The Son and the Vineyard

At first he said, “I will not go;
The vineyard I won’t tend.
There are better things that I could do.
A hand I will not lend.”

He wrote a lot of poetry
and played the piano too;
and his career was doing well-
this was what he loved to do.

But his father loved the vineyard;
he could not fathom why.
He cared for every inch of it;
for it he’d gladly die.

And the son felt guilt stirring
in some deep neglected place.
He sensed his father’s sadness
when he looked into his face.

He raised his eyes and saw the need
and thought the matter through:
“The vineyard that he loves so much,
could I not love it too?”

“I’ll go to work today,” he said,
“in the vineyard by the lake.
In spite of my misgivings,
I’ll do it for his sake!”

(Photo by Kym Ellis on Unsplash)

A Balanced Spirituality

Here’s the outline of a talk I gave a talk to the leaders of Ikthus East Bacolod City last 26 January 2019 at Beracha Farms, Alangilan, on How a Christian Leader Sets Priorities.

Here’s the outline/manuscript (please note that the actual talk varies from the manuscript, significantly at times):

It’s possible to go to extremes when it comes to spirituality.

One can become so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good. People with this mindset usually divide things into secular and sacred, and consider the former as inferior to the latter. Let’s call this “pie in the sky” spirituality.

On the other hand, some people embrace “worldly spirituality” and fail to discern that some activities, although not be neglected, should not be given more importance than they deserve. For them, everything is sacred as long as it is done for the glory of God. They have a point, but it needs to be qualified, as we will see later.

So balance is necessary. Continue reading “A Balanced Spirituality”

Full-time Ministry

“So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ And he said to him, ‘Go back again, for what have I done to you?’ And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.” (1 Kings 19)

Not everyone is called to be like Elisha. But if you are, the way to go is to burn all your bridges behind you and then come and follow the greater Elijah, Jesus Christ. One who is called to wear the mantle of Elijah has no choice in the matter, for it is no ordinary leader he is called to replace when the time comes. The tasks a leader of such stature is called to accomplish demand of him full concentration. Any accommodation to distraction might mean not only failure for him personally but also disaster for the people he is called to lead and serve.

What to Do During a Sabbatical

“In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

For a minister, a sabbatical is a time to rest in order that one may gather strength for the work of ministry. In other words, a sabbatical is a strategic retreat. A minister engages in a season of rest not in order to abandon the work God has given him, but in order to refresh his own soul so that he may return to the work with renewed strength and vigor.

For we need strength from above if we are to do the work of the ministry. On our own, we lack the strength (2 Corinthians 2:16). That is why we always need to pray, “Strengthen the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:17). And that is why we need to have times of refreshing for our own souls. If we are burned out and stressed out, how can we minister to others?

Jesus himself took time out from ministering to the crowds in order to be alone and to rest and refresh his soul.

Thus, we read in Mark 1:35, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, he went out and departed to a solitary place; and there he prayed.”

In Mark 6:31 we read, “And he said to them [his apostles], Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.”

But we must make sure that we make good use of this season of rest. We must make sure that the time is well-spent in gathering spiritual strength for the work we have to do when we return to it.

How do we that? By making use of this time of rest to find peace in our hearts, and renew our trust and confidence in God. The formula here is quietness plus confidence equals strength.

FINDING PEACE

The work of the ministry – just like any other work – has its own stressors and troubles that eat away at our peace and, in the process, weaken us. If there are fears and worries that have ensconced themselves in our hearts, a sabbatical is a good time to face these fears and worries and dissolve them with the peace of Christ.

Freed from the daily grind of ministry, we have more time to cultivate a deeper relationship and fellowship with Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Whatever it is that troubles you, the Lord has promised, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

RENEWING FAITH

Just like all believers, a minister must live by faith. But ministers, being human like the rest of us, are also assailed by doubts and temptations. They too have burdens to carry, and they too sometimes wonder where is God when they need him the most. It is one thing to know in one’s head that God will never leave you and will never forsake you. It is another thing to deal with the disappointment you feel in your heart when it seems God has let you down. Doing so is difficult, regardless of the number of Bible verses you’ve memorized!

That’s why we need times of rest in order that we may renew our confidence and hope in God.

