Monday, May 13, 2013

What Pastors should repeat


“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift that is in you….” (II Timothy 1:6)  “Of these things put them in remembrance….” (II Timothy 2:14).
Today, I spent the morning hours in a school in Zaria giving my little presentation we call “Lessons in self-esteem from drawing 100,000 people.” I sketch a lot of students, and then segue into the talk which, among other things, urges the students to stop comparing themselves with others, accept themselves as the persons God made them to be, and to smile. Then it happened again.
Only five minutes after the talk, I was talking with one of the students. “Look at me and smile,” I said to him. “I don’t smile,” he replied. I stopped, looked at him sternly and said, “You didn’t hear a thing I said, did you?”
In truth, he had heard, but the lesson had not penetrated.
I said to the leader of the class fellowship, “My telling the students these things once is not enough for them to get through. The only way to change their behavior is for you to say it over and over again. Eventually the lesson will ‘take’ with some of them.”
Some lessons have to be repeated ad infinitum.
“Let me remind you….” is a phrase that shows up a lot in the epistles of the Apostle Paul.
The most important spiritual truths need to be emphasized again and again if the hearers are to truly learn them and benefit from them.
Here are seven biblical truths that Pastors need to keep telling the people in the hope that eventually most will “get it.” (The list is not meant to be exhaustive. You’ll think of other essential truths that need hammering home again and again.)
1) Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the only Savior.
That is the theme of so much Scripture anyway, isn’t it?  How could we not keep the focus on the Lord Jesus–His identity, His life and ministry, His teachings, His headship over the church, and His place in our lives–if we are being true to the Word?
Pastor, keep telling them–over and over again; the theme never wears out–”Why we make so much of Jesus.”  Just last evening, a man here in North Carolina (where I’m in revival) told of the state legislature voting to make a certain Baptist preacher their chaplain, then firing him when he refused to take “In Jesus’ name” out of his prayers.  And they call this perversion “inclusiveness.”  Go figure. (Note: Many a New Testament prayer did not use the actual words “in Jesus’ name” and we should not feel ours must always, either. However, tell me that I must leave Jesus out of the prayer and I’m gone.)
Jesus Christ is Lord, for now and for eternity, and no one else is.
Always stay focused on the Lord Jesus with your people.
2) The Church is an essential part of the Lord’s plan, for now and forever.
And we are most definitely not referring just to your local congregation. As important as that is–this will come as a surprise to a lot of lonely myopic pastors–the Kingdom of God is more than your church.
When Jesus saved you, He knew something you were about to find out: “You cannot live this new life in isolation. You need the family of God.” They hold onto you, you hold onto them. They instruct and nurture you; you turn around and do the same. This symbiosis has been God’s plan from early on.
“I will build my church,” the Lord said in Matthew 16:18. It’s His and He builds it.  The Christ-follower who claims to be able to live for Christ better without the church is insulting His Lord. The church-leader who would run the Lord’s church “for Him” is asking for big trouble fast.
3) Salvation is all about the cross.
Salvation is not by works of righteousness but humility, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ and what He did on Calvary.
The threat to turn salvation into a matter of works will never go away. It’s grounded in man’s way of thinking, his human (and thus self-centered) reasoning.  To my knowledge, most of the religions of the world teach variations of “do this and you’re saved” or “do not do this and you are saved.”  Only one to my knowledge proclaims that everything necessary has already been done and our task is to repent and receive it (“Him”).
When people tell me they believe their good works will get them to Heaven, I ask, “Then, what was the point of the cross? If all God had to do was tell us ‘Y’all be good now, hear?’ then He sure went to a lot of trouble for nothing by sending Jesus into this world to die on a cross for our sins.”  (They have no answer since they have never given these things the first thought. If you need further evidence of man’s sinful heart, there it is.)
