Friday, December 08, 2017

God's Already Here Doing Things We Can't Imagine

Have you ever heard someone say, "I really need God to show up"? Sometimes that is in the form of a prayer request. It's important to believe that the presence of God is essential in our lives. But does he need to show up?

Churchy people sometimes say, "God really showed up and showed out today." Really? God isn't already here? Maybe they don't mean what they say but what they say.

The Bible tells us that God is omnipresent - he is everywhere. Psalm 139 says that if I go to the highest peak in the mountains, God is there; if I go to the lowest valley under the ocean, God is there; if I fly through space, God is there. Where can I go that God is not already there?

Where you are today…God is there. Where you will be tomorrow…God is already there. He'll be there when you get there. The problems that tomorrow will hold are no surprise to God…he's already there. Can you find a bit of peace and comfort in that? Even in the turmoil that accompanies your trek through this life, God is there and he knows and he is in control.

Christmas reminds us that God is with us. That's what the name Immanuel means. Prophets and angels said Jesus would be Immanuel - God with us. When Jesus was about to return to heaven he told his followers that when he leaves the Holy Spirit will come. For all who believe and follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit is not only present in this world but present within us.

What about God showing out? Again, I think it is important to believe God does amazing things. In fact, according to the Bible, everything God does is "showing out" because his ways are higher than our ways. Not only is he omnipresent, he is also omnipotent! He has all power! Amazing power! He can part the waters of the Red Sea. He can turn water in pots into wine. He can raise the dead. He can take on human flesh and become a man.

Paul says God does things that are our ability to imagine. We can't even accurately ask for what he can do. From our perspective, everything he does blows our minds. If not, we aren't really paying attention!

For where you are now and what you need from God, he is present and powerful. Christmas reminds me that God is omnipresent and omnipotent. That's what I really need…all year long.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Gospel, Sin, and Shame

I've just started reading The Imperfect Disciple by Jared C. Wilson. He spoke at a seminar I attended recently and we all got a copy. Jared writes with a style that makes me feel like we are sitting around the table drinking coffee and eating pie.

Here's what he wrote that I want to share with you. "Jesus found it imminently agreeable to air out people's shame that he might cover it for them. You cannot vanquish what you cannot expose."

Take a second and read that again. The difference between the way Jesus deals with sin and shame is so different from the way most of us deal with sin and shame. We want to deny we've sinned and hide the shame that accompanies sin. We want to keep our image pristine. Never let them see you sweat.

But the truth is that sin has already made an ugly mark on our lives. Each of us is marked and marred. Many of us put make-up on to cover the shame. We may hide behind a false front hoping nobody notices. We've learned to be proud, so the shame is embarrassing. I know, I've been there. At any given moment you could look at me and you'd be looking at a person marred by sin and shame.

But Jesus wants no part of hiding our sin. He wants no part of covering up our shame.

Jesus died for your sins to vanquish them from your life. Jesus offers forgiveness and restoration so you can be free from the shame. But Jared Wilson points out that you cannot vanquish what you cannot expose. Keep you sin and shame hidden. Don't let anyone know. Convince yourself that it's not that bad. Do that and you'll forever miss the love and joy and peace and freedom Jesus wants you to know.

Or confess you sins to Jesus. He will forgive you. Admit your shame and Jesus will restore you. The gospel is the good news that Jesus died to make right what is wrong in your life.

Wilson also wrote that we turn the gospel into law when we take the good news and turn it into practical, self-help advice. The gospel is not "3 Steps to a Better Life," the gospel is that Jesus died to make right what is wrong in your life. The only steps you must take are to follow in his.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Imperfect Disciple by Jared C. Wilson. I'm sure it's available at Christian bookstores and online retailers. Or you could've attended the seminar I did and got yours for free, too!

Monday, November 27, 2017

God Directs Our Paths

I'm looking for a job. The church I serve has to cut back the budget and that includes salaries. I've been bivocational before so this is not too big a shift for me.

I used to think that the goal of every pastor should be to get a church that can fully support him financially. But the truth is that most churches are small and therefore cannot fully support a pastor and/or staff. This brings to life a biblical reality for both the pastor and the church that gets hidden in our modern concept of the church.

