Friday, March 30, 2012

Treasure Hunt!

The longer I preach the more I notice incredible lessons in scripture that I missed in the past because it was dwarfed by well know passages that are used over and over again. I think many of us often miss powerful points from the Holy Spirit when we study because we know "what's coming up" and it's soooooo familiar, and - without meaning to - we quick-read over sentences to get to the well-known passage that we've trusted in and used so regularly. Come on, have you really spent very much time deeply examining those first few verses of introduction that are part of every epistle of Paul? Do you remember what happened prior to Acts 2:38 or what the topic was about that caused Jesus to say what he did in John 3:16? Of course you do, you're probably not in as big of a hurry as I tend to be when I study. Still, there are plenty of neat little passages that get lost in the shadow of the more popular verses.
A passage that I'm am using this coming Sunday is an excellent example of what I'm talking about. In Matthew 6, there is a wonderful jewel stuck between Jesus' call to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth because that indicates where your heart is - and that great little section of scripture about the how impossible it is to serve two masters. Just between those two is the lesser known passage that says, "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness." (vs.22-23)
I could probably come close to quoting all of that chapter, as well as 5 and 7 on either side of it, but I'd bet an ice cream sundae at Fritz's that I'd probably forget those two verses. And why? They're amazing! Isn't Jesus simply saying that how you choose to see things effects your whole life? It's all about perception. If you have the right perspective on living (i.e. having the right Master), you will see life in a wonderful light that will bless you in every way. But if you don't have the correct perspective - bad eyes are dark eyes - it will poison everything you do.
Maybe one of the greatest treasures in life is learning to see this world the way God wants us to see it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Learning & Teaching

Principle #3 in Living A Life That Counts is "A life that counts is a life that never stops learning and teaching/sharing with others." There are few things that show that a person has stopped living like when a person stops learning and sharing with others. I used Moses and the apostle John as examples of older people who never stopped learning and sharing. John's passion for life came from his close walk with God and Jesus, his deep desire that others could enjoy that same fellowship. I especially love his child-like enthusiasm when he declares that when others DO enjoy that special fellowship, his joy is complete. Here are the simple points of the lesson:

1. A life that counts never stops learning.
A. Learning gives meaning to life
B. Learning is growing (2 Pet.3:18 grace & knowledge inseparable)
C. As Christians, learning is seeking (Eph.1:13-19; Phil.3:7-11)
2. A life that counts never stops teaching/sharing
A. Teaching is not just being a teaching = example, giving, sharing, helping
B. Teaching with our life (Matt.5:14-16; Col.3:16)
C. Teaching is our witness (Gal.6:10; 1 Peter 3:15)
D. Teaching is growing (Heb.5:11-14)
Conclusion: If you don't learn & grow, you can't share & grow or help anyone else to do it.

Each of these points & sub-points could and should be separate lessons, but I have been especially thoughtful about the idea that for Christians, learning is seeking. Any real relationship that is growing, is a relationship that we consciously build. More than anything else, God wants us seeking him - a relationship with him. Yes, I know he wants us to love him (Deut.6), but love grows when a relationship grows and seeking is the desire - the commitment - to have a relationship. So what does it mean to seek God? Paul said he wanted to "know him" and everything about him (Phil.3). Seeking is doing whatever it takes to discover more about God, who he is, and why he loves us so much.
When I decided that I wanted to know that cute black-haired soprano, who I was in the chorus with at Harding University, I did all kinds of things to get to know her, what she liked, what she didn't like, and what it would take to get her to notice me. I got a friend to give me a ride to her church, I was late for classes just for the chance to see her, and I did more planning, finessing, and threatening than I care to tell right now, just to get to sit next to her on the bus when we had a chorus trip. When the desire is there, no effort too small or too great.
How can we say that we are seeking God when we do nothing to learn more about him? What are you seeking if it's not a desire to learn more?

Friday, March 23, 2012

"Oh, the inhumanity!"

