Meanderings of a Minister

Why Do You Go to Church?
July 28, 2016, 4:07 pm
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Okay.  I know I have asked this question in an article before.  But as I was reading in Nehemiah this week, I came across a curious situation I had not noted before.  In Nehemiah 11, time has passed and the city of Jerusalem is not being populated by the returnees from captivity.  The leaders of the people came up with a system for inhabiting David’s capitol city.  They would cast lots and one out of every ten persons would be chosen and would have to move into Jerusalem from the surrounding areas.  Immediately after this verse (11:1) is a short verse that almost goes overlooked.

“And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 11:2)

I found this very interesting.  There were some people who were basically drafted to live in Jerusalem and then there were others who volunteered.  The people praised those who volunteered.

As I thought about this situation, it dawned on me that many people go to church, give to church, and serve at church for a variety of reasons as well.  For some, they feel like they have been drafted and don’t have a choice.  Having pastored small churches all my life, I know what this looks like and feel like.  There are some programs that we feel each church should have (Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Worship, Nursery, etc.) and in the smaller church, someone has to step up and take on this role.  Now, there are some who feel called to this ministry while others do it because “someone has to” or they are drafted.  If they don’t, then the ministry will suffer and no one wants to see the church suffer.

Even in the not-so-small church, this dynamic can be at play.  Some people serve because they feel a divine calling to use the gifts and talents God has given them to serve in that capacity.  Others serve because they feel guilty or hope that if they do enough, they will be accepted by the leadership of the church, or so they can feel like they are pulling their weight.  Still others serve because they feel it gives them the right to control how that ministry performs for their children or interests.  Motivations can be a many splendored thing.

So…why do you go to church?  Why do you serve in church?  Why do you do what you do for God?  Do you do so because you are grateful to God for all He has done for you?  Do you feel this so deeply because, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet, you know how much you have been forgiven?  Do you serve at church because you don’t want to let someone down?  Do you serve because you feel an obligation to do so out of guilt or out of hoping to earn God’s favor?

I guess I must back up a bit.  I might have gotten ahead of myself.  Perhaps I should have started with asking the question, do you go to church?  For even many who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ do not attend church with any regularity and the idea of actually committing to one church family and serving in a vital ministry would cut into their free time and their ability to pursue money, pleasure, vacation, status, etc.  Even though they know that scripture commands us to assemble together (see Hebrews 10:24-25 and all the “one another” passages of the Bible), they still have no time for church or they let their feelings of being hurt or let down by a church rule over their faithfulness to the One Who died for them. While I do not intend to minimize the way some churches hurt people or let them down, I also know this should not determine our faithfulness to the One Who took our beating, or scorn, our shame, and our death and separation from God.  We must continue to meet together, grow, serve, love, and forgive.

So…why do you go to church (or not go)?  Why do you serve (or not serve)?  Why do you give (or not give)?

Been There. Done That. Really?
July 21, 2016, 4:02 pm
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I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they said something that shocked me and made me think for a while.  We were talking about worship and Bible Study and this person said to me, “I don’t have time to go to church on Sunday mornings and, besides, I have read the entire Bible, what more could I learn?”  Needless to say, I was shocked and surprised.  I have studied the Bible for the last 24 years and 12 of those 24 years in formal theological education.  I have read thousands of books on various Biblical subjects and have even written a few.  I have been in Sunday School classes and seminars and have attended conferences, listened to sermons on tape, CD and the radio and I am convinced of one thing above all…I need to study more of the Bible so that I can know it and know God and obey Him!

I am not sure how we get to the point that we feel that we know all we need to know about God and the Bible.  I suspect that it is because we find ourselves in circumstances in which we cannot go to church on Sunday mornings and we use it as an excuse to help us feel better about not going.  I think this stems from getting further from God so that He does not seem quite as big anymore.  I am just guessing that no one ever really intends to go there, but we make choices that have consequences we don’t see coming and we find ourselves hanging out in the breeze and unable to find our footing.  One day, we look around and find that we cannot even remember the last time we read God’s word and it came to life and went to work right then in our lives.

