“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.

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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.

Jesus doesn’t have Conversations…

Open Bible 1Now before you pick up a stone…let me define the title further so that the statement makes sense. I am not speaking of dialogue such as recorded in the Gospels or the sense of petition and answer in prayer. I am not speaking of the declaration that Jesus calls us “friends.” What I am speaking of is the authority behind His declarations, whatever they may be.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is through the foolishness of the preached message that God saves souls! That is not some slighted statement…the foolishness of the “words of the cross” is actually the power of God unto Salvation to those who believe. The preached message is not a conversation. The Message (words) of the Cross is not an interpretive dialogue. It is a declaration of truth and a decisive call for acceptance by a divine authority, namely God Himself.

My point is: God is not negotiating with you and me. God is not asking for our opinions or seeking to build consensus on certain issues. God declares what is good, what is right, what is expected, and what is holy. He does so with authority and He wraps it in immeasurably abundant grace! But it is still authoritative.

One may ask…what if I don’t agree? What if I dispute and have a good argument? What if someone else stands up and says differently? Do any of these things change the fact that what God declares is already Sovereignly and righteously decided in Heaven? The answer is certainly, “No.”

In our cultural understanding of what is “acceptable” by OUR norms, we like to soften authority and make the determination of what is authoritative more subjective than we ought. We want to have conversations rather than hear declarations. We hear that “the Bible says…” and we say, “Yes, but I am not certain I agree with that.” Friend, honestly…that doesn’t matter. Jesus doesn’t have conversations about whether something is right or wrong, expected or optional. He declares truth and we decide to obey or disobey. Those are our options. He is our King. His Word is settled. His declarations are unimpeachable.

Shalom, CA

Righteousness by Compulsion is not…

open-bible 2Philemon is a pretty amazing story of Paul discipling a brother, Philemon, in how to live out an aspect of the gospel practically. He says, among other things, that Philemon should rejoice over a “run-a-way” slave who probably stole from his master…because he crossed paths with Paul and now was a Christ-follower. Tons of lessons bubble up from the text. We ought to rejoice over the salvation of an enemy. We ought to serve and honor God above all else and pursue His agenda as priority. When we fail and sin against another, we should repent in humility and trust in God’s grace (Onesimus).

Another nugget presents itself in verse 14: “but with out you consent I did not want to do anything [that is, keep Onesimus, your slave, with me to minister to me and chalk it up to you being a brother and assume you would want to do the right thing], so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.”

In this verse, we are confronted with the importance of heart motive. If we do something to please me or because of peer pressure…even if it is a good thing, it is not righteous. If we feel guilty and therefore do a good “act” we are still not acting righteously.

God looks on our hearts. WOW! I know many people who say that as if it were comforting… “I may not do right, but God knows my heart” they may say! Well, that terrifies me more often than it brings me comfort. I know how to DO the right things…but sometimes I do them without the right motive. I may correct a person out of a desire to help myself more than to help them. I may do charitable deeds for more of how it makes me feel than for how it reflects Christ or serves the other person. These actions are then, in effect, wicked in God’s sight because they are right things done by compulsion or with wrong motives.

It sometimes terrifies me that God knows my heart…because as much as I know my own heart…it is sometimes wicked. Not always…but sometimes.

Paul seeks to disciple Philemon in this letter. He is not concerned with what is right. He is not concerned with the ability to do what is right. Paul is concerned with Philemon WANTING to do what is right of his own free will.

That requires heart surgery!

Friends…this letter encourages me BECAUSE of two things. One…God is at work on my heart. He is changing, softening, crushing, and rejuvenating it. Second…God graciously saves me KNOWING my fits of wickedness and strongholds of selfishness. The Gospel reminds me that it is not my good works that provokes God’s goodness toward me. His goodness toward me proceeds from His nature which is completely good and gracious, and merciful.

Today…don’t just do good. Beg God to help you to want to do good and when you sense that your heart is not in it, ask God to change your heart rather than trying to justify your wickedness as somehow righteous.

Shalom, CA

#P5: Devotion Much?

open-bible 2Several years ago I began promoting in the churches I served, churchwide Scripture reading plans or corporate devotional initiatives of some sort…plans to get folks into the Scriptures that might not otherwise step over the initial “hurdle” of beginning a devotional discipline. I remember one man in one church coming to me and strongly declaring that he would not be joining us in the initiative because it wasn’t deep enough for him. He soon left the church I served and connected to another for  short season. Now he doesn’t attend anywhere and by all accounts I am familiar with…faith has no role in his lifestyle, choices, or desires. That grieves me because I was investing in his discipleship. He was in a place of leadership and influence and we had an accountability relationship.

You might ask, “Where did he run off the rails?” My answer: He lacked discipline. He was not devoted to the best things. Sure, he did some good things but he did not do the best things. He was familiar with “Jesus stuff” but not devoted to Jesus.

A better question is, “How could he have prevented the slide into practical agnosticism?” (An agnostic is one who does not deny that God may exist, but operates as if it doesn’t matter either way). That term may seem a bit strong but I don’t know what else to call it when you live daily as if you alone are the source of your own strength, peace, and security.

One of the ways (assuming he was and is born-again…an argument I am not making but am allowing for since I can only judge the fruit in his life) is by choosing discipline.

Discipline is when we choose to act in a certain manner because we have decided it is best, particularly when doing so is uncomfortable. It is skipping dessert when we want the cake but we need to shed a few pounds. It is going for a walk when we might prefer to watch television. It is setting aside 15 minutes in the quiet of the morning to read from the Scriptures and maybe a devotional guide along with prayer.

As a pastor, I hope it goes without saying that I have read the Bible numerous times and that I have a “better than average” knowledge of the Scriptures. Yet, in my “normal” PERSONAL Christ-follower discipline…I read daily from the Scriptures, read from 3-4 devotional guides, meditate/consider what I read…and pray. My discipline involves 30 mins to an hour daily. This, of course, is outside of my sermon/message prep and study discipline for teaching.

Here is the question: “If I find a need to discipline myself in pursuit of quiet time/devotion…how might someone with less exposure to the Scriptures find it less necessary for themself?”

Regardless of where you are NOW, you could start a devotional discipline if you choose, or start back in your discipline. Choose today to give God your focus and attention for a certain period of time every day. My guess…what begins as DISCIPLINE will blossom as DEVOTION very soon.

Shalom, CA