Mountains and Mole Hills
In ministry pastors and ministers are encouraged, almost challenged to make sure they don’t lose perspective of what is most important. Clichés such as “Don’t sweat the small stuff; and everything is small stuff.” Another one would be “Keep the Main thing the Main thing.” These all sound well as long as everything is going well. When a revitalizer or minister finds himself in a negative environment it is difficult to remember that we were “suppose to drain the pool; all the while fighting the alligators!”
While I lived in Illinois, I encountered a nemesis, really a pest! It seems that my aggravation would come from a little creature called a Mole! I would wake up in the morning and stroll around our two acres and notice these ugly places where the ground had been bulged; better known as Mole Runs. I then would try to set traps and various other means in an attempt to catch this little varmint. I found that if you wait long enough, the little critter will move and then I would pounce on its slightest twitch of the ground with a shovel to dig it up and expose it to the bright sun! Needless to say, the mole usually escaped my tenacious tactics to rid my lawn of these pests.
I say all that to give an illustration in ministry about making a mountain out of a Mole Hill! Yes, I have dug up great mounds of dirt to try and get rid of a pesky little rodent. If one is not careful you can actually do more damage than the mole does.
When there is a negative environment within the church, we have a couple of options. You could approach it with vigor and relentlessness to rid yourself and the church of the problem – but in the meantime do more damage than good. Like my mole problem, I had to understand that my issue was not the damaged lawn, but that which lie under the surface. Too many times we get so focused on the negative “surface” that we fail to take into account there is something bigger at work. Again, “Don’t make a mountain out of a Mole Hill.”
In dealing with a problem, first Identify what the real problem is, don’t assume you know what the cause of the conflict is all about. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood [Ephesians6:10-18]. We often attribute the cause of our frustration is what we see; yet often it what’s we don’t see below the surface at work. In Church Revitalization it is imperative that proper diagnosis be made. If there is misidentification of the SOURCE of the problem, you are going to waste effort and resources fighting against the wrong culprit. Identification of the ROOT is necessary, for if we just treat the surface animal; the animal will have the ability to come back and repeat the destruction and havoc it did previously.
Secondly, Simplify the issue. We just make circumstances and personal issues bigger than they really are. I may think that my lawn is overrun with Moles and that the entire yard of grass will be destroyed. Now, there is a possibility of a lot of damage when a negative conflict arises – but the revitalizer must make sure He isn’t the one making the mess. Simplifying an issue often takes time and further investigation. For example, I had to talk to other people who had moles – yes there are people that are battling the same pesky varmints we are fighting! How did they deal with them? Do I focus on eliminating the Moles and thus dig up my own yard trying to get them; or can I eliminate them by taking away what is attracting them to my yard. Moles eat grubs; get rid of the grubs and the Moles will move to another area – Oh, yeah, your neighbors won’t like you – but you will be free from the pests. Now that really isn’t very Christian is it – because all we did was pass our problem off to another “church”, so we really didn’t deal with the problem, we just made it NOT OUR PROBLEM anymore. To work through a negative situation, break it down into simple stated facts. Deal with what you know, not what you have been told. Make the problem manageable. Eliminate the ‘We and they; Us and them” language. Once you identify the various parts of the problem, simplify each prong and address the necessary action to resolve it. Which brings me to the third point -Rectify the problem.
Rectify is used in electricity. A rectifier is used to change an alternating current [A/C] into a Direct Current. [D/C] A lot of tools and other electrical equipment uses D/C, not A/C. It is rectified [changed] so that the power is useable. I think you get the point, if there is a problem environment, CHANGE the problem to a positive. By rectifying a problem use turn the negative into a positive; which then can be useful in Kingdom work. How do you go about rectifying a problem? Know what you are dealing with up front; know what you need as a result or resource; then take leadership and managerial steps to switch the unusable into the useable. Obviously, one will have to experiment at times to get the best out of a bad situation. Rectifying takes more work that eliminating the problem. We all have people that have great skills and talents, but often seem like a pest or worse an adversary when you and I try to do the work of the ministry. Don’t shove the problem off to another church; deal with what you have been given. As a point – you may be the one that needs to be rectified!
