Half-True

While having a conversation with a local pastor about his Church, I realized I knew the family he was talking about in his story. In fact, I had several conversations with this family myself. As I listened to the pastor’s side of the story I quickly realized it was very different from the story I knew.
Unfortunately this experience is far too common and we end up with only half of the truth.
Let me be clear, neither person was lying to me. The basic facts were the exact same. The difference was in feelings about the experience and the overall perception of what happened. Each side of the story was giving the truth as they remembered it mixed with their own personal emotion and perspective. That is when things get clouded.
My fear is that far too many people believe everything they hear, especially in Church. Maybe that is why the Bible lists gossip and spreading rumors as sins. There is the potential in every story we tell to only be giving half of the truth.
So let me offer this one simple word of advice to everyone: Get both sides of the story. Before you tell another negative story about a Church, a pastor or anyone in the Church, be sure you have heard the story from both parties involved. Then make a decision about what really happened. Finally, keep your mouth shut about the whole situation.

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Busy

I recently asked a lady if she would be willing to do something for a volunteer organization I am a part of (not the Church). Her response was “no” because she was a part of another organization in the summer and she wanted to do one thing well and nothing more.
I understand her point clearly and in some ways agree with it, but I also think that it can be an excuse for not pushing ourselves. I am currently pastor at this church, plus the Pop Warner president, plus a volunteer professor at ABI, plus president of the local ministerial alliance and I am currently coaching 7th grade basketball. I believe I do each one of these tasks well and still find time to do a few things I enjoy.
I am reminded of a line from Ben Franklin that I read several years ago. He said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” His point is simple; busy people are doers. They may not be the most organized but they are active all the time and they usually get things done. That is why they are busy.

Here are my thoughts on being busy. These are my notes from the field:)

1. Be sure God is first. If you wait till the end, He will never fit into your schedule.
2. Include your family. My family is a huge part of every activity I do. I use these opportunities to teach and develop my boys into men and leaders. I also like for my wife to see what I am doing.
3. Schedule everything as much as you can. I set aside certain days and times for certain activities. Unfortunately, lately blogging has been lower on the list.
4. Remember that sometimes, good enough is good enough. Each week I have to say to myself, “Okay, it is time to be done with that task.” This is true even when I am not 100% happy.
5. Let God handle the outcome. Honestly, this is the lesson I am trying to learn right now. I do my best and I have to let God handle the details. This is hard for a control freak like me, but I am trying.

While it is true that many people need to say “No” to more things. I also believe it is true that some people need to say “Yes” to more things. I firmly believe that volunteers make the world go round, and groups need you to give your time.

Conversation Lifeboats

Several years ago I ran across a list by Robert Fulghum, the author of “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” He wrote about how he started or maintained conversations with strangers. Then he gave a list he had developed he called conversational lifeboats. Here they are although I have removed one because it was a little inappropriate for Christians.

1. Did you ever have a great teacher – in school or out? Tell me.

2. What would you be learning – if you had time?

3. What would you have learned to do if you knew then what you know now? (Language, for example – which one and why – or music?)

4. What would you teach, if you were asked?

5. Teach me something.

6. Do you know any silly tricks? Coins, cards, face contortions?

7. If you could be an eye-witness to some event in history, which one?

8. If you could see someplace in the world before human history – where?

9. Who do you admire? Who admires you?

10. Answer an unasked question – something you know but nobody would ever ask about and you would never volunteer.

11. Decisions of consequence – what forks have been on your journey so far?

12. Pick another place/time in modern history – since 1700 – to live.

13. Book, movie, you’ve read/seen more than once – twice – three times.

14. What ability/talent do you not have but would like to have?

15. Ever thought about changing your appearance or identity? And?

16. If you were a spy, what would be your cover?

17. If you could know how your life will end, but you still could not change it, would you want to know? Why or why not?

18. If you could live one short episode of your life over again – a day, week, month – which would it be? And why?

19. If I did not tell you anything about me, what would you imagine me to be just by what you’ve seen so far?

Jesus and Evangelism – His Example

The second part of my lesson on evangelism for this week was on the living example of Jesus. There are numerous examples to draw upon like the calling of the 12 or Nicodemus or the rich, young ruler. In fact, I would recommend that you read all of those and learn from Jesus encounters.

For today my focus was on two passages.

1. Jesus and Zacchaeus

This story is about an outcast who has a spiritual longing and is found in Luke 19:1-10. I find this extremely relevant because he is wealthy. The idea is that his wealth did not bring him the fulfillment that he thought it would. (Much like many people in our culture) We need to evangelize the weary of the world but they are not the only ones who need to hear the message of Jesus.
Jesus then notices the man’s search for meaning and responds to it. The man’s life is changed and Jesus states that salvation has come to his house.
The final part of the story is that Jesus gives us a mission statement. He says that he has come to seek and save that which was lost. Most Christians understand that Jesus came to save, but he is also seeking those who feel the spiritual void in their life.

2. Jesus and the woman at the well

This is the story of an encounter at a well Jesus has with a Samaritan woman and is found in John 4. Here Jesus gives us a useful model of sharing our faith.
First – He varies his routine and meets someone new.
Second – He starts a conversation. This conversation starts by general chatting about water. It moves on into questions about her. He takes it slow and is never condemning.
Third – He addresses the need behind the question. She has a spiritual longing and tries to veil it by talking about the temple and worship. She is really looking for a God who will love her and fill the void in her life she has tried to fill with men.
Fourth – He shares that he is the messiah.
In the end there is this great response that she tells everyone, I have found a man who told me everything I have done. She is no longer filled with shame but uses her past as a place to teach others about Jesus.

