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Archive for the ‘preaching’ Category

When I first felt the call to ministry, I was scared and excited. I really let God lead things because I was unsure of what to do next. I hadn’t been a Christian very long but God was using me in ministry and I was following in the direction I felt He was pointing me to go. Then I got comfortable. I figured I had a handle on things and I started to plan my direction in ministry. Famous words of warning in ministry: “I got comfortable.”

As a young minister in the faith, I figured that you’re supposed to fill a role until you get a shot at being *the* pastor. And that’s where you stay. That is, unless you’re primarily music ministry, for those guys tend to stay in that position. So you take the youth pastor position and parlay it into a position being the senior pastor somewhere else. The funny thing was at the time I started thinking this way, I was working with a couple of guys who weren’t the senior pastor and neither, at that time, had any desire to be one. One was in charge of evangelism and church growth. The other was the youth pastor. Sounds more than a little foolish, doesn’t it? It was, but I had “blinders” on.

Fast forward about 5-6 years. When I left the USAF I though it would be to pursue a position as a youth pastor. That hadn’t happened. I did a little of everything including leading an adult singles class with my wife (it works). But then God plopped me back into children’s ministry where I led Children’s Church. And it was as if I were back home. That was the position for me at that time. I just knew it was. And that ministry was fruitful for several years and God really used it to grow me. But eventually it was time to move on. He showed me I needed to train my replacements, let them slowly take over, and then leave quietly by the back door. After all, it was His ministry, not mine. So the I sat down with the folks I was working with and the children’s minister and discussed what I felt God had shown me. And we began the transition. At the end of it, I was sad, but I knew I had fulfilled my role.

Next up was an eldership slot and an opportunity to be the children’s minister over all ministries to children at a different church. Again, God grew me. Because we were an elder-led congregation, it was important that all elders periodically preach. That’s when I noticed how my attitude had greatly changed. I was speaking in public all the time due to technical presentations. I was teaching in the children’s ministry every week. So I was comfortable speaking and even preaching in public. However, I intentionally limited how much I did. I did enough to verify to the congregation my credentials as an elder (able to teach), but I didn’t pursue preaching. It wasn’t my role. My role was with the children.

I’m now at my second church after that one. I was a junior high youth pastor and now I’m back as a children’s pastor. I love working with what is considered student age ministry. And while I loved my time as a junior high youth pastor, I know that’s not my role right now. It’s back with the children. The question came up about preaching. I’m back in an elder-led congregation and my response was the same as the time before: I’ll preach to demonstrate my credentials as an elder, but I’m not going out of my way to preach. My calling right now is to the children’s ministry. This is where I’m to be. And I’m content.

Have you found your role where you work? Are you content in it? It is important to find a role that fits you or you won’t be satisfied with your work. And when you find that role, it’s important to focus on it, to make the most of it. Doing it half way and dreaming of “something greater,” will only mean you’ll be dissatisfied. Not only will you be dissatisfied, but that dissatisfaction will affect your performance in your current role. Find your role and be content in it. Make the most of it.

 

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When I was growing up I had a dream. My dream was to build the first faster than light spacecraft. I wanted to help Man explore the galaxy much like my heroes on Star Trek did. I held on to that dream through high school, when suddenly the aerospace industry collapsed. I wasn’t deterred, however, and decided to major in electrical engineering at The Citadel, figuring a bachelor’s in one engineering curriculum would prepare me for a master’s in another. I didn’t stick with E.E., but moved on to physics and mathematics, subjects which ask, “Why?” God was preparing me for Himself, preparing me to wonder how the heavens and the earth were made, why we are here, and if there is a sovereign and sole God, what our connection to Him is supposed to be.

To the latter question I have found the answer. Do you want to see it? It’s right there in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:

19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Now, in the context of the passage Paul is speaking of sexual sin. However, the point he makes about being holy in our living is true of all aspects of life. And so I want to focus on that last part of verse 19 and all of verse 20. It describes how we relate to the Almighty God. It tells us how we should live our lives with respect to Him. It gives us all the guidance we need with questions about who is in charge, what is best, and what direction in life we should follow.

Too often God is seen by Christians in the Western Church, and especially the Church here in America as a cosmic sugar-daddy. We pray, He delivers, and life is full of bigger and better things. We get the better job. We secure the mortgage for the nicer house. God heals our brother of cancer. We come into a sudden windfall and are able to take that vacation to Disney World. Thank you, Lord, may I have more of the same? I hear this version of God preached so often, not from the pulpit, but from the daily lives of those who say they follow Christ, that I wonder where we got off track.

See, when we look at God this way, as the deliverer for our wants, we make Him to follow us, which isn’t the way it is. This is a false view of God. Sure, God might want you to have that better job so you can be a better husband and father and so you can use more of what you earn to help others around you. Sure, He might want you to have that nicer house because He intends for you to become foster parents and give children whom everything has fallen apart for a second chance, a chance knowing that God loves them and they are not an accident or a mistake.