Finally, after taking the bull by the horns so to speak, you then can move to a Glorify position. God sends us people to be used for His kingdom. Our struggle often is we don’t know how to use what we have been given. I did find out that the pesky Mole was good for the yard, it aeriated it and ate all the grubs that would destroy my lawn. In conflict, there is the possibility that God meant it for Good what we thought was bad. I was a pastor for 22 years; there were many times that I would erupt over a small issue. I could explode inside with rage about how someone was unwilling to accept that I knew what I was doing – “Work with me here” seemed to be my lament. Scripture tells us that “Iron Sharpens Iron;” could it be that we have become dull and the Lord needed to send a sharpener? In the end by dealing with a negative situation, God gets the Glory. Neglecting or refusing to address the problem will only increase our frustration and desire to “Kill the Mole.”
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Mountains and Mole Hills
Reading many of the Psalms one cannot but recognize that there are two worlds for the writers; the world of hurt and the world of the holy. What I mean by this is that the Psalms writers seem to “cry out” to the Lord routinely; but then resort back to praise for the Almighty. This isn’t strange, for we all find ourselves in an up and down type of living. One day we are lifted above all the circumstances and evils of the day, the next we are overwhelmed by it all. The crying out stems from the abuse or ill-treatment by the world against the writers. David wrote many of his Psalms based upon the attacks of King Saul and his armies that tried to destroy the “already anointed” next king of Israel. Familiar phrases like “incline your ear to my cry” or “I cry all day long” are repeated in these five Psalms 86-91. This has to be frustrating to seemingly live above the “junk” only to find that you get sucked back into it.
Ethos the heart ache or spirit of our humanity is very fragile. I guess I could also include the “Ego” or countenance of a person in this blog. Humanity is a very fragile spirit. It doesn’t take much for believers or unredeemed people to become “exhausted” with the constant barrage of the “ills of life.” The Psalms writers consistently ask the LORD to hear them, to answer them in their prayers and agonizing. This would seem to give the impression that the Lord God is far removed from His people – there are many who think that is what God did in creation; leaving us to our own devices and tactics to live out life without his interference or help. Nothing could be further from the truth!
I know that when my “spirit” is troubled it is hard to focus and function. The continuous grind of daily living does take it toll on us. I believe that is part of the reason the LORD God commanded that the Sabbath to be observed. The rest was of all creation, animal and man. In a “dog-eat dog world” where it seems that everyone is out for number one; so many are consumed by the evils nd the emotions of daily living. Our present culture proves this in that so many vices have been tried to ease the pain of life. The vices range from porn, drugs, illicit sex, euphoric experiences, multiple jobs, partners and the list goes on. All with out easing the frustration and pain of daily life.. Now, granted the Psalmist were being attacked, ridiculed and bad-mouthed. But if the evils of this life are found only in words against us; should we not rise above all of it? It is good that the writers to turn to the LORD for help. The LORD is our strength and ever-present help in time of need. He is our Rock, our fortress, deliverer and lover of our soul. We are the sheep of His pasture – our God empathizes with our hurts and pains. HE tells us “come to me all who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Rest – not a good nights sleep, but restored strength in the midst of harsh days. [Isaiah 40:31]
Trust the Lord with all your heart; lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. [Proverbs 3:5-6]
Do not be overcome with evil; but overcome evil with good – and none are good except God!
Christmas 2017 – The theme for my Christmas sermons is the Character of Christmas. I will be using Isaiah 9:6-7 as my text. In these two verses we find the descriptive nature of Jesus Christ. There is something about His name – Phil 2:5-11; we know that His name is the name above all names. He earned His name, through obedience to the Father in Heaven in all things. It was the plan of the God-head to send The Son into the world in the form of man. While Jesus is completely human in all aspects like us; he retrained His deity. The Son never ceased to be God. Some would hold that Jesus didn’t “get” his divinity until He was baptized; I am not of that opinion. I would agree that His baptism – anointed Him for His Earthly ministry. Jesus is the earthly name given the Son of God; Christ is His title and Savior is His work.
