What Does it Mean to Have the Gift of Ministry?

Part 2 of the study in Romans

Last week we examined the idea that leaders, especially preachers, examine themselves before addressing others. In the words of Steve Brown, we’d better be ‘smoking what we’re selling’. The subject this week is ‘ministry’. We hear this term often, but what does it really mean? More specifically, what does it mean to have the gift of ministry?

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These questions and questions like them arise to the surface in the book of Romans, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering.” (Romans 12:6-7). So what does it mean to wait on ministering? And what is ministry? We’re glad you asked! Later on in the same passage, Paul defines ministry as: “Be(ing) kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.” (Romans 12: 10). A little more helpful, right? A little.

People with the gift of ministry treat people around them as family members. This term ‘brother‘ is used over 230 times throughout the New Testament. It literally means ‘from the same womb!‘ So people in ministry treat others as though they are actual blood kin. They may even call you brother or sister. But they not only use ‘familiar terms, they also make people FEEL like family! For most of us, the word ‘family’ is an emotionally loaded word. You can only imagine the impact a person with the gift of ministry can have, then, in a world of fractured families. People long for a sense of family more than ever.

Ministry is also an expression of God’s character. In Luke 15, a young man takes his inheritance and heads for Las Vegas to ‘live it up’, spending his money on wine, women and song….or something like that.  Ultimately he ends up broke and gets a job at Walmart (o.k, actually he took a job feeding pigs and was so broke he ate what they ate).  You get the idea.  Ultimately, he decides to go home and face the music with his father.  The father was waiting lovingly for his return and treated his son as family, despite the son’s ‘riotous living’. For those with the gift of ministry, the failures of others qualify them rather than disqualifying them as candidates for love. Although not all of us have the gift of ministry, we all have the potential to be ministers. As ministers it is helpful to bear in mind the idea of unconditional love. If we’re not careful, we’ll abandon immature people who are actually brothers and sisters in need of our patience and understanding. For me personally, the immaturity of others only highlights my own.

Ministers, however, are able to remain patient because they realize maturity is a process, not an endowment. Strong leaders allow their followers time to develop their latent abilities. They realize people only learn sometimes by making mistakes. Leaders with the gift of ministry are there to help their brothers and sisters get back on track and stay in the game. With any amount of luck, they may get to watch their disciples do the same for others in the future.

The key attribute of people with the gift of ministry is they place the needs of others before their own. People with this gift are willing to lay down their lives so that others can experience life to the greatest degree. They only consider themselves successful when others succeed as a result of their love and labors. They are full of joy when others are joyful. Jesus illustrated what it means to ‘honor one another above ourselves’ beautifully, when he girded himself with a towel and washed the feet of his disciples. (John 13). In those days, there was no sanitation and people emptied their wash basins in the streets. As a gracious host, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as they entered the home, cleansing their feet of any filthy residue they may have trod through in the streets. If the thought of washing the excrement caked feet of others makes you cringe, you may not have the gift of ministry. My own kids love to stick their dirty, smelly feet on each other whenever they get the chance. The fact that none of them have killed each other may be indicate ministry gifts in the making.

Speaking of kids, you’re probably familiar with the controversial experiments in the 20th century carried out on Rhesus monkeys. Psychologist Harry Harlow put two mechanical monkey mothers in a cage. One had a soft terry cloth covering for the baby monkeys to snuggle up to. The other mother had a bottle of warm milk attached to her. Then the scientist made an alarming noise to see which mother the baby monkey would run to when scared. Guess which one they ran to every time? You guessed it, the one who was soft and comforting although she was made of metal.

Speaking of unnatural, showing affection and love to other Christians and treating them like family, especially when they are unloveable does not happen automatically. As self-centered individuals it’s easy to fall into patterns of selfish behavior. So what’s the rub? Always remember you only gain when you sincerely honor others. Christians who are family minded add warmth, reassurance, comfort and devotion to those they interact with. This passage of scripture may help, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:5-9).

How about you? Maybe you have a strained relationship right now? With a family member? Rather than waiting for them to make the first move, why not go to them? Call. Text. Write a letter. You’ll never know until you try. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it. If you wait for your loved ones to live up to all of your standards and expectations, you’ll be waiting a long time.

