Quite obvious

The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5 that the works of the flesh are obvious.

Google tells me the word obvious stems from the Latin ob viam, meaning in the way. The English word came around in the late 16th century and meant something “frequently encountered.”

That reminds me of when someone once asked me why I don’t talk more about the devil.

My initial response was something like, “Have you read the news lately?” In my mind, you don’t need me to talk more about the devil. We all frequently encounter what he is doing. And this conversation happened more than a decade ago. People weren’t as fixated with cable news the way they are today. You can hear all about the devil’s work 24/7.

So, let’s talk about that for a moment.

Over the years instant access has created and satiated a craving for all the latest in news, facts and opinions. What’s unfortunate is the lines between those three things have blurred so much it’s often hard to distinguish one from the other. I say that’s by design. When you’re enraged, you’ll keep watching. When you’re told who the enemy is, you’ll listen to every story that highlights how evil you know they are. Apparently, everyone’s an enemy of everyone else.

We’ve long passed the point of being informed. Now, half-info spun into indignation is all we need, just enough to infuriate us to tune in again later today–if we ever turn off the news.

So, before, you could listen to the news and notice how the devil was on the prowl. Of course, that hasn’t changed. The only difference is, using our cable news illustration, the devil is reaching through the TV to do his work.

It should be so obvious what is happening.

Now, this isn’t some prudish preacher’s rant against the technology of the day. You know I’m not that guy. I’m only reflecting on the fruit of what I see in others and listen to when we talk–yes, even church conversations.

When Paul said the works of the flesh were obvious, he still identified a handful of big ones: Some of those works are: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing,

Do you really want to tell me cable news doesn’t bring out some of those things in all of us? Of course, cable news is only one culprit. Do we even realize that many more of us are finding stronger connections and identity to our political affiliations than we are our Christian calling? What other frequently encountered activities and ideas do we entertain in our minds and pursue with our time?

Paul didn’t say the fruit of the Spirit was obvious. And that’s the main reason I don’t talk about the devil all that much. You and I need to hear more about the Spirit’s work. We need to learn and relearn what it means to live by the Spirit.

Anything that takes you away from the fruit of the Spirit will not help you live by the Spirit. That should be obvious. But is it?

Stay blessed…john

Accumulating books

Most people know the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. It’s estimated that people have bought more than five billion copies of the Holy Bible. There’s no way any other book will surpass the Bible in our lifetime or any others soon to come.

Praise God!

But we also need some help from God. Even with such a high number of copies sold, is the Bible the most read?

I have my guesses. What do you think?

Did you know there’s a word for buying books you don’t read? It’s a Japanese word: Tsundoku. According to Wikipedia, the word joins two ideas. Piling up and books. So, tsundoku is when you’re good at accumulating books, but, for whatever reasons, don’t get around to reading them.

Of course, reading the Bible is different than reading other material. I can finish some books in a day. I’ll never try to do that with the Bible. We’re meant to read scripture through prayer and study, alone and with the fellowship of the church.

I know I must’ve written and preached before about this. When you read or listen to a daily devotional, do you tend to focus more on the devotion or the scripture text? To be sure, the person’s application is helpful. It’s good to hear a believer’s testimony or discover how others have engaged a Bible passage.

Use those insights to draw yourself back to the text itself. As you do, you’ll have your own engagement with a passage and make your own discoveries. Believe me, those are meaningful moments in your walk with God.

Last year, a Lifeway study found that 32% of American Protestants read the Bible every day. This burdens my heart. There’s a lot we can say about why the church is in the condition it is today. So, I don’t mean to oversimplify things, but our lack of thoughtful engagement with scripture has to be one of the main culprits.

There has never been a time when access to scripture was so abundant as it is today. But we haven’t taken advantage of that blessing.

If we aren’t engaged with scripture, what is shaping our worldview? what other resources are we relying on to influence our judgments and the direction of our lives? what else are we watching or who are we listening to instead of the voice of God heard in scripture? 

It’s okay to buy books you never intend to read. Let them fill your shelves and tabletops. Use them as furniture or mounts for your laptops. But let the Bible be the book that finds it way to your heart each day. 

Stay blessed…john

Low-cost ministry

“Ministry that costs nothing, accomplishes nothing.” That’s what one preacher said in the 1800s.

Of course, we’ve heard the same message in different ways. We have to make sense, for example, of when Jesus said in order to follow him we are to hate our own family. The next thing Jesus tells us is that we can’t be his follower if we don’t renounce all that we have. Indeed, there’s a cost we must account for.

If following Jesus and pursuing kingdom ministry means denying yourself, what does it cost to do so?

One of the churches I served once held a buy-a-brick fundraiser. Part of the project included a brick for every pastor ever appointed to serve there since the church opened in the mid 1800s. With all that great history, I know I was that church’s best associate pastor! Never mind that I was the only one they’ve ever had and there’s only one Associate Pastor brick.

I noticed something when the project was completed.

As I looked over the names of the pastors, early on a lot of them were not around very long. Itinerant ministry was different back then, for sure. But even so, several of the pastors didn’t have more than one year. I asked someone who had been around the church for a while why they thought that was so.

“Well, those were different times, Pastor. My guess is if the people didn’t like what you said, they would let you know. People carried shotguns around back then.”

Of course, that was a joke. Kind of.

Hopefully.

Then again…

Pastoral ministry was different in the 1800s. There was a cost many pastors today might not be willing to pay. Costly ministry in our terms today means thousands of dollars for streaming equipment or new buildings. I’m sure finances have always been a factor in ministry, at least in some regard.

But I’d like to consider the cost of ministry isn’t all about money, not even a lot about money. Instead, the cost of ministry is much deeper. Of course, the ministry I’m talking about isn’t just pastoral ministry either.

It’s your ministry. It’s how you advance the kingdom of God where and when God leads you. There’s a cost we all have to consider.

Luke introduces us to Saul in the seventh chapter of Acts. He’s mentioned almost in passing as the people stone Stephen. In the next chapter, this unknown-to-us Saul is now ravaging the church.

Luke says that a great persecution arose once Stephen died. The church scattered as a result. I appreciate how the NRSV translates what happened. As the church scattered, Saul went from house to house taking people to prison for their belief in Jesus.

But those who were scattered went from place to place to preach Jesus. Evil went house to house, but hope went place to place.

What was the cost of ministry then? It wasn’t money. It was safety and freedom. You could say the cost was humiliation and persecution.

Now, take some time to reflect on your ministry.  If it’s going to be fruitful and faithful and accomplish anything for the glory of God, chances are, it’s going to cost you something. Maybe it will be a financial cost. Then again, maybe you’re going to need to endure hardship for a season or even pushback. Would it be worth it to you?

What is it going to cost you to fulfill your ministry of reconciliation?

Stay blessed…john