Meanderings of a Minister


Give Until It Hurts
July 23, 2015, 2:45 pm
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Give

I have been recently challenged by reading some of the more familiar accounts in the Gospels of Jesus and the way He lived His life.  As I have been reading over some of this, I came across the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.  I realize we all know the story, but perhaps it might be prudent to look at the story again:

Luke 10:30–37 (NASB95)

30 Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 “And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 “Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 “But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 “On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

Now, here is what caught me up.  Verse 35 says he used up his supplies to care for the man and then paid for a room in the inn.  After all of that, he stayed the night with the man to make sure he was okay and then the next day, he paid two full days’ wages to make sure that the man would be taken care of.  He also promised to come back and check to make sure he had recovered and pay any additional amount that had accrued for his treatment.

As I read that, I was challenged to ask, “When have I ever given so much that it hurt?”  This man gave much.  Yes, he gave time.  I get that.  I do that.  Yes, he gave concern.  I get that, also.  I do that, also.  Yes, he gave care.  I get that.  I do that.  What I was struggling with was that the Samaritan gave sacrificially.  He interrupted his life to make sure that the man beaten and left for dead could have one.  When have I ever given to the point that my life had to be interrupted?  When have I given financially to the point that I could not do or have something I wanted; let alone, something I needed?  When have I given financially to the point that I had to shut off some of the comforts of my incredibly comfortable life?

As I thought about these things, I went on to ask the same questions about my church, about the rest of us that make up my church, and the rest of Christianity throughout North America.  In the New Testament, this was common.  Paul took up offerings from poor Christians to help other poor Christians.  Barnabas sold his land so that the church could help people.  I have never even done anything even close to that!

So, having felt the sting of conviction, I found myself wanting to justify my inaction by saying, “But the Paul told the Thessalonians, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, that people shouldn’t eat if they don’t work.”  How do I know if my help is enabling them instead of helping them?  I mean, I have to be a good steward of God’s money, right?  While these arguments sound good on the surface, I knew that they were justifications of sin.  James said that when someone knows the good they ought to do and do it not, that is sin.  I was sinning and wanting to seem like I was doing okay.

I have had to repent and have surrendered all I have and own to God and He has tested me just this week to see if I would give until it hurts.  It is not fun on the front end, but he has promised to provide and I am trusting Him to do so.

So…what about you?



Interruptions!
June 26, 2015, 10:47 am
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Frustration

I am not sure if you are like me (I hope not), but I have a confession.  When I am focused on doing something, I hate to be interrupted.  Psychologists tell me that the primary reason for this is that men’s brains are like waffles.  We like to operate in one square at a time.  For instance, when I am at work, I don’t like to get a call from home asking questions about something because it makes me move from the square I am in and the “interruption” is unwelcome.  That is their explanation, but the Bible says there is another cause.

James explains it this way:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:1–3, NASB95)

So, God says the reason that I hate interruptions is because I am a selfish and prideful person who is convinced that what I am doing, want to do, plan to do is the most important thing in the world at that moment and anyone else’s needs encroach upon my desires.  In other words, I am on the throne of my time and people had better respect that.  When they don’t, I get frustrated.

Let me give you an example.  This summer, like the last eight years, our church has planned Outdoor Movie Nights.  This is where we turn our back parking lot into a drive-in theater.  We invite the entire community to enjoy a free cookout, free refreshments, free games for the kids, and then a free movie.  We usually schedule one of these every other week throughout the summer.  This year, the first two movies were rained out.  Yes, they were rained out.  Our plans were interrupted.  I was frustrated.  I asked God if He did not understand how important this is as an outreach and a chance to minister to our community.  I even pouted a little bit.

As I contemplated this, it dawned on me that, if James was right, and I am sure he is, then the real issue with the movie nights being cancelled was that I had what I wanted to do and God was not cooperating.  So, who is one the throne?  Is God on the throne and I exist to worship Him, or am I on the throne and God exists to serve me?

Some popular authors and preachers in our day would have us believe that all we have to do is ask for whatever we want from God and believe hard enough and He will be obligated to do what we ask.  Is this the Biblical picture?  What if what we are asking for will result in taking us further away from Him?  Would He still grant it?  What if we wanted something that would harm or kill us?  What about the case where two teams and praying and believing for a victory at the same time, but they are playing each other?

Interruptions give us the opportunity for God to realign our thinking, loyalty, priorities, and vision.  It is Moses at the burning bush, Gideon at the winepress, Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.  It is the way a loving God gets the attention of some people so intent upon serving Him that they miss the fellowship with Him for which they were created and saved.  It is the way God reveals Himself to a world that is so distracted with temporal things it has not time for the eternal.

