This week I have been in email contact with an old ministry colleague. He was once on staff at a Church with me and now he is the preaching minister at a Church in northern Indiana. In our conversation he was venting his frustration about a lady in the Church who continues to stir up dissension among the Christians there.
I have been there and I feel his pain. I will never fully understand why some people are so negative about the Church they attend. They will talk to anyone who will listen to their complaints and issues. Honestly, I believe it is done by people who are desperately longing for attention even if it comes in negative ways.
My interaction with my friend reminded me of a story John Maxwell told in a leadership lesson many years ago. He told about a woman in his Church who was a gossip and a source of division. He and a leader confronted her and asked why she was spreading such awful stories about people. Most of her stories were full on lies or half-truths and she was destroying the church. She said, “I can’t help it, people just tell me these stories and I have to share them.”
After a long silence, John said, “Do you know why people take their trash to the dump?”
She was taken aback and said, “Not really.”
John said, “Because they accept it there.” Then he paused and said, “The day they stop accepting it people will stop going there.”
Then he looked at her and stated plainly, “You need to stop listening to all the trash that people keep telling you. Then you will not have any stories to tell and our Church will smell less like a dump.”
I do not know what happened to that lady. I am not sure what happened at the Church. I do know that every Church struggles with people who spew their negative words tearing down the work of the Lord. This is even truer in a culture with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Blogs. Negative stories, often less than half-true, spread like wild-fire and do more damage than good. The Church suffers and the Lord gets a black eye when we spread gossip and slander our fellow Christians. So the next time a story comes to you, ask yourself, “Am I being Like Christ or the dump in this situation?”
It’s Wednesday morning and the pressure is on. You need to understand that I have a routine to each week of ministry in order for you to understand today. On Monday I do all the busy work of ministry like email, tracking information, mail, banking and whatever the weekend has laid on my desk. Tuesday is for sermon research and building the outline that will hold the structure of the message together. If I am lucky there will be three or four typed pages as a result of my work. Then I sit down in my chair this morning. Today I need to fill out the outline with ideas and illustrations. I need to cut out the distractions and make this sermon 90% ready for Sunday. Thursday will be for an edit, preaching through it and one more edit until Sunday morning.
Today the pressure is on me to get this sermon done. The real pressure is not just getting the sermon finished, it is found in making it great. No preacher sets his goal on having an average sermon on Sunday morning – at least I hope not. Personally, I want every sermon to be a home run. I want people to leave the building chanting “Jesus, Jesus” while drastically altering their life for God. I want each week to be incredibly educational, entertaining and challenging while honoring God’s word.
Unfortunately I have learned through the years that no one can hit a home run every time at bat. In fact, it is that analogy that helps me make it through every Wednesday. Years ago I heard Rick Warren say that his goal was not to get a home run every Sunday but to make contact with the ball and try to get on base. A home run may leave people breathless after the sermon but a series of singles and doubles will keep people moving for God. This simple analogy keeps me sane.
Let me be 100% honest – some sermons are not for you. Sometimes I need to speak the young people, some weeks I need to explain grace to new people, some Sundays I need to challenge the long time pew sitters. Every Sunday I have to focus the sermon toward who God is trying to touch. The Biblical text usually directs this for me. For example, last Sunday the text focused on elders and teachers. I can look at the text from all angles and try to touch everyone, but unfortunately not everyone will feel moved by it. That is just a fact of preaching and the nature of Biblical truth. Some parts are not written for you, but they are written for someone so they need explaining.
Today I will sit here trying to write the best sermon I can possibly write. My goal is that what I write will touch someone who God has been working on through the week. Or maybe God will start a work in someone because of their new understanding of Him. The majority may love it and it will be viewed as a home run or it may be a single and only a handful of people will be moved to greater faith. Either way God is accomplishing his work and I am glad he is using me to be a part of it.
I am doing it today!
I have thought about doing it for weeks, maybe even months. For some reason I never seem to get around to it.
I keep saying, “I will start tomorrow.”
Yesterday was no good and now it is today. A week ago today sounded like it would be good. Now it is here and it will be a lot harder to do it than I thought. I could put it off one more day.
Tomorrow would be easier. Next week would be the ideal time.
If I just intend to do it sometime, that counts for something right?
