On Church Conflicts

Anyone who has been a part of any church for any amount of time has a story about a church conflict. They have a story about that business meeting where there was standing room only because the people who had been inactive in the church for years decided that they needed to be there to vote. They can tell you of the experience of being hurt when people that they loved and respected undermined their desire to follow the Lord and minister in the church.

These types of church conflicts have been around since the very beginning of the church. In Acts 5, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira threatened the integrity of the early church. In Acts 6:1-7, a misunderstanding between two parties in the church threatened to divide the fellowship and pull the Apostles away from their duty to preach and lead. There is much for us to learn from these conflicts.

1. Sin must be dealt with. Ananias and Sapphira’s sin could not be covered up. It had to be called out and disciplined so that both the people of the church and the world whom they hoped to reach would know that sin is not okay.

In church conflicts that arise out of sin, the sin which causes the turmoil must be decisively dealt with. Sexual misbehavior, whether among the ministerial staff or the lay membership is not okay. Gossip and backbiting is not okay. Care must be taken to get to the root of the problem and the person(s) responsible. Then, the sin must be exposed and called out in a gracious and loving way lest their sin bring shame on the church and on Christ.

The thought of directly confronting sin scares the living daylights out of most people. We fear how they will react. We are tempted to just stay quiet and let God deal with it on His own. However, in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, we see the horror of what happens when God deals with sin in the church. If we learn of the sin, then we have the opportunity to spare them from God’s judgment. The most loving thing that a Christian can do for their fellow brother or sister who is caught in sin is to go to them and gently correct them. In this way, God may perhaps grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth so that they escape the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

2. When there is a dispute arising from a misunderstanding, other servants are needed to ensure an equitable solution. In Acts 6, the Apostles stated that it would not be right for them to neglect their duty in preaching and teaching the word of God in order to fix the issue at hand. They called on the church to appoint other servants for this duty, “men who were of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). This motion was passed unanimously and the conflict was handled.

Most of the time the church leans on the pastor to handle a conflict. That is not always the best course of action, particularly when the problem is not sin but a misunderstanding. The pastor and ministerial staff, like the Apostles of the first-century, need to be able to devote themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer. The only thing worse than a church split is to have your ministerial staff burn out from having to consistently handle polemic situations where misunderstandings run rampant.

Just be careful how you chose these servants. As the Apostles requested, they need to be of a good reputation. They need to be the most devoted Christians in the church. They need to be wise in their handling of sensitive issues and someone that everyone, and I mean everyone, can trust.

3. Healthy handling of church conflicts leads to a stronger and healthier fellowship. In Acts 5:14 we see that the decisive handling of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira only led to the church growing more than ever. We see in Acts 6:7 that the handling of the misunderstanding led to many believers being added to the fellowship. Even some of the Jewish priests believed. We can conclude then, that as ugly as church fights can be, they can turn out for the best if we will handle them biblically. We should strive for these ends.


Why is the church not growing faster?

Several years ago, I listened to a challenging sermon from a leading pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). He was lamenting that the makers of Coca-Cola have been more successful in spreading their soda to the ends of the known world than Christians have been at spreading the life-changing gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. His challenge was that Jesus is better than Coca-Cola, and Christians should be at least as successful at marketing Jesus as Coca-Cola is at selling their product. 

Every year, the SBC baptizes fewer and fewer converts. These depressing statistics are always marched out at our convention meetings. Church leaders like myself feel a constant pressure push harder and do more of whatever it takes to get the numbers up to where they were in the 1950’s, but the global Church still is not growing as fast as we hoped. 

Our convention leaders are correct in some aspects of their reasoning. Fewer and fewer people answer God’s call to go a take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Fewer disciples are being made because there is a shortage of laborers for the harvest. Also, many local churches have grown cold in the area of evangelism. There is a constant battle with complacency in which complacency wins out much of the time. 

There are other aspects that should be factored into the reasoning for the Church not growing faster. First, Jesus is not as attractive to the natural man as the brown carbonated sugar water we call Coca-Cola. When a man or woman at the ends of the known world purchases a Coca-Cola, they hand over their money, pop the top, and get an instant fizzy fix of sugar and caffeine.  When that same person comes to know Jesus, they die. That is the cost of following Him, you know? They must count all that they once held gain as loss in order to have Jesus in their lives. It is no wonder that Coca-Cola is more popular than Jesus.

