Category Archives: Church Leadership

Can I help you?

As a pastor for the past 21 years, I would LOVE to be able to see exactly what my listeners in the congregation are thinking… and where they are in their faith journey to help steer my praying (my private praying mostly, but also the public prayers) and to guide my sermons to help where people really are. HOWEVER, we can’t see these thought bubbles in real life! We only have two resources in this: people sharing directly with the pastor about concerns, questions, and struggles, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 
Because of the Holy Spirit, we do “get it right” quite often as we follow the Spirit’s leading and “nudging.” But what JOY when people talk directly with us and we can work directly with the Spirit to meet needs, offer clarification, provide comfort, extend a listening and caring ear, and pray personally with someone. 

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Filed under Bible, Church Leadership, Grief, prayer, Reflection, Response, sermons, worship

Faith AND Works?

When I grew up, many people tried to claim that all I had to do was believe in Jesus and pray the sinner’s prayer and I was good to go… forever. While that’s a great starting point, I was challenged by James’ words: “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” -James 2:17 (NLT)

And today, I ran across this Christian writer from antiquity who summed up the knowledge part of faith and the role of the “works” of faith really well:

“Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice.” – St. Mark the Ascetic, Philokalia, vol. 1, p 126, #12.

Maybe “faith put into practice” is a better way of thinking about faith and works! If our faith is based on on our head knowledge, it’s dead! But if we can put the faith we believe into practice, then we’re REALLY living out our faith!

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Filed under Bible, Church Leadership, Devotional, Reflection, Response

Eyes

As a child, one of the Sunday School songs started like this: “Be careful little eyes what you see…” and it reminded us that what we look at, affects our thinking, which affects our actions, which becomes a spiritual issue as well. Similar verses warned our ears and what we listen to, our hands and the things we choose to do, and finally our feet and where we choose to go.

I have been repeatedly returning to Psalm 119 over the past four or five months every once in a while and yesterday I got caught on verse 37: “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, And revive me in Your way.” (New Living Translation).

I was immediately reminded of how many times I go online for some legitimate reason and “accidentally” find myself still online 20 minutes, an hour, or even several hours later. I need to redeem the time… and Facebook and Twitter can be tools and even very helpful, but they can be the door in to a longer, more wasteful, worthless online experience.

And it’s EVERYTHING we allow into our minds and hearts, isn’t it? Internet, video games, books, comics, magazines, songs (and lyrics), and the list could go on for quite a while…

Couple that with a crazy “selfie” picture that I had taken a couple of weeks ago when I had shaved my beard down and a new graphic reminder of this verse was born.

Enjoy… or be freaked  out… but heed the Scriptural truth.

psalm-11937-mixed-rendition

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REPOST: Teach Us To Number Our Days

I like the story of a man who accidentally calls a wrong 1-800 number and gets GOD. After being apologetic about wasting God’s time with a wrong number, God says that’s OK, what we humans think is a long time is really almost nothing to him. So the man says: “Let me get this right: 1000 of our years are like nothing more than a minute to you?” And God says “yes.”

“So what money?” says the man. He continues: “Is it true that you really own the cattle on a thousand hills and that everything we could possibly ever own is really yours?” Again, God responds with a “yes.”

Feeling a bit braver, he pushes on. He says, “So a million dollars to you is like nothing more than a penny, huh?” God says “That’s right.”
The man then asks “Hey God, I got a favor to ask. Can I have a penny?”
To which God responds: “In a minute.”

 

PSALM 90:10 says: “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty.”

The most we can hope for, as far as our age goes, is about 70 years; maybe 80 or so if we’re exceptionally strong in health… more or less. And back in verse 4 of Psalm 90 we read “For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.”

Our full-life, in God’s reckoning of eternity, is like the morning fog: it’s gone pretty quickly without a trace. But what does 70 years give us… what value does it have?

Depends on what we put into it.

chalkboard-hours

There are 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year, which means we each have 8,760 hours in a year. If you multiply that number of hours in a year by a life span of, let’s go ahead and say 70, you get 613,200 hours in a 70 year lifespan.

BY THE WAY, by following the math out, a 70 year lifespan would have 36,792,000 minutes (36 MILLION…) OR 2,207,520,000 seconds (2 BILLION, 207 MILLION…)

So, since our time is our most precious commodity, we ALL could be considered to be MILLIONARES! (or even BILLIONAIRES). So how do we spend our time? Into what purposes and activities do we invest our time?

To start with, the average American person, in a 70 year lifespan, will have spent an average of 178,360 hours just sleeping. (7 hours/day x 7 days/ week x 52 wk/yr x 70 yr = 178,360 hours of sleep in your lifetime. To make it easier to process, you can take that number of sleeping hours (178,360) and divide it by the number of hours in a year (8760) and that means you sleep about 20 years of a 70 year lifespan.

