Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"Not leaving the others undone"

Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. (NKJV)

As I read Jesus' pronouncement of judgment upon the Pharisees, I'm forced to look inwardly at my own attitudes. I recently concluded a series of sermons on stewardship at our local church. I have seen the response from our congregation and our tithes and offerings are up. This is always encouraging because as most of you know...it does take money to do ministry. But before I go off on a rabbit trail....let me just say that I don't really want to talk about money today. The Pharisees were very exact in their legalistic giving to "the work of God" and I'm sure there are many of us who are proud because we give a rigid tenth to the Lord (and no more).

But I think we could exact a principle from this passage and say that it could apply to basically any Christian discipline. It's very easy to be strong in one area and very weak in another. Allow me to illustrate from my own life if you will, and hopefully you will learn from my mistakes and hopefully by confessing this to you, I will gain deliverance as well. I tend to be very driven. When I begin a project, I often throw my whole heart into the project until it's come to fruition. That's not always a bad thing...but it does breed a certain line of thinking into my head. For instance, there are times when I put tremendous emphasis on bible study and consistancy in my reading. If I'm not careful, I will allow my zeal and accomplishments in reading to supplant my prayer life. Consequently, there are times when I feel a tremendous burden of prayer and put a great deal of emphasis on that. During those times, I find that my study habits tend to suffer because of it.

I think there is an inherent danger in any thing that we give a rigid over-emphasis to. Jesus commended the Pharisees (in a sense) for their steadfastness in giving, but was horribly disappointed that they had omitted (what He called) the "weightier matters" of a godly life. I often wonder how many times I have been "full-throttle" going after something and feeling good about it....only to omit some "weightier" matter of the Kingdom. May the Lord help us all to find balance and to do all the right things for His Kingdom without leaving the others undone. Paul prayed for the Philippians to "approve the things that are excellent" (Phil 1:10 ). Sometimes good is the enemy of better, and better is the enemy of best.

My musings today- feel free to add your own (and thanks for all the prayers by the way- I'm feeling some better but still not 100%)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Pray for me today

I don't really have anything of consequence to post today, so this entry is simply a request for prayer. It's ironic and funny because just a few days ago I harped on the disciples for wanting to "send the people away." And today...that's exactly what I feel like doing. I need to recharge and feel the presence of the Lord. If you read this and would lift me up in prayer I would certainly appreciate it. I'm feeling rather exhausted physically and emotionally today. But I know this verse of scripture is true.

Isaiah 40:31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (KJV)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Send Them Away!

Today, I'm going to continue the same thought of my previous blog. Remember that when I blog here, I'm often thinking out loud and examining my own heart (you get the unique privilege of seeing inside my head....pretty scary actually). Consider this passage from the Word today:

Matthew 14:13 When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. 14:14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. 14:15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. (KJV)

Ok- a few things jump out at me here. First of all Jesus goes to a desert place. There are times in ministry when I seem to long for the desert place. A place of relaxation, no phone calls, no e-mails, no distractions. But often my plans for R & R are quickly curtailed by someone in need. Here Jesus is in the desert place and the multitudes seek Him out to have their needs met. The average minister would probably say "thanks but my office hours are (fill in the blank here)"- I'll be praying for you and hope things turn around...."God bless you." Instead- Jesus is moved with compassion toward them and healed their sick. There are many who do not understand this, but those who do the work of ministry can become exhausted. There are times when I have preached my heart out and prayed for the people that I come away from church feeling like I've been hit by a Mack truck.

Honestly there are times when after I have given it my all in service to the Lord, that I can't wait to be alone and begin to recharge. Apparently Jesus' disciples had that same mentality. I'm not sure what part (if any) they took in the healing ministry on this particular evening, but one thing is for sure- they were ready for the people to go home. Jesus had compassion on these weary travelers and even though He had ministered healing to them, He was willing to go the extra mile. The disciples on the other hand....cried "send them away." Jesus let the disciples know that the time for ministry and miracles was not over...afterward they witnessed a great miracle of feeding the multitudes.

I often wonder if we quit just short of experiencing a tremendous miracle. God calls us to fast, pray, study, stand in the gap, etc. etc. We do this for a season and then we're ready to "call it a night" and send everyone away. There is a joke (albeit not a very funny one) in pastoral circles that goes something like this "pastoring would be great if it weren't for the people." Maybe just maybe, we miss out on something extraordinary because our own self interests trump the needs of others. I'm just thinking out loud here today, and feeling a little conviction over my love of comfort and relaxation. Am I moved with compassion when I see the multitudes in need of healing, or am I ready to say along with the disciples "send them away" ?

