Working Toward Effectiveness

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Yesterday I preached a message from 2 Timothy 2:1-7 on effectiveness in ministry. In the passage, Paul paints four pictures of effectives ministry for his associate, Timothy: a strategic teacher, a selective soldier, a self-disciplined athlete, and strong farmer. Yesterday I preached the message, today I’m working on putting it into practice.

The pictures presented in the passage all have an application to my life and ministry, but the picture of a selective soldier stands out me right now. The picture of a selective soldier is a picture of priorities. A soldier can’t follow the order of his commanding officer if he’s wrapping up in civilian affairs.

I have a tendency to try to be all things to all people. This seems like a positive quality, but it’s not. It’s not good for me to be involved in so many things that I don’t do anything well. It’s not healthy for me to find my joy and self-worth in making other people happy, no matter how noble the task. I know myself well enough to pushback against this natural impulse.

Effectiveness in life and ministry means setting priorities. As a result of yesterday’s message, I am trying to prioritize three things: preaching, gospel conversations, and quality time with my family. Some weeks are “messier” then others and I don’t set aside enough time to prepare for my preaching responsibilities. Since I have been gifted as a pastor-teacher and I have been called to serve Unity Baptist Church, effectiveness for me preparing and preaching to the best of my ability.

I believe that preaching is important, but so is personal evangelism. I’ve had the privilege of studying evangelism at the highest academic levels, but that doesn’t make me an evangelist. Sharing the good news about Jesus Christ and pursing gospel conversations makes me an evangelist. I am praying right now for opportunities to share Jesus this week.

As a vocational minister, my personal life and my work life are intertwined. Sometimes these roles get out of balance. At various times in my life, I’ve prioritized my work life over my family life. I honestly feel like I’ve improved in this area, but I don’t want to repeat my unhealthy patterns of the past. I just came back from a week-long family vacation and I praise God for an opportunity to prioritize time with my family.

These are just some of the things I’m thinking about to work towards more effectiveness in my ministry. I want to serve Christ as faithful soldier who choses his duties wisely.

What are you doing to improve your effectiveness in ministry?

Photo by Paulette Wooten on Unsplash

You Are What You Pray

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We are familiar with the phrase, “you are what you eat,” but did you know you are what you pray? Our prayers connect us with God, but they also reveal our priorities. The things we prioritize, we pursue, and the things we purse we become. If you thank God for your food, you become grateful. If you pray for the safety of your friends and family, you become caring. If you pray for unbelievers to come to Christ, you become evangelistic.

Jesus focused on his mission and his followers throughout his earthly ministry. It shouldn’t surprise us that when he prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion, he prayed a selfless, mission-focused prayer. The prayer recorded in John 17:1-26 has been labeled many ways but it was Jesus’ last words before he was taken away and killed. In it, Jesus prayed for three distinct things.

1. JESUS PRAYED FOR HIS MISSION TO BE COMPLETE (v. 1-5).

Jesus came to earth with a mission to live a perfect life and die a perfect death so that he could save the world and share his life with his followers. If Jesus didn’t finish his mission his disciples wouldn’t have a mission of their own or a message to share. Jesus knew how important his mission was.

Notice three principles from this section of Jesus’ prayer that helped Him finish. First, Jesus was God-centered (v. 1). Prayer is more than a task, it is a relationship. Second, Jesus has an eternal focus. Eternity begins at conversion, progresses with Christian growth and discipleship, and continues on into heaven. Third, Jesus was totally surrendered. Jesus gave us his own will so that He could accomplish the will of the Heavenly Father.

2. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE CHARACTER OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-17).

Jesus prayed for three things in regards to the character of his followers. First, he prayed that they would be kept in God’s name (v. 1). Someone’s name usually represents their character in the bible. Jesus prayed that his followers would be kept close and their character would mirror his own.

Second, Jesus also prayed that his followers would be kept from the evil one (v. 15). Jesus acknowledged that Satan’s destructive influence in the world. Jesus prayed that his followers would be protected from that influence. Satan may be a bully, but he should not be feared.

Third, Jesus prayed that his followers be set apart in the truth of God (v. 17). God’s Word should have a prominent place in the lives of Christ’s followers. There are five practices today that allow God’s Word to permeate your life: hearing the bible, reading the bible, studying the bible, memorizing the bible, and meditating on the bible.

3. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE MISSION OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-26).

Unfortunately, there are many people today who do not finish their God-given mission. The average church loses 3% of its membership each year. Thousands of pastors leave the ministry each year before retirement.