That same person will have spent 104,000 hours of their life working, which turns out to be almost 16 years spent working out of 70.

That person will also spend an average of 76,440 hours of their life eating! (Assuming an hour for every meal (that’ll count your snacks) X 3 meals a day X 7 days a week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 76,440 hours of eating. That’s almost 9 years of eating!

Time spent watching television is also insightful: 3 hours of TV each day = another 9 years spent just watching T.V. !

Now, when it comes to church, there’s a bit of a problem because the AVERAGE American simply does NOT go to church! So for the average American it boils down to ZERO hours a year.

But, for OUR benefit, we’ll assume the Average American Church going Christian will have spent 6/10 of a year worshipping God.(Assuming an hour and a half each week, giving you time to get in here and get out plus the normal hour and fifteen minutes we usually set aside for the worship service.)

NOW, some reading this are going to challenge me in this. They might say: “That’s not fair, preacher! I go to church more often than that, I’m a really committed Christian!’”

Assuming that’s true, we’ll take you Sunday morning worship time PLUS EVERY Sunday School Class you’ve ever attended, PLUS EVERY Prayer Meeting scheduled, or Youth group meeting, or Women’s group, PLUS EVERY Bible Study that takes place, and we can bump your weekly Church worship time up to 5 hours in a week. What’s that give us? (5 hours per week X 52 weeks X 70 years = 18,200 hours in worship in your lifetime = about 2 years and a couple of months spent worshipping God.

Add to those numbers the results of a Survey of 6000 people polled in 1988, reported by U.S. News and World Report:

In a lifetime the average American will spend:

chalkboard years.pngSix months sitting at stoplights

Eight months opening junk mail

One year looking for misplaced objects

2 years unsuccessfully returning phone calls

4 years doing housework

5 years waiting in line

Reader’s Digest takes this even further and says that the Average American will spend 6 years looking for misplaced stuff.

OH GOD… Teach us to number our days……..

As we look back over this list of time spent, we can see how our little uses of time add up to YEARS throughout the course of a lifetime, so we need to ask God to help us number our days… to make the most of our time.

Who is our God? Our God is the one to whom we give our time and attention.

OH GOD… “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

-Psalm 90:12

(This originally started as a newsletter article years ago based on a message I had heard once at Cherry Run Camp. Then it became a blog post in January 2011. Now, it is ‘resurrected’ today here and served as the foundation for my Sunday morning sermon at Carmichaels: First United Methodist Church.)

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Filed under Church Leadership, family, holidays, Newsletter, sermons

REFLECTION: Romans 7:14-25

I know what I WANT to do, but I keep messing up. I want to do what is right. But my natural sinful tendencies are always with me. So like The Elephant & The Executive , I have to constantly choose to follow my head (where God’s will is clearly known) rather than my gut level natural reaction (which is always run by my sinful nature ).

The ONLY way to do that is to continually keep going to Christ… He alone can make a difference. That’s why David’s prayer pf repentance in Psalm 51 keeps emphasizing that which only God can do for him: have mercy, wash, cleanse, create, renew, restore, & save.

God has to CREATE something new in me. There will be NO pure heart without HIS involvement. It’s not about self-help or my will or my commitment. It’s me going back to Him constantly!

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Messianic Job Description

Many Jews of Jesus’ day were looking forward to the coming Messiah, the “Anointed One” who would save them. But they pictured being “saved” as being freed from Roman rule politically.

Check out Isaiah 61, one of the many passages that describe what the anointed one was to be about when he came to earth…

isaiah61_1

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
    for the Lord has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
    and to proclaim that captives will be released
    and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
    that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.

The focus isn’t directed toward the religious or the chosen… but rather the Anointed Messiah, Jesus, would be concerned with the poor (they get good news), the brokenhearted (they get comfort), the captives (they get release), the prisoners (they get freed), the mourners (they get hope along with God’s blessing and a crown of beauty and a praise party).

As ones who self-identify as followers of Jesus, his disciples of this modern era, are we about those same things? Are we spending a majority of our time, treasures, and ministry reaching out to those to whom the Anointed One was sent to minister to?

Why not?

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Big Jim Is Coming!

Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12 (Good News Translation)

1 At that time John the Baptist came to the desert of Judea and started preaching. “Turn away from your sins,” he said, “because the Kingdom of heaven is near!” John was the man the prophet Isaiah was talking about when he said,

“Someone is shouting in the desert,
    ‘Prepare a road for the Lord;
    make a straight path for him to travel!’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair; he wore a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. People came to him from Jerusalem, from the whole province of Judea, and from all over the country near the Jordan River. They confessed their sins, and he baptized them in the Jordan.

