Monday, May 30, 2011

Why Vision Matters

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is sometimes called the “Roll Call of the Faithful”. It contains a listing of many of the heroes of the Old Testament. The last two verses read, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect”(Hebrews11:39, 40). What could cause so many to sacrifice so much without ever seeing the full fruit of their labor? They all had a vision of the coming of God’s Kingdom. While they did not understand all there was to know about the coming of the Messiah, they believed He was coming. Their vision of something better motivated them to do great things.

The power of vision is no less important today. The world understands this power. Church leaders have the same responsibility. Vision is important, because it enables people to see beyond what is to what can be. Without vision the old adage, “If you keep on doing what you have always done, you will keep on getting what you have always got,” becomes true.

Vision is important for leaders for three reasons. One, the power of vision helps us overcome the fear of the unknown. Uncertainty influences people to cling to the present and less likely to think in the future. Vision gives a reason for taking a risk and believing that there is something better on the horizon.

Two, the power of vision enables us to overcome the fear of sacrifice. Progress requires sacrifice. John Maxwell said, “If I succeed without sacrifice, then it’s because someone who went before me made the sacrifice. If I sacrifice, and don’t see success, then someone who follows will reap success from my sacrifice.” The task of leadership is to demonstrate the sacrifices demanded today are worth the rewards they will bring in the future.

Three, the power of vision enables us to learn from the past, to live in the present and to believe in the future. The wise visionary does not forget the past. He learns from past successes and failures but he refuses to live there. The visionary lives in the present, but he never loses his belief that the best is yet to come. Most importantly, great leaders are able to transmit their vision to their followers.

Our nation and our churches are in need of this kind of leadership The problems we face will not be solved by finger pointing and false promises. Like the problems of the past, they will be solved through hard work and sacrifice. We should pray for God to raise up leaders who will cast a vision that will convince us the sacrifice will be worth it. As you pray, remember you may be that leader.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Danger of Unbridled Freedom

June 24, 2009

Each year on the last Monday of May we celebrate Memorial Day. It is a day to remember and honor the men and women of our armed forces who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our liberties. Our freedom has not come cheap but it has been paid for with the blood of the men and women of our armed forces. It has provided an environment in which we can seek to reach our full potential. It has enabled us to speak out in favor or against the issues we feel strongly about. Unfortunately, it has become a blessing we take for granted.

Not only do we take our freedom for granted, we fail to understand that freedom will never survive if it is not accompanied by responsibility. Somewhere in our journey we have lost sight of responsibility. Instead, most demand an unhindered right to go and do as they please with little thought of how it might effect those around them. We have forgotten that unbridled freedom or freedom minus a sense of responsibility leads down a slippery slope until those who seek it find themselves enslaved to the very things they have sought.

The search for unbridled freedom intensified during the sixties and has continued to the present. All around us, we can see the harvest of the fruit of such a philosophy. We see it in things such as the insistence on abortion on demand, a multi-billion dollar pornography business, an increasingly loud clamor for same-sex marriage, nightly programming on television that deal with topics during prime time that would not have been mentioned at any hour years ago, a movement to make illegal drugs legal, teachers hindered from demanding discipline in the classroom, an obsession with a long list of political correct dogma, a concentrated effort to remove all mention of God in the public arena, etc.

Those who support this road toward unbridled freedom believe these things are evidence of progress. They claim that these things represent a new openness and liberty. They see it as a victory of the soul from the repression of religion. Others see this as a road toward disaster. They believe that this land has been blessed by God and that His blessings will not continue forever if we continue to seek an unbridled freedom that forgets the basic laws He has given to us.

I believe that the late Peter Marshall, former Chaplain to the United States Senate, would be among the later group if he were alive today. He said years ago, "The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos, conviction or compromise, discipline or disintegration. I am rather tired of hearing about our rights and privileges as American citizens. The time is come – it is now – when we ought to hear about the duties and responsibilities of our citizenship. America’s future depends upon her accepting and demonstrating God’s government."