Celebrate the grace of God, preacher, with your people. Keep them at the cross.
4) We are not saved by good works, but saved “unto” God works. (Ephesians 2:10)
Good works have a definite place in the plan of God for His people. But they are the results–the fruits, the evidence–of our salvation, not the means.  One wishing to become a member of the military does not do so by wearing a uniform and saluting officers. But once he is officially inducted, he wears the uniform, obeys commands, and salutes officers.
What good works does the Lord want to see in our lives? Scripture answers that again and again in places like Micah 6:8  Jeremiah 22:16  and of course, Matthew 25:35-36  I enjoy telling Harold Bales’ story of the time his church in uptown Charlotte NC was bringing in the homeless from the park across the street and feeding them breakfast before the morning worship service. A woman who had belonged to that church for generations and resented the presence of the unwashed in their services, approached Pastor Harold one Sunday and said, “Pastor, why do we have to have those people in our church?” He said, “Because I don’t want to see anyone go to hell.” She said, “Well, I don’t want them to go to hell either.” He said, “I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about you.”
5) If you have faith, you will pray.
In fact, nothing tells the story about your faith like your prayer life. Nothing.
Consider that you are praying to a Lord you have never seen and cannot prove. You say things to Him you would say to no one else and believe that He hears. Furthermore–and this is the clincher–90 percent of the requests you make, you’ll never know whether He answered them or not since He may choose to do so in subtle ways or another time.  But there you go, praying to Him day after day, as though He were occupying the chair next to you and everything you do today is dependent on His presence and guidance.
It is.
Pastors keep prayer before their people by encouraging them to pray at the altar during the services, and by having a prayer room at the church, and by encouraging prayer for specific people, needs, events, and concerns.
6) A church exists by evangelism and missions as a fire exists by burning.
Sharing our faith is not an option, not for the gifted only (although admittedly some are more fluent and effective than others in this), and not to be done sporadically. “As you go, make disciples” was the command of our Lord in Matthew 28:18ff.
I stood in the foyer of a church of another denomination one day, reading their poster on evangelism.  (You do not need my help in identifying the denomination by what follows.)  The poster said something like, “Spread the word. Tell people about John Wesley.”  I thought, “Wesley? Tell them about Wesley? That’s not evangelism! That’s the sort of in-house instruction one might wish to do with those who have been converted to United Methodism. But it’s no way to reach the unchurch, uncommitted, or uninterested.
Churches must be creative in finding ways to mobilize their members in spreading the faith, must be aggressive in supporting those who are getting it right and doing it well, and must be alert to the distractions which would push evangelism down the list of priorities in the church’s ministries.
7) The Bible is the inspired word of God and the spiritual nutrition of believers.
If you thought other church programs would crowd evangelism off the agenda, know that life has a way of pushing God’s Word out of the mind of believers.  The process seems to be the same for everyone, and works like this….
You go a few days without reading your Bible and soon, you find yourself resisting the inner urge to get back to it.  The more you cave in to that laziness that resents picking up the Word and opening it, the more you will find yourself saying (or thinking, or both): “I’ve read the Bible. I know it already. There’s nothing new there. It’s boring.”
Those are all lies out of hell. You do not know the Bible. You have not read it. (You may have read “at” it, but there is a world of content there which you have not yet mined.)  It is not boring. You are boring, not the Word.
Job said, “I have esteemed the words of thy mouth more than my necessary food.” Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  David said the godly man’s “delight is in the Word of God and in that Word (law) doth he meditate day and night.”
Keep telling them, pastor. Keep preaching its insights and delighting in its treasures, and eventually they will get it.
Repetition is a great teacher. In fact, it may be the best teacher on the planet.

