3 Ways to Respond to a Challenge

Did you know that only one miracle is mentioned in all four Gospels? Do you know which miracle it is? It is the miracle where Jesus fed a large group of people by exponentially multiplying the lunch of a small boy. I have often wondered why this miracle is so important that the Lord included it as many times as He did.

One day in preparing to preach from John’s account, it hit me that Jesus described how three different people responded to His challenging question, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5).

3 Responses to Jesus’ Challenge

1.  The response of Philip. How did Philip respond? He took out his iPhone and fired up his food preparation app and did the math. The story tells us that 5,000 men were present, so the number was probably 10,000+ when the women and children were included. Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii (8 months wages) worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7). Then notice what Philip did next. He dismissed the challenge immediately. He gave up without trying. And, he didn’t even consider God in the equation.

2. The response of Andrew. Andrew’s reaction was an improvement, but not much of an improvement. He inventoried available resources and said “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9). After that he dismissed the challenge and he seemed to also leave God out of the equation.

3. The response of the little boy. Interestingly, the little boy is almost invisible in the story. We know nothing about him or his family. We don’t even know his name. All we know is that he was willing to share what he had. I don’t believe for a minute that he was the only person there with food. You mean to tell me that no one had a PB & J? A can of Vienna Sausages or Beenie Weenies? A bologna sandwich? A granola bar? Or a Snickers? Surely others had food, but he is the only one in the story who shared it with the disciples. God took his small gift and used it in a marvelous, miraculous way to feed everyone who was present that day.

Are you facing a challenge? How about your church? If so, then you’re normal. We all face challenges on a regular basis. This is earth, not Heaven. We have not arrived yet. How will you and I respond to the challenge we currently face? Will we respond like Philip and dismiss the challenge immediately? Will we respond like Andrew and take an inventory of what we can do? Or will we respond like the little boy and give what we have to the Lord and trust Him for the results?

Prayer: “Lord, please help me to respond like the little boy in the story with the challenges I face!

4 Steps to Forgiving Those I Hate

How can we forgive people we hate? How can we show grace to those we can’t stomach? The honest truth is that we can’t! In our own strength, we are unable to forgive those who have hurt us deeply, but with God’s help it is possible.

4 Steps to Forgiving Those I Hate

1. Turn our hurts over to God. We should remind ourselves that nothing happens that God does not allow. As a result we should acknowledge our hurts and ask God to help us with them. He may choose to teach us through them and shape us into the person He wants us to be. God never wastes a hurt!

God never wastes a hurt!

2. Ask God to transform our hate to love. In time, God will change our hearts to match His heart if we allow Him to do so. We should pray and ask God to start the process of healing and forgiveness in our hearts.

3. Read what God’s Word says about forgiveness. The Bible is replete with verses on this topic. Reading what God says is a major part of how He moves us towards a heart of forgiveness. Here are a couple of passages on the topic:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV) 

“He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:  Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'”  Luke 11:2-4 (NIV) 

4. Remember that we sinned against God. God forgave us when we didn’t deserve it, so we should forgive others when they don’t deserve it. We are never more like God than when we grant forgiveness to undeserving people.

Don’t spend the rest of your life without rest in your life!

If you’re struggling with hard feelings toward someone . . . if you’re mad, hurt, bitter, or all the above rolled into one, then let it go! Forgive! Do it for their sake! Do it for your sake! Do it for the Lord! Don’t spend the rest of your life without rest in your life. Unforgiveness can slow down or even sidetrack your spiritual growth.

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6 Reasons I Like Deacons

I have served “as” a deacon and I have served “with” deacons. As a pastor I appreciated the office of deacon and the men who served in that role. Here are a few of the reasons I really like deacons:

6 Reasons I Like Deacons

1. Deacons are fellow servants. As a pastor, I was a servant of the Lord and a servant of the church. According to Acts 6, my main role as a pastor was to serve the church through preaching/teaching and prayer. Likewise, deacons are servants of the Lord and servants of the church.

2. Deacons are fellow men. I know there are exceptions where women serve as deacons, but in all the churches where I served as pastor, the deacons were all men. Men need to be around other men. We need the accountability and the example. Serving with men of God who were deacons helped to keep me on track in my spiritual walk and discipleship path. As Scripture says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV).

