My letter to a young preacher

2 06 2017

Recently, our youth director gave a sermon. Here is the feedback I gave him. I thought his example might encourage some other young preachers out there.


Hey brother Allan,

I just listened to your sermon from youth Sunday. I appreciate so many things about your ministry:

  • Your story told with a personal tone is so engaging; you drew me into your own journey
  • You speak frankly and lovingly of your wife; I get the message from you that you love her, and that marriage is important
  • I love that you include the youth in your story; they matter; they are your colleagues and partners; you need them; this says a lot to them; they will not forget it
  • You take the preaching event very seriously; you labor in preparation; you are nervous because it means so much to you that you honor the preaching opportunity
  • You want the Holy Spirit to work; you want people to be encouraged and prompted to action; you value the emotional aspect of our faith, not just the cognitive
  • You are time conscious; your listeners know that you will respect their attention and time
  • You know you can’t do ministry yourself; you make it clear that you need prayer.
  • You are interactive; you talk to the people and welcome their response; you encourage them to look at, and talk to each other, comfortably (“at home”).

Don’t ever lose these wonderful traits.

Love you brother. In Christ,

 





He is food for the soul

11 05 2017

I can understand why some disciples left Jesus after they heard this. Jesus seems to have drifted into the terrain of the weird, yet in fact He was plowing further into the soil of truth.

Here’s the background in summary (John 6:1-50):

  • Jesus had fed thousands of listeners on a hillside. He told His disciples that He was the bread of life which would bring not just temporary satisfaction but eternal fulfillment.
  • He’s the bread that ends undernourishment of soul, the supply that can end spiritual starvation.
  • Why? Because He delivers the truth, and nothing but the truth, straight from God the Father. Manna in the desert was great for a while, but 40 years of the stuff got oldy-moldy. But the bread of life is pure satisfaction.
  • Believe it, He says, and you will have eternal life.

If Jesus had stopped there He would have kept His large crowds.

The “bread” I’m talking about, says the One who came down from heaven, is my flesh. If you want to have this life, you must eat my flesh. That’s not all. If you don’t drink my blood you do not have this life I’m talking about. But if you eat and drink, I will raise you up on the last day. “He who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn. 6:58).

At that point, the congregation dwindled. This stuff was too hard. Uncomfortable.

Let’s hang with the inner core disciples and say, in effect, “No we are not leaving because as weird as You are talking right now, you have the words of eternal life.”

What could it mean for us to eat and drink Jesus?

How do we consume a meal?

First, we hunger. We have an appetite for nourishment, realizing that we need food. This must be true whether the food is tasty or bitter. We hunger for food because it is good for us, and often sweet to taste. Peter wrote that we should desire the pure milk of the word so we can grow from it.

Second, we take it in. We put it in our mouths, we chew it, and we swallow it. Some of us heard our mothers say, “Chew your food, don’t just inhale it!” This is a cooperative venture between food and eater, between Christ and the disciple. We slow down and eat His words. We read, study, reflect, ponder. Meanwhile, Jesus functions as nourishment, delivering truth from the Father.

A final thought is that the nourishment becomes a part of us. Ever heard “You are what you eat”? We are changed by the nourishment we intake. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in Him.” The Son of God progressively enters the soul and inhabits a larger space. And, “he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.” (Jn. 6:56-57)

eats my flesh

Where do we go with this today? I got to thinking about this idea of consume.

  • A “consumer” is one who purchases, who uses, who takes for himself.
  • To “consume” is to imbibe or devour.
  • A marriage is “consummated” through profound intimacy.

The Son of God knew this teaching would turn away casual followers, so He pushed ahead and told the whole truth in expectation that a few of us would stay the course.

I want to accept the invitation to His table every day, bringing with me all my emotions, frustrations, and hopes. I want to consume His flesh and blood, and nourish my hungry soul.


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A man climbed a hill

8 05 2017

There was a man who climbed a hill.

hill pic

As he walked he pondered the section of the trail, and the season of his life. The terrain was windswept. Only the most scrappy bushes still clung by their stubborn roots, blown sideways away from the Pacific.

Patches of dandelions gripped the ground, their yellow flowers offering unexpected beauty in this stark place.

Below, waves crashed against rocks which stood as dutiful sentinels, metaphors of stability in troubled times.

ocean

As he walked, the man concluded that he may not be able to understand why his path to the hill had brought so much pain.

What mattered now was to search out whatever meaning could be taken for the journey ahead.

from the hill

Hi knew that this was a time for roots to cling to the soil.


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How does a rich man repent?

3 01 2017

Recently I heard a sermon about John the Baptist and his call to repentance as a way to prepare for the coming of King Jesus. The preacher exhorted each of us to consider ways we should repent (i.e. turn around). The church was located in an affluent area, and the congregants reflect the lifestyle of the financially prosperous.

After the service let out, I was in the parking lot talking to my hosts, when another attendee walked past and engaged in conversation. He said he was soon to drive his motor home to Palm Springs to stay for some weeks, after which he would drive up along the California coast visiting beautiful cities along the way.

