Meanderings of a Minister


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.

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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)



“Is This Really What Jesus Told You Guys to Be Doing?”
May 19, 2017, 2:55 pm
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This is the question that Matt Casper asked Jim Henderson in the book, Jim and Casper Go To Church.  Casper is an atheist and was traveling to visit churches with Jim Henderson, a retired pastor.  The purpose of their visits was to get the reaction of the atheist to what the churches were doing.  At the end of their visits, and prior to writing the book, Casper asked Jim this very question, “Is This Really What Jesus Told You Guys to Be Doing?”  While I certainly do not agree with many of the ideas contained in the book, this question has not left me.

For many of us today, we have gotten to the point that church is somewhere we go to pay someone (or many someones) to do something to us.  It is basically seen by many as simply another service we seek (no pun intended).  We look at our weekend errands and see things like:  1.  Go grocery shopping.  2.  Drop off the dry cleaning.  3.  Get the computer worked on.  4.  Wash the car.  5.  Go to church.  But isn’t the Christian life supposed to be much more than just being able to check a block off of a list of duties?  If it is, then what are we supposed to be doing?  Isn’t it good enough to just go to church and give our money?  Isn’t it enough to endure a sermon that is longer than I would prefer (and even without complaining!)?  Isn’t it enough to say I was there?  I mean, many people don’t go to church at all!  I have to be better than them, right?

While some people might be able to get away with looking at Christianity like this, I simply am not able.  When I think about what God sacrificed to make salvation available to me, I can’t help but thinking there must be more than just Sunday services.  What about living a life that shows how grateful I am to Him for doing so?  Like Paul in Romans 7, I think, “Wretched man that I am!  Who can set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Romans 7:24-25a)  What about learning to live free of the entanglements of sin?  What about developing in intimacy with Him?  What about seeing Him transform all areas of my life right down to the thoughts and intentions of my heart?

As important as even these thoughts are, there has to be even more, right?  I mean, doesn’t God want me to make a difference in His world so that others can know Him as well?  Yes, I need to give to support His work, but what about telling my story to people so they can hear about life with Him?  What about taking actions to correct wrong?  What about alleviating suffering, meeting needs and lifting people up?  What about letting my light shine before men so that they give glory to God (Matthew 5:16)?  What about making an actual difference (James 2:14-16)?

With all of this in mind, I am challenged to think about the summer that is already upon us.  For many of us, this is a time of turmoil and uncertainty as we step away from the routine of school, work and civic activity, but this does not mean that we should shut our hearts down or put our hearts on hold from God.  This can be a time when we have additional time to invest in God’s activity in our world.  This can be a time that we spend with friends at cookouts and ball games and can provide an excellent opportunity to get to know them and their struggles and do something to help.  This can be a time that we can involve ourselves in ministry more than normal.  It can be a time when we spend more time in prayer, bible study and devotion to God.  Why not take the time, this summer, to make a list of ways you would like to grow in your relationship with Christ and begin now to take steps towards that growth.  Who knows?  You just might find yourself where you would like to be.  And if you are looking for a place to plug in and serve, just ask.  There is plenty of ministry for everyone!



What Does It Mean to Be Holy?
March 22, 2017, 2:03 pm
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A girl walks up to a group of boys at the local high school.  The boys stiffen up and straighten up as she nears.  Their raucous tones turn to hush.  As she walks by, one of the boys says, “There she is!  Who does she think she is?  She acts ‘holier than thou’.”  What would make someone look at another person and say they are holy?  What does “holy” even mean?

The Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines “holy” the following way:

HOLY — moral and ethical wholeness or perfection; freedom from moral evil. Holiness is one of the essential elements of God’s nature required of His people. Holiness may also be rendered “sanctification” or “godliness.” The Hebrew word for “holy” denotes that which is “sanctified” or “set apart” for divine service.[1]

So being holy means being different than everyone else around you.  Ironically, the word for “church” in Greek is ekklesia.  The direct translation means “to assemble out of or away from”.  In the New Testament, Paul refers to all believers in Jesus Christ as “saints” (see Romans 1:7, 8:7, 12:13, 15:25, 26, 15:31, 16:2, 16:15, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 6:1, 2, 14:33, 16:1, 16:15, 2 Corinthians 1:1, 8:4, 9:1, 9:12, 13:13, Ephesians 1:1, 1:15, 1:18, 2:19, 3:8, 3:18, 4:12, 5:3, 6:18, Philippians 1:1, 4:22, Colossians 1:2, 1:4, 1:12, 1:26, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Timothy 5:10, Philemon 5, 7)  The word saint is the noun form of the word that is translated holy.

