Monthly Archives: September 2014

3 of the Greatest Lessons I’ve Learned as a Preacher

     As of this fall, I have been working as a preacher in the pulpit nearly every Sunday for the last decade. While I know that is not a lot of time for some people, there are many things that come to light in a decade’s worth of experience. Many things have changed for me over that time, some things have stayed the same. Allow me to take a moment to tell you about the three biggest things I’ve learned in the last 10 years as a preacher.

     Everyone is different. “Oh come on, everyone knows that,” is the most frequent reply. However, for a preacher this is a very important consideration and one that impacts everything that we do. While intuitively we understand that each person is different, people don’t always anticipate just how deep those differences can go and just how much it requires flexibility as a preacher.

     Because everyone is different, I cannot work at just one level. I preach and teach every Sunday to some people who know a great deal about the Bible and some who know very little. Therefore, the preacher cannot assume that the audience knows and understands all of the basics and fundamentals and only speak to the higher levels of understanding; nor can he only preach fundamentals and never get into the meat of the word. Finding that balance is tricky, but absolutely essential to fulfilling our responsibilities.

     Equally important in this area is the recognition that every Bible study will be different. I don’t think I have ever had two Bible studies that started in exactly the same place. I have studied with people who are highly educated and adults who could barely read. I have studied with people who believe they know everything the Bible has to say and people who will readily admit they know very little, if anything, about it. I could not tell you that I “always” start a Bible study a certain way, because I have found that to be impossible. Everyone is different, and each person has a different starting point. The preacher must be flexible to that.

     Humility is essential to effectiveness. There are two areas in which this understanding is the most important. The first is in preaching and teaching. As a preacher, you may have gone to preaching school, college, or the school of hard knocks, but rest assured you don’t know everything. Every member in the congregation has the ability to teach you something, whether it be from life or Scripture. I never understood the intricacies of Jesus’ interaction with the fig tree (Mat. 21) until a member who had one in his yard explained some of the nuances of how they work. There are many areas of wisdom and understanding that the preacher can and should learn from those around him (older and younger); but he must be humble enough to see them, desire them, and grasp them.

     The other area is in the realm of church problems. The preacher has to be humble and self-aware enough to recognize his own strengths and weaknesses. When members have problems with you (and they will), the wise preacher will not assume they are simply blowing smoke. Sometimes it is because they want you to be a carbon copy of some other preacher (which you cannot be), sometimes it is because you stand for truth they don’t like (something you cannot change), but sometimes it is because you are falling short in an area where you are weak. Do not respond by saying: “That’s just the way I am, they can take me or leave me.” They’ll leave you and you will have failed in your work because of your own pride. Instead, be humble enough to admit your mistakes and shortcomings, then honestly and genuinely strive to improve them. They may never become strengths, but your honesty and hard work will be noticed and it will be respected.

     God answers prayers. Again, some would consider this a “duh” statement, but the reality is that this full conviction and realization is vital to the preacher’s mental and spiritual health and determination. My wife and I have always prayed that God would help us to be placed where we are needed and can be of the most use. I fully believe God has answered that prayer. While that has not meant working with a large salary and the amenities some preachers have, it has given a confidence that we are where we need to be, doing what we need to be doing. That is a great blessing and gives great peace of mind.

     Understanding this point is also vital in other areas. It is my firm conviction that a man should never enter a teaching situation without prayer (and I’m not talking about a public assembly prayer). The last person you talk to before addressing others (publicly or privately) should be the Lord. It is important for your mindset, your emotional balance, and your relationship with him as his servant. It is also important when seeking to reach out to others. Prayers to God for open doors never fail to be answered positively if we are diligent in watching for them. Sometimes they come to us, other times they require us to go to them. Without a doubt, prayer is one of the most vital components to effectively working as a preacher.

     Maybe these are all things you knew, maybe these are a given for some, but for most (myself included) they are lessons that are easily communicated but much more difficult to fully learn and appreciate. As a preacher, these things must be remembered and utilized every day as we seek to serve God. For those who are not preachers: encourage your preachers with all your might. Pray for them, love them, help them wherever you can, and thank God for them.

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The Stupidest Job on Earth

In First Corinthians 1:17-29 the apostle Paul writes about the preaching of the Gospel. Four times in those verses he uses the word “foolishness” in regard to its proclamation and message. The word translated as “foolishness” comes from the Greek term moria, meaning: “stupid, foolish, nonsense.” Paul states throughout this text that the world considers the preaching of the Gospel to be “stupid.”

