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Equip Their Ship

sailing shipHave you ever asked yourself the question, “what exactly is my objective in training my children up in the faith?” I know I’ve thought to myself, “Leading them to Christ is my first and greatest objective but then what? Where should my focus be?”   Recently a good friend and mentor of mine pointed something out in Ephesians that I’d like to share with you.

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-12 (emphasis added)

I’ve read this passage in Ephesians many times and the word “equip” has always given me the sense that we were to be preparing the body, through spiritual training, to carry on the work of the kingdom. This I believe is true. But the mental picture that is communicated by the original Greek word is somewhat lost in our English. The word is “Katartizo” and it means to fit out, make sound, or complete. To fit out. Outfit. It is used in the sense of outfitting as one would think of outfitting a ship that has a journey to complete. First the ship must be seaworthy. The sails must be in good repair, the hull must be sound, all of the navigational tools must be present and working properly, charts maps, etc. Additionally the ship will need to be supplied with all of its provisions for the journey. Food, water, etc.

So as parents and the church, our role is that of a loving spiritual outfitter. What a wonderful picture. More important, yes MORE important, eternally more important than our roles as academic outfitter, athletic outfitter, financial outfitter, is our God given mission as our child’s spiritual outfitter.

I will close with a quote from Patrick Henry’s will, “I have disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give to them, and that is the Christian religion. If they had that and I had not given them one cent, they would be rich. If they have not that, and I had given them the world, they would be poor.” I could not have said it any better. Equip their ship.

May you be blessed in your role as outfitter!

An Integrated Approach to Sermon Preparation: Applied to Philippians 3:1-14 – Part 2

Man-readingThe process I will walk you through today is in 5 steps;  (1) identify the boundaries of the text, (2) choose appropriate analytical tools, (3) interpret the true point(s) of the passage, (4) apply the passage, and finally (5) develop a rhetorical strategy for effective communication.   I will use Philippians 3:1-14 as a test case for this process throughout this presentation.

Boundaries

The old question and answer, “How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” applies to the study of God’s word as well.  The full counsel of God cannot be fully explored on any subject in a single sermon and so we must choose what passage or passages of scripture we will exposit.  There are many approaches to setting these textual boundaries, but in the case of Philippians 3 we will utilize rhetorical analysis to identify the pericope for exposition.  Verses 1 and 2 give us our first marker through the use of a very brief introductory narrative which introduces the audience, “my brothers and sisters,” Paul’s goal in writing, “a safeguard for you,” and the threat he is addressing, “beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!”  What follow are Paul’s proposition and his arguments for that proposition.  We find our closing marker in verse 15, “Therefore,” which signals a shift from argument to praxis or from indicative to imperative tone.

Pick your tools

In approaching God’s Word for the purpose of interpretation and exposition, it is critical to first choose the tools that best fit the passage.  In other words, the tool should fit the genre you are interpreting.  The tools appropriate to interpreting a Psalm would likely differ from those you would employ in interpreting an Epistle.  In our example of Philippians 3, Paul’s letter was meant to be read aloud to the churches.  It is in affect a persuasive essay or speech, therefore rhetorical criticism, as we have already employed, would be a valid tool.  The letter was written in a specific time and place in order to address specific challenges being had by the local church in Philippi.  This would indicate that a historical-critical analysis, in particular Greco-Roman cultural analysis, as well as a 1st Century Jewish historical understanding, would be useful in providing the proper lens through which to examine the passage.  In addition, a close reading of the text reveals some etymological questions that a careful word study would help in answering.  Lastly, our ultimate goal for any exposition is to relate what the passage teaches us about God and about ourselves from God’s worldview.  Therefore we must also pull the theological interpretive tool from the bag.   Now we are ready to get to work.

What’s the Big Idea?

