What Are We Waiting For?

 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Acts 4

Seems to me that the church spends lots of time “waiting on the Lord.” What are we waiting for? We are waiting for a healing, improvement in our finances, retirement, blessings. In the early church, the disciples were thrown in jail for speaking the word. They didn’t retreat to the upper room to “wait.” Instead, they prayed for enablement to “speak your word with great boldness.” They had been bold enough to end up in jail, yet they sought more boldness. They couldn’t shut up about their experience with Jesus. 

We complain about the marginalization of Christians, “persecution,” the commercialization of Christmas, the secularizing of society. We are impatient with God for not doing something, when we are failing to do what we were commanded to: speak the word with boldness. The problems we are experiencing in this world are a direct result of our failure to carry out the great commission. As Christians, we are “marginalized” because we fail to speak and act with conviction. We don’t live lives of love, that will make it clear to the world that we are His and that being His is the only thing that is worthwhile. 

Our silence and our impatient waiting arise from our failure to know Him. We don’t speak of what we have seen and heard because what we have seen and heard isn’t enough to compel us to speak. Our personal experience isn’t sufficient motivation. We don’t know HIm or spend the time with Him, to be so influenced that we can’t keep quiet. 

Our lack of experience with Him makes us unsure and timid. We are controlled by thoughts in the back of our minds that maybe our belief is something that isn’t real. What we are “waiting for” isn’t a bigger blessing or a relief from illness or financial struggle or perceived persecution. We are waiting for a life-changing experience with Him. That is there for the taking. What are we waiting for? We are waiting for more of Jesus.

Darkness

Scripture has much to say about darkness and light. Darkness is bad and light is good. There seems to be a sense that darkness in on the increase and the light is not to be found. Surely this is more a function of our lack of focus. 

I think it is grounded on our inability to stay focused in the present. The past is full of hurts and sins, inflicted on others, on us by others,  and self-inflicted. The future seems like a dark room full of monsters hiding in the shadows. We have learned to fear the darkness, where the unknown lurks, whether it be in dark rooms or in an uncertain future.  We have no control over past or future. We can only take action in the present. 

Jesus showed us the way when he said, “Follow me.” To follow him, we have to turn our back on the past and go step-by-step into the future, looking no further than the next step. To the past, we need to apply forgiveness and forgetfulness. The future requires our trust and hope. These are only possible for the born-again, following Jesus. 

Only through the new birth are we able to forgive and forget and trust and hope like Jesus. 

I know some will say, “My past was great.” It reminds me of the Springsteen hit, “Glory Days.” Maybe you were one of those for whom high school and or college was glorious. I have trouble relating to you, but I suspect your focus on the past is draining your present of possibility and opportunity. Just as you can’t change your past, you can live off of it either. 

Some will say, “My future looks great.” I can’t relate much to you either. I suspect you are probably young. In youth, we sometimes hold to the myth that our future is in our hands. It won’t take too many years of living to learn that things rarely turn out as we plan.The future isn’t always less than we plan; it’s just rarely what we plan.

Focus on the future can cause us to be “one of these days” people. We will do something for Jesus, go to the mission fields, become more like Jesus, live in the light. . . one of these days. 

Isn’t it time we start living? Darkness is real. It’s behind us, in front of us, and, increasingly, all around us. There is only one real light. We need to focus and follow him. Then what can the darkness do to us?

Hate

“People will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.”MATTHEW 24:9.

I don’t feel the hate. That may be a problem. If the consequence of being a follower of Jesus is to be an “object of hate.” I want to be hated. Don’t get me wrong. I can feel the growing “hate” of Christians in general. I don’t think that’s enough. I think the hate has to be personal. It has to be based on me, what I believe, and more importantly what I do.

What did Jesus do to be hated? 

If I can identify what Jesus did to be hated, maybe I can adjust my behavior to earn some hate.

He Called Out Empty Religion

It seems that Pharisees really got steamed when Jesus called out their empty religion. These guys were really good at religion. They carried the law out to ridiculous extremes. They loved their religion. They relished ceremony. They were comfortable hanging out in the temple. They could quote the law. 

They remind me of some folks today. I know people who are at church every time the doors are open but are mean, nasty people. There are lovers of complex theology who have no love in their hearts. I know some who have the look of piety down, but are blind to poverty and pain in others. These type “hate” it when they are called on their empty religion. 

Sometimes I can fall into this. I’m comfortable at church. I enjoy studying scripture more than living it. Sometimes I wear poverty and pain blinders. I have work to do. 

He Hung Out With Outcasts.

All societies have “in” crowds and “out” groups. In the first century holy land, tax collectors,  “loose” women, lepers were definitely out. Jesus hung with them all. Today if certain “types” show up in church, they would create discomfort and be shunned. It may have something to do with their lifestyles, their dress, their body ink, or their reputations. Hang with these types and see how much love you get from the brotherhood. 

I am not comfortable with everyone. I tend to hang out with my own “kind.” Though I have lived here for years, there are places I never go and people I would never know.

He forgave.

