Meanderings of a Minister


How Has God Changed Your Life?
June 15, 2017, 3:11 pm
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Yes, that might seem like a strange question.  Let me explain where this question comes from so that you will be able to answer the question adequately.

I run into people all the time that tell me they are Christians.  They will tell me stories about how they went to church as a child.  They will tell me about praying a prayer with a preacher, Sunday School teacher, or some other significant adult in their life.  They might even tell me about how much they used to go to church or all the ministry they did when they were teens, young adults, adults, or some other period of life.  They might even tell me that they used to be a Christian, but are doing their own thing right now, but they will get back to being a Christian later.

Sadly, most people, when asked this question, do not even understand the question, let alone how to answer it.  When I ask this question, I want to know how your relationship with Jesus is changing your life right now?  Matthew was a tax collector who collected no more taxes.  Peter was a fisherman who Jesus turned into a fisher of men.  Saul was a Rabbi who was so zealous for the Law that he killed Christians for claiming Jesus to be God.  He became a believer, missionary, writer, and church leader.  All these men took seriously Jesus’ call to, “Come, follow me!”

I used to be a drunken sailor with a foul mouth.  I had stolen, committed adultery, and constantly used people to prop me up because I did not believe I was ever enough.  I no longer drink.  I have not touched a drop of alcohol since 1992 (okay, so I gargle with Listerene©).  I no longer even think curse words.  I have not stolen anything in many years (again, maybe a pen from the bank, but I just forgot to put it back).  I am deeply committed to and appreciative of my wife.  We have been married for 30 years this October.  Those are the conquered sins.

I still struggle with feeling adequate for life.  I am not the father, husband, pastor, man, or Christian I want to be.  When I get down about any or all of these, God confirms me and encourages me by reminding me that I am not who I am going to be, but I also am not who I used to be.  God is at work in me.  (Phil 1:6)

So, have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?  Have you repented of yours sins and placed your faith in what Jesus Christ did for you when He died on the cross?  Have you made that decision public through baptism?  Are you striving to know God and His Word so that it transforms your daily life, speech, spending, speeding, and spelunking for meaning?  How so?

How has God changed your life?  How is God changing your life?  Many people think of following Jesus as the finish line.  They think, “Good.  Now that I am a Christian, I am holy and forgiven and there is nothing left to do or accomplish.”  That could not be further from the truth.  While the decision to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior is paramount, there is much else that must be decided and it must be decided faithfully each day.  How is God changing your life right now?

Can you point to a way that others would say is proof that you are less focused on yourself and more focused on others?

Does the way you spend your money tell others that Jesus is your Lord?  Do you give 10% of your gross income to your church?  Do you give offerings above that?  Do you also help people when you see legitimate needs?

Do you hunger for the Word of God?  Do you feel incomplete on those days when you can’t spend time reading, studying, meditating upon, and memorizing God’s Word?

Do you pray?  When was the last time you fasted and prayed?

Do you tell others about Jesus?

Or are you just everyone else?

How has God changed your life?

How do you want Him to?



Where Do God’s Blessings Come From?

blessing

Chances are good that, if you turn on the television and tune into a religious channel, you will hear a lot about God’s blessings.  You will hear that God wants to bless you beyond your wildest imagination.  You will hear that God’s main concern is that you be happy, fulfilled, wealthy and blessed.  Actually, they are right!  But, many times, they are just as wrong.  Allow me to explain.

First, we need to understand what blessing means from God’s perspective.  The word for blessing in the Old Testament actually comes from a root word that means to prepare.  It is a word that, properly translated, means much more than just stuff.  So many times we think blessing means that we get a new car, new home, lots of money, etc.  Sometimes this is the case because God gives us those things in preparation for what He wants us to do and do with them.  This is not always the case.  God equally blesses the person that has nothing as He works in his or her life to prepare them for the ministry He has ahead of them.  Sometimes God even uses difficulty to prepare us to be useful for His Kingdom!

Consider the story of the widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7.  Her husband has died, the food is gone, and the creditors are going to take her two sons away as payment for her husband’s debts.  She is at the absolute end of her rope.  She has nowhere to turn; however, she does have one last desperate choice.  She goes to Elisha, the prophet, and asks for his help.  With the desperation that we can only see in a mother that trying to keep her family together and her home intact, she cries out to God through His prophet.  Much to her chagrin, the prophet asks what she wants him to do?  She has no answer.  He asks what she has left in her house.  She replies that she only has a little bit of oil and that is it.

