Life is Full of Journeys; Own Yours

Life is fully of journeys. We are always moving from point A to point B to point C in our health, our relationships, our employment, our education, etc. Out of all the journeys you are traveling, your spiritual development journey is by far your most important journey. One of the bible verses I use to determine that is from the words of Jesus found in Matt 6:33, “Seek first God, His Kingdom, and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

The point Jesus is making is that our first priority is to seek God, and His way of doing things. If we will do that, we can trust Him with the other details. Matt 6:33 is surrounded by verses on not worrying. We worry about so many things. Worry is always the absence of trust. Worry steals our peace. Seeking other things creates reason to worry. Seeking God first removes the reasons to worry.

Therefore, your spiritual development journey is the most development journey of your life. As you seek first God, and His way of doing things, you will be better at all the other things life throws at you, and all the other areas or developmental journeys of your life. As you experience the transformation that comes from doing things God’s way, you will also be a better spouse, parent, employee/employer, etc. God’s way is doing things is always better.

Hebrews 12:1 uses the imagery of a marathon when it describes our lives, “Let us throw off everything that hinders us, and the sin that so easily entangles us. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. The phrase “marked out for us” indicates intentionality. God has marked the race out before us. Your journey is not an accident. Now, we can make choices that forfeit things or derail things or lead us on detours of our lives, but God has a plan.

Paul wrote “You are the workmanship of God, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10). Think about that. God has a list of things He wants to accomplish in and through you that He “prepared in advance”. In advance! Again, Eph 2:10 indicates intentionality, planning, and purpose.

One more biblical passage to demonstrate my point in this article, “…He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands…” (Acts 17:26-27). So let me sum this article up; God made you, created a list of things he wanted to do in and through you, determined the era you were to live in, and the locations you would live at. In return, He ask you to seek Him first, and do things His way, so he can provide and protect on your behalf. Your spiritual development journey is the most important journey of your life. Don’t waste another day.

Preacher, Evaluation is Your Friend

I remember my early days as a reluctant communicator. I never relished the idea of public speaking, but I knew I was called by God, and therefore, I was determined to be as effective as I could be as communicator. Obviously, over the past 32 years I have progressed a great deal in my communication style, ability, and effectiveness. I could tell countless stories from the lessons I have learned over the years, however for the purpose of this article I want to write about the importance of getting honest evaluation of your preaching.

Three Foundation Principles

  1. Evaluation is our friend.

You have to believe and embrace that evaluation, no matter how painful in the moment, is always your friend. Evaluation is healthy and good. Anything worth doing is worth doing as effectively as possible, and the only way to measure that effectiveness is through evaluation. Evaluation helps us maintain humility, stay relevant, stay healthy, remain gospel-centered, and increase our effectiveness.

  1. Determine to be a life-long increasingly more effective communicator.

Effective preaching requires the occurrence of actual communication. Talking to a crowd does not mean actual communication is occurring. We have all heard the pastor that preached for 20 minutes and it felt like an hour, while another person can preach for an hour and it feels like 20 minutes. We have all listened to a message and walked away wondering what was said, and we have walked away knowing what was said and having a clear application and inspiration for our lives. If you are going to communicate, then communicate effectively. If you don’t want to communicate effectively, then just stop.

  1. Embrace the reality that God has entrusted to you the most important message in the world.

Not the specific message you are preaching this Sunday, but the gospel, the message of hope and reconciliation for the lost and dying world as well as for the church attending world. The people far from God who see the cross as foolish are perishing (1 Cor 1:18) and headed toward a Christ-less eternity. The people sitting in your church are starving to understand scripture in a way that applies to their every day lives. You are the person God has called to step on to your stage to clearly and effectively communicate to His children on His behalf. Therefore, increasing your effectiveness as a communicator is of utmost importance.

Four Methods of Evaluation I Use

  1. Listen/watch to yourself

Most communicators hate listening/watching themselves communicate, but that is the first level of honest communication. Force yourself to listen to you each week. When I began as a communicator, I would get a cassette tape of my messages each week and listen to it. Now, I’m streamed live every Sunday and have message videos “on demand” through our church website that I watch each week. I know this will be painful, but think of it as “watching game film”. Every football coach watches game film to evaluate his team. If your church does not record your messages currently, just use your phone to record your messages.

  1. Ask a trusted people to give you feedback on your preaching.

These people should hear us every week, but we only need to meet with them once a month or even once a quarter to hear their overall evaluation and feedback of tendencies they are seeing/hearing consistently. Tendencies are really the foremost issue. Getting off track one time in six messages is different than a tendency to get off track in every message. I have a wide-range of people who give me honest feedback and evaluation of my messages; men and women, adults and students.

