Responding with Grace to Everyone

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Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Col. 4:5-6).

It’s not just enough to know the gospel, and it’s not enough just to know that our friends, our relatives, our associates, and our neighbors need Jesus. But we must walk in wisdom amongst the outsiders. Our primary interaction with our FRANs (friends, relatives, associates, neighbors) should not be on social media, where it gives an illusion to connecting with people, but be among actual people.  And when you are, may your speech be fueled by the grace of which you were saved and by which others are saved.

“Seasoned with salt”?  Yes.  In Paul’s time, salt was actively working and moving and preserving.  When we speak, we speak with an active graciousness that is winsome.  We shouldn’t talk in a fearful, apologetic, overpowering, or a boring way.  We should speak in ways that are ready to answer, but in a way that compels, not repels.

 

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Is Jesus Enough Even When the Answers Won’t Come?

We are in a chapter in our lives where we have a specific issue arising in our family, and are hoping for answers, but they just aren’t coming at this point. We consult experts, we pray, we search, we seek advice, but no answers yet. They haven’t come. Sure, experts and wanna-be experts speculate, but speculation doesn’t help nor cure.

Even the most spiritually mature struggle in this area. Questions arise as to how matters came to this point. It’s here I think of Job.

Though Job did all he was supposed to do, trials arose when his possessions, his family, and his health left him (Job 1-2). We know the reasons why: Satan sought to take away God’s primacy in Job’s heart by asking God to allow these devastations to happen. Yes, God established limits as far as taking Job’s life, but God not only allowed Satan to take his family and possessions and health, but to keep his wife and his friends around.

You see, his wife thought Job would be better off dead that to go through these issues: “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Job did. “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil/disaster?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10). The recognition of God’s sovereignty over all things must extend to, well, all things.

His friends served him no better. Now, for seven days, they done good (as my friends used to say) by just being with him. Job, feeling comfortable in telling them exactly what was on his mind, unloaded. He wished he had never been born (3:3-10). He laments that the wicked flourish, therefore why does he (Job 3:17-18). Basically, he is asking God, “Are you just? Where are you?”

This sets off a flurry from his friends, who spend the rest of the time trying to defend the goodness and the righteousness of God, and as a result, for Job to repent of sins he committed. Until he does, he will find no relief.

I’m reading Job in a whole new light right now and see the following:

  • Our ease in life does not equal God’s favor on my life; conversely, our discomfort and affliction in this life does not mean God’s favor is removed.
  • Friends and those close to us should not feel that their job is to ultimately find the solution or understand God’s plan. Sometimes, just keeping our ears open and our mouths shut is the very best way to show friendship.
  • We cannot discount the fact that there is another level of existence that we cannot see. Job, Daniel, and the book of Revelation show us that other drama in the spiritual realm is being enacted.
  • We must realize that when the answers do not come, we must cling to Christ more, not less.

And yet, another level of understanding what it means that Jesus is enough. This does not mean that He will keep trials from happening. But He will be with us always and strengthen us during the trials.

One person one said, “You don’t realize Jesus is all there is until Jesus is all you have.”

I know Jesus is enough, even when my heart aches and hurts to the degree it does right now. Contrary to what some may say, my best life will never be now in the best of circumstances–but my best life is in the life to come when all sorrows, tears, and pain will go (Revelation 21:4).

But He is enough.

He must be!

Will You Pray for an Opportunity to Share Jesus This Week?

I don’t know about you, but missionaries are heroes of mine. Last Sunday night, Kent and Rachel McDowell came and shared about their ministry as missionaries to Russia. Maneuvering amidst a troublesome political climate, developing relationships in what they call their “sphere of influence” and what we call our FRANs (friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors), and always being ready to share the Good News of Jesus.

You see, I need to talk to missionaries frequently because they have not lost the primary purpose of their mission: to make disciples. Everything they do, every breath they breathe, every dollar they spend, every word they say or teach or preach, it all has the ultimate purpose of making hopeful, joyful disciples of Jesus. The calling that Jesus gave them as disciples is enough to propel them as missionaries.

