What’s the problem?

“And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41 NLT)

Sometimes we just have to face it: the perceived problem is not the problem!
Of course, in my intellect I know that assessment is true; however, in my emotion I find a plethora of reasons — or excuses — for focusing on the perceived problem. Mainly, it is easier to shift blame to something or someone else instead of recognizing my own role in the struggle.
Over the past few weeks I have been studying and teaching on the principle of The One Thing and the study has served as a sort of myth-buster in revealing the real problem. While the corporate world applauds the ability to multi-task, the Bible shines that competence in a different light.
Often, multi-tasking is defined as: the performance of multiple tasks at one time. While usually the ability is commendable, it is shortsighted. In reality, when we spread ourselves so thinly in order to accomplish several tasks at the same time, generally we are not giving our best effort to any of those tasks.
The One Thing Principle clearly is in view in the account of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10). While Martha welcomed Jesus, she was so consumed with all of the traditional and customary tasks of hospitality that she missed the One Thing that was most needful — the ministry of presence and spending time with Jesus. Martha focused on all of things she could do for Jesus, but did not spend time with Him. With Him is always more needful than for Him!
Mary understood the importance of being with Jesus. To Martha, it looked like Mary was shirking her responsibility, and Martha even asked Jesus to rebuke Mary for doing the right thing! Instead, Jesus rebuked Martha for trying to hinder Mary’s choice of the most needful (the good part). In truth, Martha wanted Mary to act and to be like herself; she missed the One Thing that is most needful.
As Jesus was headed to the cross, He did not need a lavish meal as much as He desired the presence and love of His friends. The encouragement He wanted to give to those sisters was hindered by Martha’s self-centered focus. Martha may have had the gift of hospitality, but the gift is never more important than the Giver of all spiritual gifts!
What if we focused on one thing until we saw it accomplished? If I have learned anything in nearly 25 years of ministry it is to keep doing the last thing God told me to do until He tells me to do something else — however, it remains an ongoing lesson.
God is faithful to complete what He starts and He intends for us to remain engaged and focused on the One Thing to which He has called us.
The apostle Paul, inspired by God, spoke of this confidence: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6)
I fear that much of the body of Christ has lost confidence in this truth as evidenced by the much hustling around to try to keep all of the ministry plates spinning at the same time, to the exclusion of trusting God to use other believers whom He has equipped. It seems the mantra has become, “If I don’t do this task, it won’t get done.” We try to spiritualize the statement by saying that we do not distrust God, rather we do not trust others.
Again, the perceived problem is not the problem! The real issue is that too often we do not trust others to do a task the way we think it should be done, so we overextend ourselves to the point that we do not do any of the multiple tasks to the best of our ability. The problem lies in the fact that we do not really trust God to move in the lives of other individuals.
The real problem is that we want to be Holy Spirit for other people.
Today, ask the Lord to reveal the “many things” that threaten your peace and disturb your personal, intimate relationship with Him. Choose to prioritize the most needful things and spend time at the feet of Jesus until He has shown you what to do next — it is the most needful thing; everything else can wait.
The real problem is not that we do not have enough time to get all of our tasks done, rather we spend our time on the less necessary and miss out on the One Thing that Jesus wants to show us. That is the problem.
Take a deep breath. Understand that God has not called you to do everything. Focus on the One Thing that you know He has called you to do and equipped you to accomplish. Keep doing the last thing Holy Spirit told you to do until He tells you to do something different.
That is the “good part.” That is the “one thing that is needed.”

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Ouch!

It happened again today!

In an instant of casual reading, my eyes scrolled over a sentence that made me push back from my desk and take a deep breath. The words froze me in a momentary trance in which I did not know whether to shout, “Amen” or “Ouch.”
And since I have to deal with it, everyone should. So here it is:

“The fatal flaw of human wisdom is that it promises that you can change your relationships without needing to change yourself. When that perspective rules, you end up settling for far less than what God desires for your life and your friendships.” (excerpted from the book Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, 7)

You’re welcome!

I am finding that whether I am working to revitalize a declining congregation, attempting to restore a disintegrating family relationship, or struggling to reconcile bitter enemies it is far easier for me to see others’ faults than my own — maybe it is the position of that proverbial log in my eye (Mat. 7:5). Honestly, how arrogant is it for us to believe we can alter relationship circumstances without realizing our own needs for change?

