Calling an Audible

This year’s football season has provided something unexpected. Without fans in most stadiums, there has been the ability to hear more clearly what the quarterback says as he waits to receive the ball during pre-snap. People watching have experienced all the things that he yells, especially the words, “Kill, Kill.”

For those who do not watch football, let me explain that he is not yelling out orders to exterminate a player from the other team. Although, if that were an option, I am sure most quarterbacks have some player they would like to eliminate. No, this is a shout to kill the play that was given in the huddle. The quarterback sees the defense and no longer wants to use the play that was initially called. He wants the team to know his decision, so he yells to his left and then to his right, notifying everyone on the field.

This process of play selection and changing is referred to as calling an audible. The quarterback’s voice changes the play to a second pre-selected play or shouts out another option before the play clock runs out.

Every week as I watch football, I am reminded of two essential truths. First, sometimes you are not able to do the thing you want. The defense is set. Your opponent knows your tendencies and has a plan to trip you up. Second, do not be afraid to change the play at the last second. The most successful teams have quarterbacks who can read the defense well and make changes with only seconds to play.

All this is true not only in football but also in the Christian life. The devil knows enough to make your best-laid plans fail. Sometimes you have to change your plans and follow how God is leading you. It takes a keen mind in tune with God’s word and his will, along with years of practice, to know when to make a change, but it is a skill that can be developed.

I believe God surrounds us with divine opportunities and appointments if we keep our eyes open to his leading. Maybe what you had planned today, this week, or weekend will need to hear, “kill, kill,” so that God can send you a different direction to do his work. Flexibility can be the key to obedience.

Only One God

Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God in charge of the world and nothing else. Biblical monotheism is a belief in a Godhead, often called the Trinity, that exists in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Godhead is described as the three in one.

That is it. That is all that Christians believe.

This conviction also means there are a large number of things they do not believe. They do not believe in luck. Personally, I have spent the past few years trying to eliminate the word from my vocabulary as I hear it used dozens of times a day, and I simply don’t believe it exists.

The list could go on and on. Christians don’t believe in luck, karma, superstitions. Neither do they believe in palm readers, psychics, Ouija boards, voodoo, reading tea leaves, bent spoons, ghosts, or fortune-tellers. They don’t throw salt over their shoulder, knock on wood or use dream catchers. They do not carry a rabbit’s foot, four-leaf clovers, or horseshoes for good fortune. They realize there are no such things as magic, horoscopes, astrology, wizards, or spells that can change people’s fate. There is a long, long list of things of which the followers of God do not believe.

I often think how crazy the people in the Old Testament were for trusting wooden and stone idols. They made them and then bowed down to worship them shortly after it was created. Are people today that far removed? We think an item we bought or an object we found somehow changes the outcome of games or brings good fortune. Believers today are called to push back from the belief in other powers the same as the people did in the Old Testament; just today, it wears different names.

Online Church?

A minister I know recently vented his frustration with people staying home and doing Church online. He stated that it was not Church and might even be unbiblical.

The problem with his line of reasoning was that he did not understand the nature of the Church using the internet. Unfortunately, many other people are making the same mistake, and I want to address this issue today.

First, we need to be clear that the internet is simply a tool. This is the same as the Church using printed materials, projection screens, and even buildings. We live in a time where there are more tools to be used by God’s people than ever before. The internet is one of those tools we can leverage for the Lord’s work.

Second, the goal for Christian leaders is always the same. We are called to help develop people into fully mature disciples of Jesus. Part of the discipleship process is connecting believers into a community we call the Church. These goals are inseparable for people who take their faith seriously. Jesus told his followers to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything he commanded. His commands include loving one another in the name of the Jesus we serve. This is best accomplished as a community. This is why the next book in the Bible after the story of Jesus is the book of Acts that tells how the first believers worked together to form this new group called a Church.

Three, using a particular tool does not change the goal but enhances it. The Church owns a building to make it easier for people to gather for worship, serve, learn, and provide the various ministries needed in its setting. The goal is not to get people into a building but to see them become fully mature disciples of Jesus, and we use the facility to accomplish it. The same is true with the use of the internet. The goal is not to have you sit in front of a screen at specified times. It is not used to form a group of people we call an “online Church.” The people of faith are merely trying to use another tool to help people become all that God desires for them as individuals and as a community.

This week, if you start watching a worship program, a sermon, or someone teaching the Bible, you need to understand that it is not Church. That is something the Church is using to make you more like Jesus.

When Things Get Back to Normal

Over the past six weeks, I have heard several people use the same statement. As they talked about the year 2021, they have said with optimism, “When things get back to normal…” I suppose this phrase comes with the potential of a new year or possibly the distribution of a vaccine. Still, people are looking forward to positive changes in the coming months.

