My wife loves to decorate with interesting, unique, old, often “one-of-a-kind” handmade items. Our house is filled with little this’s and that’s to look at and enjoy. All of the unique little pieces give a warm and welcoming feel and the wonderful old mismatched furniture creates an atmosphere that I truly love. I have found over the years, that unique things are interesting and mass produced things are boring. You go to a
department store to buy cheap things to consume and then discard but you go to interesting little mom and pop junk stores to rummage around to find the interesting treasures. Here is where I cause a stir…. Our
churches, programs, outreach events and christian lives look much more like department stores than mom and pop shops. Certainly the church people are getting a fine product to consume but lost people don’t want to buy a plastic gospel.
Why do we so often package the Gospel like an item on the shelf at a department store? Mass consumed, Generic, Impersonal… Like a huckster in a traveling circus peddling our wares looking for one more consumer to titillate and entice we sell church rather than invite people into a unique and personal relationship with the risen Lord. When we “reach someone” we want them to conform to our systems, our services and our structure and drain the life from Christian living. This is why we see so many bored, lifeless people at church with little Spirit and Living Water flowing from their hearts. We have forgotten the uniqueness of the message of the Gospel.
So what is unique about the Gospel? The answer is found in the person and work of Jesus.
Jesus promised something very different and far more fulfilling than that which we are peddling
when He lived, died, and rose again. Jesus was never boring. Most of His teaching was
controversial and he lived in constant danger. Also, he never lowered his message to pander to
the baseness of the mass market but did speak in a way that was understandable and relatable.
Jesus was and is unique.
Self-help has been peddling “I’m OK, You’re OK” for decades. “Give it 110%” is routinely
pushed on burgeoning athletes. Hundreds of other trite phrases and vapid memes litter social
media telling people that they are not broken or can fix their own brokenness. All fail for they
are not true. The truth is we are broken and in need of a Savior. Nowhere else will people find
the cure for brokenness. Nowhere else will people hear that they are loved by God and that he
has reached to them in the miraculous life of Jesus. Nowhere else will people hear of unmerited
grace, mercy and forgiveness. Nowhere else will people hear of One who has power over
death and promises eternal life. Nowhere else will we find such a unique message and unique
Savior. What makes the Gospel unique? It is unique because it is true.
Spending Time. Such a simple phrase that has staggering consequences. So casually we spend time and the reality of what is happening just beneath the surface, outside of our consciousness, eluding scrutiny. No one merely spends time because time isn’t a thing it is a measurement. You would never say, “I have an inch.” Immediately, all will want to know, “Of what?” It only makes sense to say, “I have an inch of rope” or some such thing because an inch is a measurement of something. Time is no different. Time is a measurement of life so we never spend time. We are always spending life.
The constant flow of life can lull us into the foolish practice of living as though our life has always been and will forever be. As we live with this fatal conclusion many will see days, weeks, months and years pass, spending life as though it is limitless. Life is finite. You only have a moment in history. James reminds us to question, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Therefore life is precious. Everything that is truly limited is extremely valuable. Precious metals and precious gems have intrinsic value because of their scarcity. Your life is far more precious because it is so brief in the rivers of history. Your years are like diamonds and your days are like gold coins so spend them well.
What is worthy of your life? Entertainment? Frivolity? Work? I suppose there is room for all of these things and more if they are done on purpose, and the purpose of life is to, “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Spend life loving people and serving Christ and do so mindfully. Think deeply about how you will spend your life. Live it on mission with the gospel. The river is flowing and a precious, finite commodity is floating away. Seize it! Drink deeply from the well of life and spend your days with joy and passion for the gospel and the glory of Christ.
