In 1991 a movie came out with William Hurt called “The Doctor.” It is the story of a doctor who seems heartless until he gets cancer and must undergo treatment himself. He learns to be compassionate along his journey while making a friend of another cancer patient.
In the end, the main character is struggling with feelings of loneliness. And his new-found friend, before her death, sent him a note. I think about her words regularly as a reminder to put my guard down.
Here is what she wrote:
“There was a farmer who had a lot of fields, and he kept all of the birds and creatures away from his crops with traps and fences. He was very successful … but he was very lonely. So, one day, he stood in the middle of his fields to welcome the animals. He stayed there from dawn to dusk, with his arms outstretched, calling to them. But, not a single animal came. Not a single creature appeared. They were terrified, you see, of the farmer’s new Scarecrow … just let down your arms, and we’ll all come to you.”
And more garbage will follow it.
If you spend time on social media, everything you do is tracked through sophisticated computer technology. This way, companies like Facebook can give you content like the previous stuff you viewed. Places like YouTube will then provide you with video recommendations similar to that one video. Companies will then target their advertising to people who visit those sites and look at that type of article or product.
The result is that you can be lost in an algorithm that feeds you the same garbage over and over. Instead of opening your mind to new ideas and differing viewpoints, you are on a treadmill of recycled thinking. Sure, this can have an upside, but it can be equally dangerous.
Perhaps one great test of whether you are being fed garbage is to take a break from all social media and see what happens to your thinking. Does your attitude improve? Does your thinking about God and faith get more clear? Are you a better person when you are not just watching whatever is being fed to you online? If so, the problem may be that you are on a diet of garbage.
And as the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”
Don’t spend 15 minutes complaining about a 30-minute job. Don’t do it before or after the work is done. All you do is increase the amount of time you spend on that single project.
Complaining is never productive and does not correlate to improving a situation. All it does is keep you focused on something that doesn’t deserve your time.
Perhaps this is why the Bible tells people to do everything without grumbling, arguing, or complaining (Philippians 2:14).
Instead of taking your time to complain, take it to be thankful. It will not change the work you need to do, but it will change your attitude about it.
The first time I met Bob Scott, he walked up to me at a meeting and started speaking to me like I was an old friend. His son Mark had been my professor, but I had never met the man. But his vision was what had taken me to Iowa. Mark had told me that his dad had been down on his knees praying in the basement of a Church parsonage when he had the idea to start a Church planting organization in Iowa. Now, some 40-odd years later, that organization had called me to plant a new Church in that state. Every year the mission held an annual business meeting, and Bob returned to participate. Without fail, he came up to me every year and talked to me like an old friend in ministry. Without knowing it, his life and work changed my life, and the Church that was started is still changing lives along with the dozens of other Churches that started through that organization. Last Monday, Bob passed from this life, and the world lost a spiritual giant.
I personally never met Jack Cottrell. My experience of his teaching has all been secondhand. He was a professor for almost 50 years, during which time he wrote books and more articles than I can count. For the last couple of years, he has organized his related writings into books on various Biblical topics. I have a dozen of his books on my shelves, and I refer to them almost weekly. His book on the doctrines of the Bible is one I use whenever I have a question or need clarity on an issue. Jack’s life work has made me a more knowledgeable believer and effective preacher. Last Friday, Jack passed from this life, and the world lost a spiritual giant.
These two men’s deaths have left a void in my life and ministry, even though they were never close personal friends. Their work in the Lord touched me and influenced how I do ministry. All I can think about is who is going to fill their shoes. Where are the people who are going to lead new ministries and write scholarly books? Where are the people who will put their arms around young preachers and try to help them improve and reassure them that they are not alone? Who is going to be the next spiritual giant?
While thinking and praying about this, God reminded me of a simple truth. Even spiritual giants grow one inch at a time. They get up daily, read their Bible, say their prayers, and serve the Lord. They do it day after day after day over a lifetime. Neither of these men set out to be something special for the kingdom of God, but their consistent commitment to following the Lord made them that way.
The people who will become the next generation of influencers for the kingdom of God are those who surrender to Jesus every single day for a lifetime. Then at the end of their life, they have cast an enormous shadow, and people will be sad to see them go but thankful for the time we got to learn from them.
As a Church leader, I frequently take a risk on Sunday mornings during our worship time. I open our Church up to the possibility of ignorance and heresy. At any moment, someone could say something unbiblical or uneducated from our stage.
Be clear; I am not allowing people who I know are false teachers to stand up and speak. I also do not let non-members and non-Christians teach. But I do allow new believers and young people to be actively involved in our worship.
When someone comes to faith, and they are interested in speaking or leading worship, I allow them to do it. I want them to talk about how God is working in their lives and let them sing His praises. I ask them to pray and speak on behalf of the Church. I invite them to share the communion devotion whenever they would like to do it.
