Evangelism • Leadership • Missiology • Church Health. Chuck Lawless is Dean of Doctoral Studies and Vice-President of Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, where he also serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions.
In one of the more dramatic pictures of scripture, God’s people stoned Achan and his family, burned their bodies, and piled a heap of rocks over them. It seems such a drastic judgment for simply taking some stuff—albeit what appears to have been some significant stuff—from Jericho. But, God was making it clear when His people first entered the Promised Land that He would not tolerate sin in the camp. The pile of rocks would be a continual reminder that disobedience comes at a great cost: “And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day” (Josh. 7:26).
Moreover, I’m struck by the reality that Achan’s sin affected far more than himself. In the battle for Ai, the Israelite army “fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men” (Josh. 7:4-5). Later, Achan’s sons and daughters apparently suffered the same penalty for Achan’s sin; it’s possible, in fact, that they had some role in hiding the spoils in Achan’s tent in the first place. Thus, we are reminded from Achan’s poor example that we do not sin in isolation. Somehow, our sin affects not only us, but also those around us.
I need to remember this truth when I face temptation the next time. The penalty for my sin might not be stoning and burning, but my wrong still affects others. My prayers are hindered when there’s sin in my life. My disobedience brings guilt, which surely affects my marriage if I don’t seek God’s forgiveness. As an unclean vessel, I get in the way of God’s blessing my home and my ministry. Surely the fun of sin is not worth that cost.
Recognize just how much our holiness matters to God.
Consider the consequences of your sin on others when you face temptation today.
PRAYER: “God, I never want to choose the world’s riches over obedience to You. Help me today.”
This past weekend, I spent time with a church staff that seemed really happy together. Having been with them, I’ve thought of other happy staffs I’ve seen. Here are some characteristics that mark those teams:
They spend time together outside the office. They don’t run from each other as soon as the work day is over. They’re not “business acquaintances”—they’re friends.
They know each other’s families. They know the names of spouses and children. Even the most introverted of the group fits in somehow.
They laugh a lot. That’s because they actually have fun together. They’re comfortable hanging out just for the fun of it.
They work hard together. They share a common vision, and their commitment to that vision and to each other results in diligent, consistent work.
They help each other succeed. Nobody’s fighting a turf war. Everybody’s on the same team, and they know that the success of one contributes to the success of all.
They battle out their differences in a healthy way. They disagree at times, but they do it in a biblical way. And, after they’ve reached a conclusion, they present to the congregation a genuinely united front.
They’re committed where they are. Nobody’s actively looking for a new position. When you enjoy being part of the team, you don’t think much about the next opportunity out there.
Their happiness is infectious. Whether they’re sharing announcements or kneeling at the altar, you can just tell they love each other. Sometimes, they’re the first united, excited staff team their church has ever seen.
They don’t see themselves as silos. Even when the church structure promotes silos, they fight against that tendency. They intentionally think about how their individual ministries connect with others.
They pray a lot together. Their prayers aren’t just reactions to needs; they’re heartfelt intercession for brothers and sisters who serve as a team. They’re a confession of “Lord, we want to do this together, but we can’t do this at all without you.”
What other characteristics of healthy staff teams have you seen?
Finally, after decades of delay caused by their disobedience, the people were crossing into the Promised Land. Like He had done with the Red Sea previously, God rolled back the waters of the Jordan River so His people could cross on dry ground. Across the people went, and across they went in a hurry: “The people passed over in haste” (Josh. 4:10).
We don’t know why they moved in such a hurry. Maybe they were simply so intent on following God’s command that they focused on the task and obeyed; in fact, the wording of haste may be a commentary on their obedience – the movement of many people across the riverbed went smoothly because they obeyed God. More practically, perhaps they simply wanted to make certain that all could get across that day. It might also be that the writer was helping us see in contrast the patience of the priests, who stood in the midst of the Jordan until all had been completed as God commanded.
Or – and this is where I land – perhaps they moved in haste simply because they hustled in faith, not knowing when the waters would return. The waters would likely be rolled back for a limited time, and this would not a time to be slow in obedience. Today would be the day to move, pressing forward without looking back. A generation that knew the penalty of disobedience instead hastened into the Promised Land this time.
Don’t delay in being obedient to God today. Trust Him, and move forward.
Remember the penalty for yesterday’s sin, and make better choices today.
PRAYER: “God, I follow You in faith. Help me not to be slow in obedience.”
