Category Archives: Ministry

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.

Leadership Now

I am bald. For some, you could say I am follically challenged. Hence, I have had literally hundreds of hats all purchased or give to me with one purpose: to protect my bare head. Some were plain, others with a message attached. One of these hats broadcast a leadership style. That red and white hat had two bills. One bill pointing in one direction and another pointing another. And on the cap was boldly written, “I’m their leader which way did they go?” I would think this cap was given as a joke because I have never one to stand back and let others lead. I am the John Wayne type of person who is quiet, and unassuming until there is a crisis. When things go wrong, I block everything out, even who is to blame and come to a quick decision. And come what may, I stick to my decision without wavering.
The problem is that haunts this type of leader is the lack of company. This character is tragically and painfully alone. Their silence and their inability to let others own part of the solution is isolating. In today’s socially acceptable world we of the John Wayne set, living in our isolation want so much to be accepted volitionally try to restrain ourselves. So not only are we isolated, we now become withdrawn and reactionary only to the big things. It becomes an exhibition of “Silent Strength.” This attitude becomes so silent that decisions are reserved for when the house is burning down and everything else is left to others. And we live in a quiet desperation.
Men have allowed themselves to be trapped in their own inner lives. Silent strength often becomes quiet desperation. We endure an inner shame when we don’t have an answer. We are frustrated by simple choices. “Honey do you want beef or chicken tonight?” “It doesn’t matter.” The society around us has made its business to push men into this quiet desperation for generations. We must be politically correct. We must allow our spouses their say without constraint. We must be the strong silent type, enduring all, accepting all and with a small upturned smile as we cope. “When Momma is happy, everyone is happy.”
So, what is the solution? As I read the Bible to find guidance and direction, I discover we are to be leaders to our families, love our wives, disciple our kids, serve the church, and spread the gospel along with a thousand other things. It is simply overwhelming. As each new wave of frustration, anxiety, and compliance folds over, it becomes easier and easier to just give up the reigns that God desires of us to hold tightly to. It is all about individual decisions.
Christian men need to set their decision making not based upon people’s expectations but upon God’s expectations.
I am working on a Bible study based on the path set before men. It is how to make the right decisions in love and caring. It is how to renew the place of men in God’s plans. It is based on four maxims and each must have its proper place: Christian decision making is first compassionate to people. Decision making always is one of relationship over things. Your family is more important than anything you may own, want or crave.

Christian decisions are always about head knowledge and logic. It is not something you just do because your emotion or your heart says it is good. A person’s heart is the most fickle part of our lives and should not be trusted. This decision maxim is intellect over emotion.

Christian decisions are always about joy and not about happiness. Happiness is a temporary thing. Happiness comes and goes with the latest thing, place or substance. Joy is something that comes from within the inner soul. Happiness is usually associated with something outside trying to fill a gap in the soul.

Christian choice is always based on the future. It is not based upon the past. Sure you may have well failed at something, never-the-less it is not a determining reason for not trying again. There is always redemption. We must always strive to better than our past.

How do we become the person God wants us to be? How can we be the confident decision-makers in our homes? First, we must pray. Prayer is not an easy thing for most men because it is not natural to acknowledge something that is smarter, stronger and more intelligent than ourselves. Men must just start a conversation with God. To yield up to as much of God we understand and start a dialog.
Second, we need to start a regular Bible reading plan. Make it a habit to set aside at least 5 minutes for only reading your Bible. God will start to reveal His will for you and your family.
Next, go and find someone to meet with. Find another guy with whom you can have an honest conversation. This can be hard, but are we too scared to reach out to another guy and acknowledge that we are all struggling with something?
Finally, it is never too late to start leading. The world wants you to feel like you’ve already blown your chance to lead, or that no one will take you seriously, but this isn’t the case. Take a few minutes to write down the areas in your life where you would like to start leading. 
The bottom line is this: It is NOT too late to start leading. Ask the Lord to show you the way and just start leading.

What do you think?

