Tag Archives: Heart

A Matter of Trust

21 Mar

trustYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we learned that God has provided us with the latest, up to date, accurate road map that offers a guarantee on finding the destination . . . if we’ll just use it. Staying on God’s highway will cause you to depart from evil. It doesn’t mean evil will be eliminated from your life, but it won’t take hold of you because you evaluate it from God’s perspective. Solomon tied the dreadful sin of pride with robbery – an angle you may not have previously looked at. The prosperity of the thief is short lived, so that’s not even an option for the Christ follower. Society tells us life is all about us, but that’s a deviation from God’s plan. Life here on earth is all about God and life in eternity is all about God. You’ve probably heard that you can’t trust anyone, but this morning, we’ll see how trust plays into real life.

Proverbs 16:20-23 says, “He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it,
But the discipline of fools is folly. The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips.”

Who can you trust? It’s a question often asked. Some people will say, “You can’t trust anyone.” Others will say you can’t trust certain people. There are people that have betrayed your trust that resulted in you trusting no one and then conclude, “I have trust issues.” You’ve heard me say, “You can trust me.” So what’s Solomon talking about? He says, “He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.”  So we have to first know what the word is. Pro. 13:13 says, “The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, but the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.” Solomon is talking about a willingness to place yourself under the authority of the written Word of God. Just because someone doesn’t like the Bible, understand it, believe it, or follow it, doesn’t mean it’s not applicable. People can disagree and hate the Bible, but it doesn’t make it less applicable to them. Even if they don’t know everything in it, they’re still accountable to it and so are we as believers. When you pay attention to the commandments, teachings, and principles of Scripture, you’ll find good. Good in this verse means pleasant and joyful; that which pleases the senses or give moral satisfaction. Paul uses the Greek form of the word good when he says, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom. 7:12)

We don’t need to be afraid of the word of God because it brings life changing instruction for us. “Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” That means that you lay aside what you don’t understand and you simply place your confidence in the One that created all that you see around you. You place your complete confidence in the One that hand crafted the human body. You place your complete trust in the One that keeps the stars in the sky, that causes the earth to continue rotating that gives us night and day, that gives us glorious sunrises and sunsets. You’re placing your complete confidence in the One that knows tomorrow as well as He knows yesterday. It is a choice and the choice is yours. Remember, this phrase is attached to the previous phrase about giving attention to the word. It’s the written word of God. When you read it, study it, and get to know the Author of it, it becomes easier to place your complete confidence in the Lord.

The proof is in the pudding. Most people that you are around probably have a good idea about who you really are. It’s very difficult to hide your true identity from those people that you spend a lot of time with. Your family, co-workers, and classmates probably are not fooled by who you really are. Sometimes, people of faith go undercover. Don’t be afraid of revealing your true identity of faith. Don’t apologize for being a follower of Christ. If you’re a true follower, you’ll never be able to hide it anyway because you will be different. That’s what Solomon is saying here, “The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” Let’s break this down and start with, “The wise in heart.”  The heart is the same heart that Solomon refers to as the center of who you are that we’ve seen numerous times. If you’re wise in heart, it’s who you are regardless of how you came to be like that. Contextually, we’re talking biblical wisdom as we’ve seen before. I think we’ve established throughout this study that real wisdom comes from God; real wisdom comes from  understanding the Bible and when you have that understanding, other people will recognize it in you. That’s why you will be called understanding.

Our behavior says a lot about who we are. If you have some time, I encourage to look at Acts 11:19-26. The people recognized their actions and called them Christians. It happened in Antioch first because the people were acting like Christ and other people called them Christians. We didn’t come up with the description ourselves. Other people saw Christ in these early disciples and concluded they were like Him. When you are wise in heart, the conclusion is that you are controlled by Christ. Since you’re controlled by Christ, you have the fruit of self-control. Since you have self-control, you’re able to control what, when, and how you say things. This is the, “Sweetness of speech” in the verse. The Hebrew word for sweetness can also be translated pleasant and persuasiveness is better translated learning. When we take it all together, Solomon is conveying the idea that when wisdom fills your heart, you’re able to increase learning in others. People will be drawn to you to find out what makes you tick; they’ll seek you out for answers to life’s issues because you exude wisdom, not in a haughty arrogant way, but a confidence in knowing who you serve.

This leads directly into the next verse. “Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it, but the discipline of fools is folly.” We’ve seen where understanding comes from. I’m not talking about understanding how atoms split to make energy or how an engine works. I’m talking about understanding what really matters. I think we’ve been pretty clear about that. The only thing that matters here is preparation for eternity. We all need a fundamental understanding of what is at stake so we have the proper perspective. When Jesus came to earth and walked around Galilee and Jerusalem, it wasn’t just to teach great things or provide an example to follow. He understood the importance of what He was called to do. I think many of us discount the importance of what we are called to do. That fountain of life flows freely from those who have the understanding of their purpose. The purpose I’m talking about is far more important than a vocation. We have a vocation to fund our primary calling and that primary calling is the same for every believer. We are to point people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. When a believer has that purpose in mind, it’s like a free flowing fountain that satisfies all who drink from it.

The opposite is also true. “But the discipline of fools is folly.” Discipline here doesn’t mean punishment, it means learning. You’ve heard of academic disciplines. That’s the meaning here. Solomon is talking about areas of learning, but it can also be applied to the nonsense that fools teach. Foolish people tend to get more and more foolish because as they live their lives in their foolishness, they tend to move farther and farther away from wisdom. Solomon gives us another restated verse when he says, “The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips.”

Trusting people can be a difficult thing to do, but God is not asking you to trust Him without good reason. When you get to know the God of the Bible, you’ll see He is exactly who He says He is and you really can trust Him. When you trust Him, you’ll be blessed – you’ll find favor with God. When you gain knowledge of God through the Bible, you’ll also gain understanding which leads to wisdom. That wisdom is easily recognized by people around you and provides them a limitless refreshing fountain of life if they’ll only listen to the godly wisdom that is contained within you. Fools don’t have that persuasiveness of speech. They just have nonsense. When it comes to eternity, don’t be a fool.

I Did It My Way

26 Oct

Frank

Check out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon talked about sacrifice. There are prescribed methods to sacrifice laid out in the Old Testament that have far reaching implications in the New Testament and for us today. The sacrifices of the wicked are not pleasing to God because they’re simply going through the motions of sacrifice without a transformed heart. We’re to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord. This morning, Solomon talks more about the wicked and how they really are and he minces no words.

Proverbs 15:9-11 says, The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LordBut He loves one who pursues righteousness.  Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die. Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord, How much more the hearts of men!”

Let’s get right to it. Solomon is a pretty straight forward guy when he says, “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but He loves one who pursues righteousness.” This seems totally contrary to those people, even in the church, that says God loves everyone and He just wants us happy. In this verse, we have a very clear contrast in how God feels about two groups of people. Last week we focused on the sacrifices of the wicked and didn’t spend any time on how God viewed those sacrifices. It’s not that the sacrifices weren’t the right ones necessarily; it’s because they were offered as outward gestures only. It’s like putting a band-aid on an infected cut. You’ve got to treat the infection.

