Ministry


In August we held our annual back-to-school festival for the youth of our church and community in Memphis’ beautiful Martin Luther King Park.   Its exquisite landscape and rolling hills are a wonder to behold as it sits almost hidden off Interstate 55 in south Memphis.

 

Upon my arrival to join others from our church who had already made their way there, I observed the features associated with the glorious park scene as some of the youth (and adults) danced to music that was being played on a CD player.  There was a nice pavilion situated in the area we had selected with a nicely paved platform that served as its foundation and floor.  Picnic tables were positioned thereon for users to enjoy any food they might bring.  There were a number of convenient places to cook—barbeque pits—all around the pavilion area.  A picturesque fishing pond sat adjacent to the platform for the kids to cast their reels and poles.  We had a joyful time.

 

After a couple of hours that warm Saturday afternoon, I made my exit from the event to rest for the next day’s activities.  As I did, I became distracted by what sounded like an idling lawn mower that I failed to notice when first I came.  Moving toward the direction of the sound, I discovered a portable generator off the pavilion floor that was curiously purring away.  In that moment, I heard God speaking to me.  Amazingly, the engineers of this tremendously family-friendly venue designed the area with just about every amenity one could imagine to enjoy a normal outing with one exception—there was no electricity.  It was a profound revelation I will never forget; and about which I wish to share.  The lesson is simple:  Because of the way the land was designed, in order for there to be power IN the park, someone would have to bring power TO the park!”

 

Bless you, my dear readers!  There is no need crying about the fact that you live in a hell hole; work in a heathen environment, or routinely find yourself with or around some ungodly people.  That, my dear friends, may be the very reason your presence is needed there.  You may need to consider my discovery at the MLK Park in Memphis, Tennessee:  If there is to be power ON your job, IN you home, or AT those places you frequent and enjoy fellowship, then SOMEONE—more especially YOU—simply may need to bring that power TO the job, TO the home, or TO those places where God’s presence is needed to make a redemptive difference.

 

Let God use you

A young pastor and I were having a discussion about a text he was investigating for his sermon he would be preaching the upcoming Sunday morning. As he sat on the deck at the back of his newly constructed home, a disturbing scene unfolded before his eyes. A father (and neighbor) was cutting his grass two lots away. While pushing his lawnmower through the yard, the man’s six year old daughter thought it playful to run in front of the mower just ahead of her dad, and without being admonished. Before he knew it, my friend called it “an accident-just-waiting-to-happen.” He further blurted out while I was yet on the phone, “That’s exactly why I have got to hurry up and get my privacy fence put up.” Unaware of the developments since I was at my house and he was at his in another city and state, I asked what he meant. He described the scene and repeated his comment and added, “Because, I don’t want to be a witness to nothing!”

I laughed with him (at first), and then I thought to myself about this common malady and how tragically this position characterizes many a Christian. We have been called to be just that—witnesses. Our Lord said before He left, “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV). Yet, we seem to want to hide behind our preciously designed privacy fences and neglect to be and do what we have been called to be and to do. We prefer to hide behind the safe and comfortable privacy fence of a nice sanctuary, the fence of public worship, the privacy fence of a church building, the nice privacy fence of a tailored suit and a new dress on Sunday morning. But, as soon as worship ends and for the rest of the week, we seem content to hide behind these and other well-constructed privacy fences so we don’t have to be witnesses to no one and to no-thing—not anything.

Allow me to admonish you, dear brother or sister. Before it is everlasting too late, commit to come from behind these familiar barriers in your own life. Encourage others who may be hiding as well to do the same thing in their lives.

As darkness prevails in our world, every community needs the light of bold witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ. We can no longer remain silent and unseen behind these spiritual privacy fences. Let your light shine! Be a witness to someone today, and share with them the gospel of salvation. The Lord will bless you for it, and you just might prevent a tragedy from happening!

Recently I counseled someone who had become rather melancholy about church, worship, and just the whole image of modern day ministry. The smorgasbord of appeals being made from an array of sources makes choosing a church (even Christ) very difficult, and has caused some to be discouraged to the point of disinterest.

