Thursdays With Oswald #5

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

God’s Worker

     Never choose to be a worker, but when once God has put His call on you, woe be to you if you turn to the right hand or the left. God will do with you what He never did with you before the call came; He will do with you what He is not doing with other people. Let Him have His way.

From Approved Unto God

If God hasn’t called me to do His work, then anything I attempt will be in my own power alone. How miserable I would be if I attempted to keep doing this.

If God has called me to do His work, then He will equip me to do His work. How miserable I would be if I turned away from His work.

Are you God-called or self-called?

Engaging Culture

I read something very interesting… Next to Christmas, more money is spent on Halloween than on any other holiday event. Halloween?!? Wow! We’re in the midst of planning our church’s role on Halloween night (more details coming soon), so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about engaging our culture.

It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

So here’s how I think followers of Jesus Christ should light a candle to engage culture:

Have the right motivation. In Jesus’ inaugural sermon, He said He was coming to preach the Good News about God’s love. He purposely left out the part of Isaiah’s prophesy that talked about God’s coming judgment. There will be a time for that, but for now, our motivation should be to make known the favor of the Lord.

Get out of your box. If you only hang around with Christians, your ability to effectively engage culture will be diminished. If you never get around others, it’s sort of like salt that sits in the saltshaker too long. Paul told the Athenians that he had been walking around their city looking at their culture.

Listen. As Paul talked to the Athenians, he quoted their poets to them. He knew what they were listening to because he was listening too. What are people watching on TV? What movies are they talking about? What music are they listening to? You can find the key to their heart by knowing something about what interests them.

Collaborate. There are lots of other faith-based organizations, non-government organizations, and churches that are already active in your community. Join forces with them.

Just be there. Go to local restaurants, cheer on the local sports teams, join a rec league team, attend the city council meetings, volunteer at a shelter or food pantry. Just be there! After awhile people will begin to ask you why you are so involved, and you’ll have a great platform to speak to them.

It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

What are you doing to engage culture? Please share some thoughts in the comments so that we can all learn from what you’re doing.

Are you ready? Go shine!

What Good Is God? (book review)

Philip Yancey always makes me think. He explores the edges of Christian faith, not content just to walk down the safe paths of well-worn, traditional preaching. Just the title of his latest book —What Good Is God? — tells you that this book will be no exception.

This book is laid out in ten sections, each with two chapters. The first chapter in each section gives you the setting, the second chapter is a speech that Yancey gave in that setting. And, wow, what tough settings they are! Every setting is one that makes you wonder, “Where was God in that?!?”

What Good Is God? will take you to settings like…

  • The campus of Virginia Tech after a gunman opened fire on faculty and students.
  • The secret house churches in Communist China.
  • The post-apartheid South Africa where wounds of hate are still healing.
  • The volatile Middle East where religious beliefs violently collide.
  • The middle of a terrorist attack in Mumbai, India.

In every section, Philip Yancey masterfully and empathetically takes us on a journey of discovery that shows that God is still God, and that He is good. He does this through personal example, Biblical references, and always with a heart that seems to know his audience.

It’s a challenging read, but well worth your time.

I am a Faith Words book reviewer.

Blessed Man

My church family surprised me yesterday for pastor appreciation Sunday. I got a yummy cake, and a new iPod to replace the one that was stolen.

I absolutely love my church family! Even if I wasn’t the pastor, this is still the church I would attend. Hey, if you live in the Cedar Springs area, stop by and see what makes this such a great group.

I’m a blessed man!

Downhill

I was riding my bike back from volunteering at the Red Flannel 5k Race in Cedar Springs on Saturday, and there’s one stretch I really enjoy: it’s a nice downhill run. Downhill is so much fun! I get to zip along with very minimal effort.

King Solomon wrote a letter to another king and talked about his downhill run

But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster.

Downhill is a breeze, but there are some problems with it…

  • I build only minimal muscle going downhill.
  • My stamina is not stretched at all.
  • Aerobic exercise is almost non-existent.
  • It’s harder to stop.

Downhill is fun, but I need some uphill climbs too —

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials [some uphill climbs], for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.

Thursdays With Oswald #4

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

True Liberty

     True liberty is the ability earned by practice to do the right thing. There is no such thing as a gift of freedom; freedom must be earned. The counterfeit of freedom is independence. When the Spirit of God deals with sin, it is independence that He touches, that is why the preaching of the Gospel awakens resentment as well as craving. Independence must be blasted right out of a Christian, there must be only liberty, which is a very different thing. Spiritually, liberty means the ability to fulfill the law of God, and it establishes the rights of other people.

From Biblical Ethics

Freedom usually means, “I’m free to do what I want to do.”

Liberty is, “I’m free to help you do the right thing.”

Instead of using my freedom to do what I want to do, I want to use my freedom to help someone else earn their liberty.

How about you?