Abomination is a tough word to define, but it conveys the idea of rotting flesh. Think about food left in a refrigerator for a few weeks with no power.       Think about fish carcasses left in a cooler. Think about meat left outside in the sun or road kill that has maggots crawling all in it. The odor is overpowering and so thick you can taste it. Now you’re getting a sense of what abomination means. “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” The way indicates lifestyle, habits, outside actions, and inner thoughts. This is who they are and that’s why they are an abomination. It’s not that God doesn’t love them as a person. So you’re asking how can such harsh words be spoken by Solomon on behalf of God? Do your kids ever do anything that is detestable to you? Have they ever acted in a manner contrary to your rules? Have they ever been disobedient? Thoughtless? Careless? Have they ever done something their own way instead of the way you prescribed? Of course you still love them. We wrongly conclude that just because God hates something, that somehow contradicts His love. Paul said in Rom. 5:8, But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners,  Christ died for us.” The only way to be set free from wickedness is through the power of the Holy Spirit through salvation. The wicked do it their way and that is not acceptable to God.

There is an important principle I don’t want you to miss. The contrast to the wicked is that God, “loves one who pursues righteousness.” Pursue means follow after. There is an understanding by the writers of Scripture that when you pursue righteousness, you will grow more and more like Christ. That righteousness will get noticed by God and by people following God. Let me tell you about two men from the olden days: one named Paul and the other named Timothy. When you look at how they met in Lystra, it’s pretty exciting. There are people that believe Paul led Timothy to the Lord, but Scripture doesn’t support that. Acts 16:1-2 says, “Paul also came to Derbe and Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.” The brethren of Lystra, the followers of Christ, spoke well of Timothy – he was already a disciple; a follower of Christ. That’s why Paul wanted Timothy to go with him as he continued his second missionary journey. Then in his first letter to Timothy, Paul gives him instructions for what to do because he will be left in Ephesus as Paul makes his way to Macedonia. As Paul gets to chapter six, he goes into some character qualities that are not consistent with the way of Christ. In 1 Tim 6:11 Paul says, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Pursue is an action word. Timothy is ordered to pursue, to run after, to seek after those godly characteristics with the idea that you will get increasingly closer to the goal. It’s a non-stop activity. In Phil. 3:13 Paul said, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Paul wrote those words about 30 years after his conversion to Christ. We have a mindset that everything should come quickly. Paul was still reaching forward, was still pursuing, was not quitting even after decades of faithful service to Christ. God loves that quality in us. He loves when we keep going. He loves how we get more and more like His one and only Son.

There is a but. While God loves those that pursue righteousness because the idea is you are running after Jesus, there is an alternate reality for many people. “Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die.” Notice who the punishment is reserved for. He expects us to pursue righteousness, but these people are forsaking the way. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14) Few people will find the way. There are many reasons for that and ultimately, the choice is an individual choice. I wonder if we put as much effort into persuading people to live for Christ as we did to persuade people to vote for a certain candidate, how would our communities change? I wonder if we put as much effort into our relationship with Christ as we did our jobs, how would our community change? I wonder if we put as much effort into our walk with Christ as we did anything else on this earth, how would our lives be different and also, how would the lives of those around us be different? Few people find the way of Jesus because we have professing believers not living for Jesus. Yes, everyone has a decision to make, but Solomon is saying the, “grievous punishment is for those that forsake the way.” That means they must know what the way is, they just don’t want anything to do with it. When you point it out, the wicked hate it. God wants a relationship with everyone and as Peter says, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9)

While that is true, there will be people – many people – that reject the truth of Jesus Christ. “Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord.” It would be easy to conclude that Solomon is talking about the destination of the wicked and at first glance that’s what I thought. We’ve got to look at this in the context of the chapter. Sheol is a Hebrew word to identify the place of the dead whether righteous or wicked. Job 26:6 says, “Naked is Sheol before Him, and Abaddon has no covering.” Solomon is saying that God knows what’s going on in every corner of every place. There are no limits to His presence; nothing is hidden from Him. Since this is true, Solomon concludes, “How much more the hearts of men!” The heart is the seat of emotion, the center of our being, and the source of what comes out in our life. Matt. 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” You can’t fool God.

Everything about the wicked is a stench to God. Of course God wants everyone to come to the conclusion that He is the only way and choose to follow Him. His ways are right and holy and pure, but time is running out. There is a time coming that will be too late, where the choice made is an eternal choice. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thes. 4:16-18)

You can do it your way and spend eternity separated from Him or do it His way and spend eternity with Him. It seems like it’s an easy choice.

No One Truly Knows the Sorrow I’m In

24 Aug

SorrowYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we saw the shocking truth that liars lie. Lying is not part of the makeup of an authentic believer. Scoffers continue their scoffing and they wouldn’t recognize wisdom if it came up and slapped them in the face. The other side is that knowledge is easy for a person that understands that God is the source of wisdom. Fools have no standard of truth and therefore make fun of absolutes and those that hold to them. This morning, we’re going to look at a troubling concept.

In Pro. 14:10-12 Solomon says, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy. The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish. There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

So what about the heart? There are lots of things we say about the heart. Your heart knows best. It’s what’s in your heart that matters. He has a heart of gold or he has a bleeding heart. We’ve had a change of heart, we’ve eaten our hearts out, and we’ve crossed our hearts. We set our heart on something and we also lose heart. We need to be careful with the heart.

Bruce Springsteen had a, “Hungry Heart.” Rod Stewart counted, “Every Beat of My Heart.” Bryan Adams spoke, “Straight from the Heart.” Madonna said, “Open Your Heart.” Janis Joplin gave him, “A Piece of My Heart.” Elton John and Kiki Dee said, “Don’t go breakin’ My Heart.” The Backstreet Boys promised, “I’ll Never Break Your Heart.” The Eagles declared there would be, “Heartache Tonight.” Patsy Cline sang about, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” which led to Dionne Warwick singing about, “Heartbreaker.” Billy Ray Cyrus developed an, “Achy Breaky Heart.” Bonnie Tyler had, “A Total Eclipse of the Heart” which caused the Bee Gees to ask the question, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?”  Tina Turner answered that question when she sang, “When the Heartache Is Over” and Yes became an, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” The Beatles decided to form a club and called it, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” All this occurred at Elvis Presley’s, “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Jeremiah tells us, The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.” (Jer. 17:9) Solomon says, “The heart knows its own bitterness.” So can you trust your heart or not? This seems to be a contrary statement to Jeremiah’s, but we have to let scripture interpret Scripture and read the Bible on more than a casual level. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” (Matt. 15:19) What’s really interesting is that very few times in the Bible does the word heart actually deal with the organ that pumps blood throughout the body. The heart is the center of emotion and is often used metaphorically to describe personality, will, intellect, and memory.

When Solomon talks about the heart knowing its own bitterness, he means that no one can truly know how you feel. It’s true that we can have an idea or we empathize with someone going through a tough time. We can celebrate with others when they celebrate, but this is never the context of empathy. Even when we have experienced the same thing as another, we cannot know exactly how that person feels. No two people are alike. People have various backgrounds, come from different places, were raised with different values and ideals, have different life experiences, and are at different places in the walk of faith with Christ. There is an old Italian proverbs that says, “To everyone his own cross seems heaviest.” We are incapable of truly knowing what’s going on in someone’s heart. But there is someone that knows you better than you know yourself. There is someone that does understand all your idiosyncrasies, your background, your values, understands how all of that has shaped your personality, and loves you with an eternal love. “And a stranger does not share its joy.” How can he? He doesn’t know you from Adam. The idea is that you can and should share feelings with another, but no one can truly know how you feel and they don’t need to in order to effectively minister the love, grace, mercy, and hope found in Christ.

Here’s a familiar theme. Verse 11 reminds us, “The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.” We saw this principle in 3:33 and 12:7. We’ll also see it when we get to 21:12. Remember that wickedness will never win out. There may seem to be short term wins, but eternity is where it matters.