I want to make sure that does not happen to anyone in my church.  That is the primary reason that we offer several opportunities to study God’s word together each week.  Of course, there is Sunday School.  Many people think of Sunday school as only for children, but this could not be further from the truth.  This is one of the best opportunities to study the Bible because we have dedicated teachers that study carefully to present each passage accurately and timely.  This is also a great opportunity because you get to interact with others and with the text.  If you don’t understand something, you have the opportunity to ask.  If you have some great insight you have discovered, you have someone to share it with.

We also have Sunday morning worship in which we get to worship God together through music, prayer, Bible study, and sharing our gifts, talents and treasures.  This is a great time because it is a time to be encouraged, challenged, corrected and directed directly from the word of God.  It is a time when we can be with other believers and provides a time to respond corporately and individually to God’s activity in our hearts and in our midst.

We provide a Sunday Evening Bible Study for those who work on Sunday morning or just want another opportunity to study God’s word.  Right now, we are working our way through the Life of David as we listen for God to instruct us by allowing us to view the mistakes of others and of seeing the lengths He is willing to go to reach us.  This is another excellent time to interact with the Bible and is taught by the Pastor.

There is a Wednesday morning Bible study for those that rise early.  It meets at 6:30 AM at a local business.  We have Thursday Evening Bible study in which we are studying the Minor Prophets in the Fall and then will move on to a study of the Book of Revelation.  We have a Tuesday morning study group for women, a small study group for men on Monday nights, and we have AWANA on Wednesdays to help children memorize and personalize the Bible in their own lives.  We have various small group studies that go on at various times throughout the year and are always open to other studies and opportunities as they present themselves.

I hope that no person associated with this church ever gets to the point that they feel as if they no longer need to study God’s word.  Even more than that, I hope that no one ever gets to the point that they feel there is no chance for them to do so.  I hope that we all grow up into Christ as our Head so that we can attain to the full measure of Christ.  Keep studying and keep growing.

If your church does not offer opportunities to study the Bible, maybe God would call you to volunteer to lead a group.  Pastors are very busy and can’t be expected to lead every study or group that wants to study, so maybe God is calling you to help.

Whether you are asked to teach a study of the Bible or attend one, whether you feel like you know a lot about the Bible already or very little, my prayer is that we will never become satisfied with where we are at in our knowledge of God and His Word, but will keep on growing.

Should I Pray About This?
July 14, 2016, 3:59 pm
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 Pray And Act

I can’t tell you how many times I get a variation of this question.  People are facing great decisions and feel paralyzed and aren’t sure when it is time to pray and when it is time to act.  What if the answer was not either/or, but both/and?

In the book of Nehemiah, the people of Israel have returned from exile in Babylon and were being gathered from all over the world.  They had been in Jerusalem for quite some time, but had not repaired the walls of the city.  Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem from Babylon and inspired the people to work on the wall.  Chapter three of the Book of Nehemiah tells all about the work that began on the wall.

It was not very long before opposition arose from those around Jerusalem who did not want to see the walls rebuilt, the city restored, or the Jewish people reinstated in the land.  They tried everything from discouragement to open opposition in warfare.  They did not want the walls rebuilt because that would lend legitimacy to the Jewish claims over the land and would weaken their own positions in the land.

How did Nehemiah and the people react?  Nehemiah 4:9 tells us, “But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.”  What did they do?  They prayed.  They also took logical, prudent action.  Yes, they prayed and asked God to help, but they also realized that God would help as they worked in a way that made sense.  They set up a guard to make sure they would know when the enemy advanced on them.  So.  Why did they not just pray?  Why did they not, “Let go and let God”?

Simply put, they prayed in faith and obeyed God in that same faith.  I have talked to many people who have been looking for jobs and they say that they are praying about it as though that gets them out of having to actually go get an application, fill it out, and follow up with the employer until they get the job.  They say that they are praying about it and do not want to actually act on it because they feel that will be interpreted by God as a lack of faith.  Where do we get this idea?

Psalm 1 says that the person who meditates on God’s word is blessed.  Should we just believe God is going to bless us and forget about the whole meditating on scripture thing?  Jesus said that no one sits down to build a tower unless he first sits down to consider the cost.  They did He not say to just have enough faith to believe the tower is there and wait for God to do it?  Why did Noah actually build the Ark instead of just trusting for God to rescue him?

