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Friday, February 25, 2011

Learning from book of Judges: You Don’t have to Reinvent the Wheel

The Book of Judges is a fascinating record of Israel after the receiving the lands promised by God and before the rule of Saul their first king. We can learn immense lessons that can aid us in our walk with God. I would like to focus just on five that I believe would help us our churches in worship and growth in general.

1. In the receiving of their section of the land, they forgot to work together. They demonstrate the fact that they could do more working together, than they could separately.  In Judges 1:27-34 there is the record of tribe after tribe failing to dislodge the previous residents of the land. Rather than ask their brothers for help, they just attempted to go it alone, and settled for a few victories, rather than the complete conquest. They forgot how they had gotten as far as they had. It is too easy to get wrapped up in our own world that we forget how much we need each other.

2. They failed to teach their children who God was and what He required. Worship and obedience are caught and taught; they failed at both. Judges 2:10 says, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.”  Even growing ministries are just one generation from oblivion, if they fail in this area. Children must be taught what worship is all about, just as much as the adults.

3. Worship ceased to be a priority and they absorbed the culture around them. The very next verse [Judges 2:11] states: “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.” Just because worship might have been important to one group, it is never the guarantee that it will be for the next. The desire to “be like the nations around them” became so strong, they forgot what and who had made them what they were. There turn from the worship of Jehovah was not overnight, but slowing slipped away, one compromise at a time. There is great danger when we cease to be the salt and light God has called us to be and we are indistinguishable from those who do not know Christ.

4.  They only called on God when the thought they needed Him. Most of the book is comprised of the history of the people falling into pagan worship, being taken over by their enemies as punishment and God raising up a leader to free them from their desperate situation. Look at Judges 10:15-16: “But the Israelites said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’ Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”   Relief was temporary, because their turning to God only lasted as long as the leaders’ life. The leader was able to lead them “out of the situation” with God’s help, but never to where they really needed to be. The leadership had failed to establish the ongoing patterns that would help them stay obedient.

5. They used their own reasoning as the standard of living, rather than the teachings of what God had commanded. The last verse in the book is perhaps one of the most telling: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” [Judges 21:25] We will base our decisions on one of the following: God’s Word, human intellect, history and tradition, or personal experience. Every decision we make must be evaluated from the truth of God’s Word, lest we ourselves begin to base our actions own what we think is the most logical, what seems right, or fits our personal convenience.  Only when we establish as our priority the Word of God as our ultimate authority will be avoid the pitfalls found in Judges.

We can learn from others mistakes, or re-invent the wheel.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Seven Things to Remember When You are Finishing School or I’ve got my degree, now what?

No school, regardless of how fine can possibly prepare a student for everything that person will face in life and ministry. For those of us that have been around for a few years, most of the technology that we use everyday not only didn’t exist when we were students, it wasn’t even a dream!

If I could give my 2 cents in this matter, I would like to share just a few things that I have found to be crucial to those who have competed some formal study and now are finally “out in the real world.”  Here’s my top seven, [and with it and a dollar or two, you can buy yourself a soft drink. :)]

1. Keep your personal devotional time regular and fresh. There is no substitute for digging in God’s Word and prayer, asking God to grant understanding and application of His Word in your life. Without it, you are on a fast track to failure. Have a mutual accountability partner that you can confide in and with whom you can help keep each other encouraged in Spiritual disciplines.

2. Learn to be wisely transparent. The temptation to “try to live up to the expectations of others” or “be” a particular person is tremendous. Being wisely transparent simply means that we avoid trying to be someone we are not. We admit failures, for they will come; we admit mistakes, for we will make them; we don’t shift blame to excuse ourselves of responsibility. Being wisely transparent says “I’m learning, growing, and have a long way to go. I will learn from my mistakes and continually ask God for help.”  It is not a continual beating up on ourselves, or a false humility, but an appreciation and an attitude of gratefulness to God for what He has done and who we made in His image.

