Or, as certain sports entertainers were known to say, "What a rush!"
Recently our church held a walk-a-thon to raise money for our church's missions and community outreach efforts. We took over a local park one afternoon after church. About 100 people walked, and over 35 volunteered in one capacity or another. And we had a BLAST.
The neat thing about it was the way in which it was organized. A certain amount of the money raised from sponsorships went to the missions department. But every walker could choose what other church ministry they were walking for. So the missions department raised over $7000, while other departments raised totals ranging from a couple hundred to a few thousand. A win-win for everyone.
Plus, in the process, several hundred people who were at the park that day saw our church united together, having fun, and working for a good cause.
It certainly is a great example of what a church should be. It is just one of many things we do to get into our community and world. And the phrase "get into..." is quite appropriate. Many churches try to do things to get people into the church building, and there is nothing wrong with that. But for so many, that is all they do, just hang out a sign and say , "Y'all come".
However, we need to do the flip-side of that coin too. We need to get out there. Not just to hand out tracks or invite folks to church. But to show the church as an active member of the community.
Remove The "im", Leave The Possible
I have been in several meetings recently where church leaders and pastors were being "encouraged" to do research, get a vision, and set goals for their churches and ministries. It is very interesting to hear some of the ideas some have about strategic planning.
I have been involved in strategic planning, goal-setting, SMART goals, etc for a while now. For me, it is actually fun! Especially when you begin the process on your knees listening to God.
I have been privileged to serve under several Senior Pastors who not only invited me into church planning with them, but encouraged it. While in Florida I served at a church that grew from 97 to over 450 by the time I left. When we began we met in facilities rented from the city of Winter Haven. By the time I left, we had opened our permanent church home. In that setting, planning was an absolute must. We had to have a reasonable idea of where the church was going, and what we believed God was doing, in order to lead it appropriately. For example, we were averaging about 130 per week when we first began to meet with an architect to get plans for our church building. His first set was everything we wanted, with one exception. The worship area was designed to seat about 200 people. Because we had a vision from God, and a plan of action to pursue that vision, we knew that to build that building would be a waste of time and money. It would be drastically too small before it even opened.
In my current assignment, although I am the Children's Pastor, I am also the only fulltime pastor other than the Senior Pastor. Our church currently averages around 300 each week. The denomination has begun to ask all its churches to do some serious record-keeping, goal-setting, and reporting. While that has some churches unsettled because of the amount of work associated, it hasn't really bothered us all that much. You see, just as in Florida, our Pastor believes in strategic planning. We have many of the new initiatives already in place. We had to.
Of course, it goes without saying that the last several years have been difficult financially. Churches across the spectrum have had to deal with issues ranging from decreased offerings, to people relocating for jobs, to less weekly participation due to time constraints that come from people having to scramble to make ends meet, often working more hours or a variety of 2nd and 3rd jobs., etc.
And, unfortunately, many churches have dramatically scaled back staff, ministries, mission work, community outreach, etc in order to deal with the downturn. The problem with that approach is that it limits the church's ability to respond to people in crisis. They look at the picture related to this article and they see the "im", but not the possible. My approach, and the approach of our Pastor and church is to do what that picture suggests, scratch out the "im" and leave the possible. But people are in crisis and need the church more now than ever.
For that reason we need to have a strategic plan in place that helps the church continue to do what it is called to do. We need to continue to minister to people. We need to continue to have programs in place that bring folks through our doors. We need to have programs to get out beyond our doors to serve those who won't come in.
But strategic planning is not enough. We have to love people too. That is where God comes in. I mentioned earlier that planning, to me, is fun. But all planning and no love doesn't fully help the people we are planning to help. So God gave me a help-mate who loves to love. If someone in our church, and many not in the church but in the community, is hurting, you can bet that Karen has, or is about to, send them a card, or letter, or email, or facebook message. Just to let them know someone cares.
Doing both -- planning and caring -- is the pencil that removes the "im" and leaves the possible.
Ministry Is As Ministry Does
"Ministry is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get."
Being in the fulltime ministry is an interesting experience. We are living it now, and I lived it growing up in a Pastor's home. And I have seen a lot of changes in the ministry in my 47+ years.
One of the most interesting, and most positive, is the perception of the role of the Pastor. Years ago, churches expected their Pastor to "do it all". It was expected that he (or she) would preach 3 or more times a week, teach a Sunday School class (usually the main "sanctuary class"), work with the youth , lead worship, play the piano or other instrument, empty the trash, do the windows, cut the grass, etc.
Then people began to discover that in doing so, the Pastor was limiting his (or her) ability to actually shepherd a flock, and limiting the ability of that flock to grow both spiritually and numerically.
Why? Think about it. If the Pastor does it all, then they are not developing their people for the work God has for them. And sometimes that may mean some good things are left undone for a period of time while God raises up that youth worker, musician, singer, small group leader, teacher, etc.
Rick Warren has written that every Christian has five purposes (found in Acts 2:42-47) to fulfill: fellowship, worship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. I believe this is so, and I believe it goes even deeper than that. I believe that God has a five-fold will for every believer that is found in the Great Commission. Namely; go, make, baptize, teach, and obey. And, even beyond that, God has ordained five offices in the New Testament church in Ephesians 4:11-12; apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
I believe those lists can be combined to give us a great idea of the diversity God wants in His church. And, in doing so, it will also give us a great reason why the "do it all pastor" is not God's will for any church, nor is it in the best interest of any church.
