Friday, February 28, 2014

How Preaching Has Made Me a Better Person

During the month of February the Jenkins Institute asked preachers to write on this topic. For a full list of their articles you can follow this link:

This is my contribution.

I need to be needed. This is how I am wired. Even at the earliest stages of my life I can recall a desire to matter to somebody. As an 8-year-old attending Tanda Bible Camp in the San Bernadino mountains, I can remember my first attempt to help someone spiritually. There was a boy who came to camp who wanted to go home. He was in my cabin. He had retreated to the boys’ bath house and I found him there crying. He did not have the blessings of a Christian home like I did. I knew he needed to be there. I spent an hour pleading with him to stay. I wanted to make a difference in his life.

Preaching has made me a better person because it has helped me think about others. Not all the time, mind you. In fact, I could argue upon reflection that if it were not for preaching I might not find many unselfish moments. You see, preaching demands that you love God and people and the church more than you love yourself. You will have to take the high road most of the time. You will have to overcome criticism. You will have to overcome attitudes. You will have to overcome apathy. You will have to overcome agendas. You will have to overcome the very worst of the people who have been called to be the best. And every minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ will have to accept the reality that when people need you at the most inconvenient times and circumstances that it is your job to be there and to be happy someone needed you in that moment. Preaching commands humility and servitude.

Preaching has made me a better person because it has required Bible study. As a young preacher, I often taught and spoke in small country churches, in those places where people were just happy to have someone there. They gave me the benefit of the doubt. It was not hard for me to study then, because I was so excited and on fire for God. Someone was actually willing to listen to me, and I felt so unworthy! I was in the realization that this was my time and I was fulfilling it. To preach was a dream come true. But what about when you get older? What about when your preaching honeymoon is over and the people have become accustomed and maybe even bored with your style and approach? All I can say is study, study, study! And I admit, when I was not in my right spiritual heart and mind and not in love with my own personal study, the needs of others to hear a preacher who was prepared helped me and motivated me to be so. I have learned that the level of a person’s Bible knowledge really has nothing to do with how serious I should be about my own. No man should preach unless he is fully willing to give his very best to God and to supply every person with a well-ordered and passionate study of His word.

Preaching has made me a better person because I have never forgotten for even one minute that I must live every word I preach. I have not always excelled at this practice, but knowing I must do so has always helped to rein me in. My grandfather was my preacher for over 11 years of my growing years. Not many will ever know him in the brotherhood. He was not the greatest speaker. He did not write any books. His ministry was public preaching and house to house evangelism and personal home Bible studies with contacts he met on the street. But the greatest work of his preaching life was never being untrue to any word he spoke from the pulpit or taught in a class or a home. He was literally “above reproach.” Preachers need to get over any animosity or negativity about living in a fishbowl. If you are a Christian, you are salt and light and transparency is a part of the game. Embrace it. Use it as an opportunity to be Christ-like. What could be better? Think about it! People are expecting you to be a guide, to inspire, and to exemplify the power of God’s spirit! What an honor. Preaching has made me wake up every day and ask myself, “How can Christ live in me today?” and “How can I make others want what I have?”

Preaching has given back to me exponentially in comparison to what I have put into it. I love my job! I pinch myself daily that I get paid to do something that my heart has caused me to want to do for free or even at my own expense. Preaching has many other blessings for me still yet to be revealed. How exciting!

“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”  - 1 Corinthians 9:16

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Coke and a Smile

Do you remember this slogan from years gone by - "Have a coke and a smile, makes me feel good..."? It was connected to that famous commercial, "Hey, kid, catch!" - which aired in 1979 and featured Pittsburgh Steelers' star "Mean" Joe Greene throwing his sweaty, game-used jersey to a kid who gives him an ice-cold coke on the way to the locker room. This was considered at the time one of the best commercials of the year, and anyone from that era who saw it has that image fresh in their minds of the power of Coca-Cola and its association with childhood dreams.

There have been other slogans since 1886 - here are a few:
1886 - Drink Coca-Cola.
1906 - The great national temperance beverage.
1908 - Good til the last drop
1923 - Enjoy life.
1937 - America's favorite moment.
1939 - Coca-Cola has the taste thirst goes for.
1945 - Passport to refreshment.
1948 - Where there's Coke there's hospitality.
1958 - The Cold, Crisp Taste of Coke.
1963 - Things go better with Coke.
1969 - It's the real thing.
1971 - I'd like to buy the world a Coke. (Basis for the song "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony").
1976 - Coke adds life.
1981 - Coke is it!
1989 - Can't Beat the Feeling.
1991 - Can't Beat the Real Thing. (for Coca-Cola Classic)
1993 - Always Coca-Cola.
1999 - Enjoy
2001 - Life tastes good.
2007 - Live on the Coke Side of Life
2011 - Life Begins Here

There are dozens more, and this only comprises slogans used in the U.S. The Coke company has invented slogans over the years that go with each culture and language. It has made the drink widely popular around the globe. And Coke is just one company. In 2014, these eight countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US) will spend over 300 billion dollars buying soft drinks. America is responsible for about 80 billion of that total.

