"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen." - Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV
"Make disciples"; the last command Christ gave the church before He ascended to heaven. As a minister of the gospel this is the heart of all I do. My driving force is to see people not only won to the kingdom but firmly growing in their walk with Christ and winning others to the Lord as well. So I spend time with people. I meet them for coffee or lunch, have them over for dinner, study the Bible together, pray with them, minister with them and invest in their lives. At the end of the day, I'm exhausted but have a great sense of accomplishment...all the while, my little boy waits paitiently.
In the midst of my mentoring and spiritual leadership of others, my son watches from the background. He doesn't say a word when our playtime is interrupted by someone on the phone in the midst of a crisis. He doesn't complain when I have to miss his school choir perfomance because of "ministry". He understands when our "guys night out" is cut short because someone is in need of prayer and spiritual counseling. He waits, and watches patiently while daddy fufills the great commission. At least that's what I tell myself.
If you're in ministry you've more than likely wrestled with balancing family needs with ministry responsibilities. The church world is a demanding place. After all we are dealing with eternal issues. But what if after we have preached, ministered, served and witnessed to others we find that those we love the most are the ones who've paid the price. Is it possible to spend your whole life in service to others, only to realize that you've neglected the lives that you were most responsible to serve? My father used to say, "If I win the whole world but lose my son, my ministry has been a failure." Do you realize the first command to make disciples was not given to the collective church? It was given to the fathers and mothers of Israel.
In Deuteronomy 6:5-9 God gives the first Great Commission:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (NKJV)
A word to the wise: discipleship must begin at home if it is to have any lasting impact on the world. There is no congregation, ministry, or religious expectation that is of greater priority or urgency than your own family. The truth is, we are commanded to make disciples. The most important disciples we will ever make, however, are the ones in our own household.
“For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;” - Proverbs 2:6
When I need food, I go to a grocery store or a restaurant. When I need medicine I go to a pharmacy. When I need to build or repair something, I go to a hardware store. In short, when I am in need of something, I go to where that something is. This sounds simple, but when it comes to wisdom, knowledge and understanding we often find ourselves perplexed and at a loss. Perhaps it is because the first place we should go to for these things is many times our last resort. How many times have we gone to our knees in prayer and pleaded with God for wisdom and understanding only because we have exhausted all other avenues of comprehending? Too often our turning to God is brought on by desperation because we feel we have nowhere else to go. This proverb states frankly that the Lord is the source for all these things. It is not a cliché, or a pat religious answer. It is a statement of fact. The real issue is whether or not we truly believe it. This is a truth that requires faith and dependence on the invisible, and that is tough for us. We would rather spin our wheels exploring tangible avenues of gaining insight than to bring a matter before our Lord in prayer, and in faith search His word and wait for His answer, explanation or admonition to come. We are much more comfortable with the things within our control even though they are fruitless or inadequate, than we are depending on that which is infinitely bigger and wiser than we are. Proverbs 26:12 warns, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
Father, I confess that I have often been a fool. Many times I have come to you last when I should have come to you first. Please forgive me. I don’t want to be wise in my own eyes. I don’t want to rely on earthly wisdom and understanding. I need Your mind and wisdom. Your word says that what I need comes from You, so right now I am depending on You for guidance, insight, clarity, and understanding. Teach me and keep me teachable. In Jesus’ name, amen.
"Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." - Philippians 2:4
We are selfish people by nature. Looking to our own interests is seldom something we find difficult. In fact when it comes to being egocentric we are a society of overachievers. If we are to be effective in the Kingdom of God we must remember we are a part of something bigger than we are; the body of Christ. In a physical human body the individual parts live and breathe in connection with each other. The organs and appendages, though different in location, function and purpose, are given life and enabled to operate because they are connected through channels that flow with the same substance; the blood. In Christ, “self interest” is far greater than any individual. It extends to those we are connected to through His blood. Our little island of the world is not our only concern. We are responsible to be mindful of each other. If I am hurt in some way; If I cut my finger or twist my ankle my whole body is effected and immediately becomes active in comforting, caring for and healing my wound. Likewise, if a brother or sister in Christ struggles or is hurting, our concern should be for their care and healing. We are to be actively employed in their welfare. To be non-responsive or passively complacent while another believer is in pain is not only un Christ-like, it is un-natural and toxic to the body of Christ. We are redeemed today because Christ did not look simply to His own interest but to ours. He set the example. We need to follow it.
