Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Daily Focus

Meditation is something that is intimidating for many Christians. I think it's because it has become associated with Eastern religions, such as Buddhism, in our modern culture and that makes Christians believe that it is not for them. Yet, the Bible is clear when it calls us to meditate on God's Word throughout our day. It is the call of passages such as Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 19:14. God's call to meditate is not empty your mind of every thought, but to fill it with the truth of God's Word and to consider these truths throughout the day.

So, how do you meditate on the Word of God? Simply put, you think about what you've read all during the day. I'm sure there are a dozen things on your "to do" list in a given day and you certainly cannot give all of your time to reading or even thinking about Scripture. However, there are times when you're mind goes to neutral. We all reflect on something throughout the day. Whether it's the great play on SportsCenter, or the upcoming shopping trip or vacation...there is something that comes back to your mind when you go to neutral. Reading and thinking about a Scripture passage early in the day will give you the opportunity to continue thinking (meditating) on it throughout the remainder of the day.

Here's an article from Dr. Donald Whitney at the Center for Biblical Spirituality that will help you think more about meditating on God's Word throughout your day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

You Will Leave a Mark

Do you ever wonder what your family or friends might write on your tombstone? You may have some things you hope they will write on it, but the greater mystery is to know what they would actually say about you. It will certainly be an indicator as to the kind of a mark you have left on them and this world. Clich├ęs abound for the good we intend to do but never accomplish. So I’ll ask in a simple question. Will you be remembered as a person with many good intentions, or as a person of noble accomplishment?

Most likely, the latter is where you want to end up, and that begs the question, how do you get there? Before you can accomplish all of these deeds that will leave society better than you found it, you need to open your eyes and look around. As you drive around town do you think about what you could do to make this a better place to live? Too often we’re in such a rush to get from point A to point B that we never think of how we can make an impact on our families, our neighborhoods or our community. What could you do in your home that it would be a better place for all who live there? Unfortunately, we’re so self-absorbed that it is often major work to think of anyone other than ourselves. If you ‘re going to make a mark on the world you must start looking around, asking questions, and seeking out the needs of family, friends and fellow citizens. This work begins with a desire to care more for others than you care about yourself.

Yes, it will take sacrifice and effort, but all worthwhile projects include those characteristics. We have been created in the image of God. Jesus said that He did not come to Earth to be served, but to serve. We reflect His glory greatest when we think much of God and others and little of ourselves. Thinking and living this way does not make you worthless. In fact, you’ll find just the opposite to be true. Giving and serving lead to finding our greatest worth and accomplishment in life.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Can't I Just Stay Home?

In recent days I have encountered a few people personally and heard a few more stories about people who do not believe that international missions is something that local churches should be pursuing. Most often the case is made that there is plenty of need here in our community or in our state, and we should let people take care of themselves in other parts of the world.

So, I’ve set out to think about this a bit. I’ve come up with five quick reasons of why we should pursue missions internationally. By no means do I consider this an exhaustive list, but it’s what comes to my mind quickly. Here we go…

1. Jesus tells us to go.

In Luke 24:46-49 Christians are told to proclaim the Gospel to every nation. In Acts 1:6-11 Jesus commands Christians to make disciples from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. The concentric circles of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth show us that missions is not to be exclusively about our own backyard. Followers of Jesus are given a picture of a circle that grows until it encompasses the entire globe.

I believe people lose sight of the fact that missions is first and foremost a Gospel ministry. The primary mission is not meeting physical needs. Meeting those needs is important, but they are secondary to sharing the Gospel. When people tend to think of missions as only a meeting of the physical need then it might make sense that we should spend all of our time helping poor people in our town. But missions is more than that. It is primarily about sharing the Gospel.

2. There are people that have not heard the Gospel.
According to the Joshua Project there are over 6,000 people groups on the planet today that have not yet heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is hard for people to believe that own numerous Bibles and can purchase a Bible in the check-out aisle of your local supermarket, but is true. There are millions of people that need to hear the Gospel not for the sixth or seventh time, but for the first.

