“Best’s” best enemy…

open-bible 2John was on his way to his son’s ballgame and received a call. “Come to the church. The mower needs some maintenance.” John was no mechanic. In fact, he is a pastor. He does have “a particular set of skills” that allows him to eventually fix things because he can visually work through mechanical processes, but it is not his sweet spot. The mower is important. So is the ball game. Both are good but only one is best. “Best’s” best enemy is not some evil thing, but a good thing. There is a good thing to do and a best thing to do. Always choose the best.

In Acts 6, the ministry and influence of the early church was increasing exponentially. One of the main roles of the church was to care for the most vulnerable in society, widows and orphans. This is a good thing, and sometimes the best thing. In fact, it is always a “best” thing for someone but not always for everyone. The pressure was on by those who were concerned about the widows. The pressure was really on by those who were offended that THEIR widows were being neglected while others were being cared for and the only reason seemed to be racial bias. The call rose up to the Apostles… (Y’all) come fix this!

Now look at the response:

“The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, ‘It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables’.” (Acts 6:2, CSB)

Now I cannot speak for you, but as for me, even typing that verse made me a little uncomfortable. How can the Apostles reject a ministry opportunity in front of them for Bible Study and Preaching? Don’t they know that “pure and unfiled religion in the sight of God is this, to care for widows and orphans in their distress…” (James 1:27).

Truthfully, OF COURSE they knew this! For the Church (community as a whole) this is a non-negotiable but as for the Apostles, their calling was more narrow and specific. They obviously did ministry and cared for people. They also were charged with a specific task and calling that only they could do while others (who were not charged with the responsibility of the Word ministry) could easily care for the ministry to the widows.

The point is- God has gifted and called you to do certain things. Do that/those. Andy Stanley says (to pastors in the context I heard it), “Only do what only you can do.” The Apostles indicate here that releasing ministry to those who could focus their attention on widow ministry while they ministered the Word was the appropriate response. I have said it many times like this, “The NEED is never the Call…the Call is the Call.”

So, do what you are called to do. Don’t use this verse as “cover” for laziness. Work and work hard. If you can do something…do it…unless it interferes with Best. Then do Best and leave Good for the person to whom Good is Best. If you do, God will be glorified, the church will be encouraged, the needs will be met and you’ll not wear yourself out in the process.

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!

Love your enemies…

Open Bible 1“Love your enemies. do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28.

If you’re like me, you might have wished you had just scrolled past this short article.

What under heaven is Jesus thinking?

Is there a text more challenging, more piercing, more provoking in all of Scripture?

Is there a single statement that is more illuminating of the condition of our hearts? 

We struggle truly loving those closest to us. I don’t mean that we don’t have a form of love for them; certainly, we do. What I am speaking of is the passionate conviction to apply ourselves to living for their good…to serving to their benefit. We struggle because there is often a part of us, deep down, that hopes to benefit from such loving displays. We love and (kind of) hope/expect to be recognized for it. In these cases, we demonstrate self-love.

Man’s greatest issue is his infatuation with Himself. We are self-seeking and self-serving at our core. We process most events in our lives through the filter of “how is this going to affect me? What is the implication on my life?”

Perhaps that is the Lord’s point. Maybe Jesus commands us to love those who hate us so that our selfish hearts will come to light. Perhaps he wants us to see our hearts as He sees them. Frankly, Jesus did not command us to love our enemies because He was concerned that they should live better. He is not seeking to make them more comfortable or more confident. The command, while it affects others, is like a searchlight aimed directly at our inner being. He is seeking to expose the self-centeredness that lurks within us so that we can wrestle it to the ground and diminish its control in our lives.

How can I be sure of this assessment? Because Jesus also presented a contrast for us in Himself and His own actions:

  • He loved us while we were His enemies (Romans 5:8).
  • He prayed for us while we were His enemies. Examples abound but do not gloss over His prayer from the cross- “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Today, as we consider that Jesus loved us from “enemies” to “family,” let’s not yield to the temptation to mitigate the weightiness of this command. Let’s not minimize it or make excuses about how “we are just not Jesus.” We are not Jesus, but He lives in us so let’s not proclaim how much less accountable we are. Instead, in light of His love toward us as enemies, let’s allow God to expose and transform our hearts to the place that we can love our enemies, bless them, and pray for them as Jesus did for us. Then, and not one second before, will we know what it is to be like Him.

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.

Plowing the field

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tilling-rapeseed-2“The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing.” Proverbs 20:4.

Agrarians debate the value of Spring vs. Fall plowing, but certain variables notwithstanding, most agree that it is best to plow a field after the fall harvest so that the soil is most fertile for the spring planting.

My mom and dad were always proud of their garden. Sometimes, when people came by the house, my folks would show them how good the corn, beans, and tomato plants looked. I never recall them, though, taking anyone out back to look at the tilled dirt in the cold of winter.

The writer of Proverbs strikes an important chord with the verse today. There isn’t much fun about plowing a field. It is cold, hard work and it will be months before the field can even be planted. However, it is necessary as doing so gives an advantage to the Spring planter. The remaining vegetation will be turned under to decompose. The temperature of the soil will aid in this process. Insects and other parasites below the surface will be uprooted and diminished in the Spring. Still, the work isn’t easy…and it doesn’t feel “pressing” at the moment.

Cultivating spiritual lives requires the same diligence and discipline as good farming. There are seasons of harvest but the greater efforts are put in where the work is less “glorious.” The field of evangelism is plowed in private seasons of prayer. The fields of patience, gentleness, and kindness (grace) are plowed in times of reflection on our own sin and God’s magnificent grace toward us in Salvation. The fields of obedience in discipling others are plowed long before in ones own submission, accountability, and discipleship by others.

