Meanderings of a Minister


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.



How Much Is Enough?
February 26, 2015, 9:55 am
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Money

I am preparing to preach a message on finances this Sunday.  Before you close your browser and say, “It knew it!  All churches care about is money!”  That could not be further from the truth.  Actually, in over 20 years of ministry, the only time I have ever preached on finances has been as they are encountered in whatever book of the Bible I happened to be preaching through at the time.  This message is the latest in a series of message entitled, “Transformed Living”.  We have looked at Spiritual Transformation, Physical Transformation, Emotional Transformation, Mental Transformation, and Relational Transformation.  This week, Lord willing, we will look at various Proverbs that give us God’s plan for our finances.  Next week, we will look at Vocational Transformation.  As each area is a key component of life, it naturally fit that something as ubiquitous as finances should be included.

Anyway, as I have been preparing for this message, I became very disturbed with the apparent contradiction between what I was reading and what I have experienced and have seen others experience.  I read Proverbs that talk about the diligent succeeding and the lazy having poverty.  I thought about how I have known many people that were very diligent and didn’t seem to have much and I have known many lazy people that constantly need help with the necessities of life.

As I read this, and struggled in prayer, I turned to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 6 when He told those listening that they should not worry about what they would eat or wear, but that they should seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things would be added to them.  As I thought about these words, I was struck that I have known many believers around the world that have literally starved to death.  I have known pastors that struggle to just have a Bible and enough food to feed their family.  I have known Christians that have had to go about nearly naked because they did not enough money for clothing and food at the same time.  Did they not seek God or His Kingdom or His righteousness enough?  Did they not have enough faith?  Hardly!

As I thought more about this, a number of thoughts occurred to me.  First, what is the definition of enough?  Many of us in North America think of not having enough money in terms of enough to do everything we want to do.  We complain because we don’t have enough money to make our house payment, car payment(s), electric bill, water bill, garbage bill, internet bill, cell phone bill, retirement fund, eating out, groceries, new clothing, etc.  We think we don’t have enough because we don’t have as much as others.  But have we stopped to ask the question, “What if I stopped thinking about my plans and thought about God’s plans?”  Maybe I don’t have enough to do all I want, but the Bible seems to indicate that I will have enough to accomplish God’s plans.  Ephesians 1 says that we have been given every spiritual blessing under heaven.  That means we already have what we need to do God’s will which is to glorify Him.

The reason I think this is so hard of a concept for many is that thinking of God’s plan means humbling ourselves and putting Him first.  Was this not what Jesus said?  I think it is also hard because it means we are not in control.  We certainly like to think we are!  It is also hard because it means that we have to see God as the source and supply of all we have and surrender to give Him the right to use all of it.  That strikes at the heart of our pride to say, “We earned it.  We worked hard for that money.  It is mine!”

So, this Sunday, we will talk about money.  Many people will be uncomfortable.  Some might even get mad, walk out, and leave.  Others might want to argue.  While I do not have all of the answers and certainly have not learned to live out the truth perfectly, I want to invite you to join me in asking, “How much is enough?”



How Old Are You Spiritually?

Real-Life-Discipleship-book-cover

The staff at First Southern Baptist Church in Liberal have been wrestling with a question for the last several months.  “How do you get people to love Jesus more?”  We provide opportunities for people to grow spiritually, but many don’t seem interested.  While most of the people at our church would call themselves mature followers of Christ, what does that even mean?  And how do you get people to want to move further along the continuum of growth?  How do you (or they, for that matter) know where they are in their Christian growth?  At a recent meeting of the Liberal Ministerial Alliance, the pastors were talking and we all pretty much agreed that we all want Christians to mature in their faith.  What does THAT mean?

