The Proceeds of Diligence

open-bible 2“The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor…A lazy man does not roast his prey but the precious possession of a man is diligence.” Proverbs 12:24, 27.

One of the qualities that seems to be waning in our culture today is diligence. The perseverance of character that marked a generation not too many years ago seems to be lost on most in the current one.

The writer of Proverbs in this short section focuses on the wisdom of diligence. One who is diligent will have the responsibility to lead and rule, whereas the man lacking diligence will find himself a slave. In verse 27 we see the contrast of the conduct of the lazy and diligent man…the lazy man hunts and kills but does not see the task through to its intended reward…by cooking that which he hunted for so that he may eat. In contrast, the wise man sticks with the task to completion so as to enjoy the rewards of diligence.

The Hebrew word for diligence has a wide semantic domain (range of meanings based on context) but the picture formed in looking at them is consistent. Diligence is like one who keeps his blades sharpened and is precise in his labor. Diligence is the man who avoids distraction and who refuses to quit. The lazy man wastes all of his efforts in hunting by neglecting to finish the task of cooking the meat; whereas, the diligent man presses on to completion and is therefore rewarded by his efforts.

The analogies abound but what if Edison had quit one experiment before inventing the light bulb? What if Ford had backed away with only a set of drawings on a napkin of what a mass production assembly line process could look like? What if Ray Kroc had allowed his vision of franchised restaurants and systematized food preparation to die when rebuffed by the McDonald brothers?

The reason we have commercially produced incandescent light bulbs, an automobile or three in every driveway and can get a Big Mac in every major city in America (and throughout most of the developed world) is because of diligence.

  • What were you led to begin that is not yet finished? Resolve to complete the task.
  • What did you start that you let drift into oblivion that may need to be restored?
  • What commitment do you need to “shore up” in your heart in order to complete it?

Be diligent, and in so doing, fulfill the destiny for which you were created as a son or daughter of the King!

The Draft, the Bench, and the Will of God

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Two years. That’s almost how long I “rode the pine” in ministry. God had spoken and moved in my life. I surrendered to the call to ministry and began to preach immediately, and often…most months as often as three times per month. But no church called me.

Have you ever “known” the will of God and were certain that God was sending you in a particular direction…only to get passed over?

How did it feel? Did the enemy whisper in YOUR EAR as he does mine?

  • You’re not good enough.
  • You’re not ready.
  • You’re not qualified.

We have recently gone through another season of college football players being examined and selected in the NFL Draft…

The players in the draft represented the best of the talent from their college football squads. They were the guys who made the amazing plays caught on the ESPN highlight reel, and they were the guys making the block that made the plays on the reel possible.

One of the familiar refrains among many of the observers related to why “their player” did not go sooner or did not go to a particular team. Certainly, the “Monday morning quarterbacking” (pun intended) is evident as people like me try to second guess those involved in the process. We might not approve of the message it sends when our favorite University standout doesn’t go until the second or third round. We may even carry a burden of offense for the message of “value” attributed to our player if he goes later in the draft. After all, aren’t all the good players going in the top ten of the first round?

What we may miss now and again is the underlying message. The draft picks are based on the quality of the player AND the needs of the drafting team. It is important to remember that a team with a great quarterback and significant depth on the bench is not making a value judgment of our favorite quarterback when they choose to select a defensive player first. Their selection is about the needs of their team first, and the caliber of your player second.

In our lives and assignments, it is tough at times to watch God draft others for assignments ahead of us. Sometimes He selects people that we should have beaten out for a job. But doesn’t such assessment lack insight? Is God not also able to consider the needs of the team as well as the talent of the player?

Monday comes every week. Every week we look back on Sunday and ask the question about our usefulness in our assignment. If we have a good understanding of God’s will and God’s ways…we must consider that He is working on a larger vision than we cannot often fully grasp. We look at our areas of awareness but God is infinitely more aware of the needs that exist everywhere and at every time…including those that won’t even be revealed for months or years to come. So, rest easy dear friend. Trust the process of the Draft and war against the desire to accept the implicit value judgments. You are valuable. You were drafted. You are exactly where He assigned you and your next assignment, whatever it is, is already known. It is perfect…not only for you but for Him who called you as well.