The step of plowing may not seem glorious but it is necessary to experience an abundant harvest. The man or woman with no evangelistic fruit bear witness to the lack of diligence in prayer and preparation. A lack of patience demonstrates a lack of preparation by soaking in the meditative moments of reflection on God’s gracious kindness toward us.

Plowing is hard work. It is not glamorous. It does not bear immediate fruit; however, if one omits the step or procrastinates too long, he will be left begging at the time of harvest.

Choose today to plow the fields. Do the hard work now and trust in the harvest to come. God will bring a harvest because the harvest brings Him glory. John 15:8.

 

The Christian Faith and Welcomed Conflict

open-bible 2“Since I became a believer, it seems I have struggles and conflicts like never before,” said a six-month believer to her pastor. She seemed surprised. The question is, “Why?”

Popular Christian “sales pitches” position a new life in Christ as the elixir that corrects all of life’s ailments. Struggling with ________? Give your life to Christ!

Dear friend, Jesus is the ANSWER to your QUESTION and He does provide a cure for your struggles; however, the cure may not look like what you imagined and your newfound faith will create far more conflict BY DESIGN than you ever imagined. Jesus told us that our connection to Him would incite conflict and division (Matt 10:34). How? Because our faith is at enmity with everything that by nature is opposed to God…including the fallen nature we continue to wrestle with in us! Paul spoke of it this way in Romans 7 when he acknowledged that the Law of God, now written on our hearts conflicts with the old nature (our allegiance to self) and thus a struggle ensues that only Jesus can settle. Our new nature illuminates the deficiencies and rebellion of our old nature. This brings CONFLICT rather than PEACE. Peace occurs as we lean into Jesus, forsaking our prior allegiance to self.

If one doesn’t struggle over rebellion toward God, the reason is that there is no new nature. The presence of conflict is an indication of the new nature and it is a clarion call to fight for holiness. This conflict extends beyond the internal battle of the will; it will affect personal relationships. As we embrace the disciplines that are necessary to honor our new nature, we will illuminate the deficiencies in those closest to us simply by our presence in their lives. Our responsibility is to do so with grace and without a spirit of judgmentalism while faithfully and humbly demonstrating and speaking truth.

The life of faith is one of war against our old nature and a battle for God’s fame which is seen when you and I help others experience a new life in Christ. We are not called to put a coat of paint on a lost person’s life but to tell them that Jesus lovingly desires for them to get a new life in Him.

At a point in our not so distant future, we will experience a resolve to the conflict of natures. When we are in His presence, all conflict will cease. Until then, embrace the conflict as part of God’s gracious plan for our holiness and His glory.

Why I will not see “The Shack.”

the-shack-182x300Many will invest fifteen or twenty dollars this weekend and over the weeks to come to go see Hollywood’s rendition of the best-selling novel, “The Shack.” Most things that happen in the culture at large pass by me without comment but the nature of this offering on the big screen has forced me into the discussion. My interest is “pastoral.” I do not hate books, movies, or believe that Christians should boycott everything not affirmed by some denominational headquarters. In fact, I generally recommend “critical exposure” to cultural phenomenon like “The Shack” so that believers can have an honest and meaningful dialogue with seekers who have questions.

Many in Christian circles have sought to position evangelistic campaigns around this movie. They see it as a conversation starter. For these, the movie will surface the problem with human pain and the benevolent nature of God who brings healing to human pain. So…what’s my “resistance” to such a benign offering?

A few people have asked me if I planned to see the movie. I do not. When the book was first published, I purchased a copy and read it critically, which is to say that I looked for the theological landmines to see if they outweighed the potential good in such a fictional work as this book. In my estimation, the latent theological assertions render this book (and I suspect, the movie) “dangerous” for the average reader or moviegoer.

WHAT? How can I make such a sweeping assertion? Three reasons:

  • Most readers lack theological discernment when it comes to such works. A 2010 article by the President of Southern Seminary, Dr. Al Mohler addresses this concern.
  • Many readers lack the theological foundation to even begin discerning truth from error. I am not speaking of a “Sunday School” knowledge here but am suggesting that if you have not taken time to understand Orthodox Christian Doctrines and why the church has consistently and overwhelmingly affirmed them, then you are highly susceptible to accepting the unorthodox suggestions in this book as foundational.
  • Many readers open the gateway of their minds by assuming the harmless nature of “fiction.” They do so, often times, to their detriment. There is an entire subculture of conspiracy theorists in our world. These are the folks who are convinced of the government’s involvement with Kennedy’s assassination, argue that helicopters and satellites observe and record everything, and have seen Nicolas Cage in”National Treasure” a dozen times and now believe in a secret society of knights that run the government as a shadow team working for the President. Though the suggestions in this movie, for instance, are baseless…they are accepted by those who like to say…”Well, maybe…who knows.”

For the viewer or reader with theological discernment…I find no real harm in the book. Just be critical. If you hear something that sounds foreign to your doctrinal foundation…find out WHY before you simply accept the proposition that “maybe” the Trinity is eternally submissive to One Another and to humanity. Listen carefully before merely accepting that God does not punish sin and merely allows sin to be its own punishment. Ask yourself, “Where is the author coming from? Why even undertake such a work? (This information is well-documented if you look for it.)

As for me, I’ll save my nickels for a movie with more substance and content…like the next release of the StarWars saga :). If you go and hear something that stretches your mind and want to know how it fits with Orthodox Christianity…give a shout. I’d enjoy the conversation and the opportunity to offer a perspective that may help bring clarity.