What about my wife?

There was a service organization in a small town that wanted to honor their greatest member.
 
They set out to host one of the nicest banquets they could put together.  They chose the most beautiful place settings.  They spent days choosing the perfect menu.  Every decoration was hung meticulously and with great care.  The whole day was planned and ready to go!
 
The night had arrived and the people began to fill the room.  Soon the food was served and the presentation was about to begin.  Suddenly, one of the planners of the event noticed something:  the guest of honor was not there!!!
 
The planner slipped from the room and called the man’s cell phone.
 
“Hello.”
 
“Hey, the banquet has already started.  Where are you?  Are you on your way?”
 
“What Banquet?”
 
“The banquet that we are hosting in your honor!!!  The food has already been served and the speakers are ready to start!!!  Hurry down to the Hall so we can get started!!!!”
 
“No one ever told me about a banquet.”
 
“What?”
 
“You all have planned this whole affair, and you did not think to even include me?  You did not talk to the organizations that I am passionate about.  You did not allow me to be part of the process in any way.”
 
“Um….”
 
“What about my bride?  Did you even talk to my wife once?  Did you invite her to the event?  Did you allow her to be a part of all your preparation or your planning?”
 
“No.”
 
“We will not be attending your banquet tonight.  You set out to honor somebody, but it certainly wasn’t me.”
 
This Sunday is Easter Sunday.  We all have our traditions.  Some of us visit family, others make this special day all about our kids.  We will put in countless hours preparing meals, decorating eggs or our homes, and putting together Easter baskets.  I would challenge you today to not forget the guest of honor.
 
We celebrate Easter because of Jesus.  It is his resurrection that we are celebrating and therefore He should remain the center of all that we do on this day.  When we do this, let us not forget his bride as well.  She is the church.
 
I hope that you will make the church part of whatever you do this Sunday.  Let your kids learn the true meaning of Easter and be reminded yourself of the great love and freedom that Christ gave you through the cross and resurrection.  If we do not, we may find the very person we gather to celebrate will be absent from all that we do.
 
God bless and have a happy Easter!!!  HE IS RISEN!!!!

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You gotta fight…

Recently, something unfortunate happened to my family… Thankfully, it was not something life altering, but it certainly altered our routine for the week.  My two youngest kids came down with strep and had to stay home for a couple days. Now I know that does not sound like a big deal, but when you are a busy family of five with clubs, meetings, and practices to attend; it came seem like the whole week just goes crashing down around you. However, something beautiful happened in the middle of all that chaos.  Suddenly, we all had to just stay home one evening.  A night that would usually be filled with practice, meetings, and appointments was suddenly cleared and all five of us found ourselves home at the same time.  So what did we do?  We had dinner, around the table, as a family. And it was magical…. As I reflected on the evening after my kids had gone to bed, I began to realize that I had been giving up too much ground to the world.  I had allowed the world to dictate what we did, where we went, and even what my kids were exposed to.  I had good intentions to be sure, but I was neglecting the things that really matter. Because of this, here are a couple suggestions I came up with as we fight for our family against a busy world.

  1. KNOW YOUR ENEMY

While we can point to lots of enemies, I want to focus on one and that is busyness.  Busyness tries to convince you that you have to do everything.  Busyness tries to tell you that if you don’t say, “yes” then you are missing out.  Busyness tries to tell you that this is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

But guess what?  Busyness is lying. You don’t have to do everything.  Most of what you are doing now will not matter in 5 years.  There will be plenty of opportunities for your family in the future, but they will only be kids once.  Please don’t rob them of your time, love, and companionship as you usher them off to the next event.

Colossians 3:21 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they do not lose heart.”  Paul knew that parents are tempted to push their kids too hard, so fight back!   Let them live and learn what really matters!

 

  1. KNOW YOUR MISSION

Jesus said it very plainly, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

If these commandments are the two most important things that we can do as human beings, then does it not follow that these are the two most important things that we can teach our kids?  I think so.

We have to remember this in light of all that the world is telling us to do.  If an activity, or a club, or a show, or a piece of technology leads us down a path were we love that thing more than God or people created in the image of God; then it has become a dangerous and it needs to be put in check.

While many things may not be inherently bad, everything can become an idol if we let our hearts go unchecked.

  1. START SMALL

What do I do?  How do I get started?  We are so committed now; I don’t know how to pull back!

Often when we notice that our lives have gotten a little too hectic, we want to just quit everything and start over. (Or move far away and start a new life!)

