If you live near Adrian Missouri – this applies to you on Feb 28th going into March 1
Jim Smith went to church one Sunday morning. He heard the musicians miss a note during the worship and winced. He saw a teenager talking when everybody was supposed to be bowed in silent prayer. He felt the usher was watching to see what he put in the offering plate, and it made his blood boil. He caught five grammatical errors in the sermon by actual count. As he slipped out through the side door immediately after the closing song, he muttered to himself, “this Church is just not for me.”
Ron Jones went to church one Sunday morning. He heard the musicians play a beautiful arrangement of “It is Well With My Soul” and thrilled to God’s majesty. He overheard a young girl speak of the difference faith makes in her life. He was glad to see his church was sharing in a special offering for the hungry children of Africa. He especially appreciated the sermon that Sunday – it answered a question that had bothered him for a long time. He thought, “How can anyone enter this place and not feel the presence of God?”
Both went to the same church on the same Sunday morning. Each found what he was looking for. What will you find this Sunday?
Jesus will often say a line after telling a parable that I didn’t understand for a long time. He will frequently say “He who has ears, let him hear.” All of us have ears, so what kind of statement is that?
Throughout my life those words of Jesus become clearer and clearer in my understanding. One of the things that has helped my understanding is coaching youth basketball. Twice a week I have practice for an hour and half with a sixth grade “B” team. I have 9 boys who come to practice and all of them have limited skills. Some of the issue is simply body development such as boys who haven’t grown yet along boys who have grown but are not used to their adult bodies. As a result, we spend a lot of time just trying to develop basic skills for basketball. I quickly noticed the boys fall into two very distinct groups. One group is the boys who really want to learn. They have a strong desire to learn the game and improve their skills. They listen closely and work hard at every drill we do. The second group of boys are the opposite. They usually come to practice late and give a half effort most of the time. The are always talking and never listen close. They have no desire to improve they just want to have fun in the moment.
Watching these boys reminds me of many of the people who attend Church or call themselves a Christian. There are two distinct groups of people who I encounter. One group wants to learn and grow and the other group are living in the moment and don’t really think about growth. Jesus describes the two groups as those who listen and grow and those who really are not listening. Some people have the desire to grow and some people simply do not.
So which group are you in?
If you are the group that really has a desire to grow and change then I have good news for you. Today there are a thousand things to help you out. You can do Google search or look up a podcast or attend a conference or find a group or get the help you need. A little searching and hard work and you can find the help you want to get you growing.
If you are in the second group I really have no idea what to do with you. I am not sure how to get you motivated any more than I can get those boys motivated. This season I have been calm and friendly to encourage them. I have threatened them with no play and extra running. I have shouted and yelled. I have drown outlines on a white board while explaining every possible step. And yet I still have boys who don’t care about getting better as a player.
Let me make this real simple. We need to honestly evaluate who we are as followers of Jesus. But as people of faith we need to honestly evaluate the people around us. What type of people are you investing your time in? What type of people are you surrounding yourself with? Are they pushing you to grow as a believer? Are you pushing them to grow in their faith?
You will only become what you desire to become. So what do you desire?
If I sat down with you and began to grill you with questions I bet you can tell me at least one major flaw in your life. You can tell me about a sin you have struggled with for years. You can tell me situations that bring out the very worst in you.
I know it is true for me. I have a sin that I have fought for years and know I will fight into the future, probably to the grave. I have situations that make me act like someone I am not proud of. (No, I am not going to tell you any of these!) I know they exist and I carry this baggage with me everyday. I often think of the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Rome. Romans 7:15-17 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (16) And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. (17) As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”
I know I have this sin living in me. It is like an evil seed in my soul that can sprout and bring the weeds of sin and guilt at any time. My question is what can I do about it?
Here is my short list of dealing with sin I know about in my life.
1. Avoid Bad Situations – All of us have “triggers” that set us off. These need to be avoided at all costs. Don’t go to a place that serves alcohol. Don’t be alone with a member of the opposite sex. Don’t be at home alone with the internet. Don’t attend functions that make you angry. Don’t watch movies with scenes that affect your soul negatively. Don’t put yourself in situations that will make you compromise your integrity.
2. Avoid Negative Influences – All of us have people who are the “triggers” in our life. These often need to be avoided. This is tough but a vital part of protecting our soul. Recently a woman described to me how her husband acts around his friends. He claims to be a Christian but when he is around his non-Christian friends he degrades women and they will look at a pornographic material. I simply told her, “He needs new friends.” Don’t visit with the lady that gossips. Don’t spend your free time with people who tear you down.
