Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles and posts I have read the last month or so. I hope they bless you as they have blessed me.

Good News! God Does Not Love You Unconditionally – I found this article to be a very interesting insight.

Inside America’s Largest Religious Revival You Know Nothing About – This article is a mixture of satire and truth about youth sports. Incredible insight.

Six Ways Pastors Struggle: You Are Not Alone – Yes

ISN’T IT TIME FOR A NEW MISSION STORY? – This is about Francis Chan’s decision to be a missionary and it is very thought-provoking.

Seven Things I Lost Because of Church Growth – It will cost members several things if we are going to reach more people for Jesus.

Carried By Prayers

She said, “I pray for you regularly.” I stopped in my tracks and was humbled in my spirit. I responded by saying, “I can’t thank you enough.”

I truly meant that sentiment. I cannot thank people enough who have prayed for me. This is true as a pastor, but it is more valid as a person. My life of faith has been carried on the prayers of others.

The prayers of others have kept me from trouble, led me down the right path, and opened doors through the power of God. Their influence has been present in the mistakes of my youth, the decisions during my young adult years, and the difficulties of married life.

I cannot explain precisely how prayer works, but I know that God has done amazing things in my life that cannot fully explain. There were moments where I am sure I did not pray enough, and yet he responded. I assume it is because others were people praying for me all along the way.

My parents prayed for me. The Church I grew up in had several people praying for me. Sunday School teachers prayed for me. Youth sponsors, leaders, and ministers lifted me up to God in their prayers. Friends have prayed for me. I know a college professor who has prayed for me once a week for the last 25 years. My wife prays for me. People in my past and present congregations continually mention my name to God.

Today I want to thank everyone who has ever said a single prayer on my behalf. I am where I am today because of you.

I also want to encourage you. Someone is praying for you. I know they are. Your parents, siblings, preacher, co-worker, friends, and even people who barely know you are seeking God’s will on your behalf. They are asking God to work in your life, protect you, bless you, strengthen you, and whatever else you need.

Part of your life is the result of your decisions, and another part is the direct result of God’s sovereignty. The second part is carried along by people who have decided to pray on your behalf. For those moments they spend before God, I am truly thankful, and I hope you are too.

Who You Spend Your Time With

Almost all your biggest regrets in life were connected to other people.

Someone talked you into doing something against God’s will.
Someone convinced you to take a risk, and you should not have made it.
Someone led you down a path of personal destruction.
Someone gave you bad advice, and you should never have taken it.
Someone opened up and connected with you, who was not your spouse.
Someone became friends with your kids, and they were a negative influence.
Someone lied, cheated, took advantage of, misinformed, failed, and hurt you.

The list is long of the pains we have experienced with and through other people.

Go ahead and walk your mind through all your regrets and see how they were intimately tied to another person or group of people.

This is why Solomon says in the book of Proverbs, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. (Prov. 13:20)”

What you do is deeply connected to who you spend your time with each day. Your journey with them is either leading you closer to a wise Godly life or in the direction of a fool.

Who will you spend time with today?

Choose Theology Over Quoting A Bible Verse

He looked across the room at me as I explained my position on the issue. When I had finished, he said, “All I know is the Bible says, ‘Love one another’ and what you said isn’t loving.” I responded by mentioning other passages from the Bible and tied to explain my views through a bigger lens. He sat back in his chair with a scowl that indicated his mind was made up. He was right, and I was wrong, and he had a line from the Bible to prove it.

I wish I could say that this was the only time an event like this has happened in my ministry. Unfortunately, it is a regular occurrence. Someone has memorized one line from the Bible, and it becomes their guide into all Christian behavior. As believers, we must be cautious about buildings our entire belief system on a single verse or section of scripture.

This problem has been furthered by our modern tools like an app or program that will search for a particular word or topic and give us a list of places in the Bible with that concept. We can read down the list of verses, find one that we like, and it becomes our proof positive that our view is correct.

Theology is a process of thinking about God. It is an attempt to view all the teachings of the Bible as a whole. That means the words written by Moses have harmony with those spoken by Jesus and written by Paul. This requires reading the scripture in its historical and Biblical context.

Let me give you just one simple example. In Luke 15, Jesus is questioned about eating with tax collectors and sinners. He responds by telling a three-fold parable. The first part is about a shepherd searching for his lost sheep. The second is about a woman looking for her lost coin. The third we call the prodigal son, and it is about a boy who leaves home only to return after he has wasted his life and money. The third part of the parable is different from the first two. In it, the father does not go searching for his son. Instead, he looks down the road and waits patiently. So, which is it? Does our God search for us when we are lost, or does he wait for us to come home? Those are opposite images and yet that both appear to be true. To adequately answer that question, we must look at the overall context along with the bigger picture told in the entirety of God’s word.

The Bible contains a variety of passages addressing particular situations and people. We must be extremely cautious about building our entire view of faith on a single verse or passage. In fact, if you tend to quote one verse over and over, you might be completely wrong. Theology takes time to explain because it covers a large amount of material. It is not a process of throwing away single verses; instead, it is seeing them as part of a greater whole. Paul tells the Church leaders from Ephesus in the book of Acts (20:27), “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”

When given a choice between single verse answers and those based on theology, always choose the bigger picture. Get comfortable with tensions, paradoxes, and seeming contradictions. God is bigger than we think, and his word more complex than we wish to admit. It takes work to know the mind of Christ; that is why God gives us a lifetime to do it.

