What a Stands Between You and Belief? (3)

In Luke 24, a third element stood between the followers of Jesus and belief. It was HUMAN REASONING. We see it verses 13-21. Two men traveled the road to Emmaus. They were joined by Jesus Himself although they didn’t recognize Him immediately. They thought they had it figured out. They had preconceived notions about who Jesus was, what He was about, and His ultimate purpose. They had placed Jesus in their own mold. They were locked out of belief by their own faulty, finite reasoning.

Many people today have preconceived and misguided notions about Jesus.

Human reasoning asks questions about God like these…

“If there is a God, why do we have suffering, disasters, diseases, hunger, and poverty?”

“If there is a God, why was that two-year-old girl crushed a truck?”

The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, records these words to remind us of the hollowness of human reasoning, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:9-10

Do not let your own human reasoning defeat you in your battle for belief.


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What Stands Between You and Belief? (2)

Let’s move a little further into the discussion of things which may keep us from belief. Confusion has already been mentioned. Another reason we sometimes have difficulty with belief is that we sometimes choose to reject proof.

As we continue in Luke 24 we see that the disciples, three times, were offered evidence and each time they dismissed it as “idle tales,” then as “astonishingly unbelievable,” then, ultimately, they experienced personal, face-to-face, frightening evidence which convinced them once and for all. It took pursuation and more than one proof.

John 20:29 says, “Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”

Jesus sent proof to His followers of His resurrection. The disciple Thomas said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” John 24:25.

Here is the crux of the matter. Thomas needed proof. Proof was given. Then Thomas came to believe immediately. I am convinced that if you need proof He will provide proof in a way that is uniquely meaningful to you. Thomas got proof. We can get proof too based upon His willingness for us to know Him. However, when proof is given belief must follow. To,reject the truth is eternally devastating.

John 20:31 provides evidence that God wants us to have proof of His Son, Jesus… “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Furthermore, He could provide an endless library of proof as seen in John 21:25, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”

One more fact about proof from Jesus teaching comes from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in which two men lived and died. One went to paradise, one to hades. The one in hades asked that a messenger be sent to his family so they could avoid hades. Jesus essentially said, proof has been sent and rejected… additional proof will not help those who are “proof-challenged.” See the details in Luke 16:19-31.

Do not let your own rejection of proof defeat you in your battle for belief.

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What Stands Between You and Belief?

Belief is a struggle for many people. The faithful and non-faithful alike struggle with belief, perhaps occasionally or maybe on a regular basis. So what is it that stands between you and belief?

The 24th chapter of Luke has at least five teachings about overcoming disbelief. The chapter centers around that Third Day, Resurrection Day, the day that followed the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Luke 24 says that, early in the morning the women went to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus. They found the tomb open, the stone rolled away, plus a missing corpse! It was a moment of astonishment and confusion as shown in verses 1-6.

Confusion is one factor that can stand between us and belief. Sometimes things just don’t make sense. Such was the case that morning in their tomb experience. These devoted follower experienced confusion- which challenged their belief.

Their confusion is understandable. They did did not expect Jesus to die. They did not expect Him to die the disgraceful death of crucifixion. They did not expect the tomb to be open. They did not expect Him to be absent from the tomb. They did not expect Jesus to have been resurrected.

What did they do about it? First, and perhaps most importantly, they did not wallow in confusion. Each character in Luke 24 experienced confusion. Each character faced their confusion. Each character worked their way through confusion. Each character went from confusion to faith. Each one went from confused devotees to spiritual giants!

Confusion cannot be avoided in matters of faith. We cannot and do not understand every element of the faith we embrace. We do not understand everything we believe about the Person of Jesus and never will. Even so, we trust and we believe.

These in Luke 24 sought to resolve their confusion! They were not content to remain confused. What do you do in times of confusion?

When we are confused and lack the wisdom needed to support our faith we should remember James 1:5 which says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach and it will be given to him.” Why wisdom? Because wisdom is broader than knowledge. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge for it’s highest and most beneficial outcome. Wisdom comes from above.

Additionally, since faith comes from above, let’s understand the source of confusion. 1 Corinthians 14:33a helps us immensely at this point where we read, “For God is not the author of confusion…” Satan desires, propogates, and fuels confusion. The last thing he wants for you is to be at peace in matters of faith. He is the troubler of belief.

Confusion can be resolved today just as it was for the characters of Luke 24. God will help any one of us with confusion as He did each of them. God desires to bring us to a place of confident faith. Satan will pummel you with doubts and confusion. God will walk you through the darkness of confusion and into His light when we ask Him to.

Do not let your own confusion defeat you in your battle for belief.

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Chad Gets Bad News

Chad was an inspiring young man when he came into the Center to get help for his addiction. He had not been out there long enough to have been robbed of all the graces God had bestowed upon him. But he had been out there long enough to burn a bunch of bridges. He had become estranged from his parents, from his profession, and from his own young bride and their children.