3. Find Someone to Support You – I have rarely seen someone beat sin alone. Usually we need someone to encourage us on this journey. Someone to hold us accountable. Someone to pray for us. Someone to challenge us and cheer us on. Each one of us needs a “sponsor” to help us with the struggles of sin.
4. Pray for Help – I take a few minutes everyday to ask God to help me with my struggles. I ask Him to forgive me, but I also ask Him to give me strength to make the right decisions or to walk the right path. The Lord’s prayer says “Lead us not into temptation.” A better translation is to “lead us away from temptation.” I need the Lord’s help through His presence in the Holy Spirit and strength in my soul to make the right decisions.
This is my short list of things I am trying to do to overcome in my struggle with sin. I am sure none of this is new information to you if you have been a believer for very long. In fact, I bet you have heard something similar dozens of times. Here is the hard reality many of us find ourselves wrapped up in – we know the problems in our lives and we know what to do to avoid them. We know both sides of the equation. The problem is that we don’t do the right thing we know to do. So my prayer for your today, and for me, is that you would have the courage and strength to do the one thing that helps us overcome our struggles. I know you can do it!
An executive friend of mine once told me that their company did what they called a “360 degree evaluation” on an annual basis. The concept was a simple three-step process. First, you fill out a self-evaluation of your work, work environment and productivity. Then the company would take a similar evaluation form to your supervisor. They would have your boss evaluate your work, work environment and productivity. Finally, the company would take an evaluation form to someone that you supervise and ask them the same questions.
He went on to explain to me that there was usually a big difference between our self-evaluation and the evaluation of others. This difference often ran in one of two directions. First, several workers were extremely critical of themselves. They wrote of their lack of knowledge, their strained environment and low productivity compared to what they could (or should) be doing. This thinking often did not line up with what those around them vocalized. There was a huge gap between how they saw themselves and how those around them viewed their work.
The other direction this could go is obvious. Numerous workers evaluated themselves very well. They were working hard, a joy to be around and productivity could not be better. Then when the supervisor and the supervised were asked the same questions they had a totally opposite description. There was this huge gap between how they saw themselves and how those around them viewed their work.
What brought this conversation up with this executive was the simple question of, “How is your week going?” He then launched into a 20 minute breakdown of all that was happening and how stressful it was to everyone. He told me that it was a difficult to find out the real truth about anyone. It was a process that he would rather avoid no matter how helpful.
I have never forgotten that conversation. In fact, I am reminded of it every time I do any counseling. A couple comes in and sits down to talk. She thinks their marriage is a train wreck and he can’t see anything wrong. The other thing that happens is that both people see their marriage as a train wreck but they completely disagree on why it is that way. She says its his fault and he says it is her fault. It can be really difficult to find out the truth about anyone. Within just the last week I have had a couple of people describe desperate situations in which the other person saw no problems.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that self evaluations can be very flawed and yet most of us live out everyday in light of our own thoughts alone. If I really want to know about myself I often need to ask some other people. Of course these need to be solid Christian people I trust for it to be helpful. Do you have the courage to ask your parents if you are a good child? Do you have the courage to ask your spouse if you are truly a good spouse? Do you have the courage to ask your children about your parenting? Do you have that courage to ask your co-workers if you are a good Christian example? What about other Church members? Your pastor? Your neighbor? Anyone?
There is this possibility that I may have some areas I have been avoiding that need real work. There is also this possibility that I am being to hard on myself. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between. One thing I know for certain, don’t trust yourself alone seek the input of others. In the long run, you will be glad you did.
Sunday I sat in the audience singing along with worship just like everyone else. The only difference was that I had helped to pick out the songs we were singing together. Many weeks I try to write my sermon and then pick out songs that might tie to it. Then I send those off to the ladies who lead to put everything together for worship. Some weeks things fit together nicely by simple design and some weeks do not fit together no matter how hard I try. This week I picked out some songs that might fit and hoped for the best. On Sunday as I stood there singing I really focused in on the lyrics and noticed how much connected to my sermon. In fact, a few of the lines were written down in my sermon without me even thinking about it. I was truly amazed at how well everything tied together.
I should not be surprised, God had done the same type of thing twice through the week. First, I was looking for an opening video and I ran across a couple I liked. One of them caught my attention and I thought it might fit in nicely. It was “I Still Believe” by Jeremy Camp. As I listened to the words I wondered if there was a story behind the song. After a Google search, I was shocked to read about the death of his first wife and his struggle to remain faithful. In one quick moment I not only had the opening video but a powerful illustration for my sermon. Second, I was thinking about the best way to end my sermon and a possible illustration. That very morning I opened up my blog reader called feedly and saw a review of a book by J.I. Packer that was about aging and ministry. I clicked a couple of links and there I read about 88-year-old Packer telling people to continue their ministry even in their old age. It was a perfect fit for my sermon.