This month I am dedicating my article space to share some pictures of the CMBA cabin the Volunteer Christian Builders are graciously building for us at the Green Country Camp. This will be a Pastor’s Cabin to use when you need time away to prepare, rest, revive. Thank you to our Volunteer Christian Builders, and thank you to all our churches, and individuals that helped with the meals. The builders were here the month of March, and much progress has taken place. To see these pictures click here:
One percent. Most immediately think, “Not worth my time. Insignificant!” One percent is ringing in my ears though. What does a one percent positive change look like? ….in your church? ….in your town? ….in our association? When considering such a small bit of progress I cannot get three glaring truths out of my mind.
A one percent change can be done by nearly everyone. Since most churches have fewer than 100 members a one percent change can be one encouraging phone call or notecard per day. I was speaking with a friend the other day and I asked him, “When was the last time you remember a church leader calling you to check on your family or to simply show care and concern?” He admitted that he could not remember such a time and that if it ever happened it was quite rare. I suppose a homebound saint could pray, write notecards, make phone calls and generally be an encouragement each and every day of his life. A dear friend of mine, Bill, passed away several years ago and at his funeral his wife and daughters were careful to include his cell phone with the most important things with which he was buried. Why do something so strange? Although at the end of his life he was not able to visit family and friends he spent his days on that cell phone calling, texting and sharing the love of Christ with everyone that came to mind. Bill made a one percent difference.
Leading your church to be one percent better each day, consistently, methodically, and intentionally will one day result in a huge change. But herein lies the problem; where to start. I say start with your heart. What keeps you awake at night; weighs heavy on your mind throughout the day; seems to creep back into your thoughts even when you try to focus on other things. Start there. Instead of spreading your efforts around it seems more effective to focus your one percent on the one thing that is likely to spread like a fire. Don’t throw sparks everywhere and hope something catches. Invest time and passion in one focused pursuit and see what God does with your work.
When several people lean into making a one percent change their cumulative efforts are much more than nothing. They are more than just a little something. They are, in fact, miraculous! I have found that people will follow passion and purpose. Imagine gathering an army of people who are willing to make a one percent change, giving them direction and then turning them loose. You can’t even imagine what they will accomplish! Even a few willing people can make an enormous difference if they are working together to do a good work. The other night I was talking to a small group of people at one of our churches. I asked them about their one percent difference and their eyes brightened! They saw the wonderful effect of a one percent difference.
By the way, this mindset has nothing to do with numbers and has everything to do with heart, passion, tenacity and willingness. What will your one percent be? Whatever it is “do all for the glory of God.”
When I began serving as the Director of Missions of Craig-Mayes Baptist Association a single reality captured my mind and heart. It is continually on my mind and heart and is the only rational purpose for our existence. We live in a lost world surrounded by lost people who have no concept of their “lostness.” None of our churches can engage all who are lost so it is vital that we join forces if we are to complete the task. Out of these truths our purpose statement was born in my heart. Craig-Mayes Baptist Association exists to courageously unite our member churches to be on mission carrying the gospel into the world for the glory of God. I still believe this statement clearly defines our purpose but regrettably I made a very obvious mistake when writing it.
A purpose or mission statement is a mere group of words. This group of words has no real value or meaning simply because they were strung together even if they were penned with precision and excellence. Such a statement only has value if all involved affirm, approve and adopt it as their own. My mistake was assuming all would see the merit of the statement and readily embrace it and live it. It was my statement not OUR statement. In the wake of this failure I have four simple requests:
Forgive my failure. I ask forgiveness simply because I wrote the statement alone rather than including you in the process. Writing the mission statement alone over values my opinion and ignores the value of your wisdom. For that I must apologize.
I don’t think the mission statement is invaluable or incorrect though so I ask you to consider the truth of the statement. Is it not true that we must be united if we are to make a recognizable, vast impact in this world? Don’t we find great courage and strength when our voices, efforts and desires are united toward a common worthy cause? Isn’t our biblical mandate to take the gospel to the nations? If not I have no idea why we exist.
With all of this in mind there still might be a very different way you would like to communicate our mission to each other and to the world. Consequently I would very much appreciate your input. Please communicate your thoughts, feelings and amendments to our statement. Enter the discussion. Debate if necessary. But above all do not remain silent.
