Friday, March 20, 2015

Are You In The Ministry?

I have a good friend who used to be in “professional” ministry. Though his current job does not allow him to “preach the gospel” in a public way, it does allow him to make a lot of friends. Further, he has made friends in the small town where he lives, and his life has been a ministry to them as well. Finally, he has ministered to me personally; therefore, I view him as involved in ministry
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As we consider the word “minister,” it really means “servant.” A minister of Christ is thus a servant of Christ. As a bi-vocational minister, I am both a missionary pastor as well as a carpenter, yet I look at both my jobs as a service to Christ and to others. The greatest command of all is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and then the second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Each of us should make these commands our ministry as we become servants of Christ.
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In my previous “ministry” I was the pastor of an established church and did not have to be bi-vocational, but before that I was also a bi-vocational minister. During that time I was doing carpentry work for a lady that became a good friend. Her son was still living with her and was struggling with drunkenness. He came home from work discouraged one day as I was working on a remodeling project in their house. This man was close to my age and needed someone to talk to, so I set my tools down, noted the time so that I would not charge my customer for the time spent visiting with her son, and proceeded to talk with him for about 45 minutes.
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During that conversation, he told me that the alcohol was killing him. I listened, but I also told him of God’s love and that Christ came to pay for our sins. He had tears in his eyes as we spoke of Jesus Christ and how He loved us enough to die for us. I was not on the job site that day as a pastor, I was there as a carpenter, yet because I loved God and my fellow man, I was able to minister- to be a servant. Each Christian should realize that there are opportunities all around them to minister for God’s glory.
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This young alcoholic and I then became friends, but that friendship was brief, because he died just a couple of months later. Though I was no longer able to minister to my new friend, I was still able to minister to his family, and the best part is that they were able to minister to me. As I was missing my friend, it was so encouraging to hear his mom say that he had quit drinking and was talking about God the last few days of his life. Sadly the alcohol had already done so much damage to his body.
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We do not all minister in the same way. I am a pastor and my ministry today is different than it was just a few short years ago. Today I am leading Bible studies as we get ready to start a new church here in Worthing. Since we do not have an established congregation yet, I also do carpentry work, thus I am bi-vocational again.
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I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul as I think about ministry. “For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” (1 Corinthians 12:14-18 NKJV)
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Let us all minister as we put God first and love others.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Change is not Always Bad

Now that the days have gotten longer, what should we do with all our extra time? I say this tongue in cheek, because of course we still have only 24 hours in the day, it just stays light later due to the time change.
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There has actually been some talk about South Dakota no longer springing ahead and falling back, but instead keeping one consistent time throughout the year. Change- even good change- can be difficult.
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For example, several years ago Coke Cola, reformulated their premier soft drink. They made this move after much testing. It was determined- based on their testing- that new Coke was much better than their classic soda. There was a big problem however. The most loyal Coke drinkers had become used to the classic formulation and did not like the new pop as well.
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Jesus faced a similar problem 2000 years ago. He did not introduce a new soft drink, but instead introduced a new way to relate to God. For years God’s people, the Israelites, had been relating to God through animal sacrifices and other temple rituals in addition to many commands and ordinances that God had given to them at the time of Moses. Before Moses, people still related to God, but for the Israelites, that relationship changed when God gave the Old Testament Mosaic law. Through the years the Jewish people had gotten used to that Old Testament standard.
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Suddenly Jesus arrived on the scene. His death burial and resurrection would do away with the Old Testament Mosaic law. Colossians 2:14 describes it this way: “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (NKJV)
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As Jesus was teaching, He showed that certain people would have trouble with the idea that there would be a new way of doing things now that the Messiah had come. "And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, 'The old is better.'" (Luke 5:39 NKJV). Just like many consumers did not embrace New Coke, many of the Jews did not embrace Jesus. Further clarification is found as we look at more of Jesus’ illustration. "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 "But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Luke 5:37-38 NKJV)
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Wine in those days was put in leather type bags. New wine would stretch the bags and new bags were able to stretch, but old bags would break if stretched. Christ used that illustration to show that He would not just tack His sacrifice on the cross on top of the Old Testament Mosaic law, but that He would actually replace the Old Testament law with His payment on the cross.
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Sadly, many people liked the old law because they were used to it, even though Christ’s way was better. Today we no longer have to follow the law that Moses gave to the Israelites. Instead we realize that although God has expectations for man that preceded the Law of Moses, our sins have been taken care of on the cross and we no longer have to worry about the Old Testament Mosaic law. The old law simply pointed out sin to temporarily cover it. Instead we have something far better- Christ’s payment on the cross which has permanently paid for our sins. The new is far better.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Military Officer’s Example