Whenever we are working with the inspired word of God it is important that we resist getting cute or inappropriately creative with our interpretation.  While God’s word may be applied to many different circumstances, any given passage only has one meaning.  Recognizing, not inventing, that meaning and communicating it to our audience is the goal.  In our example of Philippians 3, Paul’s proposition in verse 3, “For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials,” is the main point he will elucidate in the following verses and defines the rhetorical situation he is addressing.   In other words, physical circumcision as practiced by the Jews in this context represents the self-righteous acts of the law, while followers of Christ exult in His works of righteousness on their behalf and do so by faith through the Spirit of God, not depending on their own effort which adds nothing to Christ’s completed work.  Following this rhetorical framework Paul then responds to the implied argument from his opponent that credentials matter. He does via a description of his own impressive credentials, “If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more,” which he then immediately dismisses three times in increasingly strong language.  They are liabilities because of Christ, liabilities compared to knowing Christ, and finally, they have the worth of excrement compared to being found “in Christ.”  In plain language, self-righteousness is a pile of useless dung when compared to the righteousness based on the faithfulness of Jesus.  It is this righteousness from God that is available to us in Christ.

Application

Once I have determined the appropriate interpretation or point of the passage, I take time again to read and reread the passage, meditating on what it means or has meant practically in my life.  The best place to start with Philippians 3 is with Paul himself.  What did it mean in his life?  How would he apply this truth? He makes this clear in verses 10-14.   Because of Christ’s faithfulness, Paul has four aims in life that we can share; to know Christ, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death.  In verse 11 Paul states the goal of these aims is to “attain” (Greek – katantaō) to the resurrection of the dead.  It is important that we understand that the word “attain” here should not be construed as “earned.”  The Greek verb means to arrive at or to come to.  Paul’s desire is to be like Christ in everyway and persevere until His coming and the resurrection of the dead on the last day.  In this sense Paul’s “striving” or running after in verse 14 is not a work in order to earn salvation, but a deep ceded desire to know Christ more and more.    Having arrived at an interpretation and before beginning to compose a message, it is the cautious pastor who will look at some trusted commentaries to make sure he hasn’t made any fatal flaws or missed any nuggets that could be helpful to his final product.

The Exposition

Much as Paul employed rhetoric in writing to the churches of the 1st Century, so we will take the product of our interpretive work and put together the pieces in a way that is clear, convincing, memorable, and moves our hearers to action/application.  In doing this we will ask ourselves questions like; what historical background or etymological information that I have uncovered will be useful in my opening narrative?  How can I phrase my proposition in such a way that it will be memorable and complete?  What will be my arguments from scripture for that point? What potential objections or questions might my hearers have and how I can answer them?   How I can employ elements like parable, metaphor, or hyperbole to make the point more memorable and move my hearer to action?  What combination of my personal testimony on the subject (ethos), emotional appeal (pathos), and logical argumentation (logos) will have the greatest impact on my hearers?  What action or attitude do I desire to evoke from my audience?  Answering these questions will assist us in developing our manuscript from which our sermon will derive.

As you apply these steps; identifying boundaries, choosing exegetical tools, arriving at an interpretation, finding application, and finally developing a rhetorical strategy for preaching, we must keep in mind our ultimate objective.  It is not our purpose to reinvent what Paul said to the 1st Century church at Philippi, but rather to develop an interpretation and application that are faithful to the text and then to present them to the 21st Century church in a such a way that the power of God may be made manifest through it in their lives for the glory of Christ.

An Integrated Approach to Sermon Preparation: Applied to Philippians 3:1-14 – Part 1

Man-readingThis is a departure from my usual postings in that I am speaking mostly to others who teach and sharing a little of what has worked for me.  I pray that it will be helpful to others who answer the call to teach God’s word to people of all ages. 

A Solemn Call

There is no more solemn responsibility in the church of Jesus Christ than that of teaching others out of God’s Word. James the brother of Jesus warns would-be teachers not to respond carelessly to this calling: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). However, it is God who calls and God who gives gifts to men, so neither should the person of faith run from a true calling to teach. “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly… if it is teaching, he must teach” (Romans 12:6-7).