This is the chance where she has a choice to make.  She has presented her request to God and He has responded by asking her to give up the little she has.  That would probably not make for a successful television ministry, but it was what God wanted.  Faced with this call to action, the widow had a chance to obey or not obey.  By not obeying, she could protect the little she had and continue to find a way out that was more appealing or popular.  If she obeyed, she would have to trust that God knew what He was doing and would take care of her.  She chose to obey even though it made no sense from a human standpoint.  What did she receive?  God’s blessing.  In this case it was stuff, but it was not the stuff that mattered.  It was her obedience that taught her to trust God and provided her example for us that mattered and still does.  Her difficult circumstance was the blessing!

What are you facing right now that is tempting you to question the goodness of God?  What are you going through right now that is not what you wish it would be?  What difficulty is threatening to crush you?  Perhaps, just perhaps, this might be God blessing you, not with stuff, but with the opportunity to obey and learn about Him, grow closer to Him and be used more by and for Him.  Maybe instead of searching the television channels for a person to make you feel guilty and inferior because of what you are going through, you should spend that time talking to the One in charge of your circumstances and ask for Him to guide you through it.



Saying Goodbye
April 30, 2015, 11:12 am
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Goodbye

Early this morning, we lost a great example.  Let me explain.  Virgil E. McWilliams, Jr., known to most of us as “Mac” passed away this morning.  No, this is not his obituary.  That will be coming later from the family.  As I have reflected on Mac’s life, I realized that I have just witnessed a man who died well.

First, Mac was diagnosed with a form of cancer that usually leads to a very painful and debilitating death.  This was the path that Mac went down and that makes the way he endured all the more amazing and inspirational.  He was in tremendous pain and endured not being able to eat and all of the unpleasantness that comes with it.  Even with the pain and suffering, Mac and I visited last Friday for a few hours and he said something that is very rare to hear in our day.  He said, “I have no complaints.  I have had a good life.  I have a good wife.  I have an amazing family.  I have traveled and experienced much of this world and all it has to offer.  But most of all, I have the Lord on my side and that is more than I could have hoped for.”  In spite of all he was going through, he was thankful to God.

Next, Mac was appreciative of everything and everyone.  Even the day I visited with him, it took a toll on him, but he wanted me to stay and visit.  As we sat on his back porch, he talked about how thankful he was to God for all of the things I listed above.  He talked about how thankful he was for his Sunday School class and the fellowship they share.  He talked about how thankful he was for his wife.  He did not think he would ever find anyone like Margaret and vastly enjoyed being married to her.  Even she said there was not a day that went by without Mac telling her how much he appreciated her, how lovely she is, or how much he loved her.  He was thankful for his kids, grandkids, and great grandkids.  He was thankful for his house.  He was thankful because the doctor had said he had three months to live and it had been something like fourteen months ago!  Even in pain and suffering, Mac was appreciative of others and all he had.

Mac was also selfless.  Every time I visited with Mac, at church, in the car, or at home, he was always offering me something.  He wanted to make sure people were taken care of.  If it was not offering me his famous peanut brittle, it was produce from his amazing and bountiful garden, books from his library, or any other manner of things he thought would benefit me.  This last Friday, he even offered to get up and go into the house and get me a Diet Coke.  Here he was less than a week from death and in great pain and he was concerned because it was a little warm and I did not have a cold drink.  That was Mac.  He was that way with the granddaughters.  He wanted to make sure they were safe and that they got an education, but also that they had what they needed.  He would fix wind chimes, lawn mowers, bicycles, toys, or anything else they needed because he wanted to make sure they were taken care of.

Lastly, Mac was positive, but also realistic.  Over the last year or so, after being diagnosed, Mac would always say that he was thankful for the time he had, but that it was somewhat borrowed time.  He would say that the doctors had given him three months, but that the doctors are not God.  God knew the plans He had for Mac and for Mac’s life.  Early on, Mac would say he felt okay, but that he knew it was going to get worse.  Mac would even say that he looked forward to heaven, but that he wanted to make sure those left behind did not have to hurt.  He talked about his faith in God and how he knew he was forgiven, but that he knew that he had much to be forgiven for.  We even talked about some family relationships that Mac wished were different, but knew that people have to do things their own way.

