Thursday, October 16, 2014

Advice for Younger Preachers


I am amazed that I am writing this article. It means I am getting older. But at 41, I am not in the 20’s and 30’s group anymore. I claim no great knowledge or wisdom. I do have more experience than before. I am just doing the best I can with all of my flaws to serve in my Master’s kingdom. It is a privilege to do so all of the time. Christ is everything. I am nothing. The world does not need me at all. But the world definitely needs Jesus.

Over the past several years I have been watching and rooting for our younger crop of ministers. I am doing everything I can to encourage younger men to enter this vocation. I believe preaching is the greatest occupation in the world. It is not easy but the sacrifices and challenges are well worth it. I always do my best to think the best of the younger men and give them the benefit of the doubt (I needed that early on and still need it). With all of this in mind I would like to address a few areas in which I believe younger preachers are struggling. Younger preachers, I love you and I believe in you.

1. Please get out of your office. Younger ministers in the 21st century love blogging and texting and writing and the interchange they can receive over social media. They love being great from the pulpit on Sundays. It builds our confidence, boosts our ego, and helps us to see we are making a difference. Articles and books and our best Sunday morning sermons are great and we need them, but lost people are dying and they need a minister’s personal touch. Rarely is personal evangelism emphasized anymore – door to door work – home Bible studies – hospital visits and phone calls - these are invaluable. Even if this is not your area of expertise it needs to be developed. The book you write with your feet will have more eternal impact than the one you write with your hands.

2. Please respect the past generation. I am reading more and more articles by younger preachers that are full of idealism for the 21st century church. While they may seem full of light, they are at times questionable when it comes to practicing pure Christianity. I know we cannot do things the same way the older generation did them. I know we are restoring the first century church anew in every generation. But some of the folks that have been restoring it for decades are still here. Don’t isolate them by making them feel that they are out of touch. Spend some time with them and learn what mature Christianity is like. It will bless you and also let them know that all they have labored for will not be in vain. Don’t forget that any work you do for the kingdom is done while you stand on their shoulders.

3. Be careful about vanity. Early success in ministry can be both a blessing and a curse. When you are younger people love you. You are Absalom and David is old hat. Everything you do is fairly new because you are new. But eventually you will have been preaching a while and something else and someone else new will come along. If anything, this humbling reminder helps you to refocus and give the glory to God. He must continually increase while you decrease. The greatest preacher in the brotherhood has no individual fame and is probably only known by the lives he has personally touched.

4. Take criticism with grace. Early on in preaching I thought because I loved the Lord that I could not be doing anything wrong. Well guess what, I was wrong. I need help and I need criticism. I need criticism of all kinds from all kinds of people. Jesus was probably criticized more in 3 years than any other preacher in history, and He was perfect. In time, you will see that you can love the Lord and do your best and continue to make improvements along the way. Your best day is still a work in progress. Therefore we need to embrace counsel. While no chastening seems good for the present, in time it will bring the peaceable fruit of righteousness by those who have been trained by it.

5. Preach the Word!  (2 Tim. 4:2). That is all.

6. Don’t quit. Even if you are fired. Even if you are cheated. Even if you are ridiculed. No matter what happens, the Lord needs you. The church needs you. The Lost need you. God chose the preaching of the gospel to save those who would believe. He has no other plan. Love Him always with the same fervor you had when you decided to preach in the first place.

Preachers of all ages, God loves you and I love you. Second to Jesus, you are my heroes. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for preaching the glorious gospel of Christ!

“Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” – 1 Timothy 4:15-16

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Can We Choose When We Die?

Brittany Maynard, age 29, has terminal brain cancer. She says she does not want to die. But she has chosen when. You can read and watch here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/10/08/terminally-ill-brittany-maynard-29-has-scheduled-her-death-for-nov-1/. This link will make you sad. You will empathize with this family. Cancer is a terrible disease. I was diagnosed 10 years ago. I have had many friends and family die from cancer. As a preacher I have been there until the last breath was taken numerous times. I have seen the worst it has to offer. But consider for a minute with me the moral issue at stake with euthanasia. Excuse me, in 2014 the political world prefers to call it, “Dying with dignity.”

I am not going to pretend to tell you that I think I have all of the answers to such a sensitive subject. One of my best friends and mentors in ministry took his life several years ago. He had suffered from bipolar disorder and chronic depression for years. He had been suicidal on occasions that caused periods of hospitalization. Suicide is not a black and white issue. There are people who take their lives who are so fragile mentally and emotionally that it would be difficult for any human being to say what was happening in the moment they chose to kill themselves.