Chad was highly motivated and energetic when it came to his recovery. He was committed to his group work and every element as assigned. He made friends quickly among the other 30 men in the program. He treated the most down and out with great respect. These traits caused our staff and missionaries to work hard with him and to invest in his therapy.

God began to restore Chad in what seemed like an extraordinarily short time. His family came on board to support. His employer decided he wanted Chad back if he could finish 16 weeks of inpatient work in our therapeutic community. Chad’s legal problems were easily resolved… He had not gotten into too much trouble yet. All looked good as we entered his fourth month of treatment.

The fourth month asks the one in recovery to begin looking toward life on the outside, on their own, in the real world. This usually meant visiting the employment office. But not for Chad. He had promise of a job. So really all it meant for him was to get a physical to be sure he is ready for work.

Life caved in that day for Chad. He was told by the clinic doc that he tested positive for HIV. Chad was a basket-case when he came back from the clinic. He was angry, disappointed, and ready to throw in the towel. Chad was a sudden reminder that there are sometimes unexpected consequences from drug usage.

We lived through those emotions with Chad… Especially the anger! He had come so far, God had done so much to bring restoration, others had come alongside him to prepare him for the next steps. But now, this disease.

My experience with Chad came back to my mind as I have been studying and preparing messages from Jonah. Jonah became angry with God just as we had become angry with God. God asked Jonah two times if he had good reason to be angry. Jonah was confident that he had justification for his anger. It turns out that he did not.

God had only acted within the framework of His character in the life of Jonah- and in those Ninevites- and in the life of Chad- and in my own life. God does what He does for His own reasons which make perfect sense to Himself. He redeemed the wicked Ninevites who had not sought or sensed redemption. They were simply willing to receive what God was willing to offer.

We must learn to rejoice in the great things God does. If we do not understand what He has done we should ask but also be assured that everything He does is good. God is only capable of acting in ways that work to bring us closer to Himself.

So it was with Chad. It was a horrible day with horrible news. But God embraced Chad and provided him with a greater understanding of restoration and protection than he had ever sensed or known before. Chad was reminded of his dependence upon God. That is a lesson most of us learn too late.

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Why Pastors Loves Being Pastors

Dear Privians,

I love being your pastor! Interestingly enough I found this list in my daily reading/research. It come from the artesian spring of research by Thom Rainer and shares what Pastors love most about being a Pastor. Possibly it will add a bit of insight for you. I would rank these a little differently than the order listed below but nonetheless it is a great list!

If there is one of these areas that YOUR Pastor can reach out to you OR if you know of someone who needs a touch in one of these areas then please, please, please, give me a call so we can make another connection in our community for the Kingdom!

1. SEEING LIVES TRANSFORMED! This response was an overwhelming number one. You could almost feel the enthusiasm for this aspect of their ministry as they responded. These pastors feel that God call them to lead toward transformation of others, and seeing that happen is their greatest joy in ministry.
2. PREACHING! Frankly, I expected this response to be number one, but it was a distant second. Preaching is very important to these pastors, but transformed lives are the most important. Of course, some of them noted that preaching transforms lives.
3. PERSONAL EVANGELISM! Though distant to number one, sharing the gospel one-on-one was a clear number three. Here is a fascinating facet of this study to me: Over 85 percent of the pastors named one of these first three as their response. The next eight were named by less than 15 percent of the pastors.
4. PEOPLE/MEMBERS! There is little doubt that these pastors love their churches and thus the members. Many of them exuded joy just by writing about the church members.
5. DEVELOPING NEW RELATIONSHIPS! These pastors include a number of extroverts who really like to meet new people. We introverts don’t understand.
6. MINISTERING IN THE COMMUNITY! It was a joy to hear a number of pastors express intense love for the community where their church is located. I can only imagine their ministries are bearing much fruit.
7. MINISTERING IN THE COMMUNITY! Though similar to number four, the pastors sometimes explicitly mentioned ministering to church members in times of need.
8. CASTING A VISION! The only surprise to me at this response was how low it ranked among pastors. I thought I would hear leading and vision-casting as a response near the top.
9. STAFF RELATIONSHIPS! Not all pastors have other ministry staff serving alongside them, but a few of them did express gratitude for those who do.
10. MENTORING OR DISCIPLING ONE-ON-ONE! This response was not a surprise except for how few pastors mentioned it. Since the first three responses dominated the poll, number 10 was almost an afterthought.

The Shepherd loves the Sheep,

Tob

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Christmas, It’s Enough to Make a Grown Man Cry

Christmas is enough to make a grown man cry.

I was a total sponge my intern year of missionary service in New Orleans. I had been clued in about several annual events that were especially important to our work in that skid row community. The most anticipated event among the members of the rehab program as well as the missionary staff was the Kid’s Christmas Party.

I had no clue how this kid’s party went. Kids were not a part of our street ministry and while most of the men in our rehab unit had kids it had been a long time since they had any contact with their own children. Honestly, those bridges were so burned that they did not even know where their children lived anymore.

