Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When Your Nets Are Breaking and Your Boat Is Sinking

Ever feel like you have so much on your plate that you are about to go crazy?  I'm there.  Not crazy (I keep reassuring myself) but crazy busy.  Tonight when I got home I reflected on my hectic day and instantly ran to the Lord in His Word so I could bounce the last 15 hours I've been busy with ministry on Him.  I thought of Luke 5 where the disciples had a huge problem - they had fished all night and their nets were empty.  Talk about disappointment and frustration.  Busy, busy, busy, but no fruit to show for it.  Honestly, I think I'm in the same boat (no pun intended) sometimes.

But then I remember that today I tried extremely hard to put Jesus first in everything I did.  I started my day in Him, asked for His help numerous times, cried out for wisdom very vividly once, and remembered the disciples didn't spin their wheels forever.  The Lord showed up and instructed them and they caught what they geared up and said they wanted.

Luke 5:6-11, says they followed Jesus’ instruction to put out their nets again.  They didn't give up in the middle of frustration and discouragement.  They soon faced a different problem - their nets were so full, they started to break and their boat began to sink. 

Ever find yourself in overwhelming situations?  In those times it is easy to let a bad attitude creep in.  You can start to feel sorry for yourself, and even get a "who cares anymore" attitude.  It can stress you out!
Tonight I cried out to the Lord, "Lord, I am stretched, busy, and in need of You.  My nets are breaking!"  Vividly I heard his reply, "Be thankful your nets are full with the right stuff.  Breaking nets are a sign of blessing."  I had forgotten that living a life entrenched in the mess and chaos of ministry was actually a blessing!  A lot of victories happened today.  A few people were helped and changed today as I met with them.  I got the opportunity to share Christ today. 

Loaded? Yes. But loaded with the right things.  Breaking?  Yes, but what joy it is to be busting at the seams instead of coming up empty all night long!  I've been fishing before when we caught absolutely nothing.  That's no fun.  But when you get that bite, and then another, and then another, what a rush!  I'm sure the disciples' night of seeming failure was quickly forgotten when their nets exploded with more fish than they could ever imagine.  No one complained that day.  No one threw any fish back.  They rejoiced in breaking nets and a sinking boat.

Simon (later renamed Peter) continued to fish at the Lord's request.  He said he did it "because You (Jesus) say so."  Why do I continue to do ministry even when nets break and boats begin to sink?  Because He said so. 

What we complain about sometimes is what others would give anything for.  Whether it's a hectic ministry schedule, a full family life, a growing business blessed by the Lord, or whatever, be glad your nets are breaking from blessing and not rotting from being empty.

I'm sure the disciples strained and worked hard to pull in all those fish. Wouldn't you be tired after staying up all night fishing with no action!  But straining to pull in a heavy load hands down beats catching nothing at all!

Be thankful for your breaking nets.  Why?  Because the Lord showed you where to fish - His Holy Honey Hole! And His burden is easy when kept in this perspective.

I'd rather be loaded with the blessing of breaking nets than wandering aimlessly, bored, with nothing to do for His Kingdom.  Bring on the fish!  How can I get in the boat, put on the fishing gear, and complain about catching fish?  I know He'll never put more on me than I can bear.  Glad I'm not in this alone but have other disciples ready to help bring in the catch. When the nets are full and the boat is loaded we have to signal to our partners in ministry to join in the catch of a lifetime.  I'm thankful for breaking nets and overloaded boats.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Been Hurt In Church Before?

Ever had a bad experience at a really good business?  Me too.  I've come to realize this - one employee in a bad mood or having bad service one night doesn't represent the entire reputation of the business.  I don't quit going to restaurants or businesses based on one person having a bad day or out-of-the-ordinary service.  After all, people make mistakes and we should all have a little grace in these situations.  People can let one bad experience keep them from ever going back to a good business. 

From being in the same church for the past 18 years, I've noticed the same thing can happen when it comes to church.  People will attend, serve, and be members of a church for years and then all of a sudden for whatever reason just stop because one thing happens.  Someone will be at a church for a year or even five and let someone not call them when they are sick for one weekend or not agree with one thing the preacher said and they are out the door.  (No, I'm not writing in reference to any recent incidents either so just get that out of your mind).  Maybe they don't like the way the youth did something or possibly someone said something to hurt their feelings (what?  surely CHURCH PEOPLE wouldn't do that) and they choose to leave it all. 

Let me tell you something - Satan wants to use one thing that goes wrong or that may not be your preference to steal you away from years of ministry.  If you don't watch it, a decade of destiny can be stolen away by a moment of murmuring or second of sulking (I can run with this one - fraction of faction, a bit of a split, a wink of a stink, a jiff of a tiff, a flash of a bash, etc.).

Want to know something else - now this may come as a surprise to many - but if you stay in a church long enough a few things happen:  1) You'll hear something you don't agree with, 2) you will see some hypocrisy, 3) you will be hurt by something someone says or does, 4) you will not like all the decisions made by leadership, 5) you won't always agree with all the preaching, and 6) someone will let you down.  Why?  I like to say it this way: "Our church isn't perfect because it has people in it."  Eventually people will fail or disappoint you.  You won't get your way all the time and even won't be considered in every decision that is made within the church. 

But one thing is true:  Jesus is still building His Church.  Jesus used His words carefully when He said, "I will build My Church".   He is not building us a church and we are not building Him one.  He is building His own.  He is (if we let Him) at work perfecting us into His image.  It is when we starting building our own church or stop letting God use us to build His that we usually do things wrong.  This is usually when someone gets hurt, mad, offended, or separated from the unity of the body.