During a commercial break of the morning news, I switched over the the DIY Channel to watched a few minutes of Cool Tools. Most of the time it's really about - well, cool tools that you'd love to own. I happened to catch a quick presentation of a power fly catcher. It's a space-aged looking plastic pistol with a long barrel that you sneak up on a fly with and it sucks the fly into a holding tube. At first, it looked like a fun game. Hey, anything that keeps you from smacking furniture with a Fly Swatter and leaving fly splatter around the house, can't be all bad. But here's the interesting difference. It catches flies into a tube so you can release them later - presumably somewhere else - and of course they're back in the house before you are. They called it "humane treatment of flies". Hmmm. Have you ever worried about the humane treatment of flies? Why do I tend to think that something that comes from maggots, lands on and eats things I don't want to even mention, and then comes into my house uninvited to dive-bomb my dinner plate and drive me crazy buzzing back and forth deserves to die? And why would anyone apply the word "humane" to such a critter? Look at the word "humane" and guess what the root word is? It comes from the idea of humans treating one another with kindness and compassion. I'm sorry - I guess I'm a killer at heart, because I feel neither kindness nor compassion towards a fly. We have a hard enough time showing both to humans. Someone has a lot of extra time on their hands, especially when there are so many humans in need of a little kindness and compassion.
It makes me laugh to think of someone losing sleep worried about the plight of the house fly. I guess we all have our burdens to carry. Maybe someone can come up with a Halfway House for Flies who have been "saved" by the fly catcher, or how about a Twelve Step Plan for flies hooked on cow patties. And what about all those poor mosquitoes who get slapped and smashed by the thousands? They only want a little of your "humane" blood.
I guess I'm going to have to work on my "humane" treatment of insects. You do know that they really don't talk and sing and dance like the animated films say they do? Well, I still may "shew" a fly out the door instead of splattering it with a swatter, but any mosquito that comes near me - indoors or outdoors - is dead meat, and you don't want to hear about the horrors of what I'll do to any spider that I find in my basement. I actually pay good money for a "hitman" to do most of my dirty work. He's the Terminator from Terminix, and he always says, "I'll be back."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Life That Counts

The second principle about Living A Life That Counts is understanding that we are here to serve rather than be served. Service is always a tough subject to preach about because it is so all inclusive. It's who & what we are! It's being like Jesus. Like evangelism, it is always easy to use it to produce guilt in those who are conscientious and dedicated. It's easy to have tunnel vision when it comes to service, and only see it in terms of that "the church" calls service - or it only matters if it is part of a church ministry. It's also extremely easy for service to become a tool for self-righteous comparisons, as we judge other's walk with God by external acts we have created as tests of faithfulness and loyalty to the Body. All that being said, maybe the toughest part of preaching on service is the simple fact that it is talked about so much. So what can I say that will be encouraging, enlightening, and, hopefully challenging? I shared these three principles, which certainly don't exhaust the subject.

1. It's not the size of the service, but the purpose! (Matt.25:14-30; 10:37-42; 6:1)

2. It's not the easy thing to do, but the Christ-like thing to do! (Lk.10:25-37)

3. It's never about the recognition, but always about the humility! (Jn.13:1-17)

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Next Generation

I love this picture sent to me from my buddy (JV). It says a great deal about how much things have changed in the last few years and how different each new generation will be. I can see any of our grand children in this picture. A new generation learning how to multi-task.

Friday, March 16, 2012

When I'm Asked...