Second, it is not fair to place all the blame for the lack of baptisms on the shoulders of church leaders who are striving to be faithful. While complacency is a real problem in the American church, there are countless church pastors who labor hard for the sake of the gospel and see very little fruit from their labors. Hearts have grown hard in these last days. Like Isaiah of the Old Testament, they consistently preach their guts out to no avail hoping to warm cold hearts. They should be encouraged to remain faithful on their difficult mission fields and not be pressured into using manipulation and trendy church growth models to get the baptism numbers up. 

Third, there are many faithful lay people who love the Lord and love lost people. They want to see their neighbors reached with the gospel. They go on mission trips. They give a significant portion of their income to support local and international mission efforts. These faithful lay people, like their faithful pastors, battle against a demographic of their peers who do not care to see the church grow. The only thing more discouraging for them than the lack of growth in the church is the fact that their friends see the same problems but do not feel led to do anything about it. Those faithful lay people need to be encouraged to stay the course and keep doing the work of an evangelist in spite of the complacency in their peers. 

Novelty is too often valued over faithfulness. We do not need new methods of making disciples. The method that Jesus used… life on life discipleship is sufficient. He personally poured into 12 ordinary men. One was a traitor and left them. The other 11 went on and poured into other men and women, baptized them, and taught them all that Jesus had commanded them. Those reached by the 11 poured into others who poured into others. This led to exponential growth, and that is how we have arrived where we are today. 

We are guaranteed results, but we are not guaranteed the results that we envision, therefore results should not be our aim. We must aim at faithfulness to Christ and His mission. The results do not depend on the ability of the evangelist, but his/her willingness to be faithful in the hard places and in the hard times.


One for the serious science nerds

Confession: I love science. It was always one of my favorite subjects in school. I took two levels of Physics in High School as electives. I also took Physics in college. I was a Forestry major so I was required to study life sciences like zoology, botany, and principles of silviculture (the study of how trees live and grow).

I always loved discovering new things about God’s creation. I loved testing hypotheses. I loved physics and how we could run very precise calculations to predict how objects would react to certain forces and determine the exact spot that a steel ball would hit when shot across the lab. I still enjoy watching science fiction movies as well as educational programs on the science channel.

A lot of my unbelieving friends would say that my love for the sciences is incompatible with my deep faith. I tell them that it all depends on where you start. As a person of faith, I believe everything begins and ends with God. He is “the alpha and the omega… the one who is and who was and who is to come… the beginning and the end” (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). Additionally, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is the Word who was from the beginning (John 1:1). That He is the “Word” means the He is the guiding principle of all the universe. “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).

Because I start from a place of faith, all answers only serve to confirm the One in whom I believe. My unbelieving friends start from a different place… a place that denies the existence of God (Atheism) or the ability to know God (Agnosticism). Because they start from an Atheistic or Agnostic perspective, all the answers only confirm their starting beliefs.

I read Stephen Hawking’s book, The Grand Design, three times. It is one of those works that requires multiple readings in order to get a grasp on the material. Hawking, who recently passed away, was a brilliant man and an absolute genius. In The Grand Design, he wrote a beautiful explanation of the “apparent miracle” of the grand design of the universe and how everything fits perfectly together. He then gave every possible explanation of this miracle except the one that includes God as a grand designer.

Last week on the Science Channel, I watched several programs on the topic of theoretical physics. All the physicists featured on the program gave the same basic explanation of the creation of the universe. They all believed that the universe came into existence when a tiny particle, known as the singularity, containing all the matter and mass of the entire universe began expanding and suddenly exploded. Within the singularity, there were pockets of matter that were denser than others. As the matter was blasted out into space those dense pockets attracted less dense pockets by the force of gravity and that is how the planets and stars were formed. 

Here is the problem that the physicists admitted in the programs: If the “big bang” theory is true, then the universe should be contracting or at least slowing down in its expansion due to the force of gravity and the effect of space-time. But it is not. The universe is actually accelerating in its rate of expansion. Galaxies should be pulling together, but the gaps between the galaxies are growing larger and larger.

This accelerated expansion has puzzled physicists ever since it was first observed. To complicate matters even more, there is another energy that has been observed in the universe that competes with gravity. They have named it “dark energy.” Just like gravity is generated by the presence of matter, dark energy is generated by the presence of antimatter. This antimatter cannot be observed except through the sounds that it puts off in space. Scientists all over the world are working hard to try to understand how all this fits together in the grand scheme of things.