For any person who is reading this article that has been affected by cancer, or some other terminal disease, or for any person out there who has had someone close to them choose to end their life, I want you to know that I love you. I could never understand how much you have suffered and how difficult it has been to go through such a terrible experience. Please understand that what you are about to read is being expressed for the purpose of pleasing God and promoting mental and physical and spiritual health for all people. Life is very precious. It is God’s greatest gift to man both now and eternally. This is why the issue of ending life is so important. Do we have the right to choose what day we die?

Arguments and discussions about specific situations can go on and on concerning this topic. Without a doubt, I would never think it was morally right to force someone to try to keep themselves alive by unnatural means. But I want to simply address the particular case at hand. Brittany Maynard has chosen doctor-assisted death for November 1, 2014. She moved to Oregon because it is one of 5 states that allow it. She has rejected other forms of medication and treatment. In the meantime she has been traveling and spending the last few months and weeks with the people she loves.

The scenario in which one chooses early termination of life has been thrust upon us recently through the tragic death of actor Robin Williams. So many things were written about that episode, that I chose to write absolutely nothing. In his case, nobody would say he died heroically. Rather, he was a victim of mental illness and he needed help. For many his iconic superstardom swept the morality of the issue aside while people celebrated his achievements. I enjoyed many of the things he brought to the entertainment world, but I also realize that putting people on a pedestal is dangerous and can be spiritually unhealthy. Our determination should be that of allegiance to the one Man who ever lived perfectly. Jesus Christ is not only Lord, but our only ideal example, role model, and hero.

There are several moral questions that trouble my mind in Maynard’s case. Is it ok to be euthanized while refusing forms of treatment, even if we have been told there is no cure? Is it ok to accept defeat and not battle for earthly life as much as is within us when we know this world is not our home anyway? Is it ok to refuse to suffer any pain that may come to us in life or death? Is there a difference between what Maynard is doing and people who choose not to be resuscitated, or cancer patients who accept a morphine-induced coma at the last stages of their illness? I believe so.

The difference is faith. Faith believes in unseen things (Heb. 11:1). Without faith, pleasing God is impossible (Heb. 11:6). What if even though no one has ever survived this disease, Brittany Maynard was the first? What if November 1 rolls around and on that particular day she is feeling healthy and strong? What if the experience of suffering caused her to rely on spiritual things over physical things, and helped her to change her mind about what she really wants to do? What if this suffering changed her future eternally? I have some current relationships with a few very close friends who I love dearly who are dying at this moment from terminal illnesses. They do not know how long they have. Some have days, maybe weeks to live. But they have not chosen the day of their death. Are they not also, “dying with dignity”? I would like to tell you that I believe beyond all others they are. You see, they believe in God, but they will not play God. They trust in God, and they know that we are not supposed to “die on our terms.” After all, are we even supposed to live on our terms (1 Cor. 6:19-20)?

I am afraid that we are living in a world that is progressively devaluing life. I have heard no mention of God in this case at hand. My heart goes out to this young lady and her family. On some level, but admittedly not completely, I understand their dilemma. I was 31 when I found out about my cancer. I had a wife and two small children. I did not know what was going to happen to me. But I chose life, not death. By the grace of God ten years later I am still here. But if I had not lived, I would not have chosen euthanasia. Because God is the giver of life, and God alone has power over death. And whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s. And I accept His will for my life, and also for my death, no matter the suffering.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” – Romans 8:18

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” – 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why Forgiveness is Hard

Have you ever been hurt? I mean really hurt. I am not talking about falling down and scraping your knee hurt and getting a bandage from mommy. I am not talking about some wound that was your fault or that happened accidentally. But I am talking about being hurt by someone you loved so sincerely and completely that you fail to understand why they hurt you. I am talking about that part of yourself that says you would never do to your worst enemy what has been done to you by someone for whom you would have given your very life.

How do you forgive when you have been hurt so deeply by someone you love so deeply? Why is forgiveness so hard?

1. Forgiveness is hard because forgetting is impossible. I know we've heard and been told to "forgive and forget." I have counseled with Christian people who have said hatefully, "I will forgive them but I will never forget what they've done!" I have walked away knowing that there was no forgiveness there. But can we really forget? No. Will we forget? Impossible. But will we learn some things about trust? Yes. Will we learn some things about healthy boundaries? Yes. Will we lean on God more knowing that He alone will never leave us or forsake us? Yes. God wants us to remember so we can learn lessons and thank Him for His steadfastness.

