Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Real Call

Not a message that all my family will be glad to see, but it's a message that I must present this week. Especially since I've got another major surgery next week. I feel obligated to my family (and all other families) who will read this.

See, I don't know for sure that all my family belongs to the Lord. And why wouldn't I think this? Because I had an experience last year, in August, that made me question whether I was true to the Lord. A lot of truth was given to me about this, and now it needs to be passed on.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7.13-14)

This verse can be studied and torn apart, until anybody reading it can feel good about it. And still be wrong. The core of this verse comes out very basic. There is no simple way out. Are you part of the major bunch? Have you found nice excuses? Is it really OK to be totally separated from the church? Can you do what you want? I can't answer this for you, but if you can easily answer "Yes" to everything, you're probably part of the big bunch. The wrong bunch.

To be on track for true life in Jesus Christ, then you're on a narrow path that is true to God.

I have called before. I will continue to call as long as I can. Do you know God through Jesus Christ our Lord? Yes? Do you attend regular worship for His name? No? Well, I'm not saying that you're not saved. But I'd be worried about it. So I call my family, who all claim to love the Lord. Find a real church. Attend it regularly (You don't have to every week). But please come to Christ.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Simplest Ministry

Jesus spent the better part of a day feeding people. Jesus was with about 5000 men, plus matching numbers of women and children. 20,000 people or more would not be out of line. After dinner, many of these people stayed the night, camped out however they could be. The next morning they woke up, but Jesus was gone.

Many folks went home. But a large bunch figured out that Jesus must have gone across the sea, so they set out to find him. Those that found him came ashore in hope; many just for breakfast.

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"
Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6.26-29)

Could these people get what Jesus was telling them? Would they understand? Could they really do what is right? How bad do they want it?

The same questions apply today. What does God really require?

The answer to that is so simple. But you have read this from me before. It's a lot tougher than most people want.

"The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." So simple; but so hard to do. To be one God has sent, you must be one who will serve Him. The thing about believing in Jesus is that you can't just say so. Jesus always calls his true followers to active ministry for others in His name.

When was your last true ministry to anybody in Jesus' name? Oh... that long?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ministry is Usually Backwards

I hope someone as wondered why I've missed posting for over a month. I've been fighting some health issues. The details of my health aren't important to share. What it makes you realize about ministry is really vital.

We all have a tendency to think that our salvation is simple. And in reality, it is. Salvation is very simply accepting Jesus Christ's death as your own. A justice payment for your life's sin. But it's not simple, either. You have to accept that Jesus died for you. And more so-- unless you die that moment-- you have to accept the responsibility to live His life through your own.

Jesus illustrated this with a simple story. "I tell you the solemn truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain. The one who loves his life destroys it, and the one who hates his life in this world guards it for eternal life. If anyone wants to serve me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant will be too. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him." (John 12.24-26)

I've had great ministry over the years: from local churches, to outlaw biker gangs, to real outlaws, to people of overseas cultures. I've had great successes. But looking back now, I would have done far more of what is possible, if I was fully given over to God. That's probably the thing for anyone ministering for God.

Natural tendency is to plan it out, do what you can, then lean back for God's help when things fall short. Backwards. By good human standards, that's the right way. But God created us, not the other way around. Our #1 action is not to serve others. It's to serve Christ first. Sounds strange to all of us. But if we serve Jesus Christ first, then He can use us to do more and better ministry.

The simple point is, God is the real One to do ministry. It's important to study and learn. Then when called into action, you do what you learned, but not through what you planned. You always have your eyes and ears open to what is happening. Your words and actions must always come from God's.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Healing -- So Simple. Yet Still So Hard.

Read Mark 9.14-29
One day, all but three of Jesus' disciples were out ministering to the people. Jesus had been teaching them, and they were doing pretty good. Until a man showed up to them with his son. There's no way to say for sure, but it sure sounds to me like the son had epilepsy. No word on whether he was a boy, or if he was an adult who could never leave his parents' home. Whatever it was for sure, it was a big problem.

The man heard that Jesus' disciples were somewhere in town, and they were healing lots of sick or injured people. So he headed down there with his son as quickly as possible. One of the disciples stepped up in confidence, and asked what the problem was. The man told him the same thing he told Jesus later. "...he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid." So one disciple after another tried to cure this boy. Then they probably teamed up to be stronger. The formulas they had learned weren't doing anything. Then somebody started to complain. The disciples argued back. Finally, Jesus and the other three disciples showed up from where they had been.

Nine of Jesus' direct disciples-- maybe some other, less central disciples with them-- failed miserably, and got all stirred up about it against each other. Kinda like a 21st century Church that I know about.

So what was their problem? No faith? No, they had faith. They understood the power to do this healing. Experience? Not a lot, but they had healed someone else who was like this before. Just imagine these guys trying to deal with this, "What in the world are me missing here?"

