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April 3

Friday, April 3rd, 2020

I read in the April 3 devotion in Our Daily Bread these words:

On the night of April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr gave his final speech, ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.’ In it, he hints that he believed he might not live long. He said, ‘We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you…[But] I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’  The next day, he was assassinated.

It was almost as if Dr. King “knew” he was going to die soon. That got me to thinking: what if I knew I was going to die in exactly one week. What would I do?

  • Would I love Jo any differently? Would I do something with her we have put off?
  • Would I love Tami and Janna (my daughters) and Braden (grandson) any differently? Would I make sure my millions were doled out evenly? 🙂
  • Would I love the people in the church I pastor deeper? Is there any grace or forgiveness I need to extend? Is there anyone I need forgiveness from?
  • Would my last sermon be an earnest plea for salvation? Holy living? Sacrificial service?
  • Would I ride my bike with more abandon, taking on the challenge of more hills?
  • Would I contact my friends (all 2 of them)  🙂 to thank them for their friendship and get together for one more pizza run or bike ride?

I could go on and I’m sure you could also. But the “what if” or “would I” is not what matters. It is the “what about now” that matters. No one knows when they may be called home.

“Father, I stand before You this morning pondering the ‘what if.’ You are more interested in the ‘what will I do for now.’ Show me how to live now and what You desire from me N.O.W.”

 

April 2

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

In the midst of this pandemic we are going through right now, we are also seeing great acts of giving, of serving. We hear or read of people who are going out of their way to serve. One of the men from the church found himself in the ER parking lot the other night because he was not allowed into the ER after his father suffered a stroke. There were some people (I’m guessing from a local Bloomington church) who were singing and praying in the parking lot for the workers in the ER. There are people who deliver meals and supplies to the house bound (for free).  We have a local grocery store delivering groceries for free. We have local restaurants making food for pick up but also, in some cases, delivering food for free.  There are those performing random acts of kindness. And many more.

What many people are experiencing, perhaps for the first time, is the joy of giving. There have been times when I have experienced a day of the blahs. I found one of the greatest ways of getting out of the doldrums is to give myself away-visit a nursing home, or a hospital, or a shut in. Visit a widow or widower who is lonely. Focus on someone other than myself. What I found is that it wasn’t the other person who was blessed, as much as it was me.

People got the wrong idea when they read “God loves a cheerful giver” and immediately think $$$$. But that’s where they are wrong! There is much more to giving than $$$$. Give your time. Give your talent. Do something for someone else and see the joy that comes back to you.

“Father, help me not to always be looking out for myself. Help me to give myself to others.”

March 26

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

Years ago I remember reading the story of Kitty Genovese. (I can’t remember the name of the book but the author was Fritz Ridenour.  It was a book on evangelism. I also remember he used the story in John 4 to show how Jesus did evangelism with the woman at the well and how it served as a good example for us). Okay…back to Kitty. 🙂 Anyway, Kitty was brutally knifed, raped and murdered outside her apartment one evening. I googled it this morning and recent updates say she was knifed 13 times and no one lifted a finger to help or even call the police.  As an aside, her story helped institute 9-1-1 and also what was called The Bystander Effect.

That kind of apathy and “unfeelingness” stuns us. It should stun those who talk about the goodness of man and how we are all basically good inside. I simply cannot fathom that no one came forward to rescue her, to help her or to even call.

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. A man is beaten, left for dead and two religious people walk on by as though they see nothing. It took a foreigner- a Samaritan- to stop, bind his wounds and take him to a hostel where he could recover. Jesus’ teaching was easy to see-for them and for us. What I need to ask myself, what you need to ask yourself, is who will I choose to be in that story? We live in a time where so many are living in fear and panic.  So let me issue this challenge: instead of asking yourself who will I choose to be, why not BE the answer! Why not ask God how you can BE someone’s answer?  Pray for God to lead you to someone-especially in this time of fear-who could use your help. Instead of being a need; why not meet a need? And yes, I know we are to take precautions. And we should. There are other ways-creative ways-we can help reach someone’s need. 

“Father, you have not asked me to sit idly by or to pass by on the other side. You have given me the challenge to be an answer. Lead me to someone whom I can help.”

March 25

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

Have you ever felt as though you were walking around with this big “L” on your forehead? You know…the hand put to the forehead with the thumb and index finger forming an “L.” I’m sure you know that is the sign for “Loser.”

Admittedly, I have had those times:

  • Moving to become the 3rd person on staff only to watch the 2nd man leave for another church and then after a month goes by being asked to exit. Total ministry length there: 13 months.
  • Moving from there to a church in a small town with 25 people in the church only to realize less than 4 months in that I made the wrong move as their legalism choked me and I burned out.  Length of ministry there: 16 long months.
  • Moving from there and have a seemingly good 3 years end up with a secret meeting and a “you have until August” (This was April) with no explanation given except I wasn’t conservative enough doctrinally. (I didn’t believe in baptism as being necessary to be saved).