A blessing that provokes a curse…

Open Bible 1“He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him.” Proverbs 27:14

Blessing a friend is good. Blessing a friend first thing in the morning is good. Blessing a friend in a loud voice is often good. Put them together and you may become the subject of your friend’s disdain.

There is a right time and a right context for everything. Standing to shout out your school’s “fight song” is good in the stadium after winning the game. It is generally frowned upon in class during a midterm exam.

Many “good” messages have been lost because the messenger did not consider the context from the recipient’s perspective. As one who speaks to groups multiple times per week and without a manuscript, I can tell you that I miss the mark here far too often. Sometimes my “filter” doesn’t catch a thought before it crosses my lips. (That’s not an excuse…just a fact of my present reality).

I wonder how many times we have a “good word” for a person’s situation but it is missed because our timing was off. For instance, a friend’s child is overdue to get home from school and hasn’t answered the phone. Is this a time to comfort your friend or recite recent statistics on child abductions? The answer seems obvious.

Christians mess this up too. “Hey brother, I didn’t tell them anything that wasn’t true! I’m just speaking the truth!” Sure friend, but aren’t we called to speak the truth in love? How is it loving to say what you said, in the way you said it at the time you said it? Did the hearer see your anguish in delivering such a message due to the inherent implications?

Jesus instructed us to be “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” Serpents are not powerful but they are hypersensitive to their surroundings. Rarely will a snake dart out from under a bush to attack a person walking by.(Back them into a corner and you may have a different story.) Doves are harmless and pleasant.

So how do I do this? Here are six considerations:

  • Be clean. Check your heart motive. Are you compelled to speak “the truth” because you are aggravated with a person or jealous for God’s glory?
  • Be aware. Play the conversation through as if you were hearing it as the person you are speaking to. How did you receive it?
  • Be humble. You’re not “all that.” But for the grace of God…there go I.
  • Be empathetic. Listen. hear. empathize.
  • Be gracious. If someone says they “get it” and apologize, taken them at their word.
  • Be encouraging. They should feel more emboldened in God’s love after you leave than when you got there.

If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Just Kill the Snake

grass-snake-379025_960_720Two nights ago I woke up at around 330AM in one of those heart-racing states! A snake was after me! For days I had dealt with the snake. It made its way into a room (presumably in my house) and I had swatted at it. I locked it in the room. I knew where it was and it could not get to me…except for every time I had to go into the room. At some point I tried to kill it…but in true snake fashion, it survived to fight another day. It was still there. Then (fast-forward a few scenes), it escaped from the room and made its way to my bedroom. I saw it but was tired so I tried to forget it was there and just go back to sleep. But I was too focused on what the snake might be up to in order to really rest…so I laid there for a while thinking about the snake.

I lost a good hour of “real time” thinking about the snake in my dream. I never turned on the light. I never looked on the floor or under the covers. I simply thought about what might be. I should have just killed the snake!

Procrastination is a major hindrance for a lot of people. We have a difficult phone call to make. We have a tough meeting to schedule. Those tax receipts need to be gathered. So we push it aside and try not to think about it…knowing that the snake simply looms out there. The snake is still in the room!

Hey…go to the shed, grab the shovel open the door to the room where your snake is hiding. Kill it!

What’s true is that most things do not simply “go away” by ignoring them. They become harder to do. The more difficult they are to do or the more important they are, the more we think about them and the fact that they are left undone.

For me, that list of items can become LONG from time to time. Other days, I prioritize the items on a task list by significance and due date and simply churn through them. Today…identify what the snake is and where you left it. Grab a shovel and go to work. You’ll sleep better tonight.

 

3 Strikes…and I’m Out

strike-3Everyone has one. It may be your wife’s brother who knows you are not good enough for her. It may be the best friend who knew you when you did every goofy thing of questionable legality that you cannot talk about due to a statute of limitations. It may be the neighbor who always wants to remind you that his grass is greener and his truck is newer. I am speaking of the person you want to share the gospel with and he will simply not accept it. You package the gospel story in pretty paper with bows on it and he can find three reasons why it is not true. Perhaps the problem is you. Perhaps they’ve not seen enough life change yet to realize that you really have been changed. Perhaps your change reminds them of their moral ineptness and they are not ready to face it yet. What should you do? Keep sharing with humble and gentle hearts…over and over and over again. This is how God pursued you.