A minister traveling on a bus struck up a conversation with a middle aged man who looked like he needed a friend. During their conversation, the minister found out the man was heading home to try and reconcile with his aged parents after many years. As they approached the next stop the man asked the preacher to look out the window to the left and see if there was a yellow ribbon tied to an old apple tree in a yard they were quickly approaching. He explained the ribbon would indicate his parents were willing to follow through with the homecoming. As the bus rumbled past the yard, the man couldn’t bear to look out the window. Finally, he anxiously asked the preacher what he saw. “IS IT THERE? IS THE RIBBON TIED IN THE TREE?” The minister smiled and said: “I see an old couple stooped over with white hair, waving, and the WHOLE tree is filled with ribbons!”

Friend, I don’t know where you’ve been or what you’ve done. Perhaps you’ve been away for a long time. It doesn’t matter. If you’ve decided to go home, I want you to know that God loves you and the whole tree is filled with ribbons.

Ministers and leaders, fellow Christians….If our heavenly Father is willing to tie ribbons in the tree, who are we to take them down? People won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

I wish to honor those of you who take this idea of ministry seriously. Thank you for exercising your God- given gifts and making a difference in all of our lives! You know who you are. Next week, we’ll take a look at teaching. Hope to see you soon!

People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.- Maya Angelou

Can We Predict the Future?

Unpacking a Great Truth in the Book of Romans

On my forty- third birthday I received the following text: “This will be your best year yet!” My thoughts were a blend of intense excitement and mild disbelief. How can anyone predict something like that with any amount of accuracy? Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. Someone said you were going to accomplish what seemed impossible. In reality, what you may think is impossible is completely possible in the eyes of others. Why? Because others often see in us, what we can’t see in ourselves.

                              .asian

One year later, my mentor/friend was right. Amazing things happened in the past year and continue to happen. Because he said they would? Maybe. It’s more likely he knew where the path I was on was headed. It’s not where we say we’re going that makes all the difference, it’s where we’re actually going. Again, my friend’s text made me scratch my head. Have you ever read the bible and scratched your head? In Romans 12:6-8 there is a passage that used to make me scratch my head: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” (King James Version). Sounds good, right? But what in the world is Paul talking about?

Today I want to talk about prophecy or preaching and show and make a connection with another verse in this passage that clarifies things a bit. What is prophecy?  Prophecy in this case means prediction (scriptural or other). Sometimes we are able to predict accurately based on what the bible says as well as our life experience, our senses, etc.  “If you see someone headed for a cliff and they have no brakes, it’s not too hard to predict their future.” At the same time, if you see someone repeatedly taking the steps necessary to reach their goal, you can pretty well predict they will.

Again, it’s probably good to note that prophecy is based on evidence, be it scriptural or otherwise. Makes sense right? Sadly, there are people who know the bible from cover to cover yet use it as a sword to defend themselves and their philosophy. Their defensiveness and the fact they feel threatened are usually nothing more than evidence of insecurity and immaturity. I like to pray for these people rather than argue with them.  We need more people like these with firm beliefs and passion. But these types of people will never be truly effective until they gain a measure of self- control and discipline.

We need more people like these with firm beliefs and passion. But these types of people will never be truly effective until they gain a measure of self- control and discipline.

In fact, the prophesying Paul speaks of in this passage, directly addresses this very issue. If you read further along in the passage, Paul clarifies what it means to prophesy, he writes: “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.” (Romans 12:9, KJV). This is amazing to me! In our preaching, we tend to focus on how the truth applies to others. Paul knows this and he corrects this tendency by commanding us to focus on how the truth applies to us. It’s like Paul is saying: “Hey, Preacher (leader, Mom, Dad, boss, etc.) Be real, genuine, sincere in your love. Utterly defeat that which is evil. Glue yourself to the good and don’t let go. Take this medicine yourself before you go dishing it out to others.” The lesson is people need to see the truth being lived out as well as hear it. You know the addage: “Practice what you preach.”

Dissimulation is hypocrisy. Dissimulation is saying one thing and doing another when we think nobody is watching. Psalm 78:72 says of David: “So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hand.” David’s key character traits were character and competence. As leaders, we’d do well to follow his example. Gene Getz said it this way: “A man who is able to teach is a person who is not in bondage to himself.” We’re not talking about a man or woman who is perfect. We’re talking about someone who is perfectly honest…with themselves and others. The Word of God will offend people, but God forbid that I should be the source of offense as a minister of the New Testament. According to this passage, I am to receive the charge if I am to effectively preach to others.

