Thursday, August 29, 2013

Jesus Came to Build His Church

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18

This text is rooted in a play on words between "little stone" and "bedrock." Peter is the former and the truth of Who Jesus is constitutes the latter. Peter had just made the declaration, "You are the Christ the Son of the Living God." After Jesus' responsive affirmation of blessing--"Blessed are you Simon Bar Jonah for flesh and blood has not revealed this unto you but My Father in Heaven"--Jesus makes His magnificent declaration. "I will build My church and the gates of Hell (Hades) will not prevail against it."  Here is another reason why Jesus build His Church!

The Scripture is not saying that the Church will be built by or upon Peter, but rather it will be built upon the truth of what Peter proclaimed. Peter had confessed Jesus' true identity. He (Jesus) is the foundation upon which the Church will be built. In the words of F.F. Bruce, "what matters here is not the stature of the confessor, but the truth of the confession" (see The Hard Sayings of Jesus, p.143). Peter declares Who Jesus is, and  Jesus declares that He Himself will build His Church.

Notice in this passage that not only is Jesus' true identity revealed, but His work is likewise unveiled. He will build His Church. This is the first time the New Testament mentions the word, "Church." This word in the Greek text, comes from combining two smaller words, "to call" and "out of." The word "Church" literally means "the called out ones." All those who have heard God's invitation and responded constitute the "Church." 

Jesus goes on to describe the Church's invincibility, "and the gates of Hades (or Hell) will not prevail against." Though some see this as a straight forward declaration that Jesus will not allow the devil and his forces destroy the Church, I believe Jesus is actually pointing to another and equally true reality. Gates are for keeping people and possessions in, or people and possessions out. "Hades" is the normal word for death and the grave. Here, Jesus is declaring that not even the power of death will be able to halt the building of His Church. 

True, God's intention is to build the Church upon Jesus, but He will use people all through history as His instruments. Can He use you?

Friday, August 23, 2013

24 Tips to Maximize Your Time

This is the fourth in a series of posts on Redeeming the Time. First I discussed how to redeem your time, then I shared 3 common objections in time management and how to counter those, and then earlier this week I shared 3 stages to redeeming your time. Making better use of our time is something we all struggle with and can improve. Today I want to share with you 24 practical tips for making the best use of your time.

1.    Pray about every thing that concerns you.
2.    Study Scripture to gain insight into God's will for your life.
3.    Commit yourself to budgeting your time.
4.    Set aside time before the start of a new year to plan your goals for the year.
5.    Take time at the beginning of each week to plan for the week ahead.
6.    Take time each day to plan out your day.
7.    Think through your day on the way to work.
8.    Keep a list of projects you want to accomplish.
9.    Reflect on your day on the way home from work or at the end of your day.
10. Try to do something each day that will help you accomplish one of your yearly goals.
11. Do the most important things first.
12. Don't believe that taking time to plan is a time waster. It is a time saver.
13. After you have planned, start!
14. Do one thing at a time where thought is required.
15. If no thought is required, then multitask.
16. Make sure you have appropriate tools for the work you are doing.
17. If you feel like you are getting overwhelmed with loose ends, stop and write a quick list.
18. Complete each task. Complete what you start.
19. Do the vital, even the distasteful, first.
20. Set aside think-time.
21. Be deadline oriented.
22. Know your personal rhythm. When is the best time for you to do certain tasks?
23. Be specific in what you want to accomplish.
24. Base your decisions on the most accurate and up to date information you can acquire.

I challenge you to always live in the light of Paul's admonition to "redeem the time." What are your thoughts on this list? Which are you eager to try? Which will be most challenging?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

3 Stages to Redeeming Your Time: Solve problems, Make Decisions, Plan Effectively.

Work consists of three primary activities: problem solving, decision making, and planning. In his book 30 Days to Confident Leadership Bob Biehl shares a method of time management built around these three aspects of work. I use Biehls' method when I teach my PhD students how to more effectively manage their time. Today I'm sharing with you the important steps to take and questions to ask to ensure that you are making the most of your time at all three stages.

1. Problem solving. This is past oriented. What went wrong? A problem is something that went contrary to expectations. It is often manifested in what I like to call "the law of unintended consequences." Dr. Phil often puts it this way, "how's that working for you?" Point: it's not.

When Solving Problems:
  • Learn to ask questions.
  • Ask, in one sentence, "what is the problem?"
  • What are the facts related to this problem?
  • Why does the problem exist?
  • Who can help me solve this problem?
  • What resources can I bring to bear on this problem?
  • Of all the potential solutions, which has the greatest potential to be right?
  • What policy would keep this problem from recurring?

2. Decision making. This is oriented toward the present. It determines what we do right now. I think of this in terms of forms. Moral decisions are between right and wrong. Wisdom decisions are between wise and foolish actions or words. Priority decisions are choices between that which is good, better, or best. Of course decisions are all predicated on what you want to be, accomplish, or avoid.