We don’t want evaluation from a nit-picking or naturally critical person type person. We need broad strokes type evaluation from someone willing to be honest with us. We want someone(s), who understands what we are trying to accomplish to give us regular feedback on our tone, delivery, clarity, flow, “rabbit chasing”, etc.

It is helpful if you ask them specific questions to answer. For example: Was the point I was trying to make clear? Did that illustration or story make sense and connect with people? Was I positive, prepared, and hope-filled? What was the high point or the most important part of the message? Did I give clear applications? Did I transition well? Did my conclusion make sense? Was my energy good throughout? Did I point to the cross and Christ?

  1. Evaluate the fruit or results of your communication.

By “fruit or results” I don’t mean how many people responded to the altar or believed on Christ in a specific message, but over a period of time, are your messages resonating with people, are they growing, moving forward, developing spiritually, etc? Are they talking about your message on social media and/or to their friends? Your communication will bear fruit. You can evaluate that fruit. You might not like that process, but it’s healthy and good. A healthy tree produces healthy fruit. Bad fruit means something is wrong with the tree. Communicators produce fruit too.

  1. Listen/watch effective communicators (or even hire a consultant as a coach).

Find communicators who light a fire in you, and learn from them by listening and watching them. Don’t mimic them, but look for transferable principles that will help you as a communicator. Compare your style to their style. Listen to how they transition or how they “connect the dots” for people as they make applications, or how they organize their thoughts.

Our God-given message is too important to allow ourselves to be comfortable in mediocrity or even our success. We must continue to improve. Even as I write this article, I have a paid consultant who is “coaching” me through my next level of improvement. Evaluation is our friend. The gospel matters. The cross matters. I am committed to becoming the most effective version of me I can be for the glory of God.

God Made Jesus Become Sin for You (& Me)

For the past few articles I have been writing about one of my favorite passages of scripture, 2 Cor 5:17-21. So far, we have looked at five characteristics of ambassadorship, and the process God uses to reconcile ourselves back to Him. This week we will look at the how God makes His appeal through us. What a sentence! “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”. Take a moment to slow down enough to re-read that sentence and think about what it really says and means.

Almighty God, who spoke all that is into existence, who knows the number of grains of sand, and the hairs on your head, who controls your next breath, who holds the world in His hands; He who is matchless, magnificent beyond our imagination, full of power, grace, mercy, and always faithful; God has chosen to make His appeal to the world through everyday people like us.

The biblical facts are that if you know Christ as your personal Savior then God has given you the message and ministry of reconciliation. God has entrusted His message of reconciliation, hope, and restoration to us. His message goes like this according to 2 Cor 5:19; “God is reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them”.

God is “appealing” to mankind to turn their hearts back to Him; that His has forgiven them through the sacrifice of His own Son, and is no longer holding their sin against them, but instead has created a way for them to have direct access to Him and a personal relationship with His through Christ. But He has chosen to make His appeal through us. You and I are how God intends to communicate His love and offer of forgiveness, grace and mercy to our friends, family, and neighbors. Sobering thought, isn’t it?

The last concept from 2 Cor 5:17-21; “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God.” All of the sin of all mankind (past, present, and future) was nailed to the cross with Jesus. We will never truly understand the true cost of salvation and forgiveness. God “made” the sinless and blameless Jesus to become my and your personal sin so that He could forgive us and reconcile us back to Himself.

Paul was pleading with the people in Corinth, “I implore you”, to be reconciled back to God. Paul understood his personal sinfulness, as well as the grace and mercy God had shown him. Paul wanted all people to experience the same kind of reconciliation back to God that he had experienced.

God made Jesus become our sin so He could redeem us, reconcile us, and give us His righteousness. As you walk through today dealing with that today brings with it; victories and losses, easy things and frustrating things, sorrow and joy, and so on. You have been redeemed; purchased by God. God has forgiven you, reconciled you, and has a purpose for you. So regardless what today holds, remember you are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.

Reconciliation is a Step Beyond Forgiveness

For the past couple articles, I have been writing about how God sees all believers are the ambassadors of Christ, and that He has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation. “God is reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:17-21)

Let’s review the past couple articles in one paragraph; I listed five characteristics of ambassadorship to help us gain a fuller understanding of what it means to be “an ambassador of Christ”. First, an ambassador represents a ruler. Secondly, an ambassador is credentialed. Thirdly, an ambassador is protected. Fourthly, an ambassador is a citizen of the country he represents. Fifth, ambassadors keep in contact with the leader of his home country.

In this article we will look at the process of reconciliation. The process of reconciliation begins with God loving the individuals of the world so much that He sent His only Son to be sacrificed so He could forgive us then reconcile us back to Himself. In the midst of our sin, God chose to clearly demonstrate His love for us by sending Christ to die on a cross for the forgiveness of our sin.