And yes, He does care about our suffering. But realize that sometimes it is better for a saint to say goodbye than to stick around. After all, as Paul said, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” If God is done with a particular person here, a faithful servant, why stop Him from calling that saint home? It would be better for the person because he or she will leave this suffering-filled world behind and would be in the presence of the Living God whom he or she has so faithfully served. And yes, God may even want you to go to Disney World. Only what you didn’t know is He had prepared an encounter with a waitress who had been so mistreated in life that she doesn’t believe anyone can love her any more. It is up to you to show her that she is indeed loved, and loved by the One who created her and who has a precious gift for her, one that no one can ever take away.

So yes, God may indeed have planned the “good things of life,” as the world might put it, for us, but we have to remember that even in them we should be looking for an opportunity to follow Him and serve Him and bring Him glory, honor, and praise.

Going back to the Scripture, we are first told we are not our own. Of course not. Paul reminds us why: we were bought. Being bought implies a price was paid, does it not? But Paul doesn’t leave it at bought. He says, “bought with a price.” The “with a price” is an emphasis that the price wasn’t trivial. It was something costly. It was something precious. Indeed it was. Here is how Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, described it:

There was a something inestimably precious paid for you; and ye need scarcely that I remind you that “ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold”; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

It cost God dearly to buy us. It cost Him the life of His own Son. That was the price required for our sins. That’s not something you can write a check for. Cooking a chicken pot pie or delivering some barbecue doesn’t pay that back. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can deliver back to God to repay Him for what He spent on us. Therefore, we can only choose to give Him everything we have out of gratitude and love. And that’s Paul’s point. That’s why Paul says, “So glorify God in your body.”

So let’s put it down into plain words, shall we? If we owe God everything, if we are to glorify God in our body, if everything we say, do, think, and want should be about God, for God, and to the glory of God, why aren’t we doing it? Why do we pursue our own dreams? We do we make our own plans? We do we say, “No, that’s not for me,” when a chance to serve Him appears? Why do we care what other people think? Why do we care about our financial future and making sure we have a big enough retirement nest egg? Why are we so worried about whether or not our daughter makes the softball team and not about whether or not she has given her heart completely and totally to the Lord? Why are we focused on anything about ourselves? Why are our primarily motivations centered on ourselves and the people we care about?

We’ve got it wrong. We’ve had it wrong. And we’re going to keep doing it wrong until we wake up and remember that we were bought, and bought with a price, a price beyond our ability to pay, and that because of that we now belong to God completely, wholly, and without question? In other words, why haven’t we shoved our plans, our dreams, our wants, and our concerns to the side, pushed them off the cliff and instead focused solely on His will and on His plan and on His Kingdom and His glory? He has earned that. He deserves that. And there is nothing we can say that can justify our focus and our efforts and our passion being anywhere else but on Him. That’s what these verses mean. That’s where we are with respect to the Almighty. Or at least, that’s where we should realize we’re supposed to be.

Anything less doesn’t cut it. We can make excuses, but they are just that: excuses. He gave all of Himself on the Cross and He expects all of us in return. It’s not a fair trade. We come out far, far ahead. But that’s the deal He has put on the table. Now He’s waiting on us to complete the sale. He has paid the price. We are the goods to be delivered. What are we waiting for? I’m not speaking just as the Church with a capital C. And I’m not just speaking as our church. I’m speaking as individuals. That’s where it starts. What are you waiting for? Why are you still tied down to you? Why am I still tied down to me? It doesn’t work. It never has. The sooner we admit that the sooner we move on to what does: being all about Him.

So what’s holding you back? What’s stopping you? What, in this world, could possibly be worth more than the One who redeemed you? Remember what it cost Him, as prophesied in Isaiah 53:4-6:

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was stricken by God. He was smitten by the Father. This isn’t the “smitten with love” type of smitten. This is the Shaq-sized warrior swinging a massive sledgehammer down upon you type of smitten. He was afflicted. He was wounded. He was crushed! This was the price He paid for you and me. So let me ask the question, “Who or what has ever spent this much on you other than Him?” No one has. No one can. But this is what it cost to get you out of Hell and put you into Heaven. So tell me why then are our lives about anything other than Him? What possible justification do we have?

I’ve heard them, I assure you. I’ve used many of them myself. “But you have to understand, I need this job!” Do you really? No, you don’t need the job. You need the resources the job provides. But here’s the thing, are you really honoring God if your job puts Him in second place? No, no, and no! It does not. Let me show you the right attitude. We find it in the 15th miracle Jesus performed.