While we traditionally think of Apostles as the 12 who followed Jesus, in the New Testament Church it was the Apostles who had the authority and responsibility to plant churches and oversee the growth of the church. Paul was the preeminent Apostle in the writings of the New Testament. His main activity was spreading the Gospel and starting churches amongst the non-Christian peoples of his day. Evangelism is understanding and fulfilling the call upon all of us to take the gospel to the world. Furthermore, in the Great Commission Jesus tells us to "Go". That would seem to indicate that an Apostle is one who is to "go", which is the purpsoe of evangelism.
Now, if you look carefully at the activities of the Old Testament prophets, you will easily see a predominate aspect to their work. In the Old Testament, prophets most often decried the lack of true and authentic worship and called the people back to the true and authentic worship of God. The purpose of worship emphasizes a true understanding of worship as an act for God, not an act for us. Worship is to glorify God, not make ourselves feel good. In that way, we can equate the office of Prophet to the purpose of Worship. And Jesus expressed that in the Great Commission when He tells us to learn to "obey".
For evangelists we need to look closely at how we define that word, and whether or not our definition fits the Biblical model. We refer to what an evangelist does as a “revival”. This suggests re-igniting a spiritual fire within people who already claim to be Christians. It is generally true that evangelists bring revival to the church. While evangelists intend to inspire people to salvation, their work is done mostly within the confines of the local church. In this respect the evangelist is not doing evangelism. They are doing ministry. Jesus tellls us to "make disiciples". Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church places the purpose of ministry within the church. Our connection then is one of Evangelists - Ministry.
It appears to me that Pastors equals Fellowship. Most people attend a local church because of the pastor. One of the chief benefits of the local church is the fellowship. And in the Jesus' commission to His followers He tells us to baptize, which is the main symbol that someone has entered into fellowship with Christ and the church.
The last one is easy. Teachers teach. As a teacher would say, "Teacher is what we are, not just what we do." Discipleship is the training of people to be like Christ, which Jesus commands when we are told to "teach"
Go = Evangelism = Apostle
Make = Ministry = Evangelist
Baptize = Fellowship = Pastor
Teach = Discipleship = Teacher
Obey = Worship = Prophet
And while each of us should fulfill God's will for us, which would include all of the Great Commission, and each of us should live lives balanced amongst the purposes, the addition of the Biblical offices in this context would seem to preclude any one person from being able to do it all. Or at least keep them for doing it all well.
So, then, God wants Pastors to develop people. Pastors have their work to do, which is helping the people to do their work. That work could be to teach a Sunday School class, work with the youth , lead worship, play the piano or other instrument, empty the trash, do the windows, cut the grass ... whatever. If the Pastor tries to do it all, he (or she) won't be allowing others to enter into the ministry God has for them.
Not Just A Children's Pastor
"Not just a children's Pastor." What does that mean?
Well, for me, it means the attitude Tim adopted for our current assignment. We see ourselves as "Pastors" first. Pastors to children and their families to be sure, but Pastors.
That was easy to see when we were Adult Ministries Pastors in Florida. When the Senior Pastor was unavailable or out-of-town, it was expected that Tim and I would make hospital visits, conduct services, even do a funeral (once).
But right now it is different. Tim is the Children's Pastor, but he is also the only other full-time Pastor on staff. And as in Florida, when the Senior Pastor is away, a great number of the Pastoral duties fall on him. That includes some day-to-day operational decisions, but it also includes Pastoral care.
Our Senior Pastor is in Africa right now on a mission's trip. Since he has been gone we have been on four hospital visits. The one today is a great example of my point. We were out taking our puppy for a ride when we got word that a member was in the ER. So we headed over there, puppy and all.
When Tim went in the room his first comment was along the lines of (in jest) "What are you doing here?" To which the man and his wife both responded, "What are you doing here?" They were amazed that he would come see them. His answer was that if they were there, then they needed someone to visit and pray with them.
I am very proud of Tim and the way he conducts our ministry. We have known some who could not adjust to being "just a this or that Pastor". To him, that is what we are supposed to be. A Pastor first and foremost, then to whatever group we are called.
Failure Isn't Fatal
IT’S NOT MY FAULT!!! As it turns out, it all goes back to high school. I played basketball all four years. And our team was awful. For three years I don’t think we ever lost by less than 30 points. We got drummed regularly. I think the Florida High School Athletic Association is to blame. They didn’t enact any laws to keep me from being embarrassed. They should have suspended the coaches of the other teams for beating us so bad. Maybe it was my coach’s fault. And the administration of my high school. They believed the education was more important than the athletics. So, when we got creamed, they didn’t blame the coach. The coach told us to keep making our best efforts, he didn’t overreact to losing.
But, you know what happened? In our senior year we won. And won a lot. And won big a lot. But more importantly, we had learned to endure the difficulty and persevere through trouble. A great lesson indeed.
It amazes me to hear such stories as the recent decision in Connecticut to suspend football coaches whose teams win by more than 50 points. What are they to do, start taking a knee in the 3rd quarter? For myself, if the opposing basketball teams had been forced to start playing four people, or giving the ball back if they didn’t score in 10 seconds (which might not had helped, come to think about it), or some such stuff as that, it would have been far more embarrassing than just losing.
In the Bible we are told that God instructed His people to teach their kids what they needed to know, in that case His Laws. He told them that is was the most important thing they could do as a society, apart from following Him. Almost the entire book of Proverbs is dedicated to trying to impart wisdom to the next generation.
If we keep our kids from experiencing a little failure, we do them a grave disservice. Failure at an age and under circumstances where that failure is not irreversible is a good thing. If we let them fail, when it won’t really hut them in the grand scheme of things, we teach them how to handle adversity and ultimately instruct them on how to succeed.
