Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles I have read over the last several weeks. Some really good stuff. Enjoy

What the Church taught me about being fat.

4 ways to undermine your Christian witness on social media

20 NEW Politically Incorrect Thoughts on Church in America – Great thoughts for anyone in Church, especially leadership.

10 Signs the Christian Authors You’re Following are (Subtly) Teaching Unbiblical Ideas – Great stuff. Longer article but worth thinking through.

8 Predictions about the future of sex, gender, and marriage in American – Some interesting things to think about.

Confessions of a Reluctant Complementarian

More good stuff from business guru Seth Godin. Short and profound.

Today is the best day

We learn as we go

The Motivations that Drive My Ministry

Our Church community is getting bigger. It is a great blessing from the Lord to see so many people coming to our weekly gatherings. The hard side of this reality is that the bigger a Church becomes, the more focused the pastor must be in his job. I find myself asking questions like, “What are the primary activities I am gifted to do?”

This week I have been thinking about this very specifically as I plan for 2019. Here are what I see as the primary motivations in my ministry.

1. I want all people to know Jesus as their Savior.
By far my greatest motivation is for people to come to a saving relationship with Jesus. I preach the message of the cross. I explain the grace of Jesus. I do everything I can to bring people to Jesus.

2. I want people to become spiritually mature.
Once you make Jesus your Savior, the journey is just beginning. God calls us to live with Jesus as the Lord of our lives. We are to grow in our faith until we become Christlike in our behavior. I encourage people to read their Bible, learn what it means and apply it to their life in every way. I want to help people grow in their faith.

3. I want people to connect with other believers.
Faith is a journey, and we are not to travel alone. God wants us to be surrounded by people who will encourage us, challenge us, and teach us. The Church is not a place where we come to worship God; it is a group of people who worship God coming together for connection in the name of Jesus. I want to facilitate ways for people to bond on a deeper level.

4. I want people to find a second chance in Jesus.
The people who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and come together as a Church are bound to make mistakes and fall short of the faith they proclaim. Christians are a bunch of hypocritical sinners. That fact can push us away from faith or draw us closer to him as our only hope. I want people to know the grace that saves us again and again.

These are not an exhaustive list of the motivations for ministry. These are just the ones I feel called to in my work for Jesus. Other pastors focus their attention in other areas ranging from social justice to working with the needy to prison ministry to defending our faith. Those are also noble causes, but those are not the areas God has gifted me to serve. These are my areas of ministry. I pray he brings people around me who can help us to be a complete body of Christ.

Now, let me ask you some questions, “What are your specific areas of ministry, in what ways has God gifted you to serve his kingdom, and what moves and motivates you as you serve him?”

Knowing the answers to those questions will help you to say “no” to things that are a distraction and “yes” to things that will make an impact for eternity.

Sometimes You Have to Hit the Delete Button

The post was finished. The idea was good. The lines of text almost wrote themselves. Then I went back and read what I had written. I sat for a few minutes reflecting on the words before I posted my blog. Finally, I did it. I took my mouse and dragged the cursor over the text and hit the delete button.

At first, there was sadness that swept over me. I had spent over a half hour typing and pouring my emotions into every line. The words were true, and the concept was clear. All of that was gone.

The single problem with my words was glaringly obvious. It was written out of anger and frustration. My emotions had overtaken me, and instead of making a phone call or having a private conversation, I was going to use my blog as a weapon. People would know I was justified by my self-righteous tone of condemnation.

Even though I am sure I was right, this was not the format to address it. The Bible encourages us to confront the people who oppose us face to face. Jesus said if you know someone has something against you then you should go to that person.

We live in an age when social media in all its forms allows us to shout our disapproval of others on every corner of the internet. Frequently I find myself typing things and then pausing to hit delete. If you are at odds with someone else, the Christian thing to do it confront that person in a kind and loving way. I hope that before you post that negative comment or send that angry email, take the time to use the delete button.