The Bible says such a period would emerge. Paul told his colleague and friend there would come a time when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim 4:3), and even said some would eventually abandon the faith (1 Tim 4:1). With the deluge of preachers and self-proclaimed prophets afoot in cyberspace and the world today, it is becoming more and more difficult to know exactly what and who to believe. A lot of stuff out there may sound good, but so much is neither good nor sound.

Is there an actual litmus test for determining legitimacy in ministry? How can one know what and who to believe? Or even know who is real? Our Lord said clearly without regard for personality, charisma, gifts, degrees, apparent success, and the like, there is one sure tell sign. He said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35, NIV) Succinctly, amidst all the hype and pseudo-energy that characterizes a lot of contemporary preaching, the love of God must and will be unmistakably clear to help confirm if a message and messenger is truly real. The power of God’s love is still able to woo sinners unto repentance if we would simply trust Him.

Remember our childhood days? While we could hardly afford a bicycle, most kids were enamored by the speed and sound a motor cycle made. Too dangerous and expensive for most of us, we remained content to ride our bikes, but would make an inexpensive modification to its operation to enhance our experience. We would simply take a playing card (any card) from a deck of cards, and a clothes pin from where mom would hang the laundry, and clip the card onto the frame of the bike so it would flap against the spokes. Remarkably, it created for us a noise that gave the sense we were riding a motorized cycle. There was only one problem. While it made a lot of noise, it actually had no power.

Chew on that, my brothers and sisters. Please don’t be guilty of the same. Be encouraged!

Fate has a way of introducing situations into our lives that challenge us at the deepest levels. From debt, difficulty, disaster, divorce, death, and beyond, these have a way of putting-the-squeeze on us in ways we would prefer to avoid. Never does God intend for these things to depress or destroy us. To the contrary, He uses these to develop us into power-broking people who can endure trials and prevail at any time, in any place, and under any circumstance. Settle with the fact that some realities just won’t change. Loved ones do age and may become ill. Grown children will eventually leave home; whether at a time we are ready for them to go, or earlier should they decide to take the plunge. Employers may make hard choices that cost us substantially. In short, we will continue to experience losses no matter who were are or what we have attained. We cannot change these!

You should know, though, you have options! You can either fight it—that is, try hard to deny the reality as if it does not exist—or you can face it. You can either take it lying down, or you can stand up in the midst of it and be a victor, and not the victim. When life issues you a lemon, you can actually make lemonade. God gives believers the power to take stumbling blocks, and successfully turn them into stepping stones. Regardless of how painful the dilemma is, we can make it, because it’s not the end of the world. That is, yet! Want to know how? Here’s an approach:

First, thank God for the test (trial). Really, that’s all it is. It’s a test of your faith. I don’t know anyone who tries to intentionally fail a test. There are some Christians, however, who would prefer to simply “not take the test.” Don’t trip! Thank God for it. It’s only a test! Second, ask God to help you learn from it. There is so much to learn in every experience. Turn that trial or challenge into a learning module. God will show you areas where you are much stronger/wiser than you realized, and ways (and places) where you need improvement. No matter what, learn from the experience! Third, be positive! The matter of faith is a “living” reality. Therein lies a power at our disposal to handle and overcome any adversity if we would simply appropriate it. Sing songs of praise and be joyful. Do all you can to celebrate God’s goodness even in the dark places! Make God larger than the problem. Fourth, trust His word (Him) through it! Remind yourself of the promises of God. He alone declares never to leave nor forsake us. He alone has the power to defeat death, hell, and the grave. Read and remember His word.