I am afraid though, that the rush to “protect” kids is really more about our egos than their psyche. I fear it is parents who don’t want to be embarrassed by their kids losing. And I know it can be school and district administrators who don’t want to see the “biggest losers” in their schools. Having been a public school teacher I have seen that first-hand. Although you will almost never get them to admit it in public. Instead, they do what Connecticut has done. Namely, they make pronouncements for “the best of the students”.
God knew better than that. In the portions of scriptures that chronicle the week of Easter, what we call the Passion Narratives, God tells us about the failure of Peter and the other Apostles. He didn’t keep them form failure, or try to sweep it under the rug. We are told that Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times. And we are also told that all the disciples abandoned Jesus at some point or another. And, after the crucifixion, we know that they were all together, hiding behind closed doors.
But Jesus wouldn’t let the failure stand. He didn’t keep them from failing, but He did use it to make them into the men and women He needed them to be. Three times He put Peter on the spot, asking him if he loved Him. Then, once Peter had learned the lesson through the failure, God could use him to preach the Gospel and see thousands of people “saved” at one time. And, in the process, begin the Christian church.
Failure isn’t fatal.
Hey, I got a great idea. How ‘bout we begin letting kids be kids again? And in the process we can instruct them in the most important lessons of all. How to handle it when not everything works out our way.
When I was a kid, we lived in northeastern Louisiana. A little town called Dunn. According to the 1970 census, this vast metropolis was the home to 200 souls. I think that number must have included pigs, cows, chickens, dogs, and cats.
Anyway, one night after church we were walking home (the church was about ¼-mile down the road, so on nice evenings we sometimes walked). I looked up in the sky and saw little lights hovering above the horizon. As I watched, the lights began to change colors. Then they darted across the sky. Then they moved up and down. Then they were gone.
For several nights in a row after that this little (well, I was little then) 9-year old would go outside and look up, trying to see those lights again. Never did.
How easy is it to feel LOST in this world?
Light travels at 300,000 kilometers per second, so a light year is equal to about 5.86 trillion miles. If you could get your hot rod up to light speed, you could go around the earth 4 times --- IN ONE SECOND! IN one year, you could go around the world 240 million times! Scientists believe that the distant galaxies that we can see in the most powerful telescopes are around 10 billion light-years away.
According to the US Census Bureau, there are about 300 million people in the US and 6.5 billion on earth. How does God manage it all?!?!
God is powerful enough to be involved in the details of our lives. But, the good news is, He is also INTERESTED in doing so. He is big enough and powerful enough to encompass the 10 billion light-years of space that we know of. But He is also great enough to be intimately involved in every single one of the 6.5 billion people on earth.
Jesus says even the hairs on our heads are numbered, so obviously no detail is too small for God. Especially if you consider that, on average, we have 100,000 hairs on our heads. For 6.5 billion people worldwide, that would be 650 trillion hairs! Of course, someone out there has to have a few more than 100,000 since I seem to have a few less.
If God even knows our hair count, then He most certainly is involved in the everyday details of our lives, and the direction in which our lives are headed. We just need to learn how to recognize God’s involvement. But, our failure to recognize that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
As I began this blog I recounted a UFO sighting I had as a kid. Keep in mind I did not say it was a flying saucer full of space aliens, I said UFO—it was a flying object, but I did not know what kind of flying object it was. A flying object I could not identify--an unidentified flying object. U—F—O. A UFO sighting.
So, now, lets talk about “God sightings”. Evidences of God’s hand at work in our everyday life. Try this:
Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie were prisoners in Ravensbruck, the notorious German prison, during WWII. Corrie tells about her experience there in her book The Hiding Place. Corrie was dismayed by the conditions, especially the fleas that infested their living quarters.
In response, her sister prayed and then claimed a passage from the Bible they had smuggled with them.
“That’s it, Corrie!” she said. “That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”
And Betsie did just that, but when she thanked God for the fleas, Corrie objected.
“Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
It was only later that Corrie was able to see God’s hand in their flea-ridden situation. While in that barracks, Corrie and her sister were able to share God’s Word with the other women prisoners, without interruption from the guards.
Betsie explained why. “You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said to Corrie. “Well—I’ve found out.”
That day, there had been confusion about sock sizes, and the women had asked a supervisor to come and settle it. The supervisor refused, as did the guards. “And you know why…Because of the fleas!”
Or, how’s this for a “God sighting”:
Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer and investor. In 1871, a horrible fire in Chicago spread throughout the city and burned most of Horatio’s investments and assets to the ground. Looking for respite and rejuvenation, Horatio sent his wife and four daughters across the ocean for a European vacation to relax and wait for him as he tied up some loose ends for his business. During the voyage, their ship was struck by another ship and sunk into the chilling November ocean. Horatio received a message from his wife: “Saved alone.”
Horatio sailed across the ocean to meet with his grieving wife. During the voyage, near the very spot where his daughters drowned, he wrote words to a hymn that acknowledged the pain in his life, but instead focused on the power of Jesus in the midst of the pain: “It Is Well With My Soul”.
Ron Wilson, Bus Driver
Did you ever see the movie Sky High? It was a Disney flick that came out in 2005. It is the story of a teenager, Will Stronghold, who is the son of two superheroes: The Commander and Jet Stream. Like all other super teens, he goes to a special high school – Sky High, so named because it floats in orbit above the earth.
Will is perplexed because as his first day of high school looms, he still doesn’t have any super powers. This means he might forever be known as 'hero support', or a sidekick. This is especially troubling because, as the son of the two most famous superheroes on earth, he is expected to, in the words of his dad, “save the earth someday, just to be able to experience that once”. The school nurse tries to console him by stating that she only knows of one offspring of two superhero parents who never inherited any powers: Ron Wilson, bus driver.
