Sermon "Skill in Your Hand & God in Your Heart"

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What's the Mix of My Ministry?

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Luke 4:18-19
At one point in my life, I had the aspirations of becoming a DJ. Yes, you heard me right..a DJ. I have always been a lover of music. Ever since I was a little boy, I loved listening,  dancing, and singing to music, new and old. Even as a kid, I loved all kinds of music. The gospel music my mom spun on the record player; the soul and disco my older siblings pushed into the 8 track tape player; the pop, rock and even country I listened to on the radio.  When I was a senior in high school, I took a part-time job at a roller skating rink. At some point, I moved from skate rental to working the front door and...Dj'ing (Aaaahh Yeah, 1-2, 1-2). I soon found the power that one can wield from behind the turn tables. One of the best feelings was picking a song that as soon as the beat dropped everybody did the "Ooooooohhh" thing and looked up at me with a smile and a thumbs up, or whatever the equivalent of a thumbs up was in the late 80's. And conversely, one of the worst feelings was to play a song that cleared the floor. So I quickly learned that as a DJ you are always on a quest for the right song and the right sound to get the right crowd. Cause come on, no DJ wants to be the one known for clearing the floor.

Well as time passed, I turned in my head phones, went to college, got a job, got married, started a family, and got called to the ministry. One of those was never a part of my plan by the way. But now as a pastor, I realize that we and DJ's have something in common. Every Sunday, we get the chance to move the crowd, either in our out. Even those in the some churches can get the congregation to wave their hands in the air and wave them like they just don't care. (Us baptist preachers are secretly envious of that). Nevertheless, all of us to varying degrees can affect the people not just by the things we say, the scriptures we read or the prayers we pray. Also by the things we lead our church in, the ministries we start, the programs we allow, the outreach we do, etc. It is a heavy responsibility which is why it requires a high calling. 

But we have to be careful to shake off the spirit of the DJ, if you will, because it is real easy to find ourselves as the pastors playing into the reaction of the crowd.  As we make adjustments to the mix of our ministry, we have a natural tendency to play up what pleases. We can get caught up in gauging our success and failure purely by the numbers that show up. 

I'm concerned because I see some churches cranking up the praise and worship, the social programs, and the fancy facilities, while turning back deep bible teaching and lost soul-reaching. I mean, let's be honest. The work of ministry that Jesus describes in Luke 4 isn't always exciting and usually requires sacrifice. Sharing the gospel, healing the brokenhearted, delivering the captive, and preaching the return of Christ won't always get the crowd jumping. In fact it will straight-up run some people away. Then we as pastors get nervous when we see the numbers, especially when compared to other churches, and we are tempted to tamper with the mix of our ministry. 

I have been through it, and sometimes still face it. I think, "What if we had a band?"; or "I think we should do more social programs.", or "What if I dressed cooler". Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things, if God is leading me to it, and it's not at the expense of the other foundational components of ministry. But if in order to turn up those things I might have to dial back what matters most ministry; then God is not pleased. 

To my fellow pulpit-pounders, I pray for you while I pray for myself. Let us be faithful to God, and let Him measure the success of our work. Let's encourage one another to not play to the crowd; to be patient while waiting for the seeds we plant to bear fruit, even if we don't get to see it until we reach glory. Let's constantly allow God to evaluate where we are in answering our call by asking ourselves the questions..."What's the mix of my ministry?".

Saturday, March 15, 2014

How We Look at the Law

"Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction." Psalm 119:92
So the other day I was driving to work. I had a late meeting the night before and was pretty tired. I wasn't dozing or anything, but apparently my mind was not totally focused on driving. I was approaching an intersection and saw that the traffic light had switched to yellow. You know the thing about driving after you have done it so long, is that many of your decisions and actions are processed in the back part of your brain. That is, you do it almost automatically without putting a lot of thought into it. Well, on that morning, the back of my brain made a serious error in judgment. It decided "Oh, let's hit the gas and make it through this light before it turns red." There were two important pieces of information that the back of my brain left out in making that decision. 1) I was really too far from the light to make it through before it turned red; and 2)....There was a state trooper sitting at the stop light waiting to cross that intersection. I know, I know. Really bad judgment. Shocked me too. I am really a good driver, but...anyway.

So you're wondering, what did I do. Well I'm glad that the back of my brain passed that decision off to the front of my brain. And it quickly decided that running that red light in front of the trooper would be bad, and run that red light INTO that trooper would be worse. So it sent a signal down to my foot which proceeded to jam on the brakes. I mean jam on them too. It's a good thing that cars now have anti-lock brakes, else I would have burned two streaks right up to that intersection; and by the time the smoke cleared from the burnt rubber, that officer would have been standing at my window with ticket book in hand. My tires screeched a little, and everything in the car went flying forward, but the car stopped in time. The light changed, and the officer passed on through the intersection without even looking my way.
As my light turned green again, and I proceeded on my path, my heart was about to break down the door of my chest. The only thing I could think of at the moment was how that highway patrolman could have "gotten me"; how he would have written me a ticket, and I would have to pay a fine. That's how we often see them; as the ones who catch us and fine us or arrest us. So we in a lot of ways, we view them as the enemy. We flash our lights at each other on the road to warn of one spotted. Now with smart phones and social media, we post it on Facebook and Twitter to look out for "the law". But now that my heart has stopped racing and the color has come back to my face, I realize that "the law" probably saved my life. Had I not seen that black and gray car sitting at the intersection, I might have tried to make it through the light and perhaps could have run into another car. Or many, many other times I may have driven too fast or too recklessly. So really, "the law" is not my enemy; it's there to help me.

And that is how we need to see God's law, His holy word. Many see the bible as just a rule book that steals our fun and cramps our style. So we either totally ignore it or try to find ways around it. But the closer I have gotten to God through reading the Bible, I see now that He did not give us His law so He could sit back and judge whether or not we cross our T's and dot our I's. No, He gave us the law to protect us, to bless us, to prolong our lives, and to fill it with joy. As dangerous as the roads would be if there was no "law" on the road, think of how dangerous this world would be without God's law. The world is bad enough as it is, but think if there was no absolute truth to show us right from wrong; no moral compass to guide us through a self-seeking, sinful world. It would truly be hell on earth. 

How we look at the law matters in how we will follow it. We should see what the psalmist saw when he wrote "Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction." Then you will realize that God is for you and His word is here to help you.