What Pastors should repeat


“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift that is in you….” (II Timothy 1:6)  “Of these things put them in remembrance….” (II Timothy 2:14).
Today, I spent the morning hours in a school in Zaria giving my little presentation we call “Lessons in self-esteem from drawing 100,000 people.” I sketch a lot of students, and then segue into the talk which, among other things, urges the students to stop comparing themselves with others, accept themselves as the persons God made them to be, and to smile. Then it happened again.
Only five minutes after the talk, I was talking with one of the students. “Look at me and smile,” I said to him. “I don’t smile,” he replied. I stopped, looked at him sternly and said, “You didn’t hear a thing I said, did you?”
In truth, he had heard, but the lesson had not penetrated.
I said to the leader of the class fellowship, “My telling the students these things once is not enough for them to get through. The only way to change their behavior is for you to say it over and over again. Eventually the lesson will ‘take’ with some of them.”
Some lessons have to be repeated ad infinitum.
“Let me remind you….” is a phrase that shows up a lot in the epistles of the Apostle Paul.
The most important spiritual truths need to be emphasized again and again if the hearers are to truly learn them and benefit from them.
Here are seven biblical truths that Pastors need to keep telling the people in the hope that eventually most will “get it.” (The list is not meant to be exhaustive. You’ll think of other essential truths that need hammering home again and again.)
1) Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the only Savior.
That is the theme of so much Scripture anyway, isn’t it?  How could we not keep the focus on the Lord Jesus–His identity, His life and ministry, His teachings, His headship over the church, and His place in our lives–if we are being true to the Word?
Pastor, keep telling them–over and over again; the theme never wears out–”Why we make so much of Jesus.”  Just last evening, a man here in North Carolina (where I’m in revival) told of the state legislature voting to make a certain Baptist preacher their chaplain, then firing him when he refused to take “In Jesus’ name” out of his prayers.  And they call this perversion “inclusiveness.”  Go figure. (Note: Many a New Testament prayer did not use the actual words “in Jesus’ name” and we should not feel ours must always, either. However, tell me that I must leave Jesus out of the prayer and I’m gone.)
Jesus Christ is Lord, for now and for eternity, and no one else is.
Always stay focused on the Lord Jesus with your people.
2) The Church is an essential part of the Lord’s plan, for now and forever.
And we are most definitely not referring just to your local congregation. As important as that is–this will come as a surprise to a lot of lonely myopic pastors–the Kingdom of God is more than your church.
When Jesus saved you, He knew something you were about to find out: “You cannot live this new life in isolation. You need the family of God.” They hold onto you, you hold onto them. They instruct and nurture you; you turn around and do the same. This symbiosis has been God’s plan from early on.
“I will build my church,” the Lord said in Matthew 16:18. It’s His and He builds it.  The Christ-follower who claims to be able to live for Christ better without the church is insulting His Lord. The church-leader who would run the Lord’s church “for Him” is asking for big trouble fast.
3) Salvation is all about the cross.
Salvation is not by works of righteousness but humility, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ and what He did on Calvary.
The threat to turn salvation into a matter of works will never go away. It’s grounded in man’s way of thinking, his human (and thus self-centered) reasoning.  To my knowledge, most of the religions of the world teach variations of “do this and you’re saved” or “do not do this and you are saved.”  Only one to my knowledge proclaims that everything necessary has already been done and our task is to repent and receive it (“Him”).
When people tell me they believe their good works will get them to Heaven, I ask, “Then, what was the point of the cross? If all God had to do was tell us ‘Y’all be good now, hear?’ then He sure went to a lot of trouble for nothing by sending Jesus into this world to die on a cross for our sins.”  (They have no answer since they have never given these things the first thought. If you need further evidence of man’s sinful heart, there it is.)
Celebrate the grace of God, preacher, with your people. Keep them at the cross.