The driver of Will’s school bus has no powers. But he has a job to do nonetheless. He sees his role as important as the heroes because he has the responsibility of getting the next generation safely to and from school. He takes his job seriously. He is hard working. He is trustworthy. Toward the end of the movie, when he is called on to help save the 'real' superheroes, he rises to the occasion.
In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker was criticized by Yoda for “…all his life he has looked to the horizon, never his mind on where he was – what he was doing…” In Sky High, Ron Wilson is just the opposite. He didn’t worry about what he could be doing, or what others were doing that he couldn’t, his focus was on what he could do right now – and on doing it well.
You know what, God needs more 'Ron Wilson, bus drivers'. There can only be one Billy Graham. There is but one Reinhard Bonnke. Only one Rick Warren. But, just as the superheroes in Sky High couldn’t defeat the enemy without significant contributions from the ‘sidekicks’, God need the millions of ‘Ron Wilsons’ to do their job to support the Grahams, Bonnkes, and Warrens.
We can't all be superheroes. But we can all aspire to be Ron Wilson, bus driver. And do what we can, where we can, when we can, with what we can.
Dream A Little Dream
Advance confidently in the direction of your dreams. -- Henry David Thoreau
We are called by God to do something. And whatever it is, He wants us to “advance confidently” towards it. However, the problem so many people have is knowing what that thing is, and how to advance confidently.
For that reason, many times someone will sit still, scared to move for fear they are going opposite the way God wants for them. So worried are they that they might not be in God’s “perfect will”, that they do nothing.
But God doesn’t want us to do nothing. He has a call on all our lives. By definition, the word “call” suggests an intended action. Sitting around doing nothing waiting for the “right time” doesn’t fit with being called to do something.
So how can we know if we are doing the right thing, or going the right way? Well, I think the first thing to do is define “right”. The specifics will vary, and most certainly will be varied throughout your life, but right is: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
You want to know what God wants you to do? Do that. Go, make, baptize, teach, and obey. If you are doing that, you are in God’s perfect will. Congratulations!
Then it becomes a matter of listening to Thoreau (at least in this instance). What are your dreams? Develop a vision for what God wants you to do. Start with Matthew 28:19-20, add your own personality and “heart ache”. Stir. Bake in prayer. Serve when ready.
I once told this analogy to a friend who was in danger of sitting frozen in place, not doing anything for fear of doing the wrong thing. I told him to think of himself like a car. This car is sitting still, facing east. But it needs to go west. What has to happen for this east-facing car to go west? It has to start moving east! Only once it is going can it be changed to the correct direction. The driver can’t turn the car while it is standing still.
If you are not sure of the way to go, start moving. Keep in constant communication with the “driver”. He will turn you to the direction you need to go.
So God’s perfect will for you is to go, make, baptize, teach, and obey. How you accomplish those is the only matter in question. One clue, God made you with certain abilities, talents, interests, etc. Dream a little dream. Rick Warren asks people “If you knew you couldn’t fail, what one thing would you do for God?”
I Peter 4:10-11 tells us, Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Now be careful. This does not mean to run off to pursue some “half-baked” scheme. The title of this article is “Dream a Little Dream”. To dream suggests taking some period of time. And part of the dream “recipe” above is to develop a vision, bake in prayer, and serve when ready. “Developing” is a process. “Baking” is a time consuming action. And “when ready” speaks of waiting for the proper training and preparation.
But all of those are also actions. God wants us to do something. And He wants us to do it well. Our job is to do our job; His job is to do His job. Our job is to prepare well, develop vision, and dream a dream, all in context of Matthew 28:19-20. His job is to open the doors in the right time, all while giving us other opportunities along the way to minister. And we will have other opportunities to do “little” things for Him. It is all a part of making us ready to do whatever “big” thing we have dreamed up.
If you look at the life of Paul, you will see a prime example of getting vision from God and using it to perform His perfect will of going, making, baptizing, teaching, and obeying. Throughout the New Testament we see a description of how Paul used his particular strengths, interests, etc to carry out the vision God gave him to reach the Gentiles, while being in the perfect will of God to go make, baptize, teach, and obey.
God has called you to go, make, baptize, teach, and obey. He has also given you certain interests, talents, gifts, desires, and abilities. How you use the latter to do the former is your vision.
As the eminent theologians, Electric Light Orchestra, once said through song, Hold on tight to your dreams.
The Messy Church
Isaiah 1:18-19 -- Come now, let us think about this together, says the Lord. Even though your sins are bright red, they will be as white as snow. Even though they are dark red, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obey, you will eat the best of the land.
Sounds a little odd doesn’t it, “the messy church”? What does that mean? How can the church be “messy”?
Easy. The church is us, we are the church. And we are messy. We bring our messiness into the church. At least, we are supposed to. It is only then that we can be cleaned up. So, the church is “messy”.
But what do I mean by messy? How are we messy?
Messy means “full of mess”.
·If you wake up in the wrong bed, with someone other than yourself or your spouse, that’s messy.
·If you wake up in bed with the too many people, or a person of your same gender, that’s messy.
·If you find yourself wishing you could wake up in the wrong bed, that’s messy.
·If you speak words that are better left unspoken, that’s messy.
·If you make statements that are “less than 100% truthful”, that’s messy.
·If there are things in your possession that do not belong to you, that’s messy.
·If you drink too much of the wrong stuff, that’s messy.
·If you “partake of the wrong type of pharmaceuticals”, that’s messy
·If you inhale too many chopped up agricultural products (whether legal or illegal), that’s messy.