Also, we tend to start trimming the things that seem to demand less of us when we get busy.  This usually means church involvement gets cut as well as family time.  DON’T DO THIS!!

Instead, I would suggest that you start small in other ways.  Is there an evening that you as a couple or a family can block off to be together?  Can you set aside one weekend a month that will remain free of other obligations?  When you figure out when that is, stick to it!  People will want to get you to compromise.  They will say things like, “just this once” but don’t give in.  Show the world that your home and your family are important!  “No” is a very powerful word that you are allowed to use.

Now that you have said “no” to the world; say “yes” to God.  Do a little devotion as a family.  Ask your kids how something they learned at church affected their life that day.  Listen to worship music as a family and even sing along!

  Once you take that first step, you will probably notice that the world will keep spinning.  Your kids will continue to have opportunities and no one’s life will be over because you missed that “one thing”.  But you will probably also notice that your family will be healthier, your relationships will be stronger, and your love for God will deepen as you trust Him even more!   “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”  (1 John 5:21)


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Loving Absalom

“If I were his/her parent…” Have you ever heard someone say this?  You may have heard it from seasoned grandparent or a couple that doesn’t have kids.  Often this is a phrase that comes out in the midst of a tough parenting moment.  It comes out in the grocery store, over coffee with friends, even in the church building. There is an idea behind this phrase that the person saying it would do better; or at least do differently, and often it is complete bologna. Last week, as I was doing my personal Bible reading I came across the story of Absalom.  Absalom was the son of King David and his story is found in 2 Samuel 13 and carries all the way to chapter 19.  By the end of the story, I found myself uttering that same phrase, “If Absalom had been my child, I would have…”  Needless to say, I would not have been very gracious.  See, Absalom’s story began with the assault of his sister by his half-brother.  When his father refused to administer justice, he took matters into his own hands.  He killed his brother and for that he was banished.  Eventually, David began to miss Absalom and he was convinced to bring him back to Jerusalem, but Absalom returned a different man.  He returned arrogant, unrepentant, entitled, and feeling justified.  It did not take long for him to begin to think that he would be a better king than his father.  After some time, he chose to act on that thought and began a coup. David was forced to flee Jerusalem and only by the grace of God was he able to escape, regroup, and reclaim his throne. 2 Samuel 18:5 says, “The king charged Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king charged all the commanders concerning Absalom.”  Wait… what?  Did I miss something?  This spoiled little punk committed a crime.  David showed him mercy, and he repaid him with an insurrection.  Now David wants his commanders to show him more mercy?  As we continue to read, we learn that Joab did not follow David’s orders and kills him despite the fact that he did not have to. Picking up in verse 33 after David hears the news, “The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’”  Why is David acting this way?  Why if he were my son, I would have…. Oh… My problem is that I put myself in the shoes of the wrong person.  In this story, I am NOT David…  I am ABSALOM. Think about it for a moment….

  • Absalom was unwilling to wait on justice, so he took matters into his own hands.
  • Absalom was unrepentant in every way; even when he knew he was wrong.
  • Absalom was a flatterer who loved to gather people who only affirmed him.
  • Absalom thought he could do a better job than the king
  • Absalom removed the true king in order to make his own kingdom.

I could say the same thing about myself as it relates to my Heavenly Father as well.  All too often I am unwilling to wait on God’s timing.  I am unrepentant even when I know I am wrong.  I would rather be around people that support my sinful actions than godly people who might confront me.  I often think I know what is best over God’s Word. Ultimately, my sin proves that I am a rebel, hostile towards God, deserving judgment. But David’s heart reflects that of our God.  He loves us despite our rebellion. And What David could not do (taking the place of Absalom), God did when he sent his only Son to die in our place. Every.  Single.  One of us is a rebel deserving the same fate of Absalom, but God in his tremendous love for us took that punishment on himself in order to restore us as His Sons & Daughters. So praise the Lord that I am not David, because I would have done it wrong.  May I never forget that I am a sinner saved by grace, and may I share that grace with all who might receive it!


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Counting Sprinkles

Recently my wife brought home a new saying to our family…
 
“Don’t let your ice cream melt while you are counting someone else’s sprinkles.”
 
As we tried to parent two little girls through the Christmas season, it is not hard to believe that we have used this saying A LOT!!!!
 
This little saying speaks of envy, which is wanting what someone else has.  All too often we hear about what is going on in someone else’s life and we begin to wish we had what they had.  This is also accompanied with a growing  bitterness towards our current situation.
 
