So I Went to Russia….
Several of my friends had somewhat shocked and even fearful looks on their faces when I mentioned going to Russia. It seems the Cold War hasn’t ended in some of their minds so they were convinced I was going to end up in a Russian prison simply because I am a follower of Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Russia is open to the gospel and we have many opportunities to serve alongside wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ. I would like to share a few general impressions I gained from this trip (I am intentionally leaving out specifics out of prudence.) If you are interested in more specific information about Russia and our potential partnership there I would love to share about this incredible opportunity. Call anytime 918-706-3476.
I met with some of our IMB personnel in Russia and instantaneously felt a kinship through the love of Christ. We have some of the best people in the world serving all over the globe and we should be very proud and pleased to be numbered with them. You should make a concerted effort to befriend an IMB missionary and correspond with them by email or text as you earnestly pray for them and God’s grace in their ministries. If you don’t know an IMB missionary we have several on the field with direct ties to Craig-Mayes Baptist Association and many more with Oklahoma roots.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this trip was meeting brothers and sisters who love Jesus and are Russian national baptist believers. They are strategically working night and day to impact lostness in their world. They are focused and dedicated to the cause of Christ and are quite disciplined to ignore the innumerable distractions in the world working to win people to Jesus. Multiple times each day I heard them say, “These are our goals and we have results.” They taught me one important lesson; Spreading the message of Christ in our communities has much more to do with strategy than resources. They have very few resources in an environment that is historically antagonistic to the gospel and yet they work with joy and purpose in God’s kingdom.
I also learned of a troubling trend in Southern Baptist life. It seems our missionaries have a very hard time getting speaking engagements at our churches when they are home. Please ask your pastor to intentionally schedule for an IMB missionary to visit your church and preach on a Sunday morning. Also, with modern technology you can video chat with missionaries all over the globe instantly. Last year at one of our quarterly meetings we visited with missionaries in India, Africa and Canada in one night! Make missions education and involvement a priority again so the next generation of believers will have an opportunity to answer the call to reach the world with the Gospel. This is a foundational trait of Southern Baptists that we must never lose. Finally, plan to go on mission this year. It would be my honor to help you plan a trip to go to the “uttermost parts of the earth.”
Lessons From Baseball
“If you can’t play catch you can’t play baseball.” A dear friend of mine taught me this truth years ago. It is as true today as it was then. At the time, I was being recruited to coach my son’s coach-pitch team and having little experience with baseball and coaching I turned to my friend for some simple and practical advice. The beginning of each of our practices we played catch. I walked up and down helping the boys practice the art of throwing a baseball. Most threw in whatever way felt natural and so we played chase much more than we played catch. As time went along I felt the piercing stares of all of the parents. I could imagine their comments, “Is this all we are going to do every practice? Shouldn’t we be practicing batting, fielding, learning the rules, talking about stealing bases and learning how to run the bases?” In time the pressure got to me and we started doing all of the things that were expected which required less time spent playing catch. I regretted that decision when we played our first game. Just like every other coach-pitch team we couldn’t play catch so we couldn’t get an out. Routine ground balls turned into home-runs. Routine fly balls turned into home-runs. In fact, any ball put into play resulted in essentially home-run simply because we could not play catch and I as the leader of the team let the pressure of expectations drive the focus of our practices.
I think we can learn some things about church life from this story. “If you can’t disciple someone you can’t fulfil the purpose of the church.” Everything comes down to effective discipleship but the expectations of the congregation will often pressure a pastor to focus on everything but true discipleship. “Shouldn’t we be doing some huge outreach event? Why aren’t we supporting our youth with a bake sale, pie auction, garage sale, car wash fundraiser for camp?” The list of good activities is endless and they feel good, productive, and meaningful in the moment.
My questions are simple; Are we winning this battle or losing? Are we gaining ground in the cause of Christ or is the world slipping away? Does it seem like our enemy only has to put a ball in play to get a home-run? I have come to believe that we simply cannot play catch and the only answer to our dilemma is to follow the clear commands of Christ to make disciples by simply following Him and inviting others to join in this pursuit. I pray you have an active and productive summer. I pray all of your activities are meaningful; even life-changing. But don’t forget to fulfil the purpose of the church by making disciples. “If you can’t play catch you can’t play baseball.”
