Saturday, September 20, 2014

Personal Preferences or the Word of God

Matthew 23:1-4 - Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples: The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.

The Facebook discussion began with an honest question from an innovative church planter serving in a more traditional part of the country. He asked for the pros and cons of having his primary worship service on a day and time other than Sunday morning. Some responders were very traditional in their thinking, suggesting Sunday morning was the only legitimate option. Others focused more on whatever option would be the most effective evangelistically. What was insightful was that many participants, on both sides of the issue, seemed to think that their personal preferences were the same as God’s Word.

One person said she attended a church for a while that had a Saturday night service, but it was not convenient for her. That person concluded that since Sunday morning was the most convenient time for her, Sunday morning was the only biblical option. Other people gave the very same reason, convenience, for why worship services should be held at times other than Sunday morning. After a lengthy comment thread, people on both sides of the question concluded that what was convenient for them was what God wanted everyone to do.

One individual felt empowered to speak for non-believers. However, in supporting the supposed views of non-believers, he only offered his own preference as a committed believer. It was a bit difficult following his logic, but he concluded that “If non-believers want to come to church, they need to get with the program and not expect believers to make it easy for them.” It sounded a lot like the attitude of the Pharisees in the New Testament who seemed determined to make faith difficult for as many people as possible.

Regardless of what we may feel about the issue of when we should worship, those of us who have grown up in traditional Christian settings need to acknowledge that we frequently substitute our own preferences for God’s Word. We tend to make selective use of a scripture or two in the effort to prove our viewpoint is right without looking at the whole canon of scripture. Without realizing it, we have fallen into the deception of thinking our preferences are actually God’s Word.

If we expect revival to come, we are going to have to give up our personal preferences and stop assuming that our opinion is God’s opinion. We will have to remember what Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples.” We must hold firmly to scripture, but be willing to give up our own personal preferences for the sake of the Kingdom. Sometimes it is hard to know the difference, but if we pray, and study the Word of God with an open mind, the Holy Spirit will give us discernment, and we will be able to follow biblical principles even if it means we must abandon our personal preferences.

Lord, help us to diligently study Your Word and be willing to abandon our own personal preferences for Your glory. Amen.

This post is an excerpt from the book, The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary Experiences. Filled with stories of how God spoke in big ways through small events, the book will encourage people to look for God in the mundane things of life. Great for both personal use and to give as a gift to friend, either the print version or the e-book version may be purchased at this link:

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Power of Self-Deception

Jeremiah 17:9-10 - The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable, who can understand it? I, Yahweh, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.

Once I was following a Facebook conversation between two people I have known for many years. Both are classic spend-a-holics. If they have a ten dollar bill in their pockets, they are going to spend it. They often spend their ten dollars in advance, causing them constantly to be indebted to others. As the Facebook conversation unfolded, both prided themselves on how well they handled money. They went on to talk about how they enjoy lots of free or inexpensive activities in the community. Having known them for many years, the words “free” and “inexpensive” do not come to mind when I think of the types of activities they like to engage in. They are both good people. But they enjoy spending money, almost to the point of being obsessed with material possessions and expensive activities. Yet, in their own minds, they are thrifty and excel at living frugally. They are self-deceived.

All of us have met diet experts who told us how to eat healthy. Far too often these experts weighed more than we did. Experts only in their own minds!

It is fascinating that we can have such an amazing capacity for self-deception. Another time I recall a long email I got from a person filled with gossip about various people in her church. She wanted me to come preach at her church and fix all these people. Near the end of the email the person said that she knew she was not perfect but at least she was not a gossip. I wanted to print the email off, underline the boast about not being a gossip and then number each item of gossip in the email and send it back to her. I did not have the courage to do that so I just replied that I was praying for her and her church.

When we live in a world of our own delusional thinking, we become trapped in a negative cycle repeating the same mistakes over and over again. We repeat those mistakes because we do not acknowledge that they exist. We must be willing to open our minds and hearts to the constructive criticism of others so that we can see our own faults and begin to address them. The ability to honestly assess our own lives and self-correct is essential for healthy living.

In my own life, I find a daily quiet time with the Lord essential in this process. As I read the scripture and pray, the Lord points out things in my life that need work. I do not always like what the Lord points out to me. But when I listen and respond, He helps me have a more authentic view of myself.

Lord, help us see ourselves as we really are and make the changes needed for a healthy and happy life. Amen.

This post is an excerpt from the book, The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary Experiences. Filled with stories of how God spoke in big ways through small events, the book will encourage people to look for God in the mundane things of life. Great for both personal use and to give as a gift to friend, either the print version or the e-book version may be purchased at this link:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

When Cravings Collide

James 4:1-3 - What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires.