Daniel had fasted and was praying for three full weeks anticipating a breakthrough and some needed relief for the people of Israel (Chapter 9). While still praying, the angel of the Lord came and told him what he needed to hear. Amazingly, the angel confessed he departed heaven to come to Daniel’s aid a full three weeks earlier, but had been strangely detained by demonic forces (see Chapter 10:13). Even more amazing was the fact Daniel never lost hope. I wondered why! I pondered how we might equally be resilient as we wait on God’s timely intervention into our situations today. Two things came to mind:

(1) God always gives assurance in spite of the appearance. When things appear they are not changing and you find yourself getting a bit weary, pay close attention to how God mysteriously provides assurance even in spite of the appearance. Things are not always as they seem.
(2) Trust the revelation instead of the manifestation. As you read His word, hold fast to what God has said rather than what you see. His word alone can kindle a fire in your heart and give to you the comfort you need to make it through. I am a witness He will!

Dear brothers and sisters; roll up your sleeves and tell the devil “He’s a liar; and the truth is not in him!” Trust God! You can and will make it!

The Apostle Paul wrote to his colleague and cohort, Timothy, and incorporated a familiar trans-generational analogy to illustrate his point. He told this young servant and friend to “…stir up…” the gift inside him (2 Timothy 1:6). A few modern translators relate he was to “…fan into flame…” the gift (NIV, NLT, etc.). We can only assume what Paul meant (exactly), but the metaphor offers key insights for us to gain a reasonable understanding of his admonition as we attempt to interpret these words.

In the chill and challenge of those Eastern mornings or the brisk cold of many a night in Rome, we get the sense (a mental picture) that Paul may have been responsible to manage the fire pits used to warm and comfort prisoners and soldiers. He portrays how a well lit fire (whether in a fire place, a fire pit, or even a grill) unattended can soon become dormant and lose its ability to give heat. He knew that live coals left alone will eventually smolder and become ashen. Born of his experience (or perhaps his careful observation), the Apostle seizes an opportunity to convey to Timothy a truth we all need to learn. To avoid your fire going out, all one needs do is “stir up the gift.” What does that mean in modern language, and how do we appropriate such a strategy for our own lives? Let’s consider the following:

1. PAY ATTENTION TO IT! As in the small matter of our given dexterity, each of us (as infants) began to favor a particular hand which others saw and knew was to be our dominant appendage. In fact, they would be careful to encourage use of the same by placing the crayon or pencil into that hand in the establishment of proficiency. The same is the case when it comes to spiritual gifting. God has factored dexterity into our developmental reality. One sure way to discern it or to discover it is by simply paying attention to it. Notice your strengths and propensities. Others will, too!
2. PRAY ABOUT IT! As curiosity becomes calm, be sure to seek God about the conclusions you may be reaching. Ask Him (God), “Lord, is this your will?” Ask, “Am I headed in the right direction for my life?” I am confident we would each more easily and much more quickly fair better about our gifts and callings if we would spend more time praying about it.
3. PLAN FOR IT! When you are serious, there may be areas of your life that need serious adjustment and personal modification—like debt, education, special training, etc. Begin to position yourself and your circumstances for full-time devotion to “fulfilling your calling.” In that God has invested in you, then you should invest in you, too!
4. PURSUE IT! At some point, plans must eventually be executed and put to the test. Go for it! You have to start heading in that direction. You will never make it to DC if you don’t leave Atlanta. You’ll never become a physician if you don’t attend medical school. If you want to become a lawyer, you first must pass the LSAT. Move definitively in that direction. Pursue it.
5. PRESENT IT (or PUT IT INTO PRACTICE)! Strangely, the world feels gifts are to be received. I beg to differ. Gifts are called gifts because they are designed to be given (presented). Let God use you to be a blessing to someone else’s life so they can be transformed by the love of God in you. Allow your gift to express itself in the lives of other people.

These may not be all that Paul meant, but they surely offer some practical insights into how we can approach the notion of “gift stirring” he mentioned. In all actuality, Timothy’s gift was already in his DNA as it was evident in both his mother and his grandmother. He was spiritually “wired” for service. God did His part (by giving the gift), but it was Timothy’s job to do his part—stir it up!