We hear about someone else getting a promotion or a raise, and we get angry because our own career does not feel as fruitful.  We see beautiful pictures of happy families during the holidays, and we wonder why our own kids are so difficult and our own lives are so complicated.  We even hear about how God is doing wonderful things in the church just down the street and we begin to wonder if maybe our own spiritual well-being would be better if we visited them.
 
Recently, I had the chance to sit down with some close friends and talk about life.  These gentlemen were involved in churches and ministries of which I was particularly envious.  Based on our previous conversations, their churches seemed to be in the midst of revival.  They were excited about what God was doing and their churches were enjoying a wonderful harvest.  As my church has struggled in recent months, I often wondered what it would be like if I was serving where they are.
 
However this week our meetings were much different.  In the short time that we were together they related stories of struggle and conflict.  They were still excited to be serving and the Lord is still working in their respective ministries, but the “church on the mountaintop” image I had in my head was shattered.  I had wrongly assumed that just because good things were happening that they did not have struggles.  In my own life and ministry, I had become so focused on the negative that I had failed to see all the wonderful things God was doing. Envy had robbed me of the joy of serving the Lord where I was.
 
I had sinned and I was wrong.  I am also willing to bet that I am not alone.  So how can we recognize envy as it starts to creep into our hearts and deal with it?  Here are some things to look out for:
 
  1. We are focused on other people’s successes, but we do not rejoice.

When Paul was imprisoned, there were many who took up his charge and were telling others about Jesus.  Paul knew that some did it to honor Paul’s mission, while others did it to compete with him.  Paul’s response to both was this, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.” (Phil 1:18) He did not care what their reasons were; only that people were receiving Christ.  He rejoiced in what he was hearing!!! Do you hear how God is blessing other people, but don’t rejoice with them?  Does it make you just work harder?  Do you begin to ask God why He isn’t doing the same for you?  These types of response mean that we are responding in envy instead of contentment.  The Christian should rejoice that God is moving and pray that he continue to work in the lives of everyone!

  1. We make excuses for why we are not serving; things are not “ideal”

Something I always say is that everyone has an excuse and they are all good.  I say this, not because all excuses are actually good, but because everyone is convinced that their excuse is a good one. One such excuse is that we cannot further the Kingdom of God because “we do not have what other churches have”.  We think that if we had more people, better people, better music, or a better facility, then we could really have an impact for Christ.  We claim that our situation is not “ideal” for ministry and so we do not do ministry. The problem is that there will always be an excuse.  There will always be a reason to not share the Gospel or serve the Kingdom.  We have to embrace the reality that we do not live in an ideal world and get serving anyway.  Our excuses are not leading anyone to Christ.  Put them away and do what you can!!!

  1. We think that other people do not have problems.

This is the one that got me. All too often we talk to people on the phone, see what they post of social media, and we think that they live these care-free lives where nothing bad ever happens.  We begin to think that all of our problems are unique to us and no one could possibly understand what we are going through.  These thoughts lead us to bury our problems and pretend like they are not there.  We will wallow in our own self-pity and ultimately destroy ourselves.

This is a lie straight from Satan!!!  You are not alone!!!  The Bible clear says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” (1 Corinthians 10:13a) This statement should remind us that we are all going through life in the same fallen world, dealing with the same problems.  You are not perfect, I am not perfect, and we don’t have to pretend that we are.  If you begin to think that someone has the perfect situation somewhere else, rest assured that they are dealing with their own set of hardships.  Trust that God is working in your life just like He is working in theirs. Ultimately, God is calling us to trust Him, trust His provision, and be content.  Yes, your life may not look like your neighbors, but God never intended it to do so.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.(Proverbs 3:5) And enjoy some ice cream along the way!


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Let Us Adore Him

 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?
For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2)

  If I were to ask you what is something you do on Christmas Day?  You might have one of several answers.  Most would say exchange gifts.  Other would say that they eat a bunch including cookies and other sweets.  Still more would say that they really cut loose, have a “good time”, and just celebrate all day. Ironically, the very activity that seemed to set the tone of the first Christmas Day falls all the way to fourth on most surveys about Christmas Day.  What activity is that?  WORSHIP!!!!  And Evangelicals are probably the worst culprits when it comes to making Christmas Day about everything but worshiping the Christ who has arrived! You may ask, “I know about the angels and all that, but did worship really play that big of a role in the first Christmas?”  The simple answer is YES!!!  Just read through Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 will show you!