My issue with this thinking is the misguided belief that life will one day return to what it was like before the past year of Covid. The world has changed, and there is no going back. Things like hand sanitizer, masks, foggers, disinfectant wipes, latex gloves, and other safety precautions will always be a part of our lives. The fear of getting sick and the possibility of it leading to death will never be erased. In Church, the tools we use like social media and streaming videos are now part of our culture. Some of the people who stepped back from regular worship attendance are never going to return, while others have gone to other places. Many changes are here to stay no matter how badly we want things to return to what we knew before all of this.

Through the centuries of the Christian faith, the landscape has changed dramatically with new discoveries, inventions, and breakthroughs. Some of these changes have been for the better, and a few have made things worse. Still, we press on. As Jesus followers, we keep moving forward in the faith the God is working in all of this. Instead of longing for a past that will never return, we are to embrace the future possibilities for the kingdom of God. Sure, there are things about life before Covid that were wonderful, but some of those things are gone forever. The future for faithful people still shines brightly despite the changes. For believers, this is not a time to look back; instead, it is the moment for us to look forward and move confidently into the future God has prepared for us.

Hope is the belief that God has better things in the future than what we are experiencing right now. Christians are people of hope, both for eternity and on our journey in this life. I am not excited for when things get back to normal, but I am hopeful that God is doing his mighty work, and one day all of this will grow the kingdom of God in this world.

In Your Corner

During a boxing match, there are a set number of rounds for actual fighting.  The length of each round and the number of them depends on the boxer’s age, weight, and skill level.  Between each one of these, there is a break that is signified by a bell.  At this point, the boxer returns to their assigned corner for rest with their team of coaches. 

Everyone needs people in their corner.  If you are taking a beating and need some encouragement, you need people there to support you. If you are giving a beating, you need someone to keep you focused on the rest of the fight.  If you are in a match that is even, you need someone to point out the places you might improve to achieve victory.  You need someone in your corner to fix your cuts, offer advice, and give you the pep talk you need to go back for another round. 

This is an analogy of life.  We all need someone in our corner.  We need people who will help us with each day in which we struggle.  There are people who we need to encourage, inspire, and instruct us through the battles we face each day. 

Somedays, it is crucial for us to make sure we have someone in our corner.  Other days we need to evaluate the people there to make sure we have the people we truly need.  Every day is an excellent time to ask yourself, who can count on me to be in their corner? 

God in My Work

I am going to let you in on a little secret. Your pastor has no idea what he is doing. And, for that matter, neither do I.

The pastoral ministry requires that you learn most of your skills while on the job. I read my Bible, and I pray diligently. There are conferences and workshops where people try to provide practical information. My office is lined with books about leading a Church and detailed descriptions of various tasks. But most of my lessons have come from trial and error.

Looking back over my years in Church leadership, I have some big regrets. There are things I wish I had said or done differently and times in which I should have behaved or spoken differently. Being a pastor is filled with mistakes, mistimed choices, and blind ignorance.

My leadership requires both the grace of God and the kindness of the people I lead. The fact that anything good happens at all is the result of serving a God bigger than my shortcomings.

What you do is hard too. I am sure you are learning while doing as well. The good news is that not only preachers can count on God to help them. All of us need God’s goodness and mercy, whatever we do. Somehow, he takes our ignorance and makes it work. Today I thank God for showing up one more week in my life to do those things that I cannot. I am also thankful that he did his work in your life too.

Properly Interpreting the Bible

There are two ways of handling a Bible passage.

The first is called exegesis. The word means “to draw out.” In proper exegesis, the reader looks at the passage in context. They examine the overall book in which the test was written, any large subdivisions, the remaining chapter, and the verses before and after it. The words are examined closely, and then all the pieces are put together to draw out the passage’s meaning.

Another way to read the Bible is called eisegesis. In this form of interpretation, the reader has arrived at theological conclusions and reads them into the text. The reader knows what the Bibles says in other places, and so this passage must fit into our already arrived at conclusions.

Every definition I could find online of these two approaches to God’s word clearly explains the failing of eisegesis. Reading the Bible that way opens the meaning to the reader’s interpretation, presuppositions, and agendas. There is no honest way to explain the difference without seeing enormous flaws in improperly handling the text.

And yet, a casual stroll through social media will reveal that most people handle the scripture with eisegesis. Most people come to the Bible with all these preconceived ideas about God, Jesus, and how the world is supposed to work. After all, most of us heard a few stories as kids, attended a VBS, or have been in Church for most Easter and Christmas celebrations. We have reached some well-established conclusions; all we need now is a verse to back it up.

Today my advice is straightforward and yet nearly impossible to do. Here it is: Never read a Bible verse. Never read one verse without context. The moment you read it without the proper context, you are committing eisegesis. You bring all your thoughts, experiences, agendas, and misunderstandings and place them on that passage. Sure, you might get the meaning correct, but you also might be way off the mark.