When I think of Roman soldiers, I often think of treacherous villains who used their power to suppress and abuse those under them. I think of their role in the crucifixion of Christ and of how they were portrayed in the popular movie “Spartacus.”
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As I read the Bible, however, I do not necessarily see a group of people that are any worse than others. Just as we have good cops and bad cops today, there were godly and ungodly Roman soldiers in Christ’s day. In fact, Roman soldiers are portrayed in a positive manner in the Bible. For example, in Luke 3:14, we find soldiers asking John the Baptist for spiritual guidance.
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Not only do we read of common soldiers in the Scripture, but we also read of military officers. They are most commonly referred to as Centurions and may have been leaders over 100 men, but that number could have been lower or even as high as 1000. Regardless, they were men of rank, with power and authority.
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When Christ was crucified, a Centurion who was there, testified that Jesus was righteous and that He was the Son of God. In Acts 10, we read of the first non Jewish convert to Christianity and he is a Centurion named Cornelius. Later as the Apostle Paul is facing persecution for his Christian faith, he appeals to a Centurion for defense.
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Even before the cross, during Christ’s ministry in Capernaum, we find another Centurion. It appears that this man had financial means in addition to his military authority, since we find out that he had built a synagogue in Capernaum for the Jewish people to worship God (Luke 7:5). It was likely that this was the very same synagogue where Jesus had earlier cast our a demon (Luke 4:35).
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This Centurion also has a servant and this servant is sick. He cares about the servant and the servant is about to die, so he sends a message to Christ asking for help (Luke 7:2-3). As the Centurion communicates with Jesus Christ through his messengers, he explains that he understands what it is like to have authority over others and to be able to tell people what to do and to expect that it will get done. Remember this Centurion is a Roman military officer who has soldiers at his disposal to make sure that his commands are obeyed.
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Jesus had no visible military here on earth, yet this Centurion recognized that Christ had even more power and authority than he had. He also understands that Jesus even has the power over the sickness of the servant. "Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. "For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." (Luke 7:7-8 NKJV).
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The Centurion recognizes that others are under his authority, but he also sees that there are those who also have authority over him. He understands that not only does the Roman emperor have authority over him, but so does Jesus Christ.
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Jesus commends him for his faith and heals his servant, but I also want us to notice that in understanding Jesus’ authority, the Centurion- who would often be able to demand what he wanted from others- asks Jesus for help rather than demanding it.
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As we go to Jesus for help, let us follow the Centurion’s example of believing Jesus can do whatever we ask, but still praying that God’s will be done, rather than demanding that our will be done. We must recognize that God has the authority, not us. Just as the Centurion would not tell Caesar what to do, we should not tell God what to do.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Applying the Golden Rule

