Where Preachers Are Powerless

To my dear pastor friends, please ponder carefully these wise words from Oswald Chambers:

“As preachers and teachers we are powerless to make saints. Our duty is to put the seed into the right place and leave the rest to God. …

“Modern evangelism makes the mistake of thinking that a worker must plough his field, sow the seed, and reap the harvest in half-an-hour. Our Lord was never in a hurry with the disciples, He kept on sowing the seed and paid no attention to whether they understood Him or not. He spoke the truth of God, and by His own life produced the right atmosphere for it to grow, and then left it alone, because He knew well that the seed had in it all the germinating power of God and would bring forth fruit after its kind once it was put in the right soil. …

“Sow the Word of God, and as sure as God is God, it will bring forth fruit. …

“Sow emotions, and the human heart will not get beyond you. There are men and women at work for God who steal hearts from God, not intentionally, but because they do not preach the Word of God. They say, ‘I don’t want anyone to think about me’; that should never need to be said. If the thought of ourselves is lurking anywhere as we preach, we are traitors to Jesus Christ. Our duty is to get people through to God. … See that you sow the real seed of the Word of God, and then leave it alone.” —Oswald Chambers, in The Servant As His Lord

These words prompt me to take a close look into God’s mirror to see if I’m preaching in a way that God can bless. How about you?

The Servant As His Lord (book review)

One of the most straight-talking, tell-it-like-it-is Christian speaker and author is Oswald Chambers. No one could ever accuse him of sugar-coating the Christian walk! In The Servant As His Lord, Chambers takes an unflinching look at the difficulty a Christian will have in living as his Lord, Jesus Christ, did.

As is the case with nearly all of Oswald Chambers’ books, The Servant As His Lord is a compilation of three sources: lectures, sermons, and essays for some small pamphlets. Biddy Chambers, his wife, often recorded Oswald’s sermons via shorthand and then put them into a book form at a later date.

The material in this book was all recorded during the height of The Great War (or what we now refer to as World War I). Many Christians were quite shaken in their faith during this time, questioning why God’s followers should have to go through such horrific things. Oswald Chambers, as he always did, never dodged the question nor made excuses, but simply stated: Jesus suffered pain, ridicule, and injustice while on earth, and His followers will too. The servant will be as his Lord.

Even though this book addresses some heavy topics, it’s not at all a “downer” for the reader. Quite the contrary! This book is actually very encouraging for the Christian going through any kind of difficulty or trial, knowing that Jesus not only went through the same thing, but that He is walking with us through our own trials.

This is definitely one of Chambers’ meatier books, but it is well worth the mature Christian’s time to study these wise and encouraging words.

Comparisons Are Killers

It is always a thrill for me to watch a young leader excel so wonderfully! Yesterday I listened as our youth pastor Josh Schram brilliantly illustrated a key component that can kill relationships or build them up.

Trust me: Josh’s opening illustration is worth the watch in the video below!

Here are a few takeaways I had from Josh’s message…

A relationship killer is comparing yourself to others. 

Comparing yourself to others may make you feel superior to them or inferior to them, but neither of these feelings serve a useful purpose, and neither of them honors God.

The fastest way to kill something God is doing in your life is to compare it to what He’s doing in someone else’s life.

When we compare someone else’s highlight reel to our behind-the-scenes mess, it makes us feel less than what God intends because it always increases dissatisfaction. Remember: living this way is comparing yourself to an artificial standard.

Notice how God speaks to us as individuals—Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. (Galatians 6:4-5, emphasis added)

A relationship builder is examining yourself.

Jesus ran His own race, and we are called on to remove any obstacles that keep us from running our own race too (see Hebrews 12:1-2).

  • Run your own race.
  • Stay in your lane.
  • Stay focused on Jesus.

No one can be a better you than you.

Remember: someone else’s success is NOT your failure (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

I need to ask myself: Am I being the best me I can be with what God has equipped me to be? If the answer is “yes” then everyone else gets better!

Don’t compare your relationship with God or with other people to others’ relationships. Instead, examine yourself to make sure you are being the best you God created you to be!

True Beauty vs. Pornography

God’s design for sex is truly the most beautiful thing that exists between two people. Its counterfeit is called pornography. Porn is simulated, imitated, and purchased; but no price tag can ever buy true beauty.

God demonstrates the purest love in Himself, when one part of the Godhead is the Lover and the other parts of the Godhead are the Beloved. The Lover is constantly discovering the beauty in the Beloved, and then praising that beauty. The Beloved then reciprocates back to the Lover. It’s a love dance! 