There’s just something about the cleaning of the inside of the cup that makes the outside clean. Some of you have experienced this while doing dishes. If you’re a politically correct recycler, you wash the peanut butter or mayonnaise jar out with a dish rag. In the process, you really have to reach down in there and swirl the rag to get out the last dregs. What happens? You know what happens. By the time you are done washing out the inside, the outside sparkles! What happened? In the process of working on the inside, the cloth and your hand came in contact with the outside.

In retrospect, the more we attend to the receiving of God’s word, the greater the impact we’ll make in preaching. You can call it what you want, modeling, show and tell, discipleship, leadership. The point is the people we lead will only grow as much as we grow. Which leads to the question, are you growing? If so, what steps are you taking to become all you were made to be? The fact is we cannot teach others the truth without knowledge of it ourselves.

Besides the bible, there are two other good places to begin our journey.

1)Read. Read. And Read some more. Pat Morley wrote: “I’m often amazed at how a man will get a hold of a book and how God will use the book to get ahold of the man!”. The leaders I see making a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of others are readers. Remember the addage “readers are leaders.”

2) Study a man or woman who has been successful in your area of interest. This is a big one!  Notice I said ‘study’, not copy. Remember, we cleave to that which is good. We see Ruth doing this in the Old Testament with her mother-in law Naomi. Take six months to a year and follow….o.k, stalk….a great leader. Find out not just what they say and do, but how they think. The temptation is to follow many. Select one leader in the covey and focus on him or her. There’s a reason they’re successful, find out why.

When my friend texted me, he wasn’t just believing I was going to experience good luck. He knew the secret that when it comes to success, we make our own luck. If you are living your life based on principles rather than luck, you can be sure the results you’re looking for are on the way. Don’t change a thing. Keep planting continually and you will continually harvest a crop. Remember, there are seasons when you just keep planting the seed and God gives the increase. The other side of the success coin isn’t failure, it’s growth. You will fall, you will make mistakes, you will fail. But if you’ll allow God’s Word and God’s people to speak into your life before opening your mouth and living your life, then you’ll have something to say to others. Those are Paul’s words, not mine.

In the weeks to come, we’ll talk about ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership and mercy. I hope you’ll stick around to see what the bible teaches us about these subjects!

WHAT’S IN YOUR BOX?

Is There Something You're Missing?

Alzheimer’s. The word left Charlie’s mouth and hung in the air of the pick-up truck like the smoke of his many cigarettes. Charlie was my foreman during summer months while in college. Raised on a New England farm, groomed in the Navy and wizened by the school of ‘hard knocks’, Charlie taught me the value of life, people, family, and work. Years and years after this conversation, I went to visit Charlie at his home. He didn’t remember me but smiled and asked me if I wanted to see the boat he’d won at a raffle recently. Inside his home the large Navy air carrier in it’s display case, stretched from one side of the room to the other in its full glory.  I experienced the privilege of being in that room because of a commitment made years earlier.museum pic

I’m sharing this story because it’s a reminder to me that it’s the limits in life that make it magical. You see, I’d met Charlie because I made the decision to get inside of the box. There were beaches beckoning to me during those summers, noon-time sleep-ins, and long, lazy afternoons with friends, but I chose to work. And I’m glad I did. Those days were some of the toughest in my life up until that point. Inside the box, I ran a Jack Hammer for eight hours straight, some days….no exaggeration. To the older guys I was the ‘college kid’. You get the idea.

But the mantra today is to think outside the box, to live outside the box, to work outside the box, to do ministry outside the box. But whatever happened to working inside the box? Quite possibly, the world is waiting for some people to get back inside of the box. To love inside the box, to dream inside the box, to make love….Maybe in our attempt to be innovative, we’re traveling a well-worn highway, not a customized path. Maybe it’s time to go against the grain and get back inside the box.

The Book of Lamentations, chapter 3, verse 27  says: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” The implication is that restraints, boundaries, repetition and limits help, not hurt, people in their younger years.

Furthermore, Natural resources do better inside a box. Coal has no power unless it’s put in the box. Niagara Falls supplies tremendous amounts of light and energy but first it must get put in a box. Gasoline has awesome potential, but first it must be put inside the box.

Show me someone who has everywhere before them and I’ll show you someone who is making an impact nowhere. To make an impact, somewhere is our best destination, not anywhere. -Cory MacNeil

We all need a box. Acorns have to get inside the box. People live inside of the box. Employees submit to the box. And at the end of the day if we want people to know where we are, we choose to be buried in a box.

Forest Gump was wrong when he said: “Life is like a box of chocolates….you never know which one you’re gonna get.” Get inside the box and you’ll have an idea of what you’re going to get. Read the insert Forest. The Orange Caramel is right next to the English Nougat.

