Much has been said and written about the temptation of Eve in Genesis chapter three. Through the years, I have preached, taught, and written about the nature of the temptations and the lessons we can learn from this one story.
Recently, I noticed something in the story that was a significant insight to me. Eve did not believe that God punished sin. She had only experienced good things in her life. The garden of Eden was the very height of perfection. It appears that she made this fatal assumption; she did not believe that a good God would ever punish her for being disobedient.
She had no reason to think this way. God’s word had been clear. He had told them not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, known as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He had explained to them there would be consequences: “for when you eat from it, you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:17 – NIV 2011)
Despite the instruction and warning, she went ahead and ate. The temptation was great. The serpent twisted God’s word. Eve did not think it would result in punishment. That combination led her down a path away from God that impacts every human today.
My guess for you is this; whatever sin you are about to commit, you are living with the assumption that God will not punish you for it. His threat that “you will die” are idle words not representing an eternal separation from God. We convince ourselves that there are no consequences for our disobedience, and if there are ramifications, they won’t be “that bad.”
Eve was wrong. So are you.
In college, I decided I wanted to be a preacher and not a youth pastor. With that said, in every ministry where I have been the pastor, I have also helped with the youth group. I have been a sponsor, a Sunday school teacher, a small group leader, and a teacher through the years. Tonight, I will start another year working with teenagers, possibly my final one, as my youngest son will be graduating next spring.
Through the years, I have enjoyed my time working with the kids but have most enjoyed the volunteers who come to help every week. These selfless people donate hours of their time to work with Jr. high and High school teenagers, many of whom they do not know well. They talk and ask questions. They befriend and pray. They care and try to help every kid who walks through the doors. It is a thankless job that only a handful of brave people accept. With each week, they are slowly changing the world, if only for one or two teens.
Frequently I ask adults about who has had the most significant impact on their faith. Quite often, their response is focused on their parents. Then I inquire as to anyone else that might come to mind. They usually give me the name of a Sunday School teacher or a youth group volunteer. Their eyes brighten as they speak of this person’s love, kindness, compassion, and faith.
This group of servants may not get their name on the Church sign. They may never be mentioned as the single biggest influence in anyone’s life, but our young people notice their efforts. The next generation needs to see someone saying the same things as their parents and preacher.
Tonight kicks off another year of youth group and who knows how this year will go. With all the COVID stuff, it might end at any time. Even if we complete a full season of meetings, the time is fleeting. Soon the seniors will drive away to college, and our times together will become a distant memory. My prayers are for those wonderful adults who give up their time for Jesus to make an impact on the next generation. May they be the light that these young people need.
Every week I spend somewhere around 15 hours preparing for what I am going to say on Sunday. The sermon is the single most significant piece of work that I do. I approach each one with two goals in mind.
First, I want the listeners to learn something about God, his word, and how we relate to him. I want them to walk away knowing something they didn’t realize before hearing it that Sunday morning. If they had known it before, then I want to apply it in such a way that they are challenged in their thoughts and actions for the week, possibly a lifetime.
Second, I recognize that some of the people who sit and listen to me each week have been believers for longer than I have been alive. They know more of the Bible than I do at this point. Some of them have applied it throughout a lifetime, so what am I going to say to them? My goal is that this group will have something to share that week. The message they heard will linger with them in conversations with family, friends, and casual acquaintances to challenge and encourage as needed.
My dream each week is that my sermon will still be working on Tuesday morning. I pray that the content will resonate with people a couple of days after the original hearing. Today, as I sit at my computer typing, editing, planning, and preparing, is that I will be able to have something for people to grow or something for them to share. A great week is when I can accomplish both with one sermon.
One of my questions today is, “How did I do last Sunday?” If I did my job well, then the sermon is still working. If not, I am working toward next Sunday, and I will give it my best to try again this week. Today is the real test of a good sermon.
It’s Monday. A day where I remind myself to keep putting one foot in front of another. Keep moving forward.