So, the church is called out from world.  Believers are set apart and different.  By extension, then, Christians are holy.  So when you come upon someone who says that you are “holier than thou” what do they mean?  They simply mean that you are different than they are.  You are set apart by God for a special purpose and a certain affection by and through Him.  So what they are actually saying is that you are just who God called you, saved you, is transforming you, and how God already sees you to be.  You are different.

Maybe what we need in our day are not men and women who shrink back and are ashamed of being considered or called different.  Perhaps what we need are men and women who lean into the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  Possibly what we need are believers who will own God’s stamp of approval over their hearts and lives as badges of honor and who look for opportunities to let their lights shine before men so that they might glorify our God, Who is in heaven.  We need men and women who will live out the part of the Lord’s prayer that we pray for so easily.  “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  They Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

So the next time someone accuses you of being “holier than thou”, thank them.  Tell them that it is the work of God in your life and that He wants to do that work in them as well.  Tell them that you are not perfect yet, but you are not who you used to be either.  Tell them how they can become a follower of Jesus as well.  And then ask them if they would like to.  Who knows.  They might have started the conversation God wanted to use to save them.

[1] Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.



Loving the Christ of Christmas
December 9, 2016, 3:47 pm
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i-love-jesus

During the Christmas season, I find it interesting that many people who never give much thought to Jesus or to why He came to live a perfect life and die a substitutionary death begin to look into these things.  It is almost like God knew this would happen.  (If you saw my face, you would see me smiling as I typed that.)  They don’t actually get a theology book and study them per se, but they begin to think about the truths of the Christmas carols.  They begin to hear snippets of scripture.  They begin to think about the things of God.  But is this enough?

In Ephesians 6:24, Paul ended his letter to the church at Ephesus by saying,

Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” (Ephesians 6:24, NASB95)

What did Paul mean by this and what does that have to do with Christmas?  Thanks for asking!  First, people at Christmas want to talk about God’s grace as though it were something universal.  This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the proclamation of the angels to the shepherds.  Here is what they actually said,

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”” (Luke 2:10–14, NASB95)

Our Christmas carols, and our universalistic tendencies to not want to offend anyone, have taken these verses and changed them a bit.  They have changed them to “Glory to God in the highest and peace, goodwill to men.”  This makes it sound as though Jesus coming meant everyone goes to heaven, but this is not the case because the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  (Romans 6:23) But in order for a gift to do you any good, you have to accept it.  In order to accept the gift of eternal life, one must turn from their sin and place their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Many simply will not do this.  Many who live right next to us in a free land where they could believe with little opposition simply will not do this.  Many who sit in our churches every Sunday simply will not do that.

Back to Paul.  He was asking God for His grace to be with a certain subset of people.  Who were those people?  Those who love Jesus Christ?  Yes and no.  What do I mean?  First, to love God means to obey God.  (1 John 5:3) To love Jesus is to obey Him.  (John 14:15) So, to love Jesus is to obey Him, but Paul had more in mind than begrudging obedience.  He went further to describe that love as incorruptible.

In the Greek language in which Paul wrote and communicated, the word that we translate as incorruptible actually meant to spoil, to ruin, or even to kill.  What is a love for Jesus that would be incorruptible?  It would be a love that cannot be spoiled, ruined or killed.  It is a love that says, “No matter what you ask of me, it cannot be compared to the Cross on which you died for me, so I will obey because I love you.”  It is a love that would say, “I work for You.  You don’t work for me.  Let’s do what You want today and every day.”  It is a love that would say, when the world asks why we don’t give up on the “Jesus thing”, “Where would we go for He alone has the words of Life!”  It is a love that is not just in word or deed, but from a changed, redeemed, grateful, and amazed heart.  And that drives the words and deeds.

Do you love like that?  Do I?  Do we love the Christ of Christmas?



Who Is Building the Church?

build-church

I was reading this morning about the second time the disciples of our Lord were arrested for preaching the gospel.  In Acts 5, we read about the disciples being arrested.  During the night, an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison and took them out and told them to stand in the temple and keep right on preaching.  When the Jewish officials found out they were not in the jail, and that everything was locked up tight and the guards were still guarding, they were perplexed at that was happening and what would come of the situation.

Just as they were wondering about the situation, someone, we are not told who, came reported to them that the men from the prison were now standing in the temple and teaching the people all over again.  This caused the captain of the guard to go and try to arrest them, but instead they basically talked the disciples into returning to answer questions about what they were doing.

While they were trying to figure out how to stop them, Gamaliel stood up and offered his wisdom.  He said that others had come claiming to be a deliverer, but when they died, their following petered out.  His advice was this:

“So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

As I read this over again, I was challenged to ask myself, “Who is building the church?  Who is building this church?  Who is building The Church?”  If I am trying to build a church based upon the force of my personality, cleverness, innovation, or any other means of manipulating people into coming on board and being a part, it will fail.  If I am learning to follow Jesus with all of my heart and I am sharing what I am learning with others and they are learning, then God is building the church and to resist what He is doing is to fight against God.  No one has arms long enough to box God!