  • Both Elizabeth & their friends rejoiced at the birth of John (Luke 1:25, 58)
  • Mary broke out in worship with she saw Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55)
  • Zacharias worshiped and prophesied when John was born (Luke 1:67-79)
  • The Angels worshiped and praised God with the Shepherds (Luke 2:13-14)
  • The Shepherds rejoiced after they found the child and everything was true. (Luke 2:20)
  • Simeon & Anna both praised God when they met the Christ child in the temple (Luke 2:28, 38)
  • The Magi rejoiced and worshiped the child when they arrived. (Matthew 2:10-11)

Almost every person present at the birth of Christ was found rejoicing, praising God, and worshiping the Most High for sending the Savior!!!  So how can we make worship a more prominent part of our Christmas traditions?  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Read the Christmas Story as part of your Christmas morning celebrations.

Now, I do not want you to hold your family hostage as you read the story.  Don’t make it so that they have to listen to the story before they can open present or eat a meal.  Instead, find a time in the lull of the day to gather everyone together and listen to the story.  Also take time and practice it.  If you are not very good at reading out loud, practice!  Trust me; if it is not enjoyable for you then it won’t be enjoyable for them.

  1. Make Christmas Hymns & Worship Songs part of the Day

There is no better way to worship and saturate your family with the story and importance of Christmas than through music.  When we hear and sing Christmas songs about the birth of Christ, our minds are engaged with the truth that God’s love came to us in order to save us and make us His own.  It is perfectly fine to play songs like “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, but set aside time for weightier songs like “Silent Night”, “O Holy Night”, and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”  Play them while the family is gathered, take time to sing as a family, even sing them as you prepare Christmas dinner.  Go crazy!  This one can be tons of fun!

  1. Pray, Pray, Pray!!!!

Prayer is so important to the life of the Christians and it should be an important part of our Christmas celebrations!!!  Yes, we should pray before our meals, but what else can you do?  Could you pray before or after you exchange gifts?  Could you set aside some quiet time for the family in the midst of all the celebration?  Could you add prayer to the reading of the Christmas story and give thanks to God for sending His Son?  You do not have to do one long prayer to cover the whole day, nor do you have to preach a sermon through your prayer.  Instead, think of several times throughout the day where a different family member can pray for a specific reason.  Pray for the food, the gifts, those who need to hear the Gospel, missionaries on the field, the less fortunate, and those in care facilities.  Again, be creative, but be intentional!

  1. Watch a Movie with the Birth of Christ

One last thing to do is watch a movie as a family that shows the birth of Christ.  Sometimes the most powerful way to communicate the message of Christmas is to see it!  You can just watch the beginning of “Jesus of Nazareth” or pick up “The Nativity Story.”  If you have little children, you may find a cartoon for it.  You may check what options come from VeggieTales or check our Superbook on Amazon Video.

From my family to yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful season of worship as we celebrate the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ!!!! God Bless!!!


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Where is your “marketplace”?

“So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.”

Acts 17:17

How can God use me?  What am I supposed to be doing?  Where do I serve in the church?

Have you ever asked yourself these questions?  Often when we get involved in church, we struggle with not being sure where exactly we fit in.  We see people public speaking, but that makes us nervous.  We see people singing & playing instruments, but only a few think they are talented enough for that.  Sure there is giving, helping set up, and being on committees, but we want to be doing ministry even beyond these things!!!  So what do we do?

Take a moment to consider this:  What if your calling is not in the church?  What if your calling is to serve the church in the marketplace?

We see in the passage that heads this post that Paul’s ministry consisted of two components.  First, he would speak in the synagogue and then he would go to marketplace and talk with people there.  Let us take a moment to consider if God is possibly sending you to a marketplace of your own!!

  1. Why the marketplace?

Because that’s where the people are!!!  Many years ago a reporter interviewed a notorious bank robber named Willie Sutton.  During the interview, the reporter asked why Sutton robbed banks.  His reply, “Because that’s where the money is.”

Why did Paul go to the marketplace?  Why should we seek out our marketplace?  BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE!!!!  More specifically, that is where the lost are.

We have to acknowledge the truth that not many lost people randomly walk into churches on Sunday.  If we want to reach the lost, we will have to go to them.  Jesus makes it pretty clear, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19)

We have got to get out of the mindset that ministry only happens within the walls of the church.  Scripture shows us the opposite was more true.  Paul had some success in the synagogues, but it was on the block and in the marketplace that people were being saved.