This is a day where it is easy to get bogged down. Being tired from the weekend and looking at another five days of work can make you want to coast through this day without accomplishing anything. I bet no one has ever completed a magnificent task on a Monday. Big days happen on Wednesdays or Fridays, but not today. So why give a full effort?
While nothing good may have ever reached its climax on a Monday, I bet many great projects were started today. People who finish projects on Friday start the week just grinding out what needs to be accomplished.
This day may not be great for completion, but it is a wonderful day to get started. Go out there today and start something good, holy, and righteous so that the end of this week will be filled with joy. What we end up with on Friday will be the result of the work we began today.
Since the shutdown and the onset of Covid-19 in the United States, I have been bombarded with emails, blog posts, social media rants, lectures and podcasts telling Church leaders that it is time for us to “re-invent” Church.
The idea is simple. The Church cannot remain in the same in a world where Covid-19 exists and is changing the American landscape of learning.
I guess my biggest problem with this statement is the definition they use for Church. I believe the Church is a community of Christ-followers. They claim Jesus as their Savior and join together weekly to encourage one another, share instruction from the Bible, fellowship, and serve together in the name of Jesus. If that is your definition, then nothing needs to change.
Sure, the methods about how we do these things might be altered, but the group itself remains the same. The Church is still the Church. We may no longer use buses to haul children to a Church building to learn; instead, we may not have a zoom meeting or offer a video. The goal is still the same. We are part of a Church to teach, learn, worship, connect, serve, and love. None of that has changed.
In fact, if anyone is offering you a new view on Church, then I am concerned that they may be a false teacher. The Church is still the community of Jesus, no matter how the times change.
I have been asked this question about a dozen times in the past six months.
Whenever the headlines get dark and gloomy, the question comes. Whenever there is some sort of national or global tragedy, the question arises. Whenever people feel like the world is spinning out of control, the question comes. It is not new, nor is it unexpected.
I will make a deal with you. I will only answer that question on two conditions.
First, you must have read through the Bible at least once and preferably five times or more. At the very least, it would be nice if you had read Revelation entirely. Oh, and you called it by the correct name – it is Revelation, not Revelations.
Second, you must have some solid knowledge of the Old Testament prophets, including their context and basic interpretation.
Why do people who haven’t read much of the Bible start making guesses about the end times? Why do people want to read the last chapter of the book and then start guessing at meanings? Proper interpretation requires context, a basic understanding of big Biblical themes, knowledge of similar images within the same writing, and several other issues before someone can completely understand the meaning of the last pages.
I guess that most people are not looking for a correct interpretation. Instead, they are looking for something else. They want Hollywood more than holiness. They want war over worship. They want the end times understanding without Jesus.
When you have an intimate knowledge of the author, the meaning of his writing becomes more explicit. And the best way to know a writer is by reading everything they have written.
Professional basketball teams have 12 players on the bench. For most teams, the starting five are the stars. The sixth man can make or break an organization. An outstanding team may have ten excellent players. Usually, the final person on the bench is good enough to make the team but does little more than help the stars practice. They occasionally get into a game but only when the unit is up, or down, by a large number of points.
The 12th player is here if you need them. They can get in the game if there is an emergency that would require their services. But they don’t expect to play. They are happy to be on the team, will show up at practice, and is more than willing to stand on the sidelines. They want their name on the trophy and would love to be called a champion, but they do not expect to contribute much to the effort.
This analogy is the way I think of most people when it comes to their Church community. They are happy to be here and plan on showing up most weekends. For whatever reason, they do not expect to contribute very much. They want to be told, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” without doing any real serving. They hope that just being on the team is enough for the coach.
One constant plea of faith is to stop acting like the 12th player on the team and start trying to contribute like the starting five.
Some people have left an enormous impact on my life. Their mark can be seen with a casual glance. These are people like mom and dad, Dan, Ben, Mark, and Kyle, to name a few.