Therefore, with all seriousness and diligence we, those called into a teaching ministry, must approach the holy Word of God with prayer and a reverence that drives us to give heed Paul’s advice to his disciple Timothy. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). It is here, with this frame of mind, that we must consider the methods or process employed in both “rightly dividing” the word of truth as well as expositing that word in such a way that we do not hinder God’s power therein, but rather present a message that is both faithful to the text and complete in its ability to inform and move the hearer to action or belief.

Today we will discuss a process for figuratively picking up any passage of scripture and turning it around in the light so that it can be examined from every angle, observing it through the eyes of the author and original audience, recognizing the true meaning of the passage, and then both systematically and artistically presenting it to our audience in a such a way that the power of God may be made manifest through it in their lives. The process I will walk you through today is in 5 steps; (1) identify the boundaries of the text, (2) choose appropriate analytical tools, (3) interpret the true point(s) of the passage, (4) apply the passage, and finally (5) develop a rhetorical strategy for effective communication. I will use Philippians 3:1-14 as a test case for this process throughout this presentation.

…Stay tuned

TRAIL GUIDE: Forgive and Pray

QUEST Trail Guide DevoThe “Trail Guide” devotional is used by our adult leaders of grade school groups in Quest as a way to prepare their hearts and minds for the topics we will be covering with the children on the weekend.  We have made them available here to help our parents of grade-schoolers engage with their children around the topics we are discussing and also for anyone else that might be blessed by following along.

EXTREME MAKEOVER, Unit 2, Section 2, Lesson 2: Forgive & Pray

The church is made up of people. As people being transformed into the image of Christ, we are by definition not finished products. This leaves us open to mistakes or offenses committed against one another. The question is not whether we offend one another but rather when it happens how do we respond in a way that is not of this world?

Forgiveness and prayer – this is the model we have in Christ. If we behave as the world behaves, we diminish our witness to the lost, inflict pain on the body of Christ, and damage our own walk with the Lord. As we take a look at the topic of forgiving one another and praying for one another, take personal inventory of your relationships in the church. Are you actively praying for those with whom God has brought you into relationship within the body? Are we keeping short accounts with our brothers and sisters in Christ? As you prepare for this week with the children, I encourage you to read the two articles on forgiveness and prayer, keep your kids before the Lord on your knees, and ask the Father to continue your extreme makeover in this critical area of our spiritual lives. (CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE ARTICLES.)

Thank you for giving to the Lord by serving His children. Your offering is making an eternal impact.


”Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship.”
 ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Here is my command. Love each other, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who gives his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” – John 15:12-14

MEDITATING ON THE WORD:

Acts 4:33-35 | Phil 2:25
1 Corinthians 16:13-18

TRAIL GUIDE: The Purpose of Strengths

QUEST Trail Guide Devo

The “Trail Guide” devotional is used by our adult leaders of grade school groups in Quest as a way to prepare their hearts and minds for the topics we will be covering with the children on the weekend.  We have made them available here to help our parents of grade-schoolers engage with their children around the topics we are discussing and also for anyone else that might be blessed by following along.

EXTREME MAKEOVER, Loving God with all our strength: part 3: The Purpose of Strengths

Remembering back to our first lesson on strength we said that, “First, He is the fountainhead of our strength. Second, He stands ready to renew our strength if we will seek Him, trust Him, and wait on Him. Third, God gives us strength not for our own selfish interests or nonsense but to glorify Him and do the good works of the Kingdom that He has prepared in advance for us to walk in.”

Let’s talk this week about that last point. The Bible teaches that as followers of Christ we have been given the right to be called “children” of God. It goes on to teach us to imitate God, “as dearly loved children.” In what ways can we imitate God? The Living God is in His essence a savior and defender. Psalm 68 says He is a “Father to the fatherless and defender of widows.”

