Friday, June 27, 2008

You'll Always Do Well If...

I do not like to disappoint people. Everyday I seek to serve my Lord and my people with all I am. Honestly, from time to time I fail them. I say or do something wrong. I do or don't do something I should or not well. And I really like to do things well. We all do. There is not a person who doesn't want to succeed in helping others. Serving others well is the ultimate joy. It is what life is all about - loving God and loving people and serving both with all you are.

But, as I said, it is impossible to always do that with your gifts and abilities. There is something that never fails. There is something that is always beneficial. God has given us something that we can give and serve others with that will always provide what they need.

What is it? It's LOVE!

"Oh, come on," I hear someone moan. "Are you serious? Of course you love people, but surely there is something better we can give. Maybe a formula or a fifty dollar bill would be better?"

I don't think so.

Please understand that when I say that love is the greatest thing you can give I am not saying that you are offering an emotion. Love is bigger and better than our limited emotional capacity. It is a thought, a feeling, and an action.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails.

"Love is patient"- it gives people time.

"Love is kind" - it gives people care.

"Love does not envy" - it celebrates others.

"Love does not boast" - it does not make others feel small.

"Love is not proud" - it is humble.

"Love is not rude" - it gives people respect.

"Love is not self-seeking" - it looks to the needs of others.

"Love is not easily angered" - it gives people the benefit of the doubt.

"Love keeps no records of wrongs" - it truly forgives.

"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" - it seeks what is best.

"Love always protects" - it defends others.

"Love always trusts" - it looks to the best in others.

"Love always hopes" - it always gives people a reason to go forward.

"Love always perseveres" - it does not quit.

"Love never fails" - it always wins.

My goal is to make sure that every person I encounter knows somehow that God loves them and that I love them.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Spurgeon’s Brilliance and the Danger of Religious Pride

Charles Spurgeon is one of my heroes. I read his biography by Arnold A. Dallimore the summer I graduated from high school.

Look at how he takes this verse, that could easily be read over and missed, and applies it to our faith.

“Ephraim is a cake not turned.” Hosea 7:8

A cake not turned is soon burnt on the side nearest the fire, and although no man can have too much religion, there are some who seem burnt black with bigoted zeal for that part of truth which they have received, or are charred to a cinder with a vainglorious Pharisaic ostentation of those religious performances which suit their humour. The assumed appearance of superior sanctity frequently accompanies a total absence of all vital godliness. The saint in public is a devil in private. He deals in flour by day and in soot by night. The cake which is burned on one side, is dough on the other.[1]

The man was insightful. Now consider his insight and see what it might have to say to your life.

There is an old saying. “A little bit of information is a dangerous thing.” There have been times early in my ministry and walk with God, when I was so sure I was right and others were so wrong. I was so proud of what I knew and so disgusted with what I considered ignorance in others.

In some instances my belief was right, but my attitude was wrong. The sin of pride was worse than the misunderstanding of others. God showed me that orthodoxy is not enough. It is not enough to merely know the truth.

If we do not truly love God and people, we are in sin. If we are not constantly humbled by the greatness of God and His grace, we really have no understanding at all.

Our faith must be consistent on the outside and the inside or it is of no use. Like a cake that is only cooked on one side, it will be burnt and bitter and at the same time undone and dangerous.

Let God cook both the inside and outside of your life so that it is balanced in love and truth. We must not allow ourselves to be "one note believers." These are believers who get hung up on one point of doctrine or a faith concept and focus on it at the expense of grace and love. Get excited about the truth God allows you to see, but be humbled by it and pray that God will allow it to grow you into a more faithful servant. Don't let it make you proud and judgmental.

[1]C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening : Daily Readings (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), June 23 AM.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why I Can’t Get Enough "Jon and Kate Plus 8"

This TV show is a big hit with me and my family. I believe we have watched every single episode. We have watched a couple of them multiple times. This week my entire family gathered in tiny room with a tiny TV (we’re on vacation and Asher the 18 month old was in the main room on the big TV watching “Toy Story” – he loves it) and we watched the latest episode together.

So why am I hooked? I am a man after all. And usually dudes don’t dig this kind of show. So am I getting girly or is there something else? I think something else.