Jesus prayed that his follower would all be one (v. 11). Solidarity is just as important for individual local churches as it is for the Church as a whole. Unity is more than just doing stuff together, its “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).

Jesus also prayed that his follower would be with him where he was (v. 24). He has just announced that he would be leaving his disciples behind while he went to prepare a place for them in heaven (John 14). Even though he would be leaving, he wanted his followers to be with him eventually so they would see his glory.

Jesus prayed for himself and his followers because you are what you pray. His prayer flowed from his priorities and passions. What do your prayers say about your priorities and passions? Are you working to complete your God-given mission? Are you developing a Christ-like character? Are you contributing to the oneness of your church?

Like in many other area of life, you and I have good intentions. But if you genuinely want to make good on of those good intentions, start with prayer.

The Marks of a Disciple

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Jermaine Wilson experienced tremendous transformation. He grew up in Leavenworth, Kanson and started to sell drugs out of his childhood apartment at an early age. He was eventually incarcerated at the maximum-security wing at Lansing Correctional, a state prison in Kansas where he had a realization. “If I don’t change,” he thought, “I’m either going to spend the rest of my life in prison or dead in a casket.” In a strange turn of events, Jermaine is now the mayor of Leavenworth, according to a story that air on CBS earlier this year. Jermaine credits the transformation to God, education, and volunteer work. After prison, he started serving his community and got his felony record expunged, paving the way for a political run.

Jesus used a parable of the vine and the branches to teach us about spiritual transformation in John 15:1-17. Like Jermaine Wilson, the disciples experienced a transformation while they followed Jesus. In one sense, they become disciples the moment they said, “yes” to Jesus. In another very real sense, they didn’t become disciples until they put their faith in the resurrected Jesus. (John 20:29)

The parable of the vine and the branches invites the question, “When does an unbeliever become a disciple?” This metaphor and the explanation follows gives us three marks of a disciple. Notice that these marks are dynamic, not static, meaning they grow and develop over time.

1. Disciples build a friendship with Jesus.

Social media has changed the way we view friendship. It used to be that you had to be physically present with someone to make a friend, but now you can become friends with people all over the world with the click of a button. Social media can increase our ability to communicate, but it can’t increase our capacity to care.

A friendship with Jesus is based on trust and affection. Friends depend on each other because they have a two-way bond. Jesus calls us to “abide in me and I in you” (v. 4). We are branches and branches can do nothing by themselves, they are just sticks (v. 5).

Friends are better than servants because they care for each other. Jesus considers us friends because he gave his life for us (v. 13). He also reveals God’s Word and will to us (v. 15).

It takes time to build a friendship with Jesus. It takes up to three years to grow grapes on a vine. After the vine and branches are established, grapes grow like the life of the vine moves into them. Jesus could have downloaded everything he wanted his disciples to directly into their brain the moment he called them, but he didn’t because he wanted to develop a relationship with them.

2. Disciples bear fruit that lasts.

Spiritual fruit is the Word of God put into practice. In a broad sense, it’s every act done in obedience to Christ. Spiritual fruit is every display of Christ-like character, ever prayer prayed in accordance with God’s will, and every deed done to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ. The beauty of the vineyard is in the sheer magnitude of grapes produced, not just one particular grape. In a narrow sense, its ever act of love done for another believer (more about that in a moment).

God prunes us to make us more fruitful. The vinedresser removes all the old growth to make room for new growth and fruit. God uses His Word to prune and clean us (v. 3). He works to remove things in our lives that get in the way of our fruitfulness. Those things might be sinful habits, misplaced priorities, or even harmful relationships.

People who don’t bear fruit aren’t disciples, they’re imposters (v.6). True spiritual fruit remains to the end. Anyone can do something that looks spiritual on the outside. Only the deeds done in the power of God will make a lasting impact.

3. Disciples demonstrate love for other believers.

Spiritual fruit has a broad and a narrow definition (see the previous point). Demonstrating love for other believers is a prominent mark of a disciple because grows out of the first and second Greatest Commands revealed by Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40.  The first command is assumed in this passage while the second command is reinforced (v. 9).

We must follow Jesus’ example in demonstrating love for others. Jesus laid down his life for the ones he loved – his friends. We must show love to everyone we meet as our “neighbor,” but we have a special responsibility to love our fellow disciples.

Our special relationship with Christ must not become a source of pride. He chose us, we did not choose him (v. 16). Back to the parable, he planted us we did not plant ourselves.