In Isaiah 9:6-7 we find these names: Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God; Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. These names [titles] are descriptive of the work Christ will accomplish. When we look at the book of Isaiah itself we find a context of religion and society that is very similar to our own in 2017. There was great corruption both in the Church and in politics. The prophet Isaiah ministered during the reigns of four kings. The fifth king is to be believed to have sawed Isaiah in two pieces. There were both national and international worries. The great Assyrian armies to the North were gaining power, while Israel [Northern Kingdom] and Samaria were crumbling. Isaiah lived from 730BC – 660 BC approx. His ministry was to restore the nation back to God. In 722 BC Samaria already fallen, is joined by Israel. The Promise of a deliverer – the Messiah had already been prophesied. Yet still there seemed to be no answer or relief. In fact the situation would get worse; much worse before it got better. In ever imaginable aspect the people and nation were in crisis. The same could be said for America. Just when I think I have heard the most absurd atrocity, someone exceeds my imagination. The people and prophets were looking for an answer, but the answer did not come as they hoped. The book of Isaiah is about the promise of hope in the midst of God’s judgment of His people. In our own land, I find that many Christians are hoping for some “relief” answer so they will not have to be subjected to the holiness and righteousness of God. News flash, if God did not spare His elect Israel from punishment and captivity, why would we think we should escape?
In our time, I find we are in much the same situation. The Church/Christians have failed – not all but as a whole from obeying God’s word. The church has sought comfort and ease when it should have been loudly objecting to the immorality of our land. There are 1000 churches that will close this year. They will close because the members would rather die that become repentant toward God for their apathetic living out of the gospel. Jeremiah preached to Judah, yet Judah refused to listen; ultimately they were led away into captivity. In our American churches we have turned a deaf ear to “what the Spirit speaks to the churches.”
Just as there was an answer for Israel, albeit 700 years later; there will be an answer for our world also. There was hope of a Savior, yet when the Savior came, Israel rejected Him. It was through their rejection that the Gentiles [me] got access to the Gospel. Israel had the prophets, the prophecies and the Promise in their day and missed Jesus. We have history, archeological data and the preserved Word of God; yet we reject Jesus much like Israel did.
The last part of Isaiah 9:7 says “on the throne of David and over His kingdom; to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness.” Jesus came bringing salvation, for man was already in crisis of sin – doomed to eternity in Hell, separated from God. But Jesus came and is coming again – He is our Hope, the Light in the Darkness. The Answer – Jesus has come and is coming again!
Instead of looking for a Crisis Answer, let us look to Christ who is the Answer.
Our reading introduces us to the character of Joseph, the first-born of Rachel – Jacob’s beloved. We do find that parental favoritism continues in the first family. This time it is Joseph by Jacob. We have already talked about Rachel being the favorite of Jacob, now we find that Joseph carries the favoritism. Maybe this seems natural to happen, but it will cause great struggle and even sorrow for all involved. In Genesis 37, the Dreamer appears, already in a favored position with his coat of many colors, which distinguishes him from his brothers – that means Bilhah and Zilpah and Leah’s boys. These are two hand maids, and a tricked wife. The favorite child comes with its own set of problems. The boys hated Joseph, they could barely stand him. But when Joseph relates his first dream, where they will all bow down to him – this causes rage! Then the second dream is one where all of the family, mom’s and dad plus the brothers will bow to Joseph. Even Jacob rebukes Joseph for such arrogance. Just as the LORD told Cain that sin crouched at the door, so it is here that the only thing keeping Joseph alive around his brothers is the opportunity to kill him. Joseph provides this opportunity when he goes to visit them in the fields. Now Joseph is only 17 yrs. old; yet sent on quite a journey. I estimate that Joseph had a trip from Hebron to Shechem was about 40 miles; then he had to go further to Dothan, probably another 15 miles or so. Joseph was obviously wandering around, looking for his brothers at the time, even when sent to Dothan. Needless to say, the plot thickens. We know the rest of the story and how that Joseph is being put into the right place at the right time – and sure enough his dreams were more prop hectic then just sleeping interludes. I can’t imagine the hatred from the older brothers; I’ve had fights with my sisters, but not nought to kill them. Not the case here. They see Joseph wandering around, and begin to plot how to kill him. “Throw him in the pit, says Reuben.” Of course being the oldest, he will take the heat for the killed Joseph, he tries to set up a sub-plot to rescue Joseph later. Nope – Joseph has to get to Egypt. Sold into slavery [20 shekels of silver, not even the full price of a slave 30] none other than the Midianites [aka Abraham’s second marriage – Genesis 25] who in-turn sell him to Potiphar’s household. Mean while, the brothers kill a goat, smear the blood on the “favorite” coat and present it to Jacob as proof that Joseph has been killed by an animal. Now think of the hatred present in the story – there is no remorse or guilt by any of the brothers. They’re glad to be rid of the little creep!