So, this Friday, we have another Movie Night and everyone is invited.  We have bought lots of food, have picked out a great movie, have signed up volunteers to greet, play, cook, serve, and clean up.  If God chooses to interrupt it again with rain, perhaps I would do better to thank Him and spend the freed up time connecting with Him and asking what direction He would like me to go instead of pouting.  Perhaps you and I might want to come to God, confess our selfishness and submit to His sovereignty anew and let “interruptions” realign us to His purposes.  It won’t be easy, but it will be great.  Let’s repent of frustration and recommit to subordination.



Stones of Remembrance

Stones of Remembrance

This last week, we celebrated, or remembered those that have died in defense of our freedom.  We have held services, parades, golf tournaments and had cookouts, dinners and a day off, but do you realize that Memorial Day is a regular part of the Bible?  In Joshua 4, God told Joshua to have one man from each of the 12 tribes carry a rock from the middle of the Jordan River all the way to Gilgal as a memorial of God’s activity.  Additionally, he had Joshua make a pile of stones in the middle of the parted Jordan that would only be visible when the water was low.  This would have made a periodic reminder of God’s mighty power on behalf of the people.  God gave the people instruction that they were to tell their children about God, His activity on their behalf and His sovereignty, when they asked because they had seen the rocks.

You and I have people that we need to be asking about God’s activity as well.  We need to be talking to our grandparents and great-grandparents and asking them about God’s activity in building this nation.  We need them to remind us about sacrifice because someone taught us that our nation owes us a living.  We need them to remind us about discipline because someone taught us everything should come from a microwave.  We need them to remind us about saving because someone taught us to rely on credit cards.  We need them to remind us of our responsibility because someone taught us that freedom should be free.  We need them to remind us about bread lines, tire stamps and collecting animal fat because someone taught us to throw everything away because there will always be more.  We need them to remind us about caring for extended family because someone taught us that nursing homes are for that.  We need them to remind us about coming together to be Americans because someone taught us that we can be Native Americans, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Pacific Island Americans.  We need them to remind us about an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay because someone taught us to do as little as possible and demand as much as we can get.  We need them to remind us about customer service because someone taught us that customers are an interruption to our day.

As if that were not enough, we have also been taught that freedom of religion means freedom from religion.  We have been taught that the constitution does not really mean everyone is created equal.  We have been taught that government’s job is to redistribute money from the rich to the poor.  We have been taught that it is the state’s job to educate our children.  We have been taught that a promise is more of an intention.  We have been taught that a person’s character and job performance can be separated.  We have been taught that you can lie, cheat and steal and call it politics.  We have been taught that nothing is right or wrong just because it is right or wrong, but only if we have defined it as so.  We have been taught that children are disposable interruptions to our pursuit of the good life.  We have been taught that our heroes should be people famous for nothing other than being famous and that policemen and women, firemen and women, emergency medical service personnel, the National Guard and the Armed Forces are just doing what they ought to do, but a man or woman that can dunk a basketball, throw a perfect pass or hit a homerun are the ones that are worthy of our attention and praise.  Oh, how we need the reminder of those that are quickly passing.

We need them to remind us that we exist to serve God.  We have been taught that He exists to serve us.  We need them to remind us that God is oftentimes more concerned about our holiness than our temporal happiness.  We have been taught we ought to expect challenge-free, trouble-free, criticism-free lives.  We need them to remind us about sacrificial giving.  We have been taught that all the church wants is our money, so we ought to give it or withhold it based upon whether we agree with the type of music played or the preacher.  We need them to remind us that we come to church to serve God and others.  We have been taught we come to church to be coddled and catered to.  We need them to remind us that church is supposed to be about reaching the world with the gospel.  We have been taught it is about my personal comfort and tastes.

If there has ever been a time that we need the previous generation to remind us about God, it is now.  God, let us see the rocks and let us find those that know what they mean before we lose them or, worse, lose the freedom we enjoy.



Hurdles that Keep Us From Following Christ with All of Our Hearts
May 15, 2015, 4:43 pm
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hurdles

One afternoon, I was at the cafeteria of our fine hospital, Southwest Medical Center.  While there, I was trying to decide what I would have for lunch prior to our Liberal Ministerial Alliance meeting.  I made the comment that I couldn’t decide whether I was going to be good or bad.  Ann Holman, the pastor of Risen Glory, laughed and said I should write about that choice as part of my article.  She is getting her wish.