Okay now that I have totally “geeked out” on you, I would like to just say this… the universe is inexplicably amazing. It is amazing because the God who created it is inexplicably amazing. May we never stop seeking answers. May we never stop finding God in the things He has made (cf. Rom 1:19-20). 


Every Timothy Needs a Paul

And every Paul needs a Timothy. There is so much to be gleaned from the relationship between these two men. From it, we learn the Biblical principle of one on one, life on life discipleship. We need more of this in 2018.

The duo first met when Paul came to Timothy’s hometown of Lystra on his second missionary journey. Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews. Timothy was the teenage son of a believing Jewish mother and a Greek father. The two were as opposite as could be, but Paul was immediately taken to Timothy and requested that he come alongside him on the rest of his journey. 

Timothy accompanied Paul on the journey through Asia. Then they set sail across the Aegean Sea for Macedonia. They traveled from Philippi all the way down to Thessalonica then crossed over into Achaia. They journeyed as far south as Corinth before crossing the Aegean Sea once again back into South Asia to the city of Ephesus. 

All along the journey, they established and strengthened churches. They suffered hardships together, and they rejoiced in triumph together. The cross of Christ and their common desire to see people come to know Jesus was the thread that knit their souls together as one.  Their affection for one another cannot be overstated as they came to be like father and son. 

Paul personally and intentionally invested in Timothy, whom he very much intended to be his successor. Timothy had heard every sermon. He had witnessed every beating. He had seen thousands of people saved. Many useful memories were established that would later sustain Timothy during a very difficult stint as pastor of the church in Ephesus. 

In Paul’s last letter of encouragement to Timothy, he instructed him: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” This is what is beautiful to me… Paul was looking to the future. He saw the necessity of his successor having a successor as well. His desire was to see the whole world saved and knew that it was bigger than him and bigger than Timothy. The mission required that Timothy become a Paul who would invest in other Timothies.

What we need to understand is that this is the way the church has grown for the last two thousand years. Starting with Jesus, faithful men and women personally invested in other faithful men and women who invested in others. Many converts were made through the public proclamation of the gospel, but those converts did not become true disciples until someone took them in and personally invested in them. This is what is missing today in the way that we do church.

Making converts is easy. Wherever the gospel is preached, men and women respond. It is the power of God unto salvation. Discipleship is much more difficult. It requires openness and humility. It demands love that is moved to action and prayer. It requires a willingness to take responsibility for another person’s soul.

I am so grateful that shortly after I was saved, a youth minister named Richard Harvey called me to his side. He taught me. He prayed for me. He challenged me. The greatest thing he did was care for me. He was by my side during the most difficult season of my life. His love for me is the thing I remember the most. He was my Paul.

If you are a believer and follower of Christ today, then you must have a Paul. You believe because someone cared for and invested in you. They taught you. They prayed for you. They took responsibility for you. 

If you have a Paul, then you are duty bound to also have a Timothy. What has been invested in you was not for your own sake but for the sake of the kingdom and glory of God. For our faith to continue into the next generation and for God to get all the glory that is due Him, you must give away what you have been given. I strongly encourage you to find a disciple to personally invest in. Invite someone into your life. Take responsibility for their growth in the grace of God. Teach them. Challenge them. Love them. Do it all for the glory of God. 


When the Lord speaks through the sermon

It happens often that I hear from a worshipper, “your sermon really spoke to me today pastor.” It is by far the best compliment a pastor can receive. It is God’s affirmation that I was on the right track. It is evidence that the Holy Spirit was speaking in the message… that God’s word went out and did not return void.

It also happens from time to time that people get offended by the sermon… sometimes even severely offended. Something is said in the message that brings conviction and the individual thinks I have singled them out on some issue. They believe that their wife or husband has spoken to me and told me about some issue in their lives and that I have chosen to air it out from the pulpit. Sometimes they accuse me of looking at them when I said a certain convicting statement and assume that I knew. This is never the case, but no amount of my assuring them that I was not singling them out, no one has talked to me, and I did not know is enough to convince them.

