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For the lost

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What really matters to you from a Kingdom perspective?

Probing a bit further, what do your spiritual priorities look like?

I have been thinking about all of this for several months now because I have been feeling very restless in my soul. It’s almost like I am being pulled in another direction, a direction far from my comfort zone. A Holy discontent with the religious status quo. Knowing that change is forthcoming, yet not having a clue as to what/when/how. Maybe you can relate?

I know that this feeling has to do with my desire to be more personally involved in ministering to others. Organized, institutionalized church where the format never changes may work for others, but it leaves me scratching my head wondering about how impersonal it all is. It leaves me wondering if God did desire to show up some Sunday, would He need to ask to be put on our program?

I have come to realize that I have reached a crossroads in my life where I can no longer be content to just show up and throw money at a situation or problem, or toss an envelope in an offering plate. No, I want to see the faces of the people who need that money. I want to see their faces because I know that tangible things are just a part of what they really need. These unknown faces need to see the love of Jesus demonstrated.

It is this demonstration of love that people crave.

At times it seems to me that the Church is losing its passion for those on the ‘outside’, content to coddle and entertain those on the ‘inside’. It makes me wonder if we have become ‘too good’, at least in our own minds, to be bothered by those less fortunate than ourselves when we take measures to shield ourselves from lost, hurting, and desperate people.

Is this not our mission? Is this not why Jesus came, to seek and to save that which was lost? [1]

Years ago a church I attended decided that a good way to minister to the community was by having a food bank that gave away food to the needy. To be honest, more than a few of us questioned that need, wondering if these needy people actually existed in our small town. Imagine our great surprise that as the word got out, people began showing up at all hours of the day!

It was heartbreaking to see these families who had very little to eat, especially little children. And to think that prior to our starting the food bank we didn’t even know these needy people existed! Hearing their stories would always touch me deeply, and I suppose this is where I learned to love the downtrodden.

Now, places exist that are funded by churches and community service groups so the needy have a place to go to away from the church. This serves two purposes: 1, hurting people have a centralized place to go to receive help, and 2, the church doesn’t have to get its hands dirty.

An institutionalized clearing house for the hurting if you will, where the opportunity for personal contact from the church is lost.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t believe that this is what Jesus meant when he taught that we were to have mercy and compassion for the lost and needy among us. We give money to far away places, content that we did something for someone whose face we will never see. We have bought into the world’s philosophy that if you throw enough money at the problem, eventually it will fix itself. [2]

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m driving around and see so many people who are obviously struggling, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t more that can be done to help them. Please understand me, I am not advocating for more government handouts or more welfare type programs. Those are temporary, stop gap measures(at best).

Of course, there are a great many well funded programs already in existence to help those in need. The question I am asking though is are they the right kinds of programs?

No, what I’m referring to are more and better opportunities. Better paying jobs for instance would enable a person to afford better housing, higher quality food, and an overall better quality of life. Sometimes just an equal opportunity is all that is needed to lift someone up and out of poverty because I firmly believe that all most people want is a chance, and equal chance to succeed.

This nation is rich beyond anything most of the world can imagine. We have an obligation to “the least of these” to do more for them than giving them monthly handouts. [3]

Our churches should be on the front lines, fighting to see that these people are given the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings. Our churches should open their doors and their checkbooks because after all, it is the church that is in the mercy business, not the government. With the tremendous resources our churches have at their disposal, we could make significant inroads into improving the plight of the poor and needy if they would once again pick up the mantle.

An “institutionalized clearing house for the hurting” is not the answer. Demonstrating the love of Jesus with a personal touch followed up with practical, tangible “put your money where your mouth is” blessings would have a tremendous impact for those in need.

I close this post with a song about compassion for the lost. I heard this song a few days ago, and instantly recognized it as one I used to listen to regularly a long time ago. I pray it will touch your heart.

 

Ron

[1]Luke 19:10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

[2]For the record, I am 100% in favor of missions giving as long as their is a regular accounting given of those funds

[3] Matthew 25:45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

 

 

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Fight the battles God has called you to fight

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But leave the rest to Him!

Be honest, how many of us tend to take on more than we should? How many of us get caught up in certain causes to the point of being emotionally ready to take on any giant that dares get in our way?

I know I am guilty of this. Certain subjects that I am very passionate about, like poverty, child abuse, abortion, and clergy sex predation are all subjects that tend to send me into full attack mode.

I imagine you have your own list as well, don’t you?

Yet other than to write a few words on a little-read blog, my efforts go largely unnoticed. Well, that and my blood pressure rises.

