Meanderings of a Minister


The Trouble With the Tongue
April 26, 2017, 3:20 pm
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In the 1970’s, the show, Star Trek, introduced an episode entitled, “The Trouble with Tribbles”.  The problem with tribbles was not that they were cute or even useful, but that they multiplied until they were everywhere.  Once everywhere, they disrupted the ship’s crew and even the ship’s physical plant.  The clogged up everything and caused the crew to be at each others’ throats.  Our tongue is much like a tribble.  A little slip here, a little slip there and, before you know it, the effects have multiplied and our progress in the faith has completely stopped and we are upset with everyone.  James knew this to be a difficulty as well and he wrote about the trouble with the tongue in James 3:1-12.

The first trouble with the tongue James mentions is that it can take down those that desire to be teachers and leaders in the church.  James makes the statement that we all fall in the use of our tongues, but when teachers fall, the impact is multiplied simply because of the influence they have over others.  When you read 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5-9, and see the high standards Paul, at the direction of the Holy Spirit, put on pastors and teachers, it is amazing to think that they would meet all of those high and lofty ideals only to be taken down by careless use of the tongue.

Additionally, the trouble with the tongue is that it can lead you to a changed life.  It can lead to changes that are good or changes that are bad.  James uses the illustrations of directing a horse with a bit and a ship with a rudder.  Both use small things to change the course of much larger vessels, but think about it.  A horse can be used to rob a bank (in the Old West) or it can be used to deliver mail (Pony Express).  A ship can be used to deliver humanitarian aid or it can be used by Somalian pirates to take lives and demand ransoms.  Our tongue is similar.  It can be used to steer us into deeper relationships (courtship) or it can be used to destroy those same relationships (testifying in divorce court).

Another problem with the tongue is the fact that it is so hard to control.  The example James uses is that of a fire starting with a small spark.  Smokey the Bear used to say it only takes a spark to start a forest fire.  In the 1990’s, a discarded cigarette started a blaze in California that claimed over a million acres, homes and even lives.  The tongue can do this as well.  Think about a time when a careless remark or a word that was not well chosen had serious ramifications for you and you understand completely.

The tongue can also blow hot and cold.  This is what James meant by saying we use it to worship God (hot) and we use it to tear down or curse others (cold).  Sometimes, if we are not careful, that usage can happen in the span of a few seconds.  We use it to sing Jesus Loves Me and use it to criticize, gossip or destroy a person’s reputation.  This may seem normal, but James says it should not be so.

Finally, James closes this section with the biggest trouble of the tongue.  It merely reflects what is in our hearts.  Jesus said so in Matthew 12:34 when he said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”  Do you wonder why you are critical?  It is what your heart is filled up with.  Why do you struggle to control cursing?  It is what you fill your heart up with.  Why do you find it hard to focus on Jesus throughout the day?  You are not filling your heart up with Him.

Try something different.  Try spending time in God’s word today and leave off the TV.  Try listening to only Christian music for a week and see if your tongue improves.  Make a list of the good attributes of your spouse and see if you don’t begin to see them in a more positive light.  Spend time thanking God for all He has done for you and see if grateful speech does not come easier.  Try it.  It just might change your life.



Lord, Do Not Hold This Sin Against Them!
September 30, 2016, 2:33 pm
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forgive

I don’t care how many times I read this scripture from Acts 7:60, I am humbled all over again.  Here is Stephen being stoned for his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The very men that are stoning him are the ones on his heart and the prayer he makes before closing his eyes in death.

Then there is Jesus Himself.  He had been arrested, bound, led away, abused, tried, imprisoned, abused some more, tried again, interviewed, abused some more, starving, thirsty, beaten, sentenced to death, led up Golgotha, stripped naked, nailed to a cross, lifted up for everyone to make fun of, abused some more.  Just before He died, what did He pray?  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

This list goes on.  How about Joseph?  His mother was promised to his father, but his great uncle traded her out for her older sister on their wedding night.  His great uncle then insisted Jacob work an additional seven years to actually get to marry the woman he loved and was supposed to originally marry.  What ensued would have made the Jerry Springer show.  Women, children being born, in fighting, dysfunction were prevalent in the house.