We try to teach our little boys to share, but sometimes the demand to share can turn into a selfish demand that negates the whole principle of sharing. For example, if one of the boys wants a favorite toy, should he always get it simply by telling his brothers that they have to share? The issue of sharing can end up being just as complicated for adults- even for Christians.
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Consider Luke 6:29-30: "Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. "Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.” (NASB)
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Does this mean that if I steal your coat from you, that you are to give me your shirt too? Does this mean that if I ask you for your car, that you should give me your wife’s car as well? Does this mean that if I steal you wallet, that you should just let me keep it if you know that I did it?
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Of course stealing is wrong. “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28 NKJV)
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So how do we reconcile these two passages. First let us look at the parallel passage to Luke 6:29 found in Matthew 5:40: "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” (NKJV) There is a big difference between giving something away because it is has been stolen, and having to give something away because a court of law says that you owe it to another individual as restitution.
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Let us remember that Jesus was ministering to a mostly Hebrew people who were living under Roman law. Regardless of what the Roman law said should happen in a lawsuit, the Hebrew law calls for more than just equal restitution. "If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” (Exodus 22:1 NASB). Not only did the Hebrew law prohibit stealing, but it required that more be paid back that what was stolen.
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The point Jesus was making in Luke 6, was that if you had wronged someone, then you should make restitution over and above what the person had lost. No wonder He next said, "And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way.” (Luke 6:31 NASB)
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The statement about allowing your face to be hit again makes much more sense in this context as well. This does not mean that if some random person assaults you, that you are not to defend yourself, rather it is the idea that if you have insulted a person to the extent that they are justified in in slapping you across the cheek, that you ought to show your remorse for the insult to such an extent that you let them hit you again.
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Just as there needs to be restitution in a lawsuit, Luke 6:29 allows the person you insulted to have restitution as well. At the same time, we are to treat others like we would like to be treated. I would hope that if I insulted someone, that they would not hit me at all, therefore I will not demand to slap either cheek. Realize as well that our culture and our laws do not allow slapping for insults, while other cultures do.
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Let us follow Christ’s example of humility and follow the golden rule that treats others like we would like to be treated.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Most Creative One of All

The Most Creative One of All

We have four little boys. Our oldest is 7 and our youngest is 3. They all love building things out of Legos. One of the older boys showed me a dump trailer that he had built and it really did dump. The youngest one doesn’t always know what he is building, but he plays with his Legos even more than the bigger boys do. He also has a Duplo set with Thomas the Train characters that he is constantly modifying.
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The oldest also loves duct tape. He will ask me for scrap pieces of board that he will tape together. He just came into my office with a short chunk of 2x4 taped to a couple of other small boards and a metal clothes hanger bent into a strange shape. I was told that it was his rabbit trap. Animal lovers need not fear, I am confident that the rabbits that come near this trap will be quite safe- at least until he gets older and figures out a trap that will actually work.
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Our second son turns 6 this week. He also likes to build stuff and if you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he will tell you that he wants to be an engineer. He is the one that will crawl under stuff to look and see how it is built. He wants to be an engineer so that he can build things that no one has ever built before. One of his ideas is to build a ladder that will catch you when you fall.
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Our boys are quite creative. That is not unusual. Some people are creative mechanically- others musically, and some are skilled at drawing. There are even people that are creative with writing. I believe that creativity is part of the image of God found in human beings.
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As creative as we humans are, imagine the creativity of God. Our son wants to make things that no one has ever made before, but he wants to do it by putting together things that have already been made. God, however did not even have the earth when He started. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).
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The fact that God was powerful enough to create the whole world should astound us, but He was also able to do it all by Himself. “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone,” (Isaiah 44:24 NASB).
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As we consider that God made the world all by Himself, let us not forget that the Bible is clear that Jesus is the creator. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created by Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16 NASB) This shows us that Jesus is both creative and that He is God.
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Let us consider that even after the earth was created by God, it still needed to be shaped and molded into something even more creative. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)
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Though God has finished creating the elements that make up the earth and those in it, He has not given up His creative process of changing the landscapes with beauty. Consider the formation of a canyon as water flows, or just look at the beauty of the snow drifts after a winter storm, or look at a brilliant sunset as God puts the clouds in just the right spot to catch just the right light. Our God is not only the great creator of the universe, He is the most magnificent artist of all time.