Being wisely transparent is not easy. The natural response is to try to earn our worth by what we do. One of the keys to freeing us from this type of bondage is to remember that our worth as an individual is not based on our own perfection, but what God has done for us in Christ.  Otherwise we fall into the trap of earn our worth based on what we can do. Because my worth comes from what Christ has done, I am free to pursue new things,  grow and even make mistakes because it does not affect my worth as an individual. We do not have to prove our worth, God has already done that. Then why would we want to work so hard? We strive for excellence, then, not to earn our worth, but out of a grateful heart to offer to God a sacrifice of praise that is the best we can offer.                   

Another natural response is to become defensive when we make mistakes or if someone questions what or why we are doing. This is related to the first, since if we are basing our worth on how well we do what we do, then failure becomes a catastrophe to which we cannot admit. The old adage, “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet,” is a wonderful thing to remember. Until we reach heaven’s gate, there will always be room for growth and development. The often heard phrase, “that’s just the way I am, you just have to accept me like that...” is too often an indication of someone who has given up on allowing God’s work of transforming their character into the character of Christ.

3. Place a priority on your family. With all the demands of the ministry, the family is generally the first to suffer. Too many wives and children of those in the ministry would testify that their fathers always had time for church members, but never seemed to have time for them. Learn some basic communication skills, go to marriage retreats and parenting seminars, go to a Christian counselor; don’t just keep doing what you doing and hope that when the kids are older it will be easier. Every stage of life has its challenges. The greatest opportunity for discipleship you will ever have will be the children God places in your home for those 16 - 18 years. The weight of that stewardship is an awesome privilege and responsibility. A full 50% of all marriages in and out of the church end in divorce. The world is waiting to see an example of a home that can make it, and wants to know if Christ really can make a difference in their home life.

4. Prepare and plan your work, then work your plan.  I confess that I am amused when I hear students say they can hardly wait to get out of school so that they won’t have any “homework” anymore. I know what they mean, – they don’t want to have to stay up late reading and writing papers, etc. Yet, if they thought that was work, just wait until they get to their church field and are expected to do their work as well as be the part-time janitor and secretary for the church. Or that the other duties that are a part of the job take up so much time that they bare have any time to do the work that is really priority in their ministry. Learning to set aside time to plan, prepare and evaluate your work will save you from just trying to run from one immediate need to the next, and from trying to put out one fire, while another is igniting. There are some wonderful resources in this area and wise are the ministers that invest in availing themselves to those resources and puts them into practice.  As someone has said, “he who flies by the seat of his pants, will crash in the same way.”

5. Keep studying and practicing.
This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do, since there isn’t anyone looking over your shoulder and giving you an exam over the material, or having to stretch yourself with new material. Time becomes such a factor, that one of the first things we give up is that time to keep reading and studying in our field and keep honing the skills that God has given. We are more likely just to do whatever it takes to “get by” until we can “get some more time.”   There are seasons of like more busy than others, but this kind of study and work is not something that will just happen.  After a long day of ministry and dealing with the problems of others, the great tendency is to collapse at home and vegetate in front of the television. Something that has helped me is to read a few pages of “one of those books I’d like to read one day” each morning during breakfast. Believe it or not, I have now read several of these “breakfast books” over the years and it has made a great deal of difference in my study habits.

6. Develop meaningful friendships, mentor and be mentored.  Someone has said, “There are only two things that are now eternal: people and God’s Word. If you invest your life in the things that are eternal, then you won’t have regrets at the end of your life.”  Invest in people more than things, relationships that you can hold in your heart more than those things you can hold in your hands.  By taking on someone to walk with you as a mentor you will be discipling by example. There are numerous examples of this in Scripture, it is not a matter of proving that it is the right thing to do, but doing the right thing.

7. Start now, begin today.  Tomorrow is promised to none. Do today what you can. You cannot change yesterday, but you can change tomorrow by changing what you do today. Even reading this is a start. The longest journey really does begin with one step. As my father told me when I was young, “I don’t care how many times you fall down; you just have to get up one more time than you fall.”  May God richly bless you as you grow in Him!