Missionaries aren’t just the professionals. When Jesus rescued us, He brought us on into his work as ones who would be His witness from our neighbors to the nations, and in our case, from Denver to the nations, helping all know that He is enough. One passage that will propel our time together is found in Colossians 4:2-6:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:2‭-‬6 ESV).‬‬

Three questions come from this, and here’s the first:

Will you pray for an opportunity to share Jesus this week? Few meaningful things happen in this life without intentionality. You don’t pay your bills without intentionally making sure you have the money, you know how much to pay, when the due date is. Even if you have it automatically withdrawn, you need to make sure you have enough money to cover it. You don’t get your homework done without intentionally doing it and doing it well. Coming to church took some intentionality: showering, putting on clothes, getting your Bibles and phones and car keys, getting in the car, etc.

So let’s realize that the same intentionality is needed for this. And it starts with prayer. We are praying for opportunities to tell people about who Jesus is, what He’s done, and what He aims to do in us. Paul writes to the Colossian church, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” The intentionality begins with prayer for you personally. Prayer increases that intentionality by making us alert to what’s around us, and more thankful for what God has done in us.

But we also pray that God would open a door for others to bring the message of hope and joy as well. That message is about what Jesus has accomplished as holy God in human form to come and rescue us and restore us to God’s original design of walking and worshiping him. Without this praying, we are not alert. Without this praying, our thank-o-meter registers very low. Without this praying, others are not covered as well.

Will you pray that opens a door for you to tell others about Jesus? Will you pray for the doors to open for others?

What a Rout Teaches Me About the Kingdom of God (Updated)

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Last night, my wife, my boys, and Katilyn went to see my Cincinnati Reds play their archrival, the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a beautiful cool evening at Great American Ball Park where we sat way up (Section 520, Row P) and could see the beautiful Ohio River over the right field wall.

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As for the game itself, it was 9-0 before I could blink– and the Cardinals won 13-3. Daniel’s favorite player, Joey Votto, hit a three-run home run that made his day, but highlights were few for the home team. We left after seven innings to beat traffic.

I started thinking about some issues as I talked with my boys during the game. Daniel is very interested in the game, but David is more interested in watching the people at the game. As seven-year-olds, most of this is new, especially the drubbing the Reds took. But lessons abounded during this game that we would do well to remember:

1. Pull for your team through the highs and lows.

David mentioned that he wasn’t having a good time because the Reds were losing. I told him that we stick with our team no matter what. In baseball terms, I haven’t abided by this. I grew up. Dodgers fan, switched to the Marlins when I got sick of keeping up with late games out West, then switched to the Reds when I got sick of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria for blowing up the team very five minutes.

Churches have highs and lows. In our consumeristic society, it’s all about us. When something doesn’t satisfy us, we bail. When we commit to a body of believers, we commit–as long as they are sticking to the Scriptures and exalting Christ in public and private.

2. Celebrate the wins.

Down 9-0, Joey Votto of the Reds, hit a three-run home run. You would have thought our boys won the World Series. They could have said, “We are still down six runs.” But, no! Their favorite player hit a home run! Fireworks went off! They were still competing!

Celebrate the wins! Someone goes on-mission, a great offering, the Word preached, a baptism, someone goes the extra mile–celebrate it! “Well, that’s only one baptism this month!” Right! Celebrate!

3. Develop community.

The Reds and Cardinal Nations are a strong union. I run into Cardinal and Reds fans in abundance in Colorado. Both were well represented last night at the ball park. Seeing thousands of fans in Reds paraphernalia extended that bond. We felt a connection.

We all were meant for community–we were never meant to be alone. We as believers share something far more significant than a ball team. We are connected by the Spirit of God in Christ into a unity that lasts into eternity. So I can go to Lexington, Cincinnati, Denver, Trinidad & Tobago, or South Africa and I have a connection with believers in Christ that is incomprehensible to the watching world. This aspect is quite attractive to the world that is filled with a cold, hard void.

[Originally written August 3, 2013.]

Let’s talk about loyalty

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One of my favorite lines in any movie is the line in the Princess Bride, when Vizzini repeatedly says, “Inconceivable.” That’s not the line. The line was in response, when Inigo Montoya (played by the incomparable Mandy Patinkin) said, “You keep using that word! I do not think it means what you think it means.”