Think about this in your life’s journey. If others are not being warmed, comforted, enlightened, transformed, attracted, even charmed (benefiting) from the gift of God resident within you (these are all things a flaming fire will do), then that’s a good indication your fire is out. And if yours is out, don’t be alarmed or discouraged about it. Just do what Paul told Timothy! “Stir that thang up!”

Football is perhaps my favorite of all organized sports. Routinely I enjoy a game on television, and will even catch a few highlights on a sports channel. While relaxing at home recently, a game caught my eye. The offense was executing their play as the ball was snapped, and wide receivers ran up the field hoping to get open. The quarterback unleashed a long pass toward the goal line (and near the sideline) as one receiver ran a post pattern toward the pylon—the end zone/out-of-bounds marker. Near the two or three yard line, the player inadvertently stepped-out-of-bounds, but reentered the field of play in pursuit of the descending ball. It was a remarkable catch! The referee signaled a touchdown. The stadium erupted as the crowd went ballistic. The defenders objected and I stood up in utter amazement at the acrobatic reception!

Instinctively, the scoring team’s field goal unit ran onto the field to line up for the ensuing extra point when all-of-a-sudden the game was halted. The play was being reviewed by those in the replay booth. After a short delay, the umpire repositioned himself on the field and reported, “After further review, the call on the field is confirmed; it is a touchdown!”

It is no secret we are often sidelined and knocked out-of-bounds—e. g. mistakes, blunders, indiscretions, bad judgments, weariness, fatigue, etc.—by the opposition (our adversary) while attempting to execute our Lord’s play (God’s will for our lives). In fact, to go “out-of-bounds” (in the eyes of many) actually renders one ineligible to continue or even further to touch the ball. This new rule in professional and collegiate football is affording us some valuable insights into spiritual truths I felt worthy of sharing.

Here they are:

(1) The goal of the enemy is to render us disqualified and totally ineligible to continue in ministry. His strategy is to cause us to “cross of the line” or “step out-of-bounds” through any number of discomforting means—mistakes, blunders, indiscretions, bad judgments, etc. So be aware of his schemes and ward him off at every juncture!

(2) No matter what happens, keep running the route! Had the receiver stopped his course (even though he was clearly pushed out), he never would have caught the ball and certainly would not have scored. Get back onto the playing field as quickly and as responsibly as you can, and continue with the route you have been given! After all, the ball is already in the air.

(3) Remember, lastly, the ultimate decision is not your call to make (nor anyone else’s)! There is another Person (God)—Power, Authority—who sits aptly in the replay booth; and He alone is the Official who determines whether you are “in” or “out!”

Work hard to avoid being side-tracked or side-lined, my brothers and sisters! Let the Lord use you TODAY. If you have been knocked down or in some way pushed out, get back up (or back in) and keep running your route. There’s an entire team (believers) and a stadium full of fans (Hebrews calls them “a great cloud of witnesses” [12:1]) who are counting on you! They (We) need you to score!

Having lived in the Midwest over twenty years, something completely unexpected happened to me a couple of Wednesdays ago that I will never forget. I was exiting my office door onto the wrought iron stair case that leads down to our church’s parking. Wednesday night’s Bible study had just ended and I was collecting my gear—my brief case, clutch, keys, a bottle of distilled water, etc.—and had donned my coat to enter into the smoky gray dusk of the night.

Just as I opened the door to walk out, I stepped onto the landing—an approximate four-foot square iron bottom deck—and recognized something soft (rather spongy) as I stepped out. In my mind, I curiously wondered if it was a sponge, a carelessly discarded food item, or something else I needed to remove. As I looked down in the darkness, I was alarmed to find an 18-inch garter snake uncoiling from under my foot. I jumped back into my office and screamed, “It’s a snake!” Our associate minister was behind me and he was equally surprised at the discovery. Others in the inner office heard the commotion and yelled in disbelief saying, “You’re lying?” Incredibly, I had to report to them it was true. We were all startled and amazed!