When Making Decisions:
  • Pray for wisdom.
  • Gather your facts.
  • Ask, "what are my alternative decisions?"
  • Ask, "what are the consequences of each decision?"
  • Ask, "who will be affected?"
  • Ask objective third parties for feedback.
  • Ask, "am I setting a precedent?" or "am I following a precedent?"
  • Ask the "what, why, who, where, when and how much" questions.
  • Ask, "what if no decision is made?"

3. Planning. This is future oriented. It determines what you want to accomplish. It is a predetermined course of action directed toward a desired result. It manifests itself in goals. We see this often in "to do" lists.

When Planning:
  • Pray and ask God, "What do you want me to accomplish?
  •  Write out what you would like to see accomplished.
  • Be specific.
  • Write the goal so that results can be measured.
  • Seek appropriate help.
  • Ask, "am I willing to pay the price?"
  • Ask yourself, "why do I want to reach these goals?"
  • Ask, "what will happen if I do not achieve these goals?" What is at stake?

Which aspect of time management is the most challenging for you? Do you ever skip one of these steps? 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

4 Ways to Redeem Your Time

Photo Courtesy of Zorro1968

"Dost thou love life? Then, do not squander time. For that's the stuff life is made of." -Ben Franklin 

So, how do we maximize our use of time? Understand that everyone has the same amount of time, 168 hours a week. The key is what you do with what you have. In order to use our time effectively, we must do four things:

  1. Understand our purpose.
  2. Determine our priorities.
  3. Establish our plans that reflect our priorities in light God's will for our life.
  4. Then let our plans determine how we use our time.

What we are trying to do is learn to seize control of our time and in turn our lives. The key here is planning. Some people object to planning. Consider these 3 objections and my responses.

1. Objection: It can limit my freedom if I predetermine my course of action (plan). 

Response: Seneca once wrote, "if you don't know which port you're headed to no wind is the right wind." And Lawrence Peter observed, "If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else." My point? It is better to have a plan which reflects what you want to accomplish than have no plan at all. If your attitude is that you do not want to limit your freedom, and as a result you are unwilling to plan, you are planning to fail. What is it that you want to accomplish?

2. Objection: I’m so busy putting out fires that I have no time for planning. It is as though they simply run from crisis to crisis. I know people who appear to work that way. 

Response: When events are out of control, this is the time when planning is most needed. The presence of repeated crises, may well be a key indicator that planning has been neglected.

3. Objection: There is simply no time to plan. 

Response: Here is a fact. If more time is given to planning, less time (in greater proportions) is required for execution. It is not that you cannot afford to plan. The fact is, you can't afford not to plan.

Bottom line: if we do not plan, we will not control events. If we do not control events, we will accomplish nothing, or we will make matters worse.

For more thoughts along these lines check out my first post on redeeming the time.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Preacher, Close the Sale!

What would you think of a real estate agent who showed clients homes but never asked, "would you like to make an offer?" Or, a car salesman who showed prospective owners cars but never said, "would you like to buy it?" Or, a Division 1 football coach talking to a blue-chip recruit and never asking, "would you like to play here for me?" I cannot imagine any of the three, the agent, salesman or the coach staying in business very long.

Yet week in and week out, I have heard very good sermons preached in some very fine churches with exactly that being done. At the close of the message, those listening walk away wondering, "what did he want me to do in light of what he said?"

Pastor, what do you want to see happen? What do you want the listeners to do in light of your message? Receive Christ? Make a new commitment? Be baptized? Join your church? Share their faith? Make some other life-changing destiny-altering decision? I fear that in a large number of churches, we have not because we ask not! Tell your listeners, "in light of what I have said, this is what I am asking you to do."

Here is an example. You have just preached a magnificent sermon on "Jesus the Savior for All Mankind" out of 1Timothy 2:3-6. You conclude your message and say "we have staff here at the front," or "I will be here at the front, if you have some decision, I (we) will be here to talk to you." You pray, stand there , sing and nothing happens. You leave disappointed. What happened, or didn't happen? You got what you asked for. Just as general prayers are wasted prayers, general invitations are wasted invitations.

Next time, try this: "Friends, you have heard today's message. You know that God loves you and wants to save you. You know that Jesus died on the cross for you. He wants to save you. He wants you to be in His family. It does not matter what you have done or failed to do in the past. What matters is what you do right here and right now. If you will come to Him just like you are, He will save you. If you would like to receive Jesus Christ and be saved, I am asking you in just a moment, when we stand to sing, to slip out of your seat, and make your way to the front. I want to talk to you and pray with you and help you come to faith in Christ."

You pray and then ask those who hear you, "if you want to be saved, I am asking you to come right now. Come!" My point? Ask people to respond when you preach. Now, it may not be a come forward invitation. It may be "mark this card and drop it in the plate," or "stop by our follow-up counseling room." But tell people what to do and give them an opportunity to respond.