So much of life is filled with choices to do what is right or do what is wrong, but sometimes things keep us from choosing right.  Even Christians face these “hurdles”.  In Matthew 13, there are a number of hurdles to living for Jesus with all of our hearts.  The first three come in the first few verses of this rich chapter.  Read Matthew 13:1-3a and verses 10-17.

Jesus began to teach the crowds in parables.  The word, parable, comes from a combination of two Greek words:  ballo – meaning to throw and para – meaning alongside.  Putting the two together, a parable is meant to throw an earthly story alongside a heavenly truth for the purpose of both revealing and concealing its meaning.  According to Mark’s version of this event, the disciples came to Jesus after the crowds dispersed and inquired why He taught people in parables.  Jesus response just might shake some of us up a bit.  He said that the truths of the parables were meant for the disciples, but not for the crowds.  He quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 in saying that God’s truth goes out to all, but is not understood or received by all.  The first hurdle that some people face, that keeps them from following Christ with all of their hearts, is they are not part of the Kingdom of Heaven.  By Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus did not mean that they are not in Heaven yet.  That would be all of us reading this article.  Neither did He mean that they were outside of God’s sovereign rule over the universe.  This applies to all of us reading this as well.  What He meant was that Kingdom that was initiated with Jesus’ first coming and will continue until there is a new Heaven and new Earth.  Some people are not in that Kingdom and never will be.  Paul said they could not receive truth because it is foolishness to them (1 Cor. 2:14)  Since Jesus said that no one can come to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6), they cannot follow Jesus with all of their heart because they do not know Him (Matthew 7:21-23).

The second hurdle in this passage comes from the observation that some people cannot follow Jesus with all of their hearts because they simply don’t care.  This applies to believers as well as non-believers.  For believers, this comes in the form of comfort.  Like Paul in Romans 5, they think, because Jesus has forgiven all of their sins, past, present and future, then it really does not matter how they live or whether or not they grow as a believer.  Paul responded best to this in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be!  How shall we who died in sin still live in it?”  In other words, people that become complacent or apathetic in their Christian devotion to the Savior that saved them, are living in sin and must either show their faith by their actions (James 2:18) or admit “they were never of us” (1 John 2:19).  Apathy can be a major hurdle in the lives of believers that have become enamored with the things of this world because Jesus told us, “Where are treasure is, there will our hearts be also” (Matthew 6:21).

The last hurdle in this passage that keeps us from following Christ with all of our hearts is related to the last hurdle.  The crowds went on about their ways because they were distracted by other pursuits other than following Christ.  They had care for what they would eat, wear, drink and do.  These distractions kept them apathetic towards Christ.  In our town, we run this same risk.  So many people in our community do so many things to provide the excellent environment in which we live that many of them often find themselves so busy in service organizations and promoting special events, that they have no time for Christ.  They would like to do better and often set goals to do so at the beginning of the year, but fail because everything else comes first.  Let us not be those that see, but don’t see.  Let us not be those that hear, but don’t hear.  Perhaps we need to focus on Christ.  That’s right…FOCUS ON JESUS!

Which of these hurdles affect you the most?  Do you have a relationship with Christ?  Are you focused on and interested in growing in your faith?  Do you see signs that your faith is growing?  Perhaps we had better apply the words of 2 Corinthians 13:5, but only if we are sure we have that relationship.  Perhaps then we will make better decisions about whether to be good or bad.  Thanks Ann.



Why Do We Pray?

Praying

Over the last several weeks, our church has been going through a series on prayer dealing with the answer to the question, “Why do we pray?”  Unlike many series on prayer that just mainly deal with a definition and examples of prayer, this mini-series deals with the issue, why do we pray at all?  While there could be a plethora of responses to this question, the four reasons we have looked at include the fact that God communicates through speech, we could not before we were saved, we can now because we are adopted into God’s family, and because God sees, hears, knows, is sovereign, and has a plan that prayer plugs into.

The first reason we pray at all is because God communicates.  If you look up the phrase “God spoke” or a combination of words that convey the same thought, you would find all throughout the Bible that God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity through words.  We even call the book we use for understanding Him and life, God’s Word, and indeed it is just that.  Why do we call it God’s Word?  Because God spoke and wanted us to know Him and His character and His way.  When we pray, we are imitating this aspect of God’s character in that we are speaking.  We are taking out thoughts, which He knows already, encoding them into language, transmitting them through words so that they are experienced outside of us.