Psalm 34 tells us that He is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 82 extends these duties to us. “Stand up for those who are weak and for those whose fathers have died. See to it that those who are poor and those who are beaten down are treated fairly. Save the weak and those who are in need.”

Do not make the mistake of thinking that this only applies to physical oppression either. Jesus says of himself (and by extension his followers), “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”

The Spirit of the Lord is upon all of His children now and in His strength we are to be imitators of our Heavenly Father. The fact that Jesus immediately moved from loving God to loving our neighbor isn’t coincidence. This makeover isn’t to be kept to ourselves. God saved us, but left us in the world for a reason. We are being made over for a purpose! Let’s get to it!

“The Lord is my strength and my shield. My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.” -Psalm 28:7a

MEDITATING ON THE WORD:

Heb 13:16 | Phil 2:4 | Lk 6:38 | 1 Jn 3:17
Gal 6:2 | Rom 15:1 | Eph. 2:10

Actions & Words

Whether it be the crisis of fatherlessness or failing marriages or violence or drug abuse or any of the other social ills on the front page today, Jesus’ church is the only institution with the complete answer.  Jesus is the “last man standing.”  As His people, the children of the King of kings, we are called to imitate His character in a world gone wrong, to share His good news and grace with a world in need. That is the ultimate message of this blog.  One of the ways in which my family and I have chosen to put our actions where our words are is through the ministry of an organization we founded in 2006 called, “Open Arms Worldwide.”

OAW partners with Christian churches to implement and maintain gospel-based programs to reach at-risk children in the church’s local community.  Their vision for the future is a world where all children grow up understanding that they are beautiful and precious in God’s eyes and are enabled to discover the Hope and future that He has for them.

We have been blessed to be a part of this organization as full-time missionaries as well as Board members over the years.  If you haven’t heard of OAW then I invite you this Christmas season to check out their 2014 Year in Review which just came out.  It is an encouraging read and I pray it will be a motivating one as well.  Enjoy!  http://www.openarmsworldwide.org/2014-year-review/

Merry Christmas and a blessed 2015 to you and yours,

Mike

TRAIL GUIDE: Mind Marinade

QUEST Trail Guide DevoThe “Trail Guide” devotional is used by our adult leaders of grade school groups in Quest as a way to prepare their hearts and minds for the topics we will be covering with the children on the weekend.  We have made them available here to help our parents of grade-schoolers engage with their children around the topics we are discussing and also for anyone else that might be blessed by following along.

EXTREME MAKEOVER, Section 3, Lesson 1: Mind Marinade

When we talk about our mind, what exactly do we mean? What are the functions of the mind? When we talk about the mind in the Bible we are talking thoughts, attitudes, imagination, will, purposes, convictions, intelligence, understanding, and memory. In the Bible, the mind and the heart are closely tied together. Many times they are used interchangeably. They communicate and work together to influence our actions.

What would the mind of a Jesus follower increasingly look like? The transformed and renewed mind of the Christian will love God, seeking Him with the intellect, meditating on His Word in prayer, taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ, deciding to fix its thoughts on Christ and the things of heaven, serving with the will, remembering who God is and what He has done, and employing all its power of imagination and creativity to glorify God. Worshiping God with the mind will have repercussions in the heart and soul.

Help the children understand that the life of a follower of Jesus is more than good works and nice words. It is a life of integrity that includes your way of thinking. This renewal happens as we marinate our minds in the Word of God.

“Don’t live any longer the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely  changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what he wants is right. His plan is good and pleasing and perfect.”    -Romans 12:2

MEDITATING ON THE WORD:

2 Corinthians 10:5 | Numbers 15:40 | Col 3:2 | 1 Chron. 28:9

As You Walk Along The Way – God’s Call to Generational Discipleship (Audio)

marriage-booster-0514

The greatest battle that the church family currently faces is the knock-down drag-out fight with Satan over the hearts of the next generation. Raising a generation that knows Christ and makes him known will be the greatest gift & legacy we leave for the world.