One, my entire family watches it. It is rated 'G' and so my kids can watch it. We all get together and we watch and we laugh. We laugh, when the kids cry. We laugh, when they throw up because their mad. We laugh, as the parents fight. We laugh and we talk. Our kids ask us if they acted like that and we discuss parenting and marriage philosophy - with our children.

Two, it makes me respect and appreciate my wife even more. We don’t have 8, but we have 3 and one is a baby and he’s huge and he’s stubborn. My wife is very organized and keeps our home running well. She is also a pastor’s wife. That fact alone can make some wives crazy, but she is cool with it. Our home and lives run smoothly because of her. We get through sickness, bills, and brawls and then to bed on time having been fed and provided clean clothes, a clean home, and a hug.

Three, it gives perspective. Everyone is crazy. This family is crazy and so is ours and so is yours to some degree. We all are just crazy at different levels and at different times. This show makes our crazy times seem normal and they are. Sometimes things get crazy and you think you are the only family in the world that is crazy. We’re all a little nuts. One thing my wife and I decided early on in our marriage was that only one person was allowed to be crazy at a time. When we are both crazy, we just shut down the shop and reorganize.

Four, it gives me a better appreciation for my children and the struggle of infertility that so many people struggle through. I have my opinions on the issue and I’m sure you have yours, but at the end of the day there are a lot of couples who want to be mommies and daddies who don’t get that chance the old fashioned way. It is good to know that God is sovereign and that through adoption and other means God brings children into hopefully Christian homes where they are raised on Jesus, the Bible, and the Gospel.

I would encourage you to check out the show and see what it does for you.

‘Cause The Bible Tells Me So

For although all of Scripture is true and important, deserving study, reflection, and carefully applied thought, the Lord God in his wisdom did not give us a Bible of abstract principles, but highly diverse texts woven into highly diverse situations. Despite the diversity, of course, there is still only one sweeping storyline, and only one Mind ultimately behind it. But the rich tapestry of varied human experience reflected in the different biblical books and passages—not least in the different psalms—enables the Bible to speak to us with peculiar force and power when the “fit” between the experience of the human author and our experience is especially intimate.[1]

The Bible is an amazing gift of God. It speaks to every situation in life and yet provides the fundamental hope of all humanity.

When I say it speaks to every situation in life, I mean that in principle of course. The difficult situations I am facing in my life right now are not recorded in exact representation in the Bible, but there are similar situations where a child of God is challenged and God reveals His character and will. The Biblical situation reveals standards and concepts that guide me in my decision making.

Not only does the Bible help in everyday decisions, it also provides the eternal peace of God. From the first creation recorded in Genesis to the new creation recorded in Revelation the hope of God’s unconditional love is shown and His plan and desire for individuals to find rest in Him is revealed.

From the fall of our ancestors to the rising of the saints we see God willing to cover our sins and bring relational harmony between creature and Creator. In the initial fall our first parents brought death into the world, but God did not abandon them in their sin. He provided a blood sacrifice and covered their nakedness. There were consequences to their actions, but God in His love gave grace. He does that today for all who will trust and believe that Christ is God and came to be the sacrifice for the sin of God’s chosen children. In the end all who trust in Jesus will be covered and their shame will not be revealed. They will walk humbly with God and die peacefully in His mercy.

What an awesome God! What an amazing Word!

[1]D. A. Carson, For the Love of God : A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God's Word. Volume 1 (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), June 16.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Children - My Greatest Source of Theological Education

I absolutely love love love my three children. Each one of them is unique, and yet there is also in each one something distinctly Pettus.

My children are so much of what makes my life blessed. One of the crucial components they impart to me is a better understanding of God, my Heavenly Father, and what He's attempting to do in my life.

Matthew 7:9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?"
My children never hesitate to ask me for what they need. Right now my 18 month old son, Asher, is patting me on the back. Just a second ago he pulled my arm away from my computer (he's strong) and handed me his Toy Story wind up toy and insisted that I wind it up. I did. He smiled and is now patting me. Well, he just dropped it on the cat and is running away. But the point is he didn't hesitate to ask. He knows that as His father, I will help him when he asks.
This is how I can relate to God. I know I can go to Him and seek His help and will receive it every time. He may so "no" or "not yet", but even then it is for His good purpose.