Why do I tell you all of this? Let me be 100% clear, it is not because I want you to think I am brilliant in my planning. I tell you this because I am amazed at all the little ways that God shows up each and every week. Somehow each week God shows up and gives me the right illustration, He leads us to pick out the right song or puts together some small connection that I could never have imagined on my own. After my 22 years of preaching God has never ceased to amaze me. People stop me after the program and tell me how God touched their life that day or how that was exactly they needed to hear. I wish I could take credit for being the most inspiring preacher to ever speak, but I know that is far from the truth. I plan and I pray and God takes the pieces and puts them all together in a powerful way.
All this leaves me convinced that God can do that with anything. He can take your simple everyday actions and touch someone’s life. He can take your unplanned words and use them for His plan. He can take a song on the radio and speak to my heart. He can take a scene in a movie and touch us all in a deep and dramatic way. I truly believe it is possible for God to be present in all of the small stuff of our lives.
To God be the Glory.
“I wish I were honest enough to admit all my shortcomings;
brilliant enough to accept flattery without it making me arrogant;
tall enough to tower above deceit;
strong enough to treasure love;
brave enough to welcome criticism;
compassionate enough to understand human frailties;
wise enough to recognize my mistakes;
humble enough to appreciate greatness;
staunch enough to stand by my friends;
human enough to be thoughtful of my neighbor,
and righteous enough to be devoted to the love of God.”
– Gordon H. Taggart
The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. Scholars have tried for centuries to take those foreign languages and translate the Bible into English. Some versions have focused on literal translating, some on concept translating, some on ease of reading and others on poetic language. Each one has its place, but it makes the world of Bible reading very confusing. My first Bible was a King James Version translation of the Bible. When I was 9, shortly after my baptism I was given a New American Standard translation of the Bible. When I got to Bible College most of my professors used the New International Version of the Bible and one old professor would not accept anything other than the Revised Standard Version. When I became a minister I started collecting different Bible versions and now my shelves are full of dozens of other translations. As a result I cannot quote most Bible verses from one translation. I slip from KJV to NAS and finally into NIV or some other translation within a sentence or two. Most of the time it does not matter because the concept is in tact but a few times the translation makes a different.
One example is one of my favorite Bible verses – Romans 8:28. I originally read it in my King James Version Bible where it says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” The emphasis is two-fold. People who love God, like me, will have things work together for good. There is my love for God and the good results of that love.
Later in life I read it in the New International Version and it said something a little different, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Here the emphasis is a placed not on me but one God. In all things God works … The object is still the people who love God, like me, but the action is done differently.
The difference is subtle but important. The old verse implies that things are working for good and in the new translation the emphasis is on God’s work IN all things. Things are not working for our good – God is! All kinds of bad things can happen to people even those who love God. It is one of the difficult realities of life especially a life of faith. The good news is that God has not left us at those times. Instead, God will take those bad things and turn them into something good. In tough times – faith will grow, love will be shared, people will learn of grace, and God’s kingdom will grow numerically and spiritually. Some good will come from bad times.
So today as I hit my knees in prayer I claim this verse again. People I know and love are struggling and going through difficult times and I am asking God to be in those moments. I ask him to somehow take the negative circumstances in life and turn them into something good. His word says He will. Today I am glad for that promise.
Over the past several months I have read numerous articles that described “the best advice I have ever received” or “the one event that changed my life.” I really enjoy reading these types of articles mainly because they remind me of what could happen at any given moment in the Church. This Sunday God could use something I say (or you say) to touch the life of someone in a way I could never imagine. Years from now they will stand up and tell how one Sunday morning they heard an overweight, balding preacher say something that altered the course of their life. Amazing.
The sad part of these articles for me is that I feel like my life is devoid of very many of these events. Honestly, I have received good advice, but I cannot really think of any life changing advice. I can only think of 3 decisions that altered the course of my life. One decision to be a Christian, one to stay in Bible college and one to get married. That is my entire list of life altering decisions. Now, that is not to say I have not had some life altering situations thrust upon me. My life has been changed by death, the poor decisions of others and other situations beyond my control. When I think about it there are very few life changing, course altering, defining moments of my own choice that have shaped my life.