Key Verse:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deut. 6:5-7

Considering our passage in its immediate context,

  1. Verse 5 – Preceded by the “greatest command”
  2. Verse 6 – It is a matter of the heart

Notice in Verse 7,

  1. Not a request – The imperative form is used. This is a command.
  2. “Impress them on your children” – Teach them diligently.
  3. Life on life discipleship

7 Principles for Walking Along the Way

Principle #1 – Don’t Freak Out – “Concern is healthy; panic kills.”

  • Take the long view because God is writing a story in the life of your child. It’s a movie not a snapshot.

Principle #2 – Be Real

  • Walking along the way means not being a pretender. You may fool a very young child for a little while, but they will find you out it will shake their faith to its core.

Principle #3 – More lens, less shield

  • Spend more time giving our children the proper lens through which to see this world, and less time sheltering them from it. If we don’t someone else will.

Principle #4 – Enter their world – Jesus entered ours (Phil. 2:5-7)

  • Make it a point to know the young person you are walking with.

Principle #5 – The target is the Savior, not behavior – Adjust your aim

  • Lead them to the gospel (Romans 3:23, 6:23)

Principle #6 – Be joyful

  • “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4

Principle #7 – No excuses

  • Excuses may be valid, but they will be overcome when generational discipleship becomes a priority.

I hope that you found something here to challenge you and to encourage you to take seriously God’s call to generational discipleship and ask yourself the question, “What legacy are we leaving?” “Will we be mentioned in anyone’s story of faith?”

Questions for further discussion:

  1. If I could be remembered by my children or grandchildren for only one thing it would be…
  1. If you looked back at your life using Mike’s metaphor of the “snapshot” what period of your life might have given the adults around you reason to despair? How has God used that time period in the broader narrative of your life?
  2. Have you ever thought about your relationship with the children in your life as one of teacher-disciple? Why/why not? How might this perspective change the way you parent or engage with young people close to you?
  3. Did you ever view your relationship with your parents as one of disciple to teacher?  Why or why not?
  4. In what ways does the teacher-disciple relationship change as children grow up and in what ways does it stay the same?
  5. How are you, or could you be, living out God’s command to “walk along the way” with the next generation?

Shark Wranglers continued…Lucas’ story

Continued from previous post… I learned a lesson that day. When our mission is just and godly we cannot let fear stop us. 

The Great Claim & The Great Promise

What could be scarier than going on a rescue mission into a hostile world in the name of Christ?  Most of us are familiar with the Great Commission as recorded for us in Matthew chapter 28. In this famous scene Jesus commissioned the disciples, and those disciples not yet born, to go into the world and share the gospel with the nations.  What most of us forget is that there are bookends to the Great Commission, namely the Great Claim and the Great Promise.  Let’s take a look.

     “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [the Great Claim]. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.[the Great Promise]”

Number one, Jesus first claims the authority, all authority, to say what he is about to say.  No one in their right mind charges into battle on the orders of a Private 1st Class.  It just doesn’t happen.  We want to know authority backs up the orders. Jesus has been given all power that exists, in heaven and on earth.  This command comes from the highest of all authorities.

After Jesus lays this very scary battle plan on us, he follows it up with a promise.  “Not only do I have the authority to send you on this mission, but I myself will be fighting along with you every step of the way.”  Do you believe him?

Lucas continued

When we left Lucas he was beginning to attend a new school, a gathering of the worst of the worst from the city’s overburdened school system. Their first “field trip” would change his life forever… Lucas’ class would be going to a local swim school that had been contracted by the city to teach swim lessons.  A shark wrangler by the nickname, “Zinho,” is the school’s owner as well as a former coach for Brazil’s Olympic program and a follower of Jesus Christ. He was on hand that first day.  He looked on as these unruly delinquents plunged willy-nilly into the pool. One of them in particular caught his well-trained eye.  This smallish, Afro-Brazilian boy dove in headfirst and, although he had no idea how to swim, he seemed to be at home in the water. Zinho called Lucas from the pool and asked if he would like to learn to be a competitive swimmer.  Lucas wasn’t sure what was involved, but he sure liked the pool and figured it was a good chance to spend more time there.

