We All Need a Do-Over

(Both the Prodigal Son and the Elder Brother Need God's Grace)

prodigal-son-by-charlie-mackesyDo you ever wish you could have a do-over?

As a teenager, I used to play golf frequently at the Tenison Golf Course in Dallas.  One of the first times I played, I hit a terrible drive off the tee.   Someone said, “Take a mulligan.”  I learned that “mulligan” was just another word for “do-over.”

There is nothing like a do-over.  Grace through Jesus is the ultimate do-over.  

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

A do-over is what so many of us want and desperately need from God.  

We would like to be forgiven. We would like to be washed clean of our sins and failures. Many of us look back at the last decade, the last year, or even yesterday and realize how we have strayed from the desires of God.  Maybe, you know all too well that you desperately need the grace of God.

The sins that are mentioned in I Corinthians 6 are all too familiar.  Consider some of them: Those who are dishonest, those who are sexually immoral, those who swindle others and the list goes on. Paul tells these people that this is what some them were (6:11).  “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and By the Spirit of our God.”  Today, as in Paul’s day, Jesus gives each one of us the opportunity to experience the ultimate redemptive d0-over.

It may seem obvious that some need a d0-over.  After all, they did something really bad. We know we have sins but theirs seem so much worse.  Yet, even the best people need Jesus. The truth is that we make a big mistake when we focus on those who have committed certain sins while minimizing our own.

Every single one of us desperately needs Jesus.  In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15), both the rebellious younger brother and the self-righteous older brother need Jesus.

Consider two kinds of people:

The “Younger Brother or Sister”  This person lives a lifestyle of sin and may be in complete rebellion to God.  As a woman told me on one occasion, “Nobody is going to tell me what to do.” She was involved in a lifestyle that tore apart her family and seriously hurt her children.  Yet, she was determined to do what she wanted to do.  She didn’t care what anyone thought and more importantly, didn’t seem to care what God thought about the choices she was making.  Fortunately, she eventually returned to her senses.  She surrendered to the will and the desires of Jesus and her life was changed.

The “Older Brother or Sister”  This person wrestles with sin as well.  Yet, in her mind, her sins are not near as bad as the sins of the prodigal son or daughter.  She would quickly acknowledge that “we all sin” and yet, she treats others as if their sins are far worse than her own.  Like the older brother in Luke 15, she may resent that some who have changed their lives for God are getting so much attention and affirmation.  In fact, she may even resent that the prodigal son was forgiven.  In her mind, the prodigal son might be better off if God would occasionally remind him of his past sins.

The good news of the Gospel is that in the cross, God’s love is big enough to forgive the unrighteous and the self-righteous.  Now that is good news!

 

 

 

 

What a Minister Can Learn from a Congregation

hand (1)

Many ministers learn a great deal from the people they serve.  Others seem to learn very little. Much of the time, this says more about the minister than the congregation.

Ministers typically have a front row seat to the congregation.  This is a wonderful opportunity for a minister to grow, mature, and learn. Unfortunately, some miss opportunities for growth and development.

The following are a few realities I have learned from congregations where I have served.

I learned from some of our business people the importance of process.  Far too often, ministers and elders completely ignore any sense of processing an issue with a congregation.   For example, perhaps the congregational leadership has spent 4 – 6 months talking and praying about a major mission project.  This would be a major undertaking for the congregation requiring a significant financial commitment.  Finally, they decide to bring this project before the congregation.  The preacher preaches a few sermons and then an elder makes an announcement about starting this new project. Then the leadership seems stunned when the congregation has reservations or resists this particular initiative. While the leadership has had plenty of time to process this mission possibility, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of a process for the congregation.  Yet, this will be a major undertaking for these people requiring a significant commitment.

I learned from several business leaders in congregations the importance of process as it relates to leadership.  At least some of the conflict that congregations experience could be managed better if leaders would simply pay more attention to process.

I learned from some in these congregations about the depth and complexity of the pain they deal with.  Oh my goodness! Did I ever underestimate this as a young minister!  Yet, walking with so many through various situations has given me the opportunity to learn and grow.

Some in the congregation will talk about what is taking place in their families. Some will confide in a few close friends or perhaps one of the church leaders.  Far too many simply sit in silence.

I learned from these congregations what makes preaching helpful and effective.   I have read many preaching books and other works which discuss particular aspects of preaching.  Many of these have been helpful.  Yet, there is much to be learned from the people themselves about what kind of preaching is helpful and what is not.  I am not suggesting that one allow a group of people to necessarily determine one’s entire approach to preaching.  Rather, I am suggesting that we strongly factor into the mix what we might be learning from these people.   As a preacher, I have to ask, “Is my preaching connecting with this particular group of people?”

I learned from so many people that God could use me even as an ordinary human being.  I have known a few ministers who seemed intent on proving to the church that they could be just as coarse and crude as anyone else.  Perhaps they thought they would be perceived by others in the congregation as more human.  Perhaps this was a reaction to the way ministers are sometimes perceived by others. The perception by some is that they are almost superhuman -above and immune to temptation.  As a result, some ministers become far too self-conscious as they try to create a particular image or persona before the congregation.

I think it is far more important that a minister simply live as a human being among a congregation. No need to prove that you are human with flaws, shortcomings, and sins.  Many people will become aware of this all too soon.

 

Who Are You Trying to Please?

(From Self-consciousness to God-consciousness)

1978cadillaceldoradoAt the time, it was a new luxury car.  It was a car that I could only dream of owning.  The owner was a wealthy man in our small church. I was a newly married, young preacher.  That morning, as I walked out of our church building, I could see him already sitting behind the wheel of his parked car, puffing on a big cigar.

As I walked by his car, I waved to him.  His window slowly came down.  He glared at me and sternly said, “Let’s don’t talk about race anymore!”

