Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Did God Require Abraham to be Circumcised?


(As promised in this mornings message.... here is an expanded explanation of the topic).

In Genesis 17, God required Abraham to be circumcised.  This included all males in Abraham’s household, his male servants, and all his male descendants.  It was Abraham’s part of the covenant; a sign made in the flesh.

From that day forward, the Jew is circumcised.

Clearly, this is a strange command.  God ordered the removal of the foreskin of the male sexual organ – literally carving into human flesh a sign of His ownership.  This was the distinctive mark of the Jewish people in ancient times, intended by God to mark them as His special possession.  It also marked God’s people as being distinctly (and physically) separate from the people of other nations. 

It was the mark of their sanctification.

The foreskin, that lose portion of skin that covers the tip of the male organ, symbolizes the flesh of our fallen nature.  The apostle Paul explains it this way, “In Him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature (Colossians 2:11).

By removing the foreskin,  the Jews symbolized the putting away of the flesh;  i.e, the sinful nature that was our inheritance from the Fall of Man.  Although Abraham did not fully understand the symbolic nature of circumcision, the rite looked forward in time to the crucifixion of the Messiah, when He removed our sin from us, taking it upon Himself, and would sanctify us through circumcision of the heart.

This visible symbol of God’s ownership was made in the most private and personal part of a man’s body; and it was no small matter to the Jews.  It was the Jewish mark of identity.  The Jews called themselves circumcised, and they called the Gentile world around them the uncircumcised.

One of the hallmarks of pagan society in those days was open, flagrant, sexual degeneracy.    Even the religion was sexually oriented and corrupt.  The temples of Rome, Greece, and other Gentile nations were filled with all sorts of sexual activity and debauchery.  So the idea of dividing the righteous from the unrighteous on the basis of an identifying mark in the male sexual organ makes a good deal of rational sense from God’s perspective.  It identified His people as sanctified, particularly in the area of morality and sexual activity.

Furthermore, it had sanctifying effect upon God’s people.  To the Jews, those who were circumcised were morally virtuous and religiously enlightened; while the uncircumcised were those who were sexually corrupt and religiously ignorant.

Circumcision was originally intended as a sign of humility and a seal of God’s sanctification upon His people.  Over the centuries, however, this mark in the flesh became perverted by some into a source of pride.  There arose various sects within the Jewish community, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees, who viewed circumcision as a mark of superiority and God’s favoritism.  Some of the circumcised began to look upon the uncircumcised as Gentile dogs.

Although the true meaning of circumcision was distorted by some, its significance has been etched into the pages of Scripture for all time.  Moreover, what was a literal and physical sign to Abraham has deep spiritual significance to us as NT believers.  In the NT, we are no longer commanded to be circumcised in the flesh.  Instead, we are commanded to be circumcised in the heart.

See Romans 2:28-29; Colossians 2:10-11; Philippians 3:3.

Just as Jewish males had to surrender the most personal part of their body to God's ownership, we today have to do the same by surrendering the most personal part of ourselves to God - our heart.  The Jew would have to undercover himself to be cut in the flesh.  But we undercover our heart so that it may be put to the edge of the knife; the sharp, two-edged sword of God's Word (Hebrews 4:12).

The reason for this is apparent.  The heart is the symbol of the soul, the seat of the mind, emotions, and will; the very foundation of our entire personality.  Every believer in Christ – male or female – is to bare themselves before God – expose themselves, if you will – as a sign of His ownership over us.  This is how the Word of God and the Spirit of God performs spiritual surgery on us - beginning with the heart - and placing us in the Body of Christ.

That’s what it means to be circumcised in the heart.  Everything we think, everything we plan, everything we do belongs totally to Christ.  Everything we are is His to us as He wills.  As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Jesus Christ, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).

As heart-circumcised believers, we do not rely upon ourselves but depend totally upon God.  Every thought, every plan, every intention is brought into captivity to Christ.  That is the circumcised life.

Today, God calls us to an exclusive relationship with Himself.  He tells us, as He once said to Abraham, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.”  If we walk before Him with circumcised hearts, He will confirm His covenant with us – the New Covenant.  He will lead us into a life of fruitfulness and blessing, a life that is well-pleasing to Him.  This life is available to all who place their trust in El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient God.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Should a Pastor Ever Retire?


...but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer (Numbers 8:25 NIV)

Some people might say, “The Bible doesn’t say anything about retirement for ministers.”  Most of the time I would just let it go, but I’m feeling a little feisty today, so here’s my reply, “Sure it does.  The Old Testament priests were required to retire from active duty at the age of fifty.”  (That’s Numbers 8:25).

There it is, in black and white.

And to think.  I could have retired seven years ago. 

I have no idea why the Lord stopped the service of OT priests at that age, unless to give others a chance to serve.