Once you have invested your thoughts in our mission statement embrace it as your own. Craig-Mayes Baptist Association isn’t an office in Pryor. It isn’t a Director of Missions or even a committee of church leaders. The association is you….your church joining arms with other churches doing the kingdom work of sharing the gospel with the world. That is why this statement of mission is yours and must be embraced by you. I pray the Lord will greatly use your church and our association of churches for His glory.
The Power of “I”
“They were hard-headed and wouldn’t make a decision.” “Somebody needs to fix this mess.” “We always seem to be stuck in the same problems.” I don’t know who “they” “somebody” and “we” are but I do know that I don’t want them on my team! They sound absolutely painful! I understand that these statements come from a mind and heart that is quite frustrated and frankly, we all fall into this trap. I am quite sure I have spent some time there today. At times like this I find it helpful to remember a powerful truth. I am called by God to make a difference in the world for His glory….TODAY.
“I” is a ground shaking word. There is great power and history changing influence in that littlest of articles. For a few moments read these next sentences to yourself. Hear them in your voice and let them resound in your mind. I have the power and authority to speak the eternal truth of the gospel and it often results in eternal salvation of the hearer. I have been endowed with the privilege of laughing with the joyful and weeping with those in sorrow. I am the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and as a new creation in Jesus will build up my brothers and sisters, shut the mouths of those who oppose the cause of Christ, infiltrate a desperate world and see it transformed by the grace and mercy of God.
Just to be clear, this is not a message of self-help new-age sentimentality. It is, however, a call to Godly proactivity and personal responsibility under the Lordship of Christ. Church statistics are demoralizing. The state of Christianity is humiliating. It seems our Enemy is winning. Why would we continue down this path?
Some problems are quite complex and even defy understanding; this is not one of them. The answer is simple. Do the things that point people to Christ and don’t do things that turn their eyes away from Him. Be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving toward one another. Bless and do not curse. Let love be without hypocrisy. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Have these qualities and increase in them and they will keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful. (Ephesians 4; Romans 12; 2 Peter 1) In short, be a person of the book, walk like a son or daughter of God, and thus be the Body of Christ in the world. Then “they” will have no power, “we” will get unstuck and God will use YOU to be “somebody” that fixes a very broken world.
Why do painters paint? Why do musicians write songs? Why do dancers dance and singers sing? Something deep within wells to the point of bursting forth and simply must be expressed. Great artists don’t create in order to become wealthy or famous. That is a modern construct of American capitalism. In fact the greatest artists often remain unnoticed during their lifetime; creating and composing behind the curtain while mere performers take the stage and put on a show basking in the glory of the spotlight.
So as Christians are we mere performers or true spiritual artists? I suppose that depends on the purpose, sincerity and depth of our worship. Do we sing and praise for show or does our expression of worship flow from deep within begging for expression? Do our churches desire God’s glory or soulless growth of the mechanized organization we have labeled church? When we put growth before glory we have lost sight of our purpose and will see the death of a once beautiful expression of God’s greatness.
I know it is a romantic notion and to many it will seem to be a fairy tale but imagine with me for a moment. Put yourself in the middle of your sanctuary on that most special day in your memory. For some it will be a common worship service long ago that uncommonly gripped your heart. Others will remember a special revival meeting that left all in attendance chattering about it for years. Still others will envision a day long past where the building was full, people were gladly greeting one another and the air in the room just seemed crisp and fresh. What was the difference? The programming, structure, leadership, or style of worship?
Might I suggest that purpose dictated by the Spirit of the living God made the difference? When God plants purpose deep within you and your church it will burst forth in glorious praise to the Most High God. You will paint your life with testimonies of His greatness and love. You will sing and dance with joy and delight in His presence. Your praise will exceed any mere art for it will be a holy expression of love, devotion, and worship of our King. We must come to our senses and grasp afresh our unique purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. If we do so, all will be well and God will again build His church around His people for His glory.