As I have wrestled with this issue, I have come across a great little resource that at least attempts to quantify the life signs of believers at the various stages of growth.  While we can certainly disagree about exactly what characteristics go where, Jim Putman at least begins the conversation in a way I found helpful.  In his book, Real-Life Discipleship, he lays out spiritual growth with the following paradigm:

Stage 1:  Spiritually Dead.  This means someone who is not born again.  They are alienated from God, opposed to God, and unable to understand the things of God.  (Revelation 20:14, John 3:3-5)

Stage 2:  Spiritual Infant.  As a new believer, they are excited and eager to learn.  They know something has changed, but really don’t know what it means.  They are quick to mention their new faith to all who will listen, but they tend to make messes because they really don’t understand how their new faith works.

Stage 3.  Spiritual Child.  Having moved past the infancy of their newfound faith, they understand the basics of the faith.  They can be excited about their faith in ways that many others consider cute.  They often act childish and often characterized by childish behavior like only do what they should when threatened or rewarded.  They are often self-centered in their interaction with church and want their way and comfort to be paramount.  They can sometimes give in and allows others to get their way if they are recognized for doing so, but this often is short-lived.

Stage 4.  Spiritual Young Adult.  By this stage, they have grown immensely from where they started.  They are eager to serve and think independently, but they have not yet learned to embrace their responsibilities as a follower of Jesus Christ.  They still have a lot to learn about meeting the spiritual needs of others.  They serve intentionally, but don’t share their faith intentionally.

Stage 5.  Spiritual Parent.  This final stage of development is when they are mature enough to reproduce disciples that will reproduce disciples.  By definition, they are reproducing.  They are not merely able to do so.  They actually do.  They actively engage in evangelism and carry through to discipleship.  They are strategic in their thinking and their lives.

If Jim Putman is right, or at least mostly right, how old are you spiritually?  Have you been born again?  Have you willingly and knowingly accepted that Jesus really is God the Son?  Has that realization caused you to reflect upon who rules your life?  Have that reflection led you to seek forgiveness for the choices you have made as though you were in charge?  Have you surrendered your life to the leadership of God through His Son?  If so, congratulations.  You might be a spiritual infant.  If not, you are still spiritually dead.

Are you excited about being a follower of Jesus, but not really sure of the difference between Christianity and other religions except that Christianity works for you?  You might be a spiritual infant.

Have you grown in your faith, but find yourself preferring your way all of the time?  Do you despise the new music, find yourself envious of others that get to have things their way?  You might be a spiritual child.

Have you grown in your faith, feel other-centered, and feel as though you have a pretty good relationship with God, but don’t have a strategic plan for evangelizing and discipling so that you are reproducing?  You might be a spiritual young adult.

Are you regularly leading people into and deeper into a relationship with Christ?  Do you find your greatest fulfillment in seeing others grow into maturity and reproduce using their Spiritual Gifts?  You might be a spiritual parent.

So…how old are you spiritually?



Light Is Needed Most When It Is Darkest
February 6, 2015, 11:55 am
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light

The other day, as I walked out of my front door just south of Liberal, I looked up and was stopped in my tracks momentarily.  As I looked to the north, where Liberal should have been, there was nothing.  No lights.  No traffic.  Nothing.  It was dark out and it was foggy.  This combination synergized to obfuscate the normal photoluminescence of the conglomeration of domestic abodes known as Liberal.  In other words, like my previous sentence, they confused me by being too dense to see through.

As I looked at this sight, I was struck with a thought.  What would it be like if Liberal actually wasn’t there?  What if some storm, bomb, earthquake or some other terrible event happened in the night and I awoke to find that the entire town was simply gone.  It had been destroyed.  How many people would go into an eternity without a relationship with Jesus Christ?  How many people would have to stand before the judgment seat of God and hear, “Depart from Me, I never knew you?”  How many would be doomed forever to spend eternity in Hell, tormented with no possible relief or deliverance?

As I pondered these things, I started to feel disturbed.  I wondered how God must feel about all of the people that would miss out on Heaven.  I wondered how I should feel, if I am a slave of God and am supposed to be about His business.  I wondered how many loved ones would mourn, knowing there was no such thing as a second chance.  I wondered how many people would try to feel better by saying, “Maybe, at the last second, they cried out to God.”  Don’t get me wrong.  If they had done that, they would be saved, just like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, but how likely is that?  And certainly how likely if they have never even heard they need to cry out to God for anything?