Other people have left an impact on me, and I do not know their name and often, exactly what they did. In October of 1995, I attended a Promise Keepers conference that helped inspire me to stay in ministry. At one point in the event, they invited preachers to the front of the auditorium to pray for them. As I went to the front with other pastors, the place erupted with thunderous applause. When I got to the front, I wept. It was one of the few times in my life that people seemed to appreciate me as a pastor. That moment kept me preaching through a difficult season in ministry over the following year. It motivated me when I was ready to quit about 13 years later. The sound of 50,000 men clapping for me, and those who serve alongside me was powerful.
I don’t know the names of any of the people in the crowd that night. I was there with two men, and one of them was from out of town, and I cannot remember his name. Then I get to thinking about all the other people involved in that event. Some people set up and ran the sound. Others built the staging for the speakers and musicians. Someone booked the arena and made sure everyone got paid for their efforts. This one scene of my life was put together by dozens of people serving the Lord in one way or another. They were just random people trying to make a difference.
This is precisely why God wants us to keep serving him even when we do not see immediate returns on our labor. We never know the amount of good we do with our lives. We will never know the impact we make on this side of heaven. God knows. And he understands what we are doing. He takes our efforts, no matter how small they may seem, and makes an impact for his kingdom.
Last weekend I watched a young woman come to faith; part of that is the result of a person who remains nameless, helping to create a moment that would help me to get here to share the message of Jesus with her. The ripple of their life washed over me, and it continues to move until we all reach the shore of eternity. What kind of waves are you making?
Don’t permit yourself to be mad.
Yesterday was a good day for our Church. We had one of our biggest crowds since our battle with Covid-19 started. Several guests were checking out the Church for the first time. We had a public confession of faith at Baptism by a woman who has been thinking about it for a year. The weekly offerings are still good for our Church, enabling us to give more money away to a Christian youth home we support. The Church board that is made up of elders, deacons, and staff had a great meeting. We made decisions, fellowshipped, and laughed. It was a wonderful day.
After Church, I made the slow slide into darkness that happens to preachers on Sunday afternoons. All I could see was the downside of everything. That family didn’t show up. These people helped in one program but did not worship in the other one. I think that family is gone forever. Not to mention, I kept replaying the sermon because I forgot a scripture in the first program and then threw it back in even though it didn’t fit. Then there was that one conversation, did I come off as mean when I said that?
Depression comes when I cannot see the good things God is doing because of a few evil thoughts. Part of the issue is that I allow myself to think like this, and that seems shaped by my unwillingness to be happy. You see, if I am happy, then it looks like I am not taking the things of God seriously enough. If I am happy, then I don’t genuinely care about those missing on Sunday morning. If I am genuinely happy, then I am not feeling the burden that comes with hard work. My solution is to be unhappy.
What would my life be like if I gave myself permission to be happy? What if I enjoyed the blessing of God above the struggles?
What would your life be like if you did the same thing? What if this week was set aside as a week of joy?
Give yourself permission to be happy, because you and I don’t need to carry the weight of the world. God is the only one big enough to handle it.
Covid-19 has changed the world in many ways. That is not a surprising statement; what is interesting to me is how it has changed us. Lately, I have noticed something that had remained hidden in plain sight.
Many places in my area require you to wear a facemask to shop or visit their establishment. Recently, I was in a great mood, and I was walking through a store, and slowly my attitude began to change. With each aisle I walked down, I seemed to get more angry and bitter. Then it hit me, and I can’t see anyone’s mouth and know they are smiling.
I miss seeing the lady trying to make the baby laugh. I miss seeing the older lady saying thanks with a wrinkled smile when I help her grab an item that is a little too high. I miss people smiling back at me when I am smiling at them.
Communication is so much more than words. Your face demonstrates your attitude, and interestingly enough, it impacts other people. I once heard a preacher say, “If you have joy in your heart, please let your face know it.” A childhood song said, “If you are happy, and you know it, then your face will surely show it.” A simple smile shows your heart and brightens the day for everyone.
Always allow your smile to precede your words. It’s a lesson I hope we don’t forget when all of this is over.