I started in ministry when I was only 18 years old. I have served as a children’s minister in a large church, a youth minister in a medium sized church, and as pastor of both small and medium sized congregations. In my many years in these various capacities, I have seen many families that were torn apart by internal struggles. Though they loved each other, they just could not overcome their negative feelings toward one another. Some families broke apart completely, and no longer have any connections. Other families remain connected, but tension lies just under the surface, ready to erupt at any moment. I have often wondered why people who love each other have so many struggles with each other.

James 4:1 answers the question of why we have struggles and conflict with other people in our lives. This verse identifies the root of these conflicts as the cravings that are inside all of us.

What do we crave? We crave acceptance. We crave love. We crave control. We crave power. We crave recognition. We crave security. We crave both connection and independence, which makes us feel conflicted internally. Some of these cravings are normal and may not lead to conflict with others. But some of these cravings will cause conflict because the other people in our lives crave different things, or sometimes the same things but in different ways.

While there should always be enough love to go around for all members of the family, it is impossible for everyone in the family to be in control. While every member of the family should be accepted for who they are, not everyone in the family will have equal power or independence. When we forget this important truth and our cravings collide with the cravings of others, the result is always conflict.

What is the solution? For non-Christian families, I am not sure there is a great solution. They will just have to negotiate the situation the best they can and hope it works out. But for Christian families, the solution is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus (Matthew16:24-27). As Christians, our goal should not be our own power, our own control, or our own agenda. Our goal should be to lift up Jesus in every area of our lives. That can be hard in the midst of a heated discussion with those we love. But it is the only path to lasting happiness and peace. Any other path will lead to constant conflict with those we love.

The next time our cravings begin to collide with the cravings of someone else, we should take a deep breath and ask ourselves what response would glorify the Lord. Then, as hard as it may be, we should choose that response. Though it might not result in instant gratification, it will produce long term healthy results. After all, we will be part of our family for the rest of our lives. A future without constant conflict sure sounds better than one with constant conflict.

Lord, help us not to create conflict with others because we allow our own sinful desires to rule us. Amen.

This post is an excerpt from the book, The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary Experiences. Filled with stories of how God spoke in big ways through small events, the book will encourage people to look for God in the mundane things of life. Great for both personal use and to give as a gift to friend, either the print version or the e-book version may be purchased at this link:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

House Built on Sand

Matthew 7:24-27
Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!

I saw him staggering across the sand as I packed up our chairs at the end of a great day at the beach. Soon the young man was not just staggering; he was vomiting onto the sand dune. He slowly made his way over the walkway through the sand dunes, stopping to relieve his lurching stomach every few steps. He finally sat down on the steps to the boardwalk and continued to discharge the contents of his stomach off to the side, in full view of others passing by. The young man’s father finally found him and tried to move him over to a more discreet place where he could finish emptying himself of the alcohol he had consumed. The very tense conversation between father and son was hard not to overhear. The son did not seem to understand that his father was trying to help him. The whole scene was sad to watch.

After my family passed by, I said to my own adult son, who was about the same age as the other young man, "I hope we never have a conversation like that." He assured me that we would never have such a conversation because our family was built on a solid foundation. We saw that young man several other times during our vacation at the beach, and it became painfully obvious that excessive alcohol drinking was only one of his issues.

One afternoon, after making a giant sand sculpture with my sons, we watched as the waves crashed in and destroyed our creation. In that moment, I thought about the young man we had seen throughout the week and how his life mirrored Matthew 7:24-27. That passage illustrates in a powerful way that if we build our lives on the Rock of Christ, when difficulties come, we will find the strength to endure. But if we build our lives on the shifting sands of our own selfish desires, doing whatever feels good in the moment, then when difficulties come, life falls apart. That young man, though barely launched into adulthood, was living a life that was already falling apart. This challenges those of us who know Jesus to build our lives on His Word, empowered by His Spirit, in a way that molds us to His image.

Lord, help us build our lives on the eternal Rock of Christ! Amen.


This post is an excerpt from the book, The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary Experiences. Filled with stories of how God spoke in big ways through small events, the book will encourage people to look for God in the mundane things of life. Great for both personal use and to give as a gift to friend, either the print version or the e-book version may be purchased at this link:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Is Hypocricy a Legitimate Reason to Avoid Church? - Guest Post by David Wesley Gould

It is not uncommon for people to say that they don't go to church because of the hypocrites.
But how many know what an actual hypocrite is? This is a key element to the discussion. It can also help us have a better understanding of the state of the Church, and why people don't join with us in becoming all God designed us to be. One may think the church must be overrun with hypocrites. But is that true? And are hypocrites keeping people away from the church?

