On Offending People

February 25, 2017

More than one of my mentors has told me that one issue that I will have to deal with in ministry is that I want to please people.  I have to admit that I like being liked.  I know that can hinder the work of preaching and teaching because sometimes you have say something that you know someone won’t like but it is the truth and it is what they need to hear.

There is another aspect, though, and that is the inevitability of offending people without intending to.  Scripture attests to this:

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.  (Proverbs 10:19, NASB)

If you lead people – in worship, Bible Study, preaching or whatever – it seems that sooner or later you will cause offense.  Many times this is self-imposed; we say something that we regret later, but there are also times when someone is upset by something we say and we have no idea that it happened.

Looking back on a few times this has happened, it seems that it has happened at a time when I thought things were going well.  At one church, I carefully chose a benediction verse to go with each sermon that I preached; it helped tie up the entire service from my perspective, but because it represented a change from the normal way of doing things, it caused an offense.

Once I was leading the singing during a baptism service and I remember feeling like it was one of the more meaningful services that I had participated in.  I enjoyed leading the congregation during that time and felt that we all experienced the Lord’s presence.  Several days later I found out that an “addition” that I made to one of the songs – repeating a few of the words in between verses – caused an offense.  The irony was that the highlight of the evening for me was a problem for another person.

This week, it was another issue – perhaps I’ll write another blog post on the specifics – but again an aspect of a church service that was the high point for me was a problem for another person.  It struck me that I had inadvertently offended someone and it also occurred to me that in some sense, it shouldn’t bother me as much as it did.  Obviously we don’t want to intentionally cause pain to other people, but given that it seems to be inevitable, it can’t stop us from doing the ministry that God has called us to do.

Perhaps it is an obvious point, but I feel that I am starting to learn that I have to be able to remain faithful to the scriptures even if someone has a problem with some aspect of my ministry.  We need to do everything we can to avoid causing unnecessary offense, but it will occur – and in my experience – when you least expect it.

 

The Gospel Pictured in President’s Day

February 24, 2017

I really enjoyed having a day off for President’s Day, regardless of who is President.  A lot of people, though, took it more seriously than I did.  It is not hard to find someone saying that Donald Trump’s first month in office is the most unusual one they have ever seen.  I don’t think that I have paid very much attention to past Presidential transitions, but I have never seen the number and scale of anti-President demonstrations in the past that are occurring now.  I faintly remember the expression “Not My President” used with reference to Presidents Clinton and Obama, but nothing of the magnitude of recent protests.  Has this happened before?

Yes, it has.  It is the story of mankind.  We are fiercely independent people and we want – no, we demand – to rule ourselves.  Jesus told a parable with this theme; it is recorded for us in Luke 19:11-27.  Here are the most relevant parts for this discussion:

A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. … But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’  (Luke 19:12, 14)

Jesus is of course the nobleman who went into a far country – heaven – to receive for himself a kingdom.  Notice that His citizens, the people of his native land, hated him and did not want Him to rule.  That is reflected in John 1:11 “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”  That rebellion extends far beyond Jesus’ countrymen.  Through our sin and sinful desire for self-rule, it is as though we are each marching in a demonstration saying “we do not want God to rule over us” and we are smashing some windows in the process to make sure that our intentions are clear.

Perhaps you feel that the demonstrators are justified and they shouldn’t have to submit to Mr. Trump’s presidency, but the same thing happens with Jesus every day, and He is a perfect king!  He offers us the opportunity to become not just a subject in His kingdom – which is a fine privilege – but also his fellow heir!  Isn’t that incredible?  We have everything to gain and nothing to lose and yet “the broad road” is filled with people who resolutely say that they do not want to be ruled by God.

The parable that Jesus told focused on good stewardship of resources, but it has a sobering end:

‘…  But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’  (Luke 19:27)

A day of judgment is coming; it is not for those who rebel against human government, but those who refuse to submit to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Today is the day to bow the knee before the Lord Jesus Christ and submit to His loving Lordship.  Psalm 2 – written hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth – has this warning:

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.

Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.

Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.  (Psalm 2:10-12)

Indeed, all who take refuge in Him are blessed!  They have a holy, righteous and perfect King and Savior.

 

On Being An Activist

January 28, 2017

I recently saw an article about a Chicago priest that identified him as an “activist”.  I started thinking about what that means.  I typically picture that as someone who campaigns for liberal causes, but it made me think: should I be an activist?

On the face of it, an “activist” is someone who “activates” others.  The emphasis is not so much on their personal activity but rather on how well they can motivate others to become active and involved in a particular cause.  Then it struck me – all preachers should be activists!  They should activate – motivate – others to take some action.  It would rarely or never involve attending a rally or parade, but nonetheless, we as preachers must be activists of our congregation.

We must ask the Holy Spirit to activate them to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and to motivate them to live in a manner consistent with their salvation.  It should strike us that the metaphor the apostle Paul used for the outworking of our faith most often was that of walking – περιπατεω – an active picture!  We are instruments used by God to activate His people for His purposes.  Ultimately, God is doing the hard work – the heart work, but we are activists.

