Friday, April 30, 2010

He Who Desires

"The saying is trustworthy, 'if anyone aspired to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." (1 Tim. 3:1) I know that God calls what I've been called to a noble task, and that anyone who wants to do this job desires a good thing, but I really wonder if anyone who ever "feels" called to be an elder or pastor in a local church really has any idea what's involved. I say this with a grin on my face, a grin of hilarity that any man could think himself equal to the task. On any given day, I am equally likely to have conversations with the following people; a woman who just caught her husband with his adulterous mistress, a parent who was just told her 10 year old has cancer, parents whose son just told them he is homosexual, a sixty year old grandfather calling from jail, a children's volunteer wondering about releases for camp, a father who doesn't know how to stop beating his children, a child molester wanting a personal reference, a woman wanting electric bill paid, a wife whose young husband was just killed, a frightened young mother calling to ask how to handle a crisis with her children. I don't know who's crazier; me for signing up for the job or the people who call me actually believing I have an answer. Oh, I forgot the other people I am just as likely to talk to; the woman who thanked me for saving her marriage, the man who thanked me for being there when he was suicidal, the children who come up after service and give me crayon colored notes expressing their love, the woman who told me that a 2 minute spot we did on the radio changed her life, the invitations to be present when babies are born and when saints bodies are laid in the grave. Who am I to think, either that I am equal to the task, or that I am worthy of the praise? I am just the one called and crazy enough to take the job. But, after doing this for the last 16 years, I will agree with all the old preachers I have heard who said, "If you can do anything else, do it, because God has not likely called you to this if you can. But, if you can do it, do it with humility, realizing you are not, nor will you ever be worthy of the privelege of this ministry."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More, Please!

If you're an average American who professes to be a Christian, you spend more time brushing your teeth each day than you do in serious prayer.

If you're an average American who professes to be a Christian, you have more conversations with your doctor about your health than you do with lost people about the gospel that could save them.

If you are a highly unusual American Christian, you are a highly evangelistic Christian, sharing not only your personal beliefs, but the gospel with people on a regular, monthly, weekly and even daily basis. And, according to surveys of over 2,000 highly evangelistic Christians, the number one characteristic they had in common was that they prayed more than an hour a day. That's 12 times what the Average professing Christian prays. Christians who realize that only God can convict and convert become totally dependent upon Him in prayer.

I'm on a crusade to get myself and all the people I know to that place with that practice.

So, No Matter Where You Are Today, Will You Pray More?

If you usually just mouth a quick prayer in the a.m. or at meals, mouth two. If you hit a quick 5 minutes at night before your family goes to bed, try for 6 or even 10 minutes. If you are already way above average, praying a whopping 15 minutes a day, why not work toward 30. And, if you find that you don't have enough to pray for, please email me. I have a list that can keep you busy for awhile.

(the picture is from Oliver Twist, when Oliver asked for more gruel)


"The Holy Book of the Living God suffers more from its exponents today than from its opponents."

An interesting opinion by the late Leonard Ravenhill, friend of A. W. Tozer, mentor and influencer of many including Keith Green, Ravi Zacharias, Charles Stanley, and Paul Washer.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

When What You See Is Contrary To Hope

God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, (Rom. 3:17-18)

As I looked around today, I saw things that were contrary to hope. I told my best friend I was down. She said I needed to start seeing the things that are, rather than the things that are not. That's good counsel, a good word my "glass-half-full" sister-friend received from God and passed on to me. As I began my effort to follow her counsel, a Scripture came to mind, "God... calls those things which do not exist as though they did."

Many abuse this passage, believing that God has granted them the ability to call those things into existence that do not exist. They believe that the Creator has given them the ability to create. Perhaps I am a man of little faith, but I do not believe that. I do, however, believe in the One who does have that ability. He gave life to an old woman's womb, Sarah, and she conceived Abraham's son, Isaac. I know the same God, the One who still brings life through His Word, even through the Word He has already spoken, like the passage above.

When what I see is contrary to hope, I am learning what to do. I am learning to look for the One who calls those things which do not exist as though they did. As I focus on Him, He fills my half-empty heart as miraculously as He filled Sarah's ancient womb. And, very often, He even changes those hopeless scenes, bringing life into situations that I thought were as lifeless as the lunar surface. Whether they change or not, I am changed, and I rejoice, and I begin to live a life again that brings glory and attention to the One.

p.s. My wife is my best friend, and I'm so thankful for her half-full glass.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Griping Up The Chain Of Command

With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. (Psalm 142:1-2

While the squeaky wheel may get the grease, complaining to others is really unbefitting a child of God. Do you like that big word, unbefitting? It may be American to complain to the world, but it's not Christ-like. There is a chain of command for our gripes. If you must gripe, gripe to God. Always gripe up. And, in case you don't understand this principal, let me illustrate with a scene from Saving Private Ryan when Private Reibin was griping about their mission to save Private Ryan.