If you have listened to many sermons, you have probably had the experience of hearing the Lord speak personally to you. At times He speaks to you in a positive, reassuring, and comforting way. At times He speaks in a convicting and concerning way. Here are a few things to remember when you feel as though the Lord is speaking to you in the sermon.

First, be encouraged. Whether the message is encouraging or convicting, the Lord is speaking to you because He loves you. He is concerned with you. He values you as His child. What does a good loving father do? He guides his children in the truth. He encourages them. He disciplines them. And He does it all so that they are formed into the best person that they can be. Your Heavenly Father is no different, except that He is better than the best earthly father.

Second, the preacher does not speak on his own authority as long as he is speaking according to the inspired word. When you feel convicted by the sermon and wonder if the preacher is just being mean, look at the text he is preaching. Did he say anything that was not in the text? If the convicting word that he spoke in the sermon was first spoken by God in His word, then the pastor is simply saying what God has said. You have no reason to be angry at the messenger.

Jesus actually predicted that this sort of thing would happen in John 16:8. Speaking of the Holy Spirit who would come and speak through His disciples, Jesus said, “And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Just as Jesus’ preaching was offensive to the Pharisees, the preaching of His apostles would be offensive to the world. Jesus never spoke on His own authority but on the authority of the one who sent Him (cf. John 8:28), so also the apostles would not speak on their own authority but on the one who was sent.

Third, there are bad apples in every bunch, but preachers do not generally want to be mean. We are just like you. We want people to like us. We do not want to have to deal with conflict. It is in the nature of what we do, though. In order for people to understand their need for a Savior… their need for repentance, they have to see how exceedingly sinful they are, therefore we cannot shy away from speaking the hard truths. It is likely that he knew that thing he said in the sermon was going to make people mad, but he could not let it go unspoken. He was bound by his conscience, his responsibility, and his knowledge that he will be held accountable for your soul.

Fourth, growth in spiritual strength comes in much the same way as growth in physical strength. It requires stretching yourself. It requires subjecting yourself to intense pain at times. Your pastor, like any good trainer, is always challenging you to push a little harder and go a little further. He does not do it because he hates you. He does it because he wants to see you grow and because he will be held accountable by God.


14 Reasons why churches should send teams on short-term international mission trips and why you should join them

My church is a very missions-minded church. We send out several teams every year on short-term (1-2 weeks) international mission trips. The Lord has richly blessed us in our efforts to do the Great Commission. I believe every church should be involved in international mission work through short-term journeys. Here are 14 reasons why:

1. Jesus, who is the head of the church, called the church to go to the very ends of the earth and preach the gospel, and He promised to go with them and protect them until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

2. There are people who need to hear the gospel. Faith comes by hearing. If they do not hear, then they cannot believe in Him. They cannot hear without someone preaching, and there is no preaching unless someone is sent. (Romans 10:14-17)
3. Short term teams are an encouragement to the full-time missionaries who receive them in the host country. Sending money helps, but a dollar bill cannot share the gospel to the people who need to hear. This requires “boots on the ground.” (Philippians 4:10; 2 Timothy 1:15-18, 4:9-11)
4. Short term teams are an encouragement to the churches in the host country. It helps them to know that they have brothers and sisters who care for them. Nothing encourages them more than to know that the churches overseas are praying for them. (Galatians 6:9-10)
5. Short term teams really can make a kingdom impact. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and wherever it is preached people are born again and rescued for all eternity. (Romans 1:16)
6. When international churches receive short-term teams, the local community becomes more connected with the local church. Whether you are doing medical ministry or handing out soccer balls through a host church, people in the community receive a blessing from that church’s ministry. The people you help may forget your name or face, but they will not forget the believers within that local church. (Acts 2:45-47)
7. It is easier to share the gospel on short-term international trips. Normally, you will have an opportunity to share just by being there. You will be interesting just because you are a foreigner. People will listen to what you have to say because they know you care about them enough to come and tell them. (Acts 17:18-21)
8. It will be easier to share the gospel with people in the United States upon your return. Having the easy opportunities to share overseas will give you the confidence you need to share the gospel with fellow Americans… sort of like hitting off a tee in practice prepares a little leaguer to hit harder pitches in the game.
9. The churches who send short-term mission teams grow. God loves it when His people obey His command to go. He adds special blessings to the churches who send laborers into the harvest. (Romans 10:15)
10. Going on short-term international trips gives you a broader understanding of the world. People in third world countries are different than us. You cannot really understand how different unless you go and see for yourself and live with them for a period of time.
11. You will have a chance to network with full-time missionaries and develop wonderful partnerships with them. It is one thing to read about missionaries in books, but nothing compares to being able to have them as close personal friends. (Philippians 2:25-30)
12. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has sheep that are scattered about in dark and difficult places. He must bring them into His fold. The good news is that they will hear his voice and respond. Churches who send teams to these places are guaranteed results. They will hear His voice. (John 10:16)
13. The Lord has prepared you for such good works. The church is the equipping place for ministry. Your Jerusalem, your Judea, your Samaria, and all the nations are your mission field. (Ephesians 2:10, 4:11-12; Acts 1:8)
14. Jesus said that He would not return before the gospel is proclaimed “throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” There are 6,000 people groups who are unreached with the gospel. If we say we are ready for Jesus’ return, we have to get going to the unreached at the ends of the earth. (Matthew 24:14)