Why is Satan at work trying to get you to walk away from the church over one incident (over something someone said or did)?  He knows getting you away from the church is the first step in getting you to walk away from the Lord altogether.  I was vividly reminded of this as I went through about 500 photos recently from our church's past.  I saw hundreds of faces that are no longer here.  Some have moved because of jobs.  Some have passed away and gone to heaven.  Others, many others, had gone because of either sin, offense, or stubbornness.  Not only had they left the church over a petty offense or reason, they were no longer following the Lord AT ALL!  I actually began to cry when I saw those who had wasted their relationship with the Lord and the Church because of silly reasons.   We must protect the unity of the body of Christ.  How?  Repent, forgive, choose not to pick up offense, realize not everything has to go your way, things can happen without your approval, let it go, work together, value principle over preference, and value relationships over being "right". 

Remember this: every church has made (and will make) unwise decisions at some point.  People sometimes get hurt inside the very church that Jesus desires to be a safe place for them.  Don't quit church because someone made a mistake.  You'd be making a bigger one! 

Another thing is the grass is not always greener on the other side.  Changing churches will not fix your problems because other church have people in them too.  Every church has issues because, again, every church has people.  Switching churches will just switch problems and cause you to run from reconciliation.  Usually if it looks greener on the other side, it is because the other side is on top of a septic tank!
Never forget God and how big He is!  His Church will always be built!  Jesus is building His Church.  If we believe this we will show it by how we forgive, repent, mend relationships, protect unity, and love one another. 

If you've been hurt by church realize this - Jesus will never hurt you.  You can't discount or throw out the church and its importance in your life as a believer.  You need the church.  You need those imperfect people who come together in mission and vision to do the Lord's perfect will.  The church is God's primary tool for reaching and impacting the world.  It is His plan for healing and helping the poor.  It is still His plan to further the Gospel. 

The next time you think the church or the people in it is imperfect ask yourself this:  "How perfect am I?"  The church is not perfect and neither are you and I.  That's why we need the Holy Spirit and a Christ-centered life.  God uses imperfect people in his perfect plan.  Sometimes the church gets it wrong and can even hurt those they should be loving like Christ.  Don't let one wrong thing (or even a few) keep you from the goodness and purity of all of it.  Stick in there.  Ask yourself, "is this one wrong thing the nature and character of the church (or person) or did they just make a mistake?"  "Am I blowing this all out of proportion?"  "Is Satan trying to wedge an offense between me an another believer?"  

If someone else isn't representing the true nature of Jesus' Church then you step up and do it.  This means if they don't repent, then you go to them and try to work it out.  If they hurt you, get with them and mend the relationship.  Don't wait on them.  Maybe they don't know they hurt you.  Maybe you, too, can be wrong.  At all costs protect the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.    The Church isn't perfect but Jesus is.  While this isn't an excuse, I pray we truly represent His true character and Church.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Let God Be Your Shield

While I was driving my daughters to the dentist this past week a huge rock flew into my windshield. It caused all three of us to flinch and my youngest to say “Whoa Daddy, what was that?” I explained that it must have been a rock from the big truck in front of us. My oldest said, “That was close. Good thing we have that windshield. That could have been my head!” She was right. I realized this was a teaching moment about the Lord. I said, “Yes, that windshield protected us. It allows us to drive unafraid of whatever may be thrown at us because it will deflect and protect. God is our shield.” I quoted Psalm 28:7, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.”

The word “shield” appears over forty times in the Bible but only once in the New Testament. It is first mentioned in Genesis 15:1, “The word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." It is an amazing thing that God is our shield. When the world around us throws evil our way, the Lord envelops us. He will protect us.

We must use Him as our shield. What good is a shield lying on the ground? We must hold Him high and, like the windshield in our vehicles, He must go before us. A shield will do you no good behind you. When you go in reverse you are only trying to look out for yourself. He must come before our preferences in life. He must precede our desires and passions. His presence and truth must introduce and lead every area of our lives. We must trust Him because not only is He our shield as we go forward in faith, He is also our rear guard. Isaiah 52:12 says, “For the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Stop worrying about yourself, trying to save your own rear. God will protect you!

In another sense, the word “shield” refers to our faith in God in Ephesians 6:16. Shield, here, means “an oblong door that is wide in width and long in length”. A shield could cover an entire soldier. God has given us enough faith to ensure we are completely covered for every situation. A Roman soldier’s shield was made of many layers of thick animal hide, making it strong as steel. But over time a shield would crack and become vulnerable. Failure to care for your shield was inviting the loss of one’s life. We must maintain our faith in Christ by being refreshed and maintained on a consistent basis. Our faith must be developed, nurtured, and enriched in Him.

In Psalm 3, David assures us of the Lord’s protection. While some were saying God would not deliver David, he believed the Lord was a shield around him. He lifts our heads high. We can call out to him and he answers us. We can have rest, endurance, and peace even in the presence of many foes. God will deliver and bless those who trust in Him. What an amazing Bible passage! Even when you are having “one of those days” you can count on God because He is your shield. That is such a blessing and encouragement!

Friday, November 4, 2011

My Heart Hurts...

Tonight, my heart hurts.  My best friend and roommate from Bible college was arrested allegedly for multiple voyeurism accounts.  Shocked and speechless I know I must reach out, forgive, help to heal, and stand by him.  Guilty? God knows. Innocent? I pray so. Regardless, I must hate the sin that has wrecked him, his family and his ministry but love my friend like Christ does.

I pray if anyone who reads this is in a secret sin that they would repent, seek help and accountability, and flee sexual sin before it finds them out.  Better to expose the sin and be cleansed than it expose you and be destroyed.  If you are in a secret sin, let me help keep you accountable and the Lord heal and set you free.

Tonight, my heart hurts...