I could give you other failures. Personally. Professionally. Spiritually. Tasks unfinished. Relationships ripped apart. Arrogance running rampant. I can’t place the blame on the leaders or individuals responsible for the above actions. I was complicit too. I had to learn some very valuable lessons that as I look back now God had been trying to teach me all along. I also can see this principle come into play: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Pr.24:19-20)  I had to trust that God “got this.” I had to trust that He would take this wreck and make him useful.

I can point to Peter-disciple, loud-mouth, leader, deny-er, failure-as proof. Those last two. WOW! But God wasn’t going to let him wear the “L” label. He was going to take Peter from an “L” to a “W.”

“Father, thank you for not seeing me as an “L.” Thank you for saving me. For rescuing me. For recycling me into being useful for You.”

March 20

Friday, March 20th, 2020

One of the verses that consistently rattles my cage is a small one-small in number of words, but big in meaning.

John had been the “man of the hour.” People flocked to the wilderness to hear him speak. He spoke like a true prophet-mincing no words; leaving no one off the hook; and taking no prisoners. Shyster? Gotcha. Legalist? Gotcha. Viper? Gotcha. Herod and Herodias? Gotcha.  Roman soldier? Gotcha. Religious leader?  Double gotcha. He told it like it was…and then some. But John was never supposed to be the man. No, he was the forerunner.  He was the prophet Elijah come again (figuratively).  He was also the voice of one crying in the wilderness. (Luke 3:4)  His purpose was to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was to prepare people for the Lamb of God who was to take away the sin of world. (John 1:29).

So it shouldn’t be surprising his response when his disciples came to him and told him that Jesus was baptizing more than he was.  Translated: Jesus was more popular.  His response is the verse that rattles my cage:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Another translation says, “He must become greater, I must become less.”  The implications of that are stunning. John’s view was consistent with his purpose: Jesus glorified not me. More of Jesus, less of me.

“Father, that should be my prayer- today and everyday. May Jesus truly become greater in my life and in all I do.”

March 17

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

I read a verse this morning that I have read countless times before, only this time it said, “Look closer.” (Okay, not really, but you know what I mean). 🙂  So I did. It’s the passage in John 1:36-51 where Jesus is “calling” some of John’s disciples and others to follow Him. Andrew, who found his brother, Peter. Philip who got his brother, Nathaniel. It is Nathaniel’s response to Jesus’ words to Him that said to look closer.

  • Philip: “Come, we have found the Messiah-Jesus of Nazareth-the one talked about in the Law and the Prophets.
  • Nathaniel: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was considered a “scum” city. An insignificant city of low-lifes.
  • Jesus: “Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  (The old KJV says, “No guile” whatever that is.)

Wait! Stop the presses! Jesus found an honest person? Actually, the word is more accurately seen as one of sincerity and honesty. Whew! Not sinless. Open. Seeking.  This is in direct contrast to Jacob, one of the heroes of the Jews, who was known for his deceit and trickery.  Think birthright in exchange for stew.  Think disguise for blessing.

Could it be that Jesus was saying Nathaniel was breaking the cycle of trickery and deceit? Proverbs 17:20 says, “A man of crooked heart does not discover good, and one with a dishonest tongue falls into misery.”  Dishonesty, trickery and deceit only lead to misery. For all affected and afflicted.

“Father, may I be one who chooses to live without trickery and deceit. May it be said of me that I am one in whom there is no deceit.”

March 16

Monday, March 16th, 2020

I read Denny’s blog each time it is released. He writes insightful and always thought-provoking posts. Considering all that is happening in the world today, I found this to be especially insightful and worthy to be passed on. Please enjoy and wonder at the amazing ways God’s works.

Banished from the public means of grace, we found grace nevertheless.

By Denny Burk on March 15, 2020 in Christianity, Devotion

Our church was scattered by the coronavirus this morning. We did not gather together as usual at the intersection of Southern Parkway and Third Street. No, today we were spread out all over the city of Louisville and beyond. Our college students were literally scattered across North America as many of them were compelled to go back to their hometowns after colleges and universities closed last week. Our church’s missionaries remain scattered all over the world. None of us could be together this morning.

If you know what it means to be the ekklesia of God, your heart ached like mine did. For this is not how it is supposed to be. Gathering together for the Lord’s Day is fundamental to our identity, and we were unable to do that this morning (Hebrews 10:24-25). We had a “virtual” service like so many others, but it really isn’t the same. Nor should it be.

But something really extraordinary happened as we all sat down before our scattered screens for worship. Jim Hamilton read the call to worship from a book of devotion by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, published in 1893.1 Below is the entry for March 15, and the words are nearly incredible:

MARCH 15

Therefore say, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.”

Ezekiel 11:16

Banished from the public means of grace, we are not removed from the grace behind the means of grace. The Lord who places his people where they feel like exiles will himself be with them. He will be to them all that they could have had at home in the place of their sacred assemblies. Take this promise as your own if you are called to wander!

