Ministry Matters

Wednesday, September 19, 2018, 05:37 | No Comments »

On the Hebrew calendar today marks the holiest day of the year, Yom Kipur, The Day of Atonement. As followers of Jesus, you and I would do well to better understand the significance of this most sacred day. It is a day of judgment that the prophet Joel describes this way:

It is a day of darkness and gloom, a day of thick clouds and deep blackness. . . That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping,                  and mourning. (Joel 2:2, 12 NLT)

The following is taken from my book God's Clock: Jesus within the LORD'S Appointed Times.

 

What is atonement? It has often been described based upon it’s English spelling as “at-one-ment.” The article from the WebBible Encyclopedia actually describes it this way:
The meaning of the word is simply at-one-ment, i.e., the state of being at one or being reconciled, so that atonement is reconciliation. Thus, it is used to denote the effect which flows from the death of Christ.[i]

Unfortunately, “at-one-ment” even defined as reconciliation falls short of this word’s rich meaning.
We can understand reconciliation because it is a reality we have experienced. Whether it was a playground fight with a childhood friend, a conflict with the boss or colleague at work, a sibling rivalry, oran argument with your spouse, we have experienced personal relationships moving from brokenness to wholeness through reconciliation. We need to understand atonement through simple concrete realities and actions with meaning that we can teach to our children.

We think of atonement as an abstract theological idea. However, it has deep meaning for us, making known the Jesus we never knew. Remember, Hebrew thinking was not abstract, but was based in concrete realities. Thus atonement is based in a truth with substance that gives it meaning; an understanding lost to many of us as Western thinkers.

Atonement comes from the Hebrew word kapharand literally means cover. Kapharor cover has three primary meanings: providing protection or security, hiding from sight and/or knowledge, and a covering as a lid.[ii]The idea of providing protection, like when big kids protect the little kids on the playground from the school bully, also leads to the idea of atonement meaning “ransom.” If someone is taken captive a strong friend will seek to provide a ransom. In Hebrew this parallels the word padah,meaning redeem, which is literally to atone by offering a substitute.[iii]

So what then does atonement mean in regards to our sin and disobedience?

Let’s start by answering the question, “What is sin?” The Apostle John describes sin saying, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness”(1 Jn. 3:4). We don’t like to think of sin that way; we would rather water it down and just say we made a mistake. But in God’s eyes sin is lawlessness, a rebellion against God’s authority. Little wonder then that sin is also described as evil, depravity, and wickedness.

Thus when we think of our sin, atonement literally means covering our lawlessness and hiding it from God’s sight. How is our lawlessness covered? It is through the ransom paid: Jesus died in our place covering our sin with His blood. The blood of Jesus makes atonement an effective covering of sin, so an omniscient, all-knowing and all-seeing God will no longer “see it.” This is why the Lordsaid, “atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you”(Lev. 16:30 ESV). The atonement covering is so complete that in God’s sight it is as though we never sinned; we’re cleansed.

Atonement then is a covering that cleanses the stain of sin. This is why the Lordsays, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool”(Is. 1:18).

And so we express the idea of atonement as cleansing from sin, forgiveness, and reconciliation, but we must be careful not think of it as an abstract idea. Atonement is the concrete reality of our sin being covered or hidden from God’s sight; the ransom is paid cleansing us from sin by Christ’s sacrificial blood. Atonement is the act of God covering His eyes to the offenses made against Him as the blood of Jesus cleanses us of our sin.

Remember, the imagery of the Day of Atonement is the dominant theme within Hebrews 8-10. Understanding atonement as a concrete reality based in God’s action on our behalf helps us better understand why “the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). Jesus’ action to cover our sin or provide the security we need by paying our ransom is why the Lordsays, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” (Heb. 10:17). This is the atonement the Jesus we never knew has given us – a covering of protection that completely cleanses from sin.

Understanding atonement will do more than just help us to know the Jesus we never knew. It will also help us to forgive others when we find it hard to forget what they said or did. We can choose to cover the offense and hide it from our sight, which means we won’t dwell upon it or talk about it because from our vantage point the offense has been wiped away and no longer exists. The one who offended us is under our protection from vengeance, and the door to reconciliation is opened. This is why after His resurrection Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld”(Jn. 20:23 ESV). By His sacrifice we can choose to apply His blood to the sin of others made against us and provide atonement for it by faith. This is a mystery, but Jesus said that when we offer forgiveness to others, they are forgiven and the sin is atoned for – the sin we forgive is covered from sight (both ours and God’s), and the sinner is protected from retribution. However, the opposite is also true. When we refuse to forgive the sin of others it remains unforgiven – uncovered in plain view for everyone to see, and without protection from those seeking revenge.