The still, small voice of God rings so loudly — louder than any audible voice — as He reveals to me that my attempts to fix anything or anyone in my own human wisdom is equal to living according to my own preferences and opinions in total disregard for the commands of God.

Proverbs 4:5 recalls the example of a dad who teaches his son the Father’s truth, urging him to, “get wisdom and understanding; don’t forget or turn away from the words of my mouth.” In the same way, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction,” (Prov. 1:7).

The knowledge of God is discovered as we submit to His will, which necessitates dying to our own will, and desires, and selfish plans. I cannot change anyone (there, I’ve said it). I cannot even change myself, but God is forging me in the fire of faith to make me a useful vessel. While I know good is the enemy of great, often I am tempted to settle for less than God’s best. His best is seen in my changed life — rather, the exchanged life; my old life for the life of Christ in me.

Have you ever noticed how the people we love the most are often the ones we hurt the most deeply by attempting to make them what we want them to be through manipulation or even shaming? Behavior modification is superficial and misleading unless the sinful bent of the heart is altered. If I am ever to see changes in others, they first must see changes in me in the form of fruits of the the Spirit.

God, protect our relationships so that we don’t simply fix the outside to make it presentable to the world, while inwardly neglecting the sinful heart issue.

 

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People Are People — Everywhere

The 2015 Romania mission trip was a great success as we saw salvations, spiritual renewal, encouragement and plentiful gospel seeds planted and watered for the sake of the kingdom.
It is always a joy to reconnect with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Sighisoara and in the surrounding Roma (Gypsy) villages. Although the language and some of the customs are quite different, one thing is sure — people are people no matter where you go.

Poverty, homelessness, disease and despair can be found in the rural villages of Romania and in the larger cities. Our team tried to minister to the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of the people we met during the trip.
Our minds, bodies and emotions were exhausted by the end of the trip as we steadily worked to share the gospel, feed the children and pray with sick and dying people — some who are in Christ, and some who are a heartbeat away from a Christ-less eternity.
It is impossible to un-see the filthy beggar children who pressed their faces against the van windows when we stopped at traffic lights. Their dirty hands, bare feet and hollow eyes are Beggar childrenimprinted on our hearts and minds. As much as we wanted to, we could not help all of them.
Then again, how much help are we really doing by giving them a little change and some food. Some in the Gypsy culture have lived for generations as beggars and likely the cycle will continue as long as we attempt to soothe our own emotions by merely offering the charity.
Even the Romanian government is trying to counter the culture by posting signs in high-traffic areas warning people not to facilitate the begging lifestyle by giving handouts.
In the midst of the emotional battle, the Lord kept bringing to my mind the same circumstances in north Abilene. Romania is 6,000 miles from Abilene, but you do not have to look more than a block in either direction of the front doors of our church to see poverty, homelessness, disease and despair.
On any given week, the Elmcrest staff and laity tries to minister to the needs of the poor, sick, mentally disturbed and hurting people in our immediate community and no matter how much we do, it seems like just a drop in the bucket. So what should we do?
The simple answer is to keep doing the last thing Jesus told us to do until He tells us something different — loving our neighbors is still God’s plan.
Loving our neighbors includes intentionally sharing the life-changing message of Jesus Christ with people of all ethnic backgrounds, skin colors, economic circumstances and mental conditions.
It will not be easy. In fact, it will be exhausting. But keep in mind, we are running out of time to make an eternal difference in the lives of those whom God has placed in our Jerusalem.
Here is a starting point: On Sunday nights we are studying what the Bible says an active church member should look like. Join us if you are serious about serving the Lord and countering the culture of lostness in our city by becoming intentional in your witness. If you are in Christ, you are rich — a joint-heir with Him. Won’t you freely offer to others what you freely received from Christ?

