Category Archives: Ministry

All or nothing

Colossians 2:6 “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.”

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It is simply wrong to think of God as a drive-in critical care service. To assume that Jesus is a kind of a heavenly nurse to go to when sin has crept into our lives and we need a quick fix. And once fixed up we can simply say “Thanks”. To think of Jesus wanting to heal and cleanse without any commitment to different actions is specious: plausible but not true.

I can’t see anywhere in the Bible that allows the cleansed to continue in their behaviors that caused the need in the first place. Jesus can save us and clean us, but for the outpouring of his grace and mercy, we have a responsibility.  A responsibility to walk with Him.  Not to go by our merry way and follow our own path.  Following, keeping close, walking as He walked, and responding to the will of our Lord are required afterward.  In the same manner I have received, so I walk in Him.

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Father, You are my Savior and my Lord. My debt to You is huge! I owe You my life and my following.

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PINOGAM: Person in need of Grace and Mercy!

Psalm 23:6  “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

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The 23rd  Psalm has been called the Psalm of faith, and certainly with great reason. Each line captures a sense of serene and happy confidence undisturbed by a single doubt. Included in these words of King David, are pictures of punishing rods and staffs, enemies, and foreboding valleys. Yet, each is coupled with mercy. Every possible fear is covered over by a faithful prospect of mercy and grace. 

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Dear Lord, my prayer this morning for those who are struggling, those who would simply give up, will be strengthened with a new resolve to find the true, sure, and available in every situation. Please, Lord, help us keep our eyes on you and not our problems.

The Word or the song?

MARK 6:34 says,  “And Jesus, when He came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them because they were as sheep not having a shepherd:  and He began to teach them many things.”

I have searched for a place to exercise my spiritual gifts.  I pastored four churches, taught hundreds of Bible Studies, written hundreds of devotions, yet as I sit in my local church as a congregant, I feel there is a gap between my expectations and reality. This situation has caused me to think that there is a pandemic within organized Christianity. The common thread is a subtle change from the centrality of the Word of God to something that could arguably be considered as important. Worship is a good thing but is it enough?  The change is from discipleship to worship.  I deeply understand and seek to worship my God in word and deed but I struggle with the lack of spiritual depth that a constant diet of worship and praise seems to provide.

So what is the reasoning behind this subtle change in style and methodology?  Is it easier to sing and raise our hands than to rightly divide the word of truth?  Is it more palatable to feel good by ecstatically repeating words over and over in the cadence of a snare drum and brass cymbal than to dig deeper into the Word of God and perhaps find something in our lives that requires change.

So who within the church today is supporting this well-meaning paradigm?  Today, in America, churches are full of sheep not having a shepherd.  Within these churches across our country, hungry sheep wait to be fed and to be led into the things of God.  Unfortunately, these same multitudes are being shepherded by someone not willing to, as Jesus stated, “If you love me feed my sheep.”  Barna’s studies state that two-thirds of all those who classify themselves as regular attendees have the primary desire for their attendance is to discover more about God.  But when asked if their last church service meet that need, only six percent responded that the last church service they attended met that expectation.

And, unfortunately, while there is a yearning for God in the pew, there appears to be a falling away in the pulpit.  I not saying that much of today’s clergy is spiritually bankrupt, I am just saying it is easier to go with the flow.

Paul speaking to the Roman church said “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”   I long for the day when more and more preachers begin refusing to “trim the truth in the name of tickling the ears of the people.

Not wanting to be a part of the problem and becoming part of the solution, I have found a better solution to sitting on my holy petard. I am actively finding my place in changing the Church. I must change it from the inside of a church.  I can no longer just point fingers.  I must be a change agent. Spiritual gifts are not to be hoarded or kept to myself.  I will make every effort to stick my foot in the door and make a difference where I can.

I will not do only what is expected but do as much as I can without incurring the wrath of the church hierarchy.

All hail the power of the skeptic

Close your eyes and imagine a church sanctuary filled with those who all think, believe, and feel the same. They all say AMEN at the appropriate times. They all pay exactly ten percent of their income.  The songs are all well accepted and sung with both bravado and familiarity. The Preacher of the day is recognized with constant bobblehead responses. After service, everyone remains to greet each other and inquire about the glorious victories of overcoming.