In summary, an unbeliever becomes a true disciple when he or she builds a friendship with Jesus, bears fruit that lasts, and demonstrates love for other believers. These activities cannot be accomplished without the transforming power of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Have you tapped into that power?

Photo by Nacho Domínguez Argenta on Unsplash

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

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D. L. Moody was a shoe salesman turned international evangelist near the end of the 19thcentury. He had a huge impact on the Kingdom of God, holding crusades & other meetings across America & Europe.  His influence is still felt today through the institutions that he left behind: Moody Bible Institute, Moody Publishers, & the Moody Church.  While preparing for a crusade in England, a local pastor protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated & inexperienced.  Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” Another wiser pastor rose and responded, “No, but the HS has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.”

The Holy Spirit can have a big effect on the life of a believer. The third person of the Trinity makes the presence of God personal. He also demonstrates the power of God in the life of the believer.

In his Farewell Discourse in John 16:5-15, Jesus revealed that the Holy Spirit has a dynamic ministry to unbelievers in the world as well as the believers. If you miss out on both sides of the Holy Spirit’s ministry you might find it hard to make sense of Jesus’ instruction in this passage where he says, “it is to your advantage that I go away” (v. 7)

In John 16:5-15, Jesus describes four things that the Holy Spirit does in the world and in the believer. The Holy Spirit is still alive and well today. As we understand his work among us we are better prepared to cooperate with the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

1. The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Sin (v. 9).

To understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we must understand sin. Sin is missing the mark – any thought or action that falls short of God’s perfect will. Like an arrow that misses the target, we have all fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

It is in our human nature to sin. It is not just some isolated event that happens once in awhile. Sin leads us to rebel against the righteous expectations of God and to reject his gracious offer of salvation.

The Holy Spirit works in the world like a prosecuting attorney in a courtroom. The prosecuting attorney does everything in his or her power to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty of the charges that have been presented against them.

2. The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Righteousness (v. 10).

Righteous describes someone who has a right to stand before God and has a right to be in a relationship with Him. God is the one who gets to decide what is right. God is our standard of righteousness.

Let’s return to the same courtroom scene we imagined earlier. While pursuing a conviction, the prosecutor appeals to the moral standards that have established through the law.  A criminal is guilty, not just of committing a crime, but failing to live up to the legal standards of the law.

3. The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Judgment (v. 11).

Jesus knew that sin is inspired by Satan, “the ruler of this world.” In this verse, Jesus said that Satan “has been judged.” The term is in the perfect tense, meaning that it has already happened, and we are living out the continued effects. Those who side with the ruler of this world over the Savior of the world will be judged for all eternity when Christ comes back.

Let’s return one more time to the courtroom scene. After the prosecutor presents all of evidence and references all of the legal standards that are relevant to the case, he urges the jury to come back with a “guilty” verdict, so that the criminal can be sentenced for his crime.

4. The Holy Spirit Guides Believers in the Truth (v. 12-15).

Jesus introduced the Holy Spirit to his disciples as “the Spirit of Truth,” or The Teacher. The disciples couldn’t take it all in as they were walking with JC, but the Holy Spirit inspired some of them to complete God’s authoritative Word. The same Spirit that inspired the Bible guides people to the truth today.

There are all kinds of helpful nuggets, helps, and tips in the Bible about all kinds of things in life. But the Bible and the ministry of the Holy Spirit isn’t focused on you, it’s focused on Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel. Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of truth.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living & active & sharper than any two-edged sword, & piercing as far as the division of soul & spirit, of both joints & marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as a surgeon’s scalpel in our lives.  No one that I know enjoys surgery, but we submit to it when we know there is no other way to get healthy.

The Holy Spirit has a dynamic work to the church and the world. He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He also guides the believers to the truth. The question is, will you cooperate with him?

Headlights and floodlights alert us of danger and highlight things of beauty. The headlights in your car illuminate the road at night and the floodlights around your home light up the architectural features of your home. When lighting is well done, you don’t see the lights themselves, but the hazards or the buildings the lights are trained on. The Holy Spirit lights up the dark places in our lives as well and he also lights up Jesus Christ so we can see our need for Savior.

 

Left Behind

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Jesus left the world better than he found it. He came into a world darkened by sin and showed his light. He overcame sickness and need with his God-sized power. He told the lost about God’s plan to save them and invited them to follow him.

When the time was right, however, he left his disciples behind and broke their collective hearts. But Jesus didn’t leave his disciples without a plan. He told them about his plan to continue his ministry through his disciples even though he was returning to his Heavenly Father in heaven.