Rather, my life has been shaped more by the simple decisions I make every day. Take today for example. Today I held my wife for a few moments when I wanted to go back to sleep. Then a got ready for the day. Instead of watching TV I decided to go into my sons room and lie on his bed and talk. I tried to encourage and coach him through sports and ultimately life. Then I decided to eat a couple of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of chocolate milk – a decision this is not helping me physically. Then off to work where I started my day with a short prayer and time listening to the Bible. I am now halfway through the entire Bible which excites me, but I feel my prayer life is flat and needs some work. I know I need to do something to change it and make it better, but what decision will I have to make to do that? Next I read blogs. I wanted to skim but today I read a few article about pastors. pastor’s wives, and pastor’s families. I was glad I made that decision. Finally, I tried to focus in and write this article. I wanted to go find more cookies but decided I needed write something. After 15 minutes of procrastinating I came up with this idea for my blog and now I am writing.
All of those decisions seem so small. You might have gotten bored just reading it. It is not the type of story that makes your hair stand up and tingle with excitement. These are the daily decisions of life. And yet, my relationships with my wife is getting stronger, I pray my son(s) have a great father, I am slowly growing in my prayer life, I am going to get through the Bible again in a year and a half plus I am on my way to post another 250 blogs that over 1000 people will read. The end result would not be possible without the little decisions along that way.
I want my life and ministry to be about dramatic life change but I find it is more about daily cheer leading. Each week I cheer people on to continue making daily decisions for God. Then in 20 years or more they will look back and see how far those little decisions have taken them. Maybe how far they have taken you.
So today I want to cheer you on. Contact your spouse right now and tell them you love them. Contact your kids and tell them you are proud of them. Take two minutes to pray. Find 5 minutes to read just one small part of your Bible (look it up online if you need to). Write something. Read something. Say something. Tell someone. Make that little decision to do that one thing. The cumulative effect of that will be felt over a lifetime.
Through the years I have been witness to God doing some amazing things in local Churches. I have had the tremendous privileged of baptizing hundreds of adults and youth as God continued to add to his kingdom. I have led Churches to double in size or even get started strong from just a handful. I take credit for nothing that has ever happened in my ministry that was good but I have helped a few things go wrong. (But that is another post for another day). I view myself as a tour guide on an Alaskan cruise, there is a lot of truly amazing and beautiful things that we get to see God do and I am just here to point it out and tell you about it. For example, since I have been in Adrian there have been 18 baptisms if you count the CIY group and there have already been 5 this year. I had nothing to do with any of these, God just allowed me to be here to witness the growth of His kingdom.
Through all these years of growth numerically in the Church I have noticed a predictable pattern. First, people are really excited. They go home each week praising God and happy to see all the new faces. Usually this is accompanied by a sense of relief for some Churches. In a couple of the Churches I served there was a real question if the Church was going to make it or if it was going to have to close. New people mean new givers and new givers mean the Church will stay open. The flip side of this reality is there is a substantial drop in people serving. This seems counter intuitive but it happens every time. When new people come in to the Church, the people who have been carrying the weight of ministry for a while want a break. Unfortunately most new people are not really ready to serve for a year, especially if they are a new convert, and this leaves a gap between current ministry workers stepping down before new ones step up.
The primary second emotion of growth is … ANGER. With the growth of a Church people are happy and excited at first, but soon it leads to anger. That’s right – anger. Why? There is quite a list actually:
-The parking lot is full (or people are in “my” space).
-The Church building is dirtier. More people make a bigger mess.
-People are smoking outside the building.
-Someone said a foul word. (Don’t be surprised when non-Christians act like non-Christians)
-The auditorium is full (or someone took “my” chair/row).
-Someone brought a drink in the auditorium and spilled it.
-Ministry demands are greater. (2 kids in the nursery was fine, but now there are 8)
-I don’t know everybody.
-The teens don’t clean up after themselves.
-Two services will create two Churches.
-Events are now geared differently toward younger people.
-The worship is changing.
-No one has been to visit me lately (especially the pastor).
-The lobby is too full.
-I can no longer talk to the pastor before/after Church for long periods of time.
*I could go on and on and on.
If left unchecked this anger can lead to gossiping, slander, back biting, false accusations and the destruction of what God is trying to do. I have seen it over and over. The Church begins to grow and the people who were once excited and even relieved to see it happen are now inadvertently trying to stop it. So here are my simple suggestions for any Church member or attendee who is starting to see their Church grow.
1. See the good God is doing and focus on that.
2. Understand that to fulfill the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20) the whole Church needs to work together.
3. Pray before you speak anything negative.
4. Remember the joy and excitement you feel now – and never forget it.
“Thank you God for seeing new people added to your kingdom. May the future hold many, many more.”