All of these examples involve prayer, faith, trust, and work.  James says we show our faith by the works that the faith produces in our lives.  So we work to show people that we trust God to be enough.  We pray because God is enough.  When we put the two together, then we experience the blessing of God which we want so badly.

That being said, there are some things God will just do so that we might give Him glory.  He might take care of your bill by sending you a check in the mail, but going to work to earn a paycheck is not a lack of faith, but actually an expression of it.  God might heal you, but He might also want you to go to the doctor to receive the medicine that He has allowed us to discover or invent.  God might bring you a spouse, but He might also want you to serve Him with all of your heart in a ministry in your area so you can meet someone else with the same passions you have for serving Him.

So, let’s show our faith by what we do in trusting God to provide through the mind, heart, strength, and ingenuity He has given us WHILE we are praying about everything on our heart.  Let’s not make it either pray or act, but pray AND act.

If You Can Keep It
July 7, 2016, 3:56 pm
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Eric Metaxas is a Christian author who specializes in historical biography.  He has written books of Deitrich Bonhoeffer and others who have had a major impact on church, world, and American history.  In his latest book, Metaxas reminded me of an event from our past that has major ramifications for today and certainly needs to be heard today.

In 1787, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin and asked what the founding fathers had given America in terms of a government.  Benjamin Franklin’s answer should be reverberating in our ears today.  He said, “A Republic…if you can keep it.”  What did Franklin mean by that statement?  First, he meant that we have a style of government that is a Democratic Republic.  What is a Democratic Republic?  Good question.  And while it is beyond the scope of a simple and limited newspaper article to exhaustively define it, basically this means that the government, “Of the people, by and the people, and for the people” is the intent and elected representation that then is free to interpret the will of the people and apply it on their behalf is the expression.

What this system was designed to accomplish is a liberty not seen in other parts of the world up to this time.  The people would have the freedom to elect their officials.  They would cast votes and one vote would be one vote.  For many of us who have grown up here, this only seems like the logical choice and is expected, but this is not the way the rest of the world still lives.  Now, many countries have followed our example and there were examples of democracy before us, but none that combined this with a republic style of government and a stated dependence upon God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Once our officials are elected, they are expected to represent the interests of those whom they represent.  Under a republic style of government, these officials are free to interpret those intentions and vote according to their interpretations.  What this was intended to accomplish was to keep from bogging down the system waiting to hear from constituency before a vote can be cast.  With a nation as vast as ours, any other system would be untenable at best or inconsistent with democracy at worst.

Now, what did Benjamin Franklin, a self-professed non-Christian, mean by, “If you can keep it.”?  Quite simply, Franklin knew that this type of system was susceptible to decay from apathy, disruption from enemy, and cooption from deception.  As we pray for our nation, which we should, we should remember these warnings.

Jeremiah 29:7 says, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.”  This was God telling the Israelites to pray for Babylon because that was where they had been taken into exile.  If God wanted the Israelites to pray for a corrupt, wicked, evil, and barbarous nation so that they would be blessed, how much more should we pray for our nation?

Would you join me in praying for our nation?  Let’s pray that God would protect us from decay.  That He would protect us from the decay that comes from a people that have grown to expect the blessings God has granted our nation and take it for granted.  The decay that comes when people make the responsibilities that come as a citizen of this great nation the duties of others and think they are only aboard for what they can receive.

Would you pray that God would protect us from the disruption from our enemies?  Some of our enemies are not foreign powers.  Some of our enemies are those who exploit our citizens through financial bondage, chemical bondage, sexual bondage, and spiritual bondage.  Would you pray that those who are trying to lead our nation astray would dry up and blow away?

And would you join me in pray that God would protect us from the cooption from the deceivers that live in our land and who want to take away our liberties.  Those who actively work against the Republic we have been given and want to keep.

There is a group of people who pray for our nation every evening at 8 PM.  Would you set an alarm on your phone, computer, or alarm clock or set up some kind of reminder that will remind you to stop and pray for our nation, for in its welfare you find your own and it just might be the only way we can keep our Republic.

God bless America.