  1. How does it work?

Okay, so maybe you are on board with going to the marketplace; now what?

Where do I go?  If we are going to go the marketplace, we have to know where it is!!!  You may think this is going to be some crazy place that you have never been before, but that actually is not the case.  Your marketplace is where you already are.  It is your work.  It is the restaurants you frequent.  It is the organizations (outside the church) you support.  It is your child’s sporting events.  It is the grocery store.  Your marketplace is all the places you already are.  You do not have to go looking for someplace new; you just have to open your eyes and see the lost people who are already all around you!!1

What do I do?  We always make this more complicated than we need.  You share Christ.  First, you share Christ by your actions.  You give others priority over yourself (Rom 12:10).  This may mean a simple smile, a quick apology, or a caring gesture.  Show the people around you that you are not only interested in yourself, but you have a genuine concern for them.  Then, you have to actually tell them about Jesus!!!  Look at the words Luke uses to describe Paul’s actions in Acts 17:17-18.  He “reasoned” in the synagogue.  Later, he “conversed” with the philosophers.  Finally, he “preached” Jesus and the resurrection.  Paul’s ministry was not done from behind a pulpit but on the street, giving and taking in conversation.  He listened.  He responded.  He spoke into people’s lives.  He pointed them to the Messiah.  You can do all of those things too.

  1. Why does it matter?

At the very end of the chapter, Luke writes this, “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” (v. 34) This is why we have to go to the marketplace!!!  There are people right here in Hardin County that have never heard the Gospel and they probably will never voluntarily darken the door of a church building.

Think about it this way:  Would you ever just walk into the local mosque?  Or the synagogue?  Or even attend a Catholic mass?  Why not?  Probably because it would be intimidating!!!  You don’t know their customs or expectations.  You might be afraid that you would accidentally offend someone.  Or you just don’t believe that they would have anything to offer you at their services.  THAT IS HOW THE LOST SEE US!!!!

IF we have been called to make disciples of all nations, and IF the nations are not going to just magically waltz through our doors, THEN WE HAVE TO GO TO THEM!!!!

I know this may feel horribly uncomfortable.  Sharing Jesus without the pastor nearby may feel like walking a tightrope without a net, but you can do it.  You have to do it.  There is no plan B.

We are his messengers, his witnesses, his ambassadors.  We have been commissioned to do this.
 
Let’s go!
 

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Get off the fence!!!

“You gotta get off the fence!” I cannot hear these words without hearing the voice of Dave Marcum, my Sunday School teacher and friend. It is an exhortation to believe in God with all your heart.  Dave calls those who shy away from fully committing to Christ as “Fence-riders”, people who sit on the fence by refusing to commit to a position until they are sure they are on the right side.  These are people so concerned about being wrong or looking foolish that they remain silent.  Yes, they may identify as a Christian, but they would not tell another person about Jesus.  They may call themselves Baptist, but it is doubtful that they would take a hard stand on any doctrine.  They are just there… unless they are somewhere else! Unfortunately, we live in a climate where Christians can no longer “ride the fence”.  Even in the last few months, groups have entered Hardin County and demanded that schools and churches have no interaction.  Prayer has been challenged, Christian groups like Fellowship of Christian Athletes are being discouraged, and ministers are not allowed to be present on school campuses. While we do want to honor the separation of church & state, we must also make it clear that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and nothing is going to prevent us from praying, worshiping, and living out our faith in public! Ironically, this is not a new problem.  Even in Jesus time there were those who wanted to follow Jesus, but they were not sure if they wanted to give up everything.  Let’s look how Jesus handled them.  (Luke 9:57-62)

  1. “I will follow you wherever you go!”
The first person that Jesus encounters in our passage is said elsewhere to be a Scribe. (Matt 8:19) His exclamation in this passage seems harmless enough.  He is professing that he will follow Jesus ANYWHERE!!!
Yet Jesus’ response tells us a great deal about this man’s heart.  “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  Jesus reveals in his response that this scribe saw God as an employer.  If he followed Jesus wherever He went, then he would be cared for.  He was hoping that following Jesus would be a life of comfort or success.  Jesus is letting him know that it was not so.  This man made the declaration, but there was an unwritten caveat.  He would not have stayed with Jesus on the open road.  He would not have slept outside, and he would have left the moment Jesus was betrayed.
 
