Taking Time to Rest

Yesterday I wrote about working hard and doing whatever it takes to be successful. Today I want to flip that over and encourage you to rest. Here in the United States, we are at the beginning of Labor Day weekend. For several people that will mean they have next Monday off from work. This will give us a more extended weekend and additional time to rest.

The temptation for many people will be to fill this weekend with more activity. They will head to the lake or a park so that they can spend their day hiking, fishing, picnicking and a host of other activities. They will cram every hour to its maximum limit and end the weekend exhausted.

I find it fascinating that one of the ten commandments is to have a Sabbath day of rest. The purpose of this day was two-fold. One, it was to keep people focused on God above our work. The people had to trust that God would provide enough in six days to last for seven. The people ceased to work as an act of faith. The day was holy or set apart for God to recognize his power in the world and our lives.

The other reason God gave us a Sabbath was to rest. This is modeled by God himself in the creation story. He works for six days and rests on the seventh. Every worker, including God, needs downtime. The story is told of a pastor who worked seven days a week with little rest. A wiser older pastor asked him why he never took a day off. He responded by saying, “Satan never takes a day off, and so neither do I.” The older pastor smiled and said, “Son, you need a better role model.”

All of us need rest and a time to refocus on God. If you get an extended weekend over the next few days, have you built these essential elements into your plan?

Maybe your greatest need is not to push more activities into your weekend, but rather to rest safely in the arms in God.

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Doing Whatever It Takes

I think there is one key ingredient to be successful in any arena of life. It is the willingness to do whatever it takes to bring success. Obviously, a Christian would not indulge in any behavior that is ungodly, unlawful, or immoral. Beyond that boundary is a world of hard work, inconvenience, and self-motivation.

When I meet with other ministers, they ask me what I am doing to help our Church to grow more disciples. I respond with a short and direct answer. First, growth is the result of the work of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. We have people who pray for us, serve in the Lord’s name, and are united in Jesus. Second, we are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. If I need to collect trash to make the building look cleaner, then I collect garbage. If it takes twelve hours a week minimum to prep for the sermon, then that is what I do. I am willing to work, clean, call, confront, think, plan, read, and put in long hours.

This principle is in no way limited to ministry. It works in almost every area of life. Do you want great kids? Are you willing to work with them night after night, giving up free time and helping them succeed? Do you want a marriage with a deep connection and unconditional love? What are you doing every day to produce that result?

Whenever I meet people, and they tell me about some perceived problem in their life, I usually can dissect the information and find a lack of willingness to do whatever it takes. They want the school to make their kids great with minimal effort on their part. They want their spouse to do the work it takes to make a great marriage. They want all of the rewards with little work. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Success is inconvenient and difficult to obtain.

What about you? Have you made boundaries that make success impossible? You want the blessing but have said, “But I won’t do that.” I believe that God is ultimately the one who blesses our lives, but I have never seen him deliver it without an honest effort on our part. My key to a happy life is simple, “Work as if everything depends on you and trust as if everything depends on God.”

Beyond Easy Answers

I was reading an article on the future of preaching. One of the author’s points was that it is no longer sufficient for the Church to provide “Easy Answers” to life’s difficult questions. While it was not directly stated, I am assuming he means it is no longer enough to tell people to do things like reading their Bible, praying, and loving one another.

In part, I understand what he is saying. Quoting a Bible verse or offering a quick prayer when someone is hurting seem like shallow answers to enormous problems. My issue with this argument is that it demonstrates a lack of experience.

Reading the Bible seems like an easy answer until you begin actually to do it. There you confront evil and grace in equal measure. The reader is faced with good people hiding their sin and bad people who prosper in their ungodliness. It stretches you to expand the boundaries of your compassion and the enlarge your view of God. Spending time in the word of God is not easy on your mind or heart. It does not always offer simple solutions but a complex narrative that pushes and pulls us in ways we never expected.

Praying sounds like a trite answer offered to any of life’s problems and can mean very little practically speaking. It seems that way until you actually spend time praying. It is tough to hit your knees day after day pleading with God in a situation you cannot control. It breaks your heart, molds your soul, and transforms you into a person of real faith. Until you have sat with a weeping mother holding her hand and asking God to intercede in these darkest hours, you have no idea of the truth about prayer.