While there is more that can and will be said about Mac McWilliams, about his life, travels, career as a Veterinarian, military service, oil field work, etc., I guess I am most thankful in this moment that Mac has shown me what it is to die well.  That may sound strange, but Mac has shown me how to die well.  To die with dignity, thankfulness, hope, realism, compassion, appreciation, but most of all with the confidence that comes from a rock-solid faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  When I die, I hope I can face death with that same understanding, hope, and dignity.  Thanks, Mac for showing me,

Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19, NASB95).

We could all learn from him.



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.



One Step At A Time?
May 1, 2014, 3:36 pm
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Footsteps

Have you ever noticed how God often does not give you the roadmap, but only gives you enough light for one step at a time?  It was the same for the Israelites.  When they came out of Egypt and were traveling to the Promised Land, God promised to drive the inhabitants out of the land ahead of them, but He told them:

“I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. “I will send hornets ahead of you so that they will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you. “I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. “I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land. “I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you.” (Exodus 23:27–31, NASB95)

In other words, God promised He would deliver the land to them, but would not do so in one, fell swoop.  He would drive the people out little by little so that the Israelites could settle in the land and not have to make their own way, but also not have the land overrun in between the clearing and the settling of the land.  The Israelites would have to trust that God would carry out His plan and keep His word moment by moment.  There are other examples of God acting just like this in the Bible.

Consider Paul, blinded from his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.  God tells him to go into the city and wait.  That is all he tells him.  He only gives him enough light for the next step and not the whole journey.  Also, think about Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac.  He only gets the instructions to go up the mountain and sacrifice Isaac, but doesn’t get the whole story.  When leaving Ur, Abram only got enough light for one leg of the journey at a time.  Joseph is not told why he has to wait in prison.  Moses is told to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, but not about the Red Sea, etc.

Why does God do this?  First, because He is God and that makes it the best and wisest thing to do.  He also knows that, given a roadmap, we would worship the map instead of the mapmaker.  Given the whole picture, we would drive ourselves insane trying to manage things.  We might also want to alter the plan to be less than the perfect plan God intended.  Jon Courson described it well when he said, “If we knew how it was going to work—it wouldn’t be faith.

If we knew where the supplies would come from—it wouldn’t be faith.

If we had it all mapped out—it wouldn’t be faith.”[1]

What are you going through right now that requires faith?  Why not take the time to stop and thank God for the light He has given for the step you are on and trust Him for the rest of the journey so that He gets the glory and you are blessed by the result?

[1] Jon Courson, A Day’s Journey: 365 Daily Meditations from the Word (Santa Ana, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2003).



Five Easy Ways to Wreck Your Life: Week Five: Fake It Until You Make It
March 21, 2014, 2:04 pm
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Courtesy of PowerpointSermons.com

This is the fifth and final installment of a series of articles aimed at helping us make decisions and changes in life that will draw us closer to God and to His will for our lives.  In the last four articles, we have looked at Matthew 23 and Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees and, through analyzing what He was critical about, have seen things to avoid in our own lives as we strive to live for and love Him.

In the first week, we said an easy way to wreck your life was to change for the sake of change and without any kind of goal or aim in mind.  The second way was just as “wreckful”:  change inconsistently.  Go one direction and then another and never persevere or complete anything.  Just go with the flow and let the wind blow you where it may.  Last week was related to this week in that we said you could easily wreck your life by changing things that don’t matter.  Just deal with trivial matters that no one cares about and you can spin your wheels and wreck into the snowbank of expectations.  Last week, we said it would be equally destructive if only looked at the outside to make changes.  The Pharisees were described as concerned with the outer cleanliness demanded of the law while ignoring the inside.  We would do well to address both/and and not either/or.

Lastly, we read Matthew 23:29-33 and see that the Pharisees were basically fakes.  Jesus had called them hypocrites throughout this chapter.  The word ‘hypocrite’ comes from a Greek word, which means playacting.  It means to act one way while really feeling and intending another.  They thought that if they faked being concerned about people, it counted.  They thought that if they acted as though righteousness was really important to them, people would believe it and, since they were more interested in pleasing people than in pleasing God, they thought they had accomplished their lives.