Reconciliation is a step beyond mere forgiveness. Forgiveness means we forgive the offender, but it does not mean we want to continue our relationship with the person who has offended us. Reconciliation goes beyond forgiveness to restoring the relationship. When the above passage says God “reconciled us to Himself in Christ”, it means God has provided more than just forgiveness. He has turned our hearts back toward Himself and He is restoring our relationship with Him. Sin destroyed the relationship God intended to have with people. God sacrificed Jesus to reconcile and restore His relationship with us.

God wants a personal relationship with each of us. Jesus’ death and resurrection provided both forgiveness and victory. Jesus became our High Priest, made all of us ministers of His good news, and gave us direct access to God. Why? Because the God of all creation desires a personal relationship with you! He did not send Christ so we could have a manufactured relationship with a religion. Christianity is the only religion in history solely based on a personal relationship with a Savior.

Not only has God provided a process of forgiving us and reconciling us back to Himself, but He has also “given us the ministry of reconciliation”. As His ministers or ambassadors, we are to be reconcilers of people back to God. God has entrusted to us His message of reconciliation which He as defined as “I am no longer holding the sin of people against them”. We have failed. We have sinned. We have rebelled. Yet, God has given us a message to give to our friends and family; “I am no longer holding your sin against you”… come home.

Understanding Your Ambassadorship (Part 2)

Dear Christ-Follower, according to scripture, God has “entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:17-21)

Therefore., according to scripture, each of us, individually, are the ambassadors of Christ. In last week’s article, I listed three characteristics of ambassadorship to help us gain a fuller understanding of what it means to be “an ambassador of Christ”. First, an ambassador represents a ruler. Secondly, an ambassador is credentialed. Thirdly, an ambassador is protected. I’ll pick up with the fourth characteristic in this article.

Fourthly, an ambassador is a citizen of the country he represents. Phil 3:20 says “For our citizenship is in heaven.” As citizens of heaven we should reflect it. When you meet a some one from a different country or even from a different area of our country how they talk and act normally reflects where they are from. As followers of Christ, our citizenship is in heaven.

George Shultz, when Secretary of State during the Reagan administration, kept a large globe in his office. When newly appointed ambassadors had an interview with him and when ambassadors returning from their posts for their first visit with him were leaving his office, Shultz would test them. He would say, “You have to go over to the globe and prove to me that you can identify your country.” They would go over, spin the globe, and put their finger on the country to which sent–unerringly.

When Shultz’s old friend and former Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield was appointed ambassador to Japan, even he was put to the test. This time, however, Ambassador Mansfield spun the globe and put his hand on the United States. He said: “That’s my country.” Secretary Shultz later said about that event, “I’ve told that story, subsequently, to all the ambassadors going out. ‘Never forget you’re over there in that country, but your country is the United States. You’re there to represent us. Take care of our interests and never forget it, and you’re representing the best country in the world.’ “

Fifth, ambassadors keep in contact with the leader of his home country. Communication is important in life. Communications important in battle. Prayer is simply communication with God. Jesus warns us “Watch and pray, so we don’t fall into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The message we have been given as Christ’s ambassadors is one of reconciliation. It’s a message of hope, forgiveness, and restoration. God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” because He is “reconciling the world to himself in Christ, and is not counting men’s sins against them.” And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

Let’s do a great job representing Christ this week. After all He has done for us, He really does deserve our very best.

Understanding Your Ambassadorship (Part 1)

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 which states, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

As a follower of Christ, we are also an ambassador of Christ. In this article, I will list three characteristics of ambassadorship to help us gain a fuller understanding of what it means to be “an ambassador of Christ”.

First, an ambassador represents a ruler. What he says represents the ruler. What he does represents the ruler. How he behaves himself represents the ruler. What his attitude is like represents the ruler. Therefore, we as Christ-followers represent Christ; His throne, His power, His kingdom, His heart, His love, His grace, His forgiveness, His purposes and plans, and so on. We are His hands, feet, and spokespeople.

Secondly, an ambassador is credentialed. In other words, credentials would be like a letter or certificate given to a person to show that he has a right to confidence or to the exersize of a certain position or authority. Just as an ambassador has been given a specific level of authority, Christ has given us authority (Matt 28:18-20). Our “credentialing” is when the Holy Spirit begins living in and through is at the moment of true salvation (Acts 1:8). Another of the foremost “credentials” of a Christ-follower is the clear evidence of Christ’s love in and through them; “By this shall men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

Thirdly, an ambassador is protected. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear thou not for I am with thee, be not dismayed for I am thy God, I will strengthen thee, I will help thee, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” God provides and protects!