Listen Carefully and I Will Tell You Exactly Who to Vote For
June 30, 2016, 9:36 am
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Unless you have been completely disconnected from any kind of media, you no doubt already know that the election season is upon us.  Here in our county, we will vote in primaries on August 2nd.  From the presidential election all that way down to smaller county offices, we will be called upon to vote our conscience when it comes to the various candidates.  But how are we to vote?

Before you raise a flag of undue concern, allow me to acknowledge that I am running for County Commissioner in District 5 of our county and this is not a shameless plug for your vote.  Actually, I am running unopposed, so there is no need.  That being said, who should you vote for?

From the beginning of our nation, we have been a republican style of democracy.  What does that mean?  It means that the citizens of this great nation have been given the privilege to actually cast a ballot for its leaders.  While it might not seem like it at the national level due to the electoral college issues, the reality is that each legally recognized citizen is afforded the privilege of voting.  As this is the foundation of a democracy, this right is one of the rights most often cited when thinking about the many men and women who have died defending our freedom.

So, why would I begin with such a pedantic reminder?  Good question.  Most importantly, because it has become increasingly in vogue in recent years to refuse to vote.  There are many reasons cited for this, such as not having a candidate that you personally like, apathy towards the future of the nation, cynicism towards the voting records of those elected, and on and on.  Many people reason that if they don’t vote, then they cannot be blamed when things go wrong.  These same people then go on to bemoan the condition of our nation.

While there is no direct verse addressing voting, there are some principles that we can apply from scripture.  One of these can be understood from Jeremiah 29:7 which says, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.”  While it is beyond the scope of this article to fully expound this verse and its context, we at least see a foundational concept of doing what we can to help the land in which we live until we get to go to the promised land, which for us is heaven.  The most important part of this is to pray, serve, and love the people who make up this nation.  After that, we must go our part to make sure we help the nation move forward because in its welfare is our welfare.

So what does voting have to do with the welfare of our nation?  If those for whom the current direction of our nation is a concern stay home from voting, the only people to vote are those for whom the current direction of our nation is desirable.  It might not be our nation, but our community for which you are concerned.  Again, to refuse to vote is to allow those who are pleased to continue unchecked.  You might say, but wait!  What does my one vote really matter?  Whether it adds to a total, reverses a decision, or has any impact at all, the bigger issue is to ask if you have done all you can to love your fellow man as yourself, to pray and be involved in helping to bring welfare to the land in which you find yourself sojourning, and to let your voice be heard concerning righteousness in our land.

So, all of that is to provide the background to tell you exactly who to vote for.  Are you ready?  When you have prayed, investigated the candidates, become familiar with the potential issues facing the office being voted upon, and having done all in your power to be informed, then you should go and vote for the person or persons God directs you to vote for based upon that information.  It might not be the same person or persons I vote for, but make sure it is based upon inspiration and information.  Above all…make sure you vote!

God Never Gives Up On His People
June 23, 2016, 12:13 pm
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Your Grace Amazes Me

I was reading in Exodus today about Nadab and Abihu.  Now, I realize that most people will have to look up those names, but they are very important figures in the Old Testament.  Let me tell you about them and why they are so important.  First, they were important because they were the sons of Aaron whom God personally chose to become priests to serve before Him in the Tabernacle.  Imagine being the first priest called by God to serve.  But go further than that and imagine being called by God’s own voice! (Exodus 28:1)

Next, they were important because they were part of the seventy that had worshipped God on the mountain and had come down and had prophesied before the people and helped Moses shoulder the load of speaking to the people on God’s behalf. (Exodus 24:1)

Lastly, they were important because they decided, in spite of the instructions God had given, to offer strange fire on the altar and God killed them on the spot. (Number 3:4)

Okay, so you are thinking…”Thanks!  Now I’m depressed.  If God could do that to them, then what about me?”  I want us to learn from Nadab and Ahibu, but I want us to learn from their lives, not their deaths.  God personally called them.  Since I believe in the omniscience of God (omni=all, science=knowledge…God knows everything), then I have to believe that He knew they would fail, but HE CALLED THEM ANYWAY!  What does that mean?  What does that mean to me?

What this means to me is that, in spite of my worst failures, God will continue to give me chances.  In spite of my worst stumbling, He never gives up on reaching out to me.  No matter how little faith I have, God, the author of faith, is always there and always offering His Hands.  If I will spend more time looking up for His help and reaching out for His forgiveness, I can spend less time carrying a heavy guilt load and a bunch of shame I was not meant to carry.