Something to muse on today....your thoughts are welcome also..

Thursday, February 16, 2006

When Disciples Stand in the Way of a Miracle

I'm sure I've piqued your curiosity with the title of today's entry. Although it sounds somewhat humorous to say- the sad part is that it is often true. I could spend page upon page dealing with the shortcomings of Jesus' disciples. It seems they were always saying and doing the wrong things. Aren't you glad that God allowed us to see the type of men that He used to turn the world upside down? Looking at the group of men that Christ chose (in spite of their obvious shortcomings) gives someone like me hope that I can be used as well. Actually we shouldn't be too hard on them- given the same set of circumstances, we probably would have made the same errors (if not worse). Christ uses earthen vessels (some translations render the phrase "jars of clay") to accomplish His purposes so that He alone receives the glory. The Psalmist declares that man is made lower than the angels and asked the question that we often ask right along with him "what is man that thou art mindful of him?" In another place we read of the frailty of man and the fact that he is merely made of dust. This does not however, justify the sinful behaviors and attitudes that disciples of Christ sometimes display. I've decided to illustrate just a few examples from the gospels today in hopes that you and I can learn from their mistakes. In addition to learning "what not to do" from the disciples- I want to encourage those of you who may be in need of a miracle today. Don't be surprised if everyone does not share your zeal or enthusiasm for a breakthrough. And by all means, don't allow the hardened hearts of callous disciples to keep you from touching the hem of the Master's garment. Christ is still in the miracle business Hallelujah!

First let's look at the example of the woman commonly known as the "Syrophenician woman."

Matthew 15:22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. 15:23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

This woman had several strikes against her. First of all, her nationality excluded her from the earthly ministry of Jesus. The gospels record that He was sent first and foremost to the lost sheep of the tribes of Israel. She also had an obstacle in the hearts of hardened disciples. Instead of perhaps trying to persuade Jesus to meet the demands of the woman, they callously cry "send her away...for she crieth after us" (I could be missing something, but I see her worshipping Jesus and saying "O Lord thou Son of David"- I don't see her crying after Peter, James, or John). The selfishness of the disciples could easily have dissuaded a woman with less tenacity. But she would not be denied! She continued to worship Jesus Christ and persist in faith with her petition on her daughter's behalf. The end result was that she did receive her miracle and her daughter was completely delivered. Although the disciples were annoyed and found her an unwanted distraction, she did not allow them to stand between her and her miracle.

Next, we see hardened hearts towards the little ones

Matthew 19:13 Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus loved (and still loves) children. Although society placed little emphasis on the importance of children (sometimes we err on the other side and allow our children to dictate all decisions in the home...but I digress), Jesus realized the importance of a child. I really can't imagine why the disciples would have had a problem with Jesus praying for and blessing the children, but again we see their arrogance. I know many today who devalue children's ministry. I encounter people all the time who want to serve in church, but have no desire to work with children. The most common response I get when I ask people what area of service they would like to work in the church is "anything but children's church or nursery worker." While I understand that not everyone is gifted in this area and some just do not relate well to children, there is often an underlying element of "I'm too good to do that- my ministry is too intelligent for children- I need adults to listen to what I have to say." It is my opinion (and only my opinion so feel free to disagree) that anyone who is "too good" to minister to children is also "too good" for me as a pastor to allow them to teach adults. Statistics have proven that once a person reaches adulthood (some stats say around age 30), the likelihood of their conversion goes way down. This is not to say that a person cannot be saved later in life (or even on a deathbed- I've seen it many times), but only that the law of averages is against them. This is a sobering statistic and reinforces the fact that children should be introduced to the message of Jesus Christ as soon as they are able to hear it! The disciples may have thought that the children were unworthy of the Master's touch- but Jesus proved them dead wrong!

Matthew 26:7 There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. 26:8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? 26:9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor

This particular story illustrates one of the most beautiful pictures of worship in the New Testament. This woman took something very costly and poured it out as an act of worship. Jesus was obviously deeply moved by her act and stated that this would be forever memorialized in the gospel (we're still talking about it today aren't we?). That which touched the heart of God consequently angered the hearts of the disciples. They saw the act as meaningless and wasteful. They even had the nerve to wrap their hardness of heart in a cloak of piety. Still today, we often find religious excuses as to why we are calloused inside. Many times we are offended or embarrassed by the sincere and pure worship of others. I often wonder if our offence is not because secretly we wish we had the purity of heart to worship unashamedly like this woman did. I doubt that she had in mind that her act of worship would be forever recorded in the Holy Scriptures (I could be wrong). Your act of worship may serve to greatly further the Kingdom of God so don't be intimidated by those who might be offended by your sacrifice of praise (whatever it may be).