4) We are not saved by good works, but saved “unto” God works. (Ephesians 2:10)
Good works have a definite place in the plan of God for His people. But they are the results–the fruits, the evidence–of our salvation, not the means.  One wishing to become a member of the military does not do so by wearing a uniform and saluting officers. But once he is officially inducted, he wears the uniform, obeys commands, and salutes officers.
What good works does the Lord want to see in our lives? Scripture answers that again and again in places like Micah 6:8  Jeremiah 22:16  and of course, Matthew 25:35-36  I enjoy telling Harold Bales’ story of the time his church in uptown Charlotte NC was bringing in the homeless from the park across the street and feeding them breakfast before the morning worship service. A woman who had belonged to that church for generations and resented the presence of the unwashed in their services, approached Pastor Harold one Sunday and said, “Pastor, why do we have to have those people in our church?” He said, “Because I don’t want to see anyone go to hell.” She said, “Well, I don’t want them to go to hell either.” He said, “I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about you.”
5) If you have faith, you will pray.
In fact, nothing tells the story about your faith like your prayer life. Nothing.
Consider that you are praying to a Lord you have never seen and cannot prove. You say things to Him you would say to no one else and believe that He hears. Furthermore–and this is the clincher–90 percent of the requests you make, you’ll never know whether He answered them or not since He may choose to do so in subtle ways or another time.  But there you go, praying to Him day after day, as though He were occupying the chair next to you and everything you do today is dependent on His presence and guidance.
It is.
Pastors keep prayer before their people by encouraging them to pray at the altar during the services, and by having a prayer room at the church, and by encouraging prayer for specific people, needs, events, and concerns.
6) A church exists by evangelism and missions as a fire exists by burning.
Sharing our faith is not an option, not for the gifted only (although admittedly some are more fluent and effective than others in this), and not to be done sporadically. “As you go, make disciples” was the command of our Lord in Matthew 28:18ff.
I stood in the foyer of a church of another denomination one day, reading their poster on evangelism.  (You do not need my help in identifying the denomination by what follows.)  The poster said something like, “Spread the word. Tell people about John Wesley.”  I thought, “Wesley? Tell them about Wesley? That’s not evangelism! That’s the sort of in-house instruction one might wish to do with those who have been converted to United Methodism. But it’s no way to reach the unchurch, uncommitted, or uninterested.
Churches must be creative in finding ways to mobilize their members in spreading the faith, must be aggressive in supporting those who are getting it right and doing it well, and must be alert to the distractions which would push evangelism down the list of priorities in the church’s ministries.
7) The Bible is the inspired word of God and the spiritual nutrition of believers.
If you thought other church programs would crowd evangelism off the agenda, know that life has a way of pushing God’s Word out of the mind of believers.  The process seems to be the same for everyone, and works like this….
You go a few days without reading your Bible and soon, you find yourself resisting the inner urge to get back to it.  The more you cave in to that laziness that resents picking up the Word and opening it, the more you will find yourself saying (or thinking, or both): “I’ve read the Bible. I know it already. There’s nothing new there. It’s boring.”
Those are all lies out of hell. You do not know the Bible. You have not read it. (You may have read “at” it, but there is a world of content there which you have not yet mined.)  It is not boring. You are boring, not the Word.
Job said, “I have esteemed the words of thy mouth more than my necessary food.” Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  David said the godly man’s “delight is in the Word of God and in that Word (law) doth he meditate day and night.”
Keep telling them, pastor. Keep preaching its insights and delighting in its treasures, and eventually they will get it.
Repetition is a great teacher. In fact, it may be the best teacher on the planet.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lust or Sexual Attraction, Which is which, and Right


