Empathy for Cheese

There is a children’s song that I learned many years ago.  It is called the Farmer in the Dell.  After the first verse, there is this continuous cycle.  The farmer takes a wife, and the wife takes a nurse, and then it switches to animals.  The dog takes the cat, and the cat takes the mouse, and the mouse takes the cheese.  Then the final verse states, “The cheese stands alone.”

The original song dates to 1826 in Germany.  It came to the United States, probably from German immigrants, around 1883.  It is based on a nursery rhyme and is a fun song for children to sing with each other. 

The final line would go on to be used as an idiom in America.   That means it is a phrase with meaning beyond the definition of individual words, like saying, “you are in hot water.” That means you are in trouble and does not involve a tub or any real water.  The cheese stands alone has been used to describe people who do not fit in with everyone else. For example, a person might ask if you were invited to a party, and you could respond by saying, “No.  The cheese stands alone.” 

This weekend our Church will gather to worship the Lord.  One of the most beautiful aspects of the Christian community is that the cheese never stands alone.  No one should ever feel like an outsider who doesn’t belong.  The Church is a community of people where even the cheese finds someone with which to connect. 

New Stories of Faith

He was sharing his insights on trusting God and living a life of faith.  He used a personal story to illustrate the point.  The first time I heard him use this one story, I thought it was perfect and helped everyone.  Then I heard him repeat the same story the following year.  After that, the congregation could expect an annual rehashing of this one experience this man had where he trusted God completely. 

At first, it was compelling.  Then it made the congregation wonder if he had forgotten that he used it the year previously. The more times it was repeated, the more people began to ignore it.  Finally, everyone felt sad when he started to tell it.

How old are the stories you share about a time that you trusted God in faith?

(To get clarity on this, please ask your wife, children, or best friend.)

Maybe it is time for you to write some new stories of faith.  Maybe today or this week, you should do something that will only work out if God shows up.  Perhaps this would be a good season to do something where you must rely entirely on God for the outcome. 

Occasionally you need to throw all your old stories away and start fresh.  God has not changed his willingness to work in the world.  There is just a need for more people to use their faith and allow him to work.  And when you do … oh, the stories you will have to tell.   

Don’t Talk It to Death

Tell the truth.

Say something meaningful.

Get to the point.

Be done.  Quit talking. 

Too often, people don’t have much to say, but that doesn’t stop them from speaking.  They ramble on and on without adding anything of value.  Somehow, they think that the length of their words will somehow add to the meaning.  It doesn’t. 

This is true when you are making a presentation, having or conversation, or even saying a prayer. 

Your Unique Place in the Kingdom

This past summer, my wife, son, and I were on vacation down south.  We enjoyed the trip to the beach, but we also spent a great deal of time and money trying different restaurants.  I noticed that each time we went out to eat, they generally served one type of food.  They were either Italian, Mexican, American, or Southern.  Not only that, some of them also only served one food. For example, we went into a fast-food place that only offered chicken strips and fries.  Another one served primarily shrimp and another only steak. 

Each of the places we stopped was thriving.  Most of them had excellent reviews on Yelp and were highly recommended.  All while not serving a variety of dishes.  They were specialized, and they did it well. 

What if you found one thing to do for God and spent your life perfecting it? 

I believe everyone needs to cultivate a servant’s heart.  That is reflected in the willingness to do anything required of you to move the kingdom of God forward.  But there is also a benefit to specializing in your service to God. 

Imagine if I asked you what your gift was to serve the Lord; how would you respond?  If I asked what your one contribution to the work of God in the world, could you answer? 

How wonderful it would be if we had more people who said, “I am a guitar player, or I am a nursery worker, or I am gifted at cleaning.” There is a long list of possible ministries in the Church, but the sweet spot of serving is when you find your unique place in the kingdom of God and serve him there to the best of your ability. 

Slaying the Enemy

Sharing your journey of faith is a profound way to make an impact for the kingdom of God. 

Sometimes other believers need to hear stories of people on the battlefield fighting the same wars that wage in our souls.  We need the camaraderie of brothers and sisters in arms and the encouragement that comes from knowing we are not alone. 