That being the case, it is easy to see why people in the world might consider my chosen profession as the stupidest job on earth. I spend my days and weeks preaching and teaching the doctrines of a man some call a myth, a legend, or a hoax. I actually stand up in public and talk about a man being raised from the dead and expect people to believe it. I live my life in devotion to a Being I cannot see, have never heard with my own ears, who lives in a place to which I have never been.

On top of that, I work in a profession that is the earthly definition of a “dead-end job.” I do not spend my Sundays preaching to the richest and most powerful people in the world. I spend every day working with those who are common people, struggling to make it through each day, week, month, and year. There is no view toward advancement in my profession, for there is no ladder of success. The level I am at now, at the age of 31, is the greatest level I will ever attain.  There are no promotions to be had, only more of the same though the places may, at times, change. I do not have retirement accounts, insurance, much of a savings account, a new car, new house, or new much of anything else; and the amount of possessions I currently have are likely to be about all I will ever have. To the world’s view, I am voluntarily working the stupidest job on earth.

Fortunately, that’s only one side of the picture. Paul would also talk about that same Gospel that, to those that are lost, is stupid being that which, to the saved, “is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18; Rom. 1:16). You see, by obedience to the Gospel and the profession I have chosen, I have the opportunity to tell the greatest true story ever told. I get to help people see the unseen, hear that which they’ve never heard, and glimpse a very real place that their physical eyes will never behold. I may not have insurance, but I have assurance (2 Tim. 1:12); I may have no retirement on earth, but I have the greatest retirement home man has ever seen awaiting me in Heaven (John 14:1-3); I have little savings, yet I hold the greatest treasure (Mat. 6:19-21); and though few on this earth may ever know my name, the greatest Being in existence knows me by name (Luke 12:28-30).

May God continue to bless those who preach and teach his word and through belief and obedience accept his salvation. Paul concluded his thought by writing: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'” (1 Cor. 1:30-31). To God be the glory.

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Church Members are like Babies

     Over the weekend my wife and I have been dealing with a teething toddler. Our youngest child did not feel well. He was running a low-grade fever, had very little energy, and did not sleep well for three straight nights. So there have been some sleepy, slightly less rested than normal, parents going through the weekend with four boys, one of which needed a great deal of extra attention.

     This morning, it occurred to me that church members are a lot like babies. Now, before you go getting your feelings hurt, think about what I am about to say. Babies have a lot that they go through in those first few years, things that they cannot communicate that have their feelings and emotions going in multiple directions. Sometimes, those emotions change from minute to minute. However, as parents we know that is the way it goes and we expect it. Church members often have the same problems. There are things that are going on in their lives (they may be physical issues, emotional turmoil, or simply the stresses of life). Sometimes those emotions rise up in ways that cause people to respond with various reactions. Sometimes there is crying, sometimes anger, sometimes it is simply sadness or fatigue, and sometimes there is silence because the pain is so deep.

     Then there is the other side of the coin. Those times where that child comes running into the room with a big smile on his face saying: “Daddy, look!” Those times when all he wants to do is curl up in the recliner and sit with you. Those hugs, presents given out of the smallest things, and times of laughter and playing you’ll never forget. You see, church members give you those too. When they give you that card, just because they were thinking of you, at a moment you needed it most. When, for no apparent reason, they show you a kindness. When they tell you they love you and show you they care. When they laugh with you and enjoy your company. All of those things should bring the same joy to our hearts and should be recognized for what they are: love.

     So what should we do when church members start “acting like babies?” Love them. Comfort them. Encourage them. When those times come (and they will) where they cause you to lose sleep, become frustrated, or troubled: forgive them. Laugh with them, cry with them; show them that you are there for them when they need you and that you want them to come to you when they need help. This is what we do with our children, and while everything is never perfect, they know we love them and care about them.

     However, before you spend your time thinking about everyone you know that fits these descriptions, remember that you are a church member too. You have those days, those moments, both good and bad. Likely while you read this thinking of someone else, they are reading it thinking of you. That’s okay, because we are God’s children. Brothers and sisters in the service of his kingdom. While there are times where we will all “act like babies,” we can also love, console, and be there for one another in the same way we would for our own children.

     “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

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Is there Anything I can Say to Change your Mind?

Any time there is a discussion among individuals in which there is disagreement, the value of the discussion is determined by whether or not both sides believe there is any kind of evidence, argumentation, or proof that could change their mind on their given belief. While it is often the case that people love to have their voices heard and their opinions known, it is far less frequent that people are actually willing to give serious consideration to the idea that they could be wrong.