Picking up the story again in Genesis 39, Joseph is in the palace so to speak, and the repeated phrase “and the LORD was with Joseph.” It works out that everything Joseph does turns to success. He is elevated to high positions not once, but three times in his life. Oh, there is Potiphar’s wife – she really wants Joseph in a sexual way. They say there is nothing worse than a woman scorned – Joseph being a handsome dude, she intends to add him to her conquests. Nope – Joseph might be a braggart, and a spoiled child, but he does have scruples and morals – he will not sin against his master, and more importantly against God. Just as the brothers got their opportunity to get back at Joseph, so does this scorned woman – out from under his clothes he runs, but still winds up in jail. I found it interesting that the wife blames her husband for the “alleged” attack. Well, in jail, Joseph is raised to “bossman” for God was with him. The Cup-bearer and Baker have dreams. These dreams are interpreted by Joseph. [Sort of reminds you of Daniel, and his elevation during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign] The Baker will die, the Cup-bearer will live, Joseph only asks, don’t forget me down here! Hum, do good and get forgotten. At this point I am sure all of us would be a bit ticked and sour about how life is treating us. Thus far Joseph is innocent, all he has done is have dreams and interpret dreams. Yet he has been sold by his brothers, framed by a woman and forgotten by a freed man. BUT; God was with Joseph! Will we rest in the fact that Jesus is with us, even when all is a mess? Out of favor with man, but in favor with God.
Habakkuk is a book of prophecy, one of the 12 minor prophets. Habakkuk writes from a different perspective. Rather than being a voice of God to the people, He addresses God about the people. The overwhelming word in the 1st chapter is Why? This in itself isn’t surprising, especially in our day and age. I find myself asking the WHY question over and over again. This calls into question the omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience of God. We feel so many times that if God is God why do the things happen as they do.
Habakkuk is asking God the very question in this short book. Now Habakkuk wrote about 605-586 BC, this is prior to the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of the captives. It is an odd time because there was just a period of “good” because of Josiah. But Josiah has died around 609 BC, so things are relatively stable. Yet Habakkuk asks the LORD “how long will I cry for help and you not answer?” Many of us have been such a situation – we call on God, and it seems that He is turning a deaf ear to us. I know today I ask so many times “Lord what is going on?” I get the same response as Habakkuk got – 1:5 – look at the nations, observe! Be astonished and wonder! Because I am doing something in your days – you would not believe it if you were told. The world we live in is in great turmoil and upheaval. Where does it all end? How do we make sense out of all this? As a believer in Christ I must put my lack of understanding aside and know that the Father in Heaven has this! Even if He was to answer our questions and tell us what He is doing, we just wouldn’t get it.
With the many atrocities that happen routinely today, we ask, Why God have you not done something to stop or prevent this? I have had to understand that God isn’t necessarily ‘doing” as much as He is “allowing” us to be the brunt of our own poor choices. Now we all have read the end of the Bible, we know what is ultimately going to happen. But the questions comes too many times, Is this the End? Or is this just a bad time in our life?
God is going to raise up Babylon to be His instrument for punishment and discipline towards Judah. Judah didn’t heed the warning of the fall of Israel [Northern Kingdom] nor did they heed the warning of Nineveh falling [Assyrian capital] in 612 BC.