Now for one more statistic: The United States as a whole this year will spend roughly 2 billion dollars in the effort to spread Christianity to the world. This number includes all religious groups who are considered within our culture's realm of Christendom.

There is nothing wrong with drinking soft drinks. This is not the point.

But my questions are, "What is really refreshing?" "What really tastes good?" "What can't beat the feeling?" "What is IT?" "What adds life?"

Is it not the good news of Jesus Christ? Maybe we should spend more time buying and drinking and sharing the gospel.

"Jesus answered and said to her, 'Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.' The woman said to Him, 'Sir, give me this water'..." ~ John 4:13-15.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lost Things

Lost things, and even lost people, don't always know when they are lost. But the one who has lost them knows. Sheep are not smart animals, and they have no idea when they are lost, but the shepherd certainly knows! A lost valuable does not know it has been misplaced, but the owner will search diligently and agonize over such a possession until it has been located. The prodigal was unaware for some time that he was lost. He was living it up and having a good time. It took a series of negative experiences until he realized his condition. But his father knew. If one were to ask the prodigal's father about the condition of his son after he had left home, he would have simply said, "My son is lost."

Now consider perhaps an even more important question: "Where was the father while the prodigal was lost?" This morning we received a call at the church office from someone responding to our radio spot that had just aired. The subject matter was that "God cares." But this person called to tell us that God does not care. We reminded him that God cared enough for His own Son to die for us. But his response was, "That was two thousand years ago. What has God done for us lately?"

How can we be so confused? When the prodigal was lost, the father was in the far country, too. Even though the father never left home, his heart travelled to where his boy was, longing for his return. Every parent has personally experienced the hurt of their own child if real love for the child exists. Why would we think that for one moment that God is not hurting when we are hurting? Why would we think that He does not care when we are lost?

The fact remains that at some point we have all been the prodigal. We have all been lost. Some of us are still lost. Does this mean God does not care about us? It is the opposite. The only thing that is keeping Jesus from judging the world immediately is the patience and longsuffering of our heavenly Father, who loves us and cares about us so much that He is mercifully waiting for some of us to come back home. It was the broken heart of God over our "lostness" that made Him willing to sacrifice His own Son and suffer the pain and loss that no human being could ever understand.

Lost things and lost people do not always know that they are lost. But the one who lost them always knows. And the one who lost them always cares. And the one who lost them will keep searching and hoping. And the one who lost them will rejoice when they are found!

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing." - Luke 15:4-5

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Are You a Winner or a Whiner?

They were the first two brothers who ever lived. They both had a vocation. Their vocations were profitable and successful. One brother pleased God and the other did not. Abel was obedient and Cain was willfully disobedient. Then Cain got angry. Abel was a winner, while Cain's countenance fell.

It was in the moment of his falling short that Cain had to make a choice. Would he accept his mistake and move forward in repentance and righteousness or would he allow Satan to take advantage of his disappointment? Unfortunately, the latter is true. Cain's attitude dictated his destiny. And so it is for us.

We have to decide if we are going to be a winner or a whiner. The winner concentrates on the good side of life, while the whiner majors in the mediocre. Winners think differently than whiners. Winners say regularly, "I can" and "I will." This approach is a part of their everyday, conscious state of being and thinking. When they make mistakes they own them. They get up, dust themselves off and change. Whiners fixate on what they should have done...would have done...what they can't do, or how they wish circumstances were always different. Whiners say things like, "I am so unlucky, that if it were raining soup I'd be standing outside with a fork!"

There is a conversation going on in our mind all of the time. The part of us that can choose to be positive must do so. A person with a goal, a dream, or a motivation that is coupled with the right spirit will get off the couch and out of the house and change the world. But a person who is always concerned about what might go wrong, failure, rejection, lack of ability, or any little imperfect situation will waste away and never produce anything of significance.

Would you rather be surrounded by positive or negative people? Negativity and Christianity cannot be in harmony with each other. Being forgiven by God and being so loved by God should equate to abundant joy in the lives of His children. If we are never happy with life, with our neighbor, with the church, with the preacher, with the weather, or with the world, there will be no reason for anyone to want to be like us. People can be miserable without any help. But if we want to be excellent, we will have to be with people who make us better and push us upward.

Look at the life of Jesus. He left the glory of heaven for the struggles of the earth. He was poor. He was hated and persecuted. His family misunderstood him. He was surrounded by sickness and disease and death. He was rejected by his own people. He was often weary and tired and short on rest. But He never whined. He had a higher calling and He would not let anything or anyone keep Him from fulfilling His purpose. He loved the unlovable, cured the incurable, and changed the unchangeable. He was a winner because He chose victory before the game even started.

Whether we are a winner or a whiner has nothing to do with the circumstances or challenges of life. They are both states of mind. And we get to make up our mind.

If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don't.
If you'd like to win but think you can't,
It's almost certain you won't.
Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But sooner or later, the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.
"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it." - 1 Corinthians 9:24