When John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him to be baptized, he said to them, “You snakes—who told you that you could escape from the punishment God is about to send? Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins. And don’t think you can escape punishment by saying that Abraham is your ancestor. I tell you that God can take these rocks and make descendants for Abraham!10 The ax is ready to cut down the trees at the roots; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire. 11 I baptize you with water to show that you have repented, but the one who will come after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He is much greater than I am; and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals. 12 He has his winnowing shovel with him to thresh out all the grain. He will gather his wheat into his barn, but he will burn the chaff in a fire that never goes out.”

 = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Imagine, if you will, the Old West of America’s past. There is this rider coming into town as fast as his horse will carry him shouting: “BIG JIM IS COMING! BIG JIM IS COMING!”

People scurry about and run away, and within minutes the town is basically empty. It’s a ghost town, except for the barkeeper over at the saloon.

At the exact stroke of 1:00, there is this huge, mean-looking man who walks through the door of saloon. As he gets to the bar, he looks at the barkeeper and gruffly says: “Give me a whiskey!”

The poor barkeeper is scared almost out of his senses, but he grabs a bottle of whiskey and hands the whole bottle to the guy. The man bites off the top of the bottle and  downs the entire contents in one swallow.

The barkeeper ventures over and timidly asks: “You want another, mister?”

The guy looks up in astonishment and replies: “Are you kidding? I gotta get outta here! Haven’t you heard, BIG JIM IS COMING!”
You know, John the Baptist was looked at the same way as the man at the bar in that story.  People thought HE must be the Messiah that they had been waiting for centuries. But he was just the precursor… a forerunner. Sort of like seeing the previews before the feature presentation at the movies… you can get a glimpse of what the future movie will be about, but you cannot see the whole thing right yet. THAT was who John the Baptist was. Prophetic scripture says John’s purpose was to PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE LORD!

In 2004, when the Olympics came to Georgia, the whole city got a facelift. Bridges were repaired. Blocks of dilapidated buildings were razed and new structures were built. Roads were repaved. Entire buildings were repainted.

WHY?

Because “company was coming.”

We do that too when really important company is coming to our homes right?

Well, that’s what John the Baptist was doing. He came to help the people of God of the first century get ready for company. God Almighty was coming in human form: Jesus.

He called them to prepare by repenting; reexamining their spiritual walks, their spiritual lives.

Their ancestors had been set free from slavery to Egypt back in the days of Moses and brought into the promised land through the Jordan River by Joshua. But since that time, they had turned their hearts and become enslaved to sin. John offered them the chance to renounce sin as their master and re-enter the Jordan as a symbol of re-entering the promised land. Once again, to leave their enslavement in the waters of the Jordan.

Now, I realize, that many are wondering why I’m preaching about John the Baptist before Christmas. Because it’s ADVENT, the time of waiting, the time of preparation. And also because, even though Christians the world over are spending almost a month pretending that Jesus hasn’t been born yet, the truth is that he was born over 2000 years ago and grew up and John the Baptist prepared the people for his coming to the Israelites of his day. And then Jesus ministered to them and died for them and was raised to life for them to be their Savior, their Lord, their Master.

He died for US and was raised to life for US to be OUR Savior, OUR Lord, OUR Master.

That’s the real message of Christmas isn’t it? That’s the real message of HOPE! Not that Jesus is a powerless little baby that WAS a long time ago. NO, but rather Christmas is about how that helpless baby grew up, showed us how to live, and then died for us, was raised to life by God, ascended into Heaven and IS STILL ALIVE EVEN NOW! AND HE IS THE LORD!! He’s no longer helpless and all we have to do is feel the joy of new life and new birth. Rather, we are called into relationship with the grown up, crucified, resurrected, and ascended LORD!

And the time of waiting, for US, isn’t to see Him come as a baby in a country 10,000 miles away in an insignificant little town in a third world country. The truth is that we wait for HIS RETURN to the earth, not as a baby, but as Lord, as the Coming Conqueror who will put an end to sin and death, fear and suffering and pain. We wait for His coming.

The question for us is the same question John the Baptist was asking: Are you prepared for the soon coming of the Lord??

But more too… Are those around us prepared? It wasn’t enough for John to be prepared, for he surely was. He wanted to see his fellow countrymen and women prepared as well. How about us?

Are we prepared for Christ’s return? Are we ready to see Him, either in His second coming or by going to Him through death?

How about our families? Our friends? Our co-workers? Are they prepared? The Bible doesn’t have much of a pretty picture for those who are not. This is important stuff… ETERNALLY!

Before Christ came into his ministry as deliverer and savior, God sent John to prepare the way. Before Christ comes again, before our fellow workers, friends, and families met Christ, God has sent you and me as the modern-day John who warns others: “Are you ready?”

 – – – First preached at Spartansburg & Parade Street UMCs Dec. 6, 1998 – – –

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