Many churches - mine included, according to a seminary students research - rely on the pastor and staff to do the ministry. And pastors should be involved in the ministry of the church. But one man, in the case of a smaller membership church, cannot do all the ministry that ought to be done.

The Bible shows us a church where all the Christians are involved in ministry. In fact, this is necessary for the church to be what it is to be. Paul illustrates this by comparing the church to a human body. Each part of the body is important and has its own functions. The whole body suffers when one part of the body suffers.

So the church needs all the believers doing what they are designed and gifted to do in order for the church to function properly. What typically happens is that when one believer does not do his part somebody picks up the slack. But that person isn't necessarily designed and gifted for that task. So although the task gets done it gets done with less effectiveness - perhaps efficient but not effective. And the body of Christ suffers for it.

Churches need to see that each person has equal responsibility for the ministry. The pastor and staff are to lead and equip. And they are to do their part of the ministry but not all of it. Having a bivocational pastor often positions the church to have a broader participation in ministry.

From my personal experience, not having a job away from the church has sheltered me from many people who need a Christian's ministry. Let me say that more accurately: I let myself become sheltered from people outside the church. Not every pastor does this but I did.

At the last job I had outside the church I had opportunities everyday to shares God's love and the gospel with people who did not attend church. They were all around me. Sometimes they even sought me out for spiritual help. Honestly, very few - almost none - come to the church office looking for spiritual guidance.

It's been easy to become isolated. That's not good.

So working outside the church will help me overcome the tendency toward isolation. And that's good. The substitute teaching I am doing now is a great way to be around people who really need to know God's love and hear the gospel.

But the opportunity to make what I need to make is not there, so I'm looking for a job. This will be good for everyone: the church, me, my family, and people outside the church. I believe this is God's direction for his glory and my good.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

I'm Thankful

I am thankful to God for…

  • Salvation through Jesus Christ (the first Thursday of August 1972)
  • The Bible, God's Word to me/us
  • My family - I have the best wife, sons, and daughters-in-law
  • Cross Road Baptist Church
  • The ministry opportunities and extra income through substitute teaching at Baptist Prep
  • Friends who nudge me toward Christ-likeness
  • Prayer that helps me focus on what is really important
  • A nice, safe home in which to live
  • Reliable transportation for my family
  • Songs that lift my soul
  • The opportunities to play catch with Riley
  • The call to ministry (the last Thursday of June 1982)
  • Peace that passes understanding in the midst of great life-storms (the last Thursday of May 1992)
  • Jubilee Quartet (George Latham, Jack Hearrell, Johnny McCoy, Ricky Pruitt, Donnie Martin, Carri Corbitt, Ben Wiles)
  • Second chances
  • Technology that allows me to reconnect with friends I would otherwise seldom or never be in touch with
  • The view of the world through my Canon 70D
  • The piano lessons I took in elementary school
  • My journey to missional via NOBTS and Dave McClung
  • "An active mind and a keen imagination" (so said the fortune cookie)
  • Christians at all places on the planet who are faithful to the Great Commission

That is a good start for my list. What are you thankful for? More importantly, is your thankfulness directed toward God? He is the source of all things and provides for us and blesses us beyond imagination.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Decisions

Sometimes making a decision is the hardest thing for me to do. Then there are times when I can make a decision quickly, easily, and without regret.

The difference between these two decision-making abilities has little to do with the magnitude of the decision. Life-changing decisions can be easy and they can are hard. Seemingly inconsequential decisions can also be easy and hard. Maybe it's more about my frame of mind or my perceived reactions and responses to the decision. I really don't know.

My wife has an easier time deciding what she doesn't want to eat that deciding what she does want to eat. For example, when we are planning a meal (at home or out) she's pretty clear that she doesn't want this or that. She's not hungry for it or it doesn't sound good or she already had that this week. On the other hand, I don't go through that progression when deciding what to eat. My lack of decision making in this regard really is that I just don't care. I don't have a preference so anything is OK. Almost anything; there are a few things that I'll never eat!

I try to read from Proverbs every day. Recently, I've read that there are decisions that people can make that seem like good decisions but end up with terrible outcomes. "There is a way that seems right to man but in the end leads to death." The Bible also teaches that the ways that I think aren't on the level with the ways God thinks. His ways are higher than mine. Those truths can put some pressure on my decision-making!