In the year 1653 Whitelock the Ambassador of Sweden was embarking on a special mission. He came to Harwich to rest the night, a stormy night in which he could not sleep. His servant asked him, “Pray sir, don’t you think that God governed the world very well before you came into it?” Certainly! “Don’t you think He will govern it quite as well when you are gone out of it?” Certainly! “Then, sir, don’t you think you may trust Him to govern it properly as long as you live?” With that Whitelock turned over in bed and went to sleep.

You can sleep well knowing that “He will keep in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Him.” (Isa 26:3)

I’ll pick up here tomorrow.

God’s Way of Doing Things is ALWAYS Best

Life is fully of journeys. We are always moving from point A to point B to point C in our health, our relationships, our employment, our education, etc. Out of all the journeys you are traveling, your spiritual development journey is by far your most important journey. One of the bible verses I use to determine that is from the words of Jesus found in Matt 6:33, “Seek first God, His Kingdom, and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

The point Jesus is making is that our first priority is to seek God, and His way of doing things. If we will do that, we can trust Him with the other details. Matt 6:33 is surrounded by verses on not worrying. We worry about so many things. Worry is always the absence of trust. Worry steals our peace. Seeking other things creates reason to worry. Seeking God first removes the reasons to worry.

Therefore, your spiritual development journey is the most development journey of your life. As you seek first God, and His way of doing things, you will be better at all the other things life throws at you, and all the other areas or developmental journeys of your life. As you experience the transformation that comes from doing things God’s way, you will also be a better spouse, parent, employee/employer, etc. God’s way is doing things is always better.

Hebrews 12:1 uses the imagery of a marathon when it describes our lives, “Let us throw off everything that hinders us, and the sin that so easily entangles us. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. The phrase “marked out for us” indicates intentionality. God has marked the race out before us. Your journey is not an accident. Now, we can make choices that forfeit things or derail things or lead us on detours of our lives, but God has a plan.

Paul wrote “You are the workmanship of God, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10). Think about that. God has a list of things He wants to accomplish in and through you that He “prepared in advance”. In advance! Again, Eph 2:10 indicates intentionality, planning, and purpose.

One more biblical passage to demonstrate my point in this article, “…He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands…” (Acts 17:26-27). So let me sum this article up; God made you, created a list of things he wanted to do in and through you, determined the era you were to live in, and the locations you would live at. In return, He ask you to seek Him first, and do things His way, so he can provide and protect on your behalf. Your spiritual development journey is the most important journey of your life. Don’t waste another day.

Why Do Equally Intelligent People Disagree on Biblical Interpretation

One of the things that has always bothered me is why do equally intelligent people disagree on biblical interpretation? I see things pretty simply. Scripture is the absolute truth word of God. It is the only thing I know that meets the standards required to be absolute truth.

For something to be absolute truth is must meet three criteria. It must be universal, which means it is right for all people, all times, and all places. It must be constant, which means it is unchanging. And finally, it must be objective, which means it is not based on a person’s feelings, circumstances, etc.

There are ten basic reasons why I think equally intelligent people disagree on biblical interpretation. First, there can be a failure to approach Scripture with the proper respect. Seeing scripture as our sole authority of faith (what we believe) and practice (what we do) is proper respect, based on Scripture’s testimony of itself. When someone does not treat Scripture this way, it violates all rules of accurate biblical interpretation.

Second, is a lack of objectivity. Scripture is not subjective to our whims, opinions, and preferences. Scripture stands alone as absolute truth. We must approach Scripture objectively.

Third, some people are merely searching for proof, not for truth. They are looking for one verse that seems to agree with them, instead of looking at the all Scripture says regarding a subject. I have been known to ask people who want to debate with me, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to discover the truth?” Never be afraid of discovering truth, even if it disagrees with your preset opinion.

Fourth, they fail to equally consider all Scripture says concerning a specific subject. It is easy to over-value a verse that says something that agrees with you, and then to under-value the verse that disagrees with you. Fifth, some people just blindly accept another person’s opinions and research. They don’t study for themselves, they just read a commentary or book, and accept it without doing their own homework.

Sixth, filtering Scripture through self-issues, rather than filtering self-issues through Scripture. Some people want to filter Scripture through themselves, their experiences, their opinions, their woundedness, etc, instead of filtering themselves through Scripture. Seventh, over-analyzing, over-complicating, and over-spiritualizing a simple message. Let me boil the entire bible down to four words; “Love God, Love people”. Keep it simple.

Eighth, expecting the flesh to understand what only the Holy Spirit can teach. Some things just don’t make sense to you minds or our flesh. Don’t try to explain God. He is beyond explanation. His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts.

Ninth, some people read “into” or “out of” Scripture. They try to justify their preset opinion by removing or adding to Scripture something that fits their agenda.

And lastly, some people fail to understand the context. The context of a verse matters, we can’t just take a verse out of its context, and use it prove our point.