In the Farewell Discourse found in John 14:1-31, we read about three realities that Jesus left behind that changed the world forever. As we align our lives to these three realities we participate in God’s plan to save the world. We also experience his care as he takes care of the little details in our lives.

1. Jesus Left Behind Disciples Who Look Forward to His Return      (14:1-6).

Jesus promised to return after preparing a place for each of his disciples in heaven. The disciples were stressed out about the details, but Jesus assured them that if they knew him they had all they needed. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (v. 6).

The world was and is better off with a growing group of disciples working to make Jesus known while they look forward to his return. Jesus didn’t just leave his disciples behind, he sent them out into the world to make more disciples on his behalf (John 20:19-21) I praise God for the disciples that have been made through the Church.

2. Jesus Left Behind Churches that Do Greater Work than He Did (14:12-14).

Jesus also promised his disciples would do “greater works” than he did. There was no way his disciples could top Jesus’ works in terms of importance or degree for there is no way to do better than walking on water or raising someone from the dead. The disciples could, however, do greater works than Jesus in terms of size and scale.

As often as churches use the Word of God to exalt the Son of God, they do “greater works” than Christ himself. Instead of 11 disciples gathered around to hear from God, there are hundreds of thousands of churches around the world with millions of disciples gathered to hear from God. Those with the gifts of service are just as important as those with the gifts of speaking if they are glorifying God (1 Peter 4:11).

3. Jesus Left Behind the Holy Spirit that Ministers on His Behalf (14:16-17, 25-29).

Jesus rounded out his discourse with a promise to send the Holy Spirit to help his disciples. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit teaches His disciples through the written Word of God and reminds them of the Word they have studied. The goal is to get in Word of God so that the Word of God gets into you.

Jesus left the world better than he found it by leaving behind three important realities: disciples, churches, and the Holy Spirit. That brings up three closing questions:

Are you a disciple of Christ?

Are you engaged in the work of the church?

Are you hearing from the Holy Spirit?

If you align yourself with the big stuff in God’s plan, the details that we so often worry about will fall into place. Jesus left the world better because he left us behind to multiply his ministry. If you align yourself with these three realities, God will take care of the rest. He may be gone but he’s not gone forever. Are you ready for his return?

Are You a Stray Sheep?

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Yesterday, I published a post about how to tell the difference between a good shepherd-leader in the church and bad-shepherd. You can check that our here.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus described the final judgment as a time when the sheep are separated from the goats. The sheep are those whose faith in Jesus Christ produced a caring lifestyle. They are welcomed into God’s presence for eternity. The goats are those whose lack of faith produced the opposite – a selfish and uncaring lifestyle. Eternal punishment in the final destination for goats.

Once someone becomes a sheep in God’s flock they cannot be lost, but they can stray. In John 10, Jesus shared the parable of the Good Shepherd. The parable applications for shepherds, but it also has applications for sheep. How can you tell if you are stray sheep according to this chapter?

1. How familiar are you with God’s voice?

God’s sheep know Him by His voice and follow accordingly (v. 27). Today, God speaks primarily through the Bible. If you don’t read the Bible or you rarely read the Bible it could mean you are not hearing from God.

2. Do you follow God’s direction?

Shepherds lead their sheep from the sheepfold to the pasture and back again. This journey requires guidance and direction. If you haven’t changed the direction of your life in a while at God’s request it could mean you are not following very closely.

3. Do you “flock” with other sheep?

Sheep are herd animals by nature. They gather in groups for encouragement, companionship, and protection. It’s no surprise that Jesus told His followers to gather believers together in churches for the same reasons. If you are meeting with Gospel-centered church on a regular it could mean you are trouble.

Jesus gave us the parable of the Good Shepherd to help us find our place in His flock. If you have truly become one of His sheep you can never go back, but you can miss out on His best for you. God loves you too much to let you stray.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

A Blessing or a Curse

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Light can either be a blessing or a curse. The lamp beside your bed can help you find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but it will also annoy your spouse who is trying to sleep. A fire in a fireplace is warm and inviting, but a fire in the kitchen is terrifying.

In John 8, Jesus introduces himself as “The Light of the world.” In the next chapter, we see what happens when Jesus shines his light in the world. His light divides the world into two groups. Those who see Jesus as a curse and those who see Jesus as a blessing.

The Apostle John tells the same story about from the viewpoint of these two groups. First,   he shares the story from the view of a hopeless man who was blind from birth. Next, John shares the story from the view of the conceited Pharisees who were blind to their spiritual need.

