Meanderings of a Minister

Eulogy of A Saint
December 7, 2017, 1:04 pm
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Recently, a friend of mine and a longtime, faithful deacon of our church, died.  As I reflected on his life, the following thoughts came to mind as an example of the kind of legacy every child of God should want to leave behind.

Lord, today Ivan died.  He was 93 years old, had been married for almost 75 years, and had been a deacon for longer than I have been alive.  He worked in the oilfield as a roughneck and then as a driller.  Normally, those statements would not go together, but they did with Ivan.  He knew how to work hard, but also was a very strong believer and a tender-hearted man who loved You and loved people.  Truly, he embraced 1 Corinthians 13.  Ivan knew that no amount of service or sacrifice meant anything without love as the prime motivator.

Ivan was patient.  Whether it was facing the health challenges of his wife at home, or issues at church, he was patient and kind in dealing with them.  He was patient to teach middle school Sunday School for years as well as being a deacon.  I never saw Ivan fly off the handle or even become visibly frustrated.

Ivan was kind.  The tender way he dealt with Martha, even when he was in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital, he was still reassuring her.  Even when there was conflict in the church among the deacons, Ivan was the voice of reason and of showing kindness.  He was a true example to be in this area.

I have never known Ivan to boast about anything.  As a matter of fact, Ivan much preferred to remain the background and not have the spotlight.  When we made him a Deacon Emeritus, he was embarrassed to receive the plaque and the applause of the congregation.  Ivan was also never rude, demanding, or arrogant.  It just was not his way.

Ivan was also never resentful or irritable.  The only point I was even saw Ivan on edge was in the hospital when he made the decision to stop the heroic efforts to save him.  He had told the doctor, and Linda, his daughter, that he wanted to stop treatment and just be comfortable.  I asked him if he was sure and he let me know it was his decision and was a bit irritated that he was asked again.  Ivan appreciated the God Who provided all he owned way too much to think it was because of him or that God owed him more.

While I know that Ivan was not perfect, he certainly showed the example of being a man of God.  He rejoiced when the truth was taught and was deeply bothered when something was put in its place.

Ivan’s love bore all things.  The death of a son, his wife’s illness, Ivan’s own pain were things he bore because he did not want to burden anyone.  Changes at church, retirement, decline of his own health, were all examples of what Ivan bore in love.  He bore it all and more with grace and composure.  While many others sour on life, Ivan never did.  He did not accuse God, check out on life, or think that God did not care about his struggles like so many others do with lesser problems.

Ivan believed.  He loved God and believed God.  All the way back to his younger days, Ivan believed God is real, Jesus is real, the Bible is true.  He believed the manger happened, miracles took place, the cross was where Jesus died for the sins of the world and for Ivan’s personal sins as well.  He believed Jesus really was buried and really did conquer death, hell, sin, Satan, and the grave when He walked out of the tomb.  He believed Jesus really did forgive his sins when he repented from his sins and placed his faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.  He believed he would one day see Jesus and now he has.

Ivan loved God and lived with hope every day.  It is what gave Ivan hope and the desire to love his wife, daughter, and son like Jesus would.  Ivan’s love for God has changed because he has been able to see God as He is, but it will never go away.  That love never failed Ivan and it never will.

Ivan left a legacy of love for God and others.  I am thankful that Ivan showed me what a faithful man, husband, father, deacon, and Christian is supposed to look like.  What legacy will you leave behind?


Battle of the Heavyweights
December 5, 2017, 1:52 pm
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When I was little, my Grandfather used to love to watch boxing.  We would sit in the living room and he would explain to us why this boxer or that boxer wasn’t as likely to win as the other one.  He would go into lengthy explanations about why one had the advantage and was a sure win.  Most of the time, he was right, but once in a while, a boxer would surprise him.

In Nahum 2:1-3:19, we see God speaking to the people of Israel and telling them that, although they were convinced that the strongest government on earth could not be defeated, they would be.  Although Assyria controlled the entire known world of their day, they would not stand forever.  God was trying to tell Israel to hold on to their faith in Him and He would stand triumphant.  They had to decide if they would be on His side of if they would continue to rebel and trust in their earthly masters.