·If you treat others differently than yourself because of the color of their skin, where they came from, or how they came to be here, that’s messy.
·If your neighbor has something that you want so bad you can taste it, that’s messy.
·If your web browser goes to sites that you wouldn’t want your spouse (or Mom) knowing about, that’s messy.
·If you exercise your strength, power, or authority over others just because you can, that’s messy.
·If you make decisions (business or personal) in a fashion that distinctly benefits your own self-interest, that’s messy.
·If you spend money you do not have on things you do not need, that’s messy.
·If you use credit to live above your means, that’s messy.
·If you constantly tell other people to do one thing, while you yourself do the exact opposite, that’s messy.
·If you like telling what you know, whether or not it is true, that’s messy
What we’re talking about here is sin. Sexual sin and lust, cursing and vain speech, lying, stealing, drunkenness, drug abuse, racism and bigotry, covetousness, pornography, abusiveness, greed and unethical behavior, gluttony, lack of self-control, hypocrisy, slander and gossip; to follow down the above list.
And how do you know if your life is one of sin. That’s easy. If there are things in your life, such as any on the above list, although not limited to it, which keeps you away from God – that’s messy. That’s sin. If you wake up on Sunday morning feeling like you cannot go to church, whatever it is that makes you feel that way is sin.
Listen to the words of God through the prophet Isaiah (1:18-19). Come now, let us think about this together, says the Lord. Even though your sins are bright red, they will be as white as snow. Even though they are dark red, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obey, you will eat the best of the land.
Sin attempts to keep you from the church, from God. But when you feel the least like going to church, that is when you need to be there most. Look at what else God says through Isaiah (32:17), The work of being right and good will give peace. From the right and good work will come quiet trust forever. But be careful. It is not simply a matter of “being right and doing good”. You don’t clean up first then come to God. You come to God in order to clean up. God spoke through the Apostle Paul in Romans 4:5, But you cannot make God accept you because of something you do. God accepts sinners only because they have faith in him.
However, that does not mean you don’t have to clean up. You do. God accepts sinners in their sin only when they come to Him in faith. He cannot condone sin. And He cannot abide where sin is. In Psalms 101:3 He says, I will set no sinful thing in front of my eyes. I hate the work of those who are not faithful. It will not get hold of me.
The whole of the matter is summed up in these five verses from Psalm 15:1-5, O Lord, who may live in Your tent? Who may live on Your holy hill? He who walks without blame and does what is right and good, and speaks the truth in his heart. He does not hurt others with his tongue, or do wrong to his neighbor, or bring shame to his friend. He looks down upon a sinful person, but honors those who fear the Lord. He keeps his promises even if it may hurt him. He gives money to be used without being paid for its use. And he does not take money to hurt those who are not guilty. He who does these things will never be shaken.
What God wants from us, as a response to His cleansing work in us, is found in Philippians 1:11, And I pray that you will be filled with the fruits of right living. These come from Jesus Christ, with honor and thanks to God. So even though we don’t have to get cleaned up before we come to God, once we do there is an expectation that we will clean up in response to His Holiness. And that expectation is appropriate because He does not make us come to Him. We have the choice. According to Deuteronomy 30:19, I call heaven and earth to speak against you today. I have put in front of you life and death, the good and the curse. So choose life so you and your children after you may live.
Don’t put off coming to church when you are messy. Come to church because you are messy. Paul’s prayers in the following verses are our prayer for you.
Philippians 1:9-11, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:23,And this is my prayer: I pray that your love will grow more and more. I pray that you will have better understanding and be wise in all things. I pray that you will know what is the very best. I pray that you will be true and without blame until the day Christ comes again. And I pray that you will be filled with the fruits of right living. These come from Jesus Christ, with honor and thanks to God … May our God and Father make your hearts strong and without blame. May your hearts be without sin in God's sight when our Lord Jesus comes again with all those who belong to Him … May the God of peace set you apart for Himself. May every part of you be set apart for God. May your spirit and your soul and your body be kept complete. May you be without blame when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.
Good Things Happen When You Share Your Lunch
I am a servant, getting ready for my part There’s been a change, a rearrangement in my heart At last I’m learning there’s no returning once I start To live’s a privilege, to love is such an art But I need Your help to start Oh please purify my heart I am Your servant --Larry Norman
There is a tale of an old German schoolmaster who, when he entered his class of boys in the morning, used to remove his cap and bow ceremoniously to them. One asked him why he did this. His answer was: "You never know what one of these boys may some day become."
He was right--because one of his students was Martin Luther.
We were put o the earth to make a contribution, not just to consume resources. God designed us to make a difference. And we best do that by serving others. Jesus measures greatness in this life in terms of service, by how many people we serve – not how many serve us. So, how can we be the “real” servants Jesus wants us to be?
1. Real servants make themselves available to serve.
2. Real servants are faithful.
3. Real servants think like Jesus.
4. Real servants pay attention to needs.
(John 6:9) There's a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?
We probably miss many occasions for ministry because we aren’t paying attention to the needs around us. Great opportunities to serve don’t last too long, and when they are gone they may never return again.
John Wesley said this, "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can. "
And we do this by paying attention.
A Brazilian pastor sat in the sun in his garden. It was a rare quiet moment. He was reading his Bible and praying. A tapping at the door broke the silence.
He sat silently, hoping the person would go away. The gentle tapping resumed.
Grumpily he walked to the door, opening it with a scowl behind his face. It was a street kid.
“Sir, may I please have a little bread?” The pastor almost said no. But he couldn’t. Curtly he told the kid to “stay here”.