Yes, atonement is more than just “at-one-ment” or reconciliation. Atonement covers sin from sight and provides protection from vengeance. In this way sins are forgiven and reconciliation is made possible.

 


[i](Easton)
[ii](Benner, Ancient Hebrew Dictionary, 2009, p. 34)
[iii](Parsons, Yom Kippur)


Monday, September 10, 2018, 18:08 | No Comments »

The Feast of Trumpets

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

(Mat. 25:13 ESV)

According to the Hebrew calendar Monday September 10, 2018 was Tishri 1, or the first day of the seventh month. Scripture tells us that it is this day that marks the Feast of Trumpets. But is this really the LORD'S appointed time?

When Jesus taught the disciples about the time of His coming, He told them the parable of the Ten Virgins. He ended it with a common idium used by the Jews saying "you know neither the day or the hour." By this the disciples understood that Jesus was pointing to the LORD'S appointed time of Trumpets.

What makes this day a mystery so that no one could know the day or the hour?

All of the other annual appointed times came on a specific day of the month. For example the fourteenth day of the first month was the LORD'S Passover. Trumpets was different.

According to Leviticus 23:23-25 the day of blowing the shofars is the first day of the seventh month. Hebrew months follow a lunar/solar calendar, which means each month begins with the sighting of the new moon. From creation God established the times and seasons with the sun to govern the day and the moon to govern the night (see Gen. 1:14-19). Thus every 29-30 days a new month would begin with the sighting of the first silver cresent of the new moon. So like the beginning of a new month, the Day of Trumpets could be anticipated. However, no one could know for certain the day or the hour until two reliable witnesses gave their testimony in the Temple and the trumpet blast would sound.

As followers of Jesus we are to anticipate His coming. Paul urged us to encourage one another certain that Jesus would return "with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God" (1 Thes. 4:16). But he did not stop there. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that they did not be reminded about the "times and seasons" (5:1). While others would be caught off gauard by His return, followers of Jesus "are not in darkness . . . for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day" (5:4-5). We can recognize the Day of Trumpets and the fall appointed times of Atoement and Tabernacles as the times and seasons established by the LORD.

Yes, I believe we can look for Jesus' return at the Day of Trumpets. In the same way He perfectly fulfilled the spring feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Pentecost at His first coming, so too He will perfectly fulfill the fall feasts at His second coming.

So was Monday September 10th the Day of Trumpets. Jews around the world celebrated it as Rosh Hashana. However, it is not a calendar that ushers in the first day of a new month. From creation it has been the sun and the moon that God's clock was set, and it continues to this day to run right on time.

So was the new moon sighted on the evening of the 9th to signal the beginning of the first day of the seventh month? No it was not. Conflicting reports say the moon may have been seen the following evening, but only one reliable witness claimed to have seen the new moon.

So could tonight be the day and the hour when it is sighted? Let's lift our eyes to the western sky this evening and look for the first silver cresent of the new moon and the coming day Trumpets. But more importantly let us look up for our "redemption is drawing near" (Lk. 21:28).

_______________

To find out more about the Day of Trumpets and the LORD'S Appointed Times order your copy of God's Clock: Jesus within the LORD'S Appointed Times.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018, 08:54 | No Comments »

Doing the Work of Thinking

Joe Coffey the lead pastor at Hudson Community Chapel shared a request made by a 17 year old high school student planning to go to seminary and answer God’s call to ministry. As part of a school assignment he was to shadow someone in his career choice for 30 hours a week for a month. Pastor Joe thought this would be a great opportunity to invest in this young man, but wondered, “What will I tell him when it looks like I’m not doing anything, but have a lot going on inside my head?”

As pastors and ministry leaders we all know that taking time to think is a big part of our job. Unfortunately the much needed time to do the work of thinking is often pushed aside by so many other demands of ministry. In his book Thinking for a Change, John Maxwell said, “Becoming a better thinker is worth your effort because the way you think really impacts every aspect of your life.” When it comes to ministry matters, you and I need to do the work of thinking because the stuff of ministry is of eternal significance.

Let’s take the next few moments and consider seven ways to  help us improve the work of thinking.

1.     Make prayer a priority. I confess that often my prayers exist within my mind. God hears our thoughtful prayers, and I’m thankful that some of these silent petitions have even been answered. But I’ve also learned that my prayers are more focused when I start verbalizing my thoughts. Alone in the car, or mowing the lawn are examples of times that I can choose to speak my prayerful thoughts. As a Pentecostal, sometimes the speaking uses the unknown words given by the Holy Spirit. Either way as I begin to speak to the LORD it puts me in a position to do the second half of prayer – listen to His voice. When we take time to listen to God in prayer the Holy Spirit will energize and inspire our thinking with wisdom.