Jesus saw the fight, and asked what was going on. The kid's father told him the story, probably in tears. Then he gave away his main problem, which infects almost all people to this day. "If you can do anything," he said, "have compassion on us and help us."

Jesus response? "'If you can!' All things are possible for one who believes." Basically saying that He would have no problem with it. And the man got it. After a whole life of going through the official processes that he had been taught. Doing religion "right." Praying for the wrong reason. "I believe; help my unbelief!" Or, more modern English: "I believe you can! Help me truly believe that you can work through others like me!" Then Jesus turned to the boy, gave orders, and the boy was healed.

Afterward, Jesus' disciples asked why they weren't able to heal that boy. Jesus' answer was a surprise to them. It wasn't about experience. It was their connection of faith with power. They had gotten so positive about healing others, they were forgetting the most important part. In my haggard mind, I think that as the day passed, fewer and fewer were actually being healed. Wrapped up in "their" healing work, "their" confidence got shifted to "their" power. They had forgotten that their actual power level was zero. All the power is of God.

Their attitudes were slowly changing. They thought they had great power and authority to do everything, and God would give permission to them. It was so easy for Jesus to explain. "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer." They had started doing their ministries backwards, and Jesus was pulling them back around. Ask God to provide the power and authority, and have faith that God will do it through you as you follow Him.

Personal action and power, back-supported by faith in God, to heal somebody for Church reputation? That's wrong.

God's action and power, asked to act through faith in God, to bring that person and many others to God.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I Blew It

Noon today, I went into one of my favorite fast-food joints. Good food. Good price. Great lady who works behind the counter. She's hard of hearing, but works extra hard to please her customers, taking their orders and payments. She makes extra effort, and cares about the result.

I love Mexican food. Even good
fast-food variety. But it's not always
the only reason to be there.
I got my order back into the far southwest corner of the place. Back there, I could be more free with Boomer and how he must behave. More selfishly, I had started week three of chemo treatments this day, and it's so nice and warm at that sunny table!

Having finished my meal, I had my paper plate and napkins on the tray, ready to drop in the trash. Boomer was curled up around my feet, and I was reading in my phone's Bible app. Jesus sent out a bunch of witnesses and servants, and gave them instructions. "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house." (Luke 10.5-7)

While I was reading this, a nice young man who works there came to my table. "How was everything?" he asked. "Can I take your trash for you?"

"Sure," I said. "Thanks."

And about 5 verses later, that passage above felt like it hit me right between the eyes. It's not about the guy getting paid properly for his work. Not at all. It's about our relationships with Christ, and with each other.

Nice young man. Did I acknowledge his service? Barely. Did I recognize him as the gentle young servant he was? No. Did I greet him or acknowledge him in any valuable way? Not at all. What if...? What if I had looked up, and greeted him eye to eye? Or smiled at him? Or greeted him as a real man with feelings, family, and life? What might the Lord have for me to do for him, right then and there? Is he dissatisfied with his life, but puts on a good show in the place? Does he know Jesus? On every possibility, I blew it. Even if he was one who needed me to be gentle and subtle, any chance to introduce or encourage him was gone.

And I came to realize, I blew it. Whether it was an opportunity to save him through Christ, or just a friendly guy who would be nice to say "Hi" to. I blew it. And worst of all, I blew it by being buried exactly in what God was telling me to do, right then and there. How could I not even look up at the young man, from Bible text that was telling me right then and there to do it?

I looked for him on my out. But he was busy, back where I couldn't go. I prayed for him, that all was well for him. I prayed that he had simply been used by God right there, in order to teach me.

Well next time, those greetings won't fail again.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

A lot of folks made New Year resolutions, making all sorts of plans for how they’re going to change this and improve that. Millions of people across this country are vowing to lose weight, read their Bibles, go to church. And once we're a couple months into 2013, millions of people will still be overweight, underfed, and unchurched.

Back about 1985 or so, I made my last New Year resolution. Very simple and easy to keep. I resolved that I would never again make a New Year resolution. I've managed to keep it every since.

The true reality of that resolution, though is that I just resolved not to focus on New Year's Day to resolve important things. For instance, if I am hit with a need to change something, and it's actually May, I don't make a note of it and wait until mid-winter. No. I think and pray it over, then resolve right then and there to make changes. My biggest resolution this year happened in August. And I'm keeping it.

Sometimes I’m asked what would be a good resolution to make. Well, here’s one, Colossians 1:21-23: "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant."

The best resolution that anyone can make actually needs to be made every day. If we go off on our own, follow the world's so-called good ideas, pursue petty pleasures that might arise, then we are off on that “evil behavior” that Paul mentioned. And since we are all imperfect, we should each resolve to continue in strong faith that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a blessed hope that no one else can claim. Lay hold of that hope and stand firm as you enter this New Year. And resolve yourself to it every day.