I believe the Church community should be the most loving and supportive community on the planet. We should encourage new believers to share their faith in every way possible. I hope to fan into flame the sparks God is igniting in their souls so that the light of the gospel can shine brightly. Sure, I keep a close ear on things and try to correct any issues, but that is a risk I am willing to take.
In the Old Testament, God is referred to as the “Refiner.” This is because one of the things God is doing in the lives of the people who believe in him is refining their life from all the junk that can fill their souls. His goal is to make us pure and holy to be more like him.
The work of refining our lives is usually explained alongside pain and suffering. In Isaiah, he says to the people of Israel, “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10 – NIV 2011)
God does not refine his people like gold or silver in the fire, but rather in the furnace of pain and suffering. Sometimes God allows us to walk through difficult seasons to purify our hearts and minds. The difficulties force us to make choices and focus on what is essential.
As a believer, I want my life filled with blessings and good things. I do not want to think of my life purposely moving through any affliction. Yet, the Bible affirms that sometimes the best teacher in life is the school of hard knocks because this is where we learn to rely on God completely. In the end, you will have your faith that is worth more than gold. (1 Peter 1:7)
Christians believe that the Spirit of God lives inside of them. God sends it to the followers of Jesus about their conversion.
The Holy Spirit does many things for the believer. He empowers us to live the Christian life, encourages us when we are down, and reminds us of God’s word when we are tempted. Another thing the Holy Spirit does is speak to the conscience of a Christian. He is that little voice in your head that speaks to you at unexpected moments. The goal is not to tell you some new truth, as the Bible has all we need for life and godliness. No, that inner voice whispers to you about ways God can work through you.
Lately, I have committed to listening more to the voice of the Spirit inside me. And my encouragement is for you to do the same.
Sometimes, you will think, “I should call that person and talk to them.” Other times it can be a reminder that “I need to pray for that person.” Sometimes it might seem crazy when you hear, “I need to give this person some money (possibly a specific amount).” But, still, there may be times when it is as simple as “Drop them a text and tell them how much I appreciate them.”
I believe that God is working in mysterious ways, and part of following him is yielding to the voice inside your mind asking you to do something good for His kingdom. He will never put you at risk or lead you into sin, but he might guide you into a path that will be a blessing beyond what you can imagine.
So the next time you feel that nudge of the Spirit to buy them a gift, introduce yourself, write a card, stop for a visit, or any one of a thousand things, why don’t you give it a try and see where God leads you?
I can’t wait to hear your stories of how God is at work through you.
One test of how much we value something is the amount of time that we give it.
So how much time do you spend on … your marriage, your children, your career, your hobbies, and even your faith?
Show me your schedule, and I will tell you precisely what you value.
I am not a prophet from God, but I have one prediction for the Church of tomorrow. Actually, I have been saying this and writing this for about two years. I stand unwavering in my conviction that this will be the next big Church trend.
For the last 25 years, the Church has been rediscovering what it means to serve in the name of Jesus. But I see the tide changing. Part of this will be a holdover from covid as people feel the pain of isolation. The biggest reason is because of technology.
People can get information with a few keystrokes on their laptops or taps on their phones. Entertainment is never more than a few seconds away. We instantly have everything available except one vital thing: human connection.
As people become more isolated and lonelier, the need to talk face to face will increase. The desire to be connected to a group of people in a meaningful way will grow. And the Church is the perfect vessel to fill that need. People will find that a Church community is where they develop relationships, communicate in meaningful ways, and feel the love they desire.
What if the key to reaching more people for Jesus is not the amount of knowledge we can repeat but our willingness to open up our lives to others? For most of us, that is far scarier than we like to admit. But the possibilities are only limited by our hearts and not our heads.
Each week when I write a sermon, I have three things I keep in mind. First, I want to please God in all I do and speak. I want my words to be clear and for God to receive all the glory. Prayer is the first tool in my preaching toolbox.
Second, I am focused on the text and topic. Proper interpretation, context, theology, and sound doctrine are all foremost in my mind. I study, read, and search for the best understanding of what the Bible teaches, especially the primary passage for the week.
Third, I want to apply the lessons revealed in scripture clearly. That begins with a general thought about how these concepts will play out for everyone. Then it gets very specific as I go over the people I know will be sitting in each row.
This forces me to think beyond general application. How will the lady going through divorce apply this to her life? How will the man struggling with pornography use this in his life? How will that mother, father, grandparent, teenager, or spouse apply this teaching to their situation? I try to think of every possible person who will hear this sermon when I take the biblical message and describe how we will use it in our lives.
When I prepare a sermon, I try to keep you on my mind. I love Jesus, but I also love the people I speak to weekly. I will attempt to say something this week that you can use in your life. It is heartbreaking to me when you are not there, but when I know what I say connects with you, it is the most significant moment of my week.
I am excited to see you Sunday; I have been thinking about you all week.