This choice is the same choice that faced the Jews in the days when the announcement came that John the Baptist would be born.  They were under the tyranny of the Romans and wanted out badly.  The temple worship had been reduced to mere religious exercise and they were badly in need of a national reform and revival, but they thought that their situation was controlled by their captors.  They considered Rome stronger than any force on earth.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The people thought they needed someone to throw out the Romans before they could worship God.  What they needed more than anything was for them to turn to and trust in God and stay right there and wait on Him to move.  He was moving anyway, but they needed to focus on Him to find that out.  They needed to see the power of God for what it is…invincible!

This is the same choice you and I have every day.  Do we believe God is all-powerful, or do we need to take things into our own hands?  Do we believe God is all-knowing or do we need to help Him out?  Do we believe God loves us or do we need to earn it?  From this passage, we should see that God is sufficient for all of our needs.  No matter how big the problem, mountain or situation, God is bigger.  If we will trust Him, we will be victorious in the end.

Are We Fighting the Right Wars?
December 5, 2017, 1:49 pm
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I am sure that the title of this article will resonate differently with different people.  Just this last week, we remembered our Veterans on Veteran’s Day.  For many of those Veterans, especially the Vietnam Era Veterans, this is a question that stirs up feelings of betrayal and abandonment as our nation and its citizens failed this group by refusing to recognize their sacrifice and service because of a select group of people that characterized them poorly.  For others, they are tempted to say we should not be fighting in any of the conflicts we now face. That is not the way I posed the question, but it is probably a good example of how we are failing.  Allow me to explain.

In 1 Timothy 6:11-16, Paul wrote the following words to Timothy:

“But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”[1]

In this passage, Paul says that Timothy is to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.  That is the fight we should be fighting.  As believers, that is the focus of living out the salvation we have been given.  Sadly, many have turned their backs on fighting for these things.  Since they are not fighting the war we have been called to fight, they turn and focus on many other things.  We criticize the Baptists because they don’t dance, the Pentecostals because they dance in church, the Lutherans because they are so predictable, the Charismatics because they don’t plan anything, the Hispanics because they are always late, or the Anglos because they are so caught up on time.  We find any number of things to fight about because we are not fighting the war we have been saved to fight.

We even carry this outside the Church, where we turn to the ballot box to try to accomplish what we are not willing to carry out ourselves.  We blame the government for handling the care of seniors so poorly when we were called to that task.  We blame the government for messing up everything from public education to healthcare to the definition of life.  The government was never given this war to fight, but, since we chose not to fight it, government took it over and then we are shocked that government handles it differently than we would.

Perhaps, on this week when we have spent some time thanking and thinking about the Veterans, and as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving,  it is time for us to get serious about living for God with all of our hearts, setting that example for others, sharing Jesus with our neighbors, and stop sitting in front of our various screens typing and talking about how things should be different and actually help to make them different.

It won’t be easy, but war never is.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

Use It Or Lose It
November 6, 2017, 12:57 pm
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I went to the doctor recently for a problem with my elbow.  It seems that my elbow has gotten sorer over the past several years.  While it really did not limit me much at first, it has gotten progressively more irritating.  It is now to the point that I cannot straighten out the elbow to its full extension.  The doctor I saw told me that I will never get the mobility back because my body has adjusted to the lack of extension and has made adjustments that now prevent it from being used as it was fully intended.

As I reflected on this, I thought about how this is analogous of many other parts of life as well.  When we are dating, we communicate ad nauseam with our intended.  We talk about anything and everything just to be together, learn about each other and because we enjoy the sound of each other’s voices.  If we are not careful, over time, we stop communicating at this level and, twenty years later, we find ourselves in need of counseling because we just can’t communicate anymore.  We didn’t use it, so we lost it.

Sharing our faith also works this way.  Chances are, when you first became a believer, you were so excited about your new life in Christ that you wanted to tell everyone you came in contact with.  Over time, you began to become worried about offending people, what they would think of you, etc.  Now, you cannot remember the last time you shared your faith and to even think about doing so causes your adrenaline to flowing because you are afraid.  You didn’t use it, so you lost it.

This can also be the case when it comes to attending church.  As a kid, you went all the time because you were drug to church.  You went a little bit right out of high school, but then you fell away.  Now, you sometimes think about attending church, but can’t get out of bed to do so.  You didn’t use it, so you lost it.

