Last post discussed the Holy Spirit helping us in our marriages, but let’s introduce some balance. “I will help you” is very different from “I will do everything.” The Holy Spirit helps us, but we still have responsibilities. The Holy Spirit is not going to supernaturally take control of a marriage when the individuals involved are not committed to putting forth the necessary effort. So help the Holy Spirit while he helps you!
The apostle Paul reveals the relationship in Ephesians 2:10: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God prepared good works for us, but we have to “walk in them.” We do not want to miss out on what God wants to do in our marriage because we are being lazy or selfish. Consider the responsibilities placed on our shoulders elsewhere in the New Testament:
Romans 13:13–14—Let us walk properly . . . Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
Colossians 3:12–14—Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; [bear] with one another, and [forgive] one another . . . Put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
Note the calling we are given to walk, put on, make no provision for, bear with, and forgive.
Homeschooling Encouragement 1: The responsibility to teach and train children is on the parents’ shoulders.
Deuteronomy 6:7 You shall teach [the words of God] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
The “You” is parents, and this teaching is supposed to go on all the time, when you:
Sit in your house…
Walk by the way…
When I taught elementary school as soon as the bell rang I sent students home for the day, but as homeschooling parents educating is never done. God wants us teaching and discipling our children around the clock, every day, all day.
When people discuss their blessings, they’ll usually mention spouses, children, friends, health, finances, etc. If you asked me to discuss my blessings I hope I would mention the godly men God has put in my life. One of the most important is Barry Branaman.
He was a mutual friend of Elwyn and me when I taught in Marysville, CA. I met Barry through his two daughters who attended a young adults’ Bible study I started attending. He became my mentor soon after I became a Christian. The first Bible study I ever led took place in his living room under his supervision. He rarely said anything, but it was a constant source of encouragement and comfort to have him present. I knew he could answer any questions that I couldn’t.
Barry taught me to make time for people.
I spent many hours in Barry’s living room talking to him about the Bible. People have told me that I ask a lot of questions, and I would agree; however, Barry was the person God put in my life at that time to answer all the questions I had as a new Christian…and there were a lot. If I had to single out the one person who helped me understand the Old Testament it was Barry.
Barry taught me about stewardship.
I told a story in a sermon about Barry helping me see our possessions as a stewardship. When I thanked Barry for letting us use their home for our bible study, his simple response was, “That’s what it’s for.” With Barry everything he had was for serving God’s Kingdom. When Katie and I visited California in December 2012, we stayed with Barry and his wife Kathy. From the moment Barry and I saw each other I felt like no time had passed. He was as gracious answering my questions then, as he had been eight years earlier.
When I moved to Lemoore, CA in 2004 I remember standing in Barry’s kitchen telling him goodbye and that I really loved him. In return he gave me A Harmony of the Gospels, which I just took off the bookshelf behind my desk to read the note he wrote inside:
May the Good News ever grace your heart and lips, thoughts and life. may the love of God always surround you and keep you in all ways. May your service in Christ be ever for His glory. May the Holy Spirit be your continued guide and Comforter, “empowerer” and keep.
Your brother forever,
Barry still speaks.
On Thursday I received the news that Barry Branaman passed away at the age of 59. Last week’s sermon was about finishing strong, and Barry is an example of a man who did that wonderfully. I’m very thankful God blessed me with such a great friend, mentor, and brother in Christ. I’m much better for having known Barry, and by “better” I mean I have a deeper love for God and His Word because of him.
Hebrews 11:4 says, “Abel still speaks even though he is dead” and that could be said of Barry. I learned so much from him that when I’m teaching the Bible, often I’m passing along what he taught me.
If you knew Barry Branaman and would like to share a memory about him, I’m sure it would be a blessing to anyone who reads this post.
I can’t tell you how often what I’m preaching on is what I need preached to me. Last Sunday’s sermon had a real focus on trials, where the theme could’ve been: God uses trials for our good (Rom 5:3, 4; 2 Cor 4:17; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6, 7). That’s what I need to be hearing. I should probably listen to my own sermon and take notes. Seriously.The trials I’m facing mostly relate to feeling like I’m letting people down, not able to please everyone, not able to keep up with everyone, not able to get everything done, etc. as opposed to physical or financial trials.