That morning I had preached a sermon and at some point had said something about race and the way we treat one another.  As I recall, I spoke regarding the way we as Christians are called to treat others, regardless of ethnic group.

Apparently this man did not like what I said.  This was a new experience for me.  I had never had someone immediately snap at me like this regarding what was just said in a sermon.   I responded by saying something like, “I was just applying the message of the text that I was preaching this morning.”

I thought about his remark throughout the day.  I knew he was used to having his way.  I also knew that he gave more money on Sunday morning than anyone else and that our small church was impacted by his gift.  I reflected on what I had said in the sermon and genuinely believed that what I said was appropriate.

On one level his comment was about race but it actually was about much more.  His comment forced me to reflect on why I preached and why I did any kind of ministry in the first place.

When Your Problem is Overwhelming

138173-424x283-TroubledTeenShe sat in my office staring at the floor.  I’ve seen that look so many times on the faces of men and women who have experienced hurt.

Sometimes, life is really hard.

You may feel hurt, disappointed, and empty.

You may feel numb.

Whatever the reason, there comes a point when you need to hear once again a word of hope.

I love Psalm 73.  In fact, it may be one of my favorite Psalms.  The Psalm speaks of a person who says that his “feet had almost slipped.”  He became so discouraged after seeing the unfairness and pain that exists in the world.  He saw the “prosperity of the wicked” (73:3).  It seemed as if they had no struggles, burdens or the common human ills (73:4-5). They were a prideful and arrogant people (73:6-8).  The world was not working right and it was very discouraging to this writer.  He felt as if his faith was all for nothing (73:13)

However all of this changed later and he came away from the sanctuary very encouraged.

Can Others Tell When You Are Afraid?

fear1.jpgThat afternoon, we drove away from their house. We had been in a difficult conversation.  We met with a woman whom we both liked and admired but found difficult.  She seemed self-assured and almost smug. I told my wife that it seemed as if she perceived herself to be an expert on most subjects.

Yet, Charlotte had a different take on this woman.  “She is actually quite fearful.”

Upon reflection, I think she is correct.

How do you spot a fearful person?  Is this a person who is cowering in the corner with fear?  Not necessarily.  This may be a 30 year old man who, like an insecure boy, is doing his best to appear cool.  Actually, one may be speaking with a fearful person and yet not really be aware of this person’s fearfulness.  This person may actually be dominated by fear. Children are often more obvious in the way they express their fear.  They typically fight or flee when they are afraid.  Adults respond in much the same way, only we try to mask our fear.

Monday Start: Resources for the Week

start (1)The following are some links that you may find helpful and even encouraging.  Enjoy!

Productivity and Time

Essentialism may have been one of the most helpful books regarding productivity that I have read in some time.  I read it almost twelves months ago and continue to come back to the principles in the book.  Don’t miss this.  Michael Hyatt and Michele Cushatt interviews author Greg McKeown.

Work

I’ve mentioned this before but the series “How I Work” on the blog Lifehacker continues to be a series that I don’t miss.  Quite often, I discover a resource in this series that is helpful.

Encouraging

Dallas Cowboy Terrance Williams does something meaningful for a sick child.  See this news story.

Funny

Read this column by long-time Dallas News columnist Steve Blow: “‘Enjoy sinning? Join the Choir’ And other fun with church bulletin bloopers.

Inspiring

Don’t miss this very good interview with Margaret Feinberg from Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.

 

How You Can Mentor Another

mentorThe following post consists of nine practical steps that might be helpful to you if you wish to grow in the ministry of mentoring.  This post is meant to be helpful.

1.  The power of mentoring is in “coming alongside” not in giving someone more information, suggestions, advice, etc. You bring the presence of Jesus. The goal is coming alongside to help that person mature (spiritually, emotionally, relationally) in order to honor God.

2.  Make a list of FIVE people whom you might mentor. (The more specific you are regarding the identity of these people, the more likely you will actually act.)

3.  Pray for these FIVE people

  • Pray for opportunity, an open door with one or more of these people
  • Pray for your own desire and willingness to follow through
  • Pray that you might for an awareness of how to be most helpful to these people.

4.  Consider these possible approaches to mentoring these FIVE people: long term, occasional, seasonal. Discern which one (or more) of these FIVE you need to approach.

Ministry Inside.145

trust puzzleTrust is everything!

If you are a church leader, trust really is everything. It doesn’t matter whether you are a preacher, an elder, or a volunteer with the youth group, trust is everything. A congregation’s present and future are greatly impacted by whether or not the leaders within the church can be trusted.

If people trust you, that is huge. If they don’t trust you, well, I’m not sure what you can do. As a church leader, you may preach sermons, make important announcements, or initiate special projects. However, if the members do not trust you it is awfully hard to move forward.

Monday Start: Resources for the Week

startnow8norMental Illness

A gripping, powerful story from the Washington Post. “A father’s scars: For Va.’s Creigh Deeds, tragedy brings unending questions.”

Missions

See Mark Woodward’s interesting and helpful report from the recent Global Missions Conference held in Memphis, Tn.  See “What Do the Experts Say About Short-Term Missions?” and “What Experts Say About Short-Term Missions, Part 2.”

Self-Care

Michael Hyatt has written a good post!  “My Secret Weapon for Extra-Energy at Work.  I practice this more occasionally than regularly.  However, I have noticed a tremendous boost in my energy when I do practice this.

Writing

Melanie Pinola has written a fine post regarding a writing schedule but is actually applicable to other forms of work as well.  See “How to Stick to a Writing Schedule.”

Farnam Street

Do you read Shane Parish’s Farnam Street?  I find this useful.  Parish will often review and discuss books that I will probably not read but often have an interest in the subject matter.