Who is Speaking Into Your Life?

The article was shared and highly recommended. As I read through the material, I felt sick to my stomach. The words were written by someone with a good heart, but the information was sheer garbage. The writer was shallow, uninformed, and a borderline false teacher. I appreciate the writer’s heart, but that does not change the fact that what was shared with wrong.

What bothered me about this article was that someone recommended it to me as something positive for a Christian to read. It worries me that people are allowing misguided voices to speak into their life about faith.

We live in an information age, and while I appreciate that as a writer, it also concerns me as a pastor. We must be cautious about what we are allowing to impact our hearts and minds about faith. This is true whether it comes from a friend, social media, a blog post, or any other sort of teaching. There is so much lousy teaching from well-intentioned people.

For me, I have decided that I am not going to listen to people who are NOT –

  1. A Committed Member of a Christian Community. This is huge for me. Listen carefully to people who are living their faith hand in hand with other believers. We were not saved for a life of private faith and individual consumerism. Living in a community will stretch your faith, challenge your thinking and force you to enlarge your idea of grace.
  2. Reading their Bible Regularly. I am not saying they have mastered it. I mean, they are at least spending time in it regularly trying to understand and apply it to their life. Throwing around the name of God and using some Christian language does not mean a person has the mind of Christ. You only achieve that through time in the word of God.
  3. Serving the Lord Consistently. The adage is that sitting in a Church does not make someone a Christian any more than sitting in the garage makes you a car. The followers of Jesus are committed to serving one another and their God in love. This one action will shape your idea of grace and faith, giving you insights that others will miss.
  4. Regularly Exposing Themselves to Christian Thinkers. Lectures, podcasts, sermons, conferences are everywhere. Thousands of good books exist. Hundreds of thousands of useful articles and posts are all over the internet. If you are not exposing yourself to these, then you have nothing to say to me.
  5. Have a Goal of Spiritual Maturity. I prefer people who are already spiritually mature, with dozens of years of Christian life under their belt. If those people are not available or are not sharing their insights, then at least I want someone who has a strong desire to know God intimately. I want someone who is on the same journey and walking the path with me. Be careful with people who are making are making a profit from selling books, writing articles, and conference tickets. Seek people who care for the growth of people in the name of Jesus.

I believe in reading numerous authors over a variety of topics. I believe in listening to several speakers on a wide range of issues. BUT not all of them have an equal influence in my life. Chose carefully what finds its way into your heart, mind, and soul. You have a choice in who shapes your faith, choose wisely.

A Lesson in Gratitude

Recently I was listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on gratitude. It was based on a story found in the gospel account of Jesus, written by Luke. The account is found in Luke 17:11-19 and is about ten lepers who are healed by Jesus. It is a familiar passage for anyone who has ever been to a Thanksgiving program in a Church.

Ten lepers see Jesus, and they cry out for pity. He tells them to show themselves to the priest as the Law of Moses required. On the way, they look down and see that they have been healed. One of the ten runs back to Jesus and thanks to him. Jesus seems indignant that nine of them did not come back to thank him, only one did, and he was a foreigner.

Andy, in his sermon, asks an interesting question. He inquires, “Do you think all ten were thankful for this life change?” The obvious answer is yes. If you were an outcast to society, your family, and in many ways, your religion, of course, you would be grateful for being healed. Then he makes a keen observation, “There is a difference between being thankful and expressing thanksgiving.” Then he said something profound that I would like to share with you this day and this week. “A lack of expressing gratitude is received as ingratitude. When you fail to express gratitude to others, they see it as ingratitude.”

The applications are almost unlimited. Your parents do not know you are thankful for them unless you tell them. Your spouse may feel like you are ungrateful for them because you have never expressed it. Your heavenly Father may not know you are thankful for his work in Jesus, simply because you have never fallen before him and said, “Thanks.”

May this week not just be filled with thoughts of thankfulness. May we express them so that everyone will know how we feel.

I Hope It’s My Fault

Many times, we spend our energy trying to avoid blame. We think of all the reasons the issues are someone else’s fault, what others could do better, and how we are not responsible for our failures. This concept applies to almost every area of our lives from our grades in school, our career, our marriage relationship, the ways our children behave, and even our spiritual growth. Surely, if everyone else were more in tune with me and my needs, then life would be better for everyone. The problems with my life are their fault.

This type of thinking is extremely counterproductive. You cannot change someone else. Yes, you can teach and instruct them on the things they can do better, but that is no guarantee of change. You have zero control over the actions of other people, even those you love the most.

The only thing that you can control is your actions. You can think differently. You can behave more productively. You can change yourself.

Because of this truth, when anyone from your spouse to your boss comes to you with a problem, our best reaction is to think, “I hope it’s my fault.” Because if it is your issue, then you can improve. You have power. You have control.

As a believer, I submit myself to the will of God. I believe he is sovereign and had the power to do anything. But I also believe he created us with free will, and as a result, we are required to do the right thing. Our actions create an impact for God, on other people, and shape our world.

We like to think of the week of Thanksgiving as a time when people are happy. We spend time with our families, we eat, and we relax. The truth is that there will be difficulties. Families will clash, ideas will be opposed, and actions will be less than Godly. This week, instead of placing blame on other people, ask a different question. Ask yourself, “What can I do differently?” If we take our responsibility seriously, then we have found a key that unlocks many doors.