For a half a century, our society has been in a downward spiral toward an unbridled freedom that will ultimately lead to our demise. Whether the slide will continue remains to be seen. If it is to be reversed, there must be a time of repentance and revival in our land. If revival is to come to our land, it must begin with God’s Church. It must begin in my heart and in yours. A thousand years from now when new civilizations read about us they will discuss the results of the choices we make in the years ahead.

Monday, May 23, 2011

One Step at a Time

Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult for God’s children to have a clear picture of His will for their lives? While there are many things the enemy puts in our path to blind us, there are two tactics he uses more than others. If we overcome these two things, we move much closer to knowing and doing His will.

The first tool of the enemy can be found in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers. It contains the story of twelve spies who went to scout the Promised Land for the Jews following their deliverance from Egypt. Upon their return, only Joshua and Caleb gave positive reports. The remainder reported there was giants in the land and recommended they not go into it. The people listened to the ten and ended up wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The lesson for today is that we should never let fear stand in the way of any assignment that God gives. Faith tells us that He provides every need to accomplish every task that He gives.

The second tool is found in the thirteenth chapter of First Samuel. Earlier, King Saul had been given directions by the Prophet Samuel to go to Gilgal and to remain for seven days until he came. He said when he came he would offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. Then, he would tell Saul what he was to do. The seventh day came and Samuel was no where to be found. As the day passed, the threat of the Philistines created fear in the people and impatience in Saul. Finally, Saul took matters into his own hands and made the offerings and sacrifices himself. Immediately following his actions, Samuel arrived. For his disobedience Saul lost the privilege of his kingdom enduring forever through his heirs. The lesson for today is that we should always wait and do things according to God’s timing and not our own.

Here you have two stories that demonstrate the mistakes people make. First, fear causes them to dig in their heels and to refuse to move forward. Second, impatience causes them to panic and to rush ahead of God’s timing. Both responses lead to disaster. These two blunders lead us to ask how we can know it is from God and it is the right time to do something.

I believe the most important ingredient in discovering and following God’s time table is to engage in intensive prayer. James 1: 5 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (NASB) As we pray, it is important that we realize that God wants us to be successful in discovering and doing His will. He does not hide His will from us. He does not want us to fail. Therefore, if we will put self behind us and be open to what He reveals, we can be assured that He will help us to see clearly, not only what He has for us to do but when He wishes for us to do it.

As we pray we must do so with faith. It is faith that can overcome our fears and calm our impatience. It is faith that brings us our greatest blessings. Andrew Murray said it this way, “Be assured that if God waits longer than you could wish, it is only to make the blessing doubly precious. God waited four thousand years, till the fullness of time, ere He sent His Son. Our times are in His hands; He will avenge His elect speedily; He will make haste for our help, and not delay one hour too long.”

What we can learn from the example of the Jews and King Saul is that we should never pull back from a God assigned task in fear and we should never become over zealous and race ahead of Him. The best strategy is to walk with Him step by step. When we do, He will lead you to the place He wants you to be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Replacing Frustration with Gratification

The summer following my graduation from high school, I was employed by a furniture manufacturing company. On my first day at work, the supervisor placed me at the rear of the plant nailing chair arms together. This was a simple task that consisted of nailing two pieces of lumber together at a right angle. My first impression was that this was going to be a piece of cake. This impression soon became wishful thinking. Between the times I hit my thumb and the times I bent the nails, I was able to nail the boards correctly.

Being an astute judge of talent, my supervisor recognized that my talents were not being utilized. Since my clothing was drenched in sweat, he could see that it was not a matter of laziness or lack of effort. He could also see my frustration. Finally, he removed me from the task and took me to the loading dock in the rear of the plant. He directed me to a huge lumber truck that needed to be unloaded and said get to work. While some might see this as a demotion, I saw it as a lifesaver. The work was hard but it was a task that I was comfortable doing.

Like my brief encounter with nailing chair arms together, there are many individuals in our churches that are working hard at a task that they are not equipped to do. They are faithful workers who wish to do a good job, but they find little satisfaction in what they are doing. Their task becomes a job to accomplish rather than a ministry to enjoy. They live for the day that they can pass their job to the next person that finds himself on the nominating committee’s radar. Their lack of fulfillment in their work makes them less enthusiastic about accepting the next job they are asked to take. When this scenario continues to repeat itself, it is easy to understand why it is difficult to get people to serve.