Additionally, we pray because we used to not be able to.  Prayer is the privilege of the believer.  Psalm 66:18 says that sin regarded in the heart (the condition of every unconverted person that has ever lived), causes God to turn His back on your prayer.  1 Corinthians 2:14 says that the unregenerate man considers the things of God foolishness anyway.  Before we were saved, we were lost (Luke 15), dead (Ephesians 2:1), enemies of God (Romans 5:10), alienated from God (Colossians 1:21).  In that state, we could not pray, nor would we have wanted to other than just to rub the lamp and try to get God to be the genie granting wishes of pride, avarice, greed, and such that were already destroying us.  We used to not be able to pray.

Although all of that was true for every person born since Adam (Romans 5), now, we are children of God (Romans 8:16), born again (John 3:3), indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12), and acceptable to God (Romans 14:18).  We used to not be able to pray, but we can now!  Why do we pray?  Because we have a relationship with God and have been adopted into His family (Galatians 4:1-7).  We have the wonderful privilege of speaking to our Father about the things that cause us to be anxious (Philippians 4:6).  We can talk to God and cast all our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7).  We can be transformed in our thinking (Psalm 73, Romans 12:1-2).  We can express all of this to God as we talk to Him, imitating Him, and expressing appreciation for all He has done for us.

Lastly, we pray because God can see, hear, know, is sovereign, and has a plan.  Now, some of this might seem elementary, as Sherlock Holmes used say in the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, think about this.  In Isaiah 46, God told the Israelites they were going to be restored after He punished their sin.  The reasons He gave them was that, unlike their idols, He could see, hear, know them, was in charge, and had a plan.  One might think, if God already has a plan, then why pray?  Actually, I think the better question would be, “If God doesn’t have a plan, then why pray?”  If God cannot see what is going on, cannot hear the cries of creation for its Creator, is not in charge, and has no plan until we pray, then He is basically learning as He goes and is not God.  In fact, we pray because we believe God can act.  We pray because we believe He makes a difference.

The next time you bow your head, maybe it might be appropriate to thank God for speaking to us through His Word, to thank Him for saving you from sin, hell, death, and the grave.  Maybe it would appropriate to thank Him for the privilege of prayer as access to the throne.  Maybe we should thank Him and confess to Him the things He already knows, but desires to hear from us.  Let this be the fuel for more and better prayer.



Saying Goodbye
April 30, 2015, 11:12 am
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Goodbye

Early this morning, we lost a great example.  Let me explain.  Virgil E. McWilliams, Jr., known to most of us as “Mac” passed away this morning.  No, this is not his obituary.  That will be coming later from the family.  As I have reflected on Mac’s life, I realized that I have just witnessed a man who died well.

First, Mac was diagnosed with a form of cancer that usually leads to a very painful and debilitating death.  This was the path that Mac went down and that makes the way he endured all the more amazing and inspirational.  He was in tremendous pain and endured not being able to eat and all of the unpleasantness that comes with it.  Even with the pain and suffering, Mac and I visited last Friday for a few hours and he said something that is very rare to hear in our day.  He said, “I have no complaints.  I have had a good life.  I have a good wife.  I have an amazing family.  I have traveled and experienced much of this world and all it has to offer.  But most of all, I have the Lord on my side and that is more than I could have hoped for.”  In spite of all he was going through, he was thankful to God.

Next, Mac was appreciative of everything and everyone.  Even the day I visited with him, it took a toll on him, but he wanted me to stay and visit.  As we sat on his back porch, he talked about how thankful he was to God for all of the things I listed above.  He talked about how thankful he was for his Sunday School class and the fellowship they share.  He talked about how thankful he was for his wife.  He did not think he would ever find anyone like Margaret and vastly enjoyed being married to her.  Even she said there was not a day that went by without Mac telling her how much he appreciated her, how lovely she is, or how much he loved her.  He was thankful for his kids, grandkids, and great grandkids.  He was thankful for his house.  He was thankful because the doctor had said he had three months to live and it had been something like fourteen months ago!  Even in pain and suffering, Mac was appreciative of others and all he had.

Mac was also selfless.  Every time I visited with Mac, at church, in the car, or at home, he was always offering me something.  He wanted to make sure people were taken care of.  If it was not offering me his famous peanut brittle, it was produce from his amazing and bountiful garden, books from his library, or any other manner of things he thought would benefit me.  This last Friday, he even offered to get up and go into the house and get me a Diet Coke.  Here he was less than a week from death and in great pain and he was concerned because it was a little warm and I did not have a cold drink.  That was Mac.  He was that way with the granddaughters.  He wanted to make sure they were safe and that they got an education, but also that they had what they needed.  He would fix wind chimes, lawn mowers, bicycles, toys, or anything else they needed because he wanted to make sure they were taken care of.

