Huh? (The one about if you were paying attention in church today…)

huh_450

What did your preacher teach about this morning during his sermon?  What did you teacher talk about in class?

Since I started working in ministry 14 years ago, I’ve realized that Sunday morning doesn’t just happen – but rather it takes days of preparation.  I have a great respect for those who preach and teach.

Most ministers will spend anywhere from 15-40 hours preparing for the 30 minutes they will preach on Sunday mornings.  For those ministers who work for churches who still have a traditional Sunday evening service, you can add even more time to that.  On top of that, they have to prepare and study for their Sunday morning class if they teach one.  What impresses me even more are those who work a full time job, and still volunteer to teach.

How do you reward your preacher for the time he’s put into the lesson?  How do you reward the teacher who takes time above and beyond their regular job and life to prepare to teach? Do you simply sit there and listen?  Those who teach and preach spend a lot of time preparing so you can learn.  So, let me suggest a few things that will help encourage your preachers and teachers at church, and will in return bless you as well.

  1. Take notes.  Find a good note taking app for your phone, bring an old fashioned notebook.  Jot things down in your Bible.  My wife has been taking notes for as long as we’ve been married, and began long before we got married.  It helps her listen and retain things that were taught.
  2. Embrace what was taught.  How do you do this?  You live it.  You show it.  You bring it up with the teacher.
  3. Share thoughts on social media – facebook, twitter, instagram.  Not many things can encourage a preacher or teacher more than when he’s flipping through Facebook, or sees himself tagged in a tweet – that is someone quoting from his sermon or lesson.  Not only are you encouraging them, but you’re also inviting others to share in what was taught that day.
  4. Thank them.  Let them know you appreciate their lesson.  Even better – send an email the next day, or on a Thursday, to let them know you’re still thinking about what was said on Sunday.
  5. Finally – Remember what was taught.  If I were to ask you all what did your preacher speak on his sermon at your last service, could you answer in detail?  If I asked you what your Sunday morning class teacher taught about, could you answer in detail?  Or is all you remember the fact that you were at church and songs were sung, prayers were prayed, communion was served, and some dude got up to teach?

Sure there are other things that could make a difference, but I believe these 5 things will not only help your preachers and teachers to know you appreciate them, but you will find it enriches your life as well.

So, tonight, take a moment and go on social media and tag your preacher/teacher in a post, sharing how you appreciate them, and the key thoughts from the lesson.

P.S. – this works for all areas in the church – don’t forget about your kids’ teachers, your worship leader, the people leading prayers, and the list goes on and on.  Not only do these things boost their self esteem a bit – but it also helps spread the Good News!

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If You Want to be Somebody…(The one about being a popular preacher)

I remember years ago, sitting at “Youth In Action” in Birmingham, AL as a 10th grader.

YIA was a classic youth rally event, bringing people from all around to a the convention center in Birmingham.  It was right after Christmas, and I enjoyed every minute of it – from the drive down to the singing in the atrium to the walk across the street for the classes and keynotes.  I went many times, with Johnny Markham, Scott Freeman, Jason Bybee – and each time I learned great and wonderful things.

I remember very vividly one night, I was listening to Jeff Walling speak.  As he spoke, I was drawn into his masterful storytelling, his vivid descriptions, and powerful insight into the scriptures.  After he was done, I leaned over to my friend Jason, and told him “One day, I’m going to be a keynote speaker at Youth In Action just like that.  That’s my dream.  That’s my goal.  If I want to be somebody, I’ve got be a keynote speaker at one of these events.”

Fast forward 20 years.

I still have not been a keynote speaker at YIA, or Winterfest, or anything for that matter.  I have had the opportunity to speak at the Faulkner Lectureships and the Lipscomb Lectureships, but my Alma Mater – FHU, has not yet considered me.

Yesterday, I spoke at the Faulkner lectures to a crowd of well over 18 people.  There were maybe 20.  And I was discouraged.

At that point, I felt like a nobody.  Down the hall, rooms were filled to the brim of people known wide and far.  Down the hall, there was standing room only for certain speakers.  But other rooms were just like mine.  Filled with empty seats instead of people listening.