Here’s the best part.  If you are a new creature in Christ, you can do the same.  If you have surrendered your life to Christ, He will never turn away.  (Romans 5:9-10)  He will never put you to shame and He will in no wise cast you out.  (John 6:37)  I don’t know about you, but that is great news to me.  I feel more like Paul all the time in Romans 7,

“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.  So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.  For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”  (NASB)

Isn’t it good to know God won’t give up on you?  Why not take the time today and thank Him for just that reason?  Having thanked Him, let’s hang on and get it right so that we don’t end up like Nadab and Abihu.

What Right Do You Have to Be Angry?
June 16, 2016, 12:13 pm
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Ever Been This Angry?

In the book of Jonah, we read about how God used a prophet who did just about everything wrong.  He used Jonah in spite of his disobedience, disdain for others, and his distraction from God’s purposes.  I know that you already know the story, but here is a quick review.

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, to tell them that they needed to repent of their evil ways or God was going to destroy them.  Nineveh was known for its harassment of Israel as well as its cruelty in battle and in victory.  Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh.  It is later in chapter 4 that we find this was due to the fact that Jonah knew God would forgive them if they repented and Jonah did not deem them worthy of God’s forgiveness.  Jonah went down to the sea and booked passage on a ship heading for Tarshish.  Most scholars believe Tarshish was in Spain which is the opposite direction from Nineveh and a long distance.

The ship had not been underway very long before God sent a storm to afflict the comfortable prophet.  It must have been a doozey because the weathered sailors became panicky.  They tried praying, sacrificing, throwing their precious cargo (for which they would have to pay) over the side, rowing back to land, and weathering the storm the way they had so many other times, but to no avail.

Finally, they ask Jonah and he tells them it is his fault and tells them to throw him over the side.  They try everything else first, pray and ask God for forgiveness, and then they throw him over.  God appoints a great fish to swallow Jonah whole and keeps him alive for three days in the belly of the fish.  Jonah prays and asks God to deliver him.  God delivers Jonah on dry ground and calls him again to go to Nineveh.  He goes, but does not do exactly as God had said.  He tells them nothing about the option of repentance and just that God was going to destroy them in 40 days.  The people repent.  The king repents.  And Jonah gets mad.

This is the point where God asks Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry?”  Perhaps by looking at this question for Jonah, we can also ask ourselves the same question.  Jonah had sinned against God by not going to Nineveh in the first place.  Romans 6:23a says the wages of sin is death.  God could have killed Jonah on the spot.  (See Acts 5:1-16 and how God did just that with Ananias and Sapphira.)  God was merciful.  God had rescued Jonah from the storm, from drowning, and from the belly of the fish.  God was compassionate.  Jonah had disobeyed God, but God gave him another chance to obey.  God was slow to anger.  God had sent Jonah to preach to a people who did not worship or know Him.  God was abundant in lovingkindness.  Keep in mind also that Israel was sinning greatly against the Lord at this time.

With all that God had done for Jonah, Jonah got angry because God forgave the Ninevites with the same mercy He had shown Jonah.  Jonah did not think they were worthy of forgiveness and he got mad at God.  He was mad at the Ninevites and he was mad at God.

God simply asked Jonah if he really had a good reason for being mad at anyone or anything.  Jonah answered that he had a very good reason to be angry.  He really didn’t.  And neither do you or I.  When you consider all the ways God has provided for, protected, and propitiated you and your sins, how could we possibly be mad at God or anyone else with whom He is working?  The modern health and welfare movement seems to teach people that God owes them something.  If they have enough faith, God owes them all of their wants and desires, including health, wealth, friends, comfort, and ease.  When God doesn’t meet their demands, they feel like they can be mad at God.  They often forget that we all deserve death (Romans 3:23, 6:23a), but we have been given the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23b).  God has already given us more than we could hope for, so who in their right mind could get angry with a God Who has done so much more than we could ever hope for?  Jonah wasn’t thinking right and neither are we if we do not fall on our faces before Him and tell him, “Thank you!” from grateful and sincere hearts.


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