Open your eyes and realize this perfected vision is not real.  Christians are not cookies cut out of the heavenly bread of life each perfectly identical to the other. This picture is what Psychologists refer to as groupthink.  It is a place where the congregation values consensus and conformity over vulnerability and self-examination.

The church needs a liberal sprinkling of skepticism.  Without criticism, dissent, and critique, there is no place to grow. There is nowhere to go to be more than the status quo.  An unexamined faith only leads to idolizing an ideal image, a disdain for outsiders, a denial of personal faults, and a lack of growth. Without a dose of dissent, there is no place for healing.

We need a liberal dash of skepticism, uncertainty, critique, and self-examination. Further, this infusion of questioning is to be handled with care and respect.  The number one roadblock to faith for a true skeptic is not a theological stance about Jesus, but the behavior of those who claim to follow Jesus. Those of us who diligently question almost everything find it striking that those who are in the knowing, act as if they have a monopoly on what it is to be proper or good. This ownership comes with dread, a rejection, a fear of any who would ask why.

Those who have doubt or uncertainty should not silence their questions to be accepted by the Body cemented.  We should not silence the skeptic for the sake of the comfortable.  Being a skeptic does not automatically mean heresy any more than the status quo automatically equates to perfection.

Those who are asking questions are vital to the church.  They make the church vibrant, accepting, and accessible.  They give the comfortable a chance to grow a little.

pinogam

The more I study His word the more I realize my own self-worth is not worth at all. I see all mankind in one of two groups.  You may well think these groups may be categorized as the Good and the bad.  But I don’t see it that way. Let me explain

Group one includes those who think they are righteous and the second are those who know they are sinners.  Matthew 9:13. One group pretends there is no need for God and the other simply acknowledges a need for God.

The common denominator is that we all need help. The catch is that we don’t all admit it. Rather than realizing everyone is in this together, that we are all in need of help, we often prop up our self-esteem by looking at people who do supposedly worse things than ourselves.

We create a scale and somewhere there is a line between good and bad.  In our scale we work diligently to stay above the line. We live our lives in a two-story home on a quiet cul-de-sac, we keep our lawn well-manicured and our cars washed, we stay faithful to our spouse, we work hard at our chosen vocations, we pay our bills, and never cheats on taxes. We compare our goodness to others’ badness and think, “I’m a morally sound person. I’m doing pretty well. I don’t need help.”

All have sinned and fallen short of God’s ideal. We are all PINOGAMS (People In Need of Grace and Mercy). One group pretends there is no need for God and the other simply acknowledges a need.

Our superficial labeling system guarantees that we will never find freedom ourselves. It takes courage and humility to recognize we are as messed up as the drug addict next door. Few ever get that honest with ourselves. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, we’ll never be honest with God. We will continue to whitewash our dark sides and flaunt our good deeds, and nothing will ever change.

I guess we are really all in one category after all. We all need.

Sermon on the Mount

I am building a group of men to think for themselves.  To rightly divide the word of truth.  The vehicle for this building is a study on the Sermon on the mount.  It is in Matthews Gospel Chapter 5,6,7.

But as I read these words over and over again, I am amazed at the teachings of Jesus.  He was teaching the disciples on a grassy hill about the Kingdom of Heaven.  The hearers were amazed at the teachings of Jesus for it was from authority.  It meant something to them.  The sermon was one of those in which after the last AMEN, you simply said, “wow”. It pierced their hearts with truth. Not like another law book or set of rules.  Jesus taught them about the things which impacted their lives.  

The Scribes and Pharisees taught speaking and re-speaking the same words.  Words without life and conviction. Jesus said to those who listened, “your righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.  This new law of the Kingdom of Heaven, this new way of truth and life, this abundant life points to dire need for a new righteousness.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a righteousness of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit to enable  you  to  lovingly,  willingly  and  delightfully  yield  your  will  in  total  submission  to  His  examination  of  your  heart  so  that  you  may  be  completely  set  free.

As with any revolutionary idea these words of Jesus were and still are misconstrued. It would be easy for anyone reading the Sermon on the Mount to wince once and a while. We have to be different from everyone else.  We can’t even think about getting angry and wishing someone ill, just looking at a woman is the same as having relations with her, divorce is out of the question, can’t make a oath, turn the other cheek and pray for my enemies.