However, there is one fundamental and devastating flaw to carrying the mentality that there is nothing that could be shown to you to change your mind: it proves that you are not interested in truth. You see, humans are prone to mistakes. They may be mistakes in logic, mistakes in actions, mistakes in information or any of a number of other types. If one refuses to admit the ability of his human understanding to be wrong, or of his own intuition to be misguided, then he has shown that he believes his knowledge to be perfect and incapable of mistake.  In doing so, he has made it impossible to learn anything beyond what he currently thinks he knows. It is only through the acknowledgement that one could be mistaken that growth is possible.

There are many examples in Scripture of men who changed because they recognized their own fallibility, or repented because they made mistakes, even though they carried positions of authority. It is seen in the apostle Paul and his willingness to acknowledge his wrong direction (Acts 9). It is seen in Apollos’ willingness to be instructed by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18). It is also seen in the conviction of Peter before those in Antioch because of his mistake (Gal. 2). All of these, and many others, made the changes to their beliefs and actions because the evidence stood as proof they were wrong.

Now, before you begin thinking about all of those people in the religious world who have the gall to believe something different from you and not convert to your way of thinking, consider this: could it be you that has that mentality? I have found that members of the church are just as bad as the rest of the religious world when it comes to this approach to Biblical discussion. On innumerable occasions I have discussed things with brethren, sometimes things of great consequence and sometimes nothing more than nuances of Scripture, and have been dismayed at the response received. Instead of showing proof for what they profess, or giving proof to show what I have said is incorrect, they simply respond with a dismissive statement and move on. On other occasions they will quote some other preacher’s belief, as though just because some man believed it one way that should be enough proof for anyone.

Unfortunately, some people get confused about what it means to be willing to consider another person’s point of view or argumentation. It does not mean that you do not have conviction in your own beliefs; in fact, it means exactly the opposite. It shows that you can be even more convicted in your beliefs, you have been willing to put them to the test of truth and have the evidence that shows they have passed the test.

However, when one walks into Bible studies with the attitude that he already knows it all and he is going to show everyone else what truth is, he is no longer studying the Bible, he is dictating it. He will not carry on a conversation about anything, but instead becomes defensive, combative, and vehement. He does not ask questions, or query about what proof may be brought to bear, he begins to impugn the heart and character of the other participants. The worst part is, even if he carries the truth with his beliefs, he has lost because his arrogance and thoughtlessness have closed the doors of communication with others. He is not concerned with whether or not others learn, only that he is considered right.

When we are asked the question that titles this article, our response should always be that if there is adequate and suitable evidence to show that our convictions are wrong we will change our beliefs. If we are completely interested in truth, then what we have believed in the past does not matter, but what has been proven to be true in the present is of the utmost importance.

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Football and Christianity

It’s that time of year again. That time where, in many households, weekends are reserved. Friday night is high school football, Saturday is college football, and Sunday is NFL football. That doesn’t even include Monday night and the currently popular Thursday night editions.

 

Football is big in this country, and it has been considered the most popular American sport for years. Often, it is just as popular in the church as it is in our communities. Many members of the church follow their local school teams, their favorite college teams, and their professional team of choice (or some combination of the three).

 

Someone may be wondering what in the world football has to do with Christianity and why they are appearing conjointly here. While the enjoyment of such sports is all well and good, and there is nothing wrong with the enjoyment of a good football game, we as Christians must be extra careful that we do not lose ourselves in our fanaticism.

 

Please do not misunderstand me, I am not saying that a person should not enjoy football (or some other sport). It is my favorite of them all and I am probably a bigger fan than most; knowing the teams, players, stats and the like. However, there must always be a line for the Christian that cannot be crossed. It is the line between dedication to a game and dedication to a Savior.

 

It is saddening to see members of the body of Christ who will not attend church functions during the season because their favorite team is playing. I have seen members come in 15 minutes late for services because the game went to overtime. Some congregations have changed their service times because of the scheduling of a game (the Super Bowl anyone?), and some brethren have refused to host others in their homes or have a Bible study because of a game. Somehow, one’s adherence to Jesus’ statement, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Mat. 6:33) does not ring true in such cases.

 

Nevertheless, the problem can go even deeper than that. I have seen brethren browbeat, belittle, and nearly come to blows because they root for rival teams. Some have, sometimes jokingly, sometimes not, called into question a brother’s intelligence or wisdom based upon which team they follow. Others have posted rude jokes and insults on social media at fans of another team, when they would never say such things to their brother or sister to their face.

 

As Christians, we are to, “love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22); our speech is to always be seasoned with salt to be of benefit to another (Col. 4:6); and our hearts must always bear the love of God toward all men (1 John 4:11).

 

So, as we enter into this new season: root for your favorite teams, enjoy the company of friends and loved ones as you do, but always keep in the forefront of your mind who you are, who you serve, and what your primary responsibility is. For there is no game on the face of the earth that is worth a man’s soul.

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