When Paul said in 2Corinthians 5:11, "Therefore, knowing the fear of God, we persuade men...", his persuasiveness included pleading and inviting. Pastor, the next time you preach, close the sale! Tell people what you want them to do, then ask them to do it! Come to think of it, that's not bad advice for any believer when sharing their faith.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Redeeming Your Time

Paul, in his epistle to the Ephesians, wrote, "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (5:15-16). I have always been fascinated by the concept of time and  especially with the idea of redeeming the time.

Scripture uses three different words for "time" each with a distinctive emphasis. The word "chronos" is found in Acts 1:7 where Jesus said to His followers, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority." The word here depicts chronological time or the unfolding of time. We measure this with watches and calendars. A second word for time in the same verse, "kairos", may be translated seasons, epochs or opportunities. It depicts what some have identified as defining moments or special events. It is the word used by Paul in Ephesians 5:16 where we are instructed to redeem our time or make the most of our time. A third word for time is "hora" which designates a definite or distinct moment. It is used in John 2:4, where Jesus asserts, "My hour has not yet come."

In this blog, I would like to introduce the nature of "time." Among other things occurring in Genesis 1:1, no doubt, God created "time." At our conception and birth, we entered into time. We were given the gift of human life, which is a certain measure of time.
No wonder Moses wrote, "So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom " (Psalm 90:12). Again, the clock and the calendar measure our time.

By definition, time is the unfolding sequence of events in life. For us to redeem our time, it is important to the best of our ability to control the events in our lives. Hugh Prather explained, "There is a time to let things happen and a time to make things happen." Some things we can control and some things we cannot. May we have wisdom to discern the difference. Please understand, time, once lost, cannot be retrieved. Yet the ancient prophet, Joel, citing God's promise penned the hopeful statement, "So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten" (Joel 2:25). His point? Only God can make up for lost time.

So, the big question is, "How can we redeem our time? "Redeem" literally means to "buy up at the market place," implying that we seize the moment or seize the opportunity. How can we do this? That is the subject of my next blog entry. I will leave you with an observation by the late Art Buchwald, "Whether it is the best of times or the worst of times--it is the only time we've got!" So what are you doing with your time?

Friday, August 2, 2013

3 Reminders of God’s Values I Learned from my Grandson

Henry and I enjoying a book together.

This time last year, Fern (my wife) and I sat at the kitchen table in our son-in-law and daughters home here in Kansas City. We heard those monumental and life-altering words: "Mom and Dad, we are expecting." 

What an incredible sense of joy filled our hearts to know that a little one was on his or her way into this world. With increasing anticipation we awaited each check-up and progress report, and sympathized with each bout of perpetual morning sickness which in our daughters case was not restricted either to the first trimester or morning. Finally, on April 1 (yes, the opening day of baseball season) little Henry Thomas made his grand entrance into the world. Needless to say, our lives and schedules have not been the same since. Here is what I have observed.

1.    God's ways are best. His design is to create families with husbands and wives who in turn bring children into the world. The parents' job collectively is to nurture each child. Yes, children are a burden. They are helpless and vulnerable in every way imaginable. They need parents to care for them around the clock. It is a weighty responsibility. Intact nuclear families find it difficult to rear children. My heart goes out to single parent homes where only one parent is burdened to care for little ones. This is a place where the church must step in and offer assistance.

2.    All human life has intrinsic worth and value. I have read lately the same tired argument about "every child a wanted child" which is the code phrase for the implication that if a child is not wanted it is perfectly acceptable to abort. The philosophical underpinnings of this position is that a child is not a person of worth until they are born, and some suggest that even that point is questionable. Political posturing has over the years made this a matter of Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice as if the latter is legally and morally acceptable. Yes, this is morality being legislated-- which is what all legislation is--and no, in God's sight, it is never a moral and righteous choice. The abortion industry is driven by money. It is a barbaric practice which is reflective of a decadent and Godless mindset. It is a practice that should never have been legalized in the first place. The judgment of God is on our nation and any nation that approves this kind of barbarity.

When I look at my grandson, Henry, and imagine that the laws of our land argue that it was perfectly permissible to terminate his life in the womb, I am overwhelmed by grief. I suspect God feels the same way.

3.    Each child is a unique and special creation of God. King David got it right in the Psalms when he wrote, "It is He (God) who has made us and not we ourselves." Years ago I read a book entitled Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, about the miracle of conception, gestation and birth. It emphasized the miraculous nature of each individual. No two people who have ever lived are exactly alike. Remember the old Gaither song, "I am a Promise?" The seeds of greatness reside in each child. The seeds of promise and possibility are intrinsic in every single person. Like the old cliche says, "only God knows how many oak trees are in a single seed." And only God knows the true potential of each individual life!

Tell me, what have you truth has been brought back to your mind by spending time with your family?