I have been waiting for the right day to come along.
I guess today is as good of a day as any.
I am doing it today. I am no longer going to lie to myself about it. I am no longer going to try to live on good intentions. I am going to stop putting it off until tomorrow.
Today is the day.
I have had a very similar conversation at least 5 times that I can remember. Each conversation revolved around getting Christians (usually the young people) involved in community service or a mission trip of some sort. In every case people have expressed their desire or the desire of their group was to “live out their faith.” The concept is that people today are tired of hearing the Bible stories at Church and want to get out and do something for God.
I completely understand this longing in the human heart. Faith needs expression. If we just keep filling ourselves with the gospel the end result is overfed Christians with a lot of head knowledge. In fact, I have often stood in front of the Church begging and pleading with people to get up out of their chairs and serve the Lord somewhere.
With each of these conversation I have a growing fear that is manifesting itself to me. This is that people equate serving the Lord as something that is best done as an organized event. We need to have a mission trip for people to share the gospel. We need to have an organized community service project for people to serve in our community. The Church needs to organize something for us to live out our faith.
I want to declare now that I believe that faith is best lived out in unorganized environments. I continually go back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 about the separation of the sheep and the goats. It is a description of those who have done God’s will and those who have not done it. It was pointed out to me that both groups are surprised at their fate. One group says, “When did we not do what you desire?” and the other groups says “when did we do what you desire?” (my paraphrase) Jesus response is that you did these things for me when you served the least of these. Neither group knew they were serving, or were not serving, Jesus. They were simply living out the gospel in their immediate context.
This truth needs to touch each one of us who claim to have faith. Living out the gospel is not something we need an organized event to do. Organized events are helpful in many ways, but they are not the sum total of Christian service. The gospel is alive and active in the way I treat my family, in how I speak to my neighbor, in the way I treat students at school and in a visit to the elderly. There are a thousand little things we do each day that are an opportunity to manifest the gospel in my life. If you are a person of faith you might do these activities as part of your natural existence never realizing you are living out the gospel the way Jesus commanded.
Living out your faith is done in every moment of your life. Today is an opportunity to show the world what you believe in everything you do.
In the world of behavior addictions there is an acronym that is used frequently to help people think through their times of vulnerability. This acronym is H.A.L.T. and the idea is that we can HALT bad decisions by not letting ourselves get too –
H – hungry
A – angry
L – lonely
T – tired
The concept is simple: when you find yourself overly hungry or angry or lonely or tired you will make the worst decisions. This is especially true with addictions whether it be drugs, alcohol, sex or overeating. I think it applies to almost all poor decisions.
I was thinking about this today as my children go back to school. The changes in schedule will often lead to at least three of these if not all four. You need to be aware of this in your children. You need to be aware of it in yourself.
There is always so little time compared to the amount of work that needs to be done. Everyone wants a little piece of our time. Each of us must make decisions about what we will do and will not do with our time. I have been thinking about this a great deal lately and have come up with three vital questions about the actions I do.
1. Will this action have an immediate impact? Some decisions are easy for me to make as I can see an immediate result. Should I tell my family that I love them or that I am sorry or any host of other words? Of course I should.
2. Will this action have a long-term result? This is where it begins to get a little more tricky. Exercise might not have an impact today, but done over years it will change my health. Bible reading has little impact the moment I read it, but in the long-term it can give me perspective, hope and grace.
3. Will this action matter in eternity? This is what the Bible, and especially the teachings of Jesus, are so good at doing. It takes your life and pushes your actions up against the final judgment of God. Matthew chapter 24-25 contain much of this type of teaching. It might only seem like a cup of cold water given in Jesus name, but it can have eternal rewards. When God looks at the actions of my life will they reflect my faith?
These types of questions have helped me to decide what to do and what not to do. For example, I no longer care about my yard. I mow it so that it will look okay, but I no longer fertilize it or spray weed control. Clothes don’t matter, paint doesn’t matter, and a long list of other things we give ourselves to don’t matter either. On the flip side, even though I am an introvert, I willingly invite people into my home because it makes me a better person and builds a stronger congregation that will have an impact for eternity. These questions can help clarify our actions.
I keep asking myself these big questions so that my life will be abundant and full of meaningful things. I still have a long way to go, but its a start.