The People of Proverbs

Reading through the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament this year, I made a list of the people who are mentioned inside. Each one of them is a way that people respond to the good and evil as it is described in God’s word.

  1. The Simple – They are also called naive. This is a person who does not know what is right and wrong (often due to a lack of experience) and they make choices not understanding the consequences.
  2. The Fool – This person knows the right and wrong thing to do, and they chose to do what is wrong thinking there will be no ramifications.
  3. The Mocker – This person knows what is right and wrong, and they make fun of anyone who would choose to do what is right. They find joy in the foolishness and failure of others.
  4. The Wicked – This person knows what is right and wrong, and purposefully does the opposite of what is right. Their choices do not consider or care about what is right.
  5. The Adulterous – This is a person who entices other people to do evil. Usually, this is attributed to a woman who leads a man into illicit sexual behavior. It can apply more broadly to anyone who leads others astray, especially when it involves idolatry.
  6. The Wise – This person knows the right thing to do and then does it. Their steps are calculated and thoughtful while they move forward in the will of God.

The book of Proverbs labels people so that we can see the actions of others and ourselves more clearly. The primary question is which category do I fall into the most? The challenge of that book, along with the rest of the Bible is, “Will you live as a wise person?” Is your life marked by wisdom or something else?

I hope you will find this helpful as you read Proverbs, but more than that, I pray that you will be seen by others as living the wise life that God desires for you.

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Keep Doing the Work

It is Monday. Mondays are always tough. This week it is especially true after taking some time off last week. It is difficult to come back to the office. It is challenging to focus my thoughts and write something fresh.

I once saw an article titled “It’s the grind that gets them.” I loved the title, and the point was clear enough. The difference between success and failure is not usually based on one big event or moment, but rather the daily discipline to keep working.

Church history has labeled the regular participation in prayer, fasting, meditation, and scripture reading as the “Spiritual Disciplines.” These are actions that require a steadfast commitment to doing the same thing over and over again. Developing your soul requires discipline. It is not the result of one big event or moment. People with weak and shallow faith are those without the discipline to put in the daily work. They have great intentions and idea, but without regular engagement, they are lost.

Mondays are days that I remind myself that I must stick to my commitments and keep doing the work. I will not be able to grow my soul without a level of resolve. I will not be able to serve the Lord in various ways without perseverance.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Counting the Cost

In Christian circles, when we speak of counting the cost, it is usually a reference to the price of following Jesus. Today I want to use it in another way. I want you to think about the cost of decision making. There is an expense paid with every choice we make, even when we chose to be indecisive.

Lately, I have watched several people make a mess of their lives because they failed to think through the ramifications of their choices. Here are five areas you need to consider when you make your next major decision.

  1. The Financial Cost. This one is the most obvious. Almost every choice will impact you in some way financially and that, in turn, will affect other things.
  2. The Time Cost. Saying yes to some things will require you to give up your time and energy. Time is our most limited and also the most valuable resource. One example, a job may pay much more but require more time from you. Is the money worth our time?
  3. The Relational Cost. How will the decision impact the people around you? Will it affect my connection with my wife and kids? What will this mean for my relationship with my parents? One poor choice can leave much collateral relationship damage.
  4. The Emotional Cost. You will carry with you the weight of this decision. A poor choice will be like a massive bag of rocks that you carry around for the rest of your life. Without thinking about this part of your life through completely, you can end up living with numerous areas where you second guess yourself and live with regret.
  5. The Spiritual Cost. If you choose to step outside of God’s will, there are always consequences. Quite often, those costs are not felt immediately. Some of the choices we make drive a wedge between God and us, and one day, the weight of those will weigh heavy on our lives. They may cause feelings of despair and shame that we never thought possible.

Most people fail to evaluate at least one of these areas when they are making a decision. Then they jump into a new phase blindly. Often it is not until the damage sets in that they begin to process these ideas. My encouragement to you is clear: If you are on the edge of making some big decision in your life, then be sure to give a thorough evaluation of what it might cost you. Hindsight might be 20/20, but a little foresight is far more valuable.

The Similarities in My Ministry Over the Last 25 Years

(This is the second of a two-part series – the first part was yesterday)

Yesterday I wrote about all the changes in ministry. I have also noticed that several things have not changed in the last 25 years. Here are a few things that remain at the center of the Church and my ministry.

  1. The Church is about people. As a pastor, I have the privilege of leading people and not just any people, but those who want to worship God and know Jesus. Sometimes these people are wonderful, and other times they are a challenge.
  2. The Need for the Gospel. The people who come to Church are broken and struggling to be the kind of person God wants them to be. The internet has changed some of the temptations, but there is still this overwhelming need for Jesus. We need grace and mercy today perhaps more than ever.
  3. Preaching is at the center of what I do. The communication of the word of God is still primary in the Church. People need to know what God’s word says, what it means, and how to apply it to their lives. The biggest thing I do every week is preach to people the gospel message they need to hear.
  4. Discipleship is still a struggle. While it is not easy to get someone to Church and make a commitment to Jesus, the most difficult task is to get people to grow in their faith. This includes having them know what the Bible says, and then getting them to obey what they know.
  5. All fellowship involves food. This goes beyond the Church in its application. If you want people to spend time talking, getting to know one another and have fun, then you must provide food. It doesn’t matter when or where you meet for fellowship to happen; food is an essential ingredient. I often think that the Church has kept the crock pot and casserole dish makers in business for years.

Other than our focus on Jesus, these are a few of the things that have not changed in the last 25 years. I am guessing these will never change. What would you add to my list?