Mark 10:46 And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. 10:47And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. 10:48 And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me

Finally we're going to look at Bartimaeus. Now I realize that it doesn't explicitly state that the disciples told him to hold his peace, but they were present and I don't see any act of benevolence on their part to intervene on his behalf. Judging from previous accounts of their indifference to the needs of the oppressed, it wouldn't surprise me if indeed they were the ones who told him to be quiet. At the very least...they are guilty by association...they are there and not doing anything to help Bartimaeus get to Jesus. His physical handicap no doubt contributed to his poverty and thus we find him "by the highway side begging." I'm sure to the religous elite, he would be a blot and blemish on what would otherwise be a successful tour of evangelism. I'm often amazed that the the place which should most characterize the love and grace of God....the Church...is the place that often shows the least amount of compassion to the hurting. Jesus said He came to "seek and save that which was lost." I like to think of the church in terms of being a hospital for the hurting. I believe I have scripture to support this theory of mine.

Matthew 9:12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

I mentioned earlier that I admired the tenacity of the Syrophenician woman. I also admire Bartimaeus (I don't like to call him "blind Bartimaeus" because Jesus healed him!) because when the crowd told him to hush....he got louder! When you get really desperate for a miracle, you won't care what people think about you. It's amazing how your inhibitions will fade away when you get in a real crisis and need Jesus to help you. The opinions and resistance of man (even church people) will matter little to you. I don't know about you, but I can't afford to let my pride stand between me and Jesus Christ. Bartimaeus kept worshipping God and humbled himself before Jesus and he got his miracle!!!

I realize that these events took place nearly 2000 years ago and before the resurrection of our Lord. But human nature has not changed. There are still many who sit on church pews who have hardened hearts. There are still many in need of a miracle from Jesus Christ (the greatest miracle of all is the salvation of the spirit!). And Jesus is still answering the prayers of people who are willing to worship and humble themselves before Him even when disciples stand in the way!

God bless you today and be encouraged is my prayer!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day!

I want to wish everyone out there in e-land a happy Valentine's day. I thought I would post a passage from the great "love" chapter of the Bible before I sign off this evening. I just went out to dinner with my beautiful wife, and now we're going to enjoy some rest and relaxation. On this day when many are thinking about what love truly means, I felt it would be appropriate to post about love from a biblical perspective. The great thing about this chapter is that it shows love for what it truly is- a verb.

1 Cor 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away..(NIV)

God bless you and yours on this day!


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pulpit Blunders

If today, you are expecting a deep and thought-provoking post from me....you will be sorely disappointed. I believe that God created us with the capacity for laughter for a reason. We are made in His image and I don't believe it's a sin to laugh and have some good clean fun every once in a while. Today I want to share a humorous pulpit blunder with you I recently witnessed firsthand. Thankfully, it wasn't me this time, but one of my friends who committed the faux pas. As he was waxing eloquent about the life of King David, and God's gracious acts of mercy towards the king, the blooper came forth. As his message was reaching a crescendo, he boldly proclaimed..."and we all know that David was a god after Man's own heart."

We've all done it at times, but man you've just gotta hate it when it happens to you. I suppose this particular faux pas gives totally new meaning to the term "Davidic Worship"-LOL

Be blessed today- and if this offends you- please lighten up-it's only a joke! (albeit a true one :) )


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Not Far From Each One of Us

Paul's sermon at Mar's Hill is a popular one for all budding theologians to dissect. It is perhaps a perfect example of contextualization....in layman's terms....adapting the methodology of preaching to your audience. Paul's approach at Mar's Hill was uniquely designed for them. Although the message of the Bible never changes, sometimes the methodology does. Paul met them "where they were" and presented the gospel to them. Today I want to talk about the fact that God is "not far from each one of us."

Recently I have been thinking about the fact that God is always at work redemptively in both our lives and that of the world. In Romans we read that "the powers that be are ordained of God." (Rom 13:1). There is a temptation to believe (especially in a world where evil seems to triumph) that somehow the world is spinning out of control while God sits somewhere in a far away universe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even the most evil despot or dictator can only operate within the Sovereignty of God's supervision. There is a beautiful illustration of this truth in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. (KJV)

At times it may seem like the Lord is far away, but the scriptures reveal that reality is much different than perception. The psalmist captures the essense of the omnipresence of God as well.