3 Reasons “The Top 3 Reasons” Aren’t Really The Top 3 Reasons
I enjoy reading other’s perspectives on church life, health and revitalization. I find value in many
of the articles floating around the internet and nearly every podcast I hear has at least one
valuable nugget that I try to file away in the back of my head for later use. But I have a couple of
issues (maybe 3 maybe more) with the whole “3 Reasons” industry.
Why stop at three? Or 5 or 7? The only reason I can post it is that 46 reasons would be far too
long and no one would read that blog article. If the article is shackled to the brevity of the
reader’s attention span is it really valuable or is it only intended to get readers to click so
advertisers will pay? I know this comes across as a bit cynical but church vitality is not
something to be trivialized. I have become convinced over the years that there are no easy
solutions, no quick steps, no three, five or seven top reasons or answers or goals or truths….
We need to be honest with ourselves and know what is being said in a blog article is only the
beginning of our thinking. It is not the answer to your problems. It is merely a starting point.
Who says these three are the TOP three reasons? Even if you don’t say these are the TOP
three by making a list of three almost everyone will conclude you believe these are the most
important because no one writes a “Bottom three” article. And now the genie is out of the bottle.
You are reading my article because you are my friend or you have determined that my opinion
has worth. Why do some receive this merit while others don’t? In an internet world where
followers can be purchased and celebrity can be gained by opening a box, playing a video
game, putting on makeup, or falling down in humorous ways (I just described 90% of YouTube)
experts are rare and rarely heard because they are buried under the self-proclaimed experts.
Believe me! I’m an expert! ;)
So I conclude these lists, although helpful at times, can result in trivializing the problem
relegating it to the temporal especially as it relates to the church. Our struggle is not against
cultural norms and passing fads. Our struggle is a spiritual one. Almost never can such a
struggle be quantified into “Easy Steps”. Our spiritual struggle is a daily one which requires our
complete attention because each day has its own troubles. We must be prepared for an ever
changing variety of opportunities and issues if we are to win the day and advance the Kingdom
of God. Keep reading the experts but think deeply about what they propose. Keep seeking for
truth and insight always judging merit by the word of God. Keep curiously searching for new
ideas and better understanding but please don’t just read, think and search. Be doers of the
I was given the gift of joy last night. I was speaking to the youth group at FBC Pryor and felt it was important to say to each one of the teens, “Jesus loves you.” I began at one side of the semi-circle, looking each person in the eye, sharing the simple message, “Jesus loves you.” After the third or fourth teen they all knew that I was going to work around the room. I could feel the anticipation of some and the apprehension of others but one by one they heard that most basic of Gospel messages. It was a very joy filled few moments for several reasons; I will share a few with you now.
Each teen responded to the message of Jesus’ love slightly differently but I learned a remarkable lesson about people. People long to be reminded that they are loved. Every teen knew the message was coming. Each one knew precisely what I was going to say and even when I was going to say it, but each face lit up as I was saying to him and only to him, “Jesus loves you.” Each young lady received the message as her own; it didn’t matter that the message was exactly the same. She heard her message, “Jesus loves YOU.” Some found the message of Jesus’ love so weighty that they hid from it almost as though they were incapable of absorbing the force of His love. I was reminded in those precious moments of Jesus’ universal and personal love for people. That gave me joy.
The Gospel was spoken and the powerful love of Jesus was exalted and I didn’t really do anything. Anyone could have done what I did. No training was necessary. No special skills had to be developed. Age, experience, social status, titles or intelligence did not matter. Only the Gospel mattered and, it seemed, the Holy Spirit spoke. Some of the students were new so we had no history, no relationship, no real bond, but each still was visibly moved by this simple, beautiful, enduring message. Again it became clear, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe. So, I too am not ashamed of such a glorious Gospel and it gave me joy to speak it.
May you have that same joy today. “Jesus loves you.”
Dying In The Cold
Once upon a time three men were shivering in the cold trying desperately to start a fire. They had more than enough wood, kindling, flint and even a neatly built fire ring complete with comfortable little benches for all to sit and warm themselves; yet they had no fire. Each had a strong belief in fire and even espoused their personal views on the most important aspect of building a fire. One was sure the quality of the fuel and kindling was of paramount importance while another argued that no fire could ever be built and maintained without proper airflow. The third sneered at his friends saying, “You can have all the wood and airflow in the world but without an initial spark of heat you will only have a dead pile of sticks in a fancy little ring!”