That doesn’t mean that God would un-call me so I could sit around doing nothing.  All those OT priests were bi-vocational anyway.  They had a line of work to return to after their temple service; usually their farm or agribusiness. 

There is no getting away from the call that God has given me.  That assignment, however, is not rigid.  God’s call is fluid, meaning the role and duties may change.  It means my status could change too.

The day comes when every pastor cleans out his office and turns it all over to a younger generation.  That can be, and should be, a good thing.

Here are few suggestions for anyone considering retirement (including pastors)

1.  Figure out what to do with the rest of your life.  For most of us, having to mow the lawn and rearrange the tools in the garage is not enough motivation to get out of bed in the morning.  We need bigger things than this.  Give thought early on what you will do when you can no longer pastor the church.

2.  Find out where the old geezers in your town meet for coffee.  I’m tempted to say that this will be your new office.  It’s not, of course.  But having such a place is a good thing.  If you don’t connect with the other retirees in your town, consider starting your own group.

You will need some buddies, mostly just to laugh with, talk politics with, and to help one another keep your sanity.  Most of these guys won’t be preachers like you, so mostly be quiet for the first 20 visits or so.  Otherwise, they will yield to you (because you are the professional speaker) and that will completely change the character of the morning visits, and before long they will resent your presence.  So, be quiet and laugh at their jokes for a while.

3.  Plan to get out of the house for a couple of hours every day.  Go to the bank, the hardware store, the post office, the drug store, or whatever.  The daily excursion will give you something to do – and will give your wife some peace and quiet without being under her feet all day long.

The day will come for me when I retire from being “the pastor, but  I will never leave “the ministry."   I can do other things for the Lord.  We are always on duty for the Lord, whether anyone employs us or not.

I would continue being a personal witness for Christ… write Christian articles… mentor new believers towards discipleship… help those in need… serve my neighbor…. teach a Sunday School class… fill-in as a guest speaker for other pastors on occasion... be deeply devoted to Christ…. contribute generously… and remain a diligent student of the Word.  Plus, I would devote more time to myself and my own family.

I would be doing ministry in hundreds of little ways.  People to people.  One life at a time.   Organically.  Not organizationally.

I might even start a business and simply become a Christian businessman.

In such a scenario, Sunday morning would come rolling around and I would not be the speaker that day.  I would be sitting on the pew (like everyone else), hold my wife’s hand, enjoying the church service, enjoying the music, bringing the Lord’s tithe as an offering in an act of worship, and listening to someone else deliver the message.  I would also be praying for a number of people who are on my heart.  

That’s ministry too, you know.

And I will be rejoicing that I am not the person that deacon Crenshaw wants to talk to after service with "some concerns" he has.  (Smiley face goes here).

After the benediction, I'll drive to the local greasy spoon to have lunch with a few friends, and then I'll spend the rest of the afternoon in my van down by the river.  (A big fat smiley face goes here).


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Benefit of Keeping Your Business Small


When I first started out as a business owner in the landscape field (I provided services and sales) my goal was to build the business as large as I could.

The problem was, for the business to scale, I would need more trucks, trailers, mowers, more equipment, more inventory, more storage, more repairman, and more administrative and legal help.  As the business grew, the growth would bring more problems.  To solve the problems I would need to spend more money.  Then I would need to generate more work, more contracts, and more sales to cover the expansion.

It was like getting on a hamster cage.

The same happens in churches too.

Stress can come from all sorts of places, but the bigger your business (organization) gets, the more anxiety it seems to bring.  You have more pressure to generate more money to make sure all the expenses are covered.  You have the stress of managing workers, staff, and employees.  Then there is the stress of dealing with the public.
  • Less Risk – A smaller business has less risk.  For instance, bad weather that might shut your business down for two weeks is easier to survive if it’s just you and/or one other person.  But it’s a different story if you have numerous employees, departments, and accounts.
  • More Freedom – In a small business you have more freedom to try different ideas… freedom to work fewer hours… freedom to spend more time with family.  Maybe you’d like to coach your son’s soccer team, volunteer at church, or take your child to swimming lessons in the middle of the day.  It’s an incredible thing to have the freedom to spend time with your family and children as they are growing up.  Structuring your life and business with this freedom built-in is something you’ll never regret in the long term.
In light of these (and many more) benefits of keeping a business small, I eventually began to scale back, keeping it as a sole proprietorship and keeping it “right sized.”

Glad I did that.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Freshly Tilled and Ready for Fall Planting


This is my garden spot.  It's 100' x 65' in size.  Over the last few weeks I've cleaned all the summer growth out, pulled the tomato stakes, etc.  Today I spread (about) a ton of compost and tilled it in, making the soil rich and dark.  I'll let the ground rest for a few weeks, then will till one more time after adding lime.  Next I will build rows (raised beds) with furrows down the center for planting.