2. Forgiveness is hard because trust is difficult to regain. If you have been lied to, if you have been betrayed, if you have been slandered, or if your loved one has cheated on you, there is a wound that has been created that goes all the way through. This wound rarely heals completely. Whenever a familiar moment arises that reminds you of the time trust was broken, the surface that has healed above that wound is removed and you begin to bleed again. Human beings have a hard time trusting because we tend to over-emphasize our own personal feelings. We categorize and compartmentalize faithfulness. We forget that we are not always trustworthy in all things. We decide that if our loved one has broken trust in an area that we feel is more significant, they can never truly be trusted again.

3. Forgiveness is hard because it is natural for us to try to protect ourselves. We build physical walls to protect our families, mental walls to protect our intellect, emotional walls to protect our hearts, and even spiritual walls to protect our individuality. Anytime a fortress has been penetrated we are prone to pack up and leave an area that was once safe, never to return. If you have been hurt bad enough even one time, you would rather experience anything than to be hurt in that same place all over again. We don't want to be fools, so when we have been badly injured we wrap up and find a cave. There is no forgiveness for the one who has inflicted the pain when we are too busy sulking and licking our wounds.

4. Forgiveness is hard because everything is amplified when it is our loved ones who have been hurt. We would much rather be hurt ourselves than to have it be our spouse or children. Especially in cases where the sin was egregious and unnecessary and cast upon the innocent - we find ourselves seeking retribution and justice. We suppose that if we could see the guilty party suffer for what they have done at least we would have something to hold on to over which we had some control. It is hard to forgive when you are reeling. It is hard to forgive when you see the pain in the face of your pierced and yet sinless child.

And then it hits us. We can't forget, but God has promised He will forget our sins. We can't trust, but God has forgiven us enough to trust us with the precious gospel and adopt us into His family. We can't be vulnerable, and yet God has opened the gates of His eternal abode and invited us into His most intimate dwelling place forever. We can't overcome the suffering of our loved ones, and yet God has forgiven us for crucifying His only Son.

Forgiveness is hard for one simple reason. We make it about us! God forgives so freely and perfectly because for Him forgiveness is about others. This is the love of God. When we deserved punishment, He chose mercy. When we deserved banishment, He chose fellowship. When we deserved nothing, He chose to give us everything. When we did what was unforgivable, He chose to forgive.

"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." - 1 John 4:10

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

5 Mistakes Parents Keep Making

As I write this I am scooting my chair up to the table and fastening a bib around my neck in order to keep from allowing any humble pie to get on my clothes. Parenting is tough! I have made and continue to make many mistakes. I constantly pray to God for help and forgiveness. But thankfully, with God as my heavenly parent and with His manual close by, in this process of being a father I am learning. Through my own misguided struggles as well as my observations of others, I would like to share with you five major mistakes parents continually make.

Some parents worship their children rather than worshiping God. It is easy to love our children and to do things for them. We are happy when they are happy. But when does their happiness become too important to us? What children want and what children need are not always the same. Our children are here to be loved but not worshiped. We need God-centered homes rather than kid-centered homes. Our lives are supposed to be about God first so our relationships must be guided by the same principle (Exodus 20:3).

Some parents try to live their second childhood through their children. Maybe it is because they never got to live their first childhood, since their own parents rode piggyback, too. Parents need to be parents. When you grow up you are supposed to put away childish things (1 Cor. 13:11). It is time parents stop trying to make their kids be the sports stars they never were. No more with the baby pageants. No more with the crazy parents in the stands. No more with the excessive efforts to make the world adore your children. God loves them. You love them. That should suffice.

Some parents believe their children can do nothing wrong. Let me qualify this problem by saying it usually only starts when the kids leave the house. We may see their faults at home, but the minute a teacher or friend or authority figure accuses our child of anything but excellence, the guard goes up. If our children are going to have any respect for authority, we have to back up those people who are not us who are trying to do their best for our children. Your kids not only can do wrong but they certainly will. When others see your children struggling, take it to heart. They may draw attention to something they need help with that you have been unable to see because you are their parent.

Some parents choose friendship over discipline. Sorry, mom and dad. You cannot be your teenager’s BFF. Not now anyway. Right now they need boundaries. Right now they need to be told, “No.” Right now they need you to tell them that even though that is cool and popular with their friends it is not cool and popular with you and it is absolutely not good with God. Friendship is easier than discipline. It is tempting to be a neat parent. But wimping out when it is time for discipline will lead to disrespect. They may not like you now when you keep them from getting their way. But they will love you and thank you later and be your best friend when everyone becomes an adult.