We always need to hear the stories of the warriors who have been victorious in battle. We long to listen to the tales of those brave men and women who have faced the enemy and won.  They are scarred and often bloody from fighting against the evil in their hearts and minds.  We need the stories of courageous people who fought back against addiction, lust, pornography, and anger and won.  They have experienced loneliness, depression, and anxiety and come out as a better person.  And others have lived through pain, loss, and a lifetime of difficulties and still found joy.  Every Christian needs to hear the stories of overcoming faith and perseverance in the face of possible defeat. 

These stories need to be shared to know that it is possible to slay the enemy.  We need to be continually reminded that the battles we face can end in victory and be encouraged not to give up.   

You may not feel like your faith journey has much to offer, so you don’t share it often. But, the truth is that the rest of us need to hear about your struggles to be emboldened to face another week.  Hero stories come in all shapes and sizes. 

Writing A Sermon

Several people have asked me about the process of writing a sermon.  Most people have no idea what it takes to come up with the words I say on Sunday.  Each concept is carefully crafted, and ideas are molded for the greatest clarity and impact. 

There are two significant parts to writing a sermon that people should know if they ever plan on teaching the Bible in any way to anyone.  The second part is the crafting of words into a lesson, outline, or movement of ideas.  The first part is the most important of all Bible teaching and preaching.

The first is a deep dive into a text.  I try to build every sermon on one primary passage from the Bible.  Over a week, I read and reread what the scripture actually records.  I will also read the surrounding material for proper context.  Next, I will read commentaries explaining the historical background, original languages, cross-references, and any details I missed. I try to look at 3-5 commentaries for each passage.  Third is the process of thinking a passage through Biblically and theologically.  The primary question is, “how does what I am going to say fit into the whole of scripture?”  Finally, I pray that God will help me assemble my thoughts and inspire me creatively as I try to be true to the passage’s meaning. 

The reason I wanted to explain this is that I have heard a few awful sermons lately.  Each time it is clear the preacher did not wrestle mentally with the passage they were presenting. Instead, I heard that they had an idea of something they wanted to say, then they grabbed a few texts that sounded like they applied and threw it all together.  It is what is officially known as “proof-texting.”  Basically, it is having a concept and using the Bible as proof that the idea is correct. 

Unfortunately, this is not good preaching, and it is worse for people who need to understand what the Bible actually teaches. 

I am not saying that I am a perfect preacher or Bible teacher. However, I know that the first goal of everyone who encounters the scriptures is to apply proper rules of interpretation to arrive at the intended meaning.  Without that, the rest is just opinions and nice stories and not the word of God. 

Goliath’s Head

There was this strange moment at a men’s small group where we got into a discussion about Goliath’s head. 

Let me give you the setting of this conversation.  A group of men were relearning the story of David and Goliath.  We talked about David’s faith, Saul’s armor, five smooth stones, and the lack of action by the warriors of Israel. Then, we started discussing how David put the stone in the right spot through the power of God.  Then, he took the giant’s sword and cut off his head. 

This is the place that I usually end the story.  Until someone asked, “What happened to the head?”  Well, the end of 1 Samuel chapter 17 says that Abner, the commander of Saul’s armies, grabs David and takes him to the king’s palace in Jerusalem, and verse 57 says, “he was still holding the Philistine’s head.” 

Apparently, David had picked up Goliath’s head as a trophy.  This might seem shocking to us, but scholars tell us this was a common practice at that point in history.  A victor would take his opponent’s head and put it on a pole near his home to demonstrate his power and warn off any other enemies. 

At this time in the Bible, Jerusalem is not yet controlled by the Israelites.  It will not be until 2 Samuel chapter 5 that David is victorious.  Some have speculated that he put the head up there to declare that this city will be his one day.  It was a warning sign that no enemy would stand against David and the God he served. 

The Bible does not give us any more details about what happened to Goliath’s head, but there is a great deal of speculation.  When Jesus is taken out of the city to die on the cross, he is crucified at “the place of the skull.”  This has explicit imagery back to Genesis 3 and the work in which God will crush the skull of Satan.  But is that it?  Many guess that the name may have come one of two ways.  Either this is where David displayed the head, or this was the place where it was buried.  Thus Jesus gains victory over Satan and all the enemies of the people of God as he establishes his new kingdom. 