Planting of fall vegetables begins next month (about mid September):  Collards, Turnips, Kale, Carrots, Broccoli, Cabbage, Green Onion (bunching), and maybe Potatoes.  

Very excited.

PS - At the upper end of the garden you'll see my row of blueberry bushes and muscadine vine on a trellis.  We harvested a lot of blueberries this seaon, but not so good with the grapes.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Five Lessons About Ministry


1.  Put Your Marriage and Family First.  Put them before your church, your church work, your ministry, your whatever.  Planting a church is tough work.  Pastoring is tough work.  Being on a church staff is tough work.  Heck, being a volunteer ministry leader is tough.  Your work is never done, and you don’t have enough fingers to plug every hole in the dam. The sheer volume of things to be done can overwhelm your schedule very quickly, robbing you of time, energy, and leaving you emotionally drained.  This means your family gets what little of you is left over.  Don’t give your family, spouse, or children the short end of the stick – for anyone or anything.

2.  What You Do to Reach People is What You Have to Do to Keep Them.  This is a powerful ministry lesson to learn.  You can draw a crowd by doing bold, audacious things because people have a tendency to show up at places where the latest big splash occurs.  But if you use that model of ministry, you will have to keep outdoing yourself week after week, month after month.  Additionally, it will be hard to move people towards spiritual growth, because you will have unknowingly created a culture where discipleship isn’t modeled.

On the other hand, if you simply use the Bible to reach people and emphasize full devotion to Jesus Christ, that’s all you’ll ever need to keep people.  After all, Jesus Himself said that students want to be like their teacher and disciples want to be like their master.... and for them “this is enough” (Matt. 10:25).

In the end, hype and sizzle doesn’t help.  Discipleship does.  It’s not hard to draw a crowd, but it requires a great deal of intentionality and hard work to take people on a spiritual journey. 

3.  It Doesn’t Get Easier When it Gets Bigger.  I used to think a bigger church would mean a bigger budget, but in reality it just means bigger expenses.  The same problems exist in larger churches as smaller churches; only with more zeros.  

People who are not generous in a little church won’t be generous in a bigger church.  People who are not faithful in the little things won’t be faithful in bigger things.  It's just the way it is.

I wonder why we equate bigger with better.  Maybe it’s just an American thing.  But bigger is not always better.  Bigger is just bigger, and it doesn’t make things easier.

4.  You Can’t Do it Alone.  You.  Can’t.  Do.  It.  Alone.  Don’t even try.  You’ll crash and burn, have a meltdown, or end up in a moral ditch somewhere.  Surround yourself with people to help shoulder the load.  Until such people show up or step up, it’s best to let some things go undone.  Wait on God – and in His timing – because He will send the right person at the right time.  Even Moses needed the help of Aaron and Hur to hold up his hands when he grew tired (Exodus 17:12).

5.  Do Not Neglect Yourself, Your Soul, or Your Mental Health.  You can have a big church, a big ministry, or a big business, and be withering on the inside.  What good is it if you have growing influence and gain the whole world, but lose your own soul?  What good are you to anyone if you have a nervous breakdown because you burned the candle at both ends, never taking enough time for yourself?

Taking care of your own soul is the most important thing that any person can do – including ministry workers.  Forget this, and you’ll live to regret it.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What Makes Pastors Scream in Frustration!


Ten years ago, a man wrote the financial adviser of the Washington Post for advice.  He was planning to marry his fiancĂ© of 18 months as soon as they dealt with her spending habits which were clearly out of control.  Her closet contained 400 pairs of shoes, many still new, and was overflowing with clothing.  She justified her spending habits by saying she worked two jobs and always looked for bargains.

The man asked the financial adviser, “What can I do to help her curb her spending habits without making her feel bad or as though I am putting her down?”

The financial adviser, a woman herself, Michelle Singletary, urged him to postpone the marriage.  They were not even close to being ready until this matter was solved.  She suggested pulling the credit reports, seeing what they revealed, and then finding a credit counselor.

That was ten years ago.

The other day, Michelle Singletary received an e-mail from that guy telling her what happened.  The news is not good.

He did none of the things Ms. Singletary had suggested.

After getting married, he learned his new wife owed $30,000 to the IRS and $15,000 in back taxes to the city.  He took out a second mortgage on his house to cover her debts, and now stands a good chance of losing his home.  He said, “I am on the brink of financial ruin and a failed marriage.”

This is why counselors quit and walk away.

People ask for your input, and when you knock yourself out trying to help them, they ignore everything you said and plunge headlong into disaster.

