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Palm Sunday: Preaching Liberation
3/26/2012 10:49:11 AM


This is the week leading up to Palm Sunday. Now is the time that you will be preparing your heart, your spirit, and your message for this coming weekend. Amid all of the distractions, you need to find some time alone with your Lord to hear His voice and His heart for you personally and all of those whom you serve.

 

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that memorable Palm Sunday as a liberator. As He approached the city, He wept over it (Luke 19:41). He was crying because He knew the fickle nature of people. He cried because they had missed the point. He had not come to them to be a rescuer or a miracle worker. He had come to be their Savior. They totally misunderstood the reason for His visitation (Luke 19:44).

 

Though many of those He loved did not understand why He had come, Jesus’ role was set in stone centuries before in Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor ... to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (verse 1). He read from the Old Testament scroll in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19) and concluded, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

 

Jesus’ words are so relevant on Palm Sunday — “If you ... had only known ... what would bring you peace” (Luke 19:42). Will the people in your pews understand the urgency of the message He proclaimed and the great compassion He has for them? During Holy Week, I urge you to preach liberation from sin, addiction, fear, pain, loneliness — you name it. Jesus is the greatest liberator the world has ever known, and He is available to your people. I assure you, they will be open to the message of freedom, receptive to the possibility of deliverance. Sin and evil have been overcome by the mercy of a loving Lord. Preach freedom, my colleague! That is the Easter message!

 

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38).

Great Expectations
3/19/2012 12:13:40 PM


I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen it happen before. Maybe it did, and I wasn’t aware of it. On Monday of this week, ESPN’s Sports Center spent several straight hours talking exclusively about one single sports story — Peyton Manning’s decision to join the Denver Broncos. All other sports stories were relegated to the news ticker running at the bottom of the screen, and this was in the middle of college basketball’s “March Madness” championship tournament! What made this one story so uniquely important?

 
Football fans in Colorado have mixed feelings. Most are excited to have the quarterback who some have called the greatest of our era coming to Denver. Many are also saddened that it is likely to mean that last year’s “story,” Tim Tebow, may be leaving. I can understand why Manning’s decision would be considered important in Colorado — it is a source of great hope. The Broncos must now, in all likelihood, be considered favorites to win their division, possibly the AFC championship, and perhaps even the Super Bowl next season. But why would sports fans in every other state be so focused on this turn of events?

 

I don’t have an answer. Maybe you do. If so, leave a comment or opinion below. My best guess is that it must have something to do with the high expectations that surround a report like this. We’ll see.

 

I would imagine that, when you entered the ministry, you were filled with great expectations. I know I was. In time, reality sets in and those expectations are tempered by many variables — namely people, places, and chemistry between you and those you were called to serve. In some ways, your great expectations are at the mercy of others’ expectations for you. I didn’t like that part very much, but let me encourage you with a few timely passages from God’s Word.

 

“If the LORD delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm” (Psalms 37:23).

 

The Lord spoke through Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

Paul wrote, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

 

Paul quotes from Isaiah 64:4 when he says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

 

It’s all about God cheering you on! He has great expectations for you!

 

Sometimes, I think we forget how much faith God has in us, and we give in to our own self-doubt and challenges. Don’t do that! His hopes and dreams for you are great — even more than what you believe for yourself. You are a winner — live like it!

 

In John 14:12, Jesus startled Philip with the promise, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.”

 

Go for it!

God’s Measure of Success (Through Small Steps)
3/12/2012 10:45:12 AM


I never get too excited during “March Madness®,” the NCAA® men’s basketball championship tournament, which starts this week. I’ve occasionally had a favorite team or coach that I might pull for, but to be honest, I usually know very little about most of the teams in the brackets — except to say that they all must be pretty good to be listed among the 64 best in the country.

 

However, I do have many friends and acquaintances who really look forward to this time of year with a fervor. They know every team’s strengths and weaknesses, and celebrate every victory that advances someone to the next round of the tournament. They rejoice in every step taken toward the final prize of being named “national champion.”

 

The teams that play in the NCAA tournament do not get there without good coaching, hard work, in-depth planning, hours of practicing, efficient teamwork, and good execution. They all start at the bottom and work their ways toward the “Big Dance” one step at a time.

 

Most of us in ministry don’t begin at the “mega” level. It takes time to learn your strengths and weaknesses. There is a learning curve and cost to success, and being sensible and patient when you begin will give you the very best chance of succeeding. The Lord promises us that, if we are faithful with the small things, He will in time trust us with greater things (Matthew 25:23). But that doesn’t always mean a change of venue.

 

In one section of our book, The Heart of a Great Pastor, Neil Wiseman and I take a fresh look at the misguided notions of “pastoral success.”

 

Opportunity blindness always worsens when a pastor considers each assignment as a stepping stone to something better. Such a stance forces him to consider every pastorate as semi-temporary. In some unexplainable self-fulfilling way, his thinking causes the assignment to actually become restrictive or even suffocating. Yet, the opportunities he hopes to find in another place already exist where he resides.

 

Francis Bacon’s advice helps us bloom: ‘A wise man makes more opportunities than he finds.’ I would imagine that any long-term pastor has considered moving on to another place only to be reminded by the Lord, ‘I have not released you; I need you here; your work is not finished.’ ... The secret is to make our assignments ideal by blooming where God plants us.

 

God does not measure our success by numbers. Neither should we. I believe that, if you will determine to bloom where you are planted, opportunities will appear where before there were only walls. And rewards will come — in one form or another.

 

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9).

A Perspective on Suffering
3/5/2012 12:32:34 PM


The past few years have seemingly brought many of us increasingly destructive weather. In the past few days, we have heard of tornadoes, snow storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters that have left devastation and suffering all across our nation. I sometimes think that these sudden and terrible changes to the lives of so many people have become so commonplace that we have a difficult time fully comprehending how bad and how long these hard times can really be.

Suffering, in one form or another, is a daily reality for most people. Natural disasters, automobile or work-related accidents, catastrophic or temporary illness, loss of jobs, broken relationships, or unmet expectations are just a few of the causes. How can we cope?

Years ago, I received a letter from Vonette Bright, the wife of Bill Bright — founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International. She wrote of Dr. Bright’s declining physical condition.

In the letter, she related a conversation she had with Bill and a question she asked him: “Why do you think you’re suffering? Why would God put you through this?” Bill’s immediate reply was, “I’m not suffering! It depends on the definition of suffering. Even grasping for breath for extended periods of time does not compare with what Christ went through during his trial and crucifixion. He had six hours suffocating on the cross. Think about Peter being crucified head downward, Paul’s persecution and finally being beheaded. All the disciples were persecuted and martyred, except John, who was exiled.” Dr. Bright continued, “What I am going through is very minor. Suffering is a matter of perspective. It is not pleasant . . . but God allows only so much.”

Later, when Dr. Bright’s blood oxygen level dropped to a dangerously low level, he asked his wife to read from 1 Peter: “These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold — and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold” (1 Peter 1:7, NLT).

When suffering comes, hold on to your faith, my colleague! Hold on! It’s a matter of perspective.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).

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