Lots of great reading around the web lately. Enjoy
Finally – I do not usually enjoy articles about current social issues, but I thought this was incredibly perceptive.
Lots of great reading around the web lately. Enjoy
Finally – I do not usually enjoy articles about current social issues, but I thought this was incredibly perceptive.
I had an illustration that I wanted to use yesterday in my sermon but it didn’t quite fit. I thought I would share it today for your enjoyment.
It is an obituary that appeared in a Church newsletter –
I know that all of you were saddened to learn this week of the death of one of our church’s most valuable members — Someone Else.
Someone’s passing created a vacancy that will be difficult to fill. Else has been with us for many years, and for every one of those years, Someone did far more than the normal person’s share of the work. Whenever leadership was mentioned, this wonderful person was looked to for inspiration as well as results. Someone Else can work with that group. Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or a meeting to attend, one name was on everyone’s lips, “Let Someone Else do it.” It was common knowledge that Someone Else was among the largest givers in the church. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone just assumed that Someone Else would make up the difference.
Someone Else was a wonderful person, sometimes appearing super-human, but a person can only do so much. Were the truth known, everyone expected too much of Someone Else. Now Someone Else is gone. We wonder what we are going to do. Someone Else left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to follow it? Who is going to do the things Someone Else did? Remember, we can’t depend on Someone Else anymore.
– Author Unknown
I often ask myself, “Why do some people grow in their faith when others do not?” One person accepts Jesus as their Savior and begins to grow and mature into a wonderful Godly person. The other person accepts Jesus as their Savior and remains at the same level of faith for years with no signs of growth or maturity. Is the difference the person or the circumstances that surround them? This question leads me to analyze my own life. What has helped me the most to grow as a believer in my faith? I think I have four solid answers.
1. Listening to Sermons – I know this is not at the top of everyone’s list, but it has been huge for me. Through the years I have listened to thousands of sermons and now iTunes help feed the hunger. I love hearing the Bible explained, listening to various points of application and the stories of life all intermixed. Honestly, even poor sermons give me the chance to hear scripture proclaimed and teach me something about my faith. It is rare that I walk away completely empty and I remind myself that one gallon of gas will get me further down the road of faith than nothing.
2. Spending Time With Other Christians – I love spending time with other people of faith, especially those who have experienced life yet remain grounded in their beliefs. I learn from their words, their attitudes and their actions. Much of my faith has been molded by people God has used to say the right word at the right time. Rarely did they know what was happening, but in reflection their life changed me.
3. Serving Other People – Nothing pushes people to grow like serving. It moves us beyond ourselves and into the lives of others. It demands that we learn in order to teach others. It gives me the opportunity to test my faith when I would rather hide. Even when it feels like I have failed miserably God does things that I had never imagined. Serving is an opportunity for growth in me and through me.
4. Decisive Moments – There have been moments that I heard or saw something that radically changed my views. Sometimes this comes through a sermon. Sometimes it comes through conversation. I have never known when or where these moments were going to strike, but they always come unexpectedly. In those moments I have made decisions that were life altering. Through my life I have decided to go to Bible college, I have lost a best friend, a started preaching, worked with a new Church and a dozen other moments have come that God used to direct my life to new levels of faith.
So that’s my list. I know there are other small things I could add to it but these are the big ones. What would be on your list? Is there anything you would add or change?
Here is the funny part about all of these. All of them can be found in Church every Sunday morning. Yes, they can be found outside of Church too. But all of them are offered every week to anyone who wants to grow. Real growth happens not when we do some big event, it usually happens through the weekly grind of the ordinary.
One of the Bible verses that I repeat to myself regularly is in the letter from the Apostle Paul to his young friend and evangelist Timothy.
1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV) Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The first words are what captures my attention. Watch your LIFE and DOCTRINE closely.
Doctrine reflects what we believe. The main idea is to hold on to a faith that has a deep understanding. We have read the Bible, studied its meaning and drawn some big conclusions about God.
Life is a description of how we live. The main idea is that the faith that is in our head is seen in our actions. It is one thing to say I know the right things and it is quite another to do them.
Paul tells Timothy to watch is life AND his doctrine closely. We must continually be examining both areas of our lives. The tendency for many of us is to focus on one aspect of faith. As a result, we have people with vast knowledge who do nothing with it or we have people doing great actions but have no real understanding of why they are doing them. We have people in the Church who only want to sit in class and be fed and we have people who are always active in their faith with little knowledge. Paul tells Timothy that both are needed. Doctrine not being lived out is worthless and action without doctrine is social care.