Telling people to love one another also appears like a simple solution until you try to do it consistently. In an effort to extend love to others, you will have to face issues you hate. It will make you do good things for people who will never return the favor and often will not appreciate it. Love gets your hands dirty, breaks your heart, and causes you to do things you never imagined. Real love offered in the name of Jesus is the most challenging task on the planet.

The author has good intentions in his article. He wants to see the Church be more practical and offer advice that is both Biblical and relevant. Too often the Church has provided seemingly easy answers to those outside of the faith. The reality is that these easy answers are not really easy. They push us to grow our faith in elemental ways. I know people might find them unsuitable for life’s most significant issues, that is only because they have not tried them. These answers have an easy appearance, but they are the path to spiritual growth.

When I am Sick and Tired of People

Those people who know me the most understand my introvert nature. I am not a “people person,” even though I lead a Church. That is not to say that I don’t care about people. I do very much, and I spend my days trying to help them in any way I am able. For me, God has gifted me to speak his truth, and that is the best thing I can do. Ministry is about more than preaching and trying to help people; it is about connecting to them in a profound and meaningful way.

Unfortunately, there are times where I have had my fill of people. I get on edge and respond angrily to those I encounter. My patience is thin, and my words are sharp. So what actions do I take when I am getting sick and tired of people?

  1. Pray. I specifically ask God to help my heart and my attitude. Through the years, I have felt his hand of guidance and mercy in ways that are complicated to explain. I simply know God has helped me in my struggle with people.
  2. Read Specific Scripture. For me, this is about rereading those “one another” passages found in the Bible. I need to be continually reminded that God wants me to be a part of loving one another, encouraging one another and serving one another.
  3. Time Away. Sometimes I need to move away from people for a period. This may be a weeklong vacation or a couple of hours on the lake. These occasions away give me time to refresh and relax.
  4. Find Specific People. While a crowd drains me, there are specific people who fill my tank. Some of these people have no idea how much their words, spirit, and companionship mean to me.
  5. Focus on the Good. The more people frustrate me, the more I must continually focus my attention on the good that they bring to my world. The glass truly is half full, and even difficult people are teaching me to be more like Jesus.

These are the primary ways that I recharge my battery when people are slowly draining it. If I do not pay attention to my attitude and work to improve it, I can hurt my witness for Jesus.

Is there anything you would add to my list? What helps you be a better people person? I know it is a struggle for me, but by the grace of God, my life continues to be blessed by people. I hope yours is today too.

You Are My Hero In the Faith

I went to my friend Rusty’s ordination many years ago. What he said left an impact on me, and I borrowed it to use for my ordination speech. He took Hebrews chapter 11 and spoke about faith and this list of people who lived great lives mentioned in that chapter. Then he said, the problem is that this passage was written too early. It was put together long before I lived, so I want to add some names to that list.

This list of names in that chapter are some of the greatest names in history, but they are also a little impersonal. I never spoke with them or asked them questions or looked at the expression on their faces. Their faith was a powerful testimony to the world, but I know some people who have a similar story on a slightly smaller scale. These are the people that I admire, and one of them might be you.

I see people who hold onto their faith in spite of incredible odds. Life seems stacked against them, and yet they grab their trust in God with both hands.

I watch people give selflessly week after week to other people. Often they are used and abused, and yet they keep right on serving. Each day they chose to touch the lives of others in the name of Jesus, and they show no signs of stopping.

I know people who have endured a seemingly impossible situation with grace and love. The doctor isn’t going to control their life. No diagnosis is stopping their prayers.

I observe the gentleness of parents with disabled children. They are finding love and joy in fleeting moments as a gift from God.

I notice people who speak words of love and grace when I know they are hurting inside.

I catch glimpses of people whose faith has seen more years than my life and yet are still humbling learning for people like me.

I embrace the hands of people who are kind, compassionate and loving to the degree that I cannot imagine.

The list could go on and on. I suppose that is why Hebrews 11 has no new names added to it because if you didn’t stop somewhere, the chapter would never end. In a dark and often scary world, there are heroes of the faith who walk among us. Some of you are my hero, and you have no idea. You keep faithfully serving, loving, and living in the name of Jesus.

Today, I hope you know that your faith is not in vain. I am inspired, encouraged, and blessed because of you.

Under the Hood of a Sermon

Frequently people ask me about my preaching, sermon writing, and experiences as a Pastor of a Church. Today I wanted to share a little something about my preaching. I cannot say if this is true for all preachers, but it is undoubtedly my weekly practice.