News that Did Not Make the Headlines

Last week, we were once again faced with some terribly destressing headlines. Another mass shooting… political commentary on the latest mass shooting… debates over security issues… opinions… all dominated the news. On social media, everybody felt obliged to state their opinion as if by telling Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram their opinions were going to change one jot or tittle in the future of our culture.
I have promised to stay away from political commentary in this section. Instead, I would love to share with you a few things that I saw happen over the last few weeks that never made it to any news desk.
I saw a husband put his arm around his wife. He kissed her on the cheek. She laid her head upon his shoulder. Their love for one another was obvious and abounding despite their individual shortcomings.
I saw a father hug his daughter after a basketball game. He beamed with pride. He will always be the first man to love her for who she is.
I saw a group of teenagers gathered in the hallway outside our youth room at FBC. They were actually visiting with one another face to face. They were talking about life and what was happening at school and with their friends.
I saw a group of deacons gathered together discussing the direction of the church, but most importantly, discussing the needs of the widows that they serve. That same group of deacons put on a special evening where they sat around tables and visited with the widows and widowers in their care.
I heard a missionary couple sharing with the church all that they were doing to get the gospel to the ends of the earth. They told of lives being changed, orphans being fed, and churches being planted by the grace of God.
I saw the people of God gathered together for worship of the One True God. His Spirit filled the room and the heart of every worshipper. His glory was made manifest in their presence through the preaching of the word. Hearts were turned to Him.
A little girl excitedly shared with me a verse of scripture that she had memorized and hidden in her heart. She is the generation that we are raising up, our legacy, that will endure for years to come with the Lord’s blessing. How many will be encouraged and find Jesus as He works in and through her to grow her in grace?
I received a young man, who came to me believing that the Lord had called him to vocational ministry. I worked with him for weeks helping him to write his first sermon. Last Sunday night he delivered it with passion and conviction. Many of the faithful were helped and encouraged. Outsiders were encouraged to believe on Jesus and be saved.
A middle-aged couple with the gift of hospitality invited my family into their home for dinner. They were genuinely interested in us. They genuinely cared for us and wanted to hear our stories. They shared with us their own story of how they had served the Lord as missionaries in Honduras (something we totally unaware of until that evening). My family was encouraged to be more diligent to get to know the people around us.
I visited a dear saint of the Lord who had been holed up in a hospital room for weeks and desperately desired to return home. The next morning, she went home alright… home to the house that Jesus had prepared for her. She is there today being lavished with the infinite love and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Christian forgave a brother who wronged him. A husband repented of sexual sin and was restored to his wife. God’s people prayed and a sick person was restored to health. There was great rejoicing in heaven and on earth when a sinner repented in tears. I could go on and on.
I do not mean to minimize the terrible news we received last week. I only mean to encourage you. We dwell on the bad news, but the good news is rarely told. It is not seen as interesting. But the Holy Spirit tells us to think on these things.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. –Philippians 4:8


What Happens to Our Believing Loved Ones When They Die

(I wrote this blog which was first published on March 6 of last year. I have since expanded on this message and published it in the form of a book entitled WHAT LIES BEYOND FOR THE BELIEVER: Answers for those left behind. It is available for checkout in the Stone County Library or for purchase in ebook or hardcopy here)

There is a lot of confusion over what happens after a believing loved one dies. It is a tender subject and one that must be handled gently. There is comfort to be found in knowing what Scripture teaches about the believer’s life after life.