Now, I get the opportunity to speak many times a week to many people.  My wonderful church family at GW is 300-350 strong every Sunday morning.  I get to teach classes multiple times a week.

But when I go somewhere that I’ve never been heard of, shockingly, no one comes.

I’ve been told that in order to get more gigs as a speaker, to have more people come hear you, to get invited to more lectures – you have to self promote.  But one of the things that I’ve learned since that day I leaned over to my friend in Birmingham that night after the message was spoken – I refuse to self promote.

Because the message isn’t about me, its about God.

Sure, I love to see my blog posts get read, and to get numbers on my stats, and to have so many “likes” on my Facebook posts.

But the message isn’t about me, its about God.

Its sad that when I think about my favorite preachers – its usually because of their style, their voice, their delivery, the ability to capture my attention – but rarely is it because they connect me to God in a deeply personal way with their message.  Its usually personal preference.

In the preaching world – there’s a lot of “politics”.  Who do you know, who do you hang out with, are you popular, how big is your church, how popular is your church, do you say the right things regardless of scripture….the list goes on and on.  But I often find that the best messages I hear are the ones from people I don’t know.

I realize that if I want to be somebody in the preaching world, I have to become a nobody, and let God rule my message, my delivery, my style.  I can’t worry about why people aren’t calling me left and right to be a guest speaker.  I can’t worry about why I don’t demand a crowd of thousands to listen to my words.

All I can do is be who I am – a servant of God with a message.

And what I’ve learned is this – it feels really awesome when people come up to me on Sunday morning and say things like “That one really spoke to me,” or “Wow, were you listening in on my struggles this week, because that really meant the world to me” – and I wouldn’t trade knowing the fact I’ve helped one person for multitudes of people in my audience.

The most moving stories in evangelism as you read through the New Testament are the ones that don’t involve the crowds, but the individuals.  Jesus and the Samaritan Woman.  Jesus and Zacchaeus.  Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.    Interactions between Jesus and the twelve.  The stories move us because they are personal, they are relational.

And for that reason, I really don’t care if I speak to 10 people or 10,000 people – so long as I can develop relationships with those I meet along the way.

Our youth minister, Scott Tillman, spoke yesterday as well before the entire crowd at the Faulkner lectures in the morning Keynote. He did a stellar job, and said something that will stick with me for a while.  He reminded us that the only thing he believes we will take with us to Heaven is our relationships.  And I think that’s true.

Its not about your place at the table, its about your relationship with those you feast with.

Sure, I’d still love to keynote at one of those grand events, but for now, I’m perfectly content preaching the word to my GW family, and those I come in contact with daily. I will strive daily to please God – not man.  I will strive daily to reach as many as I can.  I will strive daily to grow the Kingdom.   May God bless us as we figure out the best way to be somebody for Him, instead of somebody to the world.

The Parable of the Weeds

parable of the weeds

The parable of the weeds has the potential to make us a bit uncomfortable.  That’s because it tells us two very important things that we sometimes have a hard time understanding.

First, it tells us that whether we like it or not, no matter how good we are, we’ll be growing up with weeds.

Second, it reminds us that in the end, there will be a harvest.  It goes like this (from Matthew 13:24-30):

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  

When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’

The parable of the weeds does a good job of explaining why evil exists.  Have you ever wondered “Why does evil exist if God is a good God?”  I believe the answer to that is found in this parable.

In Matthew, Jesus really demonstrates how He has brought the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.  Once ruled by the evil one, the Kingdom is entering with Jesus, and Jesus has left that Kingdom with us.

But when Jesus brought the Kingdom, there were obstacles in the way, namely Satan and his weeds.  The weeds mentioned here are known as “darnel” or false wheat.  They look the same until the ears mature, and until harvest time you can’t tell them apart.

When the grain matures, you see the real wheat bend over from its weight.  The false wheat, when it matures, shoots straight up and is darker in color.

While the darnel has been growing alongside the wheat, it has wrapped its roots around the real wheat, so pulling up the weeds would pull up the wheat.  To add insult to this, the fruit of the false wheat is poisonous.  If it got mixed in with the real wheat while making flour, it could make the whole batch of flour toxic.