3. People’s needs are the same all over the world.
Just this week I stood on the Mexican banks of the Rio Grande and talked with a missionary who was working with people in deep poverty. We discussed what was going on in their lives, their physical needs, and, most importantly, their spiritual needs. I was very moved by the fact that the core needs of the people there were the same as the people who live in my nice, clean neighborhood in Kentucky. Sin takes us on different paths, but it leads to the same longing in our hearts. The longing for redemption, healing and direction. Don’t be fooled by those who tell you that you can’t relate to someone who speaks a different language and lives in a different culture. You have much more in common with them than you think.

4. Followers of Jesus are encouraged by the work of other followers of Jesus.
As a pastor I am often lifted up by others working alongside me in ministry. Whether they come to lend a hand in the work God has given me to do or simply report on what God is doing through their work, their encouragement is always invaluable. It has been such a blessing to talk with pastors in Honduras and, now, Mexico to hear how the Holy Spirit faithfully works among God’s people and calls the lost to repentance. I believe that if I am encouraged by others I can be an encouragement to others. It is well worth the time and energy to offer this encouragement.

5. American Christians are some of the most financially blessed people in the world.
Many Christians around the world do not have the resources to leave their home countries to travel on short-term mission trips around the world. God has blessed many, if not most, American Christians with the financial ability to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and share the Good News. How are we stewarding our money? Is it being used for the sake of the Great Commission or the American Dream?

That’s my quick list. What do you think? Disagree? Can you add anything to it? I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Avoiding Easy Street

Sacrifice is not something we seek on a regular basis. At least I don’t. “How can I deny myself for the good of someone else?” That isn’t a question that automatically pops into my head. No, too often I am headed for that path of least resistance. You know, it is sometimes called Easy Street. Looking for that road today?

Yet, sacrifice often produces immeasurable results. Think about the results produced by your mother in giving birth. Her sacrifice was great and you have her to thank for your life. What about the sacrifice of teachers (whether in a classroom or not)? They pass on the wisdom and knowledge they have gained even when it is hard to show continual patience to the learner.

What about the sacrifice of the soldier? Remember the blood that has been shed and the life that been forfeited for the past three centuries by those wearing an American flag on their shoulder to provide the freedoms you enjoy. Soldiers, and their families, have given much for you to pursue this path of least resistance.

Which makes me wonder if I should be pursuing this path at all?

Think of the sacrifice of the man who is also God, Jesus Christ. He freely gave His innocent life so that we may find restoration and hope in Him. If even the Creator made a sacrifice, shouldn’t the creation? Are we above Him? If Jesus provided the example of the life that is pleasing to God, and it included sacrifice, shouldn’t I be considering how I might sacrifice for others?

It isn’t for me to tell you how to make a sacrifice for others in your life. It might be easier to figure out than you may think, though. Open your eyes. Take a look around your home. What might you do to help those that live there with you? What about in our community? Are there needs that you could meet? Yes, it might cost you money or time, but isn’t the difference worth the investment? What about in our state, this country or our world? It’s far easier to gripe than it is to make the sacrificial to bring change. But no one ever remembers gripers, do they? At least, not in a positive way.

In fact, I would encourage you to avoid Easy Street altogether. It only seems to be a dead end. Why not take a ride down Difficult Lane? It is more strenuous to navigate, but those who travel this road make a difference in life.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Proper Emotional Response

Here's a question I received via email concerning the message on True Worship from Sunday morning, September 20. I thought it was a good one and thought you might benefit from the dialogue...

You speak of a soulful heart, yet I truly believe that my heart could be soulful in any setting because the intent and the feelings arise from me despite the setting. I could be in a catholic church and choose to find and feel the soulful intents of that setting as I could do the same in an all black church downtown New Orleans. The settings are indicative of the culture of the people, the soul finding comes from me! Yes? Therefore variety and spunk and praise and a solid AMEN are simply the culture of IBC goers, or has the culture calmed down on purpose and I just need to change?