Joseph is given a dream of ruling over his brothers, but they weren’t going to have any of that.  It was bad enough that father was playing favorites with a coat of honor.  There was no way he was going to rule over them!  So what did they do?  They sold him.  Yes, they sold him.  Not only did they sell him, but they sold him as a slave to people heading to Egypt where they did not like his kind.  God blessed him in Potiphar’s house.  Then, Potiphar’s wife accused him of trying to seduce and sexually assault her.  He went to prison.  For 13 long years, he wasted away in a prison for something he really did not do.

After getting out of jail, he finally has some power.  He tests his brothers and then reveals himself and invites them all to come and live with him in Egypt.  They go.  Then, father dies.  The brothers come to him afraid that he will seek revenge.  How does he respond?  “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”  He forgave them!

What do all of these events have in common?  Here were men who had every reason to be angry at God and angry at others, but they chose not to.  They chose to forgive.  Not only did they choose to forgive, but they chose to pray for them and bless them and do whatever good they could do for them.  But why?  Why would they do this?

Stephen knew that Jesus was standing in Heaven and ready to receive him.  We would do well to remember that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a believer.  It is actually kind of the best, if it is God’s plan and God’s timing.

Jesus knew that the men He was dealing with did not realize Who He was.  They had no idea how they were being used by Satan, but also by God to carry out the plan God had for Him since before the foundation of the world.  We would do well to realize that many of the people who do us wrong don’t realize what they are doing because they are spiritually dead and cannot understand the things or ways of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Joseph chose to look at what God had done for him and not what had been done to him as the basis for the man he would be or the life he would live.  He broke the victim mentality and was an overcomer.  In our day, more of us should do just that.

So, who needs your prayer?  Who needs your forgiveness?  Who do you need to treat well even they have misused you?  Perhaps this is your chance to show them how much better life is when lived for someone and something bigger than you.  Let’s both do that.



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.



We Are Not Worthy!

worthy-title

It never ceases to amaze me how I can read a passage of scripture I have read a number of times before and have it hit me in ways that it might not have all of those many times before.  One such scripture is the story of the Prodigal Son.  The story is found in Luke 15.

To get the setting of the story, one must read verses 1 and 2.

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man received sinners and eats with them.’”

So, the story of the Prodigal Son was told because the Pharisees were upset with Jesus for spending time with sinners.  Jesus actually tells three stories with one lesson.  We see this lesson stated in verse 10, as well as other places in this chapter,

“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus told these stories as proof of His love for and ministry to those who were far from God.  When Jesus gets past the story of the lost sheep, and the story of the lost coin, he then turns to the story we know as the story of the Prodigal Son.    While it is not my purpose to go through this whole story in this brief article, let’s summarize it.

A young man came to his father and basically said, “I wish you were dead already and I could my inheritance money.”  Surprisingly, the father grants the inheritance.  The young man quickly liquefies his assets and heads out of town to the “far country”.  It doesn’t take long of living high on the hog before the man is broke and has to turn to feeding the hogs.  This is something a good Hebrew simply could not abide, but the man was desperate, so he takes the job.  After serving in this capacity for an undisclosed amount of time, he changed his mind about how bad his father might have been and how bad his life with his father might have been.  He decides to go home.

In preparation for going home, the son comes up with a speech he is planning to deliver to his father in which he would ask not to be restored, but only to be allowed to work for his father and have a place to stay and food to eat.  Here is his speech from verses 18b and 19:

“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”

As the son makes his way home, the father sees him coming and runs to him and starts to hug him and kiss him.  Notice what speech the young man gives his father.  It is found in verse 21:

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

The Father, seemingly not even hearing this confession, shouts orders to his servants about restoring the young man to his position in the house as a son.  What was the difference between what the young man had rehearsed so many times along the way and what he actually got to say?  He did not get a chance to ask to be made a slave, but was reinstalled as a son.  The Father was glad to have the son home, well, and under his protective roof once again.

The rest of the story shows the older brother upset that the father will receive the wayward son.  Jesus told this story to help the religious people to see that He had come to reach the very people the religious people were upset He was reaching.  They had missed the point.