Zinho, Lucas and Michael

Right to left – Lucas, Zinho, and my son Michael

me and lucas

Lucas & me

In those days our organization, Open Arms, was also beginning to lead Bible-based, civic and moral education classes in Lucas’ new school.  Because my sons were also swimming at Zinho’s academy, he and I talked a lot together about the school and about Lucas.  We agreed that Open Arms would start a Bible study with the children on the swim team. Zinho recruited an older gentleman from his church to also meet with Lucas for one-on-one discipleship every week. Lucas began to split his time between our home and the swim school, where Zinho had made up a room for him. 

DSC_0139

Our Family at Christmas in Brazil

It was a bumpy road, as Lucas had no experience with limits or personal discipline of any kind. His brothers were drug users and well-known thieves and tough guys in one of the most notorious neighborhoods of the city (coincidentally one of Lucas’ brothers was incarcerated with Eduardo from our earlier story). His mother had no interest in caring for him but held on to legal guardianship in order to receive a small pension that was intended for his care. He once asked me tearfully, “Why did GOD give me such a terrible family? Why couldn’t I have a family like yours? Why couldn’t Maikinho and Rapha (my two boys) be my brothers?”

Lucas swim 2011

Lucas still has a lot of hurt to overcome, but in the context of a safe, healthy relationship with godly men and their families, Lucas gave his own life to Jesus.

Today Lucas talks of college and eventually a wife and family.  He told me recently, “I will never quit now. I know what I want and I know what GOD wants of me.”  For Lucas, the psalmists’ words are his own, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” (Psalm 27:10).

 

The Spirit of GOD works through the lives of men committed to be fathers to the fatherless.  It’s time for the shark wranglers and bull elephants of the Church to stand up and step out. It can and will make difference in the lives of the children you touch. 

Shark wranglers

Continued…(click HERE to read previous post)

Sound Scary?

“At-risk children in my house?  Drugs dealers and thieves?  Juvenile detention centers?  Are you crazy?  That is the kind of thing best left for professionals, missionaries or folks without their own family to care for.  Besides, in this country you can get sued for looking the wrong way at a child. The risks are just too great.  What if I just write a check?”

As the President of a non-profit organization that survives on the giving heart of GOD’s people, I would say, yes, please do.  Better yet, you, your family, your business and your church could purpose to become regular financial partners with an organization, like Open Arms Worldwide (www.openarmsworldwide.org), that is working to get more “bull elephants” out into the places where children have been left most vulnerable.  But, if you stop there you are missing out.  Is it dangerous and risky? Absolutely. But with great risk comes great reward.

Do Not Fear

That leads me to my second animal story.  This one took place in the warm gulf coast waters of Florida in 2001 and was picked up and reported by most major television news networks at the time.  A man was relaxing at the beach with some relatives when he heard screams and looked to see a pool of blood forming around his nephew who was standing in the shallow water.  A seven-foot long, 250-pound bull shark had a firm hold on the boy and wasn’t letting go.

Shark Wrangler

The uncle jumped into the water, as most of us would, and, taking hold of the sharks’ tail, pulled the animal away from the boy.  The shark released, but had taken the child’s arm just below the shoulder. He was losing a lot of blood as his aunt began caring for him onshark finshore.  At that point the uncle would have been perfectly justified in releasing his hold on the shark and returning to the safety of shore to care for his nephew, but that would have to wait, there were other children still in the water.  Holding on tightly to that tail, he wrestled the beast, which was all the while trying to turn on him, up on to the beach where a park ranger shot it with his 9mm service pistol. The boys’ arm was retrieved and reattached, and the immediate danger to the other children in the water was removed.

Is there a lesson for us here?  Stay tuned…