The list could go on and on.  You used to exercise, but now huff and puff up the stairs.  You used to lift weights, but now a push up with be a challenge.  You used to watch your weight, now you watch your waist.  You used to read regularly, now you don’t have time because you have the tv, internet, computer and sleep to take up the time.  You didn’t use it, so you lost it.

Unlike my elbow, everything listed above is recoverable.  How do you recover that which you have lost?  First, you ask God to help you find it.  Second, you begin to do it again.  At first, it will seem awkward and maybe even make a little uncomfortable or sore, but you need to push through the discomfort and continue.  Lastly, you have to make it a regular part of your life again and make sure that it remains the priority you want it to be.  Who knows, maybe I will get to use my elbow, I can communicate with my wife better, I will be more consistent with sharing my faith, and I might lose some weight and keep it off.

What did you used to have, but lost it due to non-use?  What will you do about it?

God Works All Things Together for Good

Romans 8:28 is a verse that many people love.  It is also a verse that many people misunderstand.  Let’s read it together:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, KJV 1900)

So, what does this verse say?  Well, actually, it says quite a bit, but the context also helps us understand it a little better.

First, the passage says that God loves us and is beneficent towards us.  What does beneficent mean?

  be•nef•i•cent \-sənt\ adjective

[back-formation from beneficence] 1616

1:   doing or producing good especially: performing acts of kindness and charity[1]

Okay, so that did not help us much.  Actually, it might have helped more than we think.  What does it mean that God is good to us?  Or how can we say that God is kind towards us when we can all think of examples of how life is not good?  How can we say that God is charitable towards us when we lack food and water?  The context helps us.  Consider verses 29-31:

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:29–31, KJV 1900)

While I do not wish to quibble over the doctrine of predestination and election in this passage, would you at least agree with me that this verse says that those who God loves and who love God are being conformed to the image of His Son?  What does that mean and what does that have to do with the beneficence of God?  Actually, quite a bit!

It means that God is good to us in that He is conforming us to the image of His Son.  Anything that He allows into our lives, that seems bad at the time, He is actually using to conform us into the image of His Son.

Are you weak physically?  Maybe God is using that to teach you to lean on His strength.  Are you broke?  Maybe God has allowed this so that you will learn to value what He gives you and to become a better steward for the future.  Have you lost a friend to an argument?  Perhaps God is teaching you to become a more loving friend or that you are never alone.  God is a God more interested in your holiness than temporal happiness.  He is using the “bad stuff” to make great stuff.  Those who love Him and the called according to His purpose, while they might not feel it, understand it, see it, or even always agree, are reminded from this verse that God is good and works for our good according to His definition.  Faith is believing it and remaining faithful in the face of it.

What are you going through right now that you need to bow your head and confess to God that you don’t understand, but you still believe He is good?  What do you need to do to submit to His activity in your life?  Will you?  Have you?  Will you continue?

[1] Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

What Are You Standing on When You Pray?
October 16, 2017, 1:06 pm
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I recently attended our denomination’s state convention.  While there, I took a seminar on prayer.  In the seminar, the speaker asked the question, “What are you standing on when you pray?”  I was intrigued by this question.  I was even more intrigued by the fact that he asked the question while standing on top of a chair in the middle of the room.  The speaker told a story about growing up in an abusive family and about being sexually abused by an older foster brother for years.  He finally reached the end of his ability to deal with the abuse and cried out to God to get him out of the situation.  He promised God what he would become a Christian and live for God his whole life if God would just get him out of the torture and pain.  Through a series of events, he was sent to live with his grandparents, who raised him to love Jesus.

The day that he arrived at his grandparents to live, he decided that he needed to make good on his promise to God.  He knelt and gave his life to Jesus right at the threshold of his grandparents’ house.  Having made that decision, he began to study his Bible, pray and try to learn all he could about this new life he had chosen.

One day, he realized God really did answer prayer.  He had prayed to be delivered and he was delivered.  He had prayed to be saved and he was saved.  The next prayer he prayed, he literally went to the same spot to pray and wrote his previous prayer on a piece of paper and stood on the prayer while asking God for a friend.  He added that, if God wanted to, He could make that friend be a girl.