“Lord Jesus, I am often painfully aware of my selfishness. Break me of this. Keep me mindful of those around me. Make me aware of my responsibility to them. Give me wisdom to speak a timely word of encouragement. Give me sensitivity to shut my mouth and listen when they need to talk. Give me compassion to cry when they cry. Give me joy to laugh when they laugh. Draw me closer to the people You have brought into my life and make me aware of the people You want to bring into my life. Let me look at those around me with Your eyes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
The definition of success varies from person to person. Before you can judge whether or not someone has succeeded you must identify what they were trying to succeed at in the first place. This comes down to knowing your purpose. Why am I here? What am I here to do? What is my responsibility in this life? These are the measuring tools of success. Specifically no one can answer those questions for anyone else. Our Creator alone knows why He created us and gave us our unique personality and gifts. Therefore, the answer to these questions can only be found in seeking Him. This may sound a little cliche but it is true. That is why Paul said he counted all things as crap, (in the Greek this is the actual context of the word), so that he may "gain Christ and be found in Him"; not through religious righteousness based on doing the right thing and jumping through the right doctrinal hoops, but through the righteousness that comes by the grace of God through knowing Jesus. It boils down to relationship with Him. Incedentally there is only ONE reason God gives for not receiving them into heaven - "I never KNEW you." Therefore, for me, success is knowing Him, abiding in Him and obeying as He leads. Success is not found in perfection. I seem to blow it royally every now and then. It is found in submitting to His Spirit, repenting when I am convicted, and trusting that He will fulfill His purpose in me.
What is faith? Repeatedly the Bible says the "the just shall live by faith." What does that mean? I am increasingly aware at how difficultly simple a faith motivated and dependant life is. It is not simply believing that God is able. If we believe in God, by definition of His existence, we believe He is able. This really is nothing more than a declaration that we are not atheists. Belief that God is able is like believing that water is wet. If God is not able, He is not God.
So what is this faith that we live by? I believe it rests not simply in believing in what God can do but in being familiar enough with the heart and personality of God to understand what He is willing to do. Here is where we begin to live. Believing in God's ability does not require a relationship with Him personally. But when we begin to know God, we begin to understand where His heart is and what He is passionate about. We begin to look at His promises in scripture as more than words on a page but bonds of a covenant between the Creator and His creation. This is the birth of hope; that this God who has the ability, knows me and therefore has the desire to use His ability on my behalf.
At this point we are brought to the threshold of living faith. Just because we believe God can act on our behalf and is willing to do so, does not mean we are living by faith. Living is a present condition and requires present actions. For me to live by faith I must believe that the God who is able and willing to act IS presently acting in my life. God is able and willing to forgive my sins. For me to experience and receive this forgiveness I must believe that He has and is forgiving me. While God is able and willing to give me strength, grace and resolve, the victory comes when I realize that He is at this moment giving me these things. The power to overcome temptations and trials is not something I will have, it is something I DO have through Christ. This life of faith is lived in the present reality based on the resources that are PRESENTLY ours in Christ Jesus. This is the life of victory and this is how God's people are to live.
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“Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His book…and what I thus learn, that I teach.” – John Wesley
This is the quote that gripped my heart in 1990. That year I stood in the bookstore of Olivet Nazarene University, I opened a book, I don’t remember the title, but this quote was on the inside cover. As I read it, I literally felt a fire kindle in my heart and I knew God had called me to teach and preach.
Many years have passed since that moment. I look back at the path of my life and am both amazed and saddened. I’m amazed at the grace, faithfulness, mercy and love of my Heavenly Father. I’m saddened at the selfishness, wrong choices and sins that scar my memory and brought pain to those around me.
I’ve heard people say that they have no regrets. I cannot say that. I regret the wrong choices I made that brought bondage in my life. I regret the hurtful words I have spoken at times to those closest to me. I regret the times I thought only of myself and my pleasure or comfort. There are many things in my life that I would do differently if given the chance.
I am thankful however for the lessons learned because of those things. I am thankful for the wondrous truths I can testify of my God because of those things. Because I was bound, I know the freedom that can only be experienced by someone whom the Son has set free. Because of the sickening awareness of my transgressions, I know what it is to sincerely repent and in turn be overwhelmed by the loving, forgiving grace of God. I know what it is to stand redeemed, knowing that I am pleasing to God, not because I am worthy or righteous, or because I have jumped through all the right religious and moral hoops, but because God views me through the filter of the cross; because my salvation is not based on any deed but on the sole fact that God chose, for reasons of His own, to reconcile this sinful man to Him.
If I could, I would undo the wrong decisions of my past, but I cherish the things God has taught me through my failures. I choose to draw from my past and refuse to let my past draw from me. I choose not to wallow in self depredation, but to rise up and live in the knowledge that God’s calls are irrevocable. He has redeemed me. That means that He has exchanged my old, sinful rotten self for His glorious, holy self. He possesses this shell of marred flesh and in so doing makes me holy. Even as I write this I am abundantly aware of how much more I need my Lord. I have come to know, as Paul confessed, that in me dwells nothing good. I have come to detest the fleshly me and am learning each day to depend on God to put it to death. “More of Him and less of me” is not only my heart’s desire; it is the only condition in which I can truly live.