He went to his kitchen and got a small piece of bread, returned, and handed it to the kid. “Here. Now don’t bother me again.”
Walking back toward his garden and his Bible, the pastor passed the window and glanced out. There was the boy, carefully dividing the bread into even smaller pieces, sharing them with three younger street kids.
Tears flowing, the pastor invited the kids in. Begging for forgiveness, he shared bread, milk, and cheese. He asked their names and listened to their stories. Today in that Brazilian city every street kid knows there’s a church and a pastor who will never turn him or her away.
To be a servant, we need to keep three important things in mind: 1) Be aware of what we have and thank God 2) Be aware of those around us who need what we have 3) Good things happen when you share your lunch
And being a “real” servant is just that – SHARING YOUR LUNCH.
3 Square Meals
Part of the problem in our modern society is an absence of personal responsibility. We are all aware of the person who sued a fast food restaurant because the coffee was too hot. Even though this person spilled it on themselves, thus getting burned, the hamburger joint that sold it was responsible for the injury because it was too hot!
And we have also all heard how restaurants and junk food producers are to blame for obesity in America. As if they are forcing us to eat, or overeat.
Or how about the crying over high gas prices, all while we drive “mileage-challenged” trucks, vans, and SUV’s?
But has that same lack of personal responsibility crept into the church?
Many times people will leave churches because they claim they are not “being fed”, that there is not enough “meat” in the sermons.
Some people leave a church because the Bible studies and small groups are not “deep enough”. Again, not enough meat. They are not being fed.
But as an adult I do not need someone to feed me. I am capable, and even expected, to feed myself. If I went to a restaurant, or to someone’s home, and waited for someone to come along and cut up my food and feed it to me, I would be laughed out of the building. I am expected to feed myself.
In fact, as an adult I am even expected to provide my own food much of the time. I can purchase it, cook it, and consume it – all without the help of anyone else. And that is because I am considered to be mature.
Can a “mature” Christian really be mature while complaining that churches, preachers, small groups, etc don’t provide enough meat? Short answer: NO! The responsibility of our spiritual growth is ours alone. It is not the job of the church.
For those who complain about a lack of spiritual depth in your church, or in other churches, I have one thing to say … GROW UP!
Spiritual growth can be compared to three square meals. Let’s take a look at the main ingredients of each meal:
-- Necessary nourishment
-- Suited for babies, who lack the ability to eat and chew
-- Must be given to babies, they cannot do anything on their own to get it for themselves
-- Only toward the end of the time of milk can a baby even hold their own bottle, but they cannot do anything to fill that bottle for themselves
-- Baby food
-- Useful only once their system can handle food with some substance
-- Still dependent on others to prepare food and provide it to them
-- Can begin feeding themselves near the end of this stage
-- At early part of this stage a child can feed themselves, although they might require someone to cut it for them
-- But only in maturity can someone prepare their own steak
-- In maturity one feeds themselves, does not require help, and would not even let people feed them
Spiritual development is the same.
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (I Peter 2:1-3)
Someone new to the Christian life is not to be expected to feed themselves, although, like a baby, they will begin trying to reach out for the milk as time goes by. A new Christian gets most of their spiritual nourishment at church, listening to sermons. Sunday sermons should be designed to feed the “baby” Christian, who has no other reasonable source for spiritual “food”.
It is popular in some circles to find criticism of some of today’s most well known ministers. That criticism often centers on a supposed “shallowness” of messages. But things like Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life and Joel Osteen’s Best Life Now messages serve a great purpose. They feed the new Christian the milk necessary for growth.
And if I were a “mature” member of either congregation, I would not consider myself short-changed. That service benefits me for the encouragement corporate worship provides.
Furthrmore, my role in a church service should be one of example. I model appropriate praise and worship to the newer Christians around me. But I can receive a lot of spiritual benefit from those messages too. More about that in a moment.
Once you outgrow milk, it is on to baby food.
They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together. Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked. All the Lord's followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it. Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
As a Christian grows, the need for nourishment changes. We need more substantial food. More depth in the teaching. But how do we get that if the pulpit is the place where new Christians get their “milk”? Bible studies and small groups are the place for this second meal.
Now I called this meal “mush”. That is not meant to be derogatory. But you know how preachers love alliteration. I couldn’t resist using an “m” word instead of saying baby food. The truth is, Bible studies and small groups (or Sunday schools for those churches who still do adult classes there) are among the most beneficial aspects of any church.
These groups provide a place for people to learn from the Bible, and learn how to study it for themselves. If a church is really “on its game”, it will provide a spiraling curriculum in its adult education programs. By that I mean there would be a number of basic Bible study classes designed to build on the teaching given in the weekend services. The format would be mostly lecture, with some question and answer, providing practical teaching applicable to everyday life.
Then other classes would go deeper into Bible topics in a discussion format. This gives the participants the opportunity to learn how to open the Word for themselves. The highest level of these classes would begin to delve into matters of doctrine.
Now we are growing in the faith. As a person goes further in the small group/Bible study/Sunday school program of their church, the focus should change. It should become more about helping, serving, and teaching others.
So the mature Christian goes to Sunday services for the corporate worship and to be an encouragement to others. We go to small group for the fellowship and to be used to teach others.
But where do we get our “meat”?
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14, emphasis added)
We train ourselves? Yes, we train ourselves!! Careful though. We train ourselves as we have learned about righteousness and through the constant use of the Scriptures. By the time we get to this third meal we ought to be able to take things we hear and dig into them for ourselves. Learning even more than we did in the initial hearing. That is why a mature Christian should never criticize the simple messages of a Sunday sermon. That is how one can learn from the Osteens and Warrens; take what you hear and study more.