Shortly after praying that prayer, he was driving home one day and came upon a young man who had skidded off the road and needed help digging his truck out of the snow.  He helped the young man and the young man invited him to go home with him to warm up.  The young man had an ulterior motive.  The young man was also from an abusive family and if his father found out that he had run the truck off the road, he was afraid of the beatings he would endure.  He figured that, if he had a guest with him, the father might not abuse him for fear of being found out.

As they walked into the living room of the young man’s family home, our speaker laid eyes on the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.  She is his wife today and they have been married for many, many years.

The point the man was trying to make was that it took the faith that the first prayer had generated to make him believe the second prayer would be answered.  The faith that was generated by the second prayer had emboldened him to pray the third prayer and believe it to both be the will of God and that it would be done according to the will of God.

The speaker used that example to challenge his audience, of which I was a part, with the question, “What are you standing on when you pray?”  For many of us, we pray about things we are not really sure God will answer or how.  If we are really unsure, we may even call someone and ask them to pray for us because we think that God will listen to their prayers, or our prayers, more than He will listen to my prayers.  When we pray and see God move in response to our prayers, it gives us the confidence to pray more and believe that God will move.  Now, this does not mean simply pray for whatever you desire and God is somehow obligated to deliver like a pizza delivery boy.  Far from it!  But when we pray and get to know God and listen to and get know His voice and understand His will is always contained in His Word and is always to bring Him glory among the nations, we get in tune with His desires and get to see Him move.

When have you prayed in the past and seen God answer?  Use that experience as the foundation of your future prayers.  Stand on those prayers and humble yourself before God, but pray with confidence that you know your Savior’s voice and are following His will, then you can know that you want what He wants and He will do it.  Then stand on that prayer, and that prayer, and that prayer.  Before you know it, you will be higher than the story that you thought was so big it could never be fixed.  And don’t forget it is not just prayer that God answers by the prayers of a righteous man (or woman, boy, or girl).  (James 5:16)

Ordering Your Private World

Gordon MacDonald has revised and updated his classic book that has taken literally a million people on a journey to get serious about living.  In this revised version, MacDonald has gone even further than his original work because he is no longer just the author, but has repeatedly become the practitioner of his own methods.  Faced with hitting a wall of growth in the Christian life, Gordon MacDonald took his own advice and began to grow again.  He shares with us, once again, how this can be possible for any follower of Jesus Christ.

MacDonald uses incredibly poignant illustrations for pointing out not only the needs we all face, but also the solutions for meeting those needs.  For instance, he likens the private world, some call it heart, soul, mind, or some other label, to a potential void beneath an otherwise seemingly normal operating life.  Like the sinkholes that occasionally make the news, a person is going along doing their normal life and then wake up to find their whole life has fallen into a hole.  How did it happen?  Who is to blame?  MacDonald suggests neglecting the private world, which he would say involves all of the areas previously listed, is the cause.  With nothing to hold up the outer life, it falls into the hole where the character, life, spiritual life, and heart should have been.

Dealing with everything from confidence to trust to secret desires for recognition and appreciation, MacDonald delves into our private world in such a way as to cause every reader to wonder if he has been looking in the window to their souls.  He encourages not just an introspection, but a circumspection and a humble submission to God’s activity in one’s life.  He suggests have people around us that help us to see what we are truly like.  He further suggests establishing a routine of healthy behaviors so that, when faced with a crisis, we are able to respond like we always have.  Like the child piano player asked to play for the family picnic, there is no reason to panic or think that we need to produce a special performance, but merely that we react as we always have.

This revised and updated version of Ordering Your Private World comes with a small group discussion guide.  The questions are far from trite and require some honesty and thought, but are an excellent resource for getting a group of people together to read the book and study its implications for their lives.  It also provides an excellent framework for accountability in everything from pursuing God’s dream for my life to spiritual disciplines to taking our walk with Jesus more serious each and every day.

For the reader who thinks that this is just another guilt trip book designed to show off our shortcomings, it is far from that.  It is actually an encouragement from someone who has been there and been there and knows God can get us through.

I was provided this book free to write this review, but would have purchased it anyway.  They did not ask me to say anything positive or negative.  Just to review it.  I highly recommend it.