Humans are created in God’s image. We are first created to be God’s beloved. Then we are designed to be both lover and beloved in the bonds of marriage. True beauty—real, lasting beauty that pleases God—is discovered. It’s something that starts inside and radiates outside. A true lover takes the time to discover who the beloved truly is.

To see this in action, just look at some of the compliments between husband and wife in the Song of Songs—How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! … How handsome you are, my lover! Oh, how charming! … Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens. … My lover is mine and I am his. … All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.

True love that sees this kind of beauty cannot be imitated, purchased or simulated. If someone attempts to, it’s called pornography.

The dictionary gives this definition of pornography: sexually explicit materials whose purpose is to elicit sexual arousal. In other words, porn tries to imitate and simulate true beauty at a purchase price.

Jesus identified this sell-out of true love with the Greek word porneia (see Mark 7:14-23). This word means any sexual involvement outside the marriage between a husband and wife. Porneia comes from words that fill out its definition: things like prostitution, idolatry, and slavery.

Your body was not made for porneia but for God (1 Corinthians 6:13). You were made in His image: to be His Beloved, and He your Lover, and then to have a marriage relationship with another image-bearer of God, where you are both lover and beloved, and where you focus on true beauty.

Anything else is imitated, purchased, and simulated. It’s pornography. It’s idolatry.

Christians are told to fight many temptations, but there are only two that we are told not to fight, but to flee: pornography (1 Corinthians 6:18) and idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14). So our prayer for the purity and enjoyment of God’s true beauty should be: Turn my eyes away from worthless things (Psalm 119:37).

Don’t sell out to the fake beauty in pornography. Discover true beauty exclusively in your spouse!

We’ll be looking at more relationship builders and killers, and I’d love to have you along for this journey of discovery.

What If We Had Higher Expectations?

Humans are hardwired by God to be in relationship with Him and with others.

  1. God is a Triune God so each part of the Godhead is in relationship with the other parts—John tells us in his epistle that God is love, meaning there is both a Lover and a Beloved.
  2. We are created in God’s image—we are made to love and be loved.
  3. God affirmed our need for relationships with others—see Genesis 2:18.
  4. Relationships with others give us a return on investment, help in trouble, encouragement in dark times, and protection from attack—see Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
  5. Christians being in healthy relationships with others is a testimony to just how powerful God’s love is.

Sadly, Brennan Manning pointed out that Christians “have come a long sad journey from the first century, when pagans exclaimed with awe and wonder, ‘See how these Christians love one another!’”

When I read this, I don’t want to throw in the towel, but I want to reclaim this awe and wonder! 

One of the things that will quickly kill relationships is having low expectations for the other person or for the relationship itself. This can be counteracted by having higher expectations for other people and for our relationships with them.

John Maxwell noted, “People rise or fall to meet our level of expectations for them. If you express skepticism and doubt in others, they’ll return your lack of confidence with mediocrity. But if you believe in them and expect them to do well, they’ll wear themselves out trying to do their best.”

Consider the high expectations that God had for a relationship with us. If He had low expectations, one of the best-known verses in the Bible would be, “God thought a few people in the world had something worth saving, so He sent a handful of angels to tell us His story.”

Instead, the verse tells us: God so loved the entire world that He sent the very best that He had—He sent His One and Only Son!

  • Jesus died for us when we were unworthy of His love
  • Jesus gave us all His authority to represent Him in the world
  • Jesus empowered us with His Holy Spirit to be His witnesses
  • Jesus told us that our love for others would be a blazing sign to that we were His

Since God has this high expectation for us … what would happen if we had the same high expectations for everyone with whom we came into contact? What would happen if we believed the best for everybody, and then gave all that we could to bring the best out of them? I think that once again people would exclaim with awe and wonder,

“See how these Christians love one another!”

We will be talking more about Relationship Builders & Killers this Sunday and I would love if you could join me!

Five Women; One Amazing Story!

For some of you, it’s hard to put the word “happy” in front of Mother’s Day.

One definition of happy is “favored by fortune; lucky.” In other words, we’re happy IF things happen to be going our way. But we don’t know how things are going to turn out?

In the last Super Bowl, the New England Patriots were down by 25 points early in the 3rd quarter. It didn’t appear that things were going the Patriots’ way … except they won!

So don’t judge “happy” or “not happy” by how things are going in the middle of the story! 