The small visitor has negotiated the rail adjacent to the 10 wrought iron steps that rise upward to my private entrance. When I took my weight off of it, it quickly moved away to escape and instinctively curled its tail around one of the rails on the stair case floor. It soon dropped in fear down onto the asphalt parking lot floor. My associate minister and I ran down the steps to the ground and made certain we carefully disposed of it. It was a most harrowing experience.

Upon leaving the church and reflecting over the night’s surprise turn-of-events, I heard (in my spirit) a clear message from God He wanted me to gain. I considered it so critical (and especially at this juncture in Christian history with all that’s going on), that I wanted to share it with others (even you). The message is this: “That old serpent (the devil) is not just trying to gain access into the church through any ordinary door. No, he is especially seeking to get in through the office of the pastor.”

My word of warning to every pastor, every teacher, and every servant in every capacity in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is this: “Beware! Watch out! Do not be ignorant of his schemes (see 2 Corinthians 2:11), and take heed. Whatever else you do, don’t let him in!”

My prayers are with you all!

As I exited my vehicle at Wal-Mart this past Thursday, I noticed a young couple exiting their vehicle at the same time. Strangely, we had to park a good distance from the main entrance since the parking lot was rather full. I couldn’t help but notice how the guy was dressed. He had on a bright yellow cap with a huge green “G” on it, with a grass-colored bib that was turned backwards on his head. He also wore a green jersey with a huge number four centered on it. White striped on both the shoulders and the sleeves accented his garb as he sported some khaki colored knickerbocker-type shorts that came down to his knees. A pair of sandy-colored sandals finished off his attire that plainly declared he was a Green Bay Packer fan.

Interestingly, earlier in the week, the Packers found themselves on the losing end of a widely publicized battle against their Chicago arch rivals—the Bears. It was a great game that kept fans (and viewers) on edge as it came-down-to-the-wire. In the closing moments, the Bears skillfully positioned themselves to kick a winning field goal to break the 24-24 tie. Green Bay was helpless to do anything realistic with the ensuing kickoff. The game ended 27-24, Chicago! Pundits indicate the Packers actually gave the game away. That was on Monday night! Yet, on Thursday, a man gracefully and publicly wore his Packers regalia without shame. I thought, “What would make a man continue to wear his favorite team’s paraphernalia even though his team lost a game they should have won; and sadly had let him down?” It’s really rather simple:

1. He was clearly a loyal fan and unashamedly loved his team.

2. He knew this game (Monday night’s) was just “one game” and the season wasn’t over.

3. He also knew that Sunday was coming and there likely would be an opportunity for redemption.

Are you a loyal fan of Christ’s church? Or are you someone playing the victim and participating in the negativity about others who fail or fall? My prayer is that we—Christ’s church—will soon embrace these principles. It does not matter who it is or what they have done (or what they may be accused of doing). True believers will (1) always remain as loyal proponents of the church of Jesus Christ just because they love the team; (2) they will work hard to remember this is only one game (e.g. one fumble, one dropped pass, one missed field goal, one flag, one fowl, one strike, one delay of game, or one un-sportsman-like conduct call, etc.), and that the season isn’t over; and (3) they will keep in mind that Sunday is coming; and there should arrive (prayerfully) a fresh opportunity for redemption.

Remain loyal, my brothers and sisters! Keep wearing the Lord’s regalia; and know that God alone is this game’s Official—He’s the Umpire, the Referee, and the Line Judge—and He alone has the power and is in the position to determine if any of us should remain on the team, or can continue to play the game!

In case you don’t know, Green Bay defeated Detroit today!

Here we go again! It should be no surprise that another Christian scandal has made it to the headlines and piqued the interest of believers everywhere, the viewing world, and especially the media. Although the truth is yet to be discovered, rumors continue to mount and many have already drawn conclusions on the innocence and guilt of the accused. The devil just doesn’t play fair, does he? It is most sad!