Deuteronomy 10:15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.
What Asher and my other two children, Mackenzie and Jackson, have is a quiet confidence. This confidence comes from the fact that they never asked me to love them and to make them my own. They know instinctively that I chose them to be my children and I have proven my love for them from the first second they ever saw me. They didn't ask to be Pettus kids. My wife and I decided we wanted them and brought them into the world.
We didn't choose them because of their moral superiority or because of what they would accomplish in our name. We chose to love them and have them because of our desire to have them and love them.
This is what God has done for me. He chose me, as He did the children of Israel. There was nothing in me or Israel that made us worth choosing. God in His grace and sovereignty just chose to have me as His own and love me. This gives me confidence. I can approach God at any time, as my Father, and I can live my life knowing that no matter what God loves me and has made me His own.

Hebrews 12:5-6 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” We are about to begin to discipline Asher. He is now coming to the age when he understands right from wrong and is willingly disobeying us. He will be given limitations like time out and in time a spanking on the hand or bottom. We disciplined his siblings the same way. What has been amazing to us is how much we had to discipline them from ages two to four and now so sparingly. They have learned that life is better when they obey.
God, my Father, has disciplined me. He still is disciplining me. I am not as fast a learner as my children, but I have figured out that life is better when I obey Him. He disciplines me because He loves me. I want my kids to be healthy discerning adults and so I train them to do what is right. When they choose to do wrong, I discipline them.
God does the same thing with me. The big difference is that I, as a father, make mistakes sometimes. God never does.

For these reasons and so many more that I have no space to list here I appreciate my kids and love my God.

Friday, June 6, 2008

What If...

What if we lived this out every moment of everyday? Wow!

Deuteronomy 10:12-22 what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Track or Treadmill

For those keeping up, I did it! This morning I rode the bike and then ran 6 laps - 7.5 miles - and I didn't cheat or stumble. I almost threw up and my runner's bliss turned into a nightmare, but I did it.

Here's what I learned. I can't do anymore than 6 laps. I might be able to go a little faster, but I do not have the time to do more. And let's face it I'm built for comfort not for speed. I actually went over time this morning, but I believe I can pick up my pace and get back within my time constraints. I will not be able to run further because I will not have the time to train to go any further. This is it. I cannot do more than 6 laps without taking away from other responsibilities. This goes back to the point I was a making on the other post.

The other thing I learned was that I could have never done this on a treadmill. I agree with the comments of Linda and anonymous on the other post. You have to do what you have to do and you need to push yourself to do all God calls you to do. I would not have pushed myself on a treadmill. It's too easy to quit. All you have to do is reach back 6 inches on the arm brace and hit the "stop" button, which calls to me longing to be touched the entire time I run.

When I'm on the track, the only place I can stop is at the starting point. Once I get going there is no sense in stopping because I'm out there and no one can carry me back. I have to get home so I keep on trucking.

This is also true of life. There are situations we can put ourselves in and an attitude we can possess that makes it is easier to quit and give up. There are also circumstances we can work in that do not allow the luxury of quitting.

What kind of environment and mindset do you have? Are you living life on a track where you can't quit what your committed to or have you opted for the treadmill life where you can quit whenever it gets hard and you feel like a change?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

More Can Be Too Much to Handle

Last week I added something to my exercise regiment. Instead of driving to the track where I run, I am now riding my bike the 4.3 miles. When I drove to the track, I could run 6 laps. Now that I am riding my bike, I can only run 5 laps.

Even running 5 laps is hard especially when I get to "the hill" that is quite steep going down and up. Because of the fatigue I experience from riding I have been tempted to cheat. Cheating for me means walking.

By adding more I have been doing less of what I was before. I have also been tempted to cheat. And then on Wednesday out of nowhere a beautiful chocolate lab came running up to me and almost tripped me. Because I was so exhausted from climbing "the hill" I did not see her coming. Had I stumbled and experienced a fall, I may well have had to stop running altogether for a time.

So pray that my endurance will pick up, but also learn with me a life lesson. WHEN WE ADD MORE RESPONSIBILITIES TO OUR LIVES, WE WILL BE TEMPTED TO CHEAT AND PRONE TO FALL INTO SIN.

This is true in ministry. If a hard working pastor adds responsibilities to his plate, he will not be able to do as much of what he was doing before. He may even cheat some of those responsibilities out of time, emotion and effort. If that pastor is not careful, in his fatigue he could be tempted by sin he did not see coming and fall. The fall could result in his disqualification of ministry based on Paul's lists (1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9).