I'm not sure what you mean exactly, but if you're talking about the word "soulical" that was used in the quote yesterday from A.W. Pink I can explain that. Pink was talking about emotionalism. There is no doubt there is emotion when it comes to God working in our lives, but we must be careful to not be swept into emotionalism. Emotionalism, what Pink called being soulical, is when a leader works to get the congregation stirred into a frenzy based on emotion alone. There have been many times I have experienced a pastor, especially at the end of the service during the invitation, try to get everyone in the room to respond emotionally so he uses everything from sentimentality to guilt. This skates very closely to the line of manipulation. Worship in spirit and in truth comes from a heart felt response to God for the work He has done through Christ for us and in us. There is a difference between this emotion and emotionalism.

It could be hard to distinguish this difference by looking on the outside of a person. We don't know if someone is in tears for show or as an authentic sign of gratitude toward Christ. So, it is not mine to judge the motive of others' hearts. However, as a leader, I do bear the responsibility of trying to protect our corporate times of worship so that they point to Christ and aren't used to simply produce an emotional response alone. And, as a pastor I am called to remind the member to examine their heart to make sure their emotion is gratitude and worship toward Christ and not emotionalism alone.

So, yes, I do think you could worship in spirit and truth wherever the truth is being sung and preached. And, no, I'm not looking to remove anyone's emotion from the service at Immanuel Baptist when it is aimed in the proper direction. It has been amazing to me how there have been times of emotion filled worship on the mission field where I don't know all of the words of the song, but I know enough to know the truth we are singing about.

What do you think?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Joy Realized

Being a baseball coach over the past few years has been a great learning experience. I have found many of the phrases and baseball terms that I take for granted were unknown to five, six and seven year old children. I would say something like, “Take a knee,” and they would just look at me. Then I would explain and they would gather around on one knee. We had to learn where each base was located, and to make sure we ran to them in the proper order. Sure many of the mistakes made in the learning process made for cute home videos, but not great baseball play.

From this experience I learned quite a bit about assuming. I discovered that there were many things that I had known for years that I took for granted. I forgot that I only knew them because someone taught me along the way. I also learned how joy changes at different stages in life. Now, that I cannot play Little League anymore, I find my joy in teaching kids the rules and flow of the game. When a player does well or the team plays to their potential I find satisfaction in knowing that I have played some part in the learning process for them. There is great joy in the transferring of knowledge that has been passed down to me.

Our faith is similar. There are many people who have been Christians for a long period of time. The Christian life, with its supposed routines and terminology, has become old hat for them. They take for granted that everyone else should know what to do within the life of a local church. Once this stage is reached there is a tendency for the faith to become stale because the individual has what they believe is a sufficient working knowledge.

We need to be nudged, though, to carefully avoid reaching this place in life. Christians must remember that there are many who do not have an accurate understanding of Jesus Christ and will not gain this understanding unless it is explained to them. Our joy should not be in the security of our own salvation alone, but in the sharing and explanation of our faith with others. In addition, our personal love and worship for Jesus Christ must not become stale with complacency. How could we ever know all there is to know about an infinite Creator? We must be active in maintaining that childlike curiosity and pursuit of learning about God. An increase in understanding is not enough, though, we must do the work of enriching our love for Christ.

Yet, be humbled to know that Christians do none of these things alone. It is God who has directed our understanding. He is the one that has shown patience to us. He is the one that has supplied teachers to us along the way to provide the explanations we need. He is the one that has loved us first. As we grow in an understanding and love of Jesus Christ we are called to share our joy with others because it has been shared with us.

Where are you in this process? Are you bored? Do you need to fan the flame of love and curiosity again in your faith? Have you experienced the joy of sharing your knowledge of Christ with someone lately? Please be careful to avoid making assumptions or drifting to the point of becoming stale.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Satisfaction Sought

Why can’t I seem to find satisfaction? I’ve looked and looked, but every road seems to be a dead end,” she said, “I’ve been married more times than I care to remember and none of those guys delivered the love or joy they promised. How could they? They didn’t even stick around long enough to see if we could find it.”

Outwardly she looked fine. She was a model employee at work. She had even been recognized for her hard work ethic and high levels of achievement. But inwardly, she was a mess and she knew it. She lived with the fear of how their opinion would change if they knew that her hard work on the outside was only a cover for the pain on the inside. She couldn’t let them see. It must remain veiled. At times she didn’t know what was worse – the lack of satisfaction or the fear that her masquerade would be uncovered.