The Scriptures give different counsel about another type of person. This one is a professing believer. He is in your small group. He always speaks up at a business meeting. He comes up after the sermon or lesson and explains what he read on the internet that contradicts you or how Andy Stanley did it better. He attends your discipleship class and pushes back on the truth because he sees it differently. He is not trying to learn or gain understanding, but to keep you “humble.” What do you do with him?

First, a teachable spirit, the lovechild of hunger and humility, is a key characteristic of the disciple. Not everyone who SAYS he is a disciple or who attends your church has one of these teachable spirits. What do you do with this guy? Do you continue to repackage the teaching in paper and bows trying to win him over? Do you chase him down to get his blessing?

Sometimes you do. A shepherd is told to be patient and to correct wrong doctrine. But, as Paul instructs Titus, there is a time when the guy who always resists must be corrected. Titus 1:13 says when his actions bring discredit on Christ, rebuke him severely. When he is a danger to others by drawing them astray, shut him down. See, leadership requires movement and change in people. The man who is factious and refuses to move cannot be waited on indefinitely. You, as a leader, must move past him.

“Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” Titus 3:10.

“He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.” Proverb 9:7-9.

As one old preacher said, “Don’t jump down in the mud to wrestle a pig. Both of you will end up muddy but the pig likes it.” Sometimes you have to simply nod, turn your head, and move forward. Some will follow. Some will not. Let that be God’s business. Know what He called you to do and do it. You may be surprised what happens next.

 

Should “normal people” study theology?

Bible, study (2)A former professor of mine once said, “If churches did a better job at teaching the Bible, I’d have much less to do here at Bible College.” Now before you discount the statement as some flippant remark or a veiled complaint about working conditions, hear how he defined it.

Many churches have professionally trained ministers and leaders who pour over the Scriptures to prepare well crafted lessons ready for application in a person’s life. This is not bad; rather, it is a key element of the homiletic process…in other words, we teach pastors to do this very thing in preaching.

But, as I am suggesting in the article, there is there a need for the “people” to wrestle with the difficulties and work toward their own convictions on theological truths.

What I Am Not Saying

  • I am not advocating that every believer become an expert on Ancient Near East literature or the fine tenets of every facet of theological musing.
  • I am not advocating that every believer become an expert on the top five non-Christian world religions.
  • I am not advocating a dismissal of pastoral ministry and teaching. We have and need pastors who are well trained and able to guard the congregation from error while leading them to maturity in the faith, which necessarily includes teaching the church to think for itself on theological matters.

As an example, we are not all medically trained. When something is amiss in the body, we seek out a doctor (hopefully) who has given her life to medical studies. We SHOULD though…have a working knowledge of how the heart and lungs work and be able to recognize that a persistent cough or headache is not the body’s original design.

What I Am Advocating…and Why

To credit the man who first planted the thought in my mind, what Dr. Wilbanks was saying was that many churches failed to promote or expect the “people” to study and know the basics of core doctrine and a general framework of our faith.

Yesterday, I promoted a particular book on a specific theological truth in my message on the Incarnation. Bruce Ware’s book, The Man Christ Jesus, was a particularly helpful resource in the discussion on the Incarnation of Christ. The Incarnation itself is a “big deal” and a distinguishing doctrine in the cacophony of religious traditions. Even if the “people” are not experts in the doctrine, there is an implicit and practical need to become conversant with the main points. Why? So that you can speak of it to others, be encouraged in your faith, and recognize error when presented by others.

The example of the Bereans comes to mind from Acts 17:10-12 where we are told that the church (1) heard the teaching, (2) and examined the Scriptures daily, (3) to see if the teachings were true.

What Tools are ESSENTIAL for our Preparation? 

This is the subject of another posting, but in general, for the person setting out on the journey for the first time here are six tools:

  • Regular attendance in congregational and small-group teaching. (You cannot grow apart from exposure to truth). I cannot overemphasize this!
  • A good Study Bible. These resources typically have introductory material that helps set the stage for understanding.
  • Supplemental reading from a good Introduction to Doctrine resource like Grudem’s Introduction to Systematic Theology.
  • A survey resource on the Old and New Testament. (more on that later).
  • Some select charts and maps (a timeline of biblical history and a map of the biblical lands is very helpful for understanding.
  • A general word study resource. These are readily available online. A good resource is the Word Study Bible.