Lastly, Mac was positive, but also realistic.  Over the last year or so, after being diagnosed, Mac would always say that he was thankful for the time he had, but that it was somewhat borrowed time.  He would say that the doctors had given him three months, but that the doctors are not God.  God knew the plans He had for Mac and for Mac’s life.  Early on, Mac would say he felt okay, but that he knew it was going to get worse.  Mac would even say that he looked forward to heaven, but that he wanted to make sure those left behind did not have to hurt.  He talked about his faith in God and how he knew he was forgiven, but that he knew that he had much to be forgiven for.  We even talked about some family relationships that Mac wished were different, but knew that people have to do things their own way.

While there is more that can and will be said about Mac McWilliams, about his life, travels, career as a Veterinarian, military service, oil field work, etc., I guess I am most thankful in this moment that Mac has shown me what it is to die well.  That may sound strange, but Mac has shown me how to die well.  To die with dignity, thankfulness, hope, realism, compassion, appreciation, but most of all with the confidence that comes from a rock-solid faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  When I die, I hope I can face death with that same understanding, hope, and dignity.  Thanks, Mac for showing me,

Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19, NASB95).

We could all learn from him.



Decisions Can Have Lasting Ramifications
March 6, 2015, 9:51 pm
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Decision Making

There is a story that takes up the last part of the book of Judges.  This is not probably a story that you studied in Sunday School as it is pretty graphic in nature.  It is not a story you have probably studied in Church as it has some difficult subjects to consider.  It is a story; nevertheless, that God has included and preserved in His word, so it bears considering.  But, what do we learn from this story?  I am glad you asked.

Allow me to hit the highlights (or lowlights) of the story in order for us to understand what we can learn.  A Levite staying in the remote part of the hill county of Ephraim took a concubine for himself from Bethlehem in Judah.  After a while, the concubine ran away and went back home to her father’s house.  The Levite went to get her and, after talking her into returning, prepared to return home.  His father-in-law talked him into staying for three days of feasting and drinking.  On the fourth day, the Levite tried to leave, but was talked into staying another night.  On the fifth day, after giving in for most of the day, the Levite, his servant and his concubine started for home.

Later on that night, the man had passed through Jebus (which later would be conquered and renamed Jerusalem) and decided to spend the night at Gibeah in the territory given to Benjamin.  After waiting in the town square for someone to take him into their home for the night, finally, a man arrived and was very concerned that the man was going to spend the night in the square, so he took him home.

After they had settled in for the evening, some of the men of city surrounded the house in which the Levite was staying and demanded that the owner send the man out in order that the men of the city could have sex with him.  He man, and the Levite, bargained their way out of it by sending the Levite’s concubine outside instead.  The men of the city raped and abused her all night until she died early in the morning.

The Levite, intending to return home, found her dead and took her home on his donkey, where he cut her into 12 pieces and sent a part to each of the tribes of Israel to tell them of the horrendous behavior of the men of Gibeah.  The nation gathered for war and , after a few days of fighting, in which over 70,000 men lost their lives, nearly the entire tribe of Benjamin was wiped out. Feeling sorry for wiping them out, the men of Israel concocted a plan whereby they kidnapped women and gave them to the Benjaminites as wives to keep their tribe name going.

Whew!  If you are still reading, you are ready for the lesson, no doubt.  It is simply this.  The Levite was supposed to be a man of God.  He was of the tribe of Levi and was given the designation of serving God through care for the temple and leading in worship.  God had warned the people against multiple wives, but he decided to get another woman with whom to have intimate relations, other than his wife.  What did that one decision cost him?  The girl’s life.  Over 70,000 dead Israelites, the breaking up of hundreds of families and a black mark on the Name of God.  A single decision led to lasting ramifications.

If you are a Christian, your decisions can have incredible ramifications as well.  You might think it no big deal to have a drink at an office party, but you have no idea how that decision can affect others.  You might think it is innocent fun to flirt with the new guy a the water cooler, but have no idea where that encounter might lead.  You might think, “But I am not hurting anyone.”  You don’t know that because you do not understand the full impact that your decisions might have on someone else.  The Levite man may have thought that everyone else was doing it, but that did not make it right or lessen the impact.

The next time you are presented with a chance to sin, ask yourself what effect this might have on others.  As a matter of fact, it might not even seem like sin, but if it affects others, you might want to reconsider.




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