Many Christians today are quick to sing, “Every move I make, I make in you.” Yet they would never let Jesus take control of their business, finances, or comfort.  We cannot be silent about our faith, even if it means being ostracized from the in-crowd or missing out on business opportunities.  Jesus is our hope for life everlasting; not our means for comfort in this life.
 
  1. “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”

Again, we see a relatively reasonable request.  Most of us cannot imagine that Jesus would not allow a man to attend his own father’s funeral.  However, there is more to this excuse than meets the eye.  First, it is highly likely that the individual’s father was not dead yet (possibly not even near death).  Second, the concept of burying one’s relative included all of the business that surrounds the death of the person.  In other words, this person wanted Jesus to put his discipleship on hold until his father had passed (possibly years) and he had been able to collect his portion of the estate!

In contrast to the previous person who wanted Jesus to take care of him, this person wanted to make sure he had secured his own provisions.  He wanted to make sure that he first took care of himself.  Therefore, Jesus response is fitting, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”  We cannot wait until we take care of every other area of our life before we get to following Jesus.  People who wait for the “perfect time” to start following Jesus will probably never do so.  Instead, we need to remember that “Now” is always the perfect time to trust in Christ and be about His work.

  1. “First permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”

The last reasonable request from the fence-riders is to be able to say good-bye.  Many of us would hope that we would be given the opportunity to tell our families good-bye if we were leaving for a long time.  Again, Jesus sees into the heart of the individual and calls them to truly follow.  In this case, Jesus responds by saying, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

What is it about saying good-bye makes this man unfit for the Kingdom?  Simply this, this man wishes to go back because he wants the approval of his family before he leaves.  Going home to say good-bye means that he can give his family one more chance to talk him out of it, and he can make sure he has their approval in case things don’t work out.  This person is planning his exit strategy.  He wants to be sure that he has a home to go back to.  He is not willing to risk everything to follow Christ.  He needs a safety net.
Many Christians today are the same way.  We want to follow Jesus but not at the risk of everything.  We still want people to approve of our decisions.  We want to believe, but we don’t want to be one of “those people”.  We will follow Jesus, but we won’t do it if it means losing family, friends, reputation, or status.  We want to follow, but only if society approves.  In doing so, we miss out on what the Kingdom is all about.
 

People ride the fence for many reasons.  Some ride the fence until they know Jesus will take care of them.  Others ride the fence until they can take care of themselves.  Still others ride the fence in hopes that following Jesus will not cost them anything important.  Whatever the reason, those who ride the fence are not doing anyone any favors.  The last thing the world needs is more nominal Christians.  Whatever may have you on the fence, I challenge you to take that leap.  Trust in the Lord; trust in his provision, timing, and promises.  Yes, it will cost you something; it may cost you everything. But it is always worth it. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

(Mark 8:34-35)


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Never Forget…

A couple years ago I had the privilege of going to New York City in order to help a local church leader connect with a NAMB church plant in the area. During our time there we had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 memorial in Manhattan.  It was a cold November evening so there were not many other people around.  The silence allowed the noise of the rushing waters to fill the air.  It was a sobering place As we reflect on the events of September 11th, 2001; we realize that since that day our world and our country has never been the same.  I was in college the day the towers fell and that very day I was supposed to go to the visitation for my grandfather, a navy veteran who also retired from the FAA.  My family could not travel from the western side of the U.S. because all air travel was suspended.  We all just sat in disbelief about what had happened. We have all been changed by the events of this day.  Even the church cannot say that she has escaped the effects of that day.

  1. The World Shrank
I was a young man when the towers fell.  Places such as Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia were little more than places on a map to me.  These places did not play much of a role in my life, and I did not think often about the people who lived there. Even my faith was a purely American endeavor.  The Great Commission meant I was supposed to share my faith with my classmates and fraternity brothers.  Place like those mentioned above were a world away and someone else’s responsibility.
That all changed on 9/11.  Suddenly, these places in the world seemed very close, and very important.  Suddenly, there was a group of people out there who believed differently than me and were willing to kill for it.  The world shrank that day, and people who were once so far away were now close enough to touch.
  1. Christianity, more than ever, was bound to patriotism.
I think everyone can remember how our churches filled up those first few weeks after 9/11.  Many people came looking for answers.  Other came to hear a comforting word from the Lord.  Still others came because those who had attacked us were Muslim and we were a “Christian Nation”.
Whatever the reasoning, after the events of 9/11, Christianity became an increasingly “American” faith.  We made sure to keep the American flag on prominent display in our churches.  We did more to celebrate Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veteran’s Day.  We also made a point to pray publicly for our leaders and for our soldiers.
While none of this is bad, it was not necessarily a good thing either.  This patriotism came with a lack of love for those outside of our country’s borders.  The church seemed to take on a “take care of our own” mentality, which does not honor the Great Commission.
Jesus said, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)  One thing we must remember as we celebrate the freedoms we have as a country and pray for our soldiers is that the Great Commission was always intended to transcend national borders and the differences between people groups.