God is to his people a place of refuge. They find sanctuary with him from every adversary. He is their place of worship too. He is with them as he was with Jacob when he slept in the open field and woke, saying, “Surely the LORD is in this place” (Gen. 28:16). To them he will also be a sanctuary of peace, like the Most Holy Place, which was the noiseless abode of the Eternal. They will be kept from fear of evil.

God himself, in Christ Jesus, is the sanctuary of mercy. The ark of the covenant is the Lord Jesus, and Aaron’s rod, the pot of manna, the tables of the law are in Christ our sanctuary. In God we find the shrine of holiness and of communion. What more do we need?

Oh, Lord, fulfill this promise and always be to us like a little sanctuary!

In a book published 127 years ago, this was the entry for March 15. What a smiling providence. What an evidence of the Lord’s care for his people in a time of turmoil and trouble. He promises never to leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5), and he proved it again this morning.

—————

1 Spurgeon’s devotional The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith was published in 1893 in America, but Crossway published an updated edition just last year. The text above is from the 2019 edition.

March 12

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

In golf they call it a “Mulligan.” If you don’t know golf, think free do-over. The shot was so bad you take a “mulligan.” You forego that shot and wherever it ended up, and take another-a free shot. It’s considered free because the other doesn’t count.  (I bet pros wish they could do that occasionally). When I played golf, I was so bad because I played so infrequently, that they should have named the course after me and called it Mulligans.

In all seriousness though, we all have moments in our past we wish we could do over. Regret. Shame. Sin. Pattern. Lost temper. Angry words. Second lingering glance.  I wish I could do over the time I saw my first Playboy at the age of 8. Seeds were embedded I knew not of. How many time have you heard or read of embezzlers who said, “I wish I’d never take that first dollar”?

The old adage is “Be sure your sins will find you out.” Proverbs 12:14 says, “From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him.”  (Emphasis mine)  It’s that last phrase which comes back to me. I’ve heard stories of builders who took shortcuts and used shoddy material only to watch their project implode and with it their reputation.

The rage several years ago was to write a letter to “Dear younger self.” I never did. I guess I saw it as an effort in futility because I couldn’t change a thing. However, I must admit: I’d like to sometimes call “Mulligan!” Even now.

“Father, what’s done is done. I can’t change that; neither can you. You can’t undo what has been done and since I don’t have a time machine neither can I. But the future can be different. Guide my steps so mulligans aren’t needed.”

March 9

Monday, March 9th, 2020

Today is a day I’m not looking forward to in some ways. Not that I despair of life or of the day-not in the least. I consider each day a gift, a blessing, to be enjoyed. But I told Jo last night as we lay in bed, “I’m concerned about tomorrow.” Today I conduct a funeral of a man from our community who took his own life one week ago. From all counts he was a good coach, a man who cared about his players, and tried to bring out the best in them. A man counted on to help them out of their hitting doldrums, to help them become better players. But in all the accolades, even with his own children, not one said he helped them face life; that they were better people and navigated through life as a result of his influence.

Now, lest you misunderstand, that is not a put down. An observation. It makes me ask myself a series of tough questions:

  • What about me? How will I be perceived? I’m not a hitting coach. I’m a pastor. Will I be one who others will say, “He led me to Jesus” or will they say, “He was a nice guy”?
  • Did I take time for people? That was one of his strong suits. He took the time for his children and his players. The question that tags along is whether I was so busy that I gave my family and others my leftovers.
  • What did I leave behind? What did I leave them with?  Did I leave people with something superfluous or something of eternal value? If people can tell you about my cycling but not about my Jesus, then I failed miserably.

“Father, may I influence people in all ways, but especially in finding You. Help me to care about people but in my caring to point them to You.  If I do that, then my life will have counted and made a difference.”

March 6

Friday, March 6th, 2020

I’m sure you have heard (I know I have) that there are certain people we ought to avoid. Growing up I was warned about hanging around certain people. “Avoid them Bill” they would say. No worries. I wasn’t interested in partying anyway. I was once invited to a Friday night party.

  • Him: Would you like to come to a party Friday night?
  • Me: What you going to do?
  • Him: Drink. Get drunk.
  • Me: Then what?
  • Him: Throw up.
  • Me: Then what?
  • Him: Drink some more. Get drunk some more.
  • Me: Then what?
  • Him: Throw up.
  • Me: This is going to cost me what?
  • Him: $20
  • Me: Sounds like fun. (Read: sarcasm). Nope.

He asked me 3 times.  Each time same convo. I was never asked again. Wonder why?  🙂

The word we use today is “toxic.”  Avoid toxic people. Get rid of toxic people in your life. Proverbs 6 has a description of toxic people: lazy. Worthless. Wicked. Crooked speech. Sneaky.  Perverted heart devises evil. Sow discord (9-15). Toxic people and the actions of toxic people are even listed in verses 16-19 of the 7 things God hates.

Word to the wise: Avoid toxic people. People who do not have your interest in mind. People who bring you down.

“Father, help me to be discerning in my choices of people and to let go of those who are toxic, who do not help me in my daily walk.”