The Differences in My Ministry Over the Last 25 Years

(This is the first of a two-part series – the next part is tomorrow)

Last week I was working on a project. As I went through it, I was starting using a combination of my files folders, a notebook, my phone, and the internet. At one point, I stopped and laughed about how things have changed in the last 25 years. I then spent a few minutes, reflecting on that idea and came up with a list of changes I have seen since I entered the ministry. Possibly you will understand a few of these.

  1. File Folders for Computer Files. At one time, I had five large filing cabinets. Now I am down to two and planning to scan all useable documents and eliminate those two. I used to copy articles and have a “hard copy” of everything. Now I just have a computer and four back-up drives to ensure nothing is lost.
  2. The Church’s Internet Image Verses Brochures. I cannot remember the last time I saw a church brochure, let alone made one. I help maintain a Church website and Facebook page. These are usually the way people learn about our Church.
  3. A Monthly Newsletter Article Went to a Daily Blog. The motto years ago was “publish or perish.” Churches created monthly and sometimes weekly newsletters to communicate the Churches information. Inside of those publications, the preacher would write a short article for the people of the congregation to read. Now I write an article like this daily.
  4. Buying Books to Digital Resources. My professors instructed me to buy books. Buy books as resources for sermons, lessons, and learning material. I followed their words and bought dozens of books that now sit unused on my shelf. My research software has more than a bookshelf worth of content, and that does not include all the free resources online that I use.
  5. Ministry of One to a Ministry of Everyone. It used to be that the lead pastor of a congregation did everything. He went to the hospital, prayed, preached, taught, and led everything. This led to smaller congregations where more people watched than participated. Now, there has been a shift as we see everyone is gifted by God to serve side by side. Sure, the preacher might still do numerous things as he is paid for 40 hours of work, but I now have more people serving with me than ever before.

These are the most significant changes I have seen during my ministry. Do you remember any of these? What would you add to my list?

I still serve the one and only God, but the format has changed, and I thank God for these changes.

Three Great Public Speaking Tips

It very possible that at some point, you will be asked to speak publicly. I know it terrifies some of you, but it is still going to happen. You will represent some group or organization and be required to say something. You will need to give a eulogy for a loved one or a speech at a wedding. In life, you will be called upon to speak in front of other people. Here are the three greatest tips I have received that are worth sharing.

  1. Speak Less. Seth Godin had a great statement on a blog post. He said, “When asked to give a five-minute speech, write a four-minute one and take your time.” No one, and by that, I mean no one, will be angry if you take less time than expected.
  2. Show Me, Don’t Tell Me. I read a book in college that underlined this truth to me. The author, whom I can’t remember, wrote that in newspapers they have pictures. They also have them in textbooks. These media realize that an image or graphic will underline the story they are telling. In public speaking, you need to help people visualize what you are presenting conceptually. It is one thing to tell people that God loves people who make a mess of their lives and another to tell the story of the prodigal son. One way gives information, and the other helps you to see and experience it.
  3. Be Yourself. Fred Craddock once said, “Your favorite preacher may be a saxophone, and God may have made you a violin.” You need to find our own sound. You do not have to be anyone other than who God created you to be. When you speak publicly, it should sound the same way you do privately.

These three pieces of advice help to shape all my public speaking. Sure, I have learned dozens of other helpful pieces of information, but these are the biggies. In fact, most of the poor speaking I hear usually violates at least one of these.

Maybe you will find these helpful soon. Perhaps you need to put these in the back of your mind, and when you are asked to speak, you will be ready. These have helped me, and I hope they help you sometime.

Watching “The Office” for the Hundredth Time

It drives my wife crazy. Whenever I cannot find anything on TV, I go to Netflix and watch the show “The Office.” Currently, I have seen every episode at least three times and several I have seen dozens of times. I mean, if you have not seen the “Stress Relief” episode at least ten times you are missing out.

Honestly, it is not just this show I watch over and over. I have watched a few movies more times than I can count. There are other TV shows, like Andy Griffith, that I go back to again and again.

Why do I do that? Why does anyone do this?

I think there are several reasons for it. One, I enjoy the story. They make me smile and laugh. Two, the actor’s ability to say and do things intrigues me. Often, I am focused on the story the first time, and the next time I watch more closely. The biggest reason for me is that every time I watch them, I get something new. There is a subtle piece of humor, a funny look, and I have even started to notice the stuff in the background. Frequently the actors and directors were bored and added little touches to the set to add another dimension of comedy.

Why do I tell you all of this? Because I have found the same thing to be true of Bible reading. This year I am going through the Bible for the sixth time in the last ten years. I have read it from three translations, listened to an audio version, and this year, I am using a chronological Bible. Every time through, I notice something new. Three things I have noticed this year.

  1. The Unchanging Story of the Bible. I love that the Bible is always the same. The same stories that are told in a way to invite me into the journey with God. It is the same story the great men of old read that I am reading today. There is security in knowing the Bible is always the same.
  2. My Changing Perspective. Every time through the Bible, I hear different things because my life is different. I used to listen carefully to the passages about children. Now that my kids are grown, I hear different things. This is proven true by what I highlight and underline.
  3. The Subtle Background Story of the Bible. This year I am noticing so many more details. I have noticed the names of people and locations for the first time. Many of the people in the Old Testament have names that are full of meaning that gets lost in the English translation. The same is true for locations.

It has been said that the Bible is like the ocean, “It is shallow enough for a child to play in it and deep enough that the best diver in the world cannot reach its depths.” Lately, I am finding this to be true. There are layers of meaning and application that I did not notice just ten years ago.

So if you think that you know the Bible stories, I would ask you to reread it. There is far more there than you noticed the first time. Read it again. Read it over and over. I enjoy watching The Office reruns, but the Bible is far too valuable to only read once.