One day she struck up a conversation with a man at the water cooler. She was surprised that he was just talking to her as a friend. She was used to men always trying to lead the conversation in a way she was tired of going. He was different though. Over the months they would bump into one another at the water cooler and he would ask about her life, her family, her frustrations and he remembered them. From time to time she would be surprised by the way he remembered the details of her life. He seemed to care about her rather than what he might be able to get from her.

“Why is he different?”, she often wondered, “Why does he care?” He said it was because he had someone that cared deeply for him and he knew how important it was to be loved. He seemed to have joy and satisfaction she was always missing. He said it didn’t come easy. It wasn’t because his life was problem free. No, it was because he had a friend. Who was this friend? Was this friend looking for any other friends?

Being a pastor, you probably know where I am going with this story. Yes, I am headed toward Jesus Christ being this mysterious friend. The story above is an adaptation from the New Testament passage found in John 4:1-30. I would encourage you to read it and think about the satisfaction Christ offers. The satisfaction He offers is something we all long for. Do you have it?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Navigating the Political Climate

In the United States we are being bombarded with discussion and debate concerning a issues such as health care and economics. These are important discussions indeed, but what is the source of your opinion? Listen to this and see if it leads to a helpful source.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Words that Build

Have you ever been around someone that found something positive and encouraging to say about every situation? Do you know a person that could find something refreshing about even the most draining experience? I have a friend that is able to do just that. When I’m with him I try to just listen. I try to learn to think the way he does, to see life as he does and speak like he does.

Listen on and don’t make a quick dismissal of what I say. He is laden with responsibility, deals with difficult people and faces challenges all day long. But somehow he finds the hidden sunshine on the most overcast days and, even more, he shares its beams with others.

He embodies what Scripture says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29) Corrupting talk is made of words that tears down. We’re good at that sort of thinking and speaking. It comes naturally for most of us as it seems to roll out of our mouths before we’ve given it a second thought. But a second thought and second look is worthy of our attention. The second thought in the verse above says our talk should be good for building up. There is always something encouraging to be said even in the most difficult situation. Encouragement can always be found when it is sought. Building up takes work, but it is a noble task.

So, to my friend (you know who you are), thank you for your encouraging words. I am not only thankful for when they have been aimed at me, but I am thankful for all of the times that I have heard them aimed at others. And even more than being thankful for them, I have learned from them. They have caused me to do the work of thinking before I speak and looking for the beam of light behind the darkest cloud. They have indeed given me grace and called me to show grace. And now for you, reader, will you take the time to give thought to your words? We’re listening.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Mistaking Pride for Wisdom

Have you ever wanted to shield someone from information you thought would be harmful to them? Sometimes family members won’t let one another know about illnesses until they have passed because they don’t want the other person to worry. This doesn’t make sense to me. Deep down we long for relationships because we were created for relationships. So why do we hide from relationships?

Some times we hide because of our pride. We don’t want other people to see us when we are weak or failing. We want to hide behind the fig leaf of invincibility. True is, everyone knows you are not invincible because they are not invincible.

Some times we hide because of faulty wisdom and reasoning. We believe that if we just handle the problem we will shelter others from heartache and frustration. Truth is, we (and others) often grow best through adversity. Usually, relationships are strengthened and wisdom is developed through difficulty. When we deny the appropriate people the chance to help us we both lose.

In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul calls followers of Jesus to rejoice with those that rejoice, weep with those that weep and to avoid being wise in your own eyes. It would seem obvious that you cannot rejoice or weep in the right way, then, without others. But what about the wisdom part? To avoid being wise in our eyes we must have someone else thinking through the problem with us. If we simply act on our own hunches, theories or solutions we might fall into the trap of believing we are so wise that we don’t need any one else to help us. Is that real wisdom? If I hear someone proclaim himself as wise I usually steer clear of him because I fear that person is mistaking wisdom for prideful arrogance.

So, the next time you have a significant struggle in your life, don’t go it alone. Turn to those you see as caring and wise. Let them be a part of the solution. Most likely you will figure out a better solution, and you will give the other person an opportunity to grow as a follower of Christ.