Jesus was hated because he forgave. For some, it was because he claimed the power to forgive. For most, it was because it was believed some acts are beyond forgiveness. 

We have unforgiveable sins today. When I was younger, it was divorce. Then that became too common. Now it tends to be sexual or lifestyle sins. We are okay with gluttony, tax evasion, or materialism. In general, folks are okay with sins they commit and not so much with the sins of others. Jesus extended forgiveness to all. That’s just hateful. We like to think there are worse sinners than us. We love to grade on the curve, with us drawing the curve. We are selective when it comes to sin. Sin looks more sinful on others than it does in the mirror. 

If I want to be hated, I have to be more like Jesus. I have to focus on the personal relationship and not on church membership. I have to be open to everyone, not just those with whom I am comfortable. I have to forgive. I have to forgive myself for the things I have done. I have to forgive the sins I understand and the ones that make my skin crawl. I have to really distinguish between the sin and the sinner. That has to be more than something I say. It has to be something I live. 

I have to become comfortable with being different, unworldly, and hated. I have to be more like Jesus. 

 

Miraculous

LSU fans were hoping for a miracle on Saturday against Alabama. It didn’t happen. It’s important, however, to believe in miracles. It’s why I think sport is so great. It’s possible for a 21 point underdog to win a game. Teams that have never won Superbowls or World Series, do sometimes make it. Although LSU didn’t pull the miracle Saturday. Others did. For example, unranked Iowa trounced number 6 Ohio State 55 to 24. “Miracles” happen in sports.

We need to hold on to the hope of the miraculous in our daily lives. It’s sad if we live with no vision or possibility beyond the very likely and practical. Our day-to-day routine may seem endless and certain, but wonderful changes and new directions are always possible. Bleak health or financial outlooks don’t have to be the only certain possibilities. 

A few years ago a study of 95-year-olds found their biggest regrets were lack of:

Reflection.

Risk

Permanent impact.

I think all three are related to our view of the miraculous.  As to reflection, if we believe in the miraculous, we see that what we can touch and feel, that which seems real isn’t all. Possibilities extend beyond what we perceive. Reflection is the willingness to dream, the ability to perceive the possibility of miracles. 

RIsk. If we believe in the miraculous, we are more willing to risk stepping beyond the expected, ordinary and every day. Risk is the willingness to execute what we dream about, have the faith to act on the potentially miraculous. 

Permanent impact. We are way too bogged down in doing things that will not matter next week. So little we do has eternal significance. To reach beyond the time we have to live on this earth and to make a difference is truly miraculous. 

Let’s be willing to dream, execute those dreams and be part of eternal miracle making. Our existence is a miracle; our impact should be no less.

Arthur Blessit – Carry the Cross

Last night I watched a video on Arthur Blessit. He is the man who carried the cross around the world in every nation and is listed in the Guinness World Records for the world’s longest walk over 41,879 miles, 67,397 kilometers, in 324 countries, islands groups & territories for 48 years. I saw him a few years ago as he passed through South Louisiana. He just walks with the cross which has a small wheel on its bottom. He smiles and chats with people. He hands out small Jesus Loves You stickers and will pray with anyone who asks. He has walked through jungles and deserts. He has moved through war zones in Muslim and other non-christian countries. He has walked in rain and snow, heat and cold. 

He tells the story of stopping one night at a way station for missionaries. Just hoping to spend a few nights in an air-conditioned room. He was denied entry because the station was “just for missionaries.” A couple of days later an atheist couple asked him to stay with them and get refreshed for a couple of days. They treated him like an honored guest. The story of the Samaritan surely comes to mind. 

He began this journey in the 60s while running a “coffee-house” mission on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. His story is miraculous and inspiring. Check out the video or his website

I was greatly moved by the video. Arthur is my age or was when the video was filmed. I have done a lot in my life. I have held many jobs, been blessed with great relationships and have many stories to tell. But I was humbled by this man. In the video, he says we are just supposed to do what Jesus tells us to do next. I don’t know if I’ve ever really done that. At least not with the certainty and clarity that Blessit has. 

I rarely wake up asking, “What next, Jesus.” If His answer was “just keep on walking” I don’t know how I would respond. 

Tomorrow I am going to wake up and ask that question and hope I get as clear an answer as Arthur has for 48 years. I pray I will have the courage just to do what Jesus says to do next.

Pastor Appreciation

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. A few years ago I served as a pastor for a while and grew very appreciative of pastors. I was what is now called a “bi-vocational” pastor which meant in addition to being a pastor, I had a “real job.” That meant my congregation felt no need to compensate me for my time spent pastoring. I have come to appreciate that most folks consider pastoring not a “real” job or at best a part-time job. 

Most churchgoers believe that a pastor should be compensated but not more than the worst paid worker in the congregation. After all, these guys only work on Sundays, right?

I recently read that the average pastor spends 30 hours a week preparing his sermon. I don’t remember how much time I spent, but my wife teaches an hour class each week and spends that much time working up her teaching. 