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The Lord’s Day Is A Good Day

I am always refreshed when I worship with my Romania brothers and sisters in Christ. Their fervent prayers and joyful singing lifts my spirit and causes me to take a spiritual inventory of my own walk with God.
This morning our worship service was just over two hours long, with nearly 45 minutes devoted to prayer. Humbly, I listened as one after another my friends poured out their hearts to God in audible prayers of thanksgiving and petition. As each individual prayed, their church family agreed with them.
In those moments it did not matter what the person who was praying was wearing, or if they had a car, or the level of their education. Everyone embraced their equality at the foot of the cross and called out to God to do what only He can do.
During the time for worship through song, the small congregation participated together, singing as if the lyrics were their own prayers to God. Men and women, boys and girls each participated — fully understanding that God inhabits the praises of His people.
Throughout the entire two-hour service, no one got up to go to the bathroom, or left the room — they were fully present and engaged in worship. It was much the same at every mission point:

Carl spoke in Hetiur: “I was impressed with the amount of singing. Even a new family, who just joined the church was already willing to sing as a family to minister to their new brothers and sisters — it was good!”

Jerry (Young) spoke in Archita: “The way the interpreter (Georghie) interacted with me was impressive. He didn’t just interpret for me, he wanted to know more about why we were here. It was a good conversation.”

Vernon preached in Saes: “The church was full and several people spoke. They had a baby dedication and they had a lot of visitors for that celebration. The pastor was encouraged by the special day.”

Les spoke in Danes: “Much of the regular congregation was not in attendance for worship, because they were ministering to a family whose son died. They were helping the family prepare for the funeral; it was ministry.”

Roger preached in Laslea: “I preached about unity among believers and my translator said it was an area in which the church has been struggling. I thought it was pretty cool that the Holy Spirit led me to Act 2.”

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Kingdom Thinking: Some Get It!

They get it!
The only Baptist church in Sighisoara has been a traditional congregation for many years, with some of the same leaders overseeing all of the ministries. However, age and health issues gradually led the church to a cross road in which it had to decide to tread water until natural attrition renders them invalid and irrelevant, or to invest in young, inexperienced members to carry the church into another generation.
Praise God, they have chosen the latter!
Sure, the younger generation is green and lacks experience, but they make up for it with enthusiasm and a desire to grow in Christ — no matter the cost.
They get it!
I am thankful for young men like Filip and Roland, who are willing to do whatever it takes to see the kingdom of God advanced. Whether driving vans full of summer missionaries, translating, setting up sound systems, running errands or anything else, they do it as unto God. They do not have to be out front or on the platform, they just want to be involved!
It is refreshing to see the younger men stepping up to the plate to take their swings in leadership; however, just as impressive is the fact that the older generation is letting them! In fact, they are encouraging them and the move is paying spiritual dividends.
The student ministry here was on life-support with only about four teens participating in weekly worship. After equipping and empowering a handful of young disciples, the average attendance has exploded to 35 and still growing. The discipleship training these students and young adults are receiving will insure the local church will survive and thrive for generations to come.
The church gets it!
Making and multiplying disciples is still the mission of the church and God’s only plan for the advancement of His kingdom.
The spiritual principle is truth: what we have learned, we entrust to others — and in turn they will teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).

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Roller coasters & church revitalization

Almost everyone likes to go to the state fair, but for many different reasons. Some like the excitement of the atmosphere, others enjoy people-watching, while still others are there for the rides — specifically the roller coaster!

What is it about the roller coaster that keeps people coming back? Just looking at it from a distance is enough to make you a little queasy, but once you are on board there is a mix of fear and excitement that can only be expressed by those who have gone for the ride.

All the anxiety of the slow ascent in which you are positioned so that you can anticipate what is ahead, but you cannot yet see it. Then it happens, the growing excitement of the climb is met with a plunge that puts your stomach in your throat. There are twists and turns and surprises, but there is also the thrill that leaves us wanting to tell everyone about it.

scary coasterCome to think about it, going to the state fair is a lot like church growth and riding a roller coaster is sort of like church revitalization.
Anytime a church begins to grow, there will be varied responses. Some will be enamored by the excitement of changes, while others will be anxious and cautious preferring to sit and watch rather than climbing aboard for the ride of their lives.

Once a church begins to see some growth, it can pick up speed and become fully revitalized, just like the fair-goers who choose to move from spectating to buckling into a seat on the roller coaster.

For some, the anxiety of the unknown becomes too much and they unbuckle and exit the ride before it gets started. Some hang on for a white-knuckle ride, unsure if they will survive. Still, others raise their hands into the air and soak in the exhilaration of the ride.

Remember, church revitalization is sort of like riding a roller coaster. Some scream and others enjoy the ride, but generally the only ones who get hurt are those who the jump off before reaching the destination!

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God is blessing Elmcrest

God is blessing Elmcrest.

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