Discernment

If ever there was a person that looked for the little things in life it was Jesus.  He had that habit about Him.  He is full of sympathy and sensitivity.  I can only imagine walking the dusty and dirty streets of Palestine with eyes flashing back and beyond, always looking, always seeking, always noticing.  When He entered the house of Peter, Jesus noticed his Mother-in-law was down with a fever. Matt 8:14. No one needed to tell Jesus of the problem.  No one slipped up to his ear warning the dinner might be late because one of the servers was sick. He just noticed.  He perceived the situation and went straight to her and touched her hand.

Jesus walking with the disciples noticed everything.  He noticed the patched garments of the children, the long lines of men out of work.  He noticed the great and the small.  He noticed the hypocrisy of the priesthood. He noticed a sore back from fishing all night and showed where the easy fishing was.  In the middle of one of his greatest sermons, He stopped and took notice that they “were hungry.” In the shadow of one of the greatest architectural masterpieces in that part of the world, the Temple, He stopped and noticed a woman putting in her last coin. He noticed the uneasiness of the keeper of the purse at the last supper. He noticed the women at the cross amid the terrible pain.

It was His habit.  It was his character.  It was one of the characteristics of the life of Jesus.  It is close to the center of his being.  God notices.

Are you suffering in silence, God notices.  If you can’t seem to stretch that last dollar to the end of the month, God notices.  If you can’t seem to find the light at the end of the tunnel of your life, God notices.  If the kids are driving you crazy, God notices.

And we too must take notice.  To walk through life with a glazed over, blank stare is to miss all of life’s finer adventures and to miss the very things God would have us see.  If we blunt our hearts to the suffering and heartache of those around us, we will lose the God-like gift of noticing.

God’s gift to us is noticing and our gift to those around us is noticing.   We need that gift of seeing the small, to see the currents within the grand sweeping river of life.

It is a God-given perception of the small.  It is noticing.

Comments?

Insipid Salt

I’m no chemist, but one of the most stable substances in the world is salt.  The chemical bond is very tight. You see, sodium and chlorine are happy to become one and share their one electron. The life of the salt is very tight.  Mr. Sodium and Mrs. Chlorine are happily married.  They are like the happily married couple that just loves to be married, no matter what hits the fan. Little can separate them.

So what was Jesus talking about in Matthew 5:13?

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage”. (The Message)

 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes insipid, what can make it salt again? After that, it is fit for nothing, fit only to be thrown outside and trodden by the feet of men.” (Moffatt)

Jesus was talking believing followers which He calls blessed in the previous verses often called the Beatitudes.

The greatest danger which the body of believers called the church faces then and now, is to lose its tang, its zest, its cutting edge.  The Church will never die.  It is in no danger of falling on its face to a worship of the devil.  Ultimately good and God will prevail.  Never-the-less, there is an ever-present danger which lurks to snatch us unaware to become insipid. Merriam Webster defines the word insipid as: 1) lacking taste or savor, 2) lacking in qualities that interest, stimulate, or challenge; being dull, flat, ignored.

Jesus was warning to the church never to lose its bitingly Christian flavor. I just had a quantity of California Sushi rolls for lunch.  In the package was a large glop of oddly textured green material.  Some would say right away it is wasabi.  It is there to add zest and to add a juxtaposition to the mild sushi.  By the way, don’t take that whole thing and put it into your mouth.  But I digress.

What Jesus was looking for was a people with a zest, a tang, a flavor.  Jesus’ way of life was a stark contrast to the world around Him.  Jesus’ task was to add that zest that makes a difference.  A specific tang that anyone tasting it would immediately recognize it.  The only way to make salt insipid or worthless is to dilute it, to mix it with something that it is not meant to be mixed.   If we lose our tang, our zest, our taste of Godliness, if we become insipid, what good are we?

It is just too easy to sidestep the tough questions.  It is less risky to voice simple platitudes in the face of opposition. We can, and often do, straddle controversial issues and flee to a safety zone of non-committal.  It is salt that has lost its saltiness; insipid.

The Church started in this world with a cutting edge of the truth of Christ. It faced Roman culture and politics so peculiarly that it turned the world upside down.  Consequently, as it grew it became more reasonable, more sane, more strategic, more flat, less tangy, no distinctiveness. I don’t think that Jesus is happy with the adulterated salt of what goes by the name of Church.

I like that word, insipid.  A good word to ponder and concentrate upon.  Even better to think if it describes ourselves.

Comments.