Here are some tips for those of you who sometimes have trouble with decisions like I sometimes do.

Pray. You can never overestimate the power of praying. Prayer is a lot of things and talking with God about decisions you face is one of them.

Read the Bible. The Bible is a treasure, in part, because this is a significant way that God speaks to us. I am routinely amazed that what I read in the Bible speaks directly to something I am dealing with at the time.

Ask for help from godly people. My wife and I were making a huge decision several years ago. I asked a close friend and pastor to pray with us about it. A few days later I informed him of our decision. He couldn't believe we made the decision we did. It was against how he felt God was leading. We hadn't even talked with him after asking him to pray with us about it. Instead, we jumped into what turned out to be a huge mistake. Ask for help from godly people and allow God to speak to you through them.

Ask yourself a few tough questions. Does this honor God? Does this conflict with God's mission? Does this participate in God's mission? Does this harm my family? Does this build up or enhance the local church?

What would you add to these that have helped you make good decisions?

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Vocation and Purpose

I am subbing in Bible classes today and plan to read from Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 in each class. In Isaiah 61, God tells Isaiah what his purpose is. Luke tells of Jesus in a synagogue. Jesus takes the scroll and finds the Isaiah passage and reads it. Then Jesus says that those verses are fulfilled in him. In other words, Jesus claimed for himself the purpose God gave to Isaiah.

In John's gospel, Jesus says that we are sent just like he was sent. God gave Isaiah a purpose statement; Jesus claimed it for his own; Jesus passes it along to Christians.

Everybody has dreams and goals for what they want to do in life. Vocation and purpose aren't the same things.

Vocation varies from person to person. Doctor, lawyer, mechanic, baseball player, teacher, business owner, short order cook, etc. People do a lot of different things for vocation.

Vocation is how we spend our time making money to spend on needs and wants. Hopefully, vocation also provides vacation! Through vocation we satisfy inner longings and meet needs of others.

Purpose is God-given and is constant throughout a person's life and from person to person. We all have the same purpose although we may have different vocations.

What is your purpose? That question is intriguing, mesmerizing, even haunting. We ask our children, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" When we're grown we ask ourselves, "Why am I doing this?"

Purpose! Let's look to the creator of the universe to find our purpose.

Here is what Jesus read that day in the synagogue:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
(Luke 4:18-19)

In another gospel passage, Jesus said that he came to seek and save the lost. Another time he said that he didn't come to be served but to serve. And he said he was sending his followers just as he had been sent.

The Great Commission tells us to make disciples. The Great Commandment tells us to love God and love others.

Can you see a common theme? That is your purpose. Mine, too.

Our vocations may differ. They have to, actually. We can't all be bakers or line workers. We need as many vocations as is necessary for society to thrive.

The problem occurs when we try to equate vocation with purpose. Vocation and purpose are linked but not the same.

Choose any vocation you like, then use it as a platform to live out your God-given purpose. I've experienced personally how to use vocation as a platform for purpose. Whether I've been a training manager for a call center, pastor of a church, or substitute teacher in a school, I have been able to accomplish my purpose. Choose a vocation that will help you reach people with the gospel.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Halloween Thought

Tomorrow is Halloween. You know what that means, right? Some people will go all out to decorate and dress up. A few will get all weird. Another group will boycott the festivities.

I remember Halloween when I was a kid. We'd all pile into the back of a pickup and go down the street stopping at clusters of houses where porch lights were lit. A sweet old lady would come to the door with a tub full of candy and give each of us one or two pieces. Hard candy, chewy candy, basically just raw sugar. But no candy bars. Sometimes a popcorn ball or apple.

And we didn't complain. We didn't know Halloween was anything different. To us, Halloween was a bunch of parents taking a bunch of kids to a bunch of houses to get a bunch of candy. "Trick or treat!" and "Thank You!" were just as much a part of the night as the gum and jaw breakers. Everyone smiled. Nobody dreaded the kids coming to their door.

"Trick" was just part of the greeting but not part of the reality. Until we got older. I never saw the fun in the shenanigans. Causing people hardship so I can have fun just isn't fun. And it's no way to treat somebody.

I'd like to see kids having fun like we did. Without the risk of mean people doing mean things to them. Without the danger of collateral damage because bigger kids won't act their age.

Be safe. Be smart. Happy Halloween!