 

  1. The people of Islam need the Gospel
In contrast to the change mentioned above, we also became very aware that the nation of Islam needed to hear the gospel.  Now, I am not saying that there weren’t people who were particularly burdened to bring Jesus to Muslims around the globe.  However, I do think that most Americans did not have a clear understanding of Islam and American Christianity did not see the tremendous need to share the Gospel with people from Islamic Countries.
Today we speak a great deal about what God is going in the 10/40 window (https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/10_40_window) and we are regularly challenging individuals and churches to do all they can to reach people from these countries.
We must be reminded that God loves the Muslim just like he loves the Buddhist and the Atheist.  9/11 serves as a witness that the only thing that can truly thwart Islamic extremism is the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  Today I am praying for all those whose lives were forever changed by the events of 9/11.  There were so many who did not return home from work that day; so many that were forced to move forward without the people they love.  I am also praying for all of our service men and women who answered the call to stop terrorism both here and abroad.  I am praying for the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, both our military and first-responders. But I am also praying for our missionaries in the field who are trying to bring the Gospel to those in Islamic nations.  I am praying for them and for the people who will hear the Gospel through them.   May these people hear the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be transformed by it!


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Brother, your “ministry” is not worth your life.

Last week the nation was shocked to read about a pastor in California that had taken his own life after a lengthy battle with depression.

Andrew Stoecklein seemed to be doing quite well on the surface.  He was happily married and the father of three beautiful children.  He was pastoring a vibrant church in a beautiful area of southern California.  He certainly did not seem to fit the bill of a pastor struggling in ministry and fighting for his life.  His death has once again put the spotlight on the mental health of those in ministry.  As pastor appreciation month approaches, several Christian media outlets are posting articles about depression, suicide, and the pressures of ministry.

Unfortunately, the numbers do not lie.  Pastors across the nation suffer from depression, the feelings of isolation, and exhaustion.  Many do not think they are making a significant impact on their congregation.  Even pastors’ wives and children are not spared the stress and pain of ministry, with many reporting that they needed counseling for the pressures of having a spouse or parent in ministry.

I must say that I can understand how this must feel.  As the only pastor of a small church, there have been many times when I have doubted my calling.  I have questioned whether I was doing more harm than good to my congregation.  I have even struggled to do anything because of an overwhelming feeling that all my efforts were destined to fail.

So as I reflected on this pastor’s actions and the statistics that show that so many other pastors are on the same path; I was left with this word of advice:

Your “Ministry” is not worth your life.

Let me explain:

  1. Your “ministry” ≠ the Gospel

The title of this post is intended to be provocative and I have no doubt that some who read this would respond by ask, “Didn’t Jesus himself say, ‘For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.’ (Mark 8:35) Now you’re telling me that my ministry isn’t worth my life?”

Yes, that is what I am saying, and I am saying it because your ministry is not the gospel.  It is true that we may very well be called to go and preach the Gospel in places where the Gospel is not welcome.  We may be called to face persecution, imprisonment, even death as we faithfully share the Gospel with the lost.

However, that isn’t really what we are talking about here.  Here, we are talking about your “ministry” or the particular work or vocation where you are currently serving.  It is one thing to preach the Gospel knowing that you may be in danger for doing so.  It is quite another thing to stay in a certain position or job even though it is leading you to burnout or self harm.

Jesus himself told his disciples that they were to preach the Gospel and yet be willing to walk away from bad situations.  He said, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.” (Matt 10:14) He gave them permission to move on instead of grinding to the point of exhaustion.  You need to know also that you have permission to move on as well.

  1. The Gospel will go on; even if your ministry doesn’t.

The next thing you may say is, “But I can’t do that!!!  If I quit, then no one will be here to witness in this church / community / town!!!”

Really?  One of the hardest things for a pastor, missionary, or lay leader to understand is that the Great Commission does not hang on our ability to succeed in a particular ministry.  I can promise you that even when you step down or step aside, the Gospel will continue moving forward.