All of this was swirling in my head and heart as I began to drive in.  And then I was hit again by another thought.  As I was driving, I had gotten far enough away from the park in which I live to have passed outside of the effective range of the lights there, and had not gotten far enough to begin to see the lights of Liberal, which I trusted were still on.  As I looked around, I realized that I was in the middle of nowhere with no light, no point of reference, no direction, but still moving.  I wondered if that is not how many people, and many churches are living their lives.  Have we forgotten that people need light for a reference?  Even though they say that all truth is relative, don’t we all really want something as a reference to even know if we are on the road?

In that quiet moment, I renewed my commitment to sharing Jesus with as many people as I can.  Not so that I can get another notch in my belt to impress people with my evangelistic skills, but because there are people that might die today without Christ.

Will you join me in praying for your city?  Will you pray for your church to be a light on your corner or block?  Will you let your light shine so that others will at least have a reference point?  Will you share Jesus with them?  Will you help them out of the dark and into the light?  I hope so, because driving in the dark, on a rarely deserted road, with no lights is pretty scary, but I only had a few miles until I could see light again.  What must it be like to do that for eternity?



God’s Invisible Hand
January 30, 2015, 11:52 am
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Gods Invisible Hand

When I was in Seminary, the last time, I was shocked as I was studying Old Testament canonization and realized that one of my favorite books of the Bible had been seriously debated for inclusion in the Canon.  The book was the book of Esther.  It seems that the debate centered on the fact that the name of God is not mentioned anywhere in the book.  In addition, there were some other issues, like the positive presentation of a Gentile, conqueror king, Ahasuerus.  Also, there was the negative presentation of Jews that did not return to the Promised Land when given the opportunity.  While these side issues caused a stir, the main issue was the lack of mentioning God.

As I think about this situation, after having led my Sunday School class through a study on the book of Esther that I have written, I am reminded that God often acts in our lives just like He did in Esther.  There are times when we are going along in life and we are in need of God to act.  We pray and pray and feel like He is not there and we are on our own.  When the situation is over, we look back and find that, not only was God there all along, but He directed the whole situation.  Just when we are tempted to feel ignored by God, we realize He has been there all along.

An example of this was when my wife’s grandfather was suffering from mesothelioma.  He had worked in the shipyards in World War II.  We prayed and prayed for his healing.  I realize that some might think he was not healed because we did not have enough faith.  We even thought that and really agonized.  It seemed that no matter how much we prayed, he simply continued to deteriorate.  Finally, he died and my wife was broken-hearted.  One day, we were talking about it and it dawned on both of us that God had done exactly what we had asked.  We had asked for her grandfather to be healed.  As a believer in Christ, the moment he closed his eyes in this life, he was healed of his disease and is experiencing God’s presence.  God had been listening and had been acting all along.

I do not know what you are facing right now, but know this:  God loves you.  God knows you.  God knows what you are going through.  He does not sleep, nor slumber.  He does not change.  You can count on Him.  You might not see Him right now, but He is there.  Hang on and you will find He has been there all along.  If you are not yet a believer, then you need to begin a relationship with Him through His Son in order to see Him and understand, but He is there.  If you are a believer, hang on.  God is there.



Hide and Seek with God
January 23, 2015, 11:43 am
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Hide and Seek

What child has not had fun playing hide and seek?  It is a fun game where one person hides their eyes while all of the other participants run and try to find good hiding places.  The goal of the game is to be the last one found by the person looking.  My son was exceptional at this game.

One Saturday night, the youth of our church decided to play hide and seek.  My son ran and hid.  The entire group looked for him for hours and finally got so frustrated, they called for help thinking he had actually left and gone to a friend’s house.  After scouring the entire church building, he was found, asleep, hiding in a little cupboard we had next our baptistery!  While they were frantically searching, he had been there the whole time and had gotten so bored waiting for them to find him that he actually fell asleep.

