Sunday Perspective

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?

Your Desire

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?

I Know

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!

Self-Evaluation

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.

God in the Small Stuff

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 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