It was going to be a hot week in that part of western Africa, but we were excited. I was going to teach a group of African students about the topic of pastoral theology. Pam, who loves missionaries and nationals more than anyone I know, would be there to do her thing: graciously, sacrificially show the love of Christ. Our friends and teammates, Randy and Kathy Arnett, would be our hosts and translators. They had been teachers on the African continent for decades, but we had never been with them on their soil.
I met them when Randy became a Ph.D. student at Southern Seminary, where I was a dean at the time. He had already earned a D.Min. degree, but he wanted additional training to be more equipped. Kathy was earning an M.A. herself so she, too, could be better prepared to do what they had already been doing for years. Still, I had never seen them “in action” on the field.
Frankly, I watched in humility that week as Randy and Kathy interacted with our African students. As he translated, Randy whispered in my ear whenever he suspected some “cultural move” was going to happen among the students – and it happened every time as he thought it would. He patiently explained to me why he translated my words the way he did. Kathy helped Pam know the proper way to respond when the Africans called her “mama.” They both showed us how best to respond when the gracious cook gave us chicken feet for lunch (to their delight, by the way). I may have been in the role of their partner and supervisor that week, but they were our teachers from beginning to end.
We taught the African believers all day long. During the breaks, Randy and Kathy stayed with them, breaking down concepts so they could not only explain them but also understand how the ideas should change the way they live. In general, I seldom had to question where Randy stood on an issue, and even now I can hear him say over and over, “You have to disciple their worldview.” The Arnetts understood as well as anyone that gaining head knowledge didn’t always result in life change.
Later in the evenings, we returned to the campus to visit the students and help them with their homework. Randy and Kathy did it with sacrificial joy, their deeply wanting to guide the students to learn. In fact – and I do not make this statement lightly – I have seldom seen such obvious delight in professors in my 20+ years of teaching. In no way could I have denied that Randy and Kathy were created for this task. They were what missionaries are supposed to be: more at peace where they serve than in America. They were a team, and they were home.
I write this post because last week, God called Randy and Kathy to their eternal home. In a tragic automobile accident, they died as they lived – together, on African soil, on their way to train Africans. Pam and I will always cherish the privilege we had to serve alongside them.
Please pray with me for their family, for their African partners, and for the next persons — including you, perhaps — that God is already raising up to continue their work on that continent.
“For the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”
I remember when I first heard the story of Rahab, the prostitute. I was a teenager, and it was cool to learn about her hiding spies in her house, lowering them down the wall, and helping them escape their pursuers. I didn’t know enough to debate the issues of her being a prostitute or her deceiving the pursuers, but none of that mattered to me. God had worked through her.
It was years later – after I had begun to see God’s heart for the nations – that these verses grabbed my attention:
“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Josh. 2:9-11)
God had done mighty things among His people, including dividing the Red Sea and defeating the Amorite kings—and He did those things not only to lead His people, but also to spread His fame among the nations. Somehow, word of the power of God spread to the Canaanites, and their hearts were struck with fear. We know only of Rahab who turned to Him as God, but He honored that faith and protected her and her family when His people invaded the land. He made His name known so the nations would know Him as Lord.
Thank God for making His name known to you, however He first did so.
Pray that He might use you somehow to get His name to the nations.
PRAYER: “God, I praise You for making Your name known. You’re the all-powerful God.”
“Remember the wondrous works that he has done. . .”
God has been really good to me over the years, and I have much reason to be grateful. For that reason, Psalm 105 convicts me and challenges me to express gratitude more. It is right for me, for example, to spend some time just reflecting on all that God has done for me—and not by simply writing these words.
The psalmist surely meant for the Hebrews to think deeply about God’s acts when he wrote these words: “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, O offspring of Abraham, his servant children of Jacob, his chosen ones!” (Psalm 105:5-6). As they remembered His works, their response was to be outward and obvious: give thanks, call upon His name, make Him known, sing to Him, tell of His works, and glory in His name. It was as if their remembering His works would naturally lead to erupting in praise and worship.
I know my own review of my life will show what the psalmist saw in God’s relationship with the Hebrews. He has a plan that He consistently works to accomplish what He wants through His people. He always keeps His Word to them. He raises up leaders to walk with them, guide them, and encourage them. He works miracles among them to show His glory – and in the end, all they can say is, “Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 105:45).
And so, I thank Him and praise Him today.
Spend some time today thinking about the ways God had led you.
Praise Him throughout the day.
PRAYER: “God, thank You for loving me and keeping Your promises to me.”