To be sure, I am a passionate person who always roots for the Davids in their struggles against the worlds Goliaths. Frankly, I think the world could use a few more passionate people who care about those who have no real voice. So, in that sense I don’t apologize.

Where I get into trouble though is when I stray too far out of my lane and end up in areas far beyond my capability to offer anything in the way of real,or tangible help.

And lets be real here, words only carry so much weight when they aren’t backed by substantive means.

To be the most effective, it’s important to focus on what we do best, or from a strictly spiritual perspective, to focus on what God has called us to do. If we stay in the lane to which we have been assigned, the Lord will take our efforts and bless and prosper them far beyond what any of us could do on our own.

When we try to take on areas outside of what God has equipped us to deal with however, well lets just say the results are almost always less than stellar.

It’s true, all of us have unique giftings from God, and every one of us is but one small part of the body of Christ. As such, we all have a specific role to play in order for this body to function at its highest capacity. [1]

Looking at the church, I find it both interesting and fascinating to see how the Lord puts this body together in a way that works best for His purpose. To see people who have specific gifts and talents use them for the Kingdom is nothing short of amazing!

God does things strategically, meaning there is purpose to how He places people in this body. Even though there are times when we may question this purpose because we cannot see the future, we can rest assured that all things work together for good.  [2]

There is a saying that gets tossed around the church that says to “bloom where you’re planted”. There is a lot of wisdom in those few words. For us to get to the point that we “bloom” requires time, patience, and sometimes plain hard work!

Far too often however we allow our eyes to become fixated on the green grass on the other side of the fence. When this happens we begin to doubt that the place where God has planted us will ever measure up to what we perceive to be on the other side of that fence.

That’s why we are to stay in our lane. We must focus on the battle, or work, that the Lord has called us to and not allow our attention to be diverted. Do what the Lord has called you to do and know that the rest is in His hands.

There remains a great harvest to be gathered before the coming of the Lord. By staying in our assigned lane, allowing the Lord to work in and through us, and fighting the battle we have been called to fight, the body of Christ is best equipped to reach this harvest.

Don’t try to take on more than you can handle. Be faithful in that which you have been called to do.

And leave the rest to Him!

Be blessed in Jesus name,

Ron

 

[1] Romans 12:4-6, 1st Cor. 12:12, 27,

[2] Romans 8:28

Substitute Preacher…

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As I mentioned in my last post, this past week I have been filling in for my Pastor, who is taking a few days off for some much needed rest.

Since we have both Wednesday evening and Sunday morning services at our church, I needed to prepare two different messages, and when you add in hospital visitation it was a busy week.

Well, not that busy, but busier than what has become my new normal since retirement.; )

If you’ve never done something like this, it is both exhilarating and somewhat frightening, especially if you’ve been “out of the saddle” for awhile. It also helps a great deal to know that there are people praying for you, and I sincerely appreciate those of you who lift me up in prayer.

A lot of prayer and study time is necessary to deliver God’s word effectively, at least that’s how it is for me. I understand that many ministers preach from a sermon outline they’ve purchased online, and many simply purchase an entire sermon series which they then tweak to fit their needs.

I decided long ago however that I could not do it this way, preferring instead to spend time in the Word and in prayer in order to hear from the Lord as to what He would have me to deliver to the congregation.

This is not something I take lightly, and I approach it as if the Lord Himself were listening. Which, of course, He is.

As it turned out, it was well worth the effort, and I am happy to report that both messages were received with a lot of sincere enthusiasm, and many reported to be encouraged and strengthened.

I count it a privilege to be able to pray with people who have been broken by the cares of this life. Hearing them pour out their hearts to God, and to be able to pray and weep with them is an honor I do not take lightly.

It is humbling to be reminded that the Lord will still use a willing vessel, and I am thankful for the drive and passion for ministry He has instilled in me.

Sensing the presence of God was just icing on the cake, and that makes it all worthwhile for me.

Have a great Monday everyone!

Ron

 

 

 

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness…

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“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.”  [1]

This fourth Beatitude is one that I particularly love because I believe it establishes one of the foundational requirements for Godly living. In it, Jesus used two of the strongest human needs, hunger and thirst, to express the passion with which we should pursue God.

Have you ever been so thirsty that it seemed your thirst just couldn’t be quenched? Did that stop you from drinking still more? Of course not! Even if it meant drinking several different things you were determined to quench your thirst.

For He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.  [2]

Sometimes when I’m hungry, I’ll go to the cabinet and stand there looking inside, trying to decide what it is that I want to eat. I may grab this or that, and as soon as I’ve eaten it I’ll know that I made the wrong choice, so I’ll try something else.