We spend so much time thinking outside of the box, that we forget the value of working inside the box. Like many areas of life it’s not a case of either/or, but both. Jesus told the story of two men. One said he would get inside the box and didn’t. The other man said he wouldn’t get inside the box, but did. Which one do you think Jesus blessed.

The box is healthy. Limitations are healthy. Rules are healthy as long as there is a relationship. Rules without relationship lead to rebellion. We don’t live in a random world based on chance and luck. We live in a world based on laws and principles. Thankfully, there are less train wrecks in the world and more meltdowns. Providence honors hard work over long periods of time. She also insures things usually fizzle out rather than blow up. Recognize the long downhill slide and you can get out of the boat before it hits the water.

A few personal boxes ensure health and well being. If you get inside the box and refuse to eat in the evening, you’ll experience greater freedom. If you get inside the box when your co-worker is disagreeable the quality of your relationship with them will improve over time rather than burst. It’s not commitment we need to fear, it’s our future we need to fear if we’re not willing to commit to some purpose greater than ourselves.

It is not commitment we need to fear, it’s our future we need to fear if we’re not willing to commit to some purpose greater than ourselves. -Cory MacNeil

One day after Elementary school I found that my Hermit Crab had crawled out of his shell. Parents teach kids that animals shouldn’t suffer. People can suffer and kids can suffer, but animals can’t. So, I did what any self-respecting kid would do. I ended the suffering. If I remember correctly there was a rock involved. In hindsight, I wonder what would have happened if I found my Hermit Crab a bigger shell. We’ll never fear the box once we realize that God can always give us a bigger box once we outgrow the one we’re in.

A man named Jabez prayed for a bigger box and God blessed his prayer. 2 Chronicles 4:10 says: “And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that Thou Wouldst bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested.” There is life and joy and peace inside the box that can’t be found anywhere else.

What if you believed the box you’re in is perfectly designed and suited for you at this very moment? In our pursuit of what’s outside the box we forget about what’s in the box and how God can use it if He so chooses! -Cory MacNeil

Two parents decided to teach their young son that there are tough realities in life, so they went to the garden center and bought him a bag of horse manure for his Birthday. On the big day as the family looked on, the grandmother held her nose and asked her grandson, “What did you get?  What did you get?” The young boy answered with excitement, “I don’t know, but I think there’s a pony in there somewhere!”

Friend, the circumstances in your box might smell pretty bad right now. Maybe you lost your job this week. Maybe the test results came back different than you’d hoped. Maybe your marriage or a close relationship is headed south and you’re holding on with every last bit of grit and resolve. Whatever the case, I promise you there’s a pony in there somewhere. I met a Charlie in the box and that made all the difference in the world. What’s in your box?

 

How Much Does it Cost?

Is There a Better Question?

A few weeks ago after inviting someone to church, I was asked the following question: “Is it free?”  Maybe you’ve had the same conversation with someone.  It wasn’t the first time for me.   However, I still found myself giving the usual answer, “YES!”  But this time, my response got me thinking.  Why do I tell people church is free, when it’s not.  Let me explain.

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Although, as churches we are able to offer our services at no cost to visitors, someone is still paying.  Let that sink in for a moment.  No, visitors don’t pay.  However, there have been many people who have paid over the years and continue to pay.  In fact, these payers don’t just pay, in some cases they sacrifice!

The same is true of our country.  Right?  We experience the freedom we have today because of the countless people who paid for it with their own lives.  Because of their sacrifice, we have opportunities that few others in the world have.

Maybe you’re not a pastor, but you have a business and you’ve also been thinking about a better response when people ask the- Is it free question?  Or ‘How much does it cost?”  I’d love to hear your responses on Facebook and Twitter.  In the meantime, here’s an optional response.  Are you ready?

What if we responded by saying: “I believe a better question is ‘What is it worth?’  This kind of question provides opportunities to make people think.  Is it worth having a better marriage?  Is it worth having peace day and night, three hundred and sixty five days a year?  Is it worth having kids who grow up with a good solid foundation and a genuine faith to get them through the hard years?

These types of questions all boil down to value.  When someone asks us ‘Is it free?”, they generally are wondering what the minimum requirements are.  And for good reason.  Everywhere you go today, people are charging.  The insurance man wants your money.  The hardware store wants your money.  The car dealer wants your money.  You get the idea.  So when people come to church, they are often thinking it all boils down to money.