The authority of Jesus has commanded my thoughts for the past few weeks. Intellectually I know that Jesus has all authority because he clearly stated such in Matthew 28:18. Still spiritually and practically I struggle to submit to his authority, simply living my life walking as he walked, doing what he did, and loving who he loved. I have no illusions that I will ever perfectly imitate Jesus but I am persistently compelled to follow Jesus and burdened to invite others to do the same. I believe the basic truth that Jesus is actively ruling over his church corporately and his people individually is the defining fact that determines our success in this lifetime.
Pastor, you have no authority over the church. I know such a statement will furrow a brow or two but it is nonetheless true. Jesus is the head of the church and will not be supplanted by anyone. Submission to his Lordship is the key to all Christian leadership and will result in deep spiritual peace and contentment. Living under the delusion that the success or failure of the church depends upon your abilities, leadership, diligent labor, spiritual prowess or personal fortitude will only result in your exhaustion and frustration. Jesus has all authority and simply requires your love evidenced in obedience.
So what is a pastor to do? Pray that the Spirit of Christ will powerfully transform people through the message of the Gospel. Prepare a hearty sermon that is solely concerned with biblical truth and devoid of human speculation or philosophy. Preach in the power and the uncommon wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Lead his church down the simple and narrow path of holiness. Make much of Jesus and lead your people to make much of Jesus. Forget about exercising authority and instead practice and proclaim grace.
What is good for the pastor is also good for the church member. You too have no authority in Christ’s church. How do you suppose our churches would look if those who confess Jesus as Lord actually followed him as Lord? That is quite an easy question to answer. Disciples would be made. Lost people would be led to Jesus. The Nations would rejoice in knowing the gospel. Peace, harmony, joy and love would be found in every corner of the building and every heart in the congregation. Contention, strife, and resentment would be a thing of the past never to return. I imagine even a few wholly submitted to the authority of Jesus would be revolutionary since it is self-evident that the Lordship of Jesus is not our singular ambition.
I know some will be irritated by these words and that is my intention. Change is found in the wake of discomfort. Like it or not, Jesus has all authority; you have none. Lord forgive my hypocrisy in these words and help me to be your willing slave. May we once again live in submission to his Lordship and see his glory fill our churches and our world.
Here I sit looking at a computer screen again. Such a small window into the world. It isn’t a trustworthy representation of reality yet it grabs our attention and relentlessly fights to dominate our thoughts and lives. We once thought the TV was our greatest adversary and yes it is still a robber of our our most precious commodity; time. Now we have computers, tablets, smartphones and every other type of gadget robbing our time as well. We have succumbed to the allure of electronic friendships which are not friendships at all. We “keep up” with family members and friends through facebook, texting and email insulating ourselves from the discomfort of actual communication and connection. And we are systematically losing the ability to talk to people about the least of things much less the most important thing in all of life. The reality of Christ has been substituted with a lie only this time the lie has a glowing screen.
So here is my challenge to you today. Look a real person in the eye and give him a reason for the hope that resides within you. Notice someone and share the Gospel face to face. Turn off the screens filled with bad news and go out into a real world with the Good News. Pray for someone in your life that is far from God and write a real note to her with paper, ink and love. Serve a living breathing person stamped with the image of God in order to bring Glory to our Creator. Turn away from the inauthentic and embrace a real world with a true Gospel. Trust me, it will be fun!
A couple of things will likely happen. At first none of this will feel “right” because it has been so long since you have done such things. Over time though, joy will fill your heart that you have not experienced in quite a long time. Your joy will be full, and real because you will have embraced the reason you were created by God. You were not created to spend your life looking at a glowing screen filled with half-truths, embellished stories, and empty trite phrases. You were created to bring glory to God and enjoy Him forever. Now turn off your glowing screen and tell someone about our glorious Savior!