Private Jackson: Sir... I have an opinion on this matter.
Captain Miller: Well, by all means, share it with the squad.
Private Jackson: Well, from my way of thinking, sir, this entire mission is a serious misallocation of valuable military resources.
Captain Miller: Yea. Go on.
Private Jackson: Well, it seems to me, sir, that God made me a special instrument of warfare.
Captain Miller: Reiben, pay attention. Now, this is the way to grip. Continue, Jackson.
Private Jackson: Well, what I mean by that, sir is . . . if you was to put me and this here sniper rifle anywhere up to and including one mile of Adolph Hitler with a clear line of sight, sir... pack your bags, fellas, war's over. Amen.
Private Reiben: Oh, that's brilliant, bumpkin. Hey, so, Captain, what about you? I mean, you don't gripe at all?
Captain Miller: I don't gripe to you, Reiben, I'm a captain. There's a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down. Always up. You gripe to me. I gripe to my superior officer, so on, so on, son on. I don't gripe to you. I don't gripe in front of you. You should know that as a Ranger.
Private Reiben: I'm sorry, sir, but oh... let's say you weren't a captain, or maybe I was a major. What would you say then?
Captain Miller: Well, in that case... I'd say. "This is an excellent mission, sir, with an extremely valuable objective, sir, worthy of my best efforts, sir. Moreover... I feel heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private James Ryan and am willing to lay down my life and the lives of my men - especially you, Reiben - to ease her suffering.
Mellish: [chuckles] He's good.
Private Caparzo: I love him.

So, I think it is better to gripe up.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

One True Constant

I was thinking about all the "if's" in Scripture, the conditional promises of God, and the ones that apply specifically to prayer. I was thinking about prayerlessness and how it seems to be a true constant across denominational lines. Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Calvinists and Arminians all seem consistently able to ignore prayer. And, I was also thinking about the presence of an increase of cooperative prayer in and around every major move of God in modern history.

John Wesley wrote, "God does nothing but in answer to prayer; and even they who have been converted to God without praying for it themselves, (which is exceeding rare,) were not without the prayer of others. Every new victory which a soul gains is the effect of a new prayer."

Some disagree with Wesley on doctrinal grounds, arguing that God will save whom He will save and that prayer makes no difference in that. Have they confused the sovereignty of God with a fatalistic view that preaches "whatever will be, will be?" God said "If My people pray . . ." He is sovereign and yet still holds man accountable for his decisions and actions. Do some fail to pray because they believe all things are predetermined and prayer will make no difference?

Some see no need for Wesley's argument, because they believe there is no need for prayer. God is good, and so does good things to those people who are good, and most people are inherently good. So, if there is no hell, at least not for virtually all people, then why pray?

Some of us seem to think that our actions speak louder than our prayers. We are doers, and we want to love and preach the gospel and stay busy in our church and in our lives. Our theology seems to be "God helps those who helps themselves." Why pray if God is more concerned with what I do than what He will do when we pray?

Most of us don't pray, simply because we are disobedient. Prayerlessness is, after all, disobedience. To fail to pray for what God wants most, the lost to be saved, reveals a heart that is far out of tune with the heart of God. But, it's even more simple than that. Most of us don't pray because we don't believe God. And, unbelief is the root of our disobedience. We don't believe His commands, or we would pray. We don't believe that we live, and move and have our being in Him, or we would pray. We don't believe the lost are blinded by Satan, or we would pray. We don't believe that God will send unbelievers to eternal suffering, or we would pray. We believe we will have what we want if we work hard enough, and that prayer has little to do with it. We do not believe that His house is a house of prayer, and so when we come together we sing, and give, and preach, and welcome, and then someone else prays for us.

Then, there comes a crisis, and we pray, for awhile, because we have been reminded that only God can and that, very often, He will not unless we pray. And, hopefully, we never forget that, and prayer becomes our constant conversation, and our first response to all crises and all needs. And, we pray, because we love Him, and there is no one we would rather talk to than God, no one we would rather depend upon than Him.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spiritual Discernment And Simple Math

The average American will live 630,000 hours. He will sleep and eat 44% of his life away (270,000 hours) and work 16% of his life away (100,000 hours).

That leaves the average Joe 40% of his life to do with whatever he pleases; garden, mow the yard, golf, sew, get drunk, build houses for Habitat, run for office, invent a better light bulb, etc., etc.

40% disposable income, I mean, disposable lifetime.

Now, the average American spends virtually no time reading the Bible and generous estimates say the average American prays 3 minutes a day. He also attends church rarely, but for argument sake let's say he's far above average. Not, not he, but you. Let's say that you are far above average in religious practice. You attend church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. You read the Bible and pray, on average, 30 minutes a day. What percentage of your lifetime would you spend intentionally seeking to know God in that case?

5%, and that's rounding up. The average American spends more time flossing and brushing than actively pursuing a relationship with God.

What about you? Too busy for the things of God?