A Christian in someone who has a knowledge of what God’s word teaches and is trying to live out all they are learning. Watch both sides carefully.
My upcoming sermon series will start in July and it will focus on the age of the kings during the Old Testament. The first sermon is about the life of King Solomon – so I have been thinking a lot about him lately. To me he is one of the most tragic characters in the Old Testament. If you know his story, then you know he starts out in greatness. He asks God for wisdom and he is given more than any other man in history. He knows right and wrong spiritually, personally and logically. As a result he grows in wealth and power beyond any other individual in all of history. That part of his story you may know. He is the writer of the Biblical books of Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and much of the Proverbs. His name is synonymous with wisdom and wealth.
The rest of Solomon’s story is a sad tale that many people do not know. In an effort to bring peace with other nations Solomon married many women from all over the world. Over time they being to sway his heart. His marriages violated the will of God and in an effort to keep his wives happy he brings idolatry into Israel. It is not that he rejects the God of the Bible but it is that he tries to add other gods beside him. While trying to serve God he compromises his integrity by also serving idols just to make other people happy. His life ends with one compromise after another and God decides to take the kingdom away from his children. The final result is that the glory and blessing Solomon experience will not be felt by his children, grandchildren and generations after them.
To me this is one of the saddest Bible stories and it is also the most applicable to us. There is always the temptation to try to add something to the worship of God. Maybe it is the worship of stuff, the idolization of our children, the lure of sin or a dozen other possible compromises. To compromise our faith in God is always a greater temptation than the rejection of God. While it affect us, the most tragic side effects are not felt in our life, but they ripple out into the future generations.
King David, Solomon’s father, prayed in the Psalms (86:11) for God to give him an undivided heart. That would have been a wise prayer for Solomon to pray. As I look around the Church I think it would be a good prayer for everyone. When I look into my own heart I realize it is good for me too.
Here are my collection of blog posts from the last couple weeks that are well worth reading.
Rarely does a week go by that someone does not call the Church or stop by asking for financial assistance. Every time it happens I am filled with a mixed bag of emotions. I want to help people. I also do not want people to take advantage of Christian’s good nature. We are called to be both innocent and wise.
What I mean is, “Will this gift of financial help be used wisely or be wasted on some less that Godly endevour?” That is the tension I constantly feel.
Several years ago I was struggling with this issue and it led me into a conversation with an associate minister of mine. I told him my concerns and then he echoes my feelings. Finally he said something that I will never forget. He said, “We are responsible to God to give of our resources and they will be held accountable for what they did with it.”
This one line has helped me to be a more giving person. I try (emphasize try) to be a giving person not based on my thoughts about the person receiving. My giving is connected solely to my faith in God. The person receiving also has responsibility, but that is between them and God.
While metal detecting over the last several weeks here in Western Missouri the ground has been full of Periodical Cicadas. They are also called the 17 year Cicada because they only emerge every 17 years. They look different that the annual Cicada and have a black body with orange markings and red eyes. For just a few weeks every 17 years these little creatures crawl out of the ground and sing their mating songs. Scientists tell us, “As temperatures warm in late April, immature cicadas (nymphs) open up 1/2-inch-wide holes in the soil surface. They may build 3- to 5-inch-tall mud chimneys or towers above their holes. In early May, the cicada nymphs, brown and wingless, emerge from the soil, climb up on tree trunks or other objects, and shed their exoskeletons, leaving the shell-like ‘skins’ behind. Adult males will begin their noisy singing a few days after shedding their exoskeleton and expanding their new wings. After mating, females cut slits in pencil-sized tree twigs and deposit their eggs there. Finally, eggs hatch in six to 10 weeks, and the tiny cicada offspring return to the safety of underground burrows, where they feed on roots until they mature and stage the next mass emergence.”
There are a number of broods of 17 (and 13 year) Cicadas in the United States. Thus, they appear more than every 17 years as different broods are appearing at varying intervals. According to the start of Missouri website the next brood will appear here in 2024. I know, you can hardly wait.