Because my time is limited, I’ll ask that you look at Mark 5 on your own. In that passage of text we find Jairus, ruler of a synagogue. His daughter is sick and dying. No one has been able to help. This is after the religious leaders have started talking and plotting against Jesus. Jairus figures that if anyone can help, if there’s one guy that can do it, it is Jesus. But going to Jesus means giving up everything. It means becoming persona non grata at the synagogue, the center of social life in the Jewish community. It meant losing his job, his esteemed position, everything. But Jairus loves his daughter and he goes to Jesus. He pleads for Jesus to help. How can Jesus say no? But then comes the kicker: as they are going back to Jairus’ house, bad news comes. We’ll pick up in Mark 5:35 and read through verse 42:

35While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

See, God will put you in a job that glorifies Him. He will ensure that you don’t have to make a choice between the job and Him. But it requires that you put Him first. It requires that you trust Him. Kimberly smacked me around about this one a few years ago. I was so stressed out over my job. I was worried I was going to get fired. I was putting in a ton of hours and even when I was home I was working. Naturally this led to a fight. I argued that I had to do this to keep my job. And that’s when Kimberly reminded me of who is ultimately in control, “You can’t trust that God will provide for us? You can’t depend on Him to make sure you can take care of us?” I hadn’t. I was dead wrong. A job is no excuse.

Another one I’ve heard is, “You don’t know my family. If I try and speak out, they won’t have anything to do with me.” A co-worker in the Air Force was the one who first said this to me. His family was caught up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. His mother-in-law was the matriarch of her family and she accepted nothing less than you becoming a JW, too. He wasn’t and things had quieted down, but meanwhile his two boys were being taught a false Gospel. He was “doing what he could” to share with them the truth, but he had to do so carefully. Those were his words. I’m sorry, I can’t agree.

See, I look at Jesus’ example. His family tried to shut Him down. They tried to get Him to stop teaching. He didn’t. Why not? Because God the Father was more important. His real Father was the one who deserved His obedience. You can do it. It may mean a split in your family. But Christ reminds us that He would be a dividing force. He used words like “hate” to signify how great our love for Him must be compared to others.

I was reminded of this just recently with my own son, James. He attempted to share the Gospel with my mother, who is not a believer. She tried to use the line that all religions were basically the same. He respectfully held his ground and explained they weren’t. She didn’t accept the Gospel that day. But she heard it. That, however, is not the true test. The true test was when she asked him to stop saying that if you don’t accept Christ, you will go to Hell. This is his grandmother. He loves her so much. But he told her, again respectfully, that he couldn’t honor her request. He had to speak the truth. If a 13 year-old boy can do it, why can’t the rest of us?

And then there are dreams. “But it has always been my dream to…” I understand. I had a dream, too. It’s not going to happen. And I’m okay with that. The reason I’m okay with that is because I have learned that when I give all out to God, when it’s all about Him in my life, that what I am apart of is a whole lot bigger than the dream I once had. See, my old dream would be an improvement for Man. But it won’t save anyone from their sins. It won’t redeem them for eternity. It won’t erase their mistakes and present them spotless before the King of kings and Lord of lords. Tell me then, what dream could you possibly have that would be greater than an opportunity to do just that? Our dreams are small. They are nothing. They are meaningless. They don’t compare with the reality of life He offers us. So why are we still holding on to them?

Is it because you feel life is stacked against you? It may be, but realize that when you give it all up to He who is all-powerful, He is all-powerful. In other words, He can overcome whatever it is that you face. Let me give you an example. Her name was Fanny Crosby. She wasn’t born blind but because of a quack, a fake doctor, she was rendered blind. This was before schools of the blind. She attended the first school for the blind in New York. But she had quite a few years of childhood before that happened. She had a landlady who spent a lot of time reading the Bible to her and she memorized a good portion of it. This would serve her later.

She went on the school for the blind and upon graduation become a teacher there. And here’s an interesting thing: though she was involved in Christian service and though she was a faithful attender of church and though she was wrapped in the things of the Church, it wasn’t until the age of 30 that she realized she had never totally surrendered her life to Jesus Christ. What He would do with her afterwards is nothing short of amazing.
If you don’t know Fanny Crosby, you might have heard of some of her work. She wrote hymns like Blessed Assurance, To God Be the Glory, and Praise Him, Praise Him. These were some of her 8,000 or so hymns. At her peak she was writing around 6-7 hymns a day. I didn’t misspeak there. She really was that prolific.
The strikes against her were enormous. She was born blind in a world not well adjusted to deal with blind folks. She survived the Asiatic cholera which had ripped through Europe and the USA. She overcame these things through the power of Christ in her life. And He enabled her to go above and beyond anything we would have thought possible. She was willing to trust Him. What about you?

I’ll leave you with a final thought from Paul. You want to live up to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20? You want to complete the sale? Then here’s what you need to do. The instruction can be found in Colossians 3:17:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

It really is that simple. It means pushing aside everything that is about us and focusing solely on Him. But if you want to see a world changed for Christ, if you want to see a nation restored to Him, if you want to see a city given over to the things of God, if you want to see a church that is known for the presence of God in its midst and for the works of God in the community, and if you want a life that is an unbelievable adventure and opportunity, this is the only way to get there.

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