Once again, there are lots of lessons from the life of Jesus, but I found these two to be essential to Christians today to begin sharing their faith.

Jesus and Evangelism – His teaching

My for evangelism class today was Jesus and Evangelism. First, I talked to them about his teaching on the topic. As you can imagine there are dozens of passages that address this topic. I put my focus was one three ideas from the teaching of Jesus.

1. The Harvest is Plentiful

This idea is quoted in Matthew 9:35-38. In that context Jesus sees people and has compassion on them.
The same idea is quoted in Luke 10:1-3. There Jesus is sending out his followers into the world.
In this second passage he says that he is sending them out and they are going as lambs among wolves.

Here is the simple lesson: Sometimes God uses the idea of evangelism to bring comfort to the struggling. But the flip side is also true: Sometimes God uses evangelism to add struggle to the comfortable.

2. The Lost Need Found

The focus for this lesson was on Luke 15. There Jesus is found eating with sinners. The Pharisees are angry about this behavior. Jesus tells them a parable(s).
First is the Lost Sheep – or really it is more about the searching shepherd. The emphasis is on the value of the one who is lost.
Second is the Lost coin – or is it the searching woman. The emphasis is on the value of the search.
Third is the Lost Son – or is it the welcoming father. The emphasis is on the love of the father but also the lack of love from the brother.

3. Jesus Commissions His Disciples.

My focus was on Matthew 18:18-20. Here Jesus tells us to GO. Then he tells us to make disciples or learners and not just converts. Finally he says that he is with us. His presence will guide and direct us for his purpose.

Jesus obviously taught a great deal more about evangelism, but I think we will be better followers of Christ if we can just try and live out these three.

Four Old Testament Foundations of Evangelism

Last week in my Personal Evangelism class at ABI I shared a lesson on the topic of evangelism in the Old Testament. Here is the simple outline of the material I taught.

1. God is the first true evangelist. I used Genesis 12:1-3. God comes to Abram and instructs him to make a change in his life and he would bless him for it. That blessing was actually the coming of Jesus as the New Testament teaches. (Galatians 3:14)

2. Even the Law required people to respond in faith. I used two stories for this truth. Moses in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 tells the people he has set before them blessings and curses, life and death. Then he asks them to choose life. Joshua in the same manner in Joshua 24:14-15 tells the people they need to choose whom they are going to serve. Evangelism is about asking people to respond positively in faith to God’s instruction.

3. God cares more about people than his messengers. I walked the class through the story of the book of Jonah. If you know the story then you know that God wanted to change Nineveh and Jonah just wanted it destroyed. God’s grace is always bigger than mans.

4. God’s messengers should never quit sharing the message. For this truth I used the story of Isaiah in chapter 6. He sees this great vision of God and then God asks who will go speak for him. Then in Isaiah 6:9-10 God says that he will keep speaking until the people quit listening and then he will just keep teaching. The interesting part is that this verse is quoted in Matthew 13:13-15 and Acts 28:26-27 and both of those are passages about the spreading of the gospel.

I believe that God laid foundations in the Old Testament for His and his people’s actions in the New Testament. These truths and passages help us to understand evangelism in the Church.

How to listen to a sermon

I am amazed every week by my preaching experience. I look out on the crowd and see some people on the edge of their seats while others are sleeping. Some people come out the back door and say it was the best sermon ever and others run out before I can get to the back door so they don’t have to talk to me. It seems every week that there is this bi-polar reaction to my preaching. Well, over the years I have come to a few conclusions about what it takes to get the most out of a Sunday sermon.

1. Spend time growing personally each week. It never fails that the people who get the most out of a sermon are those who are regularly reading their Bible. I simply help to explain what they are reading or connect dots in their understanding.

2. Get rest on Saturday night. Simple truth; If you are tired you are not a good listener. Although I am not sure I have ever completely understood this. Our worship time starts at 10:30 am. You can get to sleep at 1:00 am and still have time for a good nights sleep and still have breakfast before Church.

3. If you are tired, take notes. I have a sweet older lady who takes copious notes each week. I know she has been in Church for years and years and she is probably not hearing anything new. She just knows it helps her to stay engaged.

4. If you are not a note taker, then look up all the scriptures and read those. I don’t care if you use your iPhone, iPad or printed Bible. Engage the scriptures while I am talking.

5. Try to focus your thoughts on, what one thing can I apply from this sermon. Every week I have numerous points of application. I do this hoping the each person will do one thing because of what they have heard.

6. If nothing helps to keep you engaged, decide not to be a distraction. I once heard a sermon on dating after I was already married. There was not much to keep me engaged, so I sat quietly reading my Bible, taking notes and listening with one ear. I did not get up and go to the bathroom or make faces at the kid near me or take a nap or talk or play a game on my phone. Those things are very distracting and while I might not be getting much out of the sermon I realize that someone else might be and I do not want to hinder them or the preacher.

Here is the commitment I make with a congregation. I will plan and prepare the very best sermon that I can every week. I will try to keep it Biblical, interesting and useful for your life. Your promise is that you will not only attend but try to learn from what I am saying. In other words, I will do my best job of throwing the pass down field. I just need you to try and catch it for this whole thing to work.