Before we define this further, allow me to say what I am not saying.  I am not saying that sometimes Spiritual disciplines are not going to feel like a drudgery.  I am also not saying that it will always be exciting and gratifying to serve God…in the moment.  Sometimes, we need  to push on, even though we struggle to get our hearts to come along for the ride.  This is not the same thing as Jesus was criticizing.  A heart that is desperately seeking to love God more and more, but just isn’t feeling “close to Him” is an entirely different matter than the person that is only concerned with appearing like they are living for God.

Having given the bookends for the discussion, how would a person know if they were guilty of faking it?  I am glad you asked!  The problem is that the Holy Spirit, Who knows us better than we know ourselves, will let us know, if we belong to Christ.  If not, then we probably don’t care anyway.  Perhaps some diagnostic questions might assist in searching our hearts:

  1. What is your first thought when serving at church?  Of God, others or yourself?
  2. Do you ever look at some other Christian and think you would like to be like them?
  3. Do you pursuit what they are doing or who they are?
  4. When was the last time you were broken over someone’s need?
  5. When was the last time you were excited for someone to grow in Christ?

If you want to wreck your life, just fake it.  Be loud about what you would do, if YOU ran the church.  Be bold about what you COULD do, if people would just listen.  Be vocal about what MIGHT happen, if you stepped up to serve.  Be quick to shift blame on to others when feeling convicted that you might not be living right.  Oh, and, by the way, never, never, never, never, NEVER show weakness.  Make other people think you have it all together, whether it is true or not.



On Visiting a Cemetery
October 24, 2013, 3:07 pm
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cemetery

Just this week I had the privilege to walk with a family through the death of their loved one.  As we stood in the cemetery, I was reminded of Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes when he said, “It is better to go to a house of mourning Than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:2, NASB95)[1]

What did Solomon mean by this?  Good question.  Solomon, in trying to pass along what he had learned as he searched through life pursuing many of the things we call important, wrote his observations down for those that would come after.  He wanted others to be able to avoid some of the mistakes he had made, so he gave them this piece of advice.

In this section of this writings, Solomon was providing contrasts that were meant to capture the attention of those that would listen as his writings were written, so he said it is better to go to a cemetery than to go to a party.  He said it is better to go to someone’s house that is grieving than to go to someone’s house for a birthday party.  What he meant was that going to a cemetery provides some arresting lessons for us as we contemplate our lives and the days we have left.  Below are some of those observations I noted on my most recent visit to a cemetery:

  • I saw the headstone of a set of twins and their birth date and death date was the same.  This reminded me that any day we have is a gift from God and should be used serving Him and making Him known.
  • I saw the headstone of a baby that was born and lived three days and then died.  This reminded me of how precious all life is to God.  Like David in 2 Samuel, I believe this child is safely in the arms of Jesus.  This little girl was precious to God without doing anything on her own.
  • I saw the headstone of a seventy five year old man that was born in 1832.  As I did the math, I realized he was of an appropriate age to have served in the Civil War.  This reminded me of the price of freedom and how God values all people regardless of skin color.  It also reminded me to be thankful for the many families that have lost loved ones in service to our nation.  I thank God for their sacrifices so that I have the freedom to even write this article.
  • I saw a bench that was in the place of a headstone and thought this was a neat way to decorate a grave, but also thought about the sorrow of those that come and sit in the cemetery missing their loved ones instead of living the life they still have left.  Some are lost in their grief and have stopped living.  Others will use the bench to pause for a moment and appreciate their loved one and God for giving them the time with them.
  • I saw many headstones of couples where one has passed and the other is still living and it caused me to stop and think about how blessed I am to have the time with my wife that I have right now.  It makes me want to thank God for His provision in my life.
  • I had several headstones pointed out to me for various family members of the deceased we were there to honor and it reminded me of the heritage of those in my family that passed the faith on to me.

As I left the cemetery, I was reminded of what Solomon was trying to tell his audience.  It is better to go to a place of mourning than to a house of feasting because it causes me to stop, evaluate my life, thank God, appreciate my family, and leave with a sense of wanting to live.


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