Men need to be around other men.

3. Deacons are human. Even though pastors hold an important office and are held to high standards according to 1 Timothy 3, they are not perfect. They make mistakes just like everyone else. Deacons are held to the same high standards and qualifications as pastors, but they are human also.

4. Deacons are leaders. Most churches are desperate for leadership–especially servant leadership. Deacons, along with pastors, are uniquely positioned to provide much-needed servant leadership modeled after Jesus’ example in John 13.

5. Deacons are partners. Jim Henry referred to his deacons as “partners in ministry.” That is the perfect title for a deacon. No pastor or staff can carry out all the ministry needed in a local church. We need to partner together to serve God’s church.

…deacons are partners in ministry.

6. Deacons are friends. Some of my closest friends have been deacons with whom I have been privileged to serve.

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3 Keys to Improved Worship

Have you ever thought about ways to improve worship? Much has been written on the subject recently. Allow me to share a few thoughts I’ve gleaned from my study over the last few years.

3 Keys to Improved Worship

1. God is the audience. When you hear the word audience associated with worship, what comes to mind? Do you picture the preacher, the praise team, the choir, the organist, the pianist, and various soloists on stage at different points with the congregation looking on as the audience? To many this is what comes to mind, but it is not a biblical model.

In biblical worship, the audience is God!

In biblical worship, the audience is God! The person seated on the back row of the balcony is “on stage” in God’s eyes just as much as the soloist and the preacher. God watches all of us as we worship Him. Those in the congregation must understand that those on stage are not there to please them; they are there to please God!

2. Every Christian should prepare for worship. Through the years, I have taught that we should come to the services “prepared” to worship God. We can’t worship if we’re worn out or hung over from a late Saturday night. We can’t place God first on Sunday if we haven’t given Him a second-thought during the week. Worship is a seven-day-a-week proposition and it takes special preparation to be ready for Sunday worship. Many get nothing out of worship because they’ve put nothing into worship during the week.

We can’t place God first on Sunday if we haven’t given Him a second-thought  during the week.

3. Preaching is a two-way street. Every week I look out and see a plethora of reactions to my preaching. I see some people on the edge of their seat, making mental notes and often taking written notes. Often sitting near them I see another person fighting back sleep. Now I realize that some people have medical issues that cause them to sleep any time they get still for a minute or two, but I suspect that some are just dulled to the message because of their lifestyle. My preaching would improve in their eyes if they would improve the way they live.

Challenge:  I challenge you to a little experiment. Spend one entire week preparing for worship on Sunday. Read your Bible and pray every day. Ask the Lord to help your pastor to hear His voice as He shows him what to say. Get to bed early on Saturday and get to church a little early on Sunday so you won’t feel so rushed. During the service, remember that God hears your expressions of praise and knows your heart. I am confident that worship will “come alive” for us like never before when we make it a true priority in our lives.

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7 Things I Loved Hearing as a Pastor

In yesterday’s post, I talked about 6 Things I Hated Hearing As a Pastor. Fortunately in the churches I served as Senior Pastor, I heard far more words of encouragement than words of discouragement. Here are a few of the things I loved hearing most as a pastor.

7 Things I Loved Hearing as a Pastor

1. Pastor. I loved being called “pastor.” I’ve had no higher calling or greater privilege in my career than serving as a pastor of a local church. When someone said “Pastor Steve” or “Pastor Rice” it always warmed my heart and made me grateful to God.

I loved being called “pastor.”

2. Pastor, I’m praying for you. You’ve heard the saying “I need the prayers and you need the practice.” I don’t know if the person who offered to pray for me needed to practice, but I knew that I needed their prayers. What a privilege that they would take time to pray for me!

3. Pray for me pastor. It was always humbling when members of the church or community asked me to pray for them. They trusted that my prayers would make a difference in their lives–what a blessing this was!

4. Thank you pastor. Words of gratitude were always welcome. I did not serve as a pastor in order to receive the praises of men and women, but since I’m human, it felt great to be appreciated.

…since I’m human, it felt great to be appreciated.