I have a very important question that most Christian men probably ask.

What is the difference between lust and sexual attraction?

It seems that the distinction between the two is always blurred. Is it possible to sense sexual attraction to a woman without lusting after her? I was talking to a friend tonight, and he told me that lust is distinguished by complete selfishness. Lust involves looking at a woman as simply an object of sexual desire while disregarding the fact that she is a human being with emotions and needs. Sexual attraction, on the other hand, is possible along with selflessness and respect for a woman even if the man is not committed to her in marriage. In other words, sexual attraction can exist without lust.

Do you agree with this view?

This is an important subject for me personally because from puberty till recent times, I was always given the impression that a man’s sexual attraction to a woman is solely based on lust, vulgarity, and misogyny. Many men do not feel like they ever lust after a woman; therefore, they question if they are capable of experience sexual attraction to a woman and then conclude that they are not attracted to women at all.
In this country, it is probably reasonable to assume that every young male has this impression. Shouldn’t a man experience sexual attraction to his girlfriend or fiancĂ©e to know if he will be sexually attracted to her in future marriage? If it’s acceptable for him to be physically or emotionally attracted to her before marriage, why can’t he be sexually attracted to her as well?

Let’s Check the Bible for answers together.

I know vividly from Scriptures that Temptation is not sin. We know this primarily because clearly our Lord was tempted and He never sinned (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:15). Also, James 1:14-16 directly answers your question:
“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” James 1:14-16
James clearly states that lust isn’t sin, but lust when conceived (given life) always gives birth to sin.
Sexual attraction is a normal aspect of human existence. If you think of lust as a desire to have what we want, regardless of God’s described best or others’ ultimate good then you see why we are not to let it rule us. Anything that rules us other than the Spirit of God is going to lead to death.
Sexual attraction is God’s gift. Meeting a God-given desire in a God-forbidden way is sin. This is why we are called to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Check out Solomon’s take on his attraction to his bride in Song of Solomon and you will read more of how God wants us to enjoy our spouses in a healthy, sexual way. Not only is the Lord not bothered by their attraction to one another, He encourages them to “drink deeply”. Wanting the drink is not the problem. Where and When you drink might be.

We are not to be ruled by this thirst (even in marriage), but in all things we want to be ruled by Christ. How great that part of His rule is to allow us the joy of sexual intimacy with another human in a way that leads to life, pleasure and shameless joy. I would suggest that there probably ought to be a healthy level of sexual attraction between any couple that spends time together, which is one of the reasons we have to be wise in how we spend time together before we are married, lest we “awaken love before it’s time” (Song of Solomon 2:7;3:5)

Though not the ultimate reason for marriage, sex is a part of it, and it is not at all unhealthy that you should have to exercise discipline to remain pure with that person before you marry them. It is plenty unhealthy if you don’t, but that is another blog for another day. Remember, self-control is evidence that the Spirit of God is active in your life (Galatians 5:22ff). Sexual attraction is normal and God-given, and it must be governed by God-given principles and our reliance on His Spirit, which He graciously has given to those who believe. Don’t ever meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. Pain, guilt and shame await when we do.

Let me encourage you even more to reach out to others here who can run with you every day on topics like this. Jump in with other believers and share your views on any issue and share them deeply friend. Proverbs 18:1 has a lot to say about the sad state of those who go at this life alone. Don’t stand alone, it’s lonely and dangerous.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Social Media according to the Bible


A reader emailed in with this request:

Could you do a blog or something on how Christians should be handling Facebook and Twitter and social media?

That seemed like a really good idea, as social media has given each of us a louder voice and therefore much more power. And, as Uncle Ben would say, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

So how do Christians responsibly use the power of social media? Luckily, there is a book that answers that question for us. It’s called the Bible.
Jesus on Facebook

The Bible and Social Media
How can a book written millennia before the internet even existed have anything to say about social media?

The Bible actually has a lot to say on the subject, because it talks extensively about how we are to communicate and relate to people. Try looking up the word “tongue” for starters; it occurs 137 times in the Bible, and almost all of them have to do with speaking. For example:

  • When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. – Proverbs 10:19
  • A man of knowledge uses words with restraint…Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. – Proverbs 17:27-28
  • He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity. – Proverbs 21:23
 And there are many other verses that likewise have reminded me, at various times, to shut up.

A Time to Speak
But that is clearly not the whole story. We are also called to tell the good news (Romans 10:14-15), to demolish arguments (2 Corinthians 10:5), and to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

  • Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9
  • The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. – Proverbs 18:17
  • Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6
So we are to make the most of the opportunity we have online—which means we should say something—but we have to be careful what we say.