Check this out . . . 5% . . . on a really good day.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Pregnant Pause

Press play on an internet video or audio, and unless you are paying a great deal of money for a very fast line like a T1 line, your computer will pause while it loads part of your video into a section of memory called a buffer. The buffer acts like a water tower, storing up enough data so that when you do press play, your video doesn't skip. If the file you're trying to watch or listen do begins to stop and skip, all you usually have to do is press the pause button and wait for the "buffer" to fill up with your file. Once it's full, just press play again and off you go.

Jesus commissioned the apostles to go into the world and preach the gospel, making promises of fantastic supernatural abilities and power to carry out that command. But, before they could go, Jesus pressed the "pause" button and told them, "But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49) So, they pressed pause, gathering in what we call "the upper room," not for a day or two, but for a week and a half - ten days to be exact. Now, it's not like they filled up power during those ten days. When the Holy Spirit came in His fulness, they were powerfully and completely filled in just a moment. Their pause was a pause of obedience and prayer, what God calls again and again in Scripture, "waiting" on the Lord.

We readily admit that without Him we can do nothing, but we somehow forget that we must still wait upon Him to move. And, we almost alway forget that a huge part of waiting is the very active waiting of prayer; as Jesus told the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, "watch and pray." When the very things that God has commanded and promised to be doing in our lives are not happening, don't charge out, lash out, or stress out. Instead, wait in prayer until God fills you and the moment with His power.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Church Lust

I'm married. If I look at a woman I'm not married to, that's lust and the person I'm looking at becomes pornography to me. When a man looks at another woman, or a woman at another man, that is not love. That is lust. The object of the lust is just that - an object. And, desire for an image or object is, by definition, porno-graphy.

I think that sometimes we have pornographic desires for other churches. Pastors are certainly guilty. Just about every colleague I know has checked out another, flashy church. We complain about the lack of commitment to the local church, about church hoppers, etc., but it may be that pastors are just getting what they have sewn through the years of short tenure and their own church-hopping to the greener pastures; greener pastures which quickly become brown deserts in the lustful hearts of dissatisfied pastors and member of churches.

If you compare pastoral tenure and church membership to marriage, some of us are as polygamous as Joseph Smith. At the very least we have practiced serial polygamy.

The really sad thing is this. Jesus said that the only real evidence to the reality of His resurrection is in the love we, His people, have for one another. And, when we cannot or will not "love the one you with," then the world will not see Christ. It's easy to love the image of love. That's why a man can leave the wife of his youth for a more youthful wife, believing she is better only to find out she is not.

We all know that no church is perfect. The question is whether we will love our own church perfectly; meaning, "Will I love my church as it is, warts and all?" That is the kind of love that proves we are His disciples, and the kind of love that proves to the world that our Jesus is real.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Non Compete Clause

I know it's foolish, and I'm probably petty, but I still do it. I don't do it as often as I used to, but I still fall prey to it occasionally. It started yesterday morning, continued last night, and reached a peak this morning. I hate it when I fall into it, but sometimes, honestly, don't know how to escape it.

Let me tell you how I got here. It all began with good things; encouraging members to invite people to Easter services to hear the gospel, prayer for the pastor to be effective, prayer for the people we were inviting. All of that is good, very good.

Then I did something bad. I violated God's non-compete clause.

We are not a "home for the holidays" church. Our people usually go somewhere else. Most of our grandparents go to their grandkids and most of our grandkids go to their grandparents. So, lots of people who are usually here weren't. I never feel good about that, even if I understand. And, I don't think it's altogether good for a pastor to feel great when his church is less than full.

But, the guests made up for the absence. As a matter of fact, there seemed to be as many guests as regulars in second service. That was awesome. And, I was able to preach the gospel of the resurrected Christ, and that is a very good thing. But, when the offer to respond was given, there was no response that could be seen. I know that some plant, some water, and God gives the increase, but it's still disappointing any time people do not respond to the gospel.

Ok, now to the last two nails in the coffin. I read a post by a pastor who had 300 in worship and 4 decisions to follow Christ. Then, I read another post by someone who went to another church and it was "fantastic." I know, I should be happy for the pastor and for Christian who experienced "fantastic church," but it is, after all, Monday, and I have, after all, violated the non-compete clause.

Perhaps I should call it the non-compare clause, as it reads, "Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding." (2 Cor. 10:12)

Comparing our house to theirs, our job to theirs, our spouse to theirs, our kids to theirs, our school to theirs, our church to theirs, etc., etc., just never works.

What's yours? Who do you compare to? Who do you feel superior to, and who do you feel inferior to? That is the fruit of violating the non compete clause - superiority and inferiority.

The only one worthy of our comparison is Christ. The only standard worthy of our emulation is the Scripture. Don't violate God's non compete clause. It's there for a very good reason. Do all for the glory of God, not the glory of self. Peace and worth are never found in superiority or inferiority. They are only found in trusting in the love, provision, and sovereignty of God.

P.S. Tonight (after writing the article above) God granted me the privilege of being present when He gave birth to a new brother. I do believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. God, help me to be faithful to continue to sow and water.