Some parents don’t let their kids be kids. This one may be the biggest mistake of all. In an age of information our kids are learning things they don’t need to learn. Children cannot process adult topics and problems and they were never meant to. In the name of entertainment we have all said, “Oh, I think they can handle this movie,” and then came regret. Not limiting their internet and phone access and exposure is the same as letting them play with the devil as if he were a schoolmate. Giving into pressure from others about having “the talk” too early keeps a child from retaining innocence. The days are coming when sin will be real and innocence will be gone forever. Our young children are sinless now. Why would we initiate and encourage the process?

Children are our heritage and joy. They are both our greatest blessing and our greatest responsibility. There is too much at stake to keep reliving the same mistakes over and over. Remember the child. Ask God for help. Do your best. Pray often.

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Great Disappointment

William Miller was a prosperous farmer and Baptist preacher from the state of New York who began to share his predictions about the Advent (Second Coming of Christ) in 1833. Through extensive studies of Old Testament prophecies he predicted that Jesus would come again in 1843. During a period between 1843 and 1844, approximately 50,000-100,000 people followed his teachings. After several unfulfilled predictions from 1843 to 1844, hundreds of "Millerites" left their homes and businesses behind and all of their earthly possessions, concentrating on the specific date of October 22, 1944, when Jesus would surely return. When Jesus did not appear the date became known as "The Great Disappointment."

Since the first falling away until the restoration, and even today, Christianity has been bombarded with disappointments that are the direct result of men going beyond what is written. To predict the Advent is to not accept words of Jesus in Matthew 24:36 - "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." If God had wanted us to know the specific time of our Lord's return, He would have told us. But instead His admonition is, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matt. 24:44).

Our 21st Century world is now full of beliefs that are merely warmed up leftovers of human doctrines that have been inserted over the centuries. The early church never worshiped with man-made instruments, but not only are they all over the landscape today, most people truly believe God will accept whatever worship they may offer. "Once saved, always saved" remains through the influence of Calvanism, and many religious groups still have part or all of this doctrine in their creed. Sprinkling of infants, salvation by faith alone, and the aspects of premillenialism, to name a few, are ideas that live in the hearts and minds of many religious people. Confused by what they have heard time and again, it is now to the point that many risk their very souls to put faith in teachings that cannot be found in the Scriptures.

Perhaps the saddest truth of all...people don't know that what they believe is not of God. We cannot believe differently about salvation and all be right. We cannot believe differently about the identity and worship of the church and all be right. We cannot believe differently about the return of Christ and the judgment scene and all be right. The only way to be in line with God and abiding in truth is for us to stop automatically believing what we are told. Remove the filter, open your Bible, and be taught of God!

Jesus is coming again with clouds (Rev. 1:7). He may come at any time, and when He does, even atheists will bow (Rom. 14:11). I cannot help but think that for many it will be another "great disappointment." But for those who follow God and keep His word in truth and humility, it will be a day in which Christ will be admired and glorified by those who are truly His (2 Thess. 1:10).

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." - 1 John 4:1

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Robbed by the Thief on the Cross

"What about the thief on the cross?" This is the question I have heard so many times that I have stopped counting. This question arises whenever I get into a conversation about salvation with a person who does not believe in baptism as one of the essential elements. In Luke 23 we read of the conversation between Jesus and the thief who showed penitence and admitted guilt while asking to be remembered when Jesus came into His kingdom. We recall the wonderful love of God and extension of grace that brought these words from our Savior's dying lips, "Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).

Some allege this event proves that salvation is possible by simply believing in Christ, admitting personal sin, and asking God for forgiveness and a place with Him in heaven. While all of these are necessary for a person to be saved, these alone do not exhaust the requirements that God has left for us in His word.

There are many Bible answers for why the thief on the cross is not our perfect example. We could point out that both Jesus and the thief lived and died under the Law of Moses, or that Jesus nailed the Law to the cross when He brought forth the new covenant in His blood (Col. 2:14; Matt. 26:28). We could mention that New Testament Christians are those who have been baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 6:3-4) - which would have been impossible for the thief since Jesus had not yet died. We could note that baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins was not available, nor was it a requirement for salvation until the day of Pentecost, when the church began (Acts 2:38). And do we really want the thief to be our example? Do we want to live a life dominated by Satan only to repent in our final, tragic hour? This account is given to us not as an example of how to be saved, but rather as a testimony of the unsearchable and matchless grace of Jesus.

There is one simple passage which brings a great deal of light and truth on a subject that so many have clouded in an attempt to justify their denominational mode of salvation. In Romans 10:9-10 we read, "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." I only bring up this passage because it has become a proof text for many who believe that baptism is not required for salvation, but merely belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the corresponding confession that Jesus is Lord. In other words, the people who use the "thief on the cross" reasoning for saying baptism is non-essential will quickly go to this passage in order to prove their point. I want to thank them for doing that, because they just proved why their reasoning is false.