The proverb I want to sit on for a while is found next. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” During the time of the judges, “There was no king in Israel, every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jud. 17:6, 21:25) This was not a good time in Israel’s history. Idolatry and apostasy abounded. The people forgot the fundamental principles that brought them there. It became a land of situational ethics and individual morality. There were no standards. All of the things I’ve been saying in recent weeks comes full circle. When a person’s heart becomes the center of right and wrong, we’re in for a world of hurt. When society follows its own desires, chaos typically results. Even though we live in a culture with rules and laws, we still tend to determine what we want to do regardless of the rules. That’s why our jails are full and our courts are backed up. That’s why we have trouble in the home and trouble in the workplace. The natural man or woman, and the natural boy or girl tends to do what they think is right even when given clear instructions. When questioned on why they didn’t do as instructed, you get the answer, “I didn’t feel like it.” “I knew that, but . . .” or “I thought it best to . . .” or “I wanted to. . .” There are ways that seem right, but death results. It seems right to someone that doesn’t have a biblical worldview, that doesn’t have a relationship with the Creator, that hasn’t spent time knowing God, that doesn’t walk in wisdom. That’s one of the reasons that professing believers also tend to do what comes naturally. It stems from the same sin that led to Satan’s demise. It’s the sin of pride. It is the declaration that the creation knows more than the Creator. I can offer the guarantee that if you fail to follow Christ, you will die. That death is an eternal death. Jesus said in Matt. 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

It’s very challenging to upset the apple cart; to speak things that are so contrary to the way people think and act. It can be difficult to expose yourself to ridicule and hatred and persecution, but I wonder what would happen if people of faith would quit. People can ignore the complexity and beauty of nature, can dismiss the intricacies and diversity of the human being, and can ignore absolute truth. But how can people discount the transformation that takes place in the heart of an authentic believer? How can people dismiss God’s ultimate work of creation? Because we fail to live up to the expectations Christ has for us. Make today the day that you begin living for Christ. Let us be a people that demonstrate the transforming power of Christ so that everyone can see what Jesus is capable of.

There is Hope

20 Jul

HopeCheck out the podcast here.

Last week we learned that it’s better if our kids listened to us. Having good, compliant, respectful kids makes parenting look easy. We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover though because looks can be deceiving. Just because you’re wealthy by the world’s standards means nothing. Money has nothing to do with wealth in God’s economy, but it is better to work hard to obtain what you do have than it is to be handed it. This morning, we’ll see some principles you probably have heard of, but maybe didn’t know came from God.

I encourage you to read Pro. 13:12-19 so we understand where Solomon is coming from.

Solomon opens up with something you probably have experienced. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Everyone has hopes and dreams. Society often dictates these hopes and dreams. Get an education, get married, have kids, have a great job that fulfills you, build that dream home or what is now being called the forever home. Even in the church, we have fallen into the marks of success of defined by society. When those hopes and dreams go unrealized, sometimes we’re defined as failures or at the very least, we feel like failures. To put it into something we can readily understand, think about the promotion you feel was deserved that you didn’t get. Think about the test that you studied so hard for and came up short. Think about the mortgage you applied for that you didn’t get. Think about the ungodly decisions that have come at the hands of our elected leadership.

Solomon is talking about something far more important. The Bible goes beyond those ever changing marks of achievement where you were taught to work hard to achieve what you want. We’ve already learned that this is a good virtue to have, but there is something even more important that leads to this work ethic. As we move through this passage, we’ll see that it has to do with something Solomon has hammered on and that’s character. It’s far more important to develop virtuous character which is borne out of diligent examination of the Scriptures, seeking and listening to wise counsel, and engaging in a lifestyle of Christian community. The biblical outcome of that life long process is a maturing, growing, loving, kind, Christ like individual that lives each day passionately and zealously pursuing Christ in authenticity. Notice I said lifelong process. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. There are too many people in the church that give up or give in. Some folks are unwilling to stick it out. They’ve prayed for weeks and God hasn’t answered. They’ve been serving God for months and don’t see the fruit of their labor. Our fast paced society filled with “I want it now” people are unwilling to persevere for the long haul. Over the years here at C4, we’ve seen many people come and go. Folks have transferred or moved away, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people that are gifted or talented to serve in particular ways, but don’t want to get involved to build something for God. People want to get in on what’s exciting and happening and growing, but it seems like they don’t want to do the work necessary to make it so. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, real ministry is hard work. When our hopes are in things of the world, they can easily be crushed to smithereens. “But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” We’ll see this conclusion is solidified later in v. 19. Think of those desires that are fulfilled and the feeling that you have. Joy, gratitude, peace, confidence, trust, and of course, hope. This comes from knowing who God is and His unchanging character.

In the next verse, Solomon says you don’t have to like it. “The one who despises the word will be in debt to it.” I think of people that ignore good, solid biblical guidance. This is not so much a perception issue as it is a defining issue. We are experiencing this in ways that are quite shocking. Anytime we quote the Bible in reference to almost any type of behavior we are labeled hate mongers, intolerant, judgmental, unloving, and unkind. Solomon is talking about a willingness to place yourself under the authority of the written Word of God. Just because someone doesn’t like the Bible, understand it, believe it, or follow it, doesn’t mean it’s not applicable. You can despise the law, but you still have to follow it. You can really hate stopping completely at a stop sign, but when you violate the law and get caught, you will be in debt to it. That’s the reality for lost people. People can disagree and hate the Bible, but it doesn’t make it less applicable to them. Even if they don’t know everything in it, they’re still accountable to it and so are we as believers. For us, “The one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.” This isn’t a terrified type of deal. This is reverence, respect, a willingness to trust that God knows what is going on, that He knows the best way for us to live, that He knows what’s what. Do you find it hard to do that?

Let me give you some perspective. You’re sick and go to the doctor and you trust that doctor to provide you with the medical care necessary to make you feel better. Your car breaks down and you go to the mechanic and trust him to correctly identify the problem and fix it. You trust the school teachers to adequately prepare your children to gain and understand the principles necessary to be productive members of society. You trust the bank to take care of the money you put there on deposit. So it’s not really a matter of trust because I just established that we are pretty free with our trust. Sure you might get a second opinion or you might send your child to a different school, but the bottom line is you’re still trusting. The one who may not understand the whys or the hows or the details of the Bible, but trusts in the unseen power of the One and only true God, well he will be rewarded. Don’t look for a check in the mail or anything you might actually put your hands on though. That may not be how God chooses to reward you. The for sure thing is eternity. What I’d recommend is that you put at least the same trust in the Creator of all things as you do your family practitioner, your kid’s teacher, or the bank that holds your money. Always default to God loves and cares more for you than any other living creature on this planet.

I encourage you to commit Jer. 29:11 to memory: “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Paul brings it home by saying, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)

Back in Proverbs, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life.” Fountain is also translated spring which gives us the idea of a never ending source and that’s what Solomon is saying here. You’ll never be able to reach the bottom of the wisdom found in God’s Word. The water continues to flow and never runs out. Through God’s Word, we know Him more intimately. We can better understand His character and His purposes for us. We understand how to deal with the obstacles and challenges of life. His Word provides the road map, “To turn aside from the snares of death.” When you are diligent to study God’s Word, when you are diligent to walk with Christ, when you are diligent to worship God in spirit and in truth, when you are diligent to engage in Christian community, when you are diligent in your walk with Christ, you’re able to recognize the traps being set for us by Satan. Some common traps we’re faced with. I’m too far gone for God to forgive me. God will not use me. Nobody likes me or cares about me. It’s my life and my body. What I do in private is no one’s business. No one will know. I’m as good as the next guy. Solomon says, “Good understanding produces favor.” All those traps are recognized when we are engaged in the fundamental principles of the faith. You may think you’re too far gone, but 1 Jo. 1:9 reminds that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  You may think God won’t use you, but be like Isaiah when he said, “Here am I, send me.” We may conclude that people don’t care about us, but we go back to the truth in 1 Pet. 5:7 that tells us to cast, “All your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” The common thread in most of the traps Satan sets is he gets us to focus on ourselves. When we have the understanding that Solomon encourages, we can recognize and address the issues. Good understanding is built on the foundation of God’s Word and in the context with which it is written.