Here’s part of an e-mail someone sent me this past week: “I have no doubt you will look back on this season as a time of great learning if you can but learn what the Lord would have you learn.” It was good for me to hear these words. At least part of what I believe God wants me to learn relates to my need to toughen up. I don’t mean that relationally, like being less sensitive to people (I should actually probably be more sensitive). I mean toughening up like…not feeling sorry for myself. Not being a baby. I think that’s what God wants me to learn. There’s a verse I was really meditating on this past week, and I’d like to share it, but first here’s the context…
Jeremiah the prophet had one of the most miserable ministries in Scripture; when you’re known as The Weeping Prophet, you know things are bad. He was regularly mocked, beaten, imprisoned, and rejected. In one candid moment of discouragement after learning the members of his hometown were plotting his murder, Jeremiah poured out his heart to God, questioning what God was doing…and wasn’t doing. What you would EXPECT God to do is encourage the beleaguered prophet with one of those verses like Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous hand. We love verses like this. We cling to them and memorize them. When we’re struggling we picture God saying verses like this to us. That’s not what God told Jeremiah though. Instead he said, “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jer 12:5). Not only did God not comfort him, He actually rebuked him; He said, “If you can’t handle it now, how are you going to handle it when things get even worse?” God doesn’t always want to stroke us and make us feel better. Sometimes He wants to rebuke us and tell us to toughen up, and I think that’s what He wants me to learn.
Whenever people come together to accomplish something for the Lord but face opposition, if there’s a book of the Bible they should read for encouragement it’s Nehemiah. You’ve got the Jews returning from exile trying to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem but facing resistance on all sides. That’s sort of what it felt like this week, but instead of rebuilding walls, WCC was conducting VBS, and instead of facing Sanballat and Tobiah it was sewage. Tuesday is when it all started…
I was sitting in my office feeling thankful VBS was going so well when someone burst in: “You have to come to the nursery…it’s flooded!” While I’m in the nursery trying to figure out where the water is coming from someone else says, “The boys’ bathroom is flooded.” A third person arrives, “There’s water all over the floor of the girls’ bathroom” and finally to make the parallel with Job 1:13-19 complete a fourth person arrives, “The floor in the kitchen is flooded…and I alone have escaped to tell you!” I know you’re on the edge of your seats wondering how I’d handle such a disastrous situation, but I’m not a pastor for nothing…I knew what to do: call Dave Zumstein. He came over and in about three seconds said, “The sewer is backed up.” It took all Tuesday night, but we fixed the problem….until Wednesday evening, when we fixed the problem again…and then Thursday night we fixed it again.
Last Sunday I preached on the spiritual battle that takes place around us and that’s basically what the kids learned throughout VBS (the theme was Kingdom Chronicles). I’m not going to lie about this week: digging up a parking lot every night until a few hours within kids arriving for VBS isn’t how I wanted things to go; however, there was something cool about the whole situation: it really felt like there was a battle being fought to keep VBS from happening. When the kids left each day it was like we were in the middle of a fight to make sure they were able to return the next day. Nehemiah said, “When Sanballat, Tobiah and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks in it…they thought to do me harm” (Neh 6:1-2). They heard the work was going well…they heard it wasn’t interrupted…they heard there were no breaks in the wall, so they tried to mess it up. Nehemiah had a fantastic response for them: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it because of you?” (Neh 6:3). Don’t let the opposition make you cease.
I really, REALLY appreciate the people who serve in the church. There’s VBS, choir, nursery, the Wednesday night children’s program, Friday School, retreats, camp, the 100-yr anniversary, conferences, workdays, church cleaning, and the list goes on. We want to remember the time and effort these people are investing and make a conscious effort to be a help and encouragement to them. So let’s discuss the right and wrong way to do that. Here’s what you don’t say…
Why are you doing it that way?
Let me tell you what we used to do…
You should do it this way instead…
Make sure you don’t have me…
Why did you choose this time?
Why did you choose this place?
This is what you should say instead…
Thank you so much for all you’re doing!
Put me where you want me!
Wow, you’re doing a lot of work. What can I do?
You sure are blessing a lot of people.
You’re doing a great job.