God’s word has an answer to the dilemma. Paul wrote, “And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly” (Romans 12:6a NASB). Peter wrote, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Peter 4:10 NASB).

The implications from these verses are huge. They suggest that God has given us all a gift for the purpose of serving others. Since we all do not have the same gift, there are things that we don’t enjoy. Consequently, we do not do them well. On the other hand, if we are using the gifts God has given to us, we will accomplish much more and we will receive a genuine blessing from our work.

This raises the question about how we find our gift or gifts. There are numerous books on the subject. While they can be helpful, it is important to remember that people in God’s church were discovering their gifts and using them to serve others long before there was printing. With this in mind, let me suggest a starting place. Consider starting by submitting to serve wherever God shows you He wants you to serve. Then begin praying that He will reveal to you where He wishes to use you. Next, give close thought to what you would like to do if you could choose from all the tasks that are found in the church. Assuming you have no ulterior motives, the desire of your hearts may well hold the secret to how God has gifted you to serve. He really does want you to succeed and He wants you to be blessed by your efforts. He wants to turn your frustration into gratification.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Elderly Examples

May 13, 2011

Daniel 9:2-3 “I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. “

Last night I read the streaming message on the bottom of the television screen that ninety-two year old Billy Graham suffers from pneumonia and is hospitalized in North Carolina. Always interested in his ministry and family, I prayed for all of them during this difficult time. Just this week I received his daughter, Anne’s, newsletter. I read with great interest all that goes on in AnGel Ministries. Also, the news media seems to seek out Franklin Graham more and more for political opinions. Praise God for the witness and godly example of this entire family. My family has been influenced by that family.

The Old Testament prophet, Daniel stands among the greatest of examples that God gives us when it comes to men of strong godly character in the face of overwhelming odds even in their later years. After seventy years in Babylonian exile, Daniel demonstrates how standing tall is done. The first three verses of chapter nine describe Daniel’s continuing character into old age. While studying that chapter this morning I thought immediately of a modern day Daniel…The Reverend Billy Graham.

Daniel knew his politics. Whether or not he sought out the political arena, he seemed to have been ‘thrown into it’ a number of times. I found it interesting that the news scroll that stated Mr. Graham’s physical condition, included the fact that he had met with almost every U. S. President in office during his ministry. I’m quite sure that whatever influence he had stands out in their minds, whether or not they followed any counsel he offered.

The prophet Daniel obviously knew God’s Word. He searched and knew the prophecies of Jeremiah so well that on his calendar, the time of his people’s exile was about to expire. So, what did he do? Daniel turned to the Lord God and pleaded for his people. Daniel, an old man, demonstrates the dire circumstances of a nation, and a people that need deliverance.

I cannot count the times The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association seeks prayer for this nation and the nations of the world to come back to the Lord God Almighty. The overwhelming example of prayer through the years goes beyond the pale.

I am humbled and unashamed to say that the Lord God of Daniel and the Lord God of Billy Graham is my Lord and God. Will I follow their example to be a devout example and intercessor even into my old age?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Finding Oneness in Diversity

My first fulltime staff position at a church was Minister of Youth,Children and Activities. Early in my ministry, I learned quickly it wasn’t wise to ask forty children, if they wanted to eat at McDonald’s or Burger King. With few exceptions the results of the vote would be an almost even split. In the end I would be the one who had to make the decision. After several experiences in the democratic method, I made the decision I would make the decision without any input from the kids on the bus.

Years later, when I became a pastor, I discovered those forty kids had grown up and followed me. The things they disagreed about as grownups had the same amount of spiritual significance as the choice between McDonalds and Burger King. The difference was I could no longer use my position to command them to accept my choice without questioning my authority and opinions. I had to discover a strategy that would enable them to become one in the midst of their diversity.

For years I sought for a strategy in the books experts had written. I got a lot of good information but I could not find the magical ingredient that could solve the problem of bringing unity from diversity. Finally, I had a novel idea. Why not go back to the beginning and see what God’s word had to say. I found my answer in Ephesians 4:1-6. In these verses I found a three step strategy.