To God, all of History is His Story. He knows every move, every hurt, every fumble, every betrayal, every noble deed, every evil deed … nothing escapes His notice. And it all fits into His Story—We are assured and know that God being a partner in their labor ALL THINGS work together and are fitting into a plan for good… (Romans 8:28).

Check out the stories of these five women—

Tamar had to pretend to be a prostitute in order to get her father-in-law to followthrough on his commitment. As a result, she became pregnant by him and was almost burned at the stake.

Rahab didn’t pretend to be a prostitute; she was a prostitute. She lived in an important city that was about to be defeated by the Israelites. Instead of trying to make things easier on herself, she trusted God and put herself in a very dangerous position.

Ruth was a non-Israelite married to an Israelite man. But when her husband, her brother-in-law, and her father-in-law all died, she took a huge risk in staying with her mother-in-law. She could have moved in with her family in a country she knew, but she went where she was an alien, a widow, and dirt poor.

Bathsheba was married to Uriah, who was a member of the king’s inner circle. But the king took advantage of her when Uriah was away at war, impregnated her, killed her husband, and then married her. Their son from that union died shortly after being born, but Bathsheba trusted God to make something good of her tragedy.

Mary was engaged to be married when she was found to be pregnant. Society could have shunned her, her fiancé could have had her killed for her unfaithfulness, but she trusted God to keep His word.

These five mothers are the ONLY women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-6, 16)

God used all of these women. Despite the way they were treated or mistreated; despite their own mistakes; despite the injustices committed against them. God used all of them as irreplaceable parts of His Story.

To God, all of History is His Story! He’s doing things through your life that you can’t possibly imagine. Trust Him—if you do, your name will also be recorded in the best “His Story” ever recorded! 

Whenever you don’t know what’s going on, lean into Him, cry out to Him. But then say with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” And what does God say? “I am working ALL THINGS together to tell My Story through your life!”

New Name = New Nature

All throughout the Old Testament we find hints about Jesus. Then as the New Testament dawns, the brilliant light of Jesus makes sense of all the hints we had previously seen.

One of the way God hints at the arrival of Jesus and what He would do for mankind is found in the names of people. Hebrew names are interesting things. Sometimes they are quite literal. For instance…

    • A baby who was born at one of Israel’s lowest points was named Ichabod = God’s glory has departed.
    • A baby who was born with quite a lot of hair was named Esau = hairy baby.
    • Esau’s twin brother was hanging on to his heel when he was born, so they named him Jacob = the one who grabs the heel.

At other times God tells parents what to name their babies before they are born. These names tell a story in themselves of what is coming…

    • After a time of upheaval in Israel’s history, God directed the parents to give their son two names: Solomon (which means peace) and Jedidiah (which means beloved by God). This brought reassurance to the parents and to the country.
    • When God was about to bring a quick answer to a problem, He directed the parents to name their son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, which means God will bring the reward sooner than you think.

But what is most interesting to me is when God changes someone’s name to reflect the new nature in their life.

Abram’s name meant exalted father, but God changed his name to Abraham, which means father of a multitude. His wife’s birth name was Sarai (princess) and it was changed to Sarah (a noble woman).

In these name changes, two things happened (see Genesis 17:1-15):

  1. God put His own name into theirs. God’s name means I AM. We sometimes pronounce it Yahweh, but that is only a guess since the Jews wrote His name without the vowels. That means His name was the unpronounceable YHWH, sort of a breath-sound. So Abram became Abrahaaam and Sarah became Saraaaaah. 
  2. God took the burden off them and put it on Himself. It was no longer Abram’s responsibility to become an exalted father, or Sarai’s responsibility to make herself a princess. God said, “Only with Me in you can you become who I want you to be!”

As you follow Abraham and Sarah’s descendants, you will see time and time again God reminding people: You can’t do it on your own. You must have Me in you in order to live the life I have for you!

Hoshea was born as an Israelite slave in Egypt, yet his parents gave him this name that means deliverer. Before God could use Hoshea to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land, He first changed his name to Joshua, which means God is the ultimate deliverer.

Joshua in the BC Hebrew language is the same as Jesus in the AD Greek language.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of being able to fully deliver people not just from physical slavery, but from the eternal consequences of sin. Man cannot save himself, but Jesus Christ can.

That’s why when you surrender to Christ and allow Him to be your Lord and Master, He puts His name in you: CHRISTian! A new name, and a brand new nature because of what it means to have Christ in you.

Check out this video where I explain the cool story behind more name changes—

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