Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mission or Museum?


“An inner city church, located in an area of the downtown where there were few residents, was forced to a decision. A large corporation was offering them a great deal of money for their site, on which the corporation wanted to put a parking lot. The money would enable the church to move to another part of the inner city where they would find many more people to serve.
“Even though this was exciting to some of the congregation, other members were resistant to the idea. They pointed out that the church was the guardian of a building whose history and architecture reached back into the early part of the nineteenth century. Denominational history had been made in that building, and some of the grand figures of the church had passed its portals
“Eventually the congregation decided to sell the site and make the move to a new building in a teeming inner-city neighborhood. The pastor who was with this congregation through all this upheaval said, “We had to decide whether we wanted to be in a museum or in mission.” They couldn’t have it both ways. It meant either staying on their site, glorying in their past history and serving a few people, or giving up their past and gearing themselves to a significant ministry among the city’s people. They opted for mission status over museum status.”*
A study of the gospels leave one with the impression that Jesus favored mission over museums.  When challenged by some who had enshrined their own religious practice in climate-controlled museum case, He responded by saying that His mission required new ways of thinking and acting (Mark 9:18-22).  The kingdom agenda of God would rip the seams of the old garments and burst old wineskins.  The mission of God is not designed to be confined to the dusty halls of a museum.  God’s people can honor the past without being chained to it.  In fact, the mission of God to an ever-changing world demands it.



God loves you!

Mike

*https://www.preaching.com/sermon-illustrations/illustration-on-mission/

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Real Thing


            Diamond industry giant De Beers is finally caving in to pressure to produce synthetic diamonds for the jewelry market.  For years they had publicly criticized other companies who offered the man-made stones and begged consumers to stick with the real thing, even going so far as to develop a machine that can detect the fakes.  But, as often happens, principle got sacrificed on the altar of consumer demand.  While they have been producing synthetic diamonds for years for industrial purposes, starting in September they will begin selling their own synthetic product to jewelry consumers.  In case you’re interested, prices for the De Beer’s fakes “...will start at $200 for a quarter carat, and increase to $800 for a full carat stone. The company's natural stones start at roughly 10 times that amount, depending on their clarity and other attributes.”*

            Pressure to provide a fake product can come from many different sources.  In De Beer’s case it is financial and they are being upfront about their intentions.  They aren’t trying to deceptively pass off the fake as the real thing.  But that’s not always the case with some “counterfeiters.”  Sometimes the stakes are higher and the consequences greater.

            I’m thinking of the efforts of some in the apostle Paul’s day who were trying to sell a fake gospel to the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:6-9).  In this case, the ones promoting the counterfeit gospel were not upfront about their intentions and Paul denounced their efforts in the strongest of terms, invoking a curse on those who would endanger the very souls of others.  Even angels were not to tamper with the real thing!

            The true gospel of Jesus Christ is a gem of inestimable value that cannot be successfully counterfeited.  You may be able to impress everyone but an expert with a synthetic diamond, but when it comes to matters of the soul, insist on the real thing - the eternal and unfakeable gospel of Jesus Christ.



God loves you!

Mike



*http://money.cnn.com/2018/05/29/news/companies/de-beers-man-made-diamonds/index.html

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

I'm Afraid


            Jim Martin faced a fearful time earlier in his preaching career.  He was diagnosed with a large tumor on his spine and it would involve a major surgery to remove it.  One Sunday morning prior to the procedure, he shared his fears with his church family.  At one point, he said: “I am cautiously optimistic and scared to death.”  Nearly everyone responded supportively.  There was one who called later in the day (a former minister) to admonish him for sharing his fears.  He said this:You shouldn’t have told the church that you were “scared to death.”  They must not know this.  They need to hear that you trust God.

            Martin writes of his response this person and I want you to consider his words: “I told him that I do trust God!  I trust that he will be with me through the whole ordeal.  I then told him that nevertheless, my emotions are raw and yes, I am afraid and nervous.  Yet, I was trusting God regardless of these emotions.  What does it mean to move forward in your life?  It means to trust God regardless of what your emotions may be telling you.  It means to trust God when you face the unknown.  It means to trust God even when there are obstacles and hurdles.  Courage is not about putting on a brave face or pretending that nothing fazes you.  Courage is not bravado while you talk about how you’ve “been around the block.”  Courage is daring to trust God – regardless.”*

            When God encourages us not to fear, He isn’t chastising us for experiencing a natural human emotion.  Rather, He is reminding us not to be blinded by that fear, which tends to keep us from putting our full trust in the One Who will walk with us through each and every fear.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalms 23:4).



God loves you!

Mike

*http://www.godhungry.org/yes-i-have-been-afraid/

Friday, June 1, 2018

Bitterness


“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…” (Hebrews 12:15).

It’s so easy to become bitter.  The descent into bitterness begins when someone hurts us in some way.  The pain can catch us by surprise -- be it a financial loss, a slanderous remark, the betrayal of a relationship or whatever.  Regardless of the source of the wound, we become angry at being abused by another.  And if we are not very careful, our anger can lead to bitterness.  Bitterness is unforgiveness fermented.  The more we hold onto past hurts the more we become drunk on our pain and the experience can rob us of the joy we can find in anything. Bitterness occurs when we feel someone has taken something from us that we are powerless to get back.  We hold on to the hurt in an attempt to remind ourselves and others of the injustice we’ve experienced in the hopes that someone will save us and restore what we’ve lost.  Unfortunately, bitterness only makes our sense of the injustice grow.  It does nothing to heal the wound caused by the injustice” (Dr. Greg Popcak, Overcoming Bitterness: 5 Steps for Healing the Hurt that Won’t Go Away).  Like a noxious weed, our bitterness can spread until we even begin to harbor ill-will toward those who aren’t directly involved.