Many a pastor has concluded – based on his own experience – that all premarital counsel is a waste of time.  By the time a couple walks into his office about their upcoming nuptials, their hormones are raging, their minds are made up, their mammas are making plans, and all common senses is out the window.

They are not listening to a thing the preacher says.

The same is true for most of our counseling experiences.  We advise people, provide guidance, tell them what God says in His Word, offer our insights based on years of observation and experience, and pray over them.

Do they listen?  You know the answer to that.

It's enough to make you yank your hair out.

This is just one more reason – of ten thousand, I suppose – why ministers must be called by God into this work.  If we entered the ministry idealistically purposing to “better” people’s lives, we would soon quit in frustration and look for something else to do.

Granted, some do listen (to our advice and exposition of God’s Word in sermons) and we affect some people’s lives in a positive way.  This is not to say otherwise.  It is to say, however, that a greater percentage comes to us for counsel and then ignore everything we say.

If the truth be known, they want us to say what they want to hear.

It can be frustrating.

I've often pondered the mystery of why some people respond so well to the things of God, while others remain unchanged after years of investment in their lives.

To be honest, the answer escapes me.

This is precisely why we must leave the results to God.  We sow the seed, others water, and God brings the increase.  It’s all in His hand.  Not ours.

The man or woman who is genuinely called of God will get up each day and do their work – leaving the results to God – all the while knowing that God's people will persevere.  They hear His voice and respond to His Word.

In the process, you get over yourself and your frustration.

It’s very liberating.


Staycation is over.






Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunrise on the Staycation


Took these pictures Saturday morning.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Memo to Young Men - Please Grow Up


Historically, a guy would go through two basic phases of life:  boyhood, then manhood.  The transition would involve predictable steps:
 
(1) Leave your parents home
(2) Finish your education or vocational training
(3) Start a career track, not a dead-end job
(4)  Meet a woman, love her, honor her, court her, and marry her
(5) Start a family and provide for them

However a new trend has emerged.  Rather than moving from boyhood to manhood, a lot of young men remain stuck in boyhood.  They have no desire to grow up and become real men, and no pressure is exerted upon them to do so.

A new word has been coined to describe this trend:  adultolescence.  These are twenty-something-(or thirty-something)-year-old males who are stuck in adolescence.  They are boys who can shave, but they haven’t turned into men.

They consume women, porn, alcohol, drugs, television, music, video games, toys, trucks, sports, and fantasy leagues, as if being a man is defined by how much meat you can push through your colon, how many beer cans you can smash, how loud you can belch, how fast you can drive, how far you can spit tobacco juice, how hard you can party, and how big your sub-woofers are.

The artsy, effeminate type of boy-man are prima donnas  who consume clothes, decaf lattes, herbal tea, prissy shoes, cars (not trucks), electronic gadgets, hair products, manicures, pedicures, and underwear with the names of very important people written on the waistband.  For them, manhood means being in touch with ones feelings, wardrobe, and appearance.

Then there are the legion of parents, relatives, and girlfriends, who enable these boys to remain stuck.  They pay his bills, pick up his messes, loan him the car, provide his utilities, make his dinner, wash his clothes, and purchase his tobacco.

This perpetual immaturity is also fueled by pop culture.  We are inundated with images that promote a full-scale revolt against growing up. Music, clothing, movies, body art, body piercings, and immoral values all communicate the same message - do what you feel, and go with the flow.  

It’s a Peter Pan Syndrome of living in Never Never Land.  They drift from job to job, live with parents or crew of buddies, and focus most of their energy on drinking, carousing, watching sports, hanging out in bars, looking at free internet porn, and chasing easy girls.

Because they are directionless, these guys don’t declare a major, a career, a church, a theology, or a fiancĂ©. 

Men are supposed to be producers.  Men are defined by their legacy – the life and fruit that comes out of them.  Real men make things and produce things.  They win the heart of a woman, start a family, provide for them, build a life, build homes, start businesses, make money, prosper, provide spiritual leadership, and other numerous things of substance.

Young men should exercise the discipline of thinking like godly men; that is, biblically.  

Here’s the cold hard truth: young men need to grow up!  God is a Creator and you were made in His image.  So create something!  Start a career.  Start a family.  Create a ministry.  Be a giver, not a taker.  Be a producer, not just a consumer.  Stop looking for the path of least resistance.  Take the path of self-discipline and hard work to accomplish something significant with your life – because it brings honor to God and makes you a man of substance – which is the kind of man a woman would like to marry and have children with.



Monday, August 4, 2014

Staycation


Today begins a staycation for me and Renae.  We have borrowed her father's motor home and are going to ____________________ to set it up for two weeks.

Gonna fall off the radar for a few days.  After 2-3 days we'll start commuting back and forth to work from the camp site, then return each evening to spend the night there.

And yea, I'm going to do a lot of fishing.

Will post pics.