And here are a few other things you can do…
Be on time
Respond to e-mails
Sign up and/or pay on time
Do things without having to be reminded
Whatever you’re responsible for, do it well
Be on time (I know I put that twice)
I had a really good mentor who told me (and this applies to marriage, parenting, etc) we should make a number of deposits for every withdrawal. There are some people in the church and when you see them coming you’re like, “Great. Time to listen to another complaint!” and there are other people you see coming and you’re like, “Wonderful. Some help.” When people have taken the time to serve sacrificially, let’s try to make sure we’re making more deposits than withdrawals. Let’s try to make sure we’re helping them with the loads they’re carrying.
Sunday’s sermon, Luke 3:10-14 Fruit Worthy of Repentance – Part II, can be found here.
Rhea recently got the training wheels off her bike. She loves to come over to my office and have me watch her ride around in the parking lot. When I was growing up we always looked for exciting places to ride like hills, valleys, puddles, etc. For a while the leadership has been discussing fixing the church parking lots, but I found a great benefit to its current condition: it provides great terrain for kids’ bike riding!
I was watching Rhea race around – because in her mind the faster she goes the more impressed I’ll be – and she wrecked and scraped her knee. The rest of the day she dramatically limped around and when she overheard us talking about Beach Camp over a month away she said, “I hope I’ll be okay by then.” To her it was a pretty serious accident! We told her the only way she’d be able to completely avoid getting hurt in the future would be to completely stop riding her bike.
My counsel to Rhea made me think the same could be said of ministry: the only way to make sure you never get hurt is to make sure you never serve. Sadly this is the approach some people have taken. Whenever you’re involved in ministry whether it’s VBS, camp, a Bible study, party, play, home fellowship, etc. there’s potential for frustration and hurt usually from…
People letting you down: they don’t do what they say they’re going to do…or they don’t do what you ask them to do…or they don’t show up on time…or maybe they don’t show up at all…or they don’t pay on time…or they cancel last minute…or they do things their way instead of the way you want…and the list goes on…and on.
People criticizing: they don’t like the time, place, music, length, schedule, activities, and if you’d done it the way they wanted others would be unhappy.
Here’s what we need to focus on to prevent frustration:
For every person that lets you down or criticizes, there are a number of others serving and working hard to see the ministry go well, being blessed by your effort, appreciating what you’re doing, growing as a result of your service.
Most importantly: Colossians 3:17 & 23 Whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man. If we’re honest, when we’re frustrated it comes from having taken our focus off the Lord and putting it on the people around us. The reality is if our service is done for the Lord, His approval, and the blessing of serving Him, that should be enough to turn any amount of frustration into encouragement.
Katie and I made it safely to CA and are enjoying our time with her family. Thanks for your prayers for a safe trip! Tonight we have a big potluck with a lot of friends from northern California, and tomorrow we’ll be heading to Lemoore, where we used to live before moving to Washington.
I wanted to share something with you related to this past week. Soon after I became a Christian I attended a young adults’ Bible study. The leader was transitioning out and it fell on me to teach the group each week, but I didn’t want to look controlling so I came up with the idea of encouraging a number of other young men to rotate with me. A few of the guys were reluctant, not really feeling called to teach, but upon my encouragement they agreed. Some of the studies didn’t go well, but one in particular really stands out in my mind. A very close Christian friend of mine, who didn’t really want to teach in the first place, led it. I could tell it was uncomfortable for him teaching and it was equally uncomfortable for all of us listening. I felt terrible for my friend because I could tell how awkward it was for him, and the entire time I remember thinking one thing: this is all my fault. I told myself I would be very careful in the future encouraging people to “step out.” On one hand, encouragement can be good, because sometimes all people need is a little encouragement. On the other hand, encouraging people to do things they’re not called to do can be a disaster…as I learned the hard way, unfortunately hurting a good friend of mine in the process.
This past week I contacted a number of men about being involved in communion. My fear (because of the situation I just discussed) was having someone agree to be in the rotation without really being comfortable with it. I’m glad a few men declined.
In the church, I think certain gifts can be viewed as being more spiritual than others, usually the visible gifts like teaching. This is very unfortunate, because it gives the impression people are more spiritual if they have certain gifts. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus actually repeatedly applauded the work that’s done for Him in secret, so in a sense, it’s probably the service that takes place behind the scene that’s more spiritual than the visible ministry.