My Prayer for the Sermon

The look on their face told me what they were thinking. I had seen that look dozens of times before while I was preaching. Some people have been bold enough to confront me about it. They thought I was preaching at them or about them.

The sermon hit home in a way they hadn’t planned when they headed out to Church that morning. It was on a topic in which they were struggling or knew they needed to change. It seemed too personal to have happened any way other than deliberate planning.

At this point, I usually need to explain my sermon methodology to them. Over a year ago I spent time in prayer and discussion and came up with my annual sermon plan. Right now, most sermons have a title, topic and possibly a text until December 2019. That is almost a year and a half into the future. This helps me to touch on a wide variety of topics and prohibits me from giving stump speeches on hot topics every week.

Next, as each series approaches, I begin to fill in additional scriptures, articles, and illustrations. For example, the whole series I am working on now has a text, a general topic, and specific application. Then my next series in about one-third planned before I ever set down to write a single sermon. Most of the primary material is put together a month or more before the speaking date.

Third, I take Sunday night through Tuesday morning to write the final draft of the sermon. I then let it “rest” until Sunday morning when I preach through it and make any last-minute adjustments that I feel God leading me to make. Sometimes I will add in current events, immediate illustrations and application for relevance. Most of the sermon to this point has been guided by two questions. One, what does the Bible say about this text or topic? Two, what do all Christians need to hear about this concept? How can I apply it to this place and time to people who want to follow Jesus? At this point, I rarely have thought much about the people in my congregations specifically.

The final part of my sermon is prayer. This is where things begin to happen. I ask God to do two things every week. First, I want my words to be clear. God use me despite my sins and shortcomings. I implore him to take my words and fill them with his Spirit as I deliver them on Sunday. My second prayer is very specific. I ask God to bring in the people who need to hear this message. I plead with God to fill this building with people whose heart he can touch through my words.

I have no idea who will show up on Sunday. Nowadays many people only come once or twice a month and some it is far less frequent than that. I had no clue that you would be here on Sunday, but God did. He showed up and used my words to encourage, confront, challenge or do whatever he needed to do in your life. I do not believe it is a random chance that you came the Sunday I spoke that sermon. I believe God brought you here this day to instruct you in some way. Don’t be mad at me, God is the one who is putting all this together.

Living With Judgment in View

Jesus frequently pushes our actions up against the final judgment of all of humanity. His parables are full of this type of thinking. He talks about wheat and weeds growing together that will be separated at the harvest, along with sheep and goats, good fish and bad fish, and those who bear good fruit and bad fruit.

Jesus lives and teaches with eternity in sight. He continually pushes us up against the judgment of God and forces us to ask ourselves, “Will my decisions and actions today make a difference on that day?”

All of us tend to live with only the road ahead of us in mind. We see only through the front glass of our lives the things that lie immediately ahead. Jesus wants us to think about destinations. Where is our life headed? What will be the ultimate end of our actions?

How would our life, both yours and mine, be different if we lived like heaven were a real place? What should we change to be ready for the judgment of God?

I want to live this week as if every moment were preparing for the day I stand before the throne of God. Because, that is what is happening, whether you are conscious of it or not.

More Benefits of a Church Community

Recently I have conversed with three different individuals about something they needed or wanted to accomplish. Each one reminded me of a benefit that is found in being a part of a community of faith.

1. In a community, you can fulfill a mission.
One person feels called to a foreign mission field. It is a great and God-glorifying call. The issue is that it takes resources to make the work happen. It requires more time, money and talent than one person has alone. They needed a community to support them, encourage them, pray for them, and help fund the mission. If you want to make a global impact, then you need a community bigger than yourself to help accomplish it.

2. In a community, you can use your gifts.
Another person came to me to tell me about a gift they possess that they would like to use for God. They truly want to help other believers live a life for Jesus in every area of their life. Without being very connected to the Church, they wanted me to promote their idea. It was a sad moment as they realized they could not use their special gifts to help other believers without any connection to people of like faith. When you are a part of a group of Christians, you have a place where you can use how God has gifted you.