Psalm 139:7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 139:8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. (KJV)

Many believe that God only dwells in ornate temples and cathedrals. Or perhaps that some other medium (or mediator other than Jesus Christ) is necessary in order to reach God. While this may be true of other (false) religions- this is not true of the God of Christianity. The God of the bible is not far from each one of us- regardless of our perception. I often like to think of the analogy of a radio. When you turn on your radio, your receiver is designed to produce a sound when you turn to the proper frequency. Does that mean that the frequency is only there when you turn on your radio? Of course not- the signals and sound waves are there all the time- but only when you tap into the frequency can you hear it. Or how about a light switch? We tend to think that the power is only there when we flip the switch and the light comes on. But the truth is that the power was there all along, we just tapped into it's usefulness by flipping the switch.

Paul had to set the folks straight at Mars Hill, and he did so with great power from the Holy Ghost. Let's read those words today:

Acts 17:27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 17:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (KJV)

I'm also going to post the same passage from the NASB:

Acts 17: 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.' (NASB)

God wants us to seek Him. Not because He is far away, but because He desires that we hunger and thirst after righteousness. I am convinced that He initiates this desire within us. Jesus said that no man can come to God, unless he is drawn by the Father (John 6:44). And once He has called unto us and knocked upon the doorpost of our hearts, He desires that we do take the next step and draw nigh unto Him. What many do not realize is that without God- you and I have no promise of the next breath! (Acts 17:28). The scriptures say that "in Him we live, and move, and have our being.." Whether we choose to acknowledge Him or not does not change the fact that God is in control of our lives. No one has the power to retain their spirit, should God decide to call us home (Ecclesiastes 8:8).

This should excite us if we truly grasp it! We must be careful not to embrace the idea of pantheism (in other words- everything IS God...ex. rocks, trees, etc.), but we must also reject the idea that God is far removed from His Creation. He loves you and I- the hairs on our head are all numbered- we are of more value than many sparrows. God created all things and then made man to enjoy them and have dominion. He is not far away from you when you fall on your knees to pray. He is not far away when your lips utter praise to His name. He is not far away when the doctor has given an evil report. He is not far away when the minister is delivering the eulogy at the funeral service. He is not far away when your children are born...when you make your wedding vows....when you witness for Him...when you're sad...when you're lonely.....when you're depressed.

All other religions are man's attempt to reach up to God. The bible declares that God reached down to sinful mankind- became one of us-lived among us-faced every temptation that we face- died for us- and rose again! From the very beginning, God has demonstrated His love for mankind, and His desire for fellowship. Even now, the Father is seeking us to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). I want to encourage you today- God has not given up on the world- and He has not given up on you! Rise up and "grope" through the darkness if you must (Acts 17:27 in the NASB) in order to find Him- but by all means reach out and touch Him- He is here and He is near!!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Praise Report:

Well, it's getting pretty late on this Wednesday evening, and I'm not sure how coherent my thoughts and words will be...but....this IS a blog and not a copyrighted manuscript...SO with that in mind- I just wanted to type a few thoughts of praise to our God.

Tonight we had a wonderful service at Liberty Worship Center. Wednesday nights tend to be more "believer's" meetings. By that I mean (and every pastor already knows exactly what I mean, but for the laity who read my blog I want to explain) that Sunday mornings and evenings tend to be more visitor/seeker oriented. Your Wednesday night crowd tends to be those believers who are digging a little deeper, and looking for some more intimacy and connection with the core group. That doesn't mean that people who don't attend on Wednesday nights are backslidden (had to put that little disclaimer in there....you never know who might not be able to attend due to work-prior commitments, et.al so I didn't want to heap condemnation on you....Ok- glad we've got that over with now-LOL)

Tonight at church, I heard testimonies of God's healing power. Two people we had been praying for received miraculous healings (not creative healings mind you, but life sustaining miracles). One in need of a heart transplant and a liver transplant received both...and is on his way home. Another lady who suffered a brain aneurism over a week ago on life support....has now been taken off the respirator and will be cleared to return home in a few days if everything progresses on the same course. God's Spirit ministered to us tonight as we laid hands on the sick and anointed with oil. It was one of those times when I really should have just thrown my sermon outline aside and just worshipped God the whole time.

God has really been blessing our church with stuff. I mentioned in a previous blog about the generous donations we have received from people who were not even members of our church. All of that "stuff" excites me.....BUT what really has my motor running is that God's Spirit is moving in our church in a fresh way. I'm not sure if everyone understands it, but I think the majority of us are ready for what He has for us.

I know I really should have share some scripture with you or something like that...but tonight I just felt like giving God some praise and glory.

Be encouraged and be blessed tonight- God is good!
Hallelujah to the Lamb!