Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sharpen Your Tools


“A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.” The young man stepped forward, and skilfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “You can start Monday.” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by — and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today.” Startled, the young man replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” “Normally we do,” said the foreman. “But we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last place today.” “But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!” The foreman, sensing the young man’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your axe?” The young man replied, “No sir, I’ve been working too hard to take time for that!””*

Have you sharpened the tools in your spiritual growth toolbox lately?  We are called to grow as children of God (Ephesians 4:15; 2 Peter 3:18) but it is so easy to get complacent, especially as the tools we used previously to grow become dull.  Perhaps it was time spent in God’s Word that proved to be so effective in fueling growth in your early years as a disciple of Jesus. But for one reason or another (i.e. neglect or indifference) that particular tool has lost its edge.  Or maybe it was being with brothers and sisters in Christ in times of Bible study, worship, and fellowship that prompted the greatest movement toward maturity for you.  But, over time, being with your spiritual family became less of a priority, effectively blunting whatever benefit you once enjoyed.

Maybe it’s time to sharpen the tools we use to grow spiritually.  Spiritual growth is a never-ending task. Sharp tools make the job easier.


God loves you!
Mike
*http://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/training

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

In Memorium


“Our church was saddened to learn this week of the death of one of our most valued members, Someone Else.  Someone’s passing creates a vacancy that will be difficult to fill. Else has been with us for many years and for every one of those years, Someone did far more than a normal person’s share of work. Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or meeting to attend, one name was on everyone’s list, “Let Someone Else do it.” Whenever leadership was mentioned, this wonderful person was looked to for inspiration as well as results, “Someone Else can work with that group.”  It was common knowledge that Someone Else was among the most liberal givers in the church. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone just assumed Someone Else would make up the difference.  Someone Else was a wonderful person, sometimes appearing superhuman. Were the truth to be known, everybody expected too much of Someone Else. Now Someone Else is gone! We wonder what we are going to do.  Someone Else left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to follow it? Who is going to do the things Someone Else did?  When you are asked to help this year, remember—we can’t depend on Someone Else anymore.”*

It’s so easy to see something that needs to be done and always expect someone else to do it.  It's so easy to complain about some problem and always expect someone else to fix it.  It’s so easy to dream big and always expect someone else to make it happen.  How do we begin to take the tremendous load off of someone else?  It starts by taking on our own share of personal responsibility.  When I see a need, I start by asking what I can do.   When I see a problem, I start by asking how I can address it.  When I have a grand plan, I start by being invested myself.  Instead of working Someone Else to death, why not try being Someone Else?



God loves you!

Mike

*http://www.pastoralcareinc.com

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