Just like Elijah. After experiencing a great victory at Mount Carmel against the 450 prophets of Baal, he fled because of the threats of a woman (Jezebel)! He was afraid, discouraged, and depressed, so much so that he wanted to die.

We read in 1 Kings 19:4-8, “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tee. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.”

Elijah rested and slept, but he also arose and ate. And if I may be allowed to interpret this figuratively, the lesson we can learn from this incident in Elijah’s life is that we must make good use of this season of rest to strengthen our faith by nourishing our souls with God’s Word. Of course, a minister is always studying God’s Word. But during a sabbatical we meditate on God’s Word not for the sake of preaching to others but to nourish our own souls.

For God’s Word is the food that strengthens faith. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) And “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

CONCLUSION

So there you have it. Make use of this season of rest to find peace in Christ, especially through prayer, and to renew your faith through feeding on God’s Word. In so doing, you shall be gathering strength for the work you are called to do when you return to it. During a sabbatical we are called off from the busyness of working *for* the Master in order that we might spend more time *with* the Master.

“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

(A devotional message given during the Ikthus East Family Retreat at Cabacungan, Negros Occidental on March 30, 2018)

God is Looking for Good Grapes

“Now let me sing to my Well-beloved
A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:
My Well-beloved has a vineyard
On a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;
So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes.”
(Isaiah 5:1-2, NJKJV)

God is looking for good grapes. Why else would he spend all that time and effort to cultivate and till his vineyard? Why would he bless you with all the gifts and resources you need to serve him if he has no intention of you serving him with all that he has given?

Every opportunity then to bear good grapes and offer them to God must be cherished and eagerly sought after. To run away from serving God is not only an act of ingratitude, it is also dangerous, as it provokes him to anger. What horrors Jonah had to go through only to end up in the very place he tried to run away from – a place he could have gone to without much trouble at the first, had he not run away!

But Jonah’s case was God being merciful. At least, God put Jonah back on the right track. Here’s what happens when God gets really angry:

“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?
And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it to waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.”
(Isaiah 5:3-6; NKJV)

The consequences of failing to serve God after all that he has done for us are terrifying. Loss of protection (taking away of the hedge and breaking down of the wall), utter destruction (burned and laid to waste), deprivation of blessing (no rain) and more (briars and thorns).

The New Testament puts it this way:

“For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 6:7-8; NKJV)

Forgive us, Lord, for our laziness and complacency. Help us to bear good grapes, grapes you are looking for.

Why I Rarely Preach Nowadays

If we will acknowledge the ministry a particular office in the church of Christ … then we must also confess it is not anyone’s work, though never so able, except called to the office….

Those that are not sent and commissionated by God’s call for ministerial work, they may speak truths as well as they that are, yet of him that acts by virtue of his calling, we may say that he preacheth with authority, and not like those that can show no commission, but what the opinion themselves have of their own abilities give them.

– William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, p. 285

Abundant in Good Works

But our faith makes us abundant in good works. May I say to you, if you are doing all you possibly can for Christ, endeavour to do yet more? I believe a Christian man is generally right when he is doing more than he can; and when he goes still further beyond that point, he will be even more nearly right. There are scarcely any bounds to the possibilities of our service. Many a man, who now is doing little, might, with the same exertion, do twice as much by wise arrangement and courageous enterprise.

Charles Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry, p. 22

God Calls for Our Best, and We Give Him the Worst

And as many reserve the dregs of their lives, their old age, to offer up their souls to God, so they reserve the dregs of the day, their sleeping time, for the offering up their service to him. How many grudge to spend their best time in the serving the will of God, and reserve for him the sickly and rheumatic part of their lives; the remainder of that which the devil and their own lusts have fed upon… When by age men are weary of their own bodies, they would present them to God; yet grudgingly, as if a tired body were too good for him, snuffing at the command for service. God calls for our best, and we give him the worst (italics added).

-Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (vol. 1), p. 113-14

Cultivating a Culture of Missions in a Small Church

Cultivating a Culture of Missions in a Small Church – 9Marks.

Tom Ascol:

Pastor, have you ever thought to yourself, “My church is so small, we cannot do much for missions, especially overseas missions”?

If so, I have news for you. Small churches are not exempt from the work of missions, nor should they want to be.