Friday, January 9, 2015

Racism, Bias, & Christianity

On August 9th of 2014 in Ferguson, MO, a young man named Michael Brown was shot by another young man- a police officer named Darren Wilson. Michael died as a result of the encounter. This incident was more than just a passing news story though. Another component was involved. The two young men, Michael and Darren, were of different ethnic backgrounds. Soon racial tensions across the United States were heightened even more than they had been before.
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The incident at Ferguson and the surrounding controversies were not the beginnings of racial tension in our country, they were just further evidence of its existence.
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Racism is not a new problem. As we read the New Testament, we see much racial tension. Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is the encounter of a Jewish man with a Samaritan woman. As we look at the encounter we find that much of the tension has more to do with ideology than it has to do with race. She says, "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." (John 4:20 NASB).
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The “you people” comment is often used by racist people today as well. One of the difficulties with the whole discussion is that racism is not limited to one particular ethnic or ideological group.
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Racism can come in so many forms. Often there is a cultural, ideological, religious, or even political component. It is not uncommon for people to excuse racism as long as the racist has similar religious or political views. This brings in another component- bias. Bias is an unfair preference or dislike for something. It is very similar to racism.
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Racism is basically bias directed at ethnic heritage. Such bias is wrong whether it comes from the majority or minority of the population.
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Even when dealing with the leaders in the church, Paul warned Timothy, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.” (I Timothy 5:21 NASB)
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James also deals with the issue when he talks about wisdom from God. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17) In the verses right before this statement, James warns about the wisdom that does not come from God and the damaging results. “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:14-16)
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Much of today’s racism is rooted in bitterness, envy and strife. All races ought to judge others by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Christians need to remember that we are all created in the image of God no matter what race we are; therefore, there should be no racial preferences. Consider Colossians 3:9-11 NASB) “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him --a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What are Your Plans For 2015?

Christmas is ended and we look forward to a new year. We have no idea what this new year will bring. It may bring pleasure or it may bring heartache.
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I think back to the end of 2005. I was still single then, and my friend Katie was telling me that I would marry her best friend who I had never even met. I did not take her seriously because people had been trying to set me up with their friends for years and nothing ever worked out. But when Katie’s friend Crystal came home from a year in Peru, I started to wonder if perhaps I should pay a little more attention to her.
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Sure enough, Crystal and I fell in love, got married, and now have 4 little boys. We had not even met in 2005, but were married by the end of 2006. Neither of us were expecting this to happen. It seems that Katie was the only one who did. Of course God was not taken by surprise either. He knew all along what would happen. “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” (Isaiah 46:10)
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Often when a new year starts, people make resolutions, but those resolutions are frequently broken before February. Sometimes they are broken because of a lack of will power, but often they are broken because events occur that are out of our control.
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In the Bible, the book of James tells about some people who had resolved to do business in a city over the next the year and make some profit. It was not a bad goal or even a foolish business venture. The problem was that they figured that they could have their next year all planned out and that it would work out just like they expected it to. Further, as they were planning out their year, they were focusing on what they could make for themselves, rather than remembering God.
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Consider what James wrote: “Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16 NASB)
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As we come to the next year, let us remember that things may not work out like we had planned. They might be better than we expected or they might be worse. Perhaps the next year will be boring and uneventful. Regardless of what happens in our lives, let us remember that it will not take God by surprise.
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Our conduct does have an effect on our lives, but we must realize that we are not the gods of our own destinies. When I was a farmer, I quickly realized that the one variable that had the most effect on yield was the weather. It reminded me that although I had a responsibility to engage in good farming practices and that the better job I did, the better my yields would be, that ultimately, whether I had a huge crop or a failure, depended on the grace of God and what kind of weather He sent.
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Regardless of your plans and goals for the next year, remember that God is in control, not us.