Again, more on these in another post but a couple of thoughts for reflection:

  • Are you a student of God’s Word and biblical  doctrine?
  • When is the last time you chased down a biblical truth for yourself, apart from a Sunday School lesson you were teaching?
  • Do you know more about your favorite sport or sports team, political party, or “Brad and Jen’s life” than you do God’s instructions?

If you have thoughts on the subject or particular tools you use and recommend, share them in the comments and thanks for dropping by.

Pastoral Leadership is…

Bible at Night (2)Someone said of her pastor, “He is a great visionary! He has motivated our church to reach our city.” Another states, “He is such a people person. He is the first to be at the hospital bed of one of his parishioners.” Still another notes, “He is an amazing salesman. He raised a ton of money for that building.”

While I might agree that these are skills that serve a leader well in leading a church…I would also ask, “Is this the primary role of a pastor?” More directly…is pastoral leadership primarily about visiting the sick, casting incredible visionary strategies or raising funds to resource the mission?

I had a leader in a church I served once say to me, “You’re a really good preacher, but you lack in sharing vision and getting people to follow the plan.” I’m not sure if that was true, or if it was an attempt to wound, but ultimately, is this what we need more of…

QUESTION:
When did that become the primary criteria to evaluate a pastor’s leadership? 

I know and have heard the pragmatic arguments. I am not dismissive of them; rather, I am wondering why they do not appear 3 or 4 down the list.

Acts 1 states that prior to Pentecost, the disciples gathered in the upper room and gave themselves completely to prayer.

Acts 6 reminds us that the Apostles sought to delegate ministry to appointed men so that they might give themselves completely to the ministry of the Word and to prayer.

It was Peter’s Spirit-anointed sermon at Pentecost that led to the conversion of 3,000 (Acts 2) and it was the teaching of Peter and John that shook the city and incited the leaders to arrest them in Acts 4:1-4. Teaching that also led to the church’s growth to about 5,000 souls.

In his book, Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today, Christopher Beely notes that, “It is significant…that the major theologians of the early church devote their reflections on pastoral leadership almost entirely to the ministry of the word (105).” Catch that, PASTORAL MINISTRY to the early church fathers was almost entirely focused on the ministry fo the Word of God to the people of God.

Early church father, Gregory Nazianzen stated, “The first of all our concerns is the distribution of the word.”

Beely also notes, “Pastoral leaders are primarily interpreters of the scriptures…teaching Christian truth and opposing falsehood and error.(108). This was the task the Apostle Paul called Timothy to in the pastoral epistles as well (1 Tim 4:13-16, 2 Tim 2:1-2, 2 Tim 3:16-4:5).

Application: 

As I have been meditating on some recent reading that prompted this short article, here are some thoughts that I believe warrant consideration:

  • If you’re a pastor seeking to balance expectations of God’s people…FIRST minister the Word. If there is time left for hospital visits, then do that. If not, equip others to visit the hospitals or call an associate pastor to assist you in this valid ministry of compassion (Eph 4:11-12).
  • If you’re a pastor and you’re not good at teaching, remember it is a qualification of office (1 Tim 3:2). Get better. You can! If you cannot or will not, then quietly leave the ministry and go work retail or file papers or hang lights in houses. I know God uses foolish things to confound the wise (1 Cor 1:26ff) but that is a statement about His power, not an invitation to be foolishly inept at the high calling of pastoral ministry.
  • If you are a part of a local church, guard your pastor’s time to study. He wants to study and meditate and pray but also to serve you. Bless him by telling him you are assured of his love and care, but that you want him to drink of the fountain of Scripture deeply so that he can lead God’s people well through the ministry of the Word. He will need your help doing this…because many fellow parishioners berate him if he is not there for the procedure to remove an ingrown toe nail.
  • Reset the paradigm. Vision casting, business acumen, and mercy ministries are all admirable, but choose to esteem most highly the ministry of the Word. It has been and continues to be the primary leadership task of pastoral ministry.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts…