Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Attitude

by Charles Swindoll

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company... a church... a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes”

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

God glorifying preaching

This morning driving to the office I noticed a Mustang that pulled a left turn in front of me and then was ahead of me for a few minutes.  Seeing the stripes and the set up, I was initially intrigued that it may have been a specialty souped up Mustang.  Being a 'gear head' I was kind of excited. Upon closer examination, I realized that it was a puny V6 dressed up to look like a muscle car.  Posers annoy me!

In my new role I am able to hear a lot of preaching from different pastors across the country and in our district.  The mustang was a picture of what frustrates me some Sunday mornings and Saturday nights.  Posers!

I am a pastor myself and my comments are really not about one bad day, style, stripes or decals, or even the length of a sermon.  My frustration is that there are so many guys preaching who are posers.  There is a form of something that should be life giving and life impacting but it is without God's power.  It looks real and it even draws a crowd sometimes, but it is a fake!

I know that the real thing exists; I have heard it, seen it, been a part of it, saw the life changing effect of it.  It is real and God-centered; life transforming preaching exists.  Unfortunately, there are many who are posers.

Wrestling through this issue  for the last few months in particular, I tried to identify what I was seeing as "posing"  Here is what I came up with.  How do I identify a poser?
  1. God is not revealed and magnified in preaching - God does not need to have an agent to help Him be popular.  Part of the work of preaching is to reveal God to those who do not see and understand why He is magnificent and to be rejoiced in...all the different aspects of Him as He is. He is truly Awesome.  What He does is only a symptom of who He is.  Do we reveal who He is and cause others to wonder about Him in our preaching?  I have heard people say that we should always present the Gospel as we preach.  I agree..God is the Gospel.  He is the good news. He should be revealed in every single sermon of ours.  If nothing else, people should walk away in awe of God!
  2. Philosophy of man vs. the Word of God - I have sat through so many sermons that toss a verse or two from the Word of God to try and justify that what I am listening to is supposed to be a sermon.  Many of these sermons have so little of God's Word that if the individual listening asked where they could read more about it they most likely could not be referred to the Word of God.  The Word of God is the central topic, we do not use the Word of God to support our topic for the day.  Many churches have done away with even the reading of the passage of Scripture that the sermon is from.  I wonder if that is for the time convenience or if it is because what the Pastor is about to speak is not from Scripture?  Is this just my philosophy or does my congregation have a way to go into the Word of God and learn more or check on what I just taught?  Can they learn about what I taught them the rest of the week by studying more themselves?  Can I take them to the source of my wisdom or do they have to go through me?  All of us would want to answer "yes they can". Does downplaying the Word of God cause people to depend on us and glorify us for their daily spiritual nutrition?  This is dangerous stuff!  Honestly the world does not need more of my take on life or my philosophy, I 'm really not that wise.  But the world desperately needs God's Word and Jesus, the Word of God.
  3. Opinion vs. authority of the Word - I am amazed at Pastors who are afraid to say "thus says the Lord". Every comment is couched in "I think", "I feel", "my thoughts are", "my opinion is" instead of this is what God says.  I understand that there are issues where we need to consider the counsel of all of Scripture and extrapolate application from principles; but there are many more things in Scripture that are already laid out pretty clearly.  Pastors seem afraid to stand on what they know Scripture says or they are not reading Scripture themselves.  Amazing all the aberrations of the truth of God's Word that have arisen from this fear to stand on the truth of God's word.  We seem afraid in a society where it is still okay for the most part to have our own belief.  In societies where men may kill you for your belief in Jesus, men seem much less afraid.
  4. Clever gimmicks rather than Holy Spirit power - Word alliterations and clever stories and all of the gimmicks of public speaking can be useful for helping the congregation remember the sermon but they are not what causes life transformation.  Do we go in asking for the Lord to intervene on behalf of His people and pour down His Spirit?  Or are we resting on our clever gimmicks to effect change?  We are so attracted to style rather than content.  We flock after learning the tricks of great presenters rather than working on learning how to faithfully and effectively communicate God's truth.  (Last week I saw an SS badge on a vehicle that Chevy never made in an SS model.  Putting a sticker on is a gimmick; being a real SS is a whole other thing.)
  5. Lack of face time with God. Too much time on Facebook, twitter, Duck Dynasty, Talk radio and everything else that is cool is really obvious in some sermons.   Hours of primping and prepping for Sunday morning and the right look.  But if we had spent time this week desperate on our faces before Our God maybe there would be something powerful in our sermons this week.  Prayer seems odd to people who think that they have things handled.  Prayer seems strange to men who believe that it is all up to them.  Interestingly, prayer never seems strange to men who know that they are out of their depth, those who know that they are desperate and without any hope of saving themselves or others.  Pride causes prayerlessness.  Lack of face time with God says a lot about what we believe about ministry and our message.
  6. Disclaimers and set up for sermons seems to take more time than the sermon itself.  Really what are we peddling pharmaceuticals?  We are so worried about the side effects??  If it is God's Word we are focusing on we can count on Him to make the life change needed and if they have an issue, it is God's word they have to wrestle with not you.  The side effects of His truth in love is His business and He knows how to handle it.
  7. Water drawn from old leaky cisterns rather than springs of living water. The freshness of the Word of God in the life of the Pastor is powerful.  When you spend time in diligent study and preparation it's not just preparing, it is meant to bring transformation in our lives.  What we preach then is out of this process of transformation.  Not what God did in your life twenty years ago.  Not words written by some saint a hundred years ago.  Those things may all help deepen your understanding but what does God's word say? what is He saying to you now? What does it say to those who hear you? How does this happen if we are content to pull someones sermon off the internet and preach it?  Why would we settle for a rerun when you can have a new episode?  Why would you want to pass on regurgitated water and the stuff accumulating in the recesses of our life when you could provide God's sheep with fresh water?  Does God have nothing to teach and show you?  Why, when we are tapped out do we not seek Him out instead reach into our bin of recycled sermons?  If this God is so powerless and so unable to provide you with understanding of His Word, maybe He is not God and you should preach about something else. So many sermons are DOA because we would not spend time allowing God to prepare us.
  8. Topical preaching: It is good occasionally, at times very appropriate but if that is all a Pastor does its like feeding the congregation junk food and expecting health.  Preaching only topical sermons can be dangerous to congregations and to the Pastor who preaches this way. Weekly topical preaching can be very dangerous.  I know Pastors, the bulk of whose messages could be titled "Gripe of the week" or "Flavor of the month".  The topics are based on what tickled their fancy this week or this month. If Very Berry or Pistachio has our devotion for the week or month, then that's what I'm going to preach.  News stories that got me stirred up and emotions that got riled for one issues or the other become the basis of the message I am about to present rather than the truth God wanted me to share this week to His people.  Going through the Word of God systematically has a thousand different benefits including the fact that my pet peeve of the month, or special project of the week does not become my sermon!  It is a safe-guard to me and to the hearers.  And I make sure that I present a well balanced nutritious meal to God's sheep each week.
  9. People pleasing - Part of our task is to set the atmosphere and teach people good and Godly ways to do things.  If you are a people-pleaser this is very hard. If I don't preach this topic or in this way people will not like me.  Setting your sermons to the liking of people will always lead you into unfaithfulness with God. God gets to say what the message will be about; not them, not even you.  People have approached me in the last 15 years and told me that they would like a sermon on this subject or that.  My answer has been the same.  If the Lord leads me into those passages then I will be glad to preach on it.  By the way, being in a systematic Bible preaching track protects us from a lot of this. Oh yes; if you do not preach what people like and how they like it there are some who will be irritated.
  10.  Not knowing the sheep and blindly applying a formula:  What Willow Creek or Saddleback has done is great for their sheepfold.  Do you as the one whom God has appointed as shepherd over this particular flock know what this sheep fold needs?  Their formula is not your answer. You need to know the sheep God has put in front of you and ask the Good Shepherd what His plan is for them.
  11. Irrelevant babble: As much as the man is the message as a Pastor, not all of our personal baggage and learning process applies to the congregation.  Assuming that everyone is walking through the same things that we personally walk leads to misapplication or irrelevant babble from the front.  Again, knowing the sheep is your only option.  Our former legalistic background, church upbringing or lack of church upbringing may not relate with our congregation unless we know them personally.  For example, how does it help a group of unchurched people to see God when we share with them our perspective of growing up in a dysfunctional church?  If anything, hearing this stuff being processed out could make the people leary of church period! It's just irrelevant and maybe even harmful.
  12. Final and most clear identifier of a poser is fruitlessness - Life transforming discipleship in the walk of the Pastor and of those who follow them is evidence of the God-centered preaching ministry.  This is not substantiated by numbers; it is substantiated by Life transformation.  Life transformations that causes the person and others who encounter them to praise our Father in heaven.  You want to see what type of fruit tree this is? Check the fruit.
I do not believe that posers set out to be as such.  Some end up there sometimes with good intentions.  Some felt the pressures of life and ministry and decided faking it was better than going down in flames.  Others have childhood issues being worked through and some have misguided priorities and a lack of patience in waiting on God.  Unfortunately, even if not intended, ministry with these motivations is ultimately destructive to self and those around us.  Posers get found out.  Posers are just what they are... V6's clothed in fancy striping.  As soon as you step on the gas it is noticeable to everyone; even to the people we were trying to please...that we were a fake all along.  Here is the thing about Pastoral ministry. Life pushes hard on us and the enemy has plans to undo us. When the squeeze comes what comes out of our lives? If we are posers our empty theology will take center-stage and show its powerlessness to all.  If it is Jesus who fills us, Jesus will shine through us.

Brothers, be the real thing in our preaching.  Let us be pastors who make God the center of all that we preach; the One who is glorified.  The One who is revealed and praised.  He is worthy. He is magnificent. He is sufficient. He is the Gospel that we preach. He is the news the very good news.  He has given you a high and holy calling to lead His sheep, to care for His bride, to attend to His body.  Exalt Him and live the real thing. You don't have to pretend or water-down His Word. He who lives in you is sufficient!

((For all you sensitive types out there, this is not a response to one sermon that I heard you preach.  Please no one needs to call or email me.   It is an accumulation of things that deeply saddens my heart and I know from Scripture the Father's heart as well)).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Thankful even when I do not understand

Because I do not understand it, does not mean I am not thankful.

I read stories of men and women who take trips and a malfunction or some situation causes equipment to fail.  The consequences are horrible. Families loosing loved ones, terrible injuries etc.  I have had so many situations that I should never have walked away from and we just had another such story.

Our family trip this summer took us down south about 900 miles away and with some of our detours it was about a 1000 miles each way.  This 2000 mile trip includes stops in Tennessee and climbing Clingman's Dome at an elevation over 6,000 feet.  Windy roads, shredding brakes and rotors, you can smell the burning components of others cars as you travel the road because of the grade of some of the roads.  Other points in the trip we were going 70 mph plus down 6% grades in West Virginia. Somewhere past Cincinnati I noticed when we had our windows open that there were noises coming from the back wheels.  I did not hear it that often unless we were next to a building or another vehicle.  I forgot all about it.  When we got down South I noticed it being much more pronounced and knew I had to check it out when we got back.  We still had lots of travel and windy mountain roads to travel and it seemed okay.  Now we are talking about four people and a weeks worth of stuff in the car.  Loaded down stressing the vehicle and then the roads.

The week after we got back I decided that it was really sounding bad and that since the vehicle had 120,000 plus miles on it we need the pads and rotors changed.  Wow, was I in for a shock when we started to take the calipers off.  The front pads still had a little bit of material on them.  The back ones, were completely shot!  I have no idea how the vehicle stopped or made it back and forth from the places we had been.  I have no idea why we were assigned Angels holding that car back from the edge of cliffs.  I would never knowingly put my family in danger but even in my overlooking a serious detail some how we were protected. I am thankful.

There are a lot of simple pat answers that some people would assign to this incident.  Unfortunately they do not explain things well.  Someone said at a conference this week that "the safest place that you can be is in the center of God's will".  I would restate this comment to say that the best place that we can be is the center of God's will.  The best place and "safe" are not the same thing.  No one and nothing can change what God has willed.  He can keep us "safe" even through everything around us is falling apart.  He promises that He will be with us, but He does not promise that we will be "safe" if we are in His will.  In fact the Bible is full of examples of the opposite.  The history of the followers of Jesus is full of examples of exactly the opposite of "safe".

Jesus only did things according to the Father's purpose and yet suffered all that He did.  In fact He promised that others would treat all those who followed Him the same way. The apostles were in His will yet all of them except for John was martyred.  Men and women of God who gave their lives all over the world were in God's perfect will yet were not "safe" from earthly attacks, abuse or situations. Today more people are martyred for following Jesus than at any other time in History.  People die of accidents every day, those who follow Christ and those who do not.  How does "safe" apply to them?  Easy answers don't hold up to these kinds of questions.  There is a mystery about God's ways.

This is not the first time.  I have so many stories like this.  I do not understand it all, but I am thankful.  Thankful that He went beyond my planning and kept us safe.  Thank you Lord Jesus.

Front - old and new
Back - old and new

Friday, June 21, 2013

two roads diverged

Life is a series of choices.  The choices make all the difference.  Not that we are always in control of those choices, sometimes the choices are made by others and impacts us the same.

What guides us in those choices?  It matters.  What we believe about people, situations and things affect choices.  Wisdom handed down or gained in other ways affect choices.  Past experiences sometimes help us to make choices.  Being a flawed and broken human being does not mean that I can always see clearly even the motivations behind my choices.  This makes is even more risky.

One thing has helped me with making "good" choices. Biblical principles and my faith in an all-knowing God have helped me to make choices. Let me clarify "good".  It does not always feel good.  It does not always mean that I got what I wanted. It has not always popular, in fact making choices this way may end up with you loosing everything you considered dear.  I have got a lot of flack, insults and even attacks for making choices this way. But when I seek Him and His ways, I have learned over time that He has guided me in the making of those choices. What He intended for ultimate good comes to be even through suffering.