So, when I read this story again, what popped out to me?  The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were upset that Jesus was ministering to people who were not worthy of Him, but they did not realize that is the description of all of us.  None of us are worthy of God’s love.  Whether we wear a business suit, jogging suit, or loin cloth, none of us are worthy.  Whether we have a billion dollars, or are in debt trillions of dollars, we are not worthy.  Whether we have a doctorate degree, or dropped out of elementary school, we are not worthy.  That is why it is grace!

Many of us church people forget that we are saved by God’s grace and; thus forgetting, we fail to show that same grace to others.  Maybe we had better come back to God on our knees and cry, “We are not worthy to be called your sons or daughters.  Make us like a hired hand.”  And then, we will realize the blessings of God’s grace that, in Christ, we are called His sons and daughters.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.



A Key Ingredient for Fireproofing Your Relationships
November 8, 2013, 1:22 pm
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Forgive

Have you ever tried to make or build something only to find out that you were missing an ingredient or a part?  How frustrating!  You set out with grand thoughts of riding your bicycle, watching a video or tasting some warm, fresh, straight-from-the-oven brownies only to have your hopes dashed on the rocks because there was something missing.  You could go and get it at the store, and you will, but it is just not the same because the anticipation subsides.

 What in the world does this have to do with relationships?  I am glad that you asked.  The one ingredient that can be missing for relationships, and cause those same relationships to lose their appeal, is forgiveness.  Yes, I said, “Forgiveness.”  Forgiveness is often missing from relationships because we do not understand what forgiveness is or are confused about how to forgive.  In some instances, we don’t even understand why we should forgive.  This issue is very important to preserving relationships.

 First, let’s start with why we should forgive.  Jesus told the story of the servant who owed his king 10,000 talents of gold in Matthew 18:21-35.  I would suggest stopping now to read it.  In the story, the servant was forgiven a huge sum, but refused to forgive his fellow servant for 100 days wages.  This seems wrong to us because of the amount the king had forgiven for the servant.  That was Jesus’ point exactly.  When we define sin as anything other than absolutely perfect (for this is what the word for sin in Greek actually means), it does not take a stretch of the imagination to realize we owed much more than just 10,000 talents of gold for the myriad of sins we have sinned.  If you have a relationship with God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, then all of those sins have been forgiven.  The least we can is to forgive others for the amazing small debt they owe.  We forgive because we have been forgiven.

 We also forgive or God will not forgive us.  That may sound shocking, but that is what Jesus said right after teaching us how to pray in Matthew 6:1-15.  We must forgive in order to maintain our fellowship with God and with others and we must forgive to prevent Satan from driving a wedge in our relationships that would cause people to look down on our faith and our God.

 What does it mean to forgive?  Simply put, the word for forgiveness in the Matthew 18 passage we have already read is the word Aphoken.  It is a Greek word that means to send away.  What do we send away?  We send away our feelings of wanting to hurt someone that has hurt us.  We send away our need for revenge.  We send away the anger and bitterness that have built up in us.

 Forgiving does not mean forgetting what happened.  This is a fallacy that the enemy of our souls uses to keep us chained to unforgiveness.  You may be thinking, “But Jack, haven’t you read Isaiah 43:25 (NIV) ‘I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.’?  What does that mean if not that God forgets our sins and we must be willing to forget others’ sins if we are to forgive.  First, consider that God could not forget anything.  If God were to forget something, then there would be knowledge that God does not know.  It would mean that He is not omniscient and, if not omniscient, then not God.  When He says He forgets the sin, He means that He does not choose to remember the revenge that the sin calls for.  He does not hold it against us is another way of expressing this truth.  Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.  Nor does it mean offering complete trust.

So how do I forgive?  Follow these simple steps.

1.  Pray and ask God to help you forgive.
2.  Make a decision to forgive.
3.  Say the words (if only to yourself) that you have forgiven.
4.  Forgive completely.
5.  Realize you might have to forgive repeatedly.
6.  Thank God for His forgiveness.
7.  Repeat steps 1-6 as needed until you have conquered the feelings of revenge and hurt that you would like to seek against the offender.

 Now that you know how…what will you do?