This brings light to the topic of “why are bad things still happening if the Kingdom of God is here.”  The answer to that is the only way evil can be completely wiped off the face of the earth is through the judgement and end of the world.

God delays in bringing judgement on this world though because he knows that the evil ones have wrapped their roots around all of us.  Also, God’s delay in judgement is completely gracious on His part.  He is giving more people time to repent and to come to Him.  We’re reminded of that in 2 Peter 3:8,9

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

While the sin that has been brought into the world can be blamed on Satan, we need to remember that Scripture tells us that Satan’s activity never jeopardizes God’s sovereignty, and it also never removes the accountability that we have on our own.  We only sin if WE choose to sin.  I Corinthians 10:13 tells us

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

I’ve never really liked doing the old fashioned “hell fire and brimstone” type sermons – but you just can’t really avoid it in this parable.  The truth of the matter is this:  Heaven and Hell are both very real – and Jesus describes the two places here.

Hell – Jesus says – is reserved for everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  What will happen to them?  They will be thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Oh, but the righteous – he promises – get this – radiant glory.  Those who do God’s will by becoming disciples of Christ.

The harvest is coming.  I can’t stop that, nor do I want to stop that.  One day, Jesus will come and bring together all the good wheat, those who have dedicated to living their lives for Him, and take us all home to be with Him – for eternity – and Jesus promises us radiant glory.  I know I can’t be alone in saying that sounds so much better than what is reserved for the weeds –

Follow Jesus on Twitter

In preparing for my sermon next week on “Blessed Are the Persecuted”, I ran across this video.  While it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with persecution, it does ask the question about how well we are doing in “following” Jesus.  Give it a look!

Wanted: Evangelism. Any Takers?

There has been a large gap of time that has passed since I last posted. Let’s just say that I’ve been overwhelmed, under-motivated, and lacking the desire to write. For the three or four readers that may remain, I should be getting back in the groove soon.

I have been guilty of something as a minister, that I believe many ministers struggle with – not always practicing what I preach.

How many times have I encouraged people to reach out to others? To invite others to church? To teach them the Gospel? The times are too numerous to count, yet I can count the few times I recall where I actually, on my own, did evangelism like I encourage others to do.

Jesus told his followers to preach the Gospel to people all over the world. I am a follower of Christ. Therefore, in order to obey Jesus, I need to be doing the same. I’m afraid, however, that I’m guilty of expecting the evangelism to come to me, instead of me going to do the evangelism. I get caught up with work at the building, the office, with the people who are already a part of the church. Why do we do this?

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, – 1 Peter 3:15

Am I always prepared? Are you? Is the reason I’m lacking in my evangelism because I’m not showing this “hope” Peter says we should have? Am I alone in this?

I think there was a time in the US when you could approach just about anyone, and talk to them about God, and not be fearful of how people would respond. Now, it seem we all walk on eggshells about our faith, not wanting to offend, and possibly even just wanting to keep it to ourselves.

So here’s some things I try to do to evangelize outside of my office bubble:

1. I always try to say God bless to anyone who offers me some sort of service. I drive through a drive through, and I say God bless to the person taking my money, and the person handing me my food.

2. I try to be aware that the rest of the world is being pretty negative. If I can share a smile, be polite and cordial to everyone, and just do things that used to be considered “good manners”, I think it makes an impact.

3. I bring up my occupation when appropriate, not to brag, but to remind me of who I am and what I do. This makes it surprisingly easier to be an evangelist, because its almost expected to be brought up. Case in point, two weeks ago I ran into Dillards late on Saturday to buy a tie to go with a new sports coat I had bought. The lady who was helping me match my coat to a new tie seemed a bit flustered, due to all the Black Friday sales. I brought up that I needed a new tie to go with my coat because I was preaching in the morning. Immediately her spirit changed, not because she was trying to “act better” in front of a minister, but because I reminded her of what was coming. She told me that she was going to have a better night now, remember that the Lord’s Day was the next day. I don’t know where she went, or what religion she was, but she was reminded of God’s comfort.

Those are just a few things, but I want to know how the rest of you follow God’s command to make disciples. What have you found that works? I’ve seen many blogs and posts on the fact that evangelism is commanded, but not many people talk about what they’re doing, but rather about the fact that its supposed to happen.