I have learned that I cannot always trust what I feel.  I can feel secure in the stupidest of decisions and anxious in the wisest of choices.  My feelings are not a good tool in decision making. I want to see the "cloud of God" walking out in front of me as the Israelites did in the Exodus.  But I have only had that kind of experience a few times. Most of the time I only seem to pick up on His presence as I look backward.  Principles and truth of His word guide me, but until I have stepped out on to the path I don't always see Him leading me from up front.  As I look at the road behind me I see that I could not have made it without Him and He was the one leading all along.  In the moment, I have to choose based on what I see and what I know of Him.  He is unchanging, therefore I make choices based on what I know about His word and His character.

The road less travelled is scary, but that is what I have repeatedly sensed that I must choose. Decades later the words I read as a child make a whole lot more sense to me.  Robert Frost wrote this in 1920:


"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Thoughts from my reading this morning - Luke 5:1-11

Luke 5:1–11 (ESV)

1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

These men are, from what we know of them, expert fishermen.  They have spent the best part of the night out on the water and the passage tells us it was an unproductive night.  These men have used their expert knowledge, their lives and their families lives depend on their expertise.  And this night, they have come home empty handed.  I am sure it is frustrating, I am sure they are tired.  They are "washing their nets" getting ready to hang them up to dry and go home. Maybe already in their minds getting ready for a bath, a meal and some rest. 

Jesus, with a crowd in tow, walks up to them, goes past them and gets into Simon Peter's boat.  Does he know Him? Perhaps.  News about Jesus was spreading all over the land, so he probably had at least heard about Jesus.  Jesus wants to use the boat as a floating platform to teach from, Simon gets on board and obliges, pushes it out, perhaps anchors it at a short distance from the shore.

He is on board, listening, tired but maybe glad to get a rest for a bit.  And then Jesus is done teaching the crowd.  Its time for a lesson of another kind.  He turns to Simon and tells him, put out to deep water, let down your nets.

One of the things I like about Peter is his very apparent lack of restraint (oh that is also the most annoying thing about him).  "Master"- Simon already sees something of Jesus' authority, perhaps only as a Rabbi.  Maybe its just Eastern respect of a guest.  Simon basically says, you know Jesus, I do know what I am doing.  I am a professional, an expert, fisherman.  We have been out at the perfect time of the night fishing and caught nothing, you want me to do this now!  Trust me there's nothing out there!  

But.....maybe it's eastern hospitality again or just to humor Jesus, Simon says,well  because you asked me, I will do it.

I don't actually know what the scene looked like, but I was laughing this morning as I read.  It must have been hilarious. I can see Jesus laughing His head off and then getting up to help as Simon starts to pull in the nets and realizes that the nets are tearing from the weight of the fish in them and the boat is going to capsize from the load.  The boat must have been close enough to land, and others including James and John who were watching saw Peter's signals and came in a hurry.  They filled their boats also and their boats also began to sink.  Can you imagine the scene?

Peter has a revelation - His expertise had been overridden by someone or something that was beyond natural.  He had just had an encounter with the supernatural.  God, the Lord (master owner of all of creation) was sitting in his boat!  Simon's insides are immediately screaming, he knows that he is not worthy of an encounter with the Almighty God! You can see what he is thinking from what comes out of him.

You may know that the Hebrews believed that if you saw God you would die.  Jesus immediately assures Peter that he has a future, and a very different future.  As they get to shore, we know that at least Peter, James and John leave their lives behind to follow Jesus from that point on.

Observation:

--Expertise keeps some people from following God - some think they know so much that they do not need God.  Even the first step of checking things out is disregarded by them because of their "knowledge."

--Expertise can help others to see God - When people step into what God asks of them, seeing how He operates beyond what the experts call possible causes many to realize that He is Lord - master, ruler, owner over everything even, natural laws.

--Some can see amazing wonders, even acknowledge Jesus as Lord but choose never to follow Him because in their minds it would cost them too much.




Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Horizon

ever sense that something is right there, over the horizon
nothing verifiable
just there...
in an ocean it is like waiting for a big wave standing there,
things move around you, your footing changes
nothing yet but something is out there

will it crush you?
will it change you?
will it wash over like nothing at all?
don't know! just don't know, don't even know what it is
but something is out there

waves that you wait for when they come come so quickly, a draw out and then so quickly over you
you almost have to anticipate its beginning if you are to capture it
something is out there

like the dawn just before it breaks over the water, it seems like such a long time and then once it surfaces you have but mere moments to catch that shot because it moves so quickly
something is out there

lightning strikes that you need to anticipate so you can catch the shot,
if you wait for the sound you are so very late
something is out there

something is out there in front of me,
i don't know what it is
no anxiety only anticipation
some excitement
something

moments like this i am glad for a sovereign, omniscient, immutable God
whatever comes He is in control
whatever surprises me, it never surprises Him
whatever moves He never does
watching the horizon, something is out there