In these instances, we who have spent years in poorer countries or neighborhoods are often challenged with a private, parallel conversation. For me it could be summarized as, “What would one of my simple village pastors from Africa think if he had heard that sermon on repentance, and now stood in this conversation in the parking lot?” (Note: I include the descriptor “village” because some city pastors and elders in African cities are economically more akin to the American RV owner than their village compatriots.)

I had the same internal conversation on a walk during the recent Christmas season. I passed through a neighborhood of multi-level homes which cost hundreds of thousands to build. In the driveway sat at least one glimmering SUV, and on the lawn a “creche” depicting the humble birth of Jesus. Again, I wondered if a Christian from the developing world would view that scene as a bewildering contradiction.

How does a rich man repent?

I think of the rich young ruler who engaged Jesus with the question of  his salvation. Since the man was keeping the Mosaic Law, Jesus finally told him to sell all he had and give to the poor. The young man went away sad because he had many possessions.

Did Jesus want the young entrepreneur to give everything away so as to join the ranks of the poor? I think not. But the Lord saw that the man loved his possessions, which was an impediment to discipleship. Paul wrote along this line when he said that the love of money is the root of all evil. If I love my money, I need to repent. But how do I know when I have stopped stewarding my money righteously and come to love my money? If such love is actually covetousness, idolatry, possessiveness, or a source of pride, then no one knows if I need to repent other than God and me — and I am well able to deceive myself.

I begin to see that the African villager cannot really know how the rich American should repent, any more than the rich American can really know how the African should repent. But I am sure each would receive insight on the matter, to their benefit, if they spent some hours together reading God’s word and praying!

A young Christian family, living in the same metro area as the wealthy RV owner, formerly wanted to buy a larger home. But they intentionally decided to live simply in their current house. Dad takes the shuttle train to work, when he could drive his own car. A rich young family is seeking to live a lifestyle of repentance.

I heard of a Christian church that has decided to rent a central space accessible to all, rather than build their own building in the suburbs; this way they are able to put more funds into mission and outreach to the community. A rich young church seeks an attitude of repentance.

Repentance is a matter of the heart. If I am a hypocrite in my heart, I must deal with the fact that the Holy Spirit lives there too. A man with less money can actually love his money more, even as a man with more money can love it less. Are both of them ready to give their money away freely, as managers of God’s resources?

Repentance is a matter of my time, place, and circumstance. Another person cannot know my context, and therefore cannot rightly judge what I should do. But neither should I judge what another man does, or does not do. Maybe that is why community is so important, for people who share the same context can observe and speak forthrightly into each others lives.

“If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14, NKJV).


Photos:  WP ImageSmart/Pixabay

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Have our fears sent Jesus away? (Pt 3)

29 11 2016

We are looking at the curious incident where villagers witnessed Jesus delivering a man from demon possession, and then asked Jesus to leave. We’ve had a first and second post on the spiritual effect of fear. In this post I am wondering: What if the villagers who sent Jesus away because of fear decided instead to invite Him to stay? Or considering an applicational question:

WHAT IF WE WELCOMED JESUS TO CALM OUR FEARS? If we invite Jesus to come fully into our families and congregations, what would He do? What might His deliverance look like?

  1. If we welcomed Jesus fully, His presence would expose our fears. When Jesus set foot on the shore, the demons of fear were exposed, while the afflicted man ran toward Jesus in worship (Mark 5:6). We may be ignorant of deep fears which lie behind our attitudes of prejudice. We must spend time in prayerful invitation for the Holy Spirit to reveal to us these deep fears and anxieties which have become embedded in our hearts. We may experience internal resistance from those very fears as they are exposed, and fearful friends around us will surely entrench against such exposure.
  2. If we welcomed Jesus fully, we would identify fear-mongers around us. Society has become so filled with fearful voices that some have become deadened to scenes of violence. “Evening News” should more accurately be called “Evening Fears.” Christians should no longer allow purveyors in fear to speak into our living rooms or mobile devices. In fact, where possible, we should expose and rebuke their actions.
  3. If we welcomed Jesus fully, He would replace our spirit of fear. Scripture says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). If we will invite Jesus to stay with us, we will be launched in a new direction which will last all our lives.

We will increasingly receive God’s power to think, speak, and act against fear. The resurrection power of Christ will give courage to stand against the tide and willingly suffer for kingdom righteousness. We will experience victory over fear, for “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4b).

We will increasingly receive God’s love for others. Scripture says that perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18). With love, the desire to perfect lovedefend the vulnerable will replace our need to protect ourselves. With love, the willingness to take risks for what is right will replace our need for control and safety.

And as we welcome Jesus to stay, we will increasingly receive a sound mind. The naturalistic culture around us constantly bombards us with multitudinous fears. But scripture tells us to not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1,2). We do that by intentionally seeking and embracing the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5). Be warned, the mind of the world hates the mind of Christ. This single fact should be a warning to those of us who seek consensus with the broad way. But it should embolden us to pursue the narrow way which leads to life.

[photo credit: celebrationchurchlive.com]

 

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