The same is true of any person with any job. If you are already working hard and then add more tasks to do, you will not be able to give as much to the things you were already doing. And in your fatigue you may not be able to maintain your spiritual discipline and fall into sin.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to take on more than what we can handle. After all, we (those of us from the US) are Americans and we can tighten the belt and do anything we put our minds to. That may be true to some extent, but at what cost. What will it cost you to add more stress to your life by trying to please people and do what they want you to do, to make an extra buck (when your needs are already met), or to get more out of yourself and the people in your family or organization?

It may cost you your effectiveness in what you are called to do by watering down your efforts. It may cause you to lose sight of your vision and mission and lose your passion and purpose. It may cause you to become the person you always said you wouldn't be, but can't help but become because of the stress and strain. It may cost you your ministry, your job, your friends, your family, or worse your assurance of the hope you have in Christ.

Even the most highly trained and competent people are capable of taking on more than anyone should and of losing sight of what matters most. Paul wrote his protégé Timothy and told him, "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:13-16).

Why did Paul write that to him? Could it be because young Timothy was overwhelmed by the substantial responsibility of leading the massive church at Ephesus? Could it be that Timothy was getting side tracked by non-issues and taking on more responsibilities than he should?

We must not sabotage our lives by doing too much. Stay the course and fulfill the mission and purpose of your life and calling. Do not get side tracked by pleasing or trying to outdo other people. Find your joy in doing what God has called you to do and your identify in who Christ says you are.

The only way I know to do that is by doing what Oswald Chamber's encourages on December 21st in his devotion My Utmost for His Highest, "Be ruthless with yourself." Demand that you maintain a healthy pace in life that is productive and protective of your calling and primary responsibilities.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Vital Dimension In Decision Making

This week we begin a new sermon series called "Only Jesus". This week I will be speaking from Hebrews 5.7 and talking about how we can know the direction God wants us to go in life.

A big part of fulfilling our unique destiny God has designed for each of us is decision making. We are faced with hundreds of choices everyday. Some of them are important and will have heavy consequences. Some are inconsequential and really do not impact us or others all that much.

One of the things I am learning about decision making is not forgetting to ask the question, "What are the unintended consequences this decision will have?" For years I have made decisions and statements without asking that question and the results have at times been disasterous and sometimes very hurtful to other people.

Right now you cannot watch TV without catching one of those drug commercials. You know that ones that promise to heal you of a discomfort or aging effect, but warn you of the "unintended side effects." Some of those side effects are far more frightening than the ailment one might seek treatment for. "Breath easier," the nice voice on TV says and an attractive person takes a deep breath out in the middle of a gorgeous meadow on a sunny day. Then a very small tiny print appears at the bottom of the screen that is not even readable with HD, as that same nice voice begins to say at a break neck speed, "this drug has also caused nose bleeds, eye bleeds, ear bleeds, abnormal screaming, restless leg syndrome, halucinations of angry clowns, and can cause you to go flat out crazy. Conslut your doctor before taking this drug."

Hello! You might be able to breath, but you'll be wearing a straight jacket living in a padded room.

Wouldn't it be nice in the midst of a major to decision to have the guy with the nice voice come up on your computer screen and say, "This decision you are about to make will have unintended consequences which might include..." and then have a clear honest list of factors we need to be ready to accept and deal with?

I can't get the guy on TV, but I have found that I can get gifted smart people to serve on a team and provide great insight into the possible harm any given decision might cause. I am blessed as a church leader to work with a Godly group of Elders and a Management Team that can help see the harm any given decision can have. They have at their disposal Trustees, a Personnel Team, and other advisory boards to help them. Together we make of formidable unit in our Lord's Service.

Contrary to popular opinion these teams of leaders are not there to slow the organization down or to cause trouble. Their helpful insights and skill are available by God's calling to scope the landscape and see what might be hidden from me and other leaders. We have found that no one of us is as good as all of us.

I cannot say that my decision making average is 1000, but I can say that it is getting better. To all of you who serve along side of me, I thank you and honor you for your wonderful work.

To those of you who are leaders (that means anybody who influences another person, which includes moms and dads, coaches and teachers, pastors, business leaders, and civil servants), don't forget the vital dimension of decision making. Ask the question, "what is the unintended consequence of this decision?"