5. Pastor, I’ll be glad to help. Some individuals were always ready to jump in and help, always ready to say yes. They were always willing to give of their time, finances, talents, and gifts.

6. Pastor, tell me how to become a Christian. The “Good News” never got old. Possibly the highest privilege of a pastor was being present when a person placed their faith in Jesus Christ. Heaven was present and eternity was changed!

7. Pastor, help me know how to read the Bible. The Bible is the most important key to spiritual growth. Through our reading and study of the Bible, we hear the Word of the Lord. I always found great joy in helping church members know more about God’s Word.

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Old-Fashioned Church

Amish.2 A while back our  Church Consulting & Revitalization Team held a planning retreat in the Southern Indiana Amish country. Although I do not agree with much of the spiritual theology of the Amish, I have always respected them for their commitment to the “old-fashioned ways.” I believe that the modern church should strive to be old-fashioned in certain areas.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and would not want to give up my iPhone, iPod, iPad, GPS running watch, or any other smart device. I also love a lot of the new music being written for the church today. I prefer indoor plumbing over outhouses, air-conditioning over funeral home fans, and padded pews over pews that make your body go numb, but old-fashioned is still sometimes preferred.

An old-fashioned church is a church fashioned after the Book of Acts!

So, where should the modern church be old-fashioned and what is an old-fashioned church? An old-fashioned church is a church fashioned after the Book of Acts. It is a church with the same priorities of the early church. It is a church that, at it’s core, has the same purpose and focus of the church in the 2nd chapter of Acts.

Characteristics of an Old-Fashioned Church

   42  And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43  Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44  Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45  and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46  So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 (NKJV)

1.  Doctrine. The church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Vs. 42). Several translations choose the word “teaching” instead of the word “doctrine,” but they can be used interchangeably. The apostles taught the people the Word of God. An old-fashioned church focuses on teaching God’s Word accurately, consistently, and thoroughly. The apostles knew that it matters what you believe, so they led the people to believe God’s Word and sought to teach how Jesus the Messiah was revealed throughout the Old Testament.

2.  Fellowship. The word koinonia in the original language was used several times by the Apostle Paul, but Luke used it only once in Acts 2. The word is usually translated “fellowship” and it indicates that the early believers had an uniquely close relationship because of their connection through the Gospel. Their “fellowship” served as a witness to the world that something was different about them that greatly affected their relationships.

3.  Obedience. The early church continued in “the breaking of bread” (Vs. 42).  Many commentaries believe this included observing the Lord’s Supper together. Although the Passover meal was a long-standing Jewish tradition, connecting the symbols of the bread and juice to the body and blood of Jesus was new. Jesus told the apostles to continue the practice so they obeyed this new command.

I fear that many churches today do not possess these first three Biblical characteristics. Instead of teaching doctrine, they teach the opinions of man or woman. Instead of experiencing fellowship, they experience conflict and division. Instead of obeying all the applicable commands of the Word of God, they pick and choose the preferable commands that best fit their compromising lifestyle. Is it any wonder that many modern churches are not experiencing a mighty move of God’s Spirit like the churches in the Book of Acts? May God help us possess the characteristics of an old-fashioned church.

Best Bible Reading Plans

What is the most important spiritual discipline? What is the one thing that is paramount when it comes to maturing as a follower of Christ? I believe the Bible is the key. I’m not saying that it is the only thing that is important, but I am saying that it is most important!

Many Christians have followed Christ for decades, yet have never read the Bible in its entirety. There are several printed plans, web-based plans, and Bible apps that make it easier than ever.

4 Types of Bible Reading Plans

1. Printed plans. There are numerous ways to print off a Bible reading plan online. One of the best sites is the The Navigators. They utilize the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading plans which are some of my favorites.

2. One-Year-Bible. This Bible is designed for those who want to read through the Bible in a calendar year.

3. Online plans. Dozens (probably hundreds) of sites exist online that are dedicated to reading the Bible through in a year. Some will even email you each day with the assigned reading. Here are three good ones:  Christianity.com, BibleGateway.com, and BacktotheBible.org.

4. Bible apps. I utilize several great Bible apps for Bible reading and study. They all have Bible reading plans that are very helpful. My favorite Bible apps include: You Version, ESV, and Logos.

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Resolutions

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