There’s another word being thrown around in Washington, and that’s loyalty. Yet, after hearing how some use this word, I do not think it means what they think it means. The basic definition is, “a strong feeling of support or allegiance.” When it comes to Washington, the question is, “Allegiance to what?” Here are the options:

  • To the party, keeping the party line at all costs.
  • To a person, pledging allegiance to that person, whether in truth or in lie.
  • To the Constitution, you know, the laws that govern our Republic.

For Christians, our loyalty is found in the Great Commission and Great Commandment:

  1. Love the triune God with everything you have. He never changes in His steadfast love and faithfulness.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself–not just who lives next door to you, but according to Luke 10:25-37, everyone, friend or enemy, is your neighbor.
  3. Lifestyle of making disciples.

In earthly administrations, loyalty is often seen as covering up a lie or a problem that could expose inappropriate relationships or behavior, which is a problem. Churches could be ones who cover up inappropriate relationships or behavior in order to keep their reputation in place. Any whistleblowers will be dismissed.

Our primary allegiance is to Jesus, to His Word, and to the truth. We love God, love neighbor, and make disciples based on loving truth as found in His Word. The Spirit comes alongside us to make this possible.

Jesus is enough to be loyal to the right things.

How 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is a prayer list to pray for your pastors

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In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, we see the qualifications for a pastor (overseer) that must guide every church in selecting their pastors and elders.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Looking at these qualifications, we see nothing of looks or education.  As D.A. Carson once said, “The remarkable aspect of these qualifications are how unremarkable they are.” With the exception of being “able to teach” and being a “recent convert,” every qualification must mark the Christian.

Pray for your pastor in these five areas:

  1. Strong character.  
  2. Strong competency in teaching the Word.
  3. Strong homelife.
  4. Strong, mature faith.
  5. Strong reputation outside the church.

Will you take time to pray for your pastors?  Pastors, will you take time to pray in your closet about these matters as well?

Everyone will put expectations on their pastors that may or may not be anchored in Scripture. Let’s reboot and make sure they are, so they are free and unhindered in ministering the gospel of Jesus inside and outside the church.

Six things to do when making changes to an existing ministry

Pastors of established churches often come in to said established churches with varying ideas, cultures, and agendas–ready to unleash these ‘incredible’ ideas on the church. Regardless of how needed or solid these ideas are, pastors of these churches should take a couple of breathes and consider these steps before making changes:

  1. Pray, seeking God’s wisdom. After all, it’s His church!
  2. Find out the history of the particular ministry. If that person who began that ministry is still in the church, talk to them and tell them your heart as their pastor. This goes a long way into them seeing that your thinking is not simply arbitrary, and you show them you care about them, not just your vision.
  3. See if the initial purpose of the ministry is being met either in that ministry or somewhere else. Every program or ministry has a shelf life. Many fall in love with the program for its own sake, even if that shelf life has expired. Talk with other key leaders to see if this ministry is being met elsewhere.
  4. If not, can we find ways to meet that need in another way or in another lane that refreshes this Great Commission purpose? If you have two missions programs or ministries, bring them under one umbrella. If you have Sunday School and small groups, find a way to marry them or to pour into one or the other.
  5. How do we communicate this lovingly and well? Teach about the purpose from Scripture. See, change is tough for established church members. Communicating lovingly and thoroughly is critical for the unity and harmony of the church. Not everyone may understand the need for the change, no matter how well the pastor or leaders communicate.
  6. Listen to the heart of the people. Many times, leaders only hear what their parishoners are saying, rather than what they are saying. The ‘thing’ that may be upsetting them may not be the main ‘thing.’ Established churches have history. And with that history comes fear, hurt, and every other kind of painful emotion because of the various ups and downs that happen. The longer the history, the more probability for hurt. Plus, every ‘thing’ that any pastor does looks similar to a hurtful ‘thing’ that happened in the past. Reminders are everywhere, good and bad. Listen to the heart of your people. Love them. Pray with and for them.
  7. Once change takes place, move forward, going at the speed of God. If the changes does take place, continue to look back at how this is in line with everything the church stands for in the Great Commission and Great Commandment, but look forward and move on to the next area and repeat these steps.

What steps have you taken that helps move change along in established churches?

Does Sarcasm Belong in a Preacher’s Arsenal?