Early in my ministry, 25 or 30 years ago, I would occasionally be asked by a friend or young person thinking about going into ministry what was the most difficult part of do my job. Back then, it was never very hard to quickly give them a response. I'd tell them, "The most difficult part of being in ministry - in particular, being a preacher - is having people question your motives." It's one thing to have people disagree with you, or have people who think you should have done something in a different way, or to just have people who don't like you or your preaching, but when people feel qualified to judge the intent of your heart - it's a whole different ball game. It never happened that much, but I did have times when Christians thought I had a hidden agenda, or was picking on them, or that my motives were mean, selfish, or spiteful. Again, it was rare, but it was always discouraging and hurtful. Most of the time when those things happened, I was blessed to have plenty of defenders and supporters who came to my aid, and helped to offset some of the pain. Through those few times that it happened, I was always shocked and amazed at how easy it was for some people to ignore the need to be Christ-like and/or the need to follow the biblical pattern for resolving problems between followers of God.

About ten years ago, I changed my mind. You can't stop people -who want too - from thinking they know what is going on in your head. Once they decide to speculate rather than communicate, the possibility of convincing them they are wrong is slim. I guess, with age and maturity, I've just decided that if I'm at peace with God, the folks who want to step into His shoes and my head will just have to work that out with him. So several years ago, a new #1 "tough thing" rose to the top of my list. It's the bane of every church leader, and a great weapon that Satan uses to discourage and destroy lots of church leaders every year. In simple terms, it's the "What have you done for me lately" attitude that many church members have when they critique, judge, and even attack spiritual leaders.

The very nature of spiritual leadership is confidential, behind-the-scenes, touching lives, and serving people one-on-one that can't be shouted from the podium or printed in the bulletin. People don't know what you do or how much you do - unless they want to know and ask. I have said so many times that the single most important quality in church leadership and membership relations is trust. You can never know all the things any spiritual leader does. That's true for Shepherds, staff ministers, teachers, ministry leaders, or anyone in a leadership role. Still, no matter how much you have done, served, sacrificed, or accomplished - some people only define you by the ONE THING you didn't do for them or their ministry. The hours you work, the good you do, the family time you sacrifice, the visits and calls you make, all pale to insignificance if you aren't there when THAT person thinks you should have been. We have a nasty habit in the church of turning OUR projects or OUR ministries into a test of loyalty and love, rather than a simple opportunity to choose to be part of.

The reason it's #1 for me is because sometimes it's absolutely true. There have been plenty of times when I dropped the ball, missed an opportunity, forgot a responsibility, or let myself get distracted. Most of the time it was simply the result of prioritizing, making choices, and frankly - just facing the fact that I couldn't do everything, be everywhere, and please everyone. That's just a real fact of the job. But when you are a "people pleaser" and you see yourself as a sensitive, caring, and responsible servant of God - you don't want ANYONE to be hurt or disappointed in your ministry. So, even with rationale and justification, etc. etc. - it still hurts to know someone is critical of me and my service for God. It doesn't happen a lot, but it has, and it will probably continue to happen occasionally.

So for anyone who asks - that is the answer I give. It's my #1 toughest part of doing what I feel God called me to do. The only thing worse is when someone you love dearly has to personally learn this.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Last of my pictures

I forgot that I promised to put some pictures from our vacation of our stop in Curacao, which is just off the coast of South America, not far from Aruba. It was a beautiful place. The style and color of the row of houses above really show the Dutch history of the island. It is a big oil producing country. We didn't do any sight-seeing, but we did do a lot of shopping. It was a fun place to just walk around.

This is looking at the same row of houses/shops, but from farther away. This is a huge pontoon bridge for pedestrians. When a boat needs to pass, an outboard motor mounted on the far end is cranked up and the whole bridge, with people on it, is simply pivoted out of the way. We watched it move a couple of times, with some really large boats going by. A neat thing to watch.

This was the welcome sign at the dock, with my good-looking travel partner posing next to it. You can just see some of the outdoor shops on the dock. They were pretty nice. I bought a leather bracelet at one. We really enjoyed the stop. I didn't get any pictures of our stop at Aruba. We did a lot of shopping their, especially since Donna was seriously looking for some "sugar cane" jewel that she got two years ago. We found it - almost literally at the last little shop we went to.