There is no concrete proof of this theory, but it is interesting to ponder.  The God of the Bible weaves together an intricate tale of his work and victories.  Everything seems to point to his salvation through Jesus, possibly even the head of Goliath too. 

Building Spiderwebs

This year my house is surrounded by spiders.  I have seen them everywhere, along with their signs.  Their webs have adorned my trees, back porch, flower garden, and any space they think they can catch a meal, including my van. 

In the morning, their delicate creations show the intricacy of the spider’s work and the beautiful craftsmanship of each tiny arachnid.  Then an amazing thing happens.  As the sun climbs in the sky, out comes people, birds, pets, and their webs are quickly destroyed before they catch their first teeny bug.  The one on my van got taken for a high-speed car ride that I am sure he was not expecting. 

All their work is gone in minutes.  Hours spent toiling and spinning to build something with fleeting beauty but no lasting impact. 

The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, and in his first letter, he says that on the Day of the Lord, everything will be tested by fire.  In other words, God is going to judge what we have spent our lives doing.  If what we have built survives, there will be a reward.  If it does not, then we will suffer loss (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). 

Looking out my back door while sipping a cup of chocolate milk, I saw the spider web and wondered how many people were building their human web.  They are giving their life to constructing things that will not last.  Houses, businesses, and bank accounts have beauty, but it is only temporary. 

When you decide what you are going to do with your one life on this earth, you need to ask yourself, “Is what I am doing going to last, or is it like the spider’s web?”

Fighting With Myself

James, Jesus’ half-brother, writes a letter to the followers of Jesus that is designed to help them practically live out their faith.  Near the beginning, he writes something that caught me off guard when I read it recently.  He writes

“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. (James 1:13-14 – NIV 2011)”

Within its context, he reminds us not to blame God for temptation.  What also caught my attention is what he doesn’t say.  There is no finger-pointing at the devil or his demons for the temptation we feel.  His pen does not tell of the evil people surrounding us that drag us down with their poor choices.  While both have some Biblical truth, he says that temptation results from our own evil desires. 

The greatest battle most of us will fight is the war within ourselves.  The attack from the desires that burn inside us are far greater than the enemy outside of us.  Lust, pride, anger, doubt, bitterness, envy, and a host of other ungodly passions can burn within us.  Most of these are unknown to the people around us.  They are private battles fought in the recesses of the heart and mind. 

I wish there were some easy remedies for the warfare of the soul.  If only there were a simple prayer to offer, a three-step program or accountability app that could make the struggle go away, then the journey of faith would not be so difficult.  All those things can help depending on your issue, but there are no quick, easy solutions. 

I don’t know what is tempting you, but I know that the issues arise from your soul.  Those evil desires locked inside your heart that no other person knows.  As it has been said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” 

The good news is that the first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. 

Where I Am Today

I could not have imagined where my faith journey would lead me when I first decided to follow Jesus. First, it led me to Bible college and then into the arms of a beautiful woman who became my wife. Next, the path took me to five states and gave me four children.  Together my wife and I have bought and sold houses, moved across the country and back again, lost our fathers, saw the boys graduate high school, and two finish college while starting careers. 

During this journey, God has allowed me to have made a positive impact for His kingdom.  I have participated in about 250 baptisms, witnessed people coming back to faith, and ushered a couple of dozen people into Church leadership.  I started a Church that still exists today.  I have helped a few people enter full-time ministry and guided Churches to support missionaries across the world.  I have had the opportunity to speak to thousands of people from multiple states, three countries, and from every age of life. 

I am writing all this because I could never have imagined the path my life has taken.  I am not bragging about the blessings in my ministry because I am as astounded as anyone.  As an 8-year-old boy who became a Christian, I did not dream of ever going to Bible college.  As a Bible college student, I never thought I would become a preacher.  As a preacher, I could not have imagined the impact I might make in people’s lives.  Even today, I am shocked to lead and work with people I didn’t know just a few years ago.

A journey of faith does not sound like something adventurous that will be very exciting.  In reality, following Jesus and letting him guide you is the most incredible journey you can make.  My younger self could not fathom where I am today, and it only happened by letting God lead me wherever he wanted me to go.  My encouragement to anyone is to trust God and hold on for an incredible ride.