The opposite way is just that. “The way of the treacherous is hard.” This is another understatement. He’s not talking about difficulty here as in hard to do or understand. He’s talking about overall pain and suffering involved in the way of the treacherous. Sin is slavery. Slavery is awful. And he does not necessarily mean right now. We need to think eternally rather than in the here and now. “Every prudent man acts with knowledge.” He’s cautious, not reckless. He does not get involved in things he does not know about or in things that are not his concern. “A fool displays folly.” Again, opposite of the person that acts with wisdom. The next verse is a reference to the olden days, but has a very modern application. “A wicked messenger falls into adversity, but a faithful envoy brings healing.”

We need to remind ourselves that we haven’t always had the conveniences we enjoy today. We have people alive today that have always had the internet, have always had instantaneous communication, have always had the ability to get information right now. You talk to someone that has lived four decades and they didn’t always have cable TV, cell phones, or computers. You talk to someone five decades old and they didn’t always have color TV and their telephone was attached to a wall and their number had letters in it. You talk to someone six decades old and they were only beginning to watch coast to coast live news. Messengers were sent on foot or horseback to hand carry the news back in Solomon’s day. So let’s bring this verse to 2015. If we only shared the judgment of God, or the bad news, we’re doing everyone a disservice. This also applies to half truths, scriptural misrepresentation, gossip, and just plain old lies. I saw this humorously depicted when one of my Facebook friends posted a quote. “The trouble with quotes on the internet is you never know if they are genuine.” (Abraham Lincoln) Solomon closes in vs. 18-19.

There is hope. If you receive instruction from Scripture, you will be better off. If you don’t pay attention to those people around you that are wiser, older, and more experienced, you’ll find yourself on the impoverished side of life. Solomon is not necessarily talking about poverty, but that may happen too. He’s more concerned with how we live our lives; with how we behave, with how we interact with others so that they may know the hope we have in Christ.

The Scarlet Letter

16 Feb

Scarlet LetterYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week we walked down memory lane as Solomon reminded his son of some great principles. Remember the commandments and instructions that he taught. Those instructions will provide the path of righteousness to keep you from people that do not have your best interests in mind. Specifically, stay away from another man’s wife; stay away from another woman’s husband. When it comes to the adulteress’s husband, there will be no satisfying his rage. This morning, as is his custom to this point, Solomon reminds his son about the instructions he has been given and then gives some more warnings about the adulteress.

You really need your Bible for this one. Take a look at Pro. 7:1-5 as we begin with a general reminder. Solomon opens up the chapter with some general reminder principles. He uses some great phrases like, “Keep my words.” “Treasure  . . . keep my commandments.” He opened up this book by saying, Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” (Pro. 1:8) Take care of God’s commandments; hold on to them because they are valuable. It’s a theme given throughout Scripture. 1 John 2:3, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”

“Keep my teaching as the apple of your eye.” This is a really great phrase and it doesn’t mean what you might think. Being the apple of one’s eye typically means you cherish something. The word translated apple literally means pupil. It is the center of the eye that allows light to enter. That light falls on the retina where it is translated to the image you see just like a projector displays images on a screen. It’s an incredible process that we take for granted. If the light no longer is allowed to enter our eye, we trip, we fall, we stumble, we can’t find our way, and we wander. Without the eye, we are rendered blind. Consider what Solomon is saying to his son and to us. Keep the instructions I have given you. While the eye is essential to keep one from stumbling on a literal path, Solomon’s instructions are essential for keeping us on God’s holy path. “Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.” This seems to refer to the Jewish custom of binding the phylacteries on the hand and forehead. Phylacteries were little boxes that would be tied to the hands and forehead that contained four Scripture passages: Ex. 13:1-10, 11-16, Deut. 6:4-9, 11:13-21. Each passage refers to the binding of God’s Word to your hands and foreheads. At the very least, it means remember what the Word says.

And now Solomon tells his son to speak to wisdom. “Say to wisdom, you are my sister, and call understanding your intimate friend.” Wisdom is again personified as a person. In Matt. 12:50 Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” So we’re not talking a literal relationship, but a type of relationship that would be very close, personal, and intimate. That person can and should be trusted. Solomon’s rationale for these reminders is found in v. 5. The idea is that when love fills your heart and you are guided by the fundamental principles of Scripture, you won’t do things that are unwise or ungodly. If you think that is overly simplified, well it kind of is. People who routinely make poor choices rarely consult Scripture or biblical principles prior to making that decision. Others may consult Scripture then choose to ignore its teaching. It goes back to all those great reminders about keeping and treasuring God’s Word. You cannot say you hold God’s Word dearly when you choose to ignore it.

Solomon says, “Picture this.” He has personified wisdom in previous passages, but now he provides an actual example of something he has seen. Read through vs. 6-23 to get the word picture in your mind of what’s happening. I want to highlight some of the key things in this passage. Solomon says he spots, “A young man lacking sense.” We don’t know the age of the young man, but it seems like he’s not out looking to get himself into trouble. He’s out and about and passes by what Solomon says is “her” corner. Look at the time phrases, “In the twilight, in the evening, in the middle of the night and in the darkness.” So this young man is really walking back and forth, waiting until she happens to come by. The great guidance from Pro. 5:8 that says, “Keep your way far from her and do not go near the door of her house” is totally blown off. His wait is rewarded as she comes out to meet him and get the picture of what she looks like. “Dressed as a harlot.” Harlot is defined as someone that engages in extramarital sexual relations for commercial purposes. Women dressed enticingly with the hope of luring their prey back to their houses of ill repute.

She was, “cunning of heart.” Cunning means skilled at achieving a goal by deceit  or evasion. “She is boisterous and rebellious, her feet do not stay at home.” Other translations say, “Loud and wayward,” “Loud and defiant,” and “loud and stubborn.” Consider Tit. 2:5 where Paul instructs wives, “to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” This isn’t some chauvinistic, Neanderthal thinking, but so the Word of God will not be dishonored. This woman is the opposite of godliness. She’s out and about in the in the city square when she should be at home. She tells the young man that she has given her peace offerings and has paid her vows and now she comes out to meet this young man lacking sense. It seems like she is using the offerings and vows as license. Vs. 16-17 describe her luxurious accommodations with the fine linens and spices. Verse 19 presents us with the shocking detail that she is married. Her husband is away on business and won’t return for at least a month. Don’t worry she says, we won’t be interrupted. Remember from Pro. 6:34 that, “Jealousy enrages a man.” He’ll never know, don’t sweat it. And now her plan is laid out because she is, “cunning of heart.” She is persuasive, she uses flattery, she is enticing. And the unwitting young man follows her to his death. He’s like the dumb animal that walks right up to the slaughterhouse not realizing that death awaits him. How can someone be so unwitting? How can someone be so blind to reality? How can one be led astray so quickly? Think about the crises you have gotten yourself into when you ignore clear, biblical principles and you ask yourself, “How did I get here?” When you ignore the biblical counsel of a friend, the guidance of a parent, or the wise advice of your pastor, why are you surprised when you end up in a place you don’t want to be?