Manufactured Success

Does success come from hard work, or does it have another origin? We can certainly manufacture success by doing some public relations, some spin, some creative promotion. And from the outside it can look very successful. Someone may even do such a good job manufacturing their success that they begin to believe their own press releases.

But manufactured success rarely lasts.

Consider the case of a man named Adonijah. He was the heir-apparent in Israel. As the oldest living son of the famed King David, Adonijah was the odds-on favorite to be the next king. And so Adonijah began to manufacture a successful transfer of power for himself. He invited all the right people, and ignored those who he knew wouldn’t go along with his plan. He set up everything just the way a prince ascending the throne should have it. His followers joined him for a party and begin to raise their glasses in a toast: Long live King Adonijah!

Except God — and King David — had other plans. David had his son Solomon anointed king. When the few followers that were toasting Adonijah heard this, they all bailed on him and ran away. Even Adonijah recognized that something else can trump manufactured success. Here’s what he said

“As you know,” he said, “the kingdom was mine. All Israel looked to me as their king. But things changed, and the kingdom has gone to my brother; for it has come to him from the LORD.”

Success has come to him from the Lord. God’s success always trumps manufactured success.

Manufactured success leads to pride (the kingdom was mine). And pride over-exaggerates our self-worth and obscures reality (all Israel looked to me as their king). God’s success comes to the humble who recognize His lordship and their place in His Kingdom. God’s success lasts.

Although Adonijah eventually recognized this, he didn’t learn from it. In the next scene he is again trying to manufacture a way to ascend to the throne. And this time he not only loses his position, but his life as well.

Here’s what Jesus says: For whoever exalts himself will be humbled [manufactured success], and whoever humbles himself will be exalted [God’s success].

Quitting Church (book review)

It’s true: people are leaving churches in record numbers. Who is leaving? Why are they leaving? Is there anything churches can do to stem the tide? These are the questions that drove Julia Duin to research and write Quitting Church.

Since I pastor a church, these sorts of questions intrigue me too. Unfortunately this book left me flat.

The research in this book consists largely of: (a) snippets quoted from other researchers; (b) Julia’s conversations with her friends who have stopped attending church; and (c) Julia’s observations on what “connected” for her at the various churches she has attended. In other words, this book doesn’t present a whole lot of original information. Even the subtitle — why the faithful are fleeing and what to do about it — is misleading, in that I read very little about how to keep the departing from fleeing.

Save your money; take a pass on this book.

The Refinement Of Pain

I was recently invited to join a bunch of guys — mostly staff in the Cedar Springs schools — for some early morning basketball. I love basketball, I’m a morning guy, and getting to know new people in Cedar Springs made this an invitation I couldn’t refuse. So I started hoopin’ this week. It was nice to get back on the hardwood floor!

Yesterday morning, I jumped in my car to come home to shower. It’s a mile from the school to my house, but by the time I got home, my back muscles had seized up and I was barely able to stand up to get out of the car. I’ve had this happen to me once before, and it’s a whole lot of no fun!

So all day yesterday my schedule had to be modified, as it hurt to move, it hurt to stand for too long, and it hurt to sit for too long. I couldn’t get in the car… in fact, I couldn’t even bend over far enough to put my own socks on! All my plans for the day were shot.

But here’s what I learned: my day wasn’t shot. My plans may not have worked out, but it was still a good day. Pain has a tendency to refine what’s really important out of the trivial stuff.

  • A day in pain and immobility reminded me of just how blessed I am to normally have good health.
  • It prompted me to pray for others who are confined to a wheelchair or their beds.
  • It gave me greater empathy for those who live in chronic pain.
  • It made me more thankful that I have access to medicines and caregivers, things that some people find only rarely.
  • It let me see more clearly the love my family and friends have for me.
  • It gave me more time to pray.

Now here’s the tricky part: to live with these things close by even when I’m not in pain.

Here’s what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem Of Pain

I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity today, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal [or back] pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspapers that threatens us all with destruction, send this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my own real treasure is in Christ. And perhaps, by God’s grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys: I am even anxious, God forgive me, to banish from my mind the only thing that supported me under the threat because it is now associated with the misery of those few days. Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over — I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.

With God’s help I’m going to avoid running back to my “toys” today. I’m trying to keep the most important thing in the forefront of my thoughts today.

Have you learned any lessons from pain? If so, please feel free to share in the comments.

Thursdays With Oswald #3

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Fitness Through Regular Exercise

     If we do not fit ourselves by practice when there is no crisis, we shall find that our nature will fail us when the crisis comes. …When your nervous system, which has been ruled by the wrong disposition, is inclined to say “I can’t,” you must say, “You must,” and to your amazement you find you can!

From Biblical Ethics

Practice now before the heat is on.

Then when the heat is on — and nerves are high — you will be able to choose the right thing. Remember what coaches say: You play like your practice.

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