Yes, your particular ministry may cease to exist.  Yes, you may see opportunities to share missed because of your absence.  And yes, things may appear to be worse because you are no longer at the helm.  But do not fear, the Gospel has not been thwarted and the Great Commission will go on.  We know this because the Bible is true.

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev 7:9)

See?  God is going to see that every tribe, tongue, and nation come before the throne in worship.  You cannot thwart the plans of God; even if that means stepping down for a season to rest and be with Him!

  1. Your family > Your ministry

This brings me to my last point.  I beg you that you please listen to this, your “ministry” to your family should always, always take priority over every other ministry you have; vocational or volunteer.  Pastors and every other form of minister often feel like everyone is demanding their time and attention; often at the neglect of their spouse and children.  I beg you here and now to break that cycle in your own life.  If a ministry or church cannot function unless you neglect your family, then it isn’t the place for you.

Even before Christ gathered the church, He established the family, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) In this moment the first family was formed and just as it was placed before the church in history, it should be placed before the church in priority.

One thing we know for certain, you cannot minister, care for, and love your family if you are not there.  It is far more important that you be a husband to your wife and a father to your children, than you be a pastor to a church.  A church, ministry, or mission can have a variety of leaders, but your family can only have one father.  Please, be that father.  You cannot do it if you are gone all the time, and you cannot do it if you take your own life.

Your family loves you and needs you; be there for them.

 

Brother, your “ministry” is not worth your life.  It is okay to step aside and/or step away.  The Lord will provide for you and He will take care of you.  Rest, seek counseling, and be with your family.  It is not too late.

 

If you are reading this, I am praying for you.  Pray for me too.


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The Buck Stops Here

The 33rd president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, has always been my favorite president.  While an obvious reason that he is my favorite has to do with our shared home state, another reason is the tremendous level of responsibility he took in his job and in life in general.

Harry Truman served his country during World War I and he tried to reenlist during WWII while he was already serving the country as a congressman before he was tapped to be Roosevelt’s VP.  When Harry Truman became president after Roosevelt’s death, he was famous for placing a sign on his desk.

The sign read, “The Buck Stops Here”

This sign served as a reminder to Truman and his entire staff that they did not have the privilege of “passing the buck” on to someone else.  If it reached his desk, then he had a duty to address the issue and find a resolution.

It seems like this has become more an exception than the rule in life.  Most people want to “pass the buck” onto the next person in hopes that they can avoid doing anything that may be hard or cause them to miss out on something else.

This is also true in the church as well.  Most of us have a pretty good ideal of what the church “ought” to be doing

The church ought to be witnessing.  The church ought to be teaching the Bible to her members.  The church ought to be meeting the needs of her community in order to share the love of Christ.  The church ought to be on mission in her community, surrounding areas, and across the globe.

But who is supposed to do it?

Should the pastor?

Yes he should.  There is no question that the pastor should be sharing the Gospel with the lost, ministering to the congregation and the community, and taking care of others. 

But there is a problem here.  If a church delegates all ministry duties to the pastor, then the church cannot grow, many ministries and opportunities will be missed, and the pastor will eventually burn out and/or give up.  In other words, the church’s ministries will be severely limited, and it is highly likely that people both inside and outside of the church will perceive that the church still is not doing what it ought to be doing.

Should the gifted?

Another idea is that only the spiritually gifted should do the work of ministry.  Thankfully, this does not place all the burden on the pastor, but it still limits the church’s ability to do all that it ought to be doing.

Usually when we think about “the gifted”, we mean people who are natural teachers, extroverts, and people with the gift of gab.  But God uses several other gifts in accomplishing His mission.  1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  This tells us that ALL OF US are gifted to accomplish the mission of church.  If you think that the work of the church is only for the “gifted”, then you may have to realize that YOU are gifted and called to serve in the church.

Should I?

This is the heart of the matter.  When it comes to ministry and felt needs in the church, we can be tempted to “pass the buck” onto the pastor, the deacons, or some other gifted individual.  But the reality is that God has revealed that need TO YOU!!!

Do you see a group in our church that is being neglected?  Start a ministry!  Have you noticed a community in our county that is unreached for the Gospel?  Recruit an outreach team!  Do you have a burden for people who are lost?  Pray for them!

Jesus said in John 20:21, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  I hope and pray that you will take this commissioning seriously.

So where do you see God working in your heart and life?  How will you respond?  Will you pass the buck, or will you own it like our former president and say, “The buck stops HERE!”


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