That certainly wasn’t the end of their bickering though. They debated how to build the sticks into the perfect beginning structure, the best type of kindling, how to block the wind just enough so the infant embers from the flint wouldn’t be extinguished. On and on they went discussing, debating, analyzing and re-analyzing how to properly start a fire.
Just then a weary traveler came along, cold and tired hoping to enjoy the glowing heat of a nice fire but only finding scattered wood, an empty fire ring and three compatriots in heated discussion but freezing to death. The weary traveler queried, “Wouldn’t it be best to just get on with starting a fire? It seems any which way will do so long as we don’t die from the cold!” Such a suggestion was simply out of the question so the three men went back to their debates and the weary traveler moved on down the road. Along the way he picked up some sticks, found a little bark from a dead tree, made a simple little pile on the bare ground and began striking his flint. Soon with only nominal adjustments he had a quaint little fire and he reveled in its warmth. He fed it with wood and built it into a sizable blaze that sustained him throughout the night.
The next morning he set back out on the path and again encountered the three debaters but this time they were silent; their debating was over and their arguments were settled because they had frozen to death surrounded with the elements of a fire but never enjoying its warmth. The sight deeply saddened him but he wasn’t surprised. He had anticipated this end when he left their company.
Lostness is everywhere. The Spirit of God is blowing. The Gospel is in our hearts and on our lips. Let’s light a fire!
Why do some people feel compelled to use words like AFFABLE? Why not just say a likeable guy that most would enjoy talking to maybe over dinner or on the back porch with a glass of iced tea. Why pull out the word affable? Is it to project an air of superiority or intelligence? (That doesn’t seem very affable. I wish you could see the pleased smirk I have on my face right now ;) I use the word affable because it makes a point; the word and its corresponding substance is quite rare today. Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount that we ought to be salt and light such that the world will see something remarkable and in turn glorify God in heaven. Such is rare indeed.
When I think back to my teen days many different faces come to mind. Most are smiling at me, crying with me, or joyfully encouraging me to do something great for God’s glory. Their kindness, compassion, love and encouragement is still with me today. Some have passed away and I haven’t seen most of these faces for decades but their spiritual fruit still lingers in my heart. Such people changed my world for the better and are still used by the Creator to declare His glory in my heart and to the world. I am still drawn to such people and I believe the world is as well.
In more recent days I have encountered quite a mix of personalities and worldviews. I enjoy those who are filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, meekness and self control. I don’t like to spend time with those who grumble, complain, spew anger and hatred but both types are sitting in our churches and are representing themselves with the name of Christ as “Christians.” What makes the difference? Those who are affable have been gripped by the gospel and the grace of God produces the fruit of the Spirit. They are affable because of the transforming work of Christ in their hearts and all are quite aware of His wonderful presence. So, smile more. Love somebody. Be kind just for kindness’ sake. Whistle a happy tune. Be affable or amiable. (There I go again :)
If your church unites to serve your community and love them with the gospel of Christ within
you, the world just might see and believe in him. This seems to be part of the message and
application of John 17:20-26; so I sat down and wrote 25+ ways your church can love and serve
your community. I pray these will inspire you to think of unique and inventive ways to share the
love of Christ with the world. Call or email me if you are wondering how one of these ideas
might work in your community 918-706-3476.
1. Volunteer at a school
a. Read to kids
b. Tutor struggling kids
c. Pick up trash/ take out trash
d. Clean lunchroom
e. Make copies for teachers
f. Substitute teach
g. Help kids at drop off/pick up (especially on weather days)