1. Believers do not become angels after they die. This belief may stem from an errant interpretation of what Jesus said in response to a question from the Sadducees regarding marriage and the resurrection. Jesus said, “those considered worthy of the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore because they are equal to the angels…” (Luke 20:35-36). Somewhere along the phrase, “equal to the angels,” got twisted. Again this is understandable, but it is also an error.

Rest in this peace. If you have a believing loved one who has passed, they have attained a status much higher than the angels. In fact, the angels long to comprehend what your loved one has now come to understand (1 Peter 1:12). The angels were not made in the image of God. Though the angels are loved by God, Jesus did not come and die for them. They did not receive the Holy Spirit. Angels do not know what it is like to go from death into life. Your late and believing loved one now has what the angels do not- firsthand knowledge of the life-saving and transforming love of Christ.

2. Believers are not buried. Believer’s bodies may be buried, cremated, or in some tragic cases even lost. However, their soul which is who they really are is transported into the presence of God. I always try to explain this at graveside services. These moments are difficult because we grow accustomed to associating our loved one with their earthly body, but the body is not who they really are. Who they really are, is found in their inner person, their soul.

For the proof of this truth, we turn to 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 where the Holy Spirit gives us a fairly detailed discourse on the soul/body relationship. He explains that our inner person is who we really are. While we reside in these bodies, we long to be united with the Lord. Our inner self yearns, knowing that to be separated from the body in death is to be united with the Lord in everlasting life.

3. Believers do not sleep until the resurrection. “Soul sleep” is a doctrine that is taught by several mainstream Christian denominations. My purpose in rejecting this belief is not to put other brothers down. Accepting or rejecting the notion that the soul sleeps after death is not an issue over which we should divide, but confusion over the doctrine does pose an issue in comforting family members dealing with loss.

2 Corinthians 5:8 states that to “be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” This means that the believer’s inner person is united with the Lord upon their death, while the body, which they have shed, is laid to rest until the resurrection. This is the sleep referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4. The body rests (sleeps), but the soul lives in immortality.

4. Your believing loved ones who have passed are looking down on you from their heavenly home. If you have a believing loved one who is now with the Lord, then you can rest in this. They are just fine. They have no regrets. They cry no tears. The faith that once guided them through this dark and dying world has given way to everlasting light. They have a perfect understanding of what has happened and what will happen. They have perfect peace.

They now dwell outside of the bounds of time in the eternal realm. They know all about you. They know all your circumstances. They cannot interfere with the earthly realm, nor do they want to, because they understand how it all comes together. They along with all the heroes of the faith are looking down and cheering you on to the finish (Hebrews 12:1).


What Happens When You Follow Jesus

A seminary professor to his Pastoral Ministry students once said, “Ministry is not something you do. It is something that you leave behind when you follow Jesus.” I did not really understand what he meant at the time. I was focused on earning a degree, getting called as pastor to a local church, and finding a full-time ministerial position. I had my head down, nose to the grindstone, pedal to the metal thinking I was doing God a favor by serving Him with all my might.
I wish I had understood what my professor had said so beautifully. If I had just focused on following Jesus, I would have saved myself a world of trouble, and I would have accomplished more for him. My calling to vocational ministry was real and obvious, and I thought everything I was doing was in response to His call. Looking back, though, I realize I was impatiently trying to make things happen for myself. 
It is only in the last three years that I have really settled down and realized what my professor was saying. A lot of young men are in seminary right now dreaming of being the pastor of a First Baptist Church in a county seat. To be honest, I dreamed of being here… and here I am. The challenge is more than I expected. I do not mean that in a bad way, there is just way more to serving God’s people in this context than I ever dreamed. Also, I did not arrive here the way I expected.
If I were given the opportunity to share with seminary students today, or anyone who dreams of doing big things for the Lord, I wiould tell them: You will never make it. You will never be smart enough. You will never be prepared enough. Be patient. Be faithful. Just follow Jesus.
When we examine Scripture and the people who did big things for the Lord, we find that no one ever realized their dreams by their own power and might. Peter, James, John, the apostle Paul, and others dreamed of doing big things for the Lord. All of them realized their dreams, but none of them arrived by their own exertion. Paul dreamed that he could get there by studying under the greatest Jewish teachers. Peter dreamed that he could get there by his sincere zeal. James and John thought they could get there on the merit of their mother’s request. All of these guys would have made great seminary students. 
These great men reached the pinnacle of their dreams by following Jesus. All of them gave up their own vision of what reaching the summit looked like and just focused on following Jesus: going where he said to go, doing what he said to do, trusting in His power and provision. One day they looked up and they were there. Thousands of disciples had been made. Churches had been planted. Demons had been cast out, sicknesses healed, and the dead raised. The journey had been longer than expected, the challenges greater than what they were prepared for, and the view from the mountain top was much different than they had envisioned. 
If we study figures in church history, we find more of the same. Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer all made enormous impacts on the kingdom of God and left behind great ministry legacies. They all did it, not by the exertion of their own human strength and will but by following Jesus. The realization of their dreams came in God’s time with great and unexpected challenges, and nothing turned out exactly as they envisioned. 
So, do you dream of doing something for the Lord? I hope so. Do not be afraid to dream big. You do need to be so careful though. Be careful not to force anything. If your dream for your life is also God’s dream for your life, then it will come to pass in His time. There will be challenges that you do not expect. Nothing will happen the way you thought. Thus when you arrive at the pinnacle of your dream, you will find that you arrived there by following Jesus. You will realize that all the good you have done was really not what “you have done” but what you left behind as you followed Jesus. The view from there will be much different than you can imagine now.


