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God calls His people to different tasks, and He gives them different gifts by which they may serve Him, but gifting is only one side of this equation. God gives the calling and the gifting, but we must grow into these callings, and we must develop the gifts He has given us. We must also grow in the grace of God.
Let me offer a hypothetical example. A young man is called to be a leader in his church. He senses that calling even as a young teen. The sense of it is strong, and he is sure of it. But with that calling, the young man must grow spiritually. He must respond appropriately. There must be self discipline. There must be growth. Most importantly, he must learn to live in the grace of God for himself. He must be OK with who he is as a person. His victories must be tempered with the knowledge that God’s grace has enabled him. His failures must be met with a sureness that God’s grace pardons him because of Jesus. He must be sure to pay attention to God’s timing.
Let me offer an illustration. A young boy wants to be a soldier. He is intelligent, and a committed patriot. He studies weaponry and battle tactics. Because the army (church) is short on soldiers (servants), he is enlisted and outfitted. He is committed, but he hasn’t grown enough (matured enough) to be effective. He stumbles with boots that are four sizes too large. The gun is too heavy to carry. He fatigues in the battlefield because he doesn’t have the strength to carry the over-sized backpack. Instead of being an asset, he now becomes a liability. Not only can he not do his job, but he endangers his fellow soldiers who have to constantly rescue him. His comrades cannot depend on him. They may even begin to resent him; not because they don’t like him, but because instead of helping, he actually makes warfare (ministry) more dangerous (difficult).
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The world is full of negativity and sadness. That is a huge understatement. Even the Church has plenty of sad challenges within its four walls; God’s people are not immune to tragedy and setbacks. I have pastored since 1989…I have seen much within the church that can break one’s heart. Many times, my heart has been broken over the effects of sin within the church.
It seems that in the minds of some church leaders, the solution to sadness and negativity is to never talk about it. I think that the motivation to encourage people is a good intention. People need to be encouraged, and church is a great place for that to happen.
All that being so, I am concerned about what I believe is an unhealthy trend in many churches. There is a deliberate avoidance in talking about sin or judgment. The Body of Christ isn’t warned against straying from God, but instead is taught about how Jesus can improve your life. The unbeliever isn’t warned about fleeing the wrath to come, but is told that Jesus will fill the emptiness of their heart.
I DO believe that Jesus improves the life of His followers, and that he DOES fill a believer’s heart, but that is NOT the full preaching of the Gospel, nor is it the full counsel of the Word of God.
I think that some pastors are failing.
I don’t say that because I feel superior to anyone. I say that because some pastors are not teaching their congregations all of God’s Word, but only selected portions. In doing so, they are not making mature disciples, but only meeting the felt needs of the people. They are teaching from the Bible, but they are not teaching the Bible. There is a huge difference between those two practices.
Chicken Legged Disciples and the search for deeper teaching…
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John 21:19-22 19This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” 20Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” 22Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
The year was 1984. I had just quit the band Undercover, which at the time, was hugely popular and used by God. I was walking through Knott’s Berry Farm on one of the Christian Music Nights they had once a year. This year, I was not on stage, as I had been previously. I was just a guy in the crowd, wandering around from stage to stage, watching the bands, getting recognized a bit, but feeling quite alone and confused.
I was wondering about what my immediate future held. I was feeling drawn to the pastoral ministry, but still feeling like I had some music left in me: songs to write, concerts to perform etc. I was walking through Knott’s hoping for and looking for some direction.
God spoke clearly to me that night. He didn’t speak to me about the particular direction of what I was supposed to do, but of how I was supposed to live. The reminder that I received was that I needed to not worry about what other people were doing and saying, or what God was doing in and through other people. My responsibility was and still is, to follow Jesus.
Fast forward 27 years. My need to follow Jesus hasn’t changed. The voices of the experts have changed a bit. I am offered much advice from pewsitters and church growth experts about how to serve Jesus. I don’t discount that some of that advice is good, but it never has and never will be better advice than what I receive from Jesus.
I still don’t need to worry about what others are doing and saying. Yes, there are some good thoughts I can learn from. There are examples of outstanding works being done that I can gather from, but the greatest advice and direction I can get needs to come to me from Jesus. He speaks through His Word, and He speaks by His spirit through impressions, thoughts, leanings, and holy hunches.
My life is unique, as is yours. No one knows what you need more than God. Listen for His voice first and foremost. Don’t just agree with me, but do it. Learn the art of quite reflection, prayer, and Bible reading. Until that is done, restrain yourself from other voices.
“You follow Me” is advice I still need to follow.
Mark 14:3-9 3And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. 4But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? 5For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.
6But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. 7For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. 8She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. 9Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
Many who love Jesus give of themselves to Him.
They give time, money, talents, material possessions.
They forsake personal gain, high paying careers, and upward mobility.
Some would say that they give too much.
Parents may encourage their child to go to college and prepare for a good career, rather than go to Bible college and prepare for a life of godly service.
They would never tell their child to not be a Christian; they would just tell them to have a “balanced” life, and be sure to have a good career first. They may suggest that their child not get too fanatical about their Christian faith. They would emphasize that it’s a tough world out there, so their child needs to “look out for #1”.
