Ever since God called me to preach, I’ve battled with deep insecurity about my delivery style. I can’t electrify a crowd like T.D. Jakes, pack an arena like Reinhard Bonnke or get audiences to turn sermons into trending topics on Twitter like Craig Groeschel or Steven Furtick. Those guys hit home runs when they preach. I get base hits—or strikes.
For years I felt like the reluctant Moses, who complained to God by saying, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent” (Ex. 4:10). For years the Lord kept pushing me out of my comfort zone, urging me to surrender my fears so that I would take the microphone willingly. Once He told me: “I didn’t call you to be T.D. Jakes. I called you to be you.”
On many occasions after speaking in a church or conference, I would sulk. I battled constant discouragement and wondered if my words had hit the mark. Did I preach OK? Did the message sink in? Finally I asked an older pastor if he had ever struggled with disappointment in his pulpit performance. He smiled and told me: “Son, I feel that way every Monday of my life.”
I’m learning an uncomfortable secret about preaching: Those who dare to allow God to speak through them will always squirm in holy agony. Preaching the gospel is both a glorious and a horrifying responsibility. When we speak under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and impart the very truths of Christ, we get so dangerously close to Him that our pride is challenged.
In the aftermath of recent tragic killings, such as those that have taken place in New Mexico, Connecticut and Colorado, our nation has focused on ways to curb gun violence.
But gun control proposals now circulating in Washington and in many state capitals don’t address a more important issue—the constant stream of violence put forth by the entertainment industry. Every year brings a flood of movies, not to mention cable and television programs, that are filled with violence. Whole segments of America’s music industry make their profits from song lyrics that glorify gratuitous violence, and there is seemingly an endless number of video games that are nothing more than murder simulators.
The result of this constant inundation is that our culture has been effectively desensitized to murder and mayhem. Blood-lusty Romans gathered in the Coliseum 2,000 years ago to watch people slaughtered by lions for the purpose of entertainment, and our society is no different. We gather around computers, televisions, and movie screens to watch scene after scene of more graphic violence than anything the Romans could have imagined.
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Tim. 6:17 NIV)
You may be under a lot of stress right now because of the economy, but God still wants you to enjoy life.
As a Christian, you can enjoy life because your conscience is clear. You can enjoy life because you are secure within God’s love. You can have fun and laugh in church. You can enjoy friends who don’t manipulate you because they are learning to be like Jesus, and that means they are learning to look out for the interests of others.
The unsaved see believers as hypocritical, and no different than themselves. Here’s how to live an authentic faith that stands out from “normal” American Christianity.
I hesitated to accept the gospel in college because of the behavior of people who claimed they were Christians. They were not much different than me. Their language, actions and behaviors weren’t so special that I viewed what they had as a better life. Why would I want what they had? What was so special or different about it?
When it comes to our culture, it’s more of the same. The music industry feeds our youth with profanity and sex, but then those same musicians stand up and thank “the man upstairs” at awards ceremonies. Our sports heroes party, use performance-enhancing drugs and get into fights, but then they kneel down and thank God the moment they score a touchdown.
What is the world supposed to think of this? Would the real Christians please stand up?
The numbers are in. Pastor Ted can see the report on the top of his desk. His stomach clinches as he walks across the room, picking up the report.
There are times when the numbers haunt us. It might be the budget, or attendance numbers. Every week there is a part of us that lives and dies by the numbers.
Then there are the times when we just give up. We might be so underwater that we can’t see light, or our numbers are so depressing that we let go. We decide to acknowledge that God is in control and just trust.
Why is it that we have to be at the end of our rope before we really learn to trust? In those times when things are going sort of well, we pick back up the stress and forget to leave the numbers on God’s lap.
There is a scripture that baffled me for years: “Then David prayed, I have sinned badly in what I have just done, substituting statistics for trust; forgive my sin—I’ve been really stupid.” 1 Chronicles 21:8. This is the Message version, and it helps a lot. You see, David took a census of Israel’s fighting men. He focused on the numbers.