In much the same way Jesus is describing the hunger and thirst for righteousness that we are to have. The desire for more of Him should permeate our being, as an insatiable appetite does for those that have not eaten.

David said O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You
….[3]

As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God…[4]

deer in the lake

anilogics.com

This type of intense longing is exactly the type of hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about. It means we do not approach the Lord with an attitude of indifference, but rather a passionate zeal to know him and his ways.

To hunger and thirst for righteousness means we must make a conscious decision about which part of us gets fed. If we desire the things of the world more than God, those things will destroy our hunger for the righteousness that Jesus is speaking of in this Beatitude.

This is very dangerous because if we allow our zeal for God to be swallowed up by the pleasures of the flesh, we will spiritually die.

He who pursues righteousness and loving devotion finds life, righteousness, and honor.[5]

My prayer for all is that we are passionate in our search for a closer walk with God, that we develop a hunger and thirst for righteousness that can only be filled by Him.

Be Blessed!

Ron

 

[1] Matthew 5:6

[2] Psalm 107:9

[3] Psalm 63:1,2

[4] Psalm 42:1,2

[5] Prov. 21:21

When “works” replace Jesus…

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Recently I came across an article that talked about pastors filling in their church calendars for the new year. The gist of this article dealt with whether or not the items that made their calendars was real ministry or simply “busy work”.

It made for interesting reading, especially when one of the pastors posted a link to his calendar for everyone to see. Imagine my surprise when lo and behold nearly every day of the week was filled from early morning till late in the evening.

Everything from early morning Bible studies and Zumba classes, afternoon staff and business meetings, to evening choir practice and healthy cooking classes filled this church’s calendar.

Frankly, it was the busiest church calendar I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. At first glance one would be inclined to say that this church was very busy, and they certainly were. I couldn’t imagine them squeezing anything else into an already stuffed daily agenda.

There was something odd however about this church calendar. I couldn’t figure it out at first, but I couldn’t shake the notion that in spite of so many agenda items something was missing.

Then it hit me. There was something missing! In fact, I noticed two missing items. The first was that there was no time built into the calendar for corporate prayer. The second thing that I noticed missing was there was not one single event or activity geared toward anyone outside the four walls of the church!

As I studied this I was reminded of something that Jesus said to the church at Ephesus, one of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation.

2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.    Revelation 2:2-4(NKJV).    Emphasis mine

Lets look at these verses in detail because I think we might see ourselves in them.

Jesus recognized the works that the church had been doing. He called attention to their labor and patience, and how many of us can relate when it comes to having patience when doing the Lords work?

Jesus also mentioned the church’s disdain for those who practiced evil. All of us understand this don’t we? We are trying to live a Godly life in the midst of a perverse and increasingly evil society, and it’s only going to become more challenging.

He goes on to list several more very positive attributes of the church at Ephesus, leaving no doubt that He knew this church intimately. Hmmm…do you suppose Jesus knows the church you attend in such intimate detail?

At first glance this church could be the model for all other churches in the area. Things were going good, and I imagine there was quite a buzz about all the wonderful things the church at Ephesus was doing.

But, and there’s always a but, right? There was a problem in the church, a problem so important that Jesus couldn’t let it slide without calling their attention to it.

It all began with the word “nevertheless”. Just hearing the word sends thoughts of “uh oh, here it comes” to our minds. Even after all of the praise Jesus gave the church, there was a “nevertheless” that cast a dark shadow on what was an otherwise glowing report.

Nevertheless, he said, this church had lost their first love.

Ouch!

What does this mean, to have lost your first love? It means that the church at Ephesus no longer loved the Lord with the same level of intensity they once had. Their passionate love for Jesus had been replaced by something else.

They had lost their zeal for Christ. Typically when this happens, we just go through the motions of serving God. Our heart is no longer motivated by the love of Jesus, we become content to do as many good works as we can, placing our trust in the deeds themselves rather than Jesus.

Ask me how I know this!

Do you know what this is called? It’s called RELIGION, and it ceases to be about a relationship with Christ. The church at Ephesus abandoned their first love in exchange for cold, formal, impersonal RELIGION.

This is the same poison that has infected the Church today. The poison of RELIGION has suffocated the once fervent relationship she had with Christ. This is why there is such apathy in the pew today. We have supplanted relationship with form, with rules, with do’s and dont’s.

But it doesn’t have to be like this! There’s more to the story! In the next verse, Jesus gave the church at Ephesus an “out”. He told them to REPENT. That’s right, simply REPENT.

Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”   Rev. 2:5   KJV

I believe that this is the message for the Church today. Remember where we came from, acknowledge we have strayed, repent and get going again.

Return to the love of Jesus, then watch how much impact our works will have on the world around us!

Maybe we should put THAT in our church calendars!

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

Stuck at the starting gate…

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Do you ever think about whether or not you are making progress in your walk with the Lord? Are you growing in your faith? Are you steadily marching along toward the goal of spiritual maturity?

Tough questions for all of us, aren’t they? Even after all these years, there are times when I think to myself “am I really growing like I should be”?

Do you feel like instead of progressing, it’s more like you’re stuck in neutral?

If we’re being honest, does it feel like you’ve been taking two steps backwards and one step forward?

Or are you one of the millions that have started on a journey with Christ, yet you are neither going forward or backwards, like you’re not moving at all?

In other words, are you stuck at the starting gate?

starting gate

If this is you, then read on because this post is for you!

Being stuck at the starting gate describes those of us who know the Lord as our Savior, who attend church regularly, read our Bibles, and for all intents and purposes are doing all the right things. We’re on our way to heaven.

Yet for all of that, something is missing. There is no passion, no excitement, no enthusiasm for the things of God. Just going through the motions of “churchianity”. We’re described in the Bible like this:

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;” Matthew 15:8

OUCH!

We’re present in body only. We can’t seem to find a way to become engaged. We just “are”. We’re stuck at the starting gate. Nothing moves us, nothing motivates us. We just “are”.

motivation not

This is a long way from the life that Jesus describes in the second half of John 10:10!!

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

The Abundant Life. You’ve no doubt heard about it. You’ve probably heard a sermon or two about it.  TV preachers talk incessantly about it. Book shelves are filled with volume after volume of authors who attempt to link prosperity with the Abundant Life. You know the ones:

  • The Laws of Prosperity
  • Blessed
  • Biblical Keys to Financial Prosperity
  • Christian Prosperity Secrets
  • The Prosperity Bible

OK, you get the point I’m sure. It seems there is no end to the amount of information out there about prosperity and the Christian. The world, and sad to say a great many preachers, says that living an Abundant Life means living a life of financial prosperity.

But that is NOT what Jesus was referring to when He spoke of the Abundant Life! Truth is, you can live an extraordinarily Abundant Life while being flat broke!

The Abundant Life is a life of meaning, purpose, contentment, joy, strength, and faith that culminates in eternal victory in Jesus Christ.

Now that’s an Abundant Life!

Of course, this does not mean that God doesn’t want us to be blessed and prosperous. Of course He does. What we have to ask ourselves however is what good does wealth and prosperity do us if we are miserable, unhappy, living in fear and doubt, and without hope?

Or what good does wealth and prosperity do us if we can’t get past the starting gate?

If you’re feeling like you are stuck at the starting gate, I have great news for you! The only thing keeping you there is YOU! The Gatekeeper is Jesus, and he has left the gate wide open for you to walk through and begin the journey of a lifetime!

The key to an Abundant Life is Jesus!

Be blessed,

Ron

 

Ever flounder?

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Recognize this?

flounder

scaquarium.org

It’s a Flounder.Do you know what Flounders do?

They Flounder!

People flounder too. They don’t lie on the bottom of the ocean,but they flounder.

Whenever we struggle,stumble,lose our way,or aimlessly flail about, we are floundering.

We get stuck.

Without a purpose we flounder.

Without direction we flounder.

Without a definitive plan we flounder.

Without passion we flounder.

So how do we stop floundering?

We must find our God given purpose.

Many of us struggle with purpose. Well, at least I do. I struggle with it seemingly non stop.And I’m sure that a lot of my struggles are tied into my recent retirement. I’ve read several books on post retirement and they all seem to have one common theme. That is that you are not defined by what you used to do.

Oh really? I must have slept through the part where they told me that because it sure seems as though the person I once was wants to still be that person! Why else would I keep waking at 4:00 am, unable to go back to sleep because my mind won’t quit trying to figure out what’s next?

The harsh reality for me is I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being without a purpose.I’m afraid of not finishing well.I’m afraid of not mattering.I’m afraid of being miserable. Mostly I’m afraid of missing what God has in store for me.

I have a feeling I’m not alone in my fears,am I?

Some say “listen to your passion,your dissatisfaction,to your gifts”. Still others say “listen to others”.

I think I need to listen to God.

And right about now I sure need to hear from Him!

Cause I’m getting tired of all this floundering!

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