Thursday, May 31, 2018

True Authority

This week, I preached on the final two verses of Matthew 7. The sermon was the last in a series of 22 messages that began at the beginning of the year. As I have commented a few times over these past few weeks, studying Jesus’ words at a level I had not done previously gave me an understanding of how well Jesus’ message was truly crafted, and how powerful it was then, and should be today. I guess what I am saying is that like the people who heard the Sermon on the Mount nearly 2000 years ago, I recognize the authority with which Jesus taught.

As one who has pastored for several years, been in ministry for many, has a doctorate in educational ministry, teaches part-time at a seminary, and has recently started a training organization to equip pastors and church leaders in under-resourced areas around the world, I take the Word of God seriously. That is, I take the written Word of God seriously. And I do that because I follow the living Word of God. I recognize the authority of Jesus and desire Him to have authority over me (most of the time, at least – I am not perfect!). Additionally, I appreciate the Kingdom perspective of His great sermon, for it is this sermon that has helped form my understanding of living beyond a church or denomination (as important as those can be) for the sake of the Kingdom. However, despite having read Matthew 5-7 many times and studying it to some degree multiple times, I never comprehended it like I do now. And one of the aspects I appreciate better is the authority of Jesus to teach (preach) that message.

Last week, I taught many church leaders in Kenya. It was the first instance of connecting with these pastors over the internet to provide the training we hope to do around the world. Having trained dozens of pastors while in Kenya on my two trips there so far, some who were in attendance, knew me. Additionally, my friend Simon is well-trusted by the individuals in the area. Simon set up this training and is helping to establish other sites for training, and because he knows and trusts me, I had instant credibility with each of the pastors and leaders in attendance even though I was not there physically. Such a truth is humbling because some of these individuals had little background with the Bible (others had a solid background), so they placed great trust in my words. In other words, my words and teaching had authority. I certainly did not want to misrepresent myself, but more importantly, I did not want to misrepresent God’s Word. In other words, I did not want to mislead them and betray whatever authority I had.

Any authority I may have had, however, was really no different than that of the scribes as per Matthew’s comments in Matthew 7.29. Like me, the scribes had their sources to gather understanding on the sacred texts. For them, the text was what we call the Old Testament, and the sources were tradition (oral and written) and comparing the teachings of other religious leaders in their present and past. For me, the sources represent trusted commentaries and lexicons (dictionaries to help with the Greek or Hebrew). But, in both situations (the scribes and myself), the authority we have comes from rightly proclaiming God’s Word, not from restating or re-interpreting truths from a higher perspective. That is what Jesus did – and He did so because He was, and is, the true authority. For the written Word of God (the Bible) is fully encompassed within the Living Word (Jesus).

Again, I cannot express how much this series has helped me to understand Jesus and to better appreciate His authority. But appreciation does not necessarily lead to obedience. As I wrote last week, Jesus is looking for people, who, “hear these words of mine and does them,” not just people who find them intriguing or challenging. So, the best I can do is to seek to observe what Jesus taught in this great sermon He preached and then to teach others not only what He said, but how to observe these truths as well. Doing so, will show Jesus that I not only know Jesus is the true Authority, but that I believe it as well. And in Jesus words (Matthew 7.24-25), all those who wish to be considered wise, will do the same thing.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Wise, But Worn

Many have likely been keeping up with my daily posts on Facebook regarding the training this week. This training is the first attempt to train pastors there over the internet through our new organization – Pastor Training Community. As I mentioned last week, the training opportunity arose very quickly although the planning has been in stages for months (and was set for May during my trip there in January). But the rains and flooding have postponed it, and then with all of the added burden the people of Kenya have right now, many would not have been able to attend with the financial support we requested and received.

So, thank you again to all who donated. We did reach the goal of $700 and surpassed it by almost $100.

The training has been going well, but given the eight-hour difference in time, I have been training them from 1 am to 9 am CT here in the US. Given my usual responsibilities during the week and a funeral yesterday, my sleep has been disrupted greatly and, in fact, I was not able to answer the bell for the last two hours of scheduled training today. That is, at 7 am, I had to rest, so one of the pastors who is also serving as a translator did the teaching for the last two hours.