3. In a community, you can help more people.
The final person had this great dream to help people who are struggling in life. They recognized it was a bigger project that they could do alone. They wanted me to ask out leadership to help them in any way possible make this good work a reality. If you are going to dream bigger than yourself, you will need other people to help you fulfill your dreams. Whether it is feeding twenty people or helping a whole city, the more people involved will make the work seem possible.

All these people are loosely connected to our Church, and I am trying to help them in several ways. But the conversations with these people reminded me of numerous other ones I have had through the years. People will talk about how the Church is of no use to them, and then they show up in my office asking for our community to help. I believe that God desires for each one to be a significant part of his body so that more can be accomplished than we could ever do alone.

Some Things I Am Learning from My New Schedule

I am a creature of habit. Lately, my life has been turned upside down. My wife took a new job in June, and her schedule is different every week. She is working days and night and overnight. She is working mornings, afternoons and evenings. There is no rhyme or reason to it. With her days continually changing I am trying to flex my schedule to optimize time with her, with my children and get my 40-50 hours of work done each week. This has put me in the office some mornings by 6:00 and other days at noon. I have stayed up till 2:00 am and worked for twelve-hour stretches at a time. I believe God is using this season of my life to teach me a few things.

1. Every minute is valuable. Some days I am only able to squeeze in a few minutes with my wife. I am learning to treasure our time together as it is more limited. When you have little time, you need to make every moment count.

2. You can probably do more than you think. I have been amazed at the amount I can get done in less time. The old rule is that a job will increase to the size of time you give it. This is true in my case. If I know I only have two hours at the office; it is amazing all that I can get done.

3. Technology is a great blessing. Living in 2018 allows me to work from anywhere at any time. I can search and read scripture on my phone. I can take notes on any device I have in my possession, and it shares it with all other devices. I can access the internet from literally anywhere so that I can email 24/7. It is a great time to be alive.

4. Days off are valuable but difficult. Since my wife started working these weird shifts my time at the office has been limited, but my amount of work has increased. I find myself reading and taking notes at midnight when I am all alone. When you can take your work with you anywhere through technology, you must establish boundaries, or you will be working all the time.

5. I’m thankful for my job.
Ministry has a few downsides, but what job doesn’t? I frequently hear pastors complain about the workload and the stress. I believe I have one of the greatest jobs in the world. My leadership understands that this season of my ministry is a little different and it will soon pass. They have given me the freedom to flex my time if everything still gets done well. I am glad to have this freedom while serving a God I love.

If you come by the Church building and I am not present, don’t worry, I am still working. You need to contact me ahead of time to schedule a meeting. I am sorry for the inconvenience, but I am thankful for your understanding. Otherwise, I will see you Sunday morning ready to preach the best sermon I possibly can for the glory of God.

Seventy-Five Percent Won’t Make It, But …

I placed my head on the desk and wept. It is the single most challenging part of my ministry. Another person quit the Church.

I always watch with curiosity to see what happens to them after they leave. Do they find another Church home? Do they keep their Christian friends? Do they appear to connect to the Lord in any way? Sadly, many who leave end up drifting further and further away from God.

No matter who they are or how old at the time when someone walks away from the Church it breaks my heart. I pray they find their way to another Church home. I hope they continue following Jesus. Sadly, I am also a realist, and I know what usually happens.

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 13 that I wish he had not shared. He speaks of the word of God being spread onto four soils in the world. One soil never really listens, and the word is taken before it can ever start to germinate. Some seed fell on rocky places and has no roots. When the sun beats down, it dries up and dies. Other seed landed among thorns and the cares of this world choke it out. Only a handful of seeds were planted in good soil and produced fruit. So out of four soils, three of them will never it make it to the harvest.