While it appears there is still hope of revival and renewal of the Kingdom of Judah, the plan is already in motion for Judah’s captivity. Habakkuk is in dialog with God about what is going to happen. There is no record that Habakkuk survived the 586 BC siege of Babylon. Yet God does give the hope of a future after the punishment events.
Habakkuk 2:4 is a wonderful verse that has made the carry into the New Testament. [Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11-12] The Just shall live by faith.
Questions – Will Judah be punished – yes. Will Babylon be punished yes. Is there a future – Yes. Even though Habakkuk doesn’t understand all the details or working of God, he has to live within that hope in God’s providential redemptive plan.
I find myself asking many of the same questions today about America. Is America going to be punished – yes. Will we survive – yes. One thing about Judah and America, neither nation will ever be the same after the disciplining of God. Many prophets/preachers have drawn a line in the sand to say that this is the End Times, and ultimately the end as Bible prophecy in Revelation speaks. But that is Man’s opinion, not God’s. Nations have risen and fallen, but God was still at work trying to redeem creation from the Fall. Now if this is the end as in Last days – then if we know that and have understood God is at work, why do we thwart God’s working? If this is the End Times or if it is just a time of pruning and purifying, so be it – We [I] must still live by Faith.
This week we begin the final chapter of God’s revelation to believers and the world in the reading of the book of Revelation. The first two chapter will be our focus. In the first chapter we find the glory, power, authority and sovereignty of Jesus the Son of God revealed. Passages such as Colossians 1:15-18; John 1:1-4; Hebrews 1:2-4 and 1 John 1:1-4 reflect the final revelation to mankind through the Son Jesus Christ. In these first two chapters we begin to get a clear insight into the final culminating plan of God. However, we must not limit our thoughts to only the book of Revelation. The reader, to get a valid understanding of End Times and Eschatology must look at the Old Testament as well; Specifically, the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Joel and other Minor Prophets. Of course the New Testament books of Matthew, Luke, 1/2 Thessalonians are necessary too.
There is a specific audience John/Jesus is writing to, but specifically the message is to the “church” – and the seven churches of Asia Minor, a mail route in what is known as modern day Turkey. The Seven Churches has gained great commentary of recent years. But it found great application with one John Darby, who along with C.I. Scofield can be considered the fathers of “Dispensationalism.” Darby created an elaborate system of end times thought by ascribing each church mentioned in Rev. 2/3 as a period of time or era of the “Church” history. Darby uses the specifics of the messages to describe a condition of the church as it made its way through time since the Apostles until his day. The Last church described is the church of Laodicea, which is commonly known as the “lukewarm” church. If we are to adhere to Darby’s thought , then the “church” has been living in the last 200 plus years in a lukewarm state. many have bought into the Dispensational thought, to include many denominational schools. [Dallas Theological Seminary is an example] I hold to a different position. Since Jesus was specifically identifying problems within the churches and He is the Head of the Church; I believe that He was writing to the reader from a perspective of “conditions” churches could find themselves. In other words, rather than a church history; we have been given descriptions of “phases” a church may encounter in the life of the church. This message would find a universal; eternal application for all churches. In the case of the seven churches, not a single one of them endured; they all died. The message is one of warning and example to all future churches, not just the current churches being spoken to.
One of the problems with Revelation is the multiple genres used to write the book. We know that is it historical, narrative, prophetic and symbolic. Even so, when does the reader apply which literary principles to the passage being read? In other words, Revelation cannot be read as all literal, or symbolic or prophetic. This has caused great misinterpretation of the book, because someone applied the wrong literary principles of interpretation to a passage.
Back to our main chapter significance. The identification and description of Jesus is amazing. It was also used and applied to some degree to each of the churches. Some aspect of Christ’s description was used in the opening salutation to the church. Each one had a specific element of Christ that they needed to affirm.
It is interesting, that Jesus is very business like in His Revelation to John. Seemingly absent is the benevolent Jesus of the Gospels. This is to be understood. No longer is Christ bringing a message of love and peace; but one of warning and judgment.
In my writings during this book I will deliberately stay with what Revelation says, rather than try to incorporate a blog on the End times themes. Next week we will look at the Churches themselves, however briefly.