Solomon provides the sobering conclusion of certainty in vs. 24-27. Once again Solomon says, “Listen to me and pay attention to my words!” Don’t be fooled, don’t get hoodwinked, don’t get taken, be wary, be careful, exercise caution, don’t wander near her! This is not her first rodeo, “For many are the victims she has cast down, and numerous are all her slain.”

If you follow the path of this adulterous woman and women like her, the road always leads to the same place. The destination is certain. “Her house is the way to Sheol, descending to the chambers of death.” If you’re on the path, get off before it’s too late. Avoid the trap Satan sets for you. If you ignore these principles, death will result.

No Regrets

29 Dec

No RegretYou can check out the podcast here.

If we think about our lives even for just a moment, we’ll think of things we could have done differently; things we shouldn’t have done, decisions we’d like a do over on. I call it what if land and it’s not a good place to be. The Apostle Paul provides us some excellent insight in his letter to the Philippians. This letter differs in some respects from any of Paul’s other letters. It contains less logic and more of the heart. His letter to the Romans has incredible logic. His letters to the Corinthians rebuked certain prevalent sins. Galatians rebukes a dangerous heresy that threatened the welfare of the Galatian churches. Ephesians unfolds the mystery of God in reference to the Gentiles. This letter is the outpouring of the love towards one of the most affectionate and faithful of all congregations which he had planted. The church at Philippi was founded in A.D. 50 or 51 (Acts 16). On his second missionary journey, Paul, led by a vision at Troas, crossed into Europe, landed at Neapolis and went directly to Philippi. Why Philippi?  It was “a leading city of the district of Macedonia.” (Acts 16:12) It is interesting to note that this was the first church planted in Europe.

Take a careful look at the incredible words of Phil. 3:1-14.

Paul begins with what is not the Way. He starts by this third chapter by telling the church what the way is not. Religious ceremonies are not the way. Paul was, “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”  (Phil 3:5-6) If anybody had a heritage to brag about it was Paul. He met all the religious requirements of a good Jew. “Circumcised the eighth day.” In strict compliance with the Law. “Of the nation of Israel.” He could trace his lineage as far back as any Jew. “From the tribe of Benjamin.” Remember that the tribe of Benjamin and the tribe of Judah were the only two tribes not to revolt under the leadership of Jeroboam and maintained their allegiance to God. The tribe of Benjamin was physically located next to the temple. “A Hebrew of Hebrews.” He belonged to a tribe that was as honorable as any other, and that had its location near the very center of religious influence; both of his parents were Jewish with no mixture of Gentile blood. Not one of his ancestors had been a proselyte, or of Gentile extraction. Paul says he was entitled to all the advantages which could be derived from it. “A Pharisee.” The Pharisees strictly adhered to every letter of the law. “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem.” (Acts 26:4) If religion could save anyone, it certainly would have saved Paul. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law.” He was zealous in his persecution of the church who he thought was in great error in doctrine. As a Jew and a Pharisee, he believed righteousness was found in the Law.

Notice how Paul introduces his religion to the Philippians: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:2-3) Look at the warnings. Dogs – the greatest insult you could give someone. The Jews called the heathen dogs, and Islam calls Jews and Christians by the same name. The term dog also is used to identify a person that is shameless, impudent, malignant, snarling, dissatisfied, and contentious. Evil workers. Probably the same people Paul considered dogs – Jews who taught that religion saved you. False circumcision – from the Greek word meaning to mutilate. These dogs and false teachers were not truly circumcised. True circumcision comes after salvation as a sign of obedience; it does not cause salvation. But Paul says, “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:3) We are the circumcision. We worship God the only way one can worship God – in Spirit. We rejoice in Christ Jesus and place no confidence in the flesh.

What is the way to God? You’ve got to look at verses 7-11 to find out. All things were loss except the knowledge of Christ Knowledge in this verse is the Greek word gnosis. This is head knowledge. Anything he had mentally. His seven religious credentials. In v. 8 Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” “Suffered the loss” comes from a Greek word that means to willingly give up. Paul gave up “all things.” Anything thing that someone might depend on for salvation: works, religion, heritage, earthly favor, position. Paul considered it rubbish. Rubbish comes from the word that means excrement. Just as you rid your body of waste, Paul wanted to rid himself all of the earthly advantages and Jewish privileges as a means of obtaining salvation. Why?  Look at what Paul says: “That I may gain Christ.”

In verses 9 and 10, Paul speaks of his own righteousness which comes from the Law. Paul wants the righteousness of Christ which can only come through faith. What is faith? Faith comes from the Greek word pistis meaning a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God. “That I may know him.” This is a different know. This is from the Greek word meaning to know and understand. Paul wants to know Christ so he could share in His sufferings and be conformed to His death. This knowledge or understanding of Christ’s sufferings is obtained by experiencing the daily challenges and needs of ministry that will draw us closer to Christ. Sharing in the Lord’s sufferings will bring you into a more meaningful and intimate relationship with Christ. Comfortable or conformed unto death has a double meaning here. Just as Jesus died because of the sin of the world, Paul is dying more and more to sin in his daily life. Remember that Paul is in prison as he writes and is prepared to die for Christ if that is what’s necessary.

In v. 11 Paul desires to attain the resurrection of the dead. In v. 12 he denies that he has attained it. The word “attained” means to have arrived at the goal and won the prize, but without having as yet received it. Paul knows Christ, but not to the fullest extent possible. He has experienced God’s power, but not to the degree he desires. He has been made like Jesus in His death, but Paul can still die to sin and self. Paul walks in newness of life, but there is still room for improvement. Paul didn’t think he arrived after 25 years of serving the Lord, so we shouldn’t either. In verse 13 Paul says, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Notice that Paul forgets those things that are in the past. The wrongs you have done. The sins you have committed. The things you should have done, but never did. The things Satan tells you cannot be forgiven. Put all of them behind you and forget them. In his pursuit to know Christ, Paul refuses to let guilt drag him down and doesn’t rest on past accomplishments. We don’t sail on yesterday’s wind. He’s pressing toward the mark. What is the mark? The mark is contained in vs. 10 and 11. Be like minded with Paul because his thinking comes from the Lord.  If you don’t think like Paul, the Lord will reveal it to you.

Are you living in the past or allowing Christ to renew and refresh you? Are you repeating mistakes or sins of the past? Rom. 8:1 reminds us, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Body Control

17 Nov

Body ControlYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told his son to hear and accept his sayings. He’s talking about sound teaching because they are the things of God. He spoke of two paths. One path is the road of wisdom while the other is the road of wickedness. The path of wisdom is bright and the path of wickedness is dark. You can see where you’re going on one path, but the other causes you to trip over things you cannot even see. This morning, Solomon tells his son to control his behavior by controlling some keys parts of his body.

I encourage you to take a moment and read Pro. 4:20-27.

We’re on some familiar ground here. If you notice, this chapter is divided into three passages that begin with the same type of phrase encouraging the young man to listen. In 4:1 he says, “Hear O sons, the instruction of a father and give attention that you may gain understanding.” In 4:10 he said, “Hear my son and accept my sayings.” Now in the third passage, Solomon begins by reminding his son of something he’s heard before. “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.” When I hear this, I think of someone telling an incredible story, a story of intrigue that captivates your mind. You’re on the edge of your seat and can barely contain your excitement. That’s the picture I get here. Do we get excited to hear what the Lord has shown someone or do our eyes glaze over and our mind drifts away? “Incline your ear to my sayings.” Remember where these instructions came from. Remember that God took the time to inspire holy men of old to write these incredible truths down. Never take these things for granted. Understand the privilege we have to read and meditate on the words of God.