2.     Decide to do the work of thinking. In the same way we must choose to pray, we have to make the choice to stop and think. Put it on your calendar, then follow through and keep this important appointment with yourself. The work of thinking is a discipline we must learn to develop.

3.     Find a place to think. We need a place free from distractions, a place unplugged from the internet and phone calls. I enjoy sitting on my deck watching the sun set, or sitting by a bonfire in the backyard. Get away from the office and find a place you can call your thinking spot.

4.     Write down your thoughts. The older I get the more I realize that if I don’t write it down I will forget it. The whole point of doing the work of thinking is to remember your thoughts. We can only act upon our thinking if we can come back to those thoughts at a later time. I like using my iPad to “write” my thoughts; find an app that works for you even if it’s pen and paper.

5.     Connect with a mentor who is a great thinker. As a solo pastor, I spent too much time alone and disconnected from others in ministry. We need each other. And more importantly we need someone who can inspire us to do the work of thinking. Scripture teaches us that wisdom is found in a multitude of counselors. Find a great thinker and connect with him/her regularly.

6.     Keep learning. No matter how good we may get at thinking, we will never know or think every thought possible. We need to fertilize the garden of our mind with the good thoughts of others. Whether it be through reading books or articles, attending  a conference, searching the web, enrolling in a continuing education program, or whatever, make an investment in yourself by continuing to learn.

7.     Express your thoughts. Don’t do the work of thinking only to keep it to yourself; share your thoughts with others – even the world. One way we do this is through our preaching and teaching, but don’t stop there. Think it and share it, because the more we invest of ourselves in others, the more we will have to give away.

Let’s do the work of thinking. It’s worth the time and effort.

What do you think:

  • What are some of the benefits of doing the work of thinking?
  • How important is thinking for us as pastors and ministry leaders?
  • What are some other ways we can do the work of thinking?

Thursday, January 18, 2018, 11:39 | No Comments »

 

If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church? 1 Timothy 3:5

 

I think you and I would agree that we should keep our families as our first priority. But exactly how do we do that. As pastors and church leaders, we know that in the real world of ministry it can be easier said than done. So many different things pull at us for our attention, not to mention the weekly routine to keep all our “ministry plates” spinning. How can we keep family first in our day-to-day ordinary lives?

Dr. Don Sisk said, “We have put our ministries before our families for far too long, and too many have lost both family and ministry.”* One of the things my wife Susie and I are most thankful for is that our 5 PK’s all love Jesus. The “Ebie Fab 5” grew up PK’s and we praise God that as adults, they and their families have faith in Christ.

I was tempted to share some of the things that Susie and I did with our kids, but are these the things that really worked, and will they work for you? So rather than talk about what we did, I decided to go to the experts and ask our 5 PK’s to share their experience growing up in the parsonage and pastor’s house. I asked them two questions, and we will focus on the first this month: “What did you enjoy or appreciate about growing up a PK?” Put simply tell me what you liked. You might want to have this conversation with your PK’s too.

A Foundation of Faith

A common theme was how growing up a PK strengthened their faith in Jesus. The example of mom and dad was genuine. My one daughter put it this way, “The teaching at church reinforced what we learned at home.” Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be. Don’t we wish more of the parents in our churches understood that they cannot expect the church to be the primary teacher and example of faith for their children. Instead it is how we live at home that can be reinforced by what kids are taught in Sunday School or the youth group. 

We all know the reality that more is often caught than taught. That’s why another daughter shared that we were always learning lessons of faith. One lesson that has strengthened her faith was the certainty that the LORD is faithful and will always provide. Growing up she knew that from time to time we made some sacrifices and that there were needs, but without fail we always had food on the table and our needs were met. She was grateful for how often God would use people around us to meet those needs. This builds her faith to know that no matter what she and her husband might be going through today, God will be there to provide for them.

They also recognized that their faith was the result of being faithful attenders at church. But they knew we didn’t attend church because dad was the pastor. We reinforced that we were there because we loved Jesus. Even if dad was not in the ministry and they could be like all the other kids, we would still go to church faithfully because it was one way we expressed our love for God.

Involvement in Ministry at the Church

Another common response our PK’s gave was how much they enjoyed being a part of what we did at the church. The “we” is key; we did ministry together. Even when the kids were young they got to be involved with mom and dad in the work of the ministry. Whether it was helping with transparencies (remember those?) cleaning, doing lawn work, serving meals, working in the church office or whatever, each of the kids had an opportunity to serve with us.

Early on we started teaching our kids that ministry was an expression of their faith in Jesus. No one should do things at church because other people expected it. Everything we do should simply be because we love Jesus. My daughter said her involvement gave her a sense of ownership and pride in the church – it was her church. And she knew that her opinion mattered; because she was involved in the ministry, dad would listen to what she said.