A mature Christian doesn’t need “deep” Bible studies any more than a mature person needs someone to feed them their meals. Someone else may provide the meal, through a sermon or Bible study, but the mature one takes it and feeds themselves. And the mature don’t even need to wait for someone else to provide the meal. You can “cook” for yourself.
As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, continued Spiritual growth is our own responsibility.
Of Grandfather Clocks and Men
In July 1916 my great-grandfather built a grandfather clock. He built it on the family farm out of walnut trees likely growing right outside his front door. Around the same time, he also built a round dining room table. I said he built the clock in 1916. I have reason to believe that he actually built the case then, but that the clock works likely pre-dated that case by a fair amount of time. Actually, he built several pieces of furniture, since he was a cabinetmaker. But I want to concentrate on those two particular pieces of craftsmanship.
As long as I can remember, my grandmother, his daughter, has told me that the clock and table would someday belong to me. That, as the oldest son of the oldest son, it was part of my heritage. I have long looked forward to that day. Several years ago I received the table. A few years later I received the clock (long story, let’s not get into it).
The old clock has not consistently run in years. And even when it did run, it often would only do so while sitting to the right of the fireplace in the old family farmhouse. My wife called a local “clock guy” and asked him to come take a look at it. He did. And he told us the clock was in excellent condition, for a 90-year-old clock, and that he saw no reason why it wouldn’t run again. It was that man who informed me of the likely more advanced age of the actual clockworks.
When we got the clock back it ran like a champ. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. A beautiful sounding chime too. I must say it nearly brought tears to my eyes (I say nearly because, after all, I’m a man. Men don’t cry over something liked a piece of furniture).
That started me thinking about heritage. The idea that that clock would one day be mine has been a large part of my psyche throughout my life. It connects me back to earlier generations of my family. In addition to the clock, I also have the privilege of possessing a collection of old books, some dating back to the 16th century. Many are bibles and religious books. Some are old school textbooks from the late 1800’s. And part of that collection is the v-mail my grandfather sent my grandmother during WWII. My grandmother and grandfather are gone now. Both having passed away in the 1980’s, so to have those items in my house is quite a treasure to me.
But, I have another heritage too. The above items are from my Dad’s side of the family. But the heritage bequeathed to me from my Mom’s side is equally important. In fact, more so.
No, I am not talking about heirloom treasures. I am speaking of a spiritual inheritance. You see, all four of my grandparents were (or are, my Mom’s Mom is still with us) tremendous human beings. But my Mom’s Dad, especially, left a huge legacy. Back in the 1960’s, the church denomination my Mom’s family belonged to began to decentralize its churches. They began to plant neighbor hood churches and move away from one or two large citywide congregations. When this happened my grandfather left his home church to be a part of the new church.
Now he did not have a grand education. He knew almost everything, but did so because he taught it to himself. He did not have a glamorous job; His entire professional life was spent in a knitting mill. But he was dedicated to his God. That local church was successful and prosperous on occasion, but was also small and on the verge of closing a few times too. It didn’t close, at least once, because my “Pop” would come open it for service on Sunday, even though no one else was there. He held just about every job at that church but preacher and teacher. And more often than not, he was also the yard man and janitor. But I bet if some people who knew him back then were to read this that would be news to them. He did what he did because he wanted to. Because he felt God would have him to. Not so people would recognize him as being something great. But great he was.
My education is better than was his. My professional positions have been more visible and considered by some to be more important than was his. But, if I could just be half the man he was, I would consider my life to be well lived. My wife may think I’m almost there, but I’m not so sure.
Consider what God has to say about heritage. In Isaiah 38:19 He says, “The living, only the living, can praise you as I do today. One generation makes known Your faithfulness to the next”. And he says this in Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
It is important to pass along spiritual truth and a grounding in the faith to the next generation. The “cloud of witnesses” referred to in Hebrews 12:1 was all the people mentioned in Hebrews 11, known as the “faith hall of fame”. We do not walk the Christian walk alone, and we are not the first to have done so.
However, in Luke 19:9-10 we find this, “This shows that salvation has come to this home today. This man was one of the lost sons of Abraham, and I, the Messiah, have come to search for and to save such souls as his”. While some of us do enjoy a great faith heritage, that heritage does not guarantee our place in God’s family. These verses refer to the tax collector Zacchaeus. He had a good heritage; he was a “son of Abraham”. But, that alone did not make him righteous. The good heritage did not save him just like a bad heritage would not have condemned him. His choices did both. He stood condemned for the bad choices he made, but was saved because he chose to change.
What about you? What is your heritage? Whether we live up to a good heritage, or live down a poor one, the choice is ours to make. A good heritage can get us down the road, but it won’t get us through the gates. Similarly, a poor heritage may have us staring at a noose, but we don’t have to put it around our neck.
As Joshua said to the children of Israel, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me…I will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
Does God Fix Windshields
Psalm 112 – Praise the Lord! How happy is the man who honors the Lord with fear and finds joy in His Law! His children will be powerful in the land. Each family who is right will be happy. Riches and well-being are in his house. And his right-standing with God will last forever. Light rises even in darkness for the one who is right. He is kind and has loving-pity and does what is right. Good will come to the man who is ready to give much, and fair in what he does. He will never be shaken. The man who is right and good will be remembered forever. He will not be afraid of bad news. His heart is strong because he trusts in the Lord. His heart will not be shaken. He will not be afraid and will watch those lose who fight against him. He has given much to the poor. His right-standing with God lasts forever. His horn will be lifted high in honor. The sinful man will see it and be troubled and angry. He will grind his teeth and waste away. The desire of the sinful will come to nothing.