The gospel is really simple, but congregations expect the pastor to come up with a creative expression of it 52 times a year, never repeating. The sermon is supposed to be understandable to a child while provocative to a theologian. It’s supposed to drive a sinner to repentance, but give the saved comfortable security. It should be manly but sensitive, relevant but not worldly. It should be bold and call for revolution, but not violate IRS 501(c)3 guidelines. It should challenge but never offend. It’s an impossible task.

And it’s not the only task for the pastor. A pastor in addition to being a preacher needs to be a mediator, accountant, counselor, human resources expert, youth director, child caregiver, custodian, and yard man. He is expected to be at every medical event, social crisis, and educational achievement for every family in the church. 

His entire family is on the payroll. When I was a pastor, we had no worship leader, my wife taught herself to play the keyboard and beautifully led worship. Yet she was under constant criticism because of the nature of the songs, the number of songs, the songs were too often repeated or not well known to the congregation. They were set too high or too low and were sung too fast or too slow. Criticize me if you must, but don’t say a word about my wife.

Even pastors’ kids are expected to be models of deportment but not too “special.” They are mascots for the congregation when little. They should attend every youth meeting and go on every mission trip. However, they shouldn’t be too pretty, handsome, smart or, worst of all, popular.

It’s important that we remember that, like Elijah, pastors are just men. James 15:7 “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. ”

Pastors need to give themselves a break. They are limited in what they can do. When things go great, it’s all God. For the rest of us, we need to give pastors a break. We also need to recognize that we also are just men, but that’s no excuse for not being used by God, for not being available. We are all called to make disciples, not just to have pastors who are charged, by us, to do it for us. It’s a personal job, a responsibility we can’t pass off. We should look to pastors for inspiration and leadership, but not expect them to do what we ourselves should be doing.

Pastors, we appreciate you for what God does through you and for your willingness to be available. Call us to task when we think we could never be Elijah while we expect you to be. 

 

 

What disciples?

As Christians, we are supposed to be “making disciples.” What disciples are you making? It’s a disturbing question. Don’t avoid it. Pick up a pen and paper or open a writing app and start a list. It’s scary. If you are like me, the blank page will stare back at you accusingly. 

It’s not fair to say I give money to the church and it’s making disciples. Maybe your church is or maybe it isn’t. Most of the money goes to overhead. Most churches are just churning up the folks they’ve always had or have borrowed from the church down the street. They may be full on Sunday, but it’s questionable whether they are full of disciples. After all, a disciple is someone who is making disciples. Kind of a cruel circle isn’t it. 

The sad truth is that the person who sits next to you on Sunday would probably have the same problem you are having in making a disciple list. It’s supposed to be our first priority. Remember “Seek first, the kingdom of heaven?” It’s not supposed to be something we turn to at the end of the workday or when we finally reach retirement age. 

How “good and faithful” our service has been won’t be determined by the church services or activities we attended or the checks we’ve written. It’s about making disciples. Our churches really don’t encourage “making disciples.” Some encourage bringing folks to church. That’s apparently where they will be made into disciples, but it’s not happening. 

In church we aren’t creating disciples, we are creating spiritual consumers. We go to church to be “fed” literally and spiritually. We want to come away bolstered by a sermon and encouraged by worship songs. We don’t walk away better equipped to “make disciples.” If we were, our lists wouldn’t be so blank. 

If you want to start being a disciple by making disciples look at the blank page where you started your disciple list and instead start writing down the names of potential disciples. Don’t leave off family members, co-workers or neighbors. Be bold and include the folks at church and the people you meet every day. Next, to each name make a note how you will take the first step in bringing them closer to being a loving follower of Jesus.

Congratulate yourself. You have finally started to be a real disciple. Feels good, doesn’t it?

 

October

October is my favorite month. It has much to do with the weather. The heavy heat of summer is finally pierced by cooler, drier, crisper weather. The leaves are changing and falling. The weeds have stopped taking over my yard. The weather brings football, fresh television programming, and gumbo.  Life is good.

It’s harvest time. I grew up in Crowley and October brought the Rice Festival. We walked the crowded streets, enjoyed the rides at the fair, and watched or marched in parades. I remember 1959 when Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy came. I was ten.  He was running for president and she wowed the audience by speaking in French. I will never forget the line of black limos in which they blew in and out-of-town.

I think Jesus will come back in October. This is not based on some careful study of the books of Daniel or Revelation. It’s just my gut feeling based on the harvest-like nature of the month. He won’t come in limos nor will he leave as quickly as he arrives. For some, it will be a time of great joy. For others, not so much. It will be harvest time when the wheat and chaff will be separated. I don’t know if it will be this October, but the possibility should make us even more determined to share the possibility, it’s importance and finality. It’s amazing that with all the communication marvels of the age, that there are still so many who haven’t really heard.

October ends with Halloween. I’m not a big fan. It’s become such a big “holiday.” It wasn’t such a big deal when I was a kid. It was fun, but not a big deal. It ends my favorite month with a grim reminder that Satan is still “god” of this world. Maybe this will be the last year that he is. Maybe this will be the last Halloween and the most glorious October ever.