Social Media Tips
Let’s get practical. Here are some specific tips for how to use social media for Jesus:

  • Be intentional. Saying something on social media is roughly the equivalent of standing up and announcing it to a room of 500 people. Now, maybe you really would announce to such a crowd that “These Dorito tacos are amazing!” After all, they are pretty good. But don’t neglect the power of that platform to also say something truly important. (“This Jesus is amazing!”)
  • Be clear. As much as 90% of face-to-face communication is nonverbal, conveyed through body language or tone of voice. You lose all of that online (unless you are posting a video). To make sure you are not misunderstood, think before you type (James 1:19).
  • Watch your language. Your non-believing friends might not get the message if you speak in Christianese.
  • Don’t argue in the comments section. It just doesn’t seem to do any good. Online arguments rarely ever cause anyone to change their position, and they tend to be much less civil than if the same people were having the same discussion in person. (2 Timothy 2:23-25)
  • Connect with people personally. Most social media posts are broadcast to no one in particular. A personal, one-on-one message or conversation is much more powerful.
  • Be a true friend. Sometimes people share very personal things, or red flags, on social websites. This is a chance for you to reach out personally and show the love of Christ (John 13:34-35).
  • Live it out. None of this should be that much different than what you are doing offline. And social media makes our lives today very public; if what you say doesn’t match up with what you do, people will see right through it (and have the pictures to prove it). It is not about using social media to present your life in a favorable light, but rather living your life in a light-filled way (Ephesians 5:8-16).
What have you found that works (or does not work) on social media? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF DAILY


QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF DAILY

At the beginning of this year, I sat down to shepherd myself, I decided to come up with a group of questions that I could ask myself EVERY DAY to evaluate how I am abiding with the One I profess to follow.  It all starts with daily learning more of Jesus and His ways and continually yielding to His Spirit which dwells in all who believe.  My deep conviction is that as our lives increasingly have full and meaningful answers to the following questions our lives will increase in joy, fullness and serve as a greater source of glory to our King.  I am sure you can improve on my list of questions, but as for me and my house, we are going to purpose to improve our ability to faithfully answer them every day (Matt 6:33-34).  Feel free to add your own….but in all your adding stay focused on using them to sharpen each day the Lord gifts you (Psalm 90:12). Hope you are encouraged!

LEARN:
What have you done to grow in wisdom and stature today?
What do you know today about God, His Word or His purposes that you did not know yesterday?
What are you going to do differently as a result of what you have learned?
1 Tim 4:7; James 1:22

LEAD:
How is this world or are others better today because you have stepped up and been God’s servant?
When you showed up, how was evil restrained, injustice conquered, love multiplied, captives rescued and/or joy increased.
Luke 4:16-21

LOVE:
What have you done today to make someone else know of God’s great love for them?  Has your motivation for everything been love of God and others?
“May this small act of kindness remind you of God’s great love for you.”
1 Cor 13:1

LAUGH:
Have you laughed out loud today?
Have you laughed uncontrollably?
Have you laughed till you cried?
Have you made others laugh much today?
Prov 17:22

LIVE generously:
How have you shown generosity today?  Who is better off because God stewarded you with His resources?
2 Cor 8:9
LIVE with gratitude:
How have you expressed a heart filled with Thanksgiving today for the multitude of blessings you have received?
Eph 5:20;

LIFT others up:
Who have you encouraged today with a word, a phone call, an email, a text, a note or a card?
Heb 3:13

LEAN on others:
Who are you relying on to spur you on?  Confront you? Shepherd you?
Who has access to your heart? Who faithfully reproves you?  Sharpens you?  Admonishes you when you are unruly?
When is the last time you repented and changed because someone who loves you “smote you in kindness”.
Ps 141:5; Pr 13:20

LIVE it all by faith (by yielding to the Spirit):
What have you done today that only makes sense because you believe and depend on the grace of Christ and the resurrection of the dead?
Have you lived today by faith, in the power of and in constant relationship with the Spirit?
Col 1:29; Eph 5:18