November began to unveil the mysterious kids party. I came to understand that this party was planned and conducted by the men in rehab. It was a way for them to give back a little bit of something. It was a reminder that no matter how low one’s lot in life may be there is still a contribution that can be made. The men would obtain and wrap the gifts, plan the snacky menu for the kids, arrange for one of themselves to be Santa, and plan all the fun and festivities for the party. It was about a two-hour event.

Staff involvement was minimal. The missionaries invited kids from some nearby neighborhood, provided transportation and supervision for the party, and placed in the hands of the rehab men a letter which empowered them to knock on doors of local businesses to seek donations of toys for those kids. Toy-seeking was a very interesting part of the operation. These street hustlers were suddenly using their finely honed “salesmanship skills” for the positive purpose of helping others and not for their own simple street survival. They were masterful at making piles of toys appear out of nowhere.

The day of the party was coming soon. I had plenty of questions but instead of getting answers I was told to show up, sit back, and watch it happen. As a 24 year-old intern working with alcoholics in their mid-50’s I was about to learn a lot. It was my job to provide counseling and to facilitate small group work in the recovery program. I was less than half their age. Their life experience was incredible. I felt like I had very little to offer. But clearly the Lord would use this day to help frame my missionary work and vision for years to come.

When party day arrived the center was as neat as a pin. Decorations were in place. Santa had been chosen and uniformed. Food and snacks were ready. The kids would soon be arriving from one of our sister agencies. All the men were assembled, waiting, excited, and looking as tough as nails.

The party was everything we expected. The kids stuffed themselves with hot dogs, KoolAid, and candy. Each child left the party with several gifts… It could be that these gifts were the only gifts some would receive considering the neighborhoods from which they came. The kids were all smiles.

The other side was a little bit different. As the party began, our men were hosting a party for kids. At some unknown point everything changed. In the end, these kids were hosting a party for the men.

All went well through the games, fun, food, and the reselling of the Christmas story from Luke 2. When Santa arrived and the deliver of gifts began things flipped. Everyone made themselves to the big circle of chairs, about 30 of them. The chairs were for the men. The kids sat in the middle of the circle waiting for their names to be called by Santa.

One by one, each child received a gift, then another, and even a third gift. The gifts tags said they were from Santa. But after each gift the child climbed up into the lap of one of our men. These kids were careful to say thank you and to then give a big hug around the neck of these street-toughened men. I noticed what was happening but being ignored by the missionary staff. No missionary seemed concerned enough to follow our men out as they excused themselves for a few minutes.

I followed one man out, Big Jim. You can imagine why he was called Big Jim! He is the last guy you would ever expect to find curled up by himself in a chair sobbing. I asked Jim what was going on. He answered after gaining his composure… “I left my kids when they were just about that age.” He did not need to say anything else.

The pain was still there after all the years and across all the miles. Jim had no clue where his family was anymore, but in his mind, if only for a moment, he was once again there… HOME… being a dad… loving his kids… enjoying his family.

The bad news is that it was a very painful moment for our guys. The good news, it was a therapeutic moment that set in place some worthwhile goals for a serious recovery for men like Jim. The best news, Jim eventually (decades later) was “found” by his family and was reunited after too much lost, irrecoverable time.

I am now retired from that missionary service. I am serving as pastor of a church in our community. I still have contact with some of those guys who made it. But guess what… I still work with the same problems. But now, it is with families who are part of our faith community. Turns out that sin is an equal opportunity destroyer.

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DOING COMMUNITY MINISTRIES, An Initial Overview

The church has a biblical mandate to care about people in the community as well as the compassionate example of Christ as He looked out over the crowds. But we know that communities do not necessarily value the kind of caring for which churches are traditionally known. This does not mean that preaching goes away. But churches must find additional, new, positive ways to provide a positive gospel witness into their communities.

Many churches have found community ministry to be a good avenue for developing ongoing relationships in neighborhoods. These ministry relationships are progressive, meaning that one leads to another, so that there is, over time, a network grown which yields a good name for the church, positive evangelism, many converts, and a sense of obedient goodwill.

Understanding our need to care is the first and most basic foundational reality for evangelistic community outreach. The natural place for the church to begin a journey into ministry development is a thorough community study or analysis. A community study will establish several important anchor points.

A community assessment is designed to reveal certain outcomes. Typically these include:

-To refocus church concerns from an inward to an outward gaze
-To support, challenge, or reinforce what we think we know about the church and community
-To help churches see trends, changes, and adjustments in their community
-To bring into the open any hopes or fears that may have been privately held
-To provide a bull’s eye for targeting church ministry
-To locate resources and allies for sharing and creating collaborative commitments
-To affirm our particular concerns into a local, regional, and theological framework
-To provide contacts and materials that help introduce ministry to a wider audience

Assessment assumes that progress is needed through a series of steps… including gathering, reflecting upon, and probing the info. Analysis is done at a deep enough level that a good decision can be made by the church about ministry.

Every community study begins somewhere. It is better to fully document, understand, and define the needs of the community before moving forward to focus on the needs of people.

Let NSBA assist you with questions and concerns about your community.

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