From the view of helpless beggar blind from birth (John 8:1-41)

“Something amazing happened to me right after the Feast of Tabernacles. I was sitting beside the road begging for money when Jesus walked by with his disciples. My eyes didn’t work, but my ears worked just fine and I overheard Jesus and his disciples talking about me. One of his disciples asked whose fault it was that I was blind: me or my parents. I was relieved to hear that neither one of us were to blame, but that God wanted to show His mighty work in me. At that point, I heard Jesus spit on the ground and then I felt him wipe clay on my eyes. He told me to wash my eyes out in the nearby pool of Siloam, and so I did. As I washed my eyes in the cool water the most amazing thing happened – my eyes worked for the first time and I could see!”

“I was so excited about what had happened, I told everyone around me, but they didn’t believe me. People that had walked past me for years didn’t recognize me. It was if I had become a different person.”

“Then, I was called before the Pharisee for an interview. I explained what had happened to me, but they were upset because Jesus had violated some of their restrictions on the Sabbath. The Pharisees began to argue among themselves about Jesus. Some were saying, He can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.’ Others were asking, ‘How could he heal people and do all the other miracle he has done if he wasn’t from God?'”

“The Pharisees didn’t believe that I used to be blind so interviewed by parents too. My parents were terrified they would be thrown out of the synagogue. The Pharisee can do that, you know. They can just kick you out of the synagogue and the temple and then you have no way to make things right with God.”

“After that, the Pharisees called me in for another interview which felt more like an interrogation. They kept asking me about Jesus and all I could do was tell them what I knew: ‘I once was blind, but now I see.’ It was obvious to me where Jesus was from. He healed me and gave me hope after a lifetime of hopeless. Miracles like that don’t happen, they come from God. It was clear that they didn’t want to hear what I had to say because they threw me out the synagogue.

“Jesus came and found me after that. He asked me if I believed in the Messiah and that he was him. I was so excited I put my trust in him and bowed low in worship. Some of the Pharisees overheard our conversation and they weren’t pleased, but I knew right then and there I had found the hope I had been looking for.”

From the view of one of the Pharisees who excommunicated a troublemaker. (John 9:13-41)

“I am one of the Pharisees and I’m also a scribe too. We help preserve God’s law and teach it to the people. God continues to bless us because we go above and beyond in obeying His law. God is lucky to have us around. Otherwise, it would be like the ‘wild west.’

For example, there was a blind man recently who claimed he was healed by Jesus, that troublemaker from Nazareth. His story didn’t add up, however, because the people who knew him from the road outside of town didn’t think he was the same guy. We talked to his parents too, but I don’t think we can trust them. Jesus has been a threat to the establishment for a long time. He’s a good preacher, but I think he’s a trickster with all of those so-called ‘miracles’ that he pulls off. He claims to speak for God, but he doesn’t have any formal training and he doesn’t follow the rules.

He supposedly healed the blind man by making clay out of his spit and anointing his eyes – on a Sabbath. Everybody knows that you can’t do that on a Sabbath! The beggar was so sure that Jesus was a messenger from God, we had to excommunicate him from the synagogue. He even suggested that the Pharisee wanted to be followers of Jesus – how ignorant! We had to get rid of him; we couldn’t afford to have a Jesus-supporter like that spreading lies in God’s house.

“I’m glad we excommunicate him because later on one of the other Pharisee’s overheard that beggar talking to Jesus near the temple. The beggar was worshiping Jesus like He was a ‘god’ or something. Then, Jesus said he came into the world so that those who do not see may not see and those who see may become blind. I have never heard of something so preposterous and blasphemous. Jesus had the nerve to tell my friend, another Pharisee, that he was a sinner when everyone knows we always obey God.”

From the perspectives of these two men, we learn that Jesus helps the hopeless and condemns the conceited. The helpless are drawn to Jesus. You may not think of yourself as helpless or hopeless, but spiritually, we all are. God. Isaiah 53:6 says we are all like sheep who have gone astray. Thankfully, the Lord has caused our iniquity to fall on Jesus. 1 Peter 1:3 says that God has caused us to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Like a moth to a flame, the helpless are drawn to Jesus.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the conceited are driven from Jesus. We prefer labels ourselves “well-prepared” or “confident.” the Prophet Jeremiah warns us, however, not to trust in the wisdom, or physical strength but to trust in the Lord “who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23, 24a) Like a racoon running from the headlights, the conceited are driven from Jesus.

Are you more like the hopeless blind man or the Pharisee who was blind to his spiritual need? How you see yourself is an indication of how you see Jesus, “the Light of the world.” The choice is yours.