Bitterness must be attacked at the root level.  We will never kill it by mowing it off at ground level.  Until we deal with the root, it will continue to sprout and bear it’s ugly, defiling fruit.  Sadly, while we aim our bitterness at others, we end up destroying ourselves in our efforts to punish others.  Acrid bitterness inevitably seeps into the lives of people who harbor grudges and suppress anger, bitterness is always a poison. It keeps your pain alive instead of letting you deal with it and get beyond it. Bitterness sentences you to relive the hurt over and over” (Lee Strobel).



God loves you!

Mike

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Breathing Places

“A few years ago, the world watched as three gray whales, icebound off Point Barrow, Alaska, floated battered and bloody, gasping for breath at a hole in the ice.  Their only hope: somehow to be transported five miles past the ice pack to open sea.  Rescuers began cutting a string of breathing holes about twenty yards apart in the six-inch-thick ice.  For eight days they coaxed the whales from one hole to the next, mile after mile.  Along the way, one vanished and was presumed dead.  But finally, with the help of Russian icebreakers, the whales Putu and Siku swam to freedom.  In a way, worship is a string of breathing holes the Lord provides His people.  Battered and bruised in a world frozen with greed, selfishness, and hatred, we rise for air in worship, a place to breath again, to be loved and encouraged, until that day when the Lord forever shatters the ice cap” (Craig Brian Larson, Leadership, Vol. 11, No. 2).
Do you struggle with picturing worship as a setting where “...we rise for air...a place to breathe again, to be loved and encouraged…?”  It’s a beautiful description but perhaps it hasn’t be your experience often enough.  One possible reason for that has to do with what motivates us to worship God in the first place.  Perhaps you were raised in an environment (like I was) that taught us to worship God primarily because He commanded us to worship Him.  And while that motivation is better than none at all, I would submit that it falls short in leading us to experience the blessings that times of worship can become when they provide for us what we can get nowhere else
Perhaps this is another one of those times when our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ in the past as well as in the present have an advantage over us.  Worship becomes more precious to those whose faith has caused them to be persecuted by enemies and rejected by family and friends.  For them, it becomes life-giving rather than just another option among many others.

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, April 30, 2018

Spiritual Maturity

          “Two teachers were once applying for the same Vice-Principal position at  a local high school. One had been teaching a total of 8 years and the other a total of 20. Everyone expected the teacher with the greater experience to get the job, but when a decision was made it was the person with 8 years teaching who was chosen. The teacher overlooked for the job complained bitterly – “I’ve got 20 years teaching to her 8” he cried. “I’m vastly more qualified.” The School Board’s reply went like this: “Yes sir, you do have 20 years teaching to her 8, but where she has 8 years experience you have 1 years experience repeated 20 times.” Simply experiencing the passage of time doesn’t mean we have grown or learned from those things we experience during that time” (storiesforpreaching.com).
          The Scriptures are clear concerning the need for disciples of Jesus to grow in their faith.  The apostle Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers “...to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…” (Ephesians 4:15).  The apostle Peter counseled his readers in his first letter to “...long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation…” (1 Peter 2:2).  Then he ends his second letter with an admonition to “...grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  The letter to the Hebrews chides those disciples for not growing past the baby food stage in their lives (Hebrews 5:12-14).  It would appear that remaining static in the faith wasn’t an option for first century believers.  I find no reason to think that the expectation is any different today for us.
          Am I the same Christian i was 10, 20, or 30 years ago?  Am I content to remain an infant in my faith?  Do I seek opportunities to stretch my spiritual muscles so that I can become more involved in my church family?  Is it time for me to grow up?

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Be On Your Way

  “The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king”” (1 Samuel 16:1).
          The endeavor to establish a monarchy in Israel hadn’t gone well up to this point.  King Saul had proven to be unfit for leadership, ultimately earning for himself the rejection of God.  The situation was filled with emotion for those most directly involved.  In spite of the fact that the prophet Samuel was firmly on God’s side in the matter, he still was grieving over what had happened.  Even the LORD himself had an emotional investment in the events (1 Samuel 15:35).
          But by the beginning of chapter 16, the time for mourning and regret regarding the past was over.  While grieving over sin was allowed and perhaps even necessary, the time given to such things apparently had a shelf life.  According to God, Samuel needed to be on his way.  It was time to get up and get going.  There was a new king to anoint.  The plans and intentions of God may experience turbulence but they will never be grounded.
          The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes speaks of there being a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).  Perhap we could add one more to his list: A time to get busy.  There is a time to discuss options and consider alternatives.  There is a time to share emotions and reflect on events.  I get that.  I have a tendency to overthink things myself.  But there is such a thing as paralysis by analysis.  Sooner or later, the time comes to act.  Maybe the words of Elijah to the people of Israel are appropriate as a reminder here: "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21).  Is it time to get up and get going?

God loves you!
Mike