Friday, June 26, 2009

Lessons From the Life and Death of Michael Jackson

The entire world is talking about Michael Jackson’s life and death. Wow. Amazing that one person can get the attention of the entire world through his life and death. I actually know another Person that has done that in an even more profound way!

As I reflect on the life and death of Michael Jackson, here is what comes to my mind and heart:

Incredible Talent – This man had incredible talent from the earliest of age. He was a phenomenal artist. All good gifts come from Above, so this talent was God-given; however, did he use this talent to glorify the One who gave it to him?

Worldly Success without True Fulfillment – Michael Jackson was undoubtedly successful in the eyes of the world. He sold more than 61 million albums in the U.S. alone; his 1982 hit “Thriller” is still the second best-selling U.S. album of all time; and he won 14 Grammys. However, it is obvious he did not have inner fulfillment and true happiness. He seemed to be constantly on the search for something that would give this to him, but like a dog chasing his tail, it doesn’t seem he ever found it. Perhaps this was due largely to his deep insecurity.

Deep Insecurity – Michael never seemed to advance beyond the childhood stage of development. His popularity came at such a young age that he was never able to have a proper childhood … and also move beyond childhood to adulthood. He was a boy in a man’s body. His insecurity manifested in obvious ways such as his many plastic surgeries. But probing beneath the skin reveals his uncertain relations with children. None of us will ever know the deep pain that he probably had in his spiritual, mental, and emotional life.

Financial Mess – Like so many who are successful in the world’s eyes, in reality Michael was up to his nose in debt. It is reported that he had over $400 million in debt. His upcoming tour was to help alleviate this problem. He spent $20 million to $30 million more per year than he earned. In March of last year, the singer faced foreclosure on Neverland. He also repeatedly failed to make mortgage payments on a house in Los Angeles that had been used for years by his family. In addition, Jackson was forced to defend himself against a slew of lawsuits. I am amazed at how often I learn that someone who lives in a big house and drives nice cars is actually in huge debt. This debt had to add enormous stress to Michael Jackson’s life.

Eternal Life or Death? I have shared many tragic aspects of Michael Jackson’s life. But the greatest and most long-lasting tragedy in Michael Jackson’s life and death is his unknown eternal fate. It doesn’t appear that he knew Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Perhaps he did. Only the Lord knows for sure. Jesus said it best: “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mt. 16:26).

May God use the life and death of Michael Jackson to cause each of us to do some serious self-examination and repentance of that which does not please God. Finally, let us be careful to avoid any inappropriate joking about Michael Jackson. Instead, let us faithfully pray for his children and entire family – that God may use this to draw them into the arms of the Perfect Father God!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Sheep and the Shepherds

Here is an important lesson I have learned as a pastor: Those in leadership need to hear from those in the body, and those in the body need to share with those in leadership (Gal. 6:6).

Let me explain how God wants this to work. If the leadership of a church is in the center of God’s will, they will want to hear from the church body. They need to hear words of encouragement when people are blessed by their ministry. On the other hand, if they are not in the will of God, they still need to hear from the church family so as to bring needed correction to their leadership.

In both cases, God wins because in the first case the leaders are encouraged to “keep up the good work.” If the second case, the leaders are corrected through the body to change. Leaders must be humble and receptive enough to hear words of concern, so that if they are not leading in the Spirit, the Lord might use those comments to bring needed repentance.

At the same time, those in the church body need to share with their leaders. They need to share when things are going good so as to give appropriate affirmation. We leaders sure need encouragement! Also, the church body needs to share with their leaders when they have concerns, instead of murmuring and complaining to other members of the body and thus creating satanic division. In this scenario, God wants to get the attention of the leaders, and He is trying to use various members of the body to do so. If you have concerns, go to the leadership of your church and speak the truth in love. Do nothing that will cause division. Remember, unity is so important to God that being divisive is cause for church discipline (Titus 3:10).

One more thing: If the leaders are “right on” but people are still voicing concerns, then the leaders need to do a better job of communicating so as to bring peace and harmony back to the body. Often leaders know why they are doing something, but if they fail to clearly articulate this to the body, the church at large will not have a clue as to what is happening. And in the absence of information, we can all assume the wrong thing!

