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: 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