Let me be clear! Christ’s church is no stranger to controversy; and Christians and Christian leaders are never exempt from these routine and riotous hazards of the faith. Regrettably, some of these are self-imposed and the results of ones’ own undoing. Many are not! Throughout history God’s people have been under the microscope of constant judgment and incessant criticism. In fact, Jesus said, “…the kingdom suffers violence and violent men take it by force.” (See Matthew 11:12, NASB). As believers we will never escape satanic attack and the inequitable demonic strategies employed to destroy God’s work and our witness. What, then, are Christians supposed to do? How are we to respond when these tragic and unavoidable black-eyes occur? And believe me, this is undeniably a huge “black-eye!” Let’s see!

First of all, whenever a brother or a sister has been charged or is accused of a thing—a crime, an offense (a sin), an indiscretion, a fault, etc.,—as sad as it may be, don’t be surprised. In Revelation 12:10, our adversary is called “the accuser of the brethren.” Satan is still the “father of lies, the master of disguise, and the author of confusion.” These are the indisputable facts, and there’s no way around them!

Secondly, don’t judge. Any rash conclusions reached or quick judgments made about anyone who is accused is both premature as well as immature. “All the facts” need to be weighed! And even further, it is not our right or responsibility to ever reach a hasty “verdict” without giving those facts due consideration. Yes, believers will eventually judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), but these will surely be based on facts!

Thirdly, remember grace. Were it not for the grace (goodness) of God, any of us could be under attack (under seize, or even under fire) at any given moment. That means while you may not be on the witness stand or public display (today), you don’t have to be guilty of anything for the enemy to accuse you of something. We are ALL guilty of something(s), and it is only God’s grace that keeps ALL of us out of the lime-light and the public line-of-fire. Thank God for His grace and always be sure to extend the same to others who may be struggling or are presently under attack!

Fourthly (and most of all), PRAY! The fallout associated with these terrible misfortunes is incalculable. We should immediately begin to intercede and pray. Consider for a moment those who are directly affected:

(a) The accused—undoubtedly a human being with feelings, family, friends, some form of fortune, failures, faults, and flaws. It cannot be easy for anyone accused (whether innocent or guilty).
(b) The accusers—no doubt, there are some issues within the hearts and minds of anyone who would pursue a legal (and public) course of action to resolve an apparent personal problem or difficulty. The Bible is clear on the way believers are to resolve offenses and settle differences.
(c) The world of believers—whenever scandalous matters are aired before the world for open debate and public consumption it sadly damages the image of the church and the strength of every believer’s witness. There is absolutely no way around it!
(d) The unbelieving world—these (unsaved sinners) don’t need another excuse for failing to choose Jesus Christ as their portion. When you take a look at it, it’s a no-win situation and we all lose; and the only way to combat these kinds of heinous assaults is to engage the most formidable weapon in our arsenal and at our disposal—prayer!

Fifthly (and lastly), trust God to work it out! God alone is judge, and we should trust Him and His power to work it all out for all of our good and more especially for His glory. It is still true whatever the enemy may mean against us for evil, God can (and will) work it out for our good! Trust Him!

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters. This certainly won’t be the last attack (or perhaps fall) of a believer or man or woman of God. When it’s all said and done, God will still be God, He is still good, He will still be great, He yet remains gracious, and He will always be greatly to be praised!

Peter’s experience with Jesus in Luke 5 teaches us some valuable lessons about fishing and failing. Perhaps (like Peter) your gift is failing you (at the moment), and not yielding the kind of results you feel (or even know) it should or could produce. Ponder these thoughts as you pray further about your situation:

1. Just because you have failed doesn’t make you a failure.
2. It may not be a fault as much as it is fate.
3. The problem may not be with your casting; it could just be your catching.
4. If the fish are not where you are, then perhaps you should go where they are.
5. Your failure can become favor, when you let Christ into your crisis.

I know these are brief and to-the-point, but I trust they will cause you to re-think your circumstance and feel better about your difficulty as you anticipate “catching some fish” with and for our Lord Jesus Christ.

After you have finished making the necessary repairs and critical re-adjustments, get back into the boat and do what you need to do. Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again!

God bless you as you do!

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