And that is a direct tie-in to last week’s sermon. On Sunday, I preached about the wise and foolish builders from Matthew 7.24-27. Jesus said those who hear and do are wise and those who hear and don’t do are fools. But what He doesn’t say is that those who do will do perfectly all the time. This week, I have been doing what I know God has asked me to do. I have been doing it to the best of my ability. And, without a doubt, I have been doing it in His strength (Colossians 1.29). But this morning, my strength ran out. That was not God’s fault, it is my lack of sleep this week. Just because we rely on God’s strength does not mean that we are invincible. I have tried to rest as often as I can, but although I have laid down, I have not always been able to sleep (day or evening). And, thus, after almost four full days of training, I was worn out. And so, I was not able to finish this morning’s training.

But tomorrow is a new day. And my day today has less overall responsibilities, even though what I have scheduled is important (sermon preparation, primarily). But taking the extra couple of hours this morning has given me more rest today and should allow me to finish strong overnight tonight. But, to truly be wise, I must apply what I have learned. As I have said many times (because it is my number one mantra in life), “When we stop learning, we start dying.” But learning is more that just taking in information; rather, it is about processing that information and doing something with it. That is wisdom. And that is what Jesus was saying nearly 2000 years ago as He concluded His message on the mountain. Many people may hear, but only the wise will do.

So, this week, I believe I have been wise because I have done what God began to lay on my heart nearly two years ago. I believe I have been wise because the plans we have made over the past many months have now come to fruition in Kenya and are being scheduled for Honduras. But, if I am truly wise, I cannot stop doing what He has commanded now. No, I must continue to do “these words of mine” (as Jesus said), for as long as I shall live. Doing so may make me tired, and may wear me out at times, but it is the only way I will hear the words I desire to hear someday – “Well done, good and faithful servant.” If I hear those words, I know, I will indeed have been wise – not in my eyes, but in the eyes of the only One who truly matters, the eyes of Jesus.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Request

For the full details of this request, please read the rest of the post below. If you would simply like to make a donation to help us reach our Flash Goal of $700, you may click here to do so. The link is included at the bottom of this post as well.

I am breaking from my normal blogging this week to present a financial request. Last summer on this blog, I announced that a new organization had been created to train pastors around the world. (You can see the website for Pastor Training Community (PTC) and get more information here.) Until very recently, we have not had much to report since I returned from Kenya in January. However, over the past three weeks much has happened. The most recent PTC blog post details a couple of key items including our recent approval as a 501(c)3 corporation. However, one item is missing from that post and is the basis for my request.

Due to the heavy flooding in Kenya, the training I was supposed to do was postponed. While I am comfortably situated in America ready to train over the internet, the pastors were not able to travel to the selected site due to high waters and washed out roads. However, roads are reopening and I learned this week that we can train next week, so plans are being made. 40 pastors are scheduled to attend the training and the topics will be The Gospels in the morning and Spiritual Disciplines in the afternoons. It is an abbreviated class for both, but the two important matters are that a foundation will be laid for these pastors AND our internet training will be officially underway. That is the good news. The challenge is that our ministry partners in Kenya are in need of financial help to make this training fully possible. The biggest challenge is having the money to feed the pastors who come for the training, but a few other expenses bring the the total need to nearly $700 for the week.

When PTC was conceptualized the idea was to provide more of a Q&A time after the pastors/church leaders had done some pre-work. The Q&A would be one to two hours in duration and then each would go, do some more work, and reconvene a few weeks later. However, in Kenya (and presumably other places), this approach will not work. The desire of PTC is to reach under-resourced leaders in under-resourced areas. Most leaders from these “areas” will be required to travel many hours (often by foot) which makes a one or two-hour training session not worth the time for most. For the leaders to benefit from travelling a few hours means they need to stay for a few days and that requires added expense. In my trips to Kenya the expense of providing food and shelter was built into our cost, but I had not properly considered this aspect of the online training based upon the Q&A aspect mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph.

The PTC Board is evaluating how we will approach this issue long-term. But with the class now scheduled for next week, the need is real now. I should let you know that I am an advocate of the phrase, “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part.” But as I considered that thought this morning, I began to wonder how God might respond. In speaking with the other Board members today, we agreed to expedite our efforts to get our online donations up and running today to see if / how people might respond to this urgent need. (We just received our tax-exempt approval a couple of weeks ago, so we were preparing to launch an appeal for donations soon, but this issue has expedited our efforts.) So, we are making this appeal to see what happens within 72 hours in our effort to not only train, but to also provide food and some shelter cost for the forty pastors in Eastern Kenya next week.