I hate that story. If taken literally, that means three out of every four people sitting in my congregation will not make it to spiritual maturity. Three out of every four teenagers in my youth group will fall away and never return. The vast majority of people with whom I work will be lost into eternity where I made no difference at all.

Many days I hurt over the seventy-five percent, but I must continually remind myself of the fruitful souls that remain. Today not only do I grieve for what is lost, but I also praise God for what had been found. This day I am one of the twenty-five percent, and if you are reading this, maybe you are too. All the work I do is for you. There is an overwhelming joy to see someone come to Jesus and live a life of devotion to him. To see them walk out in faith and produce the fruit of Jesus in their lives repeatedly.

The glass is a quarter full. Twenty-five percent will produce fruit for the kingdom of God. While it is easy to see the other group and point out their flaws, I want to focus my attention on those who have received God’s grace for life. I want to see the good things that are happening for Christ’s kingdom through them. People are being taught, fed, clothed, visited, encouraged and helped in all sorts of ways in the name of Jesus by a few amazing souls.

The seventy-five percent break my heart – but you – you bring me joy eternally.

True Spiritual Grit

There are a few movies that I watched with my father more times than I can recall. Some of them we viewed so many times we both knew all the lines by heart. The Outlaw Josey Wales, Lethal Weapon and True Grit are three of our favorites. I am not talking about the remake of True Grit a few years ago, but the original John Wayne movie. There was a look of joy that went over my dad’s face when The Duke takes the reigns of the horse in his mouth and the two rifles in his hands. In my mind, it is truly one of the greatest movie scenes of all time.

If you have seen the movie, you know that Mattie Ross wants to catch her father’s killer. She is searching for a man to help her, and that leads her to Rooster Cogburn. He is described as a man with grit. That is defined as a person with courage and resolve along with a strength of character. While he has his flaws, he has a resolve that cannot be defeated.

Some days I feel like Mattie as I am continually searching for people with grit. I would love to find some people with true spiritual grit. People who have courage in the face of evil. People with a strength of character when adversity comes their way.

While I believe the Christian life is filled with joy, it is also filled with its share of struggles. There will be people who let you down. There will be days when your good work seems to make no difference. There will be moments when you feel all alone in your convictions. To remain faithful in your spiritual life takes grit.

Some days the only thing you can do is hold onto your faith with the reigns in your mouth and come out with both guns blazing against the evil that is trying to bring you down. I frequently need to be reminded of this on a Monday. Every weekend is full of joy and disappointment and to make it through another week it is going to take true grit.

Saying the Amen

You might use the word every day. If you attend Church, I know you hear it every week. It is a word that I have repeated thousands upon thousands of time. AMEN.

We say at the end of prayers. My dad used to say it out loud when he heard something in a sermon with which he agreed. I knew a preacher who would say something he thought was profound and he would then ask, “Can I get an amen?”

Amen is a word that pervades the Christian life. On any given Sunday it will be repeated dozens of times, and yet I wonder if we know what it means. The basic translation of the word is “so be it.” When used at the end of a prayer it is a declaration that I want what I just said to happen, but if it does not, I will accept what God desires. It is the affirmation the God is in control, and we will allow him to work in our requests.

Jesus uses the word, but never at the end of a sentence. We lose this in our English translation of the Bible. The translators have Jesus saying “Truly, Truly” or Verily, Verily” at the beginning of several statements. The best translation of the words is “Amen and Amen.” Jesus does not ask God and says, so let it be. Instead, he speaks as God and says, “This is how it is going to be.” His words come from a place of authority instead of a request.

No matter how it is used the basic understand remains the say. When we say “amen” we agree with God’s leadership. We are submitting ourselves to his power and his will as revealed through Jesus. It may be a common word, but it still has application. Every time we utter the word amen we are aligning ourselves with God.

I hope that the next time you say it, you comprehend what you are saying. More than that, I hope you know what it means, and so you say it regularly. May your life be lived with a hearty amen in all that you do.