Magnificent uninvolvement

I have used a phrase most of my adult life to describe someone who is a part of a church or other organization that just belongs but does nothing for its furtherance, “magnificent uninvolvement”.  This is a person that enjoys the community but without adding anything to that community.  It has become an art form of slippery non-commitments.  When someone asks for a decision about anything the pat answer is, “let me get back to you”.  When pressed brand new excuses come up.  Excuses like, “I am really too busy”, “I am compartmentalizing my life right now and can’t make a decision right now”, or “I am not ready to jump in with both feet.”

In my opinion, there are three reasons for magnificent uninvolvement.

The first is the person simply has a feeling of uselessness.  They have seen the up-front ones, the ones that are seen and admired, as the ones who should be doing the community involvement.  They are called but are not so-called that they see their place. They read in their Bible I Peter 4:10 and don’t see them seeing anything of worth to be used.  For the forlorn few, remember ministry is not just preaching. A board member suggested that all the church should have a method of finding a ministry.  The preacher interjected, “What would we do with 100 ushers?”  These people need to be taught.  Taught that there are special places, ministries, and gifts for all.  And, in turn, given the possibility to use and exercise in their gifts.  And yes, allowed to fail.

The second group is the hurting.  They have tried to become more active.  They have tried to use the gifts that God has given.  They ventured out to be what God wanted them to be.  But the response was judgment.  Others in the church did not see perfection in the offering and were too quick to tell the fledgling minister he was not producing the expected.  The church saw them as a threat to the status quo (which means all messed up in the first place).  Those who have been hurt by the judgment of others needs to be simply loved.  They need time to heal.  They need time to be in a community that does not judge.  Ministry is messy.

Lastly, there is a group that really irritates me.  The simply lazy.  In their lazy life, the only thing they do well is to criticize. They sit back and exclaim, “I won’t do anything until something changes around here.”  “Until everyone else does as I want them to do, I am not going to step up.”  It was Charles Spurgeon who said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”  This group becomes only consumers and not collaborators.  What they need is a fresh infilling of the Spirit of God.  But usually, that is the very thing they are running from.

Comments?

Toll of rejection

Being rejected more than once can be a bruise that will not heal quickly.  It seems to linger on until the next blow or rejection.  Sometimes you get to a point where you don’t feel quite as bad.  It becomes an acceptance of the off-color places in your soul.  It can even get to a place where you feel as though you deserve the abuse.  You feel like you don’t belong in the mainstream.  That you belong on the outside edge.  A place where you expect a disapproval.

In the Bible, a person like this would have been called unclean.  You start to feel like an outcast. You just want to give up.  You don’t want to be around those who tell you over and over, “You don’t belong here.”

Then comes the story from the Old Testament.  He was the son of Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul, Israel’s first king. You see Mephibosheth was disabled.  Both of his feet were useless.  In those days he would be called an outcast, a mistake, a person who didn’t belong.

When King David invited him and the rest of the family to join him to eat with him, he reacted just like someone who had been rejected so many times before.

In response to the invitation of King David, he hung his head down low and Mephibosheth said, “Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?” 2 Samuel 9:8.  You see rejection had taken its levy on his heart.  He could not see himself in the presence of the King, let alone eat with him. He had taken all the worlds opinion of him and deep down in his soul, he didn’t think himself worthy to be acknowledged, let alone invited in.

The church is becoming the instigator of pointing fingers at the different, the ones that don’t quite fit the mold.  And in response, those who need acceptance and love the most have started to believe the lies that they don’t belong. That they don’t matter. That the “church” will never have a place for them.

And yet King David, the man after God’s own heart, was not deterred. He insisted to Mephibosheth: “You belong here.”

And the story goes: Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, taking all his meals at the king’s table. He was lame on both feet.” 2 Samuel 9:13

Christians, churches, humanity — this must be our attitude toward anyone  and toward any person or group whom society has deemed “less than.” The fringes of society, the ones who are rejected turned away and told they don’t belong.

We must — like King David — insist otherwise.

Because if you are a human being, then you are indeed an image-bearer of the Most High God. So hear me when I say: You belong here.  You belong on this earth.  You belong at the King’s table.  You belong at the feet of Jesus.

Comments?