First, I would preach regularly about our responsibility to mediate upon our calling and to walk worthy of it. (See Eph. 4:1). As a Christian I am not my own. I belong to the one who has called me and my primary responsibility is to be His ambassador on earth. When I put myself first and create tension within His family I am a disgrace to my calling and a hindrance to His work. Therefore, I should do everything within my power to seek unity in the body.

Second, I would preach regularly about our responsibility to imitate the attitudes of Christ (See Eph. 4; 2, 3). Five attitudes are mentioned in these verses, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, love and peace. Today, most people see these traits as weak and ineffective. In Paul’s day, they were seen as signs of strength. When correctly understood, it is easy to see how they would help lead to an atmosphere of cooperation and not confrontation

Third, I would concentrate on the things we had in common in my preaching (Eph. 4:4-6). In these verses Paul emphasizes the things all Christians share, one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father. When understood, these things in common are much more important than our disagreement over what color the carpet should be.

I did not wait for controversy to arise before I began preaching on these topics. I made them a priority in my preaching. When controversy did arise, with God’s help, I tried to model these things in my personal response. These strategies didn’t eliminate differences of opinion, but they did help us to work out solutions that maintained unity without unanimity. Fortunately, we didn’t have to deal with issues concerning matters of biblical principle but we did resolve many issues that dealt with the personal preferences of our members. We did it by living the truths Ephesians 4:1-6 taught us.

The best part of this plan was the one who received the credit for our unity. If you asked the folks how they maintained a spirit of unity, they would not say the pastor, the deacons, or other church leaders. They would say God and His word rightly applied in their midst was the source. Shouldn’t the goal of each of our churches be to take our eyes off of each other and to look to God for solutions? He is the one with the answers.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mama's Boy

Mama's Boy
By David Lynn

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45 NIV)

Question to consider: What type of fruit do you bear?

My wife insists that I’m a momma’s boy. To most people that remark would be offensive, but in my case, I wear the title with a sense of pride. I can’t describe a lifetime of learning experiences, but I would like to share a few sound bites that my mother has etched into my mind. These expressions represent a legacy my mother continues to build.

“Grace and peace.” This is the message I hear every time my family leaves my parents’ house two hours away. My mother prays with us before we leave, and it’s her way of asking God to keep us safe as we travel.

“Here is a verse for the day.” I can't tell you how many times my mother has shared a Scripture verse with me to help encourage or direct me in some way. I have found these verses in my pocket, in my books, on my breakfast plate, and most recently they appear in my email.

“I'll be praying for you.” Through these simple words, my mother has proven to me time and time again that she is the greatest prayer warrior I know, and I have benefited from her faithfulness my entire life.

“The Lord has laid this on my heart.” If my mother has you on her mind, she is going to pray for you, and it doesn't end there. She will tell you what she feels the Lord is sharing with her. When she shares her wisdom, I listen.
“Here is a heart thought.” These are devotionals that my mother writes and shares with me. They mean the world to me because they are expressions of her thoughts and prayers.

“What is the Lord saying to you?” This is my mother's way of telling me I don't need to be concerned with what I want; I need to listen to what God has to say.

“I love you.” This is the simplest of all messages, but it’s the one that transcends all other messages. It is an unconditional message I have heard and felt my entire life.

I am a momma’s boy because I appreciate, love, and respect my mother's godly example in my life, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Scripture teaches that a tree is recognized by its fruit, and I thank God that I have been blessed with the privilege of recognizing the fruits of the Spirit in my mother. Out of the overflow of her heart her mouth speaks, and her love and passion for her Savior Jesus Christ is eternally evident as she continues to build a legacy in my life today.

Prayer for today:
I praise You, God, for giving me a godly mother and godly wife who can leave an eternal legacy with my three young boys. Amen.
A Tribute to the Incredible Power of Motherhood
By Dennis Lynn

Since President Wilson made the official announcement in 1914, the second Sunday of May has been celebrated as Mother’s Day. It is the day that we are encouraged to pay tribute to our mothers. While our mothers are the focal point of the celebration, card shops, restaurants, department stores and other businesses that cater to the holiday are also beneficiaries of this much deserved holiday.