Malachi 3:10-12 – Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
My wife and I were having our devotions one night. One of the passages we read was Psalm 112. We immediately began to chuckle, as this Psalm succinctly sums up 2008 for us. Nice of David (or whomever) to write about us a few thousand years before we were even born.
Five days before Christmas of 2007 I was informed that my position was being eliminated. I would not be needed after my vacation. Approximately one month later I accepted a part time job. Karen and I figured out our budget. Cut everything we could cut. Pared down our budget for groceries to a ridiculous figure. Calculated fuel costs and devised a plan for combining trips across Atlanta. Then we calculated how much we would need to get through the summer, as my part time job could go full time in July. From all that figuring, we determined we could get to my first full time paycheck, with a little help from a couple other (temporary) part time jobs and a family member who gave us the gift of a mortgage and car payment. We wouldn’t have anything left over, and would have to exhaust our meager savings, but we would have enough.
The loss of employment hit particularly hard because we had wanted to participate in our church’s Christmas offering. They were raising money to purchase equipment to drill water wells in a community in Africa. The lack of clean water is a preventable cause of many deaths, especially those of children. We had decided to take the money we were going to spend on each other, and donate it in that offering. Once I lost my job, however, and we had to begin budget cuts, Christmas was the first thing to go. We even decided against traveling to any of our family in order to conserve gas.
This is where Psalm 112, especially the underlined verses, and the familiar passage from Malachi 3 comes in. Karen very much wanted to give in that offering. So we prayed and asked God for the money to give. The very next day we received a check for an amount equal to what one of us was going to spend at Christmas on the other. So we went to church that weekend and, with a very grateful heart, gave our offering. Then, again, the very next day, we received another gift in the same amount. So we gave again the next week. The gifts to us were not Christmas gifts, rather they were just extras due to our circumstances. And the offerings were not our tithes, they were extra.
Now hold on. Here comes the “rest of the story”.
One morning around January 6 we awoke to a very cold house. The heater had quit. Turned out that the fan blower had gone out. A couple days after that, our car’s brakes needed repair. Our car had over 100,000 miles at the time, so this was not a $99-dollar special. In the course of a week or so, $1500 dollars gone. But soon after someone spoke to me just 3 days after I started working 20 hours a week, and told me he wanted to bring me on his church's staff for 20 hours to help with a specific issue. Another miracle. Now we could go back to a normal budget, without feeling the effect of the heater and brake repairs. Or so we thought. After waiting over a week to meet to finalize what he spoke to me in earlier, I received an email telling me they were not going to hire me after all. Considering the circumstances, it was a bit of a blow, but we knew God was faithful. After all, the day after I was laid off He told me in prayer that I would have a job by January 26. I started my part time job January 23. We knew He was in control. So we prayed.
Then a rock hit our windshield. Now in FL car insurance pays for one windshield repair with no cost to the consumer, but in GA there is a $250 deductible. We don’t use credit cards, and had just depleted whatever extra cash we had on the heater and brakes. So we did all we could do, we prayed. Keep in mind that this rock was a rock, not a pebble. It made a multi-faceted dimple in our window. I know because I cleaned the glass to inspect the damage and ran my finger across it to determine how bad it was. So we prayed.
Did you notice the title of this article?
A few days after the rock hit we were getting gas on our way to work. Karen was with me because she was spending one day a week volunteering at our church. While the gas was pumping I cleaned the windows, as I normally do. When I cleaned the windshield, I saw Karen’s face through the glass. Then I noticed it. Actually, I noticed nothing. NOTHING. No damage to our windshield. Damage that I had ran my finger over just a few days ago was now gone.
Because God is faithful and because we are faithful there is much more to this story. Things like Karen giving $20 to someone in our small group, while almost simultaneously someone else at the group was giving me $20. Things like a 12-year old girl giving us a dollar just before Christmas as her display of faith that God will take care of us. Things like my former employer asking me to come back part time and suggesting me to someone else for a similar position. Things like that being the first winter in years that neither Karen nor I needed medical care and/or prescriptions for the cold and flu. Things like my lawn mower being on a 3-year warranty when I distinctly remember not purchasing such, so that a potentially expensive repair actually cost us nothing. Things like a leaky roof being only a leaky exhaust vent boot, and not a leaky roof.
Our life is walking proof of God’s Promises being true and trustworthy. We seek to live according to the Word. During the course of those events we did not had a moment of despair or despondency. And very little uncertainty. We gave so children could have clean water, and we gave what little we had to someone who needed it more. We paid our tithes. And God protected us from harm. He either provided the funds to pay for what we needed, or He kept us from needing it.
And, yes, God does fix windshields.
Merry Christmas Karen "Brown"
This is my wife's most favorite time of the year. She loves Christmas. Everything about Christmas. She loves putting up the tree. She loves decorating. She loves sending her Christmas cards. In fact, her cards went out the day before Thanksgiving so they would get delivered the day after.
And she loves getting cards. Now, to keep this in perspective, she likes getting mail anytime. She knows to the minute when the regular postman is due at our house. I think she chose this house when we moved to the area instead of another one because when we looked at the other one late in the afternoon, the mailman was just delivering the route. Way too late for Karen's liking.
So yesterday she goes out to the box to find 6, count'em 6, Christmas cards. Yea!!!!! But today I get an email that there were 0, yes zero, cards. Boo!!!!
Now I have always indentified personally with Charlie Brown. And you can tell from our cartoon image that I am even more like him now than ever. But it is on days like this, when the mailman obviously skipped our home, that Karen feels a little like ole Chuck too.