In a quick read the task of obedience is overwhelming. “Jesus have you just traded one set of laws for another?”  The demands of Jesus are simply too difficult. Who among us have never hid wrong attitudes in our heart?  Who is not guilty of disobeying the rule of the King? 

The inevitable result is to fall short of God’s glorious ideal. We try and try to uphold that ideal with every ounce of our strength, but we fail again and again.  We end up living a life full of disappointment, guilt and failure.  And that is just the point. 

your conscience burns within you knowing that Jesus does not rule simply until you’ve had enough.  But rather than leaving you naked in your rebellion and exposed to judgment, He forgives you. He heals you. He restores you. He lifts you up and strengthens you to carry on the journey of faith for yet another day.

In our men’s study we simply say, “there are only two things in the Bible, 1) Revelation and 2) reconciliation.”  God reveals Himself in his plans and ideals and we are to reconcile ourselves to that revelation. When we fail.  And fail we often do. Failure should lead ourselves back to God for His strength, His guidance, His forgiveness, His love, His reconciliation.

Malady of social distancing!

I have simply don’t understand the person who, by choice, have used the either a television or the internet to be the primary vehicle for spiritual renewal.  Just in these weeks of social distancing, I find myself loosing my enthusiasm.

I learned a new word today, “acedia”. It means a state of listlessness, of not caring or not being concerned with one’s position or condition in the world. In ancient Greece akidía literally meant an inert state without pain or care. It is taking a nap in the sunshine instead of personal bible study.  It is making the statement of, “once a week is enough to satisfy my soul” or “I go to church on Easter and Christmas” or “I’ll will use the internet as the filler of my soul”.  Thomas Aquinas once said of acedia as a “sadness at an interior or spiritual good.”

So how do we avoid acedia?  We have thousands of distractions in our lives.  Every one would pull us imperceptibly away from what we should be doing. First, simplify your surroundings; activation of your will to turn off some of the things which distract.  Second, covenant to persistence; I know what I have to do and I will do it.  Third, set time limits; I will work on this task, effort or deed for a set time.  Fourth, set task accomplishment steps; you can’t do it all at once, break each down. Lastly, celebrate small victories; take a moment to feel good about getting it done.

Encouragement

Encouragement is not telling someone they have done well.  That is simply a reward for something done.  You may well call it honor, or accolade but it is simply something which acknowledges effort.  It is a pat on the back for something accomplished.  It is something well expected after a job is well done.  While this reward, this acknowledgement is a good thing, encouragement, is telling others that you believe in them before they even start. It is action before the battle.  Encouragement is to help someone to make a good start.  It is the coach telling the team they have it within them to beat the other team.  It is one Christian putting an arm around another when he is about to face a big decision.  Encouragement is not a, “I knew you could do it” but a “I know you can do it.”  It may be a subtle difference but the very act of encouragement leads to better results than a pat on the back afterwards.

Sure, there is always a possibility of failure, of not living up to the encouragement, never-the-less it is a much better than waiting for that failure.  Those things, those efforts that never begin are always failures.  It is better to start well than to do nothing.

I believe there are six ways to encourage:

  1. Show you care – When you take the time to learn about others, it shows that you care. This empowers and encourages them.  It confirms both our understanding of the task and an honest assessment of the possibility of success. One of the single best ways to encourage others is to care about what they care about.
  2. Tell them with words – Take the time to tell your small group, your brothers in Christ, that you believe in their abilities and that you are confident that they will succeed. It is never enough to just sit and think about success or failure.  Encouragement should be more than good thoughts.  It is not about awareness of the task.  It must go further to be encouragement.  It takes effort and a communication of that encouragement.
  3. Tell them in writing – The great thing about encouraging someone in writing is that he can keep the note forever. An email, or better yet a real, post office delivered letter is something that may well make the difference.  That is why Hallmark is successful; they make a palpable, touchable, savable product that conveys encouragement. It is the gift that keeps on giving.
  4. Share with others – When you are in public praise your fellow Christians. Be open with our praise and private with your criticisms. And while you are at it praise and encourage when no one expects it.  Encourage when they are faced with both little and great things.  Tell others of your confidence, your trusting faith in someone to everyone who do or do not want to hear it.
  5. Trust them with greater responsibilities – When you assign responsibility to someone, even if you verbalize it, you are saying, “I trust you.” Trust conveys belief. When you give someone responsibility, remember you are not only trusting them with the expectation of success, but you are allowing them to make mistakes. When you micromanage or try to “fix” things along the way, it is discouraging and demotivating. Give responsibility, trust the person, and get out of the way.
  6. Help them – This might sound like the opposite of #5, but let me be clear that helping is not micromanaging or meddling. Simply ask how you can help them. Sharing in a task delegated by the person responsible is not taking over.  It’s important for others to know that while you trust them, you are also there to help. This goes beyond just helping with projects or task. It is saying I trust your way of doing things.