My son also expressed how much he enjoyed being able to let his ministry gifts and talents be developed. Four of our five PK’s grew up singing and playing the piano, drums, guitar, or bass at church. We did our best to let our kids be themselves and let who they are as an individual define their ministry involvement. Let me encourage you to not force your kids into a ministry box that does not fit them. Allow their faith to find expression in what they want to do, so their gifts and talents can thrive.

Friendships with Other PK’s and Their Families 

Each of the kids also expressed how much they enjoyed the many different friends they made as PK’s. The joke around our house was that the church provided a social outlet for our “Ebie homeschool.” Our kids had lots of peers as friends, but they also were comfortable relating with adults. These relationships helped to shape who they are today.

We took advantage of every opportunity we could. Our kids were involved in PK Retreats, family camp and other network events. Let me encourage you to have your children participate in these events and make some great friendships – some that may last a lifetime.

And the kids had the bonus of getting to know missionaries, other ministers who visited the church, as well as pastors and their families in our community. Sitting at lunch after church, they were included in the conversation. And they were always excited when one of these adults recognized them at another event. Let me encourage you to not only help foster these relationships, but take the time to recognize the PK’s you know at network events. Make PK’s special because they are known and valued as family and friends.

 

Next month we will examine the flip side of the priority of family and ministry with the second question: “What were the greatest challenges you faced growing up a PK?” Until then, remember ministry matters because the stuff of ministry is of eternal significance.

 

* Dr. Don Sisk, Balancing Family and Ministry. September 5, 2013. http://ministry127.com/pastoral-leadership/balancing-family-and-ministry. Accessed, January 12, 2018.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017, 07:46 | No Comments »

Christ’s love compels us.

2 Corinthians 5:14

As ministers and church leaders we would be quick to agree with the Apostle Paul. The love of Christ should be the reason for everything we do – as Paul went on to say we no longer live for ourselves, but for Him (see 2 Cor. 5:15). But what really compels us; what is our motivation for the things we do? If we’re honest many other things often drive us to action. I for one confess this is true for me.

John Maxwell said, “Action flows from intention. For this reason, it’s imperative for us, as leaders, to regularly evaluate our primary motivations.”*  So this month let’s take a moment for a gut check and ask ourselves why we do the things we do.

How often do we find ourselves like Paul in Romans 7 – doing the evil we don’t want to do, and falling short of the good we yearn to do? Perhaps that’s a conversation for another time, but it illustrates the reality that our motives (or dare I say, the desires of our heart) are subject to change. Even the “good things” we do in ministry may not be from pure motives.

Over the past several months I have had to examine my motives. Why was I doing what I did in pastoral ministry? Why did I resign and launch the First Faith ministry? Why am I writing books and blogs like this one? Am I trying to make a name for myself, or am I being compelled by Christ’s love?

I think you would agree that as members of the human race it is possible for our hidden motivations to be mixed even when running a good race. How can we know what our primary motivation is, and test our motives to see that they are less about ourselves and more about a response to the love of Christ? I found a story that I think helps measure our motive.

John Leonard Dober and David Nitschman are not names we may recognize, but they live out what it means to be compelled by the love of Christ. In 1732 they determined to forsake everything, even to sell themselves as slaves, so that the 2,000 to 3,000 African slaves working in the sugar cane fields in the West Indies could hear the gospel message before they died. They booked passage from Copenhagen to the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix. Family and friends from their home in Herrenhut, Germany, including a wife and small child, came to see them off. Uncertain that they would ever see these two missionaries again the cries on the pier were loud and long. But Dober and Nitschman heard another cry that was louder than the one made by family and friends; it was the cry of their LORD for the unsaved slaves who had not heard of His great love for them. As the ship set sail these men called out, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!”

As it turned out these missionaries did eventually return home. But their willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of Christ began the Moravian Missionary movement that sent hundreds of other missionaries to share the gospel in the West Indies. Dober served as a Bishop in Europe and Nitschman came to America with John Wesley to found a mission in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – a work that would continue to grow under Wesley to become the Methodist Church.

I believe their story provides a key to testing our motives. What are you and I willing to lay down for the sake of what Jesus has asked us to do? Are we willing to risk everything? Jesus said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). How willing are we to forfeit our lives – to give up the American dream of success to answer the heart cry of our LORD.

Yes, let us say with an undivided heart, “Christ’s love compels us” because the Lamb that was slain is still worthy to receive the reward of His suffering!

 

*Monitoring Motivation, John Maxwell – May 8, 2013 http://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/monitoring-motivation 

See more on John Dober and David Nitschman:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-1/missionaries-against-terrible-odds.html 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moravian_slaves 

https://findrefuge.com/2012/09/may-the-lamb-that-was-slain-receive-the-reward-of-his-suffering/

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