Beauty is everywhere. Take a look around; I am going to guess that most have spent the majority of the day unaware of the glorious beauty that engulfs us. Take a couple of minutes and watch the trees sway in the breeze. Enjoy bees and butterflies bouncing from flower to flower. Delight in the faces of your beloved family. There is so much beauty in the world and those who are called by the name of Christ ought to revel in God’s beauty and use it as inspiration to glorify our great God who is the creator of all beautiful things.
Far too often we are only reminded of the ugly realities of life and we must be mindful of their existence. Racism is real, pervasive and destructive. Addiction is overtly destroying precious lives. War is raging in so many corners of the globe. We are staggered by the onslaught of pain, disease, despair and hopelessness. None of these ugly realities will be solved with more ugliness though. Our best counter attack for all ugliness in the world is the beauty of the cross and the love of Jesus Christ. We need not fear that our efforts to spread the love of Christ will be in vain and end in loss. The beauty of the love of Christ is eternal and will most definitely overcome all wickedness and evil.
Take a few moments today and turn someone’s attention to the surrounding beauty. Be a conduit of the grace of God by telling of the love of Jesus openly and often. Point at the majesty of creation and beckon all mankind to worship the Creator. You will be amazed by the simplicity and effectiveness of a small encouragement to open blind eyes to the splendor of the beauty that is just outside your window.
Before you can herald others to see the beauty of God you must personally be overwhelmed by it. Take a walk with the God of all creation and see how you feel after such a time of intimate fellowship. Sit and listen to the pure songs of small birds and be reminded that God seeks their best and values you far above many sparrows. Look deeply into the night sky and be filled with awe and wonder knowing God measures all that you see with the span of His hand; the very hand that leads, guides, and protects you. God Himself is beautiful and He has given you many good gifts by which you might see a tiny glimpse of the beauty He delights to create. I pray you will see, understand and believe.
Pure joy is found in Christ. Six simple words strung together like pearls in a necklace which convey a priceless truth. People often find a taste of joy in family, friends or special events, but I believe there is a great shortage of pure joy. Pure joy lingers and is satisfying. It is substantial and is seasoned with eternal ramifications. Pure joy is precious beyond measure and rarer than ever before in history but it is yours for the having if you desire it. If I told you that you could experience unspeakable, immeasurable eternal joy with very little effort would you enthusiastically embark on the journey toward joy? It is my prayer that today you will thirst for pure joy in Christ for thirsting seems to be the first evidence of a spirit destined for joy.
It is difficult to say how someone is to gain joy in Christ but it is quite easy to describe someone who is joyfully in Christ. One who has pure joy loves the word of God; it is his spiritual food and he finds life in the pages of the Bible. He also loves the people of God and takes great comfort in their company and intentionally gathers with them to be strengthened and encouraged. The joy-filled Christian tends to have a song in his heart often whispering his worship as he goes about his daily business. These are not steps to joy but mere evidences of its presence. Trying to give such trite steps toward joy is akin to selling the gift of the Holy Spirit to Simon the sorcerer because joy in Christ is fruit of the Holy Spirit. He produces joy and His beloved delights in its benefit. You have not nor will you ever create joy; that is Divine work.
So what is a thirsting soul to do? I suppose a wonderful place to start is to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit and willfully submit to His molding hands. Isn’t it a marvelous thought that the Holy Spirit of God is present with you right now, is smiling on His beloved and is gently and kindly nurturing your heart? What do you suppose is the feeling that is welling up inside you at this moment? Could it be the fledgling presence of joy in Christ? Such a presence is both deeply satisfying and creates an insatiable desire for more. So I suppose there really is nothing for you to do but there is much for you to believe.
Believe that Jesus loves you, died for you, and is risen in power. Believe that He has saved you from the penalty of your sin and has promised a Helper that will instruct you in all holiness and will produce in you His good fruit. Believe that He is your only source of true life and that He is even now working to present you pure and without blemish to a loving holy God. Believe and you will be in Christ and in Christ you will find pure joy.