It was a fun trip with a lot of great memories.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Path to Character

The down side of doing so much introspective reflecting as a preacher - usually looking for personal experiences that I can use for illustration purposes - is not always liking what I remember. I'm not one to live in the past or be haunted by guilt and the sad cry of "should have," but I am saddened occasionally when I remember stupid choices, selfish priorities, and spineless convictions. The truth is, the path to character in my life has at times been crooked, detoured, and ignored. It wasn't that I didn't have convictions or values, there was just a drought of courage at certain times when the ugly market place of pleasure, recognition, and success looked more attractive. Yes, there were times when I was just young and foolish, but there were plenty of times when my heart was screaming in my ear "Be a man of character," and I simply didn't listen. I guess most of us are hard-of-hearing at times - or at least guilty of having selective hearing problems.

But I did learn. I did, with a patient Father, grow out of the need to let peer approval lead me more than God's approval. I did develop some life principles that became foundations of moral convictions and non-negotiable values. The need to be authentic and real about my relationship with Jesus and God gave me the courage I needed to please them whether anyone else liked it, believed it, or agreed with it. Integrity became a personal treasure that means more to me than pleasure, recognition, and success can tempt me to compromise. As a result, my path to character has been pretty straight (and narrow) for a lot of years now. With it comes a peace that I wish I could have understood and enjoyed back in those zigzag days - but, I guess that's why it's called growing. We're not born mature - either physically or spiritually, but with God's guidance, we can get there with both.

I am doing a series of lesson now about Living A Life That Counts, and it will be about some of those principles of life that I have learned along the path to character. The first lesson was "Life is all about who you love and who loves you back." Knowing it and living it are two different things. It's the difference character makes.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Pain & Suffering?

After having received so many positive comments about how helpful my lesson was last Sunday, I thought I'd give the highlights to my fellow bloggers who aren't part of our church family. I basically wanted to define what it meant to approach the throne of grace with confidence "so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Heb.4:16) It was a goo way to at least partially deal with the problem of pain and suffering. He full lesson can be hear on the church web page, but here is the rough outline.

Extreme Privilege: A Giving High Priest
A. The problem with God is:
1. He's not Santa Claus - filling wish lists
2. He's not - fulfilling orders
3. He's not a super hero - stopping evil
4. He's not a lucky Leprechaun - giving me good luck
5. He's not a Wizard w/ a wand - stopping sickness & death
B. The biggest reason most people reject, dismiss, or doubt God is because he allows pain and suffering. The argument is - a loving God wouldn't do that! What about Jesus?
C. What this is really about: (what people are really saying)
1. God shouldn't have created us as humans (immortals would be better)
2. We deserve life - long life - it's not a gift
3. We shouldn't have limitations, weaknesses, & physical imperfections
4. Evil people should not be able to do evil things to good people
5. God should intervene and stop - not only pain & suffering - but the evil men do!
D. He's the God who didn't do enough! (So they seem to say)
1. What would David say? Psalm 8
2. What would Paul say? Romans 5:1-11
3. What would Jesus say? John 3:16-21
E. Lesson series is about how much God has done for us (Heb.4:14-16)
1. Approach the throne of grace?
2. Grace, mercy, & help in time of need = not enough?
F. We have a giving God and a giving high priest
G. How does God help us in our time of need? Some ways are...
1. Miraculous intervention
A. God's power has never changed or lessened - 1 Jn 5:14-15
B. May be direst or indirect - use others or not
2. Escape - 1 Cor.10:13; James 4:7-10; 4:2-3
3. Comfort and Support - 2 Cor.1:3-7; Gal.6:2; Rom.12:5-6; 9-16
4. Growth and Maturity
A. Heb.12:4-7 We decide if it's training or excuse to blame God
B. Faith becomes real = gold 1 Pet.1:6-9
C. Trust & prayer grow in trials - James 1:12
5. God's Waiting Room
A. Moses = 40 years; Joseph = sold & prison
B. Paul's thorn in the flesh 2 Cor.12
Conclusion: Our God wants to give more - Matt.7:7-11