Look again at the passage. Did the thief believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead? Paul says in Romans 10:9 that this is a requirement for salvation. But how could he believe it? Jesus wasn't even dead yet! The thief didn't even know Jesus was going to be raised - the apostles didn't understand it until after it happened, and Jesus had been telling them virtually every day for three and a half years. The thief was dealing with a different set of requirements. Those under the patriarchal law and the Law of Moses were cleansed by the blood of Jesus and sanctified through their animal sacrifices. It was impossible for the thief to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But we must believe it. The thief was not required to be baptized for the remission of sins, but we are commanded to do so today (Acts 2:38, 10:48).

We need to rightly divide the Bible. The church does not determine what the Bible teaches, the Bible determines what the church teaches. Study. Humble yourself. Change your mind if you are mistaken. Obey the gospel - and obey all of it - not just part.

"...casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." - 2 Corinthians 10:5

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Preaching Mistakes

This past Sunday while trying to quote Mark 16:15-16, I accidentally called out, "Matthew 16:15-16." Then Sunday evening, while Mike Dyer was preaching, when meaning to refer to Jeremiah 29:11, he instead said "Jeremiah 22:11." This happens all of the time. If you speak very much you are going to make mistakes. The most eloquent, polished speakers are going to commit errors because every person is fallible. Preachers don't need to beat themselves up about it, and members don't need to be overly concerned about it. For those of you who don't preach but who worship regularly, us preachers are asking you to give us the benefit of the doubt.

When I became a preacher I knew I would make mistakes. I have made many in the past, I continue to make them in the present, and I suppose that even though I never want to make another one, I will still have trouble in the future. But all of this reminds me that a preaching mistake, when unintended, can be a blessing to everyone in attendance when our focus is as it should be. Here's why:

1. The listener has the opportunity to catch the mistake. I did not know I said, "Matthew" instead of "Mark," until someone told me. I was so thankful they told me. This let me know that someone was paying attention. It also let me know that they either knew the Scripture or looked it up. Their communication gave me the opportunity to correct my mistake. One of the reasons I am even writing about this and putting it on the front page of our bulletin is to own up to the misquotation. Every preacher who loves the Lord would never want to preach anything but what the Bible teaches. When it is brought to our attention that we have made a mistake, it is a blessing.

2. Not everything you hear in life is true. We have the responsibility to "test the spirits, to see whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). Paul said, "Test all things, hold fast to what is good" (1 Thes. 5:21). The reason why many people leave the church is directly related to how they view preaching. If preaching is someone talking while you listen and nothing else then there is a major problem. There needs to be a meeting of every mind and heart at foot of the cross to hear the word of the Lord. Padded pews and comfortable temperatures are overrated. Paul said that in latter times people would heap up for themselves teachers who would tickle their ears. This is not gospel preaching. A Bible man tells the Bible plan. Everyone should be engaged in the discussion as if their souls are on the line because in reality this is the case. Preaching must be examined, evaluated, tested, and applied. It must be in keeping with the standards of the holy and inerrant word of God.

3. Mistakes in the pulpit remind us of God's perfection. Paul told the Corinthians, who often attacked his preaching, "I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:3-5). God deserves all of the glory in everything, especially preaching. It is His will, His word, and His wonderful grace. Paul reminded the brethren that he was not behind what was being preached, but every word came by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Today preachers only have the Bible, but the Bible is all we need and it is still the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Our faith cannot be in preachers. No preacher ever wants to be believed because he is the preacher. Genuine faith is hearing and believing the word of God (Rom. 10:17).

4. Mistakes from the pulpit keep the preacher humble. Every Christian who commits much time to service in the church can be in danger of becoming arrogant. When we receive compliments we might start to believe them. My grandmother (a preacher's wife) always used to say it was her job to keep her husband's head the correct size. If he got complimented too much his head might not fit through the door, but if he was being ridiculed and criticized too much he may get discouraged and decide to leave the ministry. Compliments and criticism together will both be a blessing to a Christian with the right attitude. I have had different people walk out the door with a thumbs up or a thumbs down to the same sermon I had just preached. This humbled me. It also reminded me that God was the only one I was trying to please.

Preachers make mistakes. People make mistakes. How thankful we are for the Father who resides in heaven who is perfect and holy but who gives grace! How thankful we are for the Son who stands by His side and intercedes with His blood! How thankful we are for Comforter who rules in our hearts and gives us peace!

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." - Isaiah 55:7