Despite all the attention, there is not enough thought given to the real impact that a mother can have on her child’s life. A great Biblical example of a mother’s impact can be found in Lois and Eunice, the grandmother and mother of the young pastor Timothy. While they were raising young Timothy, it is doubtful that they thought that their efforts would result in a young man who would be remembered for centuries to come. They just did the right things at the moment.
Paul gave them credit for the influence they had had on Timothy’s young life. He wrote, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well” (II Timothy 1:5 NASB). If we look at all the places that Timothy is mentioned in Scripture, we would come up with words like respected, compassionate, unselfish, encouraging, and faithful to describe him. These qualities did not develop in a vacuum. The seeds from which they grew were planted by Lois and Eunice as they related the old Bible stories to him from their knee.

In II Timothy 3:14,15 Paul writes,“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (NASB). Here Paul is clearly crediting Lois and Eunice for instructing Timothy in the things of God during his childhood.

Little did they or the mothers who have followed them realize the lasting impact their faithfulness would have on history. Over and over you hear great men and women who relate back to their childhood and credit their mothers for being a key ingredient in their success. Billy Graham is a modern day example of this. He attributes much of his character development to the teachings of his mother. His mother had no idea the impact her training would have and the number of lives that would be positively affected by her efforts.

There are three words that are essential to understanding the awesome power of mothers. The words are influence; instruction; and impact. Mothers never forget that you are doing all three of these things each day. The question is,” how are you influencing and instructing your children. The answer to that question will help determine the impact that they will have on the generations to come.

Mothers appreciate all the attention but what they appreciate most is a big hug and the simple words, “I love you and appreciate all you do for me.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Lesson Learned at the Verizon Store

It is amazing the situations in our lives that God uses to teach us valuable lessons. I learned one of these lessons a couple weeks ago at the Verizon Store.

My cell phone was doing things without me asking. I rushed it to the Verizon store to have it checked. While I was waiting for my name to be called, I walked around the store looking at the different products. Each one was placed neatly on display with a long list of the services it provided. I understood little the displays shared. The longer I browsed the more confusing it became. The thirty minutes I spent observing made me thankful I was not going to have to make a decision on which phone to buy.

When my name was called, I walked up to the technician and handed him my phone. He asked, “What is the problem?” I replied, “My phone doesn’t work.”

The initial exchange was followed by a series of questions, which I could not answer. I explained I was interested in being able to call and get calls. I finally took the phone back and, without verbal explanation, demonstrated what it was doing. I pushed the key that said dial and an unfamiliar screen appeared.

After several more minutes of questions I could not answer, the technician informed me that my calibration was totally out of whack. At first, I thought this was a personal insult but then I realized he was talking about the phone’s calibration, not mine. After several more painful minutes, he determined the phone was without hope and gave me a new one.

By the time I got in my car, my blood pressure had subsided, not because I understood what had just taken palace but because I had a new phone. As I started the car, I began to think about how this experience had made me feel. Emotions such as helpless, inadequate, ignorant, foolish, stupid, and angry came to mind. As I reflected, it became clear there was a bigger lesson to be learned.

My bigger lesson was a new understanding of the discomfort some people feel, when they attend church for the first time. Everything is new to them. They are not sure what is coming next. They can be confused about when to sit and when to stand. The terminology is totally new to them. Take for example these words from the first verse of the old hymn, “There is a Fountain”:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

While these words bring comfort to the hearts of the believer, to the unbeliever without any fore-knowledge of the Christian message, they may sound more like lines from a horror flick than from a story of forgiveness and salvation. The list of things that look or sound strange to someone who has never been in a church setting and who knows nothing about the biblical story could go on and on.

My point is not that we should compromise the truth to make unbelievers feel more comfortable. I do not think we have to rewrite the hymn book and we certainly do not need to rewrite the Bible. (I am not speaking of different translations.) However, we do need to become more sensitive to the feelings of those who are totally unaware. We need to look for ways to tell the “Old, Old Story” in words that connect with the present generation.

Our missionaries understand the importance of this connection on the mission field. It is time we understand we are on a mission field. I believe we are the third largest mission field on the planet behind China and India. Is it not time we have the attitude of Paul found in I Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (NASB)?