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Another Rude Awakening

We were awakened early last Friday morning by the sound of hail hitting our house. The windows of our bedroom, which are on either side of our bed, sounded like they were about to break. The hail hit so hard that it sounded like fire crackers going off. Needless to say, I immediately got up and went down stairs to see how bad it was. I grabbed my camera and snapped off a few pictures (thinking insurance claims), but two were too blurry and only these two came out fairly clear. The hail ranged from pea size to large marble size, and some areas around us had golf ball size hail. How can that not damage something? I was glad that our vehicles were in our garage. Of course, with all the tornadoes that have hit so many places the last week, our hail storm seems pretty mild, but...

...being the preacher I am, it did cause me to remember the hail that God send as a plague to get Pharaoh's attention. That was no ordinary hail storm. Exodus 9 says that it was the worst hailstorm to have ever fallen on Egypt. Accompanied by lightning and rain, "it beat down everything in the fields - both men and animals...everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree." It seems to make it clear that any one who didn't get their livestock and workers out of the field, lost them all to hail. Wow. That got their attention - even more than the river of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, killing of the livestock in the field, and the boils did. But, as you remember, once they cried "uncle" to Moses, and he cried "stop" to God - they "hardened their hearts" all over again.

It is amazing how hard hearts lead to hard-headedness. While we might want to ridicule Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their stubbornness, just look at how most of us ignore and postpone real change in our lives until we get slapped in the face with our mortality. It's easy to think of power hungry and prideful Pharaoh as being way more irrational, hard-headed, and stubborn than we are, but even "church people" tend to have short memories of the "signs" God allows us to have to get serious about eternity. Who knows what signs he sends to remind us? (Okay - this is for family who are expecting it) What - the hail?

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Company of the Committed

What makes a person a "committed" Christian? In years past, "committed" was always synonymous with "faithful", and a faithful Christian was one who attended church three times a week - and never missed! If they were male, married (only once), and had faithful children, we made them elders - because you always picked your most committed/faithful people to be elders.

Then there is the "involved" category, which means that if someone is heavily involved in the work and activities of the church, they are seen as committed. It's hard to argue with that, when people commit time, money, and talents to the ministries of the church. This is closely associated with service, and anyone who serves is automatically a committed person. Service is what followers of Christ were called to do, so if the church organizes a service project or opportunity, and you show up, the church declares you committed. Of course, if you don't, well - let's just say that your commitment is suspect.

And the biggest identifier of all is evangelism. There is probably no religious activity that any Christian can participate in that will do more to confirm them before the rest of the church as "committed" like evangelism. It's the great source of constant guilt that even the most dedicated person has to cope with, because no matter how many people you convert, you should have done more. But even the ones who do a little bit, make the rest of us feel like we're lacking "the right stuff" to be truly called "committed".

I really don't mean for any of that to sound shallow or unimportant, but it does strike me as significant how much we determine real commitment based on externals - on works - on looking the part to gain the praise of men. These are all good things - good works - that should glorify our Father. I hope and pray that I - that all of us - can be thought of as committed because we do these things, but isn't it interesting that for Jesus, the most important identifying characteristic of commitment is love. In fact, all the above become empty-sad-self-serving activities without love. (Read 1 Cor.13:1-3 again)

One of the things that has always amazed me about Jesus' judgment scene in Matthew 25 is that the only quality he will be looking for in us is compassion, and the ones he commends didn't even know when they had done the things he was commending them for. For them, and for Jesus, it was a life style! Sure it includes attendance, involvement, service, and sharing your faith, but if these don't well up from a heart of love they become what Jesus warned about when he said, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them." (Mt.6:1)
As it always is, it comes down to WHO we want to impress or please. Who do we want to see us a committed?

Our commitment is not defined by the church, but by our relationship with God.