Sermon Time Management

January 14, 2017

I recently attended another church and one of the associate pastors was preaching. I winced when he stated that he would have to hurry up because he was running out of time. From my perspective, there are three things you should never do while preaching:

  1. Never Run out of time.  You know how long the sermon is expected to last – plan for it!  Even if you add some things “in the moment” if you have some experience you can allow some time for that.  If in doubt, rehearse!  There is just no reason to be surprised by the passage of time.
  2. Never Tell the Congregation that You are Running Out of Time.  Even if you get caught short on time, don’t tell the audience – they can’t help you!  They can only get nervous that you aren’t able to “land the plane” and they may brace themselves for a crash landing.  If you run out of time, skip to the conclusion – I hope you have one – and wrap it up without telling them that you don’t know how to manage your time.
  3. Never Say You Are About to Wrap Up.  How can this possibly help the congregation?  I confess that I have been comforted by hearing this occasionally because it gives hope that the sermon will indeed end.  This more often backfires in my opinion, because speakers rarely wrap up right after they say they are about to wrap up.  Just land the plane!  Saying things like “I’m about to wrap up” or “we’re almost done” or “I’ll end with this” rarely help in my opinion.  If you really are about to wrap up, just do it.

Next time I’ll tell you how I really feel … 🙂

 

Why I Love Preaching

January 14, 2017

As a bi-vocational, occasional preacher rather than a week-in, week-out preacher, I am familiar with both the added load of sermon preparation and the focused intensity of it.  I confess (happily) that I love the “burden” of preparing a message and really enjoy the pressure of it – as strange as that might sound.  I call it “the hunt” and I am focused and alert while I am on the hunt.

Fortunately, I have enough experience with the Scriptures and more importantly, with the grace of God to know that it will all come together even though I have had a few close calls. I like to study the text in Greek and read commentaries during the weeks before a message – although I occasionally get short notice.  Typically, I take Friday off of work (if I can) to dig deep and pull my study notes together.  I often spend Saturday reviewing, writing and doing at least one run-through.  I like having a pretty good idea of the amount of time it takes so I don’t have to worry about that while I am preaching.

I have admired preachers who seem to be totally at ease with the congregation before the service starts, catching up with people and even engaging in some light banter.  I have never felt that way.  Typically I am pretty focused and don’t really want anyone to talk to me.  The most recent time I preached felt different – praise God!  I was able to chat with people and it was fine.  Maybe it is a matter of experience.  I felt good about the sermon and was able to be “human” before the service.

I am perhaps most comfortable in the pulpit.  I know that seems odd to many people, but for an introvert like me, it is a very safe place.  It is safe because the preacher is the designated speaker – he is not trying to “get a word in edgewise”.  The congregation expects him to talk and has a reasonable expectation that he will say something important and or helpful.

Hershael York had some great advice: he said that we must be willing to be fools for Christ as we preach.  I thought I was a pretty expressive speaker, but people told me that it wasn’t coming across.  I have ramped it up the last two times that I have preached, and I think it is working.  I think that we have to be more animated than we think is appropriate for the situation and it will seem normal from the congregation’s perspective.

Steve Lawson said during a preaching seminar that preaching will take all that you have to give, and I agree.  There is something about giving myself fully to this great task that is exciting and exhausting – and I love it.

I met with God this morning

January 20, 2010

It sounds quite presumptuous but it is true – the Lord Jesus has made a way for us to come directly into the throne room of God and meet with Him.  I planned to spend time with the Lord but it actually was a deeper and richer time because I was planning on meeting someone else and they didn’t come.  I was thinking and praying about ministry in the lives of others, and reviewing some verses when I saw this passage in a new way:

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
 27For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
   you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28But for me it is good to be near God;
   I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
   that I may tell of all your works.
                                   Psalm 73:25-28 ESV

All of our ministry – and we are all ministers by the way – is empowered by our relationship with our Redeemer.  All I want is God; I just need the Lord to show up!  I don’t ever want to lose sight of that fact.  Consider also:

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
    My hope is in you.
                                   Psalm 39:7 ESV

 My hope is not in ministry success or the praise of men (John 12:43) – Lord deliver me from that! – but rather my hope is in the Lord who will faithfully complete His work in me and fulfill my desire to serve Him and His church for His glory.

11To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
                                   1 Thessalonians 1:11, 12 ESV

Amen!

 

It is good to be weak

January 16, 2010

God is amazing!  He works with weak, inperfect vessels to accomplish His will.  He gets more glory by using weak and broken people.

I have been preparing for a class I’m teaching at Harvest Bible Chapel in Elgin, IL.   I love teaching the Bible, but sometimes I feel that I get too emotional and am unable to communicate effectively.   I was praying about that yesterday and thinking about being weak.  The Lord brought on 2 Corinthians 12:9 to mind:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (ESV)

Then it clicked – we are weak on purpose!  God doesn’t want “winners”; He uses “losers”.  In fact:

26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.   (1 Corinthians 1:26 ESV)

I am happy to be weak that God may be shown strong!