While Hide and Seek may make a fun children’s game, it is not the wisest policy when dealing with God.  Three times in the first chapter of Jonah we are told Jonah was trying to flee from the presence of God.  Jonah, who had been used by God to speak to King Jeroboam II of Israel and had led him to expand the borders of Israel almost to the points they had been when Solomon was king, thought he could run from the presence of God only to learn you can’t outrun God.

As we read these verses, we start to see some of Jonah’s attitude in others and maybe even ourselves.  We find Jonah wanting to follow God when it is easy, but not when it is tough.  He wanted to follow God when it benefitted him, but not when it was inconvenient.  How about you?  Do you serve God in the good times and in the bad times or have you bought into the philosophy that God is only there to make you happy?  The last time I checked, He is God and that means He is in charge.  Are we living like it?



The Misunderstanding of Sin
January 18, 2015, 1:42 pm
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Praying Hands

For many Christians, sin takes on any number of different meanings.  The Bible uses various terms to define it.  Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary helps us see the different nuances of this topic through its entry on sin:

Sin. †In essence, the failure or refusal of human beings to live the life intended for them by God their creator. The biblical terminology for sin as an act (and its commission) as well as a human condition is extensive. Among the Old Testament words are Heb. ḥāṭā˒ (verb) “miss the mark, fail” and related words, ˓āḇar “pass beyond, transgress” and related words, ˓āwōn “iniquity, perversion,” pāša˓ “revolt, transgress” and related words, šāgag̱ and šāg̱â “err, go astray,” tā˓â “err, wander,” ra˓ “evil,” and rāšā˓ “wicked, impious.” New Testament terminology includes Gk. hamartía (noun) and related words, ponērós “evil,” adikía “injustice, unrighteousness” and related words, parábasis “transgress” and related words, and anomía “lawlessness.”[1]

Missing the mark, failing, passing beyond a boundary, transgress, iniquity, perversion, revolt against authority, err, go astray, wander, to be evil, to be wicked, to be impious, unjust, unrighteous…so many definitions of a simple word.  Add to that the definition in James that the good a man know he ought to do and do it not is sin.  Why would God go to such lengths to help us understand a word that so many in our world work to excuse away?  Perhaps because He knew they would…and so would we.

So, if sin is such a big deal, and there are so many ways to define it, what do we do about it?  Well, Psalm 66:18 says if I regard sin in my heart that God will not hear my prayers and Isaiah 59:2 says that our sin causes God to turn His back on our prayers.  So what CAN we do?  Nothing.  That’s right.  Nothing.  But Jesus can and did.  He died to atone for our sins.  He took our punishment and provided our payment.  So what does that mean for those of us who still struggle with sin?

1 John 1 deals with the answer to this question.

1 John 1:5-7 says that true believers will want to walk in the Light (without sin as much as possible) and that this desire is indicative of our relationship with Christ.

1 John 1:8 says if we think we are not dealing with sin right now, we deceive ourselves.  We are constantly being tempted and falling short of the glory of God.

1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, God will forgive and restore.

1 John 1:10 says if think we have never sinned, we make God a liar and His truth is not in us.

1 John 1:9 says if we confess our past sins, God will forgive and restore.

1 John 2:1-2 says if we sin in the future, given the caveat of 1 John 1:5-7, we have an advocate with the Father.  This is

Jesus, Who has already died and paid the price for our sins.

1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, in the future, God will forgive and restore.

Perhaps instead of trying to deny our sin, redefine our sin to make it less sinful, or getting angry with those who point out our sin, maybe we ought to simply confess our sin and receive forgiveness and restoration from God and health to our bones.  Perhaps we ought to thank God for the forgiveness and forbearance He has shown us in giving us salvation, revealing Himself through His Word, and continually convicting and drawing us to Him in the midst of our struggle with sin.

Sin, when understood properly, can be the very thing that drives us back to the arms of God and not into the bushes to hide from Him.

[1] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 951.




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