Some people accuse church people of acting one way at church, and another way when they are other places. That is probably true to a great degree. Yet, I would say that these accusers also act differently when they visit a church than when they are at the local bar. Hmmm.

Most Christians will admit to not being perfect. They will claim that by the grace of God, they aren't who they once were, but they also are not who they will become. They sometimes miss the mark when following Jesus. They have trusted Christ for salvation, but their actions don't always measure up. So while they claim one thing, you may at some point in the day catch them doing something else.
Let me just say, that is not being a hypocrite. If that person keeps you from church, you don't really understand what it means to be a Christian.

Now, there are people who claim to be Christians, but are only faking it, and using the name to gain an advantage. They do what Christian people do, but there is no true relationship with God, and they are only play-acting in order to fool people. In fact, that is the basic meaning of the word we translate ‘hypocrite’. The Bible speaks of hypocrites.

Υποκριτής [hupokritēs] - Greek - an actor under an assumed character (stage player)  - hypocrite.
Back in the day, an actor would hold up various masks to portray different characters. So to be a villain, he would place one mask over his face. To portray a hero, he would hold up a different mask. One person could be multiple characters. That is literally a hypocrite. And it is from this idea that we get our word ‘hypocrite’… one who wears a mask.

In the church, no one is an accidental hypocrite. A hypocrite is a person who is intentionally trying to deceive. They exist, but most people who are accused of being a hypocrite are not trying to mislead others.

The problem is, in the church, a hypocrite sometimes looks more like a real Christian than does a true growing Christian who happens to be struggling. So when you see a person once or twice, there is basically no way for you to know if they are a hypocrite, or a genuine Christian who is simply a stumbling disciple. That is one reason I don't buy into the "I don't go to church because of the hypocrites” objection.

Frankly, God wants to save hypocrites just like he wants to save prostitutes, druggies, liars, and gossips. The same people who complain because of the hypocrites in churches also complain when there are no others who need God. Wait… What?!?

So while there are certainly hypocrites who go to church, there aren't enough to legitimately keep you away. A person isn't a hypocrite just because they struggle and are tripped up in their Christian walk. The last thing that person needs is an outside spectator calling them a hypocrite.
God has a way of weeding out hypocrites. He also has a way of saving them. It is through the church. Don't let the enemy trick you out of God's gift of the Church.


David W. Gould is ordained in the Wesleyan Church. He has pastored an inner city church in Nashville, TN and also served in various capacities at the District level. He currently writes and speaks on church and culture issues, and preaches in revival settings. David is also very involved in compassion-based ministries and has spent much of the last decade working with ministries to the homeless and poor.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Advantages of Being Bivocational

This past weekend I traveled to Michigan to take part in a Christian leadership conference. I was one of several presenters who led workshops for hundreds of leaders from around the state. The workshops I led were for pastors and leaders leaders in bivocational churches. I met some very dedicated servants of God who are determined to help their churches be as effective as possible, despite the challenges that bivocational ministry brings. In one candid moment of honesty two pastors shared with me that they really did NOT want to be bivocational. It was hard. It was challenging. It was exhausting. It was frustrating.

I can certainly understand their frustration. After all, they had invested a significant amount of time taking classes through various Bible schools in order to gain a solid theological education. In any other field, such an investment of time and money in education would result in promotions and raises that would lead to a nice job in the corner office. But for those called to bivocational ministry, the corner office means a folding table in the corner of the family room and successful careers are counted in souls won to Christ one at a time, not in bonuses or raises.

Balancing two jobs and a family is a challenge. Pastoral burn-out among bivocational pastors is notoriously high. Whether we like it or not, bivocational ministry is a reality that is not going away anytime soon. Both the current economic situation in the nation, as well as the giving trends of younger generations, indicate that churches will continue to struggle to fully-fund pastoral positions.

However, just because there are challenges to bivocational ministry does not mean that such situations should be viewed in a negative light. There are actually a number of advantages that bivocational pastors have over their fully-funded counterparts. Before dismissing bivocational ministry, pastors should consider these advantages:

1. Bivocational pastors are not as dependent on the church for their financial support as fully-funded pastors. This relieves them of the stress of what might happen to their families if they were dismissed from the churches they serve. In some situations, bivocational pastors actually have more personal resources than fully-funded pastors because they have two sources of income.

2. Bivocational pastors often find more opportunities to witness to the lost than fully-funded pastors because they spend more time with non-Christians through their secular employment.

3. Bivocational pastors seldom live in a “pious bubble” that only church people inhabit. Their secular employment requires them to interact with and understand better the needs of non-Christians. Therefore, they frequently feel they relate to the people in their congregations better than fully-funded pastors because they “work” just like the laypeople do. These frequent interactions and the increased sense of relating to laypeople often help bivocational pastors have more realistic sermon illustrations and greater credibility in the pulpit.