“Do not let them depart from your sight.” In other words, keep your eyes on right teaching. Don’t surround yourself with people that will tell you what you want to hear, or what is popular or faddish, or what sounds good. Keep your eyes focused on what things are pure and holy and right. Keep your eyes focused squarely on God’s revelation to us. Keep these things in the, “Midst of your heart.” I’m going to skip this phrase and come back to it. Solomon is telling his son these things because, “They are life to those who find them and health to all their body.” God’s wisdom can be found. Solomon has mentioned the life part before, but there’s a word in this verse that is really cool. It is the word health. It comes from the root word that means to heal as in medicine. Solomon is literally saying the teachings of God are medicine for your soul that brings healing. If we really get a hold of this, I think it’ll change our life. There’s not a real parent out there that wouldn’t force their child to take medicine. You’ll get your spouse to help hold their arms and even hold their nose so they’ll open their mouth and you force the medicine down their throat because you know they need that medicine to fight the infection, or cold, or disease or whatever. You know it will bring healing if they’ll just take it. Solomon is telling us the same thing, but we’re too smart to listen. He tells his son pay attention, listen to me, I know what I’m talking about, you need this. Unfortunately, when it comes to the life changing healing of our soul, we think we know better. Well, we don’t know better. The words of God bring healing to your troubled soul; they bring eternal life to you.

Solomon has talked about the kid’s ears, eyes, heart, and body. In v. 23 he continues with the heart by telling his son, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Keep in mind what Solomon said in v. 21 about keeping the instructions in, “the midst of the heart.”  We often speak of the heart. God speaks to your heart, the Holy Spirit leads and guides our heart. We ask Jesus to come into our heart and live there. These are pretty common things we hear in the church, but have you ever thought about how odd that is? In most instances, the use of the word doesn’t have anything to do with the organ that pumps blood, but rather it is the center of your being. The seat of your soul. You’ve heard people say, “Trust your heart.” Or maybe, “Go with your heart.” “My heart is filled with love.” Or even, “You have to follow your heart.” Jeremiah contradicts this sentiment by saying, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”  (Jer. 17:9) Solomon says, “Watch over your heart.” The English translation loses the impact contained in the Hebrew. He’s really saying, above all things, more important than anything else, actively guard your heart. Put up a fence with razor wire, put a moat around it, put infra-red, motion activated cannons around it. Do all these things, “For from it flow the springs of life.” What a beautiful word picture there. It reminds me of John 7:38 when Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” The very same thing Solomon is telling his son.

Solomon shifts from the inner parts of the body to the outward. “Put away from you a deceitful mouth and put devious speech far from you.” Just so we’re all on the same page, this verse should be taken as one phrase that means twisted or distorted speech; speech that misrepresents what is true. In other words, this is lying. White lies, bold faced lies, lies that protect another’s feelings – they’re all lies. For many of us, the tongue gets us into more trouble than any other part of our body. James wrote about the importance of this when he said, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (Ja. 3:2) This is one of the greatest reasons to effectively guard your heart because Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (Matt. 12:34)

Solomon closes this chapter with some great guidelines to live by. Vs. 25-26 say, “Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established.” Remember Lot’s wife that did not look straight ahead? “Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.” That’s the bottom line. Don’t let anyone or anything push you off the path God has you on. If you’re not on God’s path, get there now. Remember what Solomon said just a while ago in Pro. 3:7, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.”

Solomon is talking metaphorically and literally in these verses. Keeping your eyes focused on correct, biblical teaching will help your feet stay in the right path. Don’t stretch or twist the truth. Above all this, guard and protect your heart. If Solomon’s son listens, hears, and does these things, the whole body will be healthy. If we do the same thing, our body will also be healed.

10 Things Pastors Hate To Admit Publicly

19 May

I was fortunate to have a colleague from our sister church in Rincon, GA come for a visit to our church yesterday. I got to sit back and soak in the awesomeness of Scripture as Pastor Mike preached from Matt. 14-22-33. It was a blessing. Since I had a break I decided to post an article I read last month. The original post is found here.

 If you’re a shepherd or have a shepherd’s heart, you’ll find yourself nodding your head in agreement. I’m not saying these things control us. You’ll often hear me say it’s okay to have feelings – God gave them to you, but don’t allow your feelings to control your actions. Times do get rough and tough for me, but I keep going. That’s my mindset, that’s the way I’m made, that’s the right thing to do. I am content right where I am. I have no aspirations to go anywhere or do anything other than love my wife and shepherd the people God has charged me with. So here we go. Read on. The article posted in its entirety.

From Matt Boswell, Pastor/Elder of Redemption Church in Duvall, WA.

mb-postsWhen Ellen and I were first married ministry was not our 20-year plan, the Navy was. We had it all planned out; we were to spend the next 20 years with me being gone for 15. The Navy explained to my sweet new bride how grueling it would be, that I would be gone often and that even when I was around my mind would be elsewhere. Knowing that my particular career path in the Navy would be a marriage destroyer I pursued a discharge for the pursuit of higher education. With the promise of a difficult future behind us we embarked upon an easier dream where everyone would love us and things would be calm: pastoral service.

Twenty plus years later I can tell you it has been a ride we never could have anticipated. So much so that only now do I feel equipped enough to share a few things I either lacked the clarity or courage to share until this season of life. I want to share the 10 things we as pastors don’t really want you to know about us. Now in doing so my aim is not to rat out my fellow pastors. Nor am I doing this so congregants sleep with one eye open regarding their leadership. My intention is precisely the opposite. I hope that from this:

  • Churches will pray all the more for their pastors because they understand the challenges.
  • Churches will be doubly grateful for the fact that so many pastors stay in the saddle despite their fears, hurts and frustrations.
  • People in churches will think twice before engaging in things that sink deep into the soul of their leaders.

Therefore I give a glimpse into what we as pastors don’t like to admit about ourselves.

#1. We Take It Personally When You Leave The Church.

It’s just a straight up fact. We pastors eat, drink and sleep the local church and with that have a deep desires to see it thrive. Therefore when you leave to another church because…

  • you’re bothered by a recent decision, but didn’t ask about it…
  • the new church has a bigger and better kids wing, youth group, worship team, building space, (fill in your blank)…
  • your friends started going there…

… it hits us personally.

For us it feels disloyal, shallow or consumer driven. People affirm that church is a family, thus when you up and leave because the church down the road has Slurpee dispensers, a fog machine or it’s just cooler, well it jams us pretty deep.

#2. We Feel Pressure To Perform Week After Week.

The average TV show has a multimillion-dollar budget, a staff of writers and only airs 22 weeks out of the year; that’s what we feel we’re up against. Where the pressure is doubled comes from the previous point. We know there are churches near by with a multimillion-dollar budget or a celebrity pastor who have the ability to do many more things at a much higher level. From this a sense of urgency is created in our mind to establish the same level of quality, option and excellence to meet the consumerist desires of culture.

Now if this were exclusively in the hopes of reaching new people this wouldn’t be so bad, but increasingly pastors feel the need to do this just to retain people who may be stuff struck by the “Bigger and Better” down the way.

#3. We Struggle With Getting Our Worth From Ministry.

When the numbers are up, the complements are flowing and the people are lively we feel great. When everything is level, it feels like it’s in decline. When things are actually in decline, it’s a full-tilt tailspin in our soul. We almost can’t help but equate the growth of the church with our ability/inability to produce growth. Therefore if there is any appearance of waning we feel defeated and wonder how long before the church board wises up and trades us to another team. The “Idol of Ministry” comes on and off the shelf pretty regularly in a pastor’s office.