2. Take coffee and donuts to local fire station, EMT, Police
3. Help at drop off/ pick up for daycare (especially weather days)
4. Homebound grocery shopping or pickup
5. Carry bags at grocery store (especially weather days)
6. Smoke detector installation w/ fire department
7. Car seat installation event
8. Coffee, Hot Chocolate giveaway at parade, rodeo, ball game etc.
9. Help with parking at high school football games
10. Concession stand valet
11. Adopt a player that does not have a cheering section and CHEER for her
12. Free car clinic for oil changes, air filter etc.
13. Hand out fliers/ advertisement for local businesses.
14. Maintain baseball and softball fields
15. Senior adult smartphone clinic
16. Clean local businesses or wash their windows
17. Give flowers at walmart for mothers’ day
18. Wrap presents at christmas time
19. Detail police cars
20. Be a gym encourager/ buddy at the public gym (especially after New Years)
21. Return garbage cans on trash day
22. Landscaping for shut ins, public places, single moms
23. Birthday party team for the community
a. Decorate the fellowship hall
b. Bake the cake
c. Plan the games
d. Clean up
24. Storm Clean up
25. Baby Shower for expectant moms
a. Meet an expectant mom in the baby section
b. Ask to throw a baby shower at the church
c. Invite/encourage all of the women of the church to attend and bring a gift
“Don’t just do something! STAND THERE!”
When I heard these words from Seth Godin I thought, “This guy has lost his ever loving mind!” Then he proceeded to explain that it is far worse to be busy for no reason, lacking intentionality, than to simply stand still and think about what you need to do next. If your church is like most you just entered a very busy season. Back to school marks the beginning of the church rat race; Wednesday night children’s and youth activities rev up, 5th quarters and football games dominate friday nights, fall carnivals need to be planned, thanksgiving baskets need to be filled and people are already saying, “It will be Christmas before you know it!” Most are feeling tired just reading this first paragraph. I think Seth might be right. At least at times we need to stop doing and start thinking; embracing intentionality.
As church leaders, what are we trying to accomplish? Often we tell our people that we are trying to grow, reach people, or further the Kingdom of God. For all of our efforts year after year after year I am not sure that I see more followers of Jesus. Some churches have more people to be sure. Might I remind you that most have fewer; and even in the churches that are larger are more people actually following Jesus? My fear is that we have created very busy people in very busy churches that are not intentionally following Jesus. “Don’t just do something! STAND THERE!”
Jesus told us to make disciples, so stand and ask the Lord to show you who you should be discipling. Don’t confuse a nice little group bible study for discipleship. I am talking about a relationship where intense accountability and resonant encouragement are foundational principles. One disciple is worth 100 church attenders. Church attenders don’t make disciples. Disciples make disciples.
Jesus told us to go into the nations with the Gospel, so stand and ask the Lord where he would have you go and to whom he has sent you as a missionary. While you are standing let me remind you that you are surrounded by people who need the Gospel. One Gospel conversation is worth 100 contact cards. I have seen stacks and stacks of contact cards cluttering every church office I have visited. I am sure many felt great success while collecting the contact cards but we weren't called to collect cards. We were commanded to carry the Gospel as ambassadors of Christ.
Jesus modeled a life of worship and oneness with the Father. He said that he was in the Father and the Father was in him. And then he shocks me by saying, “and you in ME and I in you.” I have the privilege of living a life of worship for my King and therin finding oneness with the Father. One hour of worship is worth 100 hours of hard labor. Jesus called us to greater works not mere work. Genuine worship seems to be great work.
Empty? Tired? Dry? We may be empty simply because we are busy. We may be dry and lifeless longing for something more simply because we have believed the lie, “Don’t just stand there! DO SOMETHING!” So I invite you to stand, think, pray disciple, share and worship. Stop merely doing and start standing that you might do with intentionality and purpose.
Your church was established by God to flourish. His intention is to see His church become strong, grow and reach the nations. Most pastors and church members believe this to be true and want to see a bright future for their beloved church. On that note, let me share a two things that I have learned over the past few years. First, many church members are worried for the future of their church. They want to see the church flourish but they sense a downward trend and sincerely want to see better days and a bright future. That leads me to the second lesson I have learned; most don’t know what to do to right the ship in order to move toward a new future. They are scared or worried and stuck. Panic has set in for some. Others have simply given up in frustration. This needn’t be the case. We can and ought to see a new day of flourishing and if you are still reading this little article here is an insight from a book I am reading, “What got you here won’t get you there.”
Currently I am working on a project that I hope will be used by the Lord to encourage and strengthen His church. I am looking for churches and church leaders who are interested in changing the way they think about their future and the communities they serve. If you are willing to commit 2-4 days of your church schedule to dreaming a fresh dream and venturing in a new direction please call me and let’s go on that journey together.
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.