These little creatures have me thinking several thoughts about the wonder and intricacies of God’s creation. They have me perplexed that it happens every 17 years (Why not 5 or 10 or 15?). They amaze me at their mass number. But most of all they have me thinking about consistency. In the ground they move very little. They suck on tree sap and get bigger and bigger until the day comes that they finally emerge. 17 years of slow and steady growth until they mate and reproduce. Two adults after mating produce up to 500 eggs in 40 to 50 spots over a tiny little lifespan.
For me, it’s all a metaphor of the Christian life. Following Jesus is about slow and steady growth over a long period of time. That growth is not an end unto itself. Our growth is to one day result in the reproduction of dozens of other people into faith. What would the Church be like if every Christian produced at least one new believer every seventeen years? What if it only took 13 years? What if it happened annually? God’s kingdom is a lot like a 17 year Cicada – It is a long-term commitment that should lead to periodic seasons of growth.
I believe the number one guide in my life is God’s will. I also believe that God revealed his ultimate will in His word, the scripture. I firmly believe that the Bible reveals all we need for faith and its practice in everyday life.
With that said, there are a few thoughts or quotes that are not found in the Bible that inspire me. One of the greatest statements outside of scripture is from the words of Helen Keller.
“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller
I first heard this statement many years ago and it lodged itself in my brain. I am not sure why it so ingrained in my thinking. Maybe it comes from my background or maybe it is because of the background of the woman who said it. Whatever the reason, it goes through my mind about everyday.
When I think about sitting on my couch and watching TV all evening or driving several miles to go on a fishing trip, it crosses my mind. When I think about what I want to do on my day off, it crosses my mind. When I think about taking on a daring new ministry, it crosses my mind. When I think about my life in general, it crosses my mind.
This simple concept has led me on mission trips, cross-country moves and to evenings of great fun. In fact, it is such a part of my thinking that I ask my kids if they “are ready for an adventure” when I am making plans for the family.
Each day we have the choice to sit around and just quietly accept the moment or we have the opportunity to do something new and exciting. Adventure or nothing? The choice is yours.
As believers we are encouraged to pray regularly. All of us know that. Not everyone does it. Almost everyone tries to do it, but unfortunately many quit. People usually quit for one of hand full of reasons. Most of them have an easy solution that you may not have tried yet. So hopefully these will help.
1. Have a regular time to pray. Finding time to pray is the biggest obstacle. For me, the solution was to pray at the same time everyday. It has become a part of my routine. When I first hit the office I stop and pray. It might be the first thing you do everyday or the last thing. Make a routine change and add time for prayer. In 21-28 days it will be a habit.
2. Pray when the idea hits you. I encourage people who are on an email prayer list to pray the moment the request hits their screen. Nothing says you have to pray for a long time and it might be more helpful to pray many times. If you wait for the end of the day until you have a big list it might be harder to stick with your prayer time. I once read of a group who committed to praying when they heard their clock sound off every hour.
3. Develop a prayer plan. There are a thousand ways to approach prayer. I try to use the ACTS method. That is Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (requests). I know other people who have prayed starting with themselves and moving outward to family and then to their Church and then further outward. Some people have different prayers for each day of the week – Monday is for family, Tuesday is for the Church, etc. I recently downloaded a prayer App that I have not used yet, but it is another method to help guide our prayers. Finding a regular plan will help you to have a more consistent prayer life.
4. Pray out loud. Great preacher of old, Don Dewelt, suggested that Jesus prayed out loud. That is why the disciples were able to write down many of his prayers. We use this tool in public settings, but when we get in private we drift into the quietness of the mind. Then we get easily distracted or tired. Soon sleep takes over or we begin planning some other activity. Being vocal keeps you focused, but you need to find a private place for obvious reasons. Another way this might work itself out is to write out your prayers. It is a way to vocalize your ideas without your voice.
5. Let distractions be your guide. One of the biggest helpful tips I have ever received was to let distractions help guide your prayers. This preacher suggested that those things that enter our mind to distract us might be our brain making prayer suggestions. So if you are praying and you start thinking about the meal you have to fix. Then pray about that meal, pray for the people who will eat it, thank God for the gift of food and his blessing. That idea of your upcoming vacation keeps interrupting your prayers then pray about safety, family, finances and all the rest you hope to get while reconnecting with your family. If you brain keeps drifting to some issue, then take the time to pray about it.
These are some of the small concepts that have helped me to increase my prayer life. I am still not a great person of prayer, but I am better than I was 10 years ago and I hope in 10 years I will be even better. I hope you are too.