#4. We Regularly Think About Quitting.

This comes in two very different forms.

One form is the variation of perhaps leaving ministry all together. While there are some really great things about vocational ministry, there are also less enjoyable realities such as: pastors’ families are noticed (i.e. judged) routinely, pastors’ purchases are observed (i.e. judged) overtly and pastors’ words are weighed (i.e. judged) consistently. Therefore the ability to hide among the masses and not be noticed is very appealing.

The second form comes with the desire for a change of scenery. Pastors are shepherds, thus we love greener grass even more than sheep. To leave for a bigger budget, better building or a place with less difficult people (yeah, we get delusional sometimes) stands out as lush Kentucky Bluegrass when contrasted with the dusty patch of ragged earth called “our current church.” This “Greener Grass Gawking” usually occurs when we become too proud (“My gifts are better than this place”) or too insecure (“I stink and just need to start over”) and flows from #3.

#5. We Say We Are Transparent – It’s Actually Opaque.

Today pastors are generally more open about their struggles than previous generations, but we still sense there is a threshold that is not to be crossed. People want open, honest and real, but not too much. Generally churches want just enough so they feel safe with you, but not so much that it spoils the expectations they have of you. Unfortunately the threshold is a blurry line by which pastors never know how much is too much until its too late. After a couple of infractions we learn that opaque is safe – even if it’s isolating.

When pastors’ wives are polled on how it feels to be the spouse of someone in full-time ministry the #1 answer is one profound word, “Lonely.” They are around hundreds of people every week, but they never feel they can let their guard down because they know people have opinions on how a pastor’s wife should be. Now I know people say they don’t, but literally every church I have served in has shared unflattering stories of the previous pastor’s wife. Many of these stories came from the spiritually mature leadership who considered the pastor and his wife to be their friends. The real irony comes in when later in the conversation I would be told, “But don’t worry, we don’t have any expectations on your wife. We just want to love on her.” Right! Now I don’t blame people for this natural human tendency, but being aware of how things are keeps you relationally opaque. And it’s not merely pastors and their wives who insulate. Pastoral families at large feel alone because there is a certain level of unknown expectations buried like landmines through the field of the church and so there is a constant mode of mostly transparent.

#6. We Measure Ourselves By The Numbers.

Numbers don’t matter! Yeah right. No matter how badly we want to slap that bumper sticker on our Ford the reality is that numbers matter to us. And they matter to us it part because they matter to God. The problem however goes back to #1-3. The absence of growth in our churches can cascade into an internal turmoil by which we begin to scrounge for “The Next Big Thing” that will bring “Radical Growth” “Guaranteed.” So we read books on how to be a “Deep & Wide, Vertical, Purpose Driven, Radical Reformission, Creature of the Word, Big Idea, Center Church.” Then we jet off to a conference with thousands of other pastors who are seeking to glean the secret of success. And what is the first question we ask one another between sessions? “So, how big is your church?” Yep, we measure ourselves by the numbers.

#7 We Spend More Time Discouraged Than Encouraged.

Occasionally people say to me, “Must be awesome to get paid to study the Bible all day.” Every time they do I think to myself, “Must be awesome to be able to give someone the finger on the 520 without people saying, ‘The pastor at Redemption Church flipped me off today during rush-hour.’” I’m not fully sure why that is the comment that flashes across my mental dashboard, but I think part of it stems from what I perceive to be the tone of the comment. Rightly or wrongly I infer they are saying, “Must be nice to have such a cush gig as a paid quiet-time.” In all honestly it is pretty awesome to be paid study the Bible, but it’s a major downer when people:

  • tell you – after 2 minutes of un-investigated reflection – that your 30 hours of study and 2 collegiate degrees were wrong.
  • tell you that they just couldn’t stay awake today during your sermon, but no offense. (How about I fall asleep at your kid’s graduation and we’ll call it even.)
  • tell you how you should have also said…
  • tell you how Pastor So-N-So says…

Aside from these particular examples I find that for most pastors it generally feels like the boat is taking on water more than racing with the wind – regardless of size or rate of growth. Lead pastors particularly suffer from this since much of their job is to focus on seeing things get better, which often translates into focusing on the broken, lacking or unfilled parts of the church more than enjoying what is right and working. Many of the most faithful and fruitful pastors in history have suffered deeply with anxiety and depression for the same reasons.

#8. We Worry About What You Think.

We’re human and we want to be liked. Therefore when we know we’re going to do or say something people won’t like, we worry about it. Now when I say that I don’t mean to infer that it causes us to avoid the hard things. There are some of my fellow pastors who avoid challenging topics or decisions out of fear of people, but most of the ones I run with still choose deliver the mail regardless of the popularity of its message. Yet we still worry about how you may take it.

#9. We Struggle With Competition And Jealousy.

We like to hold ourselves above the petty fray and reiterate, “It’s all about the Kingdom,” but in reality pastors are a competitive bunch. As soon as one pastor asks another, “How big is your church?” the game is on if the two churches are within 20 miles of each other (past 20 miles we lighten up a lot and think each other is pretty cool). Within 20 miles however we begin to assess one another’s style, focus, message, sophistication and marketing. We gauge to see if it’s a “Goldilocks Church” – not to deep, not too shallow, but just right (like us). If you’re too deep we benchmark you as internally focused. If you’re too shallow we brand you as consumer-driven. If however we conclude that you too are a “Goldilocks Church” we then figure out how our church is still better than your church. If you have lame amenities, we critique that you will never grow until you reboot that 70’s sanctuary. If you have awesome amenities, we criticize that you grow only because people are shallow and care more about stuff than Scripture.

Yes we know it’s not right. We know that it’s ego driven, but we still fall victim to it. We believe our church is the best church ever and we can’t understand why everyone doesn’t see it.

#10. We Feel Like We Failed You More Than We Helped You.

Most pastors will never be famous. Most churches will never break the 100 mark. Yet we all entered ministry to change the world and reach the masses. With this we know it is the expectation of churches that we accomplish this very thing. Every job posting reinforces the idea with the sentence, “We are looking for a man that will take our church to the next level.” Then when the next level isn’t hit in the way anticipated or within the timeline envisioned – we feel like we failed you. This is especially true in light of the reality that we are our own biggest critics. We came in with expectations higher than anyone in the church. You look to us for direction and when we feel like we failed to produce we feel like we failed you.

Religion versus Relationship

28 Apr

Religion

You can listen to the podcast here.

Last time we were in stewardship, we looked at the results of true repentance. We saw that repentance really should affect our values and our stewardship. This morning we’re going to look at a story that is told in each of the synoptic gospels. It is a story of a young man that has become known as the rich young ruler.

Mark 10:17-23 says,

 “As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

Here’s the setting. Mark begins in v. 17 by reminding us that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. Some Pharisees just questioned Jesus about divorce in vs. 2-9. The disciples had follow up questions about divorce in vs. 10-12. And in vs. 13-16 we see Jesus scolding the disciples because they tried to keep the little children from coming to Him. All this to set up a somewhat strange encounter.

We see three unusual things in v. 17. “A man ran up to Him.”  Matt. 19:20 calls him young. Matt. 19:22 says he owned a lot of property so he was likely rich. Luke 18:18 calls him a ruler. That’s where we get the rich young ruler. In that culture, men did not run so it is very unusual that a man of his stature would run to Jesus. The rich young ruler, “Knelt before Him.” Again, something unusual for a ruler to kneel before someone else. Here we have a ruler of people, someone considered important; someone who owns a lot of stuff, kneeling before Jesus. The rich young ruler addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher.” In the Jewish way of thinking, only God is good and it would be quite unusual to attribute this quality to someone other than God.