Hebrews 3:12-13  See to it brothers and sisters, than none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But ENCOURAGE, one another daily, as long as it called today.

Preaching

It is tough to be the mouthpiece of God.  The task of preaching is nothing to be taken lightly or with little deliberation. It requires the very soul to be transformed to the expected mold of people like Moses, Jacob, David, Isaiah, John, Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Moody, Graham. It is the most difficult thing to do. 

It is difficult to be an artist.  To paint a portrait with the skill and practice of years of experience.  To touch the canvas in such a way that the person being painted will live.  To create a picture which seems to breath and speak.  But how much more is it to take human words and paint the face of Jesus that will draw mankind to the love of the Savior?

It is difficult to master the art of music. To take the world of tone, harmony, and melodies which set the soul to tingle.  To take eight notes and express them so well that the hearer is filled with the same emotions as the singer.  But how much more is to take the world eternal and translate it into finite human speech, so that human hearts on which it spreads its parade of all history to a point the create a celestial sympathetic vibration.

It is a great thing to take a great piece of marble and expose the form of David like Michelangelo. He made that statue live and all that gaze upon it are amazed.  King David in perfect form and stature displayed for all to see the art of the sculptor’s hand.  How much more to take temporary words spoke but once and create a powerful yet meek Jesus that would please the King of Kings.

The lawyer has a very difficult job to do, but it is not the most.  It is hard to apply the complicated and sometimes illogical laws of man to specific situations to ensure justice.  How much more is the job of a preacher to take the words of the Lawgiver and apply it to all without prejudice or favoritism.  The preacher must proclaim the Just Law of God.

Oh, how about a doctor.  That is a tough job. To know the thousands of possibilities for a cure, to learn pharmaceuticals role in healing, To understand the many inter-related functions of the body.  Without skill and knowledge, the doctor is nothing.  But to preach to a mind sick in sin, to soothe a fevered brow who is filled with guilt and regret, that is something greater than all the aspirin in the world. To be able to soothe a conscience crying out in pain requires something more.

I am a preacher but I take no pride in it.  It is all God, it is “thus says the LORD.”

Priorities

Some things are much more important than others.  Choosing between two things or options before you there is an inherent prioritization. Your mind immediately wants to put them into a logical order.

Figuring out what most important is part of life.  Sometimes we even have to say no to one thing in order to say yes to something more important in our lives.  At issue is we want both.  “I want my cake and eat it too.”  To live according to the tenants and teachings of Jesus we must set priorities. 

My first priority is that relationships are more important than things. People are always more important than thing I may accumulate.  Don’t get me wrong here, I have several things in my life, but when given a choice between a relationship and this accumulation of plastic brightly colored stuff, people win.  You see people are ultimately forever.  Wives are more important than what chair I sit in at night.

Second, Intellect over emotion.  I once heard to never make a decision when I am upset, sad, jealous or in love.  Emotions rule the immediate. In my life I must slow down and let emotion subside.  The intellect allows the spirit to speak.  The intellect allows the soul to make a logical decision.

Third, Joy over happiness.  Happiness is short term.  Joy comes in abiding.  Our desires will change the longer we abide in Him.  Joy is beyond a smile.  If you seek happiness it will disappear. Happiness is a good thing but when it is rooted in joy it is the best.  I believe we can’t always have happiness, but we can always have the joy that comes with God.

Fourth and last.  In setting my priorities I must choose the future over the past.  The past is over.  I can’t change that, but I can be forgiven.  The past does not necessarily dictate our future.  Our habits of yesterday can be broken.  The future has its foundation in today’s decisions.