Let us all, the sheep and the shepherds, be diligent to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Perfect Father

Do you have a perfect father? I know I don’t, and I know my children would say they don’t. However, there is a perfect Father – only One, and that is, God our Heavenly Father.

This past Sunday was Father’s Day. The Father most deserving of thanks and praise on Father’s Day is our Heavenly Father. He is perfect in the following ways and more:

1. Unconditional Love – No one can love us like God does. No one can truly love us unconditionally like God, because He knows all of our imperfections and yet, He still loves us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). He demonstrated His love by sending His own Son to die for our sins. And He wants His perfect love to motivate us to love Him back and live for Him. Paul said, “The love of Christ constrains me.”

2. Constant Faithfulness – God is faithful to His Word, faithful to His character, and can always be trusted to remain the same. Therefore, He is the best One to turn to for needs and questions.

3. Loving Discipline – When we get off track and out of His will, God loves us enough to discipline us. If He did not care, He would not deal with us when we get out of line. He disciplines us through natural consequences, circumstances, feelings, the inner promptings of the Spirit, other people, and various other methods. “The Lord disciplines those He loves” (Hebr. 12:6).

4. Abundant Provider – As a father, I love to give to my children. I love to bless them. If I as an imperfect earthly father love to bless my children, how much more does God as our Heavenly Father love to give us good things? God loves to bless His children. He loves to reward obedience. He promises to provide for all of our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).

5. Strong Warrior – Every little child loves to proclaim, “My dad is stronger than your dad.” As children of God, we can proclaim that our Father is stronger than sin, Satan, and any obstacle that comes our way. We live under the mighty power of God. With our Father, all things are possible!

So many today are without a healthy earthly father. This is very sad and grieves the heart of God. However, there is a Perfect Father that all need, and all can turn to – His name is God the Father. Love Him, trust Him, turn to Him, yield to Him, and allow Him to be your Perfect Father.

“Sing to God, sing praise to His name,
extol Him who rides on the clouds--
His name is the LORD--
and rejoice before Him.
A Father to the fatherless, a Defender of widows,
is God in His holy dwelling.”
Ps. 68:4-5

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bloom Where You Are Planted

Often I have people ask me what it is like to go from being a Sr. Pastor for 17 years to an Associate Pastor. I answer with all honesty, “I am totally OK with it because I know this where God has called me, and I am simply to bloom where I am planted.”

It is not about title, position, or prominence in man’s eyes. What is important is being faithful where we are called. Too often we look at our lives through a human lens instead of a divine one. We are simply to “Trust in the Lord, and do good. Dwell in the land, and cultivate faithfulness” (Ps. 37:3; NASB). And the key to being able to do this? “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). Did you notice these two verses are right next to one another?

Our delight must be in the Lord and not in our place, position, or job. I know this is not easy, but I also know it to be very true! All I am required to do is be faithful where I am called, and right now that is serving as the Pastor of Discipleship at Watkinsville First Baptist Church. And I love it!

From July, 2008 until April, 2009 I was called to dwell in a small 800 square foot cottage, trust God while unemployed, and diligently work on writing a book – which I had no clue at the time whether or not it would ever get published. There were many days when I said, “What in the world am I doing? Why did I leave such a good situation to come to this? God, what are you up to?” One day I was so uncertain that I had to go back and listen again to my resignation sermon. After doing so, I was convinced again that I had heard from God and was in the right place – as uncomfortable as it was at the time.

Whenever we are in very unpleasant situations, we need to get alone with God and allow Him to reassure our hearts. “He will never leave us nor forsake us” (Hebr. 13:5b); therefore, we can “be content with what we have” (Hebr. 13:5a). And what do we have most of all? God’s powerful presence.

In many ways, what I am talking about is learning to be content in whatever circumstances, so I will close with the words of Paul who, over time, learned the secret of this contentment. And the secret is in the last verse below:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Phil. 4:11-13

Wherever God has you in life right now (i.e. employed or not, married or not, good marriage or not, good health or not), bloom where you are planted!

Many times God will not move us to greener pastures until we learn to eat and prosper in that pasture in which He has us in at the time.

Bloom where you are planted.