1 Chr. 16:34, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
2 Chr. 5:13, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
Ezra 3:11, “They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.”
Ps. 118:1, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;  For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

Bible experts are divided on whether the rich young ruler was flattering Jesus or paying Him respect. So now the stage is set for the rich young ruler to ask Jesus a question. Here’s the question. The young man continues in his unusual fashion and asks in v. 17, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The question is unusual because the Jews would have said, “You follow the Law.” This has been the question that has been asked throughout the ages with a variety of answers. When you consider the context of the passage, it’s a fairly reasonable question for the young ruler to ask. Given what we know about this young man, it is likely he inherited his wealth rather than working for it. Perhaps this young man had heard Jesus’ teaching about the coming Kingdom. At the very least, he recognized who Jesus was. Before Jesus answers the question, He asks a question of His own: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Don’t think Jesus is denying who He is. He said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is simply establishing that God is the ultimate example of goodness.

Jesus points out some facts in v. 19. Jesus clearly has the upper hand being omniscient. Jesus says the ruler knows the commandments, but what exactly does that mean? The word know here means to understand or grasp. All Jesus is saying is that, yes indeed the rich young ruler knows the commandments. Remember for the Jews, they equated keeping the Law with salvation. It got really bad in Galatia and Paul told them in Gal. 3:21, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” The commandments Jesus mentioned are 6, 7, 8, 9 and 5. The 10th Commandment is do not covet.  The “do not defraud” is not part of the Ten Commandments. Fraud is a practical example of covetousness and a special temptation of the rich. You notice that the commandments Jesus mentioned deal with relationships of people to each other. Obedience to these provides evidence of obedience to the other commandments –  the ones dealing with the relationships of human beings to God.

Here’s the answer. The rich young ruler offers an astounding answer in v. 20. The parallel account in Matt. 19:20 is more revealing where the young man says, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” He recognized that eternal life wasn’t a matter of keeping the letter of the Law. Jesus didn’t dispute the answer and, “felt a love for him” in v. 21. Here again Christ’s unconditional love is revealed. No matter where you are, or what you are doing, Jesus loves you. Even if you think yourself righteous apart from Christ, He loves you. Matt.19:21, “Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” The one thing the man lacked was poverty. Jesus offers a way out. Sell your stuff. Give it to the poor. Doing that would remove what was keeping the rich man from entering into a relationship with the One that could grant eternal life. Jesus was telling him to get rid of the distractions and be a follower. For this rich young man, riches were his god and that violates the 1st Commandment that says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:3) The rich man silently responds in v. 22. We find Jesus’ conclusion to the story in v. 23.

A man is not saved by giving away his possessions. He becomes a Christian when he is willing to renounce anything that stands between himself and Christ. Riches make being a disciple difficult but the rewards of discipleship are worth more than material possessions. In the New American Commentary, James brooks writes, “The call is not to poverty but to discipleship, which takes many forms. Discipleship, however, is costly. It involves sacrifice. It involves obedience. It involves following the example of Jesus.”

Do I have to Give?

24 Mar

Offering PlateYou can listen to the podcast here.

The fourth annual State of the Plate research survey conducted by Maximum Generosity and Christianity Today was completed March 2013. The research revealed some interesting trends about giving in the church. 7% of those who tithe give 11%-20% or more of their income, far more than the baseline of 10%. 97% make it a priority to give to their local church. 70% tithe based on their gross income, not their net. 63% started giving 10% or more between childhood and their twenties. Tithers carry much less debt than most people and are financially better off than Christian non-tithers: 80% of tithers have no unpaid credit card bills; 74% have no car payments; 48% own their home; and 28% are completely debt-free. What keeps non-tithing Christians from giving: 38% say they can’t afford it; 33% say they have too much debt; and 18% said their spouse does not agree about tithing. Giving has been a hot topic since the days of old. The real question is, “What does God want? What does the Bible say about giving and more importantly, stewardship?”

Let’s get back to basics. We are stewards, not owners of our possessions. Ps. 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” All that we have really belongs to God. Our house, cars, tools and everything else we think is ours. Every material possession has been given by God. My name may be on the papers for my house, but God made the materials and the men that built it. God didn’t charge anything for what He gave. All that He gives, He gives for free. We freely use His air, His land, and His animals. He provides the sun and the rain, the moon and the stars. All that God provides He provides for free.

If the Owner of everything is so generous, then shouldn’t we, as His stewards, model His generosity? In Eph. 4:28, Paul said, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” We work in order to have something to give. Thievery in Ephesus was rampant among the converts there. Paul instructed them to get real jobs, to quit stealing. Part of the money we earn is to meet our needs, but part also is to be used to meet the needs of others.

Paul had some interesting things to tell the Corinthians. Apparently, believers in Jerusalem could no longer meet their needs. As he traveled around, Paul collected money from Gentile Christians. Rom. 15:25-26 says, “But now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” He goes on to tell the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 16:1, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.” Let’s look at 2 Cor. 8:1-5. Although poor and persecuted, the Macedonians had given generously.  Paul even wrote to remind the Corinthians about the gift they promised the year before. (2 Cor. 8:11) We see several principles of giving from these examples.

First, Christian generosity includes giving to those of other countries and cultures. Paul asked Gentiles in Greece to give to Jews in Palestine. Location and ethnic background were of no importance. What mattered was that they were fellow Christians. Second, Christians are to strive for excellence in giving. 2 Cor 8:7 says, “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.” Abound in this passage means to excel. The Corinthians were to excel in giving just as they excelled in the areas of faith, speech, diligence, and love. Paul ranked generosity right up with faith and love. Excel as givers, not giving just to meet some minimum standard or check a box. Can you excel as a Christian without giving?

Third, we are to give voluntarily and cheerfully. 2 Cor. 9:7 says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” You have likely heard this verse before, but let’s break it down. Everyone is to give. Each is to give as he purposes, or decides in his heart. Don’t give grudgingly or reluctantly. Don’t give out of compulsion. In other words, don’t give because you think you have to. In the O.T., giving reluctantly is portrayed as cancelling out any benefit that could be received from the gift while giving with a glad heart promises reward from God. “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.” (Deut. 15:10) Don’t give because someone has convinced, required, or manipulated you to give. Paul was not so interested in their money, per se, he was interested in their attitude toward giving. In fact, God isn’t so interested in your money; He is interested in your heart. Here is the kicker: we are to give cheerfully. Cheerful is from the Greek word hilaros where we get our English word hilarious. Give hilariously, but if you can’t, that doesn’t mean don’t give.

Fourth, we can decide how much to give. Paul teaches that we are to give according to our ability. 2 Cor. 8:12 says, “For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” When we say we can’t afford to give, we’re trying to give out of what we don’t have. Fifth, Paul teaches that God will repay us in kind. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.” (2 Cor. 9:6) Lastly, the more you give, the more you have to give away. 2 Cor. 9:11 tells us that God will enrich us in every way so we can be generous on every occasion. This does not mean that if you give $10.00 God will repay you $100.00. If you give so God can repay you, you are not giving according to God’s desire.

We’re going to spend some time on stewardship matters. The goal is to help us understand what our part is in Kingdom work. I do not believe that you can be a vibrant, growing, and maturing Christian without supporting His work. I urge you to let the Scriptures speak for themselves. Remember the statistic I quoted at the beginning: 63% started giving 10% or more between childhood and their twenties.

Brian Kluth, the researcher behind the stats, says, “No one is born generous . . .  or born again generous.” He went on to say that, “Every person is on a generosity journey and needs help to grow in the grace of giving.