So, then, this began a period of soul-searching and introspection.  How am I leading?  How are we building our church?  Are we doing it?  Am I?  Is that why I get frustrated when they don’t do things my way?  Is that why it seems there is so little fruit?  If I am building it, it is not going to be much or amount to much.  If God is building it, then it will be all He wants it to be.

How would I know if I am building the church myself?  If I am constantly looking for ways to trick people into coming?  Yep, me.  If I am always worried about what people think of me, you got it.  It’s me.  If I tone down the gospel because it is not popular, it’s me.  If I insist on the songs I like, technology I find cool, Bible study topics that are my favorites, then, yes, it’s me.

So, what does it look like for God to build a church?  First, He will be its focus.  Not the personalities that run it.  Not the latest book, series, or videos.  The focus will be on bringing Him glory and serving Him.  Second, His Word will be central to all that it does.  The sermons will seek to understand Him and His Word.  The music will be in accordance with His Word.  Small groups will study His Word.  His Word will be spoken in its halls, classrooms, and even fellowship tables.  Third, His Mission will be the mission of the church.  While a lot of other activities may or may not be present, a commitment to the Great Commission will be evident.  Jesus said He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).  A church being built by Him, for Him, and in His power will do what He is doing.  Lastly, the church will be marked by joy.  Joy in the Lord, His purposes and His people.

So, if this description is accurate, then we all need to take a look at our churches and ask who is building the church?  If it is a man, we are in trouble.  If it is God, we are in for a treat.



Lord, Teach Us to Pray!

Lord Teach Us to Pray

That was the request of the disciples one night after they had watched Jesus praying and speaking with His Father.  One of the disciples spoke up and asked Jesus to teach them how to pray just like they had seen John the Baptist teach his disciples.  Basically, they saw in Jesus a means and method of communicating with the Father that looked so much more intimate and vital than the rote prayers they were used to praying and they wanted to learn how to lean in to that kind of a relationship with the Father.

Jesus began by teaching them to call God their Father.  This was a new way of referring to God as through a personal relationship of love.  This would assume that they believe God loved them.  It would also assume that God wanted to hear from them.  Not because He did not already know what they were going to say or what was going on in their lives, but because God desired relationship with them even more than they desired the relationship with God.

Next, he told them to ask that God’s Name be hallowed.  Since we don’t use the word, hallowed, much, it would be helpful to think about what Jesus was saying.  He was saying that His disciples should make the entire basis of their prayer and their life to be the lifting up of God’s Name as holy, awesome, powerful, mighty, and wonderful.  They were to pray that people would think much of God’s Name and would want others to do the same.  This prayer is hard to pray honestly, if we are not living this day to day, so asking God is also a way of asking Him to help us to live that way.

“Your Kingdom come” was the next phrase Luke recorded in Luke 11.  This was to pray that God would come and rule the world like He rules in Heaven.  Not meaning that He is sovereign, because that is already the case everywhere you look.  God is sovereign, but what the disciples were to pray was that God’s reign would come to earth or that God’s plan for His world would be consummated.  Again, this is hard to pray if we are not living this out daily.

Jesus then taught them to pray that God would give them each day their daily bread.  While you and I know that all we have comes from God, Jesus wanted to make sure that they recognized God as the source of their sustenance.  For those of us who do not live with a lack of resources, this is even more important because we have a tendency to take for granted that what we have comes from our hard work instead of appreciating that even our ability to live, move, breathe, and work comes daily from God.

The next part of the prayer seems to come more natural for most Christians I know.  “Forgive us our sins”.  But Jesus did not stop there when teaching His disciples to pray.  He went on to teach them, “for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us”.  Jesus taught us to daily, or even periodically, to tell God that we have forgiven those who have done us wrong.  This is a tall order.  Even this week, I have experienced a hurt that I am struggling with and want to be able to put it behind me, but find myself struggling.  Jesus said in Matthew that if we did not forgive, we would not be forgiven.  This part of the prayer sends me back to my knees to beg for God’s help.

He ended with teaching them to pray that God would not lead them into temptation.  What did He mean by that?  Surely God would not lead someone to sin.  Would He?  Of course He would not.  This part of the prayer is a request that makes us aware of the times God gives us the way of escape.  It reminds us that we must lean on and follow God in order to avoid the temptations or to resist the sin to which the temptation might lead us.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray that their lives would be a constant advertisement for the awesomeness of God’s Name, as an example of His rule, as a testimony to His faithfulness, and as a surrender to his leadership.  When people look at your life, do they see any of that?  Maybe we had better start praying like we have been taught.