There are many other examples of how people that give their lives to Jesus are warned or corrected by others who are around Jesus. The disciples were with Jesus all the time, had seen the miracles, and heard Him teach, but they thought that what this was did was “a waste”. They justified their opinion by saying that some good social act could have been done instead. Helping the poor is important, but it wasn’t more important at that moment.
They made the mistake that so many Christians make: they miss the best and suggest the good. They are committed, but not too committed. They worship and serve, to a point. They give, but are careful to not go beyond what is reasonable. They try to be “reasonable” in their Christian life, and are careful to maintain a “balance”.
I never read about keeping a balance. I read about being led by the Holy Spirit.
Like the woman who poured out the costly ointment, some Christians pour out their lives to God.
Like the woman, they are told that what they have done is extravagant and extreme.
Jesus had a different opinion, and defended her.
Be careful about how you judge such things.
There are many that perhaps rightly criticize the Church of not being socially active in the past generation. I will not argue with that.
The current knee jerk reaction seems to be an inappropriate push towards social activism, but with precious little concern for discipleship, personal holiness, commitment to Jesus, etc.
In fact, the Church has become to some, simply a people resource. A place to mobilize bodies, to gain signatures, and to use for causes, rather than an entity to commit to as a family and a Body.
The pendulum has again swung, and it always swings too far.
I am not criticizing social activism. I am criticizing the over emphasis of it by those who name the name of Christ.
Jesus said that “every good tree bears good fruit”. Social activism ought to be the fruit of a Christian’s life, but it is not the tree. Jesus is the tree, and the fruit comes forth from the tree.
May we be careful to not do the “good thing” while we miss the “best thing”.
Doing “good things” is much easier than “laying down your life and picking up your cross”.
Let’s serve people, but may it flow out of intimacy with Jesus.
I just returned from a 2 1/2 day preaching practicum, which, a few years ago, is not something I would have imagined attending. I was more than pleasantly surprised.
The practicum was led by Art Azurdia, who is a professor at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. The practicum consisted of Art teaching on preaching, sermon preparation, and hermeneutics, which is the “theory and methodology of interpreting the Bible”. That was Day One.
Art spoke on sermon preparation in great depth. We studied diagramming verses, parsing verbs, looking for flow, preparing a “telos”, and much more. Art also encouraged us to see the entire Bible as the story of redemption through Jesus Christ. The differing portions of the Bible are all knit together in one great story, which is the story of God redeeming man.
In addition, Art spoke on the idea of Christocentric preaching, which means seeing the entire Bible in its relationship to the Gospel, and understanding how a passage aligns itself with the work of redemption.
Seven Calvary Chapel pastors attended the practicum, and we were each assigned a portion of the Book of Ruth to preach on (Days 2 & 3). We were then critiqued by our peers and by Art. Each guy preached for 30 minutes, and we were then critiqued for 45 minutes. It might sound scary, but it wasn’t, and I found it to be very beneficial. I look forward to implementing some of the steps to sermon preparation that Art suggested we pursue. I am sure that Cornerstone will become a mega church in a matter of months as a result of my new found skills. 🙂
On another note…I didn’t want to go. I struggled to go. I was fighting internally about going. “Why”, you ask? Glad you asked. I’ll tell you why…
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I have high hopes to be able to share more through this new blog site.
Thanks to Mike Wagner from Miganza Solutions for the great help. If you need computer or web help, contact Mike at www.miganza.com
The new site is still under construction, but I look forward to new ways to post documents, audio files, and video files.
Blessings all, and have a great weekend.
Mark 4:18, 19 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
Jesus often taught the masses by way of parable, which is an earthly story that illustrates a heavenly truth. The parable of The Sower was one such parable.
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The Pharisees were some of Jesus’ biggest critics. They were the supposed super elite of the religious community in Israel, and they were sure that Jesus was a blasphemer who was worthy of death. They had personally challenged Jesus, but had been publicly corrected and refuted by Jesus. This only served to further harden their hearts against Jesus, and so they sent their own disciples to question Jesus, hoping to trap Jesus in His words, that they might incriminate Him.
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We often ask for wrong things from God. There may be a rightness about our intentions, but our intentions can very easily be skewed.
It was good that the disciples were following Jesus. The mother of James and John asked Jesus for a position of authority for her sons in Jesus’ kingdom.
Matthew 20:20-28 20Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. 21And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” 22But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” 23So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.”
24And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. 25But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The disciples were concerned about position. Where would they end up in the hierarchy of Jesus’ kingdom? James and John wanted positions of leadership. When the other disciples heard of their request, they were angry about their efforts of self promotion. Jesus went on to teach all of them, which indicates that they all had an erroneous view of “position” in the Kingdom of God.
Instead of focusing on their position, Jesus instructed His disciples to focus on their purpose, which was servanthood. He taught them by way of negative example, speaking of the kingdoms of men. He then spoke about His own kingdom, and the example and purpose of His own life, which was to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
In our lives, may we realize that position is something set by God, and not us, but purpose is something we fulfill. May we focus on purpose rather than on position.