Sarcasm: \ˈsär-ˌka-zəm\ Function:noun Etymology:French or Late Latin; French sarcasme, from Late Latin sarcasmos, from Greek sarkasmos, from sarkazein to tear flesh, bite the lips in rage, sneer, from sark-, sarx flesh; probably akin to Avestan thwarəs- to cutDate:  1550 1: a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain2 a: a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, andoften ironic language that is usually directed against an individual b: the use or language of sarcasm.

Sarcasm is a powerful literary device.  In fact, as I googled “examples of sarcasm,” I had the distinct privilege (sarcasm intended) of coming across an organization called the Sarcasm Society.  As you could imagine, they are all for this:

Sarcasm usually requires a quick wit, and the ability to extract the
minutest points of weakness in a conversation. So it is quite unlikely
that it is the lowest form of humor as some would like to call it. Perhaps not being able to enjoy sarcasm is directly related to not having the ability to come up with sarcastic comments, which in turn creates a feeling of inadequacy, which in turn can spawn a Napoleon complex, that can cause someone to logicise that sarcasm is the humor of the stupid.

According to them, HouseThe Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report are prime examples of those who make frequent use of sarcasm.

The question is, does sarcasm belong in a preacher’s arsenal?  The answer is an unequivocal “No — if it is directed toward a person!” Groucho Marx used to say, “I never forget a face — but in your case I’ll make an exception.”  That’s sarcasm that is personal, attacking a specific feature on an individual.  Remember this rule:  humor at the expense of someone is never funny.

Yes, we can also answer that sarcasm can be used.  While comedians may use this and generate a laugh, by definition sarcasm is intended to exploit “points of weakness in a conversation” and cause “pain.”  Preachers should work to exploit flaws in logic when it comes to doctrinal issues.  An example: they include a quote used by many preachers:

“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” – Anonymous

This is a poignant quote which exposes the weakness of someone who believes going to church makes you a Christian.

What do you think?  Do you believe sarcasm belongs in the conversation or even the sermon of an expository preacher?

A tough test for a missionary candidate


A great story from Charles Spurgeon:

From some one or other I heard in conversation of a plan adopted by Matthew Wilks, for examining a young man who wanted to be a missionary; the drift, if not the detail of the test, commends itself to my judgment though not to my taste. The young man desired to go to India as a missionary in connection with the London Missionary Society. Mr. Wilks was appointed to consider his fitness for such a post. He wrote to the young man, and told him to call upon him at six o’clock the next morning. The brother lived many miles off, but he was at the house at six o’clock punctually. Mr. Wilks did not, however, enter the room till hours after. The brother waited wonderingly, but patiently. 

At last, Mr. Wilks arrived, and addressed the candidate thus, in his usual nasal tones, “Well, young man, so you want to be a missionary?” “Yes, Sir.” “Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ?” “Yes, Sir, I hope I do.” “And have you had any education?” “Yes, Sir, a little.” 

“Well, now, we’ll try you; can you spell ‘cat’?” The young man looked confused, and hardly knew how to answer so preposterous a question. His mind evidently halted between indignation and submission, but in a moment he replied steadily, “C, a, t, cat.” 

“Very good,” said Mr. Wilks; “now can you spell ‘dog’?” Our young martyr hesitated, but Mr. Wilks said in his coolest manner, “Oh, never mind; don’t be bashful; you spelt the other word so well that I should think you will be able to spell this: high as the attainment is, it is not so elevated but what you might do it without blushing.” The youthful Job replied, “D, o, g, dog.” 

“Well, that is right; I see you will do in your spelling, and now for your arithmetic; how many are twice two?” It is a wonder that Mr. Wilks did not receive “twice two” after the fashion of muscular Christianity, but the patient youth gave the right reply and was dismissed.

 Matthew Wilks at the committee meeting said, “I cordially recommend that young man; his testimonials and character I have duly examined, and besides that, I have given him a rare personal trial such as few could bear. I tried his self-denial, he was up in the morning early; I tried his temper, and I tried his humility; he can spell ‘cat’ and ‘dog,’ and can tell that ‘twice two make four,’ and he will do for a missionary exceedingly well.” 

Now, what the old gentleman is thus said to have done with exceedingly bad taste, we may with much propriety do with ourselves. We must try whether we can endure brow-beating, weariness, slander, jeering, and hardship; and whether we can be made the off-scouring of all things, and be treated as nothing for Christ’s sake.

— Lectures to My Students, Kindle Location 760 (only 99 cents on Kindle).

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