A year before I ever preach, I spend time in prayer and come up with a sermon series, the individual sermons, topics, and often texts. Over the coming year, I will occasionally run across material in a blog or on social media that I will save knowing the sermon is coming.

Eventually, the series date comes, and I try to plan the whole series in more details before the first sermon. Each week, I will take the topic, text, and general idea and begin to develop an outline. This includes looking deeply at the context of the Bible, how it ties to overall theology, and how to apply it today. Usually, the framework is the easiest thing to get as God’s word has so many facets to understand and explain.

Then comes the part that few people understand or talk about publicly. Now I add illustrations. Some of these come to me quickly. I have a life experience that is similar to what I am trying to explain. Other times, I have heard someone else use an illustration on that topic, and it fits my message. Occasionally, the articles and information I have saved over the past year have something useable. These illustrations are a vital part of the sermon. They reveal the truth in an understandable way. They touch real life and can be challenging or comforting. I have often seen a confused look when I am explaining the text then get a smile and a nod when the illustration brings it home. These stories and anecdotes are a crucial part of a good sermon.

Sometimes these stories do not come easily. This week, I spent almost an hour searching the web for one little illustration. It will only be about two minutes of the sermon, but it is critical to help people connect with the material. There is no formula for the exact right story; it is just one of those things where I know it is the right one when I read it. Some weeks it only takes me thirty minutes to fill out a sermon and give it all the needed material. Other weeks it is a long slow, process of reading, searching and thinking. I have spent as much as five or six hours in a week just looking for the right stories.

Is it worth all the extra effort? I believe it is totally worth it. In fact, I find that many times people will remember the illustrations long after the sermon outline is forgotten. I know I have a head full of ones that I have heard that help me understand the Bible and what it means to be a believer. Some of those have been in my head for forty years, and I can remember them today as clearly as the first time I heard them.

This week I have been working for Sunday. The words did not come easily, but they are ready. I hope you will join me to hear the Bible explained and possibly hear a story that will change your life. That is what I am praying for, now all we need is you.

The Role of Good Works in Evangelism

Evangelism is the title given to the concept of sharing our faith in Jesus with people who are not believers in him. It is the cornerstone of the Christian mission. Jesus instructs his followers to “Go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)” and to be his “witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).” The message of Jesus is always expanding to reach new people with the message of his grace.

In my ministry, I have seen the emphasis on how evangelism is done change greatly. The early days of being a preacher focused on evangelism programs. Me, as a Church leader, would teach people a series of material revolving around questions and/or scripture and people would go door to door to share their faith. The problem was that most people did not want to hear about faith the moment you showed up on their doorstep. It discouraged more people than it brought to faith.

Then came what was called lifestyle evangelism. Instead of going door to door, you would invite people into your life. They would see your faith, and they would ask you to explain it. You would then walk them through your material and lead them to faith. This was more encouraging for the person who wanted to share Jesus, but its fatal flaw was the presentation of the gospel. Lifestyle evangelism became more about lifestyle, and little evangelism happened.

Over the last ten years, the movement has been to community service evangelism. I also call this good works evangelism. The idea is that an individual or a Church group does something good for others, usually in their community and they hope it will open the door to faith. Some Churches have used local service to see tremendous growth and numerous people find faith in Jesus. Once again, this method has a fatal flaw. For many, the service project or good work is seen as the end goal. If we did something kind and people are happy then we have accomplished the task of sharing our faith. Evangelism or explaining the gospel is dropped entirely.

My one warning for the people who plan these events, lead them, and get excited about them is that they are simply tools to work the ground for the seed to be planted. Good works open doors for the gospel to be explained and believed. They are what is called “pre-evangelism.” They are what happens so that we can now tell the message of Jesus.

This is an essential understanding and distinction for the followers of Jesus and his body. If we are not clear on what we are doing, then we can slide into a “good works salvation.” The people of the Church do good things and hope that others will join them to also do good things. Jesus gets dropped, and the family of believers gets reduced to a civic group working only for a better community.

The Church is about faith in Jesus and spreading his message to the world. Christians must tell people about the God who came to us, lived among us, died for us, and rose to demonstrate his superiority over everything. These truths are what bring us salvation and cannot be separated from the work of the Church. So, my encouragement is to go, share your life and do good works, but be sure people know about Jesus, or we have all failed.