Imagine responding to the ‘How much does it cost?” question by saying something like this.  Yes, it costs a fortune!  But we love you and your family and we’re willing to fit the bill so that you can get in on all that God has for you.  We don’t ask the question ‘How much does it cost?”  We ask the question “How much is it worth?”  And we believe you’re worth it.  We’re willing to sacrifice our own comfort for yours.  We’re willing to sacrifice our time so that you and your family have a place where you can come and grow!

O.K- sounds like we’re laying it on a little thick, right?  You don’t have to use my words.  Come up with your own response.  Word it as you see fit.  However you word it, the point is there is tremendous value in the products and services we have to offer our customers.  When we tell them it’s free, there’s a part of them that knows that’s not true.  Lets start telling them the truth and leave the rest up to God.

I hope you are challenged by the “Is it free question”!  Ponder it for awhile and see what happens.  You might be surprised.  And when it comes time for your next purchase, ask yourself the “What is it worth?” question.  For example, is the safe vehicle worth the price I’m paying so that my family will be safe?  How much is the media equipment upgrade worth so that we can improve our visual presentation every week?  You all know the answer.

Many times, our investments provide priceless returns.  After all, how do you put a price tag on safety?  How do you put a price tag on quality?  How do you put a price tag on a relationship?

Lets not forget the founder of our faith and the awesome price He paid so that we could have a life that matters.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  (John 3:16 KJV).

No, church is NOT free!  It costs a fortune, but….it’s worth it.

 

Go the Distance!

The #1 Reason People Succeed

As a pastor, I often meet people who are excited to make a change in their lives.  For awhile.  What usually happens is they find out that change doesn’t come easy and they drop out of the race.  Please, hear me out.  I’m not condemning anyone.  I’m all for change and the people who want it.  I just wish more people were successful.  It often saddens me to see people drop out of the race.

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Going the distance is NEVER easy.  Just ask anyone who’s tried.  I found this out personally when I started jogging three months ago.  All kinds of obstacles pop up.   There is the weather, aches and pains, fatigue, rationalizations….the list goes on and on.  In all honesty, some of the excuses are pretty good ones.

What if there’s an easier way.  I wish there was, but I’m sorry to tell you there isn’t!  That may sound harsh, but it’s true.  I have no EASY way to sell you.  If you’re going to achieve any amount of success and take your life to the next level, it’s going to take WORK.  The good news is once you realize this, business begins to pick up.

One thing you can do is anticipate the obstacles and have a game plan.  Don’t just assume the goal will come easy.  Put a plan in place to move through your challenges when they arise.  The best plan is to plan on running your course.  Determine ahead of time that you are going to go the extra mile.  Never forget that good things take time.  It may have taken you years to get into the mess you’re in now, so don’t expect a quick fix over night.  When I suggest spending time, I’m not suggesting a day or a week, or a month, we’re talking years!

We’ve all heard stories about persistence.  Maybe you’ve heard this one.  A man moved to California and bought mining equipment.  After mining for Gold awhile, unsuccessfully, he sold all of his equipment.  You can probably imagine what happened.  The guy who bought the equipment went to the same mine and drilled only a short distance before hitting the motherlode.  This simple story highlights the importance of going the distance.  Success rarely comes easy and when it does it tends to fade away quickly.

The truth is you never know how close you are to reaching your next milestone.  This principle applies to health, fitness, self-improvement, discipleship, leadership, etc.  As Jim Collins says: “It’s hard to get the fly-wheel moving, but once you do, momentum takes over.”

Ironically, the people achieving true success are usually the ones who look like they’re making very little or no progress at all.  They go to the gym on a regular basis, save money a little at a time,  read books and listen to weekly sermons and podcasts.  By all looks and appearances, you’d say these people are going nowhere quickly!

If you’re looking to achieve your dreams and move further faster in your life, don’t expect for a moment that you’ll only need this one post.  I encourage you to commit to an extended subscription, be it six months or a year.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t expect to fix all our your problems in one week.  If you’re going to progress, it’s going to take endurance.  Go the distance!

 

 

Welcome to My Blog!

Welcome to my new blog. My name is Cory MacNeil and my goal is to help you get to the next level in every area of your life. If you’re looking to move forward, this is the blog for you.

I plan to post at least once a week. Please feel free to leave comments. If you’re blessed, please share with your friends on social media.

Welcome aboard! Thank you for checking us out. I can’t wait for the journey.

Cory MacNeil