I appreciate your indulging my request. If you cannot give, please pray that we will reach our goal and for the training next week. Whatever happens in these next 72 hours and beyond, may God receive the glory!

If you would like to make a donation, you may do so through PayPal by clicking on this link. You do not need a PayPal account to make a donation. We have also included a Donate link on our FaceBook page (@pastortrainingcommunity – look immediately under the banner on the page), and on our website (click on Give, then on the PayPal link).

As of May 17 at 1:50 am, we already have over $100 towards the goal. I will post an update on the PTC Facebook page (in the comments of the post with the original request) each day through Sunday. Please note: If we exceed the goal, any extra money will be used to provide food and shelter the next time training occurs at this same location.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Helping Others Along The Hard Way

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the primary teaching of Jesus regarding judging. As I mentioned here, we are to judge, but with the proper measure. A part of that measure is then further described as Jesus begins to conclude His sermon with the following statement – do to others what you want them to do to you (Matthew 7.12).

As I mentioned in my sermon blog this week, this command is active, not passive. It requires doing something to fulfill it rather than doing nothing because we don’t want something done to us. (You can read more here.) In the context of what Jesus has just taught, that certainly applies to judging others. Again, we are to judge (Paul even says we will judge the angels – 1 Corinthians 6.3), but it is how we prepare ourselves that is critical. First, we pull the plank from our eye and the we can see clearly to help another (Matthew 7.5). And the key word is help. And helping is important because the way is hard (Matthew 7.14). We are certainly to correct others when they stumble, just as we would want to be helped if we stumble (consider Ecclesiastes 4.9-10).

In recent weeks and months, many high-profile Christian leaders have “fallen” publicly due to something they have done or said. And because the profiles of these individuals is high, the criticism has been swift – from within the Church and without. Certainly each leader should be held accountable by those with the authority to do so. Furthermore, each of these individuals have put themselves in a position where others will question the authenticity of their faith as well as their past teaching, their intent and motives, etc. And certainly, each will have a difficult time building trust in the future. But that is why the previous paragraph is so important.

Christians who try to walk along the hard path realize the temptations of the world. We see those on the easy way. We notice the gate that is wide. And, we stumble. Like Peter when he walked on the water, we take our eyes off of Jesus for a moment and we stumble. But, oftentimes, we catch ourselves, and justify our actions that no one was hurt. So, in time, we take another step towards that wide gate –perhaps, hoping to just get our foot in far enough to experience the “pleasures” offered along the easier path. But eventually, we stumble hard. And, we soon realize that we cannot get up easily. And that is where Jesus command, directly within the context of this passage, is so necessary. We want to be lifted to our feet. We want to be restored to our place – whatever that place is. A place of leadership may not be possible at that point (again, responsibility and accountability matter), but most importantly we want to know our place with Jesus is secure. Therefore, having someone come along to help us – someone who has a clear eye with which to see – can lift us up to help get us back on the right path.

As you read this perhaps you are unaware of some of the issues I mention. But the issue of stumbling does not have to be national news to have an impact on the Kingdom. Whether the issue is related to our sexual impulses, fraud, fits of anger, gossip, or some “lesser” sin, we all fall short somewhere. And, thus, knowing how hard it is to stay true to our Lord, we should seek to help others along the way as we would have others help us. Again, that is the essence of the Golden Rule in the context in which it was preached.

So, my encouragement to each of us is to take Jesus’ words to heart when we hear of someone “falling.” We may not be in a position to physically pick them up, but we can spiritually lift them up through prayer. Yes, accountability matters, and actions do have consequences, but as recipients of grace, we must learn to extend it as well. Accountability is not condemnation; rather, it should lead to restoration. So, seek to help another who has fallen knowing next time it may be you who needs to be lifted up.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

What Is “It?”

Most weeks on my personal blog I reflect on something that personally affected me from my sermon the previous Sunday. This week is no different, but really I am just extending my thoughts from the sermon. (You can read the sermon blogs each week at our church’s blog – or listen at

Before I get to the heart of the post, I must state that I realize many consider the latter part of Matthew 7 (if not all of it) as individual bits of teaching that were later added to Jesus sermon because the information does not seem to mesh as well with the earlier portion. However, I think such thinking is unnecessary because Chapter 6 is quite different than Chapter 5 and yet the common theme of righteousness is prevalent in both – and in Chapter 7 as well (although the term itself is not be explicitly stated). But the concept is very much present and I intend to show that here.