Believers need to be people who properly handle the word of truth. If we do not do it correctly, then we are setting a terrible precedent for those who are not believers. I know you love that verse, but my question is, do you love it because of what God wants it to mean or because of what you want it to mean?

Just Be There

Her story broke my heart as she described her life with her children.  I asked, “Where is your husband, the children’s father?” She told me he spent most of his time working or pursuing his hobbies, and they didn’t spend much time together.  

His story painted a picture of a marriage that would not last long.  He invited his wife to join him on his many adventures, and she refused.  She didn’t enjoy the same things that he did, so they lived separate lives for several years. 

The pain in her voice was noticeable as she told me about her children.  Now well advanced in years and left alone after her husband of over 50 years passed.  She longed to visit with her children, but they were, according to her description, “busy with their own lives.”

The impact of her father existed not just as a little girl but now as an adult.  She desperately wanted to know the man she called dad.  Be he never seemed to have time for her, and she never completely understood why a conversation and coffee could mean so much. 

Many of the conversations and counseling that I share with people revolves around two topics.  The first is the people who hurt them by their presence.  Numerous people are trying to overcome the pain inflicted on them by others. The second issue is the hurt caused by people’s absence.  The person they loved the most and wanted to connect with in meaningful ways did not have time for them. 

Here is the truth most of us ignore:  we easily recognize the damage caused by evil people, and we never think of the hurt inflicted by absence.  As a result, we can miss the opportunities that exist around us, or worse; we can inflict pain into the lives of people we care about without even recognizing it. 

I continually remind myself and others to be present in the lives of the people you care about and those who care about you.  Your time with them does not have perfect or eventful.  You just have to be there.  I can assure you that someone in this world longs for you to be a part of their life.  They want to sit with you, talk, and enjoy the quiet moments.  Each day you need to remember that one gift you can always give to your loved ones is spending time together.  People do not want you to be perfect; they want you to be present. 

The Appearance of an Effort in Marriage

Going to counseling will not fix your marriage.

Attending worship programs at Church will not solve the issues in your marriage. 

Reading a book will not give you a better marriage. 

Telling your friends, “I am trying,” will not change the situation in your home. 

Admitting your marriage is struggling will not heal your relationship. 

These things are great activities and could help you rebuild your relationship with your spouse, but only if you follow through with the advice you are given. 

Many of the couples I work with are not interested in making their marriage work.  They want to be able to tell their friends that they “made an effort.” This gives them the ability to shift the blame to the spouse so that they can move forward in a new direction without regrets.  The phrase, “Well, I tried,” is usually followed by a list of ways that they worked at it. “I knew we needed help, and once I broke down, we started going to counseling and attending Church.  Unfortunately, nothing helped.”  

The problem is that none of those activities constitute a real effort being given to work on the marriage.  Did you take the advice of the counselor and do what you were told? Did you have hard conversations?  Did you shut your phone off and talk?  How often did you have a date night?  Did you give yourself to your spouse more than your friends?  And did you start living for Jesus or just sit in a chair for an hour?  The list of action steps is long … did you DO anything productive?

I meet couples every single week who are struggling.  Most of them are more concerned with telling me their issues than doing the hard work of rebuilding. My advice is to stop worrying about building a resume of things that only appear you made an effort and do the challenging projects that bring results.

This is not intended to be harsh, but you need to hear straightforward talk to better your marriage.  Your friends might not be telling you the truth, or you are simply not listening.  Today can be the day you stop worrying about appearances and truly improve your marriage by doing something productive.      

How You Respond

Life is full of disappointments, dead-ends, and disasters.  Each one of us makes mistakes, fails, and sins.  All of us deal with the same struggles, whether they originate with other people or are the working of our own hands. Frustrating events are going to happen to everyone.   

The difference in humanity is how you respond to challenging situations.  You cannot control what happens to you, but you have a choice as to how you will react physically, verbally, and relationally. 

When Paul tells the Church in the region of Galatia about the Christian life, he describes what he calls the fruit of the Spirit.  These are the attitudes and actions that come out of a follower of Jesus.  They are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23 – NIV 2011) 

Recently I noticed that most of these are descriptions of how we respond to situations, particularly the difficult ones.  When greeted with hostility, we respond in love.  When things are dark and gloomy, we have joy.  If people want to fight, we offer peace.  As difficulties mount, we forbear.  We offer the world kindness and gentleness to encounters where others might not be so kind or gentle.  Believers control themselves at times when we feel like losing control. 

The fruit of the Spirit is a force of active good as we live for Jesus, but they are also for the reactive good as we respond to the world.  People know we are Christians by our love, but how powerful is that love when it is a response to hate?