What Are You Stirring Up?

My mom is a fantastic cook. I will never forget the smells of her kitchen when I was growing up. I do not remember her ever using a recipe, but she always used the perfect mix of sweet-smelling seasonings and spices. To this day, when I smell her cooking, I am taken back to when I was only a boy growing up in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
There is another childhood smell that I will never forget. In February of 1994, a severe ice storm hit the Mississippi Delta. We were out of power for two weeks. Somehow, our deep freezer came unplugged from our generator; a fact that was not discovered until it was too late.
I never imagined that anything in this world could smell so foul. The same food that smelled and tasted so good coming out of mom’s kitchen, was now repulsively rotten. What was worse? The deep freezer sat inside our house, so we had to empty out the rotten meat and the bloody water one bucket at a time. This whole ordeal became one of the most unpleasant of my childhood memories.
Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” The author was encouraging his readers to respond to the love of their Savior and High Priest by encouraging and loving others. Christ’s love stirs His followers up to love and good works, thus their love for others also stirs up others in the same way.
Every day we make a choice. What are we going to stir up? Are we, with love, going to stir up love? Are we, by our good works, going to inspire others to do good works? Or are we, in selfishness, going to inspire others to be selfish? By evil schemes and gossip, are we going to stir up strife among our brothers and sisters in Christ?
If you are a believer and possess any joy, it is because you are loved by the Lord. He sacrificed His life for you. By His kindness, He drew you to faith and repentance. Now you enjoy an intimate personal relationship with Him. Through this relationship, you are being conformed more and more into the image of Christ. It should follow that you too would love others and, by your kindness, stir them up to love and good works.
When you seek to be who you are in Christ, you become the sweet-smelling “aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance of death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life” (2 Cor 2:15-16). When you seek to be faithful to Him, you are, like my mom’s cooking was to me, a pleasing fragrance to God. You smell of life and you enhance the lives of others.
When you act out of the flesh, which is rotten and dead, you smell of death to God. Like my rotten deep freezer, you stir up an unpleasant stench in the world. That dead stench only stirs up more death and rottenness in others.
It is much more fun to be who you are in Christ and know that you are pleasing the Lord. Living a life that is pleasing to God will not always be pleasing to others, but you will always have the joy of knowing that you have pleased the Lord. Every time you encourage rather than discourage… love rather than hate… refuse to give ear to gossip… refuse to repeat gossip… and flee from temptation, you will have the joy of knowing that you are living out what the Lord has done in you. You will be who Christ said you are: a city on the hill and the salt of the earth.

Encourage somebody today. Think of someone whose love and good works have been a blessing to you and consider how to stir them up to even more love and good works. Do not just tell them “thank you.” Explain to them in detail the blessing that they have been to you, and how they inspire you to want to be a better person. Has someone wronged you? Take the opportunity to show them the same grace that was shown to you by Christ. Love them. Forgive them. Refuse to return evil with evil. Be who you are in Christ.