4. Bivocational pastors have the ability to serve a larger number of churches because they can serve churches that cannot fully-fund pastors. They also get to experience the joy of allowing churches to fund other needed ministries instead of so much of the churches’ funding going to support their own salaries.

5. Bivocational pastors feel they are better able to encourage the churches they serve to create a culture of the laity using their gifts and the laity devoting more time for ministry since there were no fully-funded pastors “paid” to do “everything” for congregations. Most bivocational pastors feel this creates healthy churches over the long term, though it sometimes creates more stress in the short term.

6. Bivocational pastors often feel it is easier to teach about financial stewardship and/or to solicit contributions from church members. This is because so little of the churches’ funds are spent on the pastors’ salaries that the pastors asking for money is not perceived as being “self-serving.”

7. Bivocational pastors frequently express that they feel more dependent on the Holy Spirit in their sermon preparation and less dependent on their formal theological training or on their elocution or research skills. This greater sense of dependence on the Spirit is perceived as a positive thing by most bivocational pastors. It is interesting to note that the bivocational pastors who expressed this the most strongly had often previously served larger churches in which they had been fully-funded.

8. Bivocational pastors sometimes say that being bivocational gives them valid excuses not to attend denominational meetings that they perceived as irrelevant, uninteresting, and/or promoting things that are not helpful to their own ministry. This does not mean they never attend meetings, but that their bivocational status makes them feel more comfortable attending only the meetings that they perceive as being more applicable to their situation. If those same pastors had been fully-funded, they would have felt a greater obligation to attend meetings that they did not think would be beneficial anyway.

While bivocational ministry has many challenges, it also has many advantages. Learning what the advantages are can help bivocational pastors, or those considering bivocational ministry, feel better about their ministry. When bivocational pastors feel more confident about their roles, they tend to be more effective in their ministries. Churches and denominational leaders need to look for ways to help bivocational pastors celebrate the advantages of bivocational ministries since it is a growing reality in North American church life.


Terry Dorsett is a church planter in New England and the author of several books, including Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Misunderstanding God's Emails

Isaiah 30:18 - Therefore the LORD is waiting to show you mercy, and is rising up to show you compassion, for the LORD is a just God. All who wait patiently for Him are happy.

I still remember the painful lesson I learned many years ago when email first became a popular communication tool. Another person and I had a disagreement about something and exchanged a series of emails back and forth about it. Though most of the emails were cordial, toward the end of the exchange, as our frustration level increased, the emails got curt, tense and a bit mean. If someone read the entire exchange of emails, he or she would have understood the flow of conversation and clearly see the effort made by both parties to correct the situation. But the last couple of emails, read out of context, made us both look mean-spirited.

Regretfully, my friend chose to share my last email with a number of other people. Since he did not share the rest of the conversation, it made me look bad. Though we eventually got it all worked out, it took a long time to repair the relationship. I learned a valuable lesson in that experience about how easy it is to take something out of context if one does not understand the entire conversation.

This seems to be the case when many people read certain sections of the Old Testament. A young man in our church asked me a question about an Old Testament passage that described a particular judgment God exercised on a group of people. Like many of the episodes of God’s wrath in the Old Testament, the example seemed harsh when lifted out of the context of the entire Old Testament narrative.

I reminded the young man that the Old Testament narrative covers a historical period of nearly 4000 years. During that time a compassionate and gracious God revealed Himself again and again to a people that often ignored His overtures of love. God never sent judgment without first sending a warning – oftentimes, repeated warnings. He sent prophets, priests, and kings to lead the people in the right direction. God used miracles, both small and large, to demonstrate that He was real and could be trusted.

In the Old Testament, God was long-suffering in His efforts to draw people to Himself. Yet, at certain points during that time period, God judged evil behavior. If we only focus on those moments of judgment, the God of the Old Testament seems harsh, perhaps even evil. But if we read the entire conversation, we see a love story between God and a people He was trying to draw to Himself.

Much like the email conversation I had with my friend so many years ago, if one reads only the last email, one may get a skewed picture of the author. But if people read the entire conversation, the final email makes more sense. If we approach our study of the Old Testament the same way, we will find far more nuggets of unfailing, faithful love than we realized in those ancient texts.

Lord, help me be diligent to read Your entire conversation with Your people so I can more fully understand Your goodness. Amen.

This post is an excerpt from the book, The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary Experiences. Filled with stories of how God spoke in big ways through small events, the book will encourage people to look for God in the mundane things of life. Great for both personal use and to give as a gift to friend, either the print version or the e-book version may be purchased at this link: