanks to Your name.  –Psalm 142:7

Although David was a strong and able warrior, he realized that his only hope of living and fulfilling what God had called him to be and to do was God intervening and bringing about his deliverance. This is the same realization of saving grace that ultimately must be embraced and surrendered to by believers in every age.

What sets a soul free?

The controversial author and poet, D.H. Lawrence, longed for liberation in his poem Healing

I am ill because of wounds to the soul,
to the deep emotional self
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time,
only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long, difficult repentance, the realization of life’s mistake,
and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

We find surrender in the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v.3). If Jesus is the most revolutionary person who ever lived and the Sermon on the Mount is His manifesto, then these opening words are His invitation to become citizens of this revolutionary kingdom through acknowledging our spiritual poverty and surrendering to God. One of my mentors said, “The way in is the way on” meaning that surrender is not a one-time event but an on-going, life-long, multilevel process of letting go of the things that hinder us from experiencing the wonder, beauty, and majesty of God. This is the essence of the gospel. When our heart is awakened to the gospel we see that it is not about what we have done–or, haven’t done, it’s about what God has done in sending His Son to lead the perfectly obedient life that was (eternally) beyond our grasp–and die a criminal’s death. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice and atones for our sins as we surrender, repent, and believe. Then there is the daily surrender to what Christ has done on our behalf and trust in what He has done, our deliverance from prison cannot fail. In Christ, we know that His righteousness surrounds us, and our response is gratitude and worship.

My friend, Gordon Dalbey in his book Fight Like a Man, says it well…

  • “Tragically, most [of us] cling to our own strength and scoff at snakes until we are bitten – perhaps by divorce, addiction, or serious illness – and must, at last, confess the truth: We are creatures of surrender.  The question for our lives is not whether we will surrender, but rather to what or whom?”  (p. 8).
  • “[Surrender] takes your pain out of the Enemy’s reach and places it in God’s hands, to use for his purposes”  (p. 19).