Beginning in Matthew 7.11, Jesus does take a bit of a new direction in His sermon. But really He is circling back to the idea of prayer which is explicitly mentioned in Matthew 6.5-13 (and really through 15), and is a part of the fabric of storing up treasures in heaven, serving the right master, and not being anxious that concludes Matthew 6. And, I would argue, that judging with the proper perspective can only be done by coming before God which involves prayer as well (see last week’s post for the tie-in from the end of Matthew 6 to the judgment passage in Matthew 7). So the concept of prayer has been present for more than one full chapter in Matthew’s text. And now, Jesus gives some specific commands about prayer. We are to ask, seek, and knock. But the question we must consider is for what are to to ask or seek? And where are we to knock?

The answer is not given clearly for Jesus uses a pronoun – “it” – to describe what we will be given for our asking. But a key word in verse 8 can help us determine the antecedent for this pronoun. In verse 8, Jesus states that God promises those who ask will receive “it,” that those who seek will find, and that those who knock will find “it” opened. So what is “it” and what is the key word that unlocks the answer?

The key to understanding what “it” is to to realize that Jesus has promised that God will honor “everyone” who is actively asking, seeking, and knocking. Jesus does not say those who believe will receive their request or those who do not believe will find. He says the promises are for “everyone.” So, if everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and everyone who knocks will find something opened, what could it be that could allow Jesus to make such a promise and not compromise the integrity of God. I believe the answer is quite evident if we look at the text. The problem is too many people isolate the text at hand, and the answer lies just a few sentences prior to this statement and is the theme of all that Jesus has taught in His sermon thus far.

The answer: the righteousness of God (which includes God’s Kingdom, Matt 6.33). Again, chapter breaks in the Bible do us a disservice. Certainly, the indexing system of ascribing chapters and verses allow us to find information more quickly, but most people do not realize that ask, seek, and knock are only nine (9!) verses away from Jesus command to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. With that realized, let me explain why I believe this answer makes the most sense for the text.

First, if everyone receives, finds, or has the door/gate opened (see Matthew 7.14), then God is not restricting this to any one group of people. Of course, Jesus could be using hyperbole here, but must He be? I don’t think so. I think everyone means everyone. Thus, if Jesus is not going to trap God into keeping promises He can’t keep, then the answer must be something that could be given to anyone and everyone. In the context of the text, we can either consider the answer to be food (such as the fish and bread in the same paragraph), something related to judging others (in the previous paragraph), or the righteousness of God from the paragraph before that. And the righteousness of God has been the primary theme of the sermon (see Matthew 5.6; 5.20; 6.33). Plus, although we have been instructed to ask for our daily bread (6.11), we are instructed not to be anxious about it (6.25, 31, 34). And while we must seek God to measure our judgment properly, seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness is the prerequisite for doing so. So contextually, righteousness is the answer.

Secondly, everyone needs the righteousness of God to be satisfied (Matthew 5.6). Those who do not believe may ask and have it given to them. They may seek the Kingdom and find it. They may approach the gate (again 7.14) and find it opened to them. But for those who are already a part of the Kingdom, the righteousness of God must still be desired. I am still far from perfect. However, if I ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking day after day after day, then I receive, find, and have the gate opened continually that I might be a little closer to the man God wants me to be tomorrow than I am today. Thus, those who do not believe need to ask to receive, seek to find, and knock to have the Kingdom of God and His righteousness made available to them, and those who do believe need to keep asking, to keep seeking, and to keep knocking so that we can continue to grow in Him and be satisfied. Thus, everyone (the pronoun in verse 8) is covered, and God’s promise can be perfectly fulfilled to “everyone” who earnestly asks, seeks, and knocks.

As we will see in the remaining verses of this sermon, Jesus then divides all people into two groups – those that ask, seek, and knock, and those that do not. The ones that heed Jesus’ command take the narrow road will “find” the hidden gate, bear good fruit, and are considered wise for building on a solid foundation. Those that do not heed Jesus' words take the easy road, bear bad fruit (if they bear any at all) and are considered foolish by using sand as their foundation.

The choice is up to each one of us. “Everyone” has the same opportunity – if we will simply ask, seek, and knock. Which will you choose?