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Dr. King had a hope that was out of this world.Today, we remember the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—a man who sacrificed much to advance the causes of the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century.It was a time in history when most African Americans living in the states weren’t given their due as U.S. citizens or image bearers of God.After the Civil war in the late 19th century, Jim Crow laws were established in the south keeping them from accessing the same basic public goods (education, public facilities etc.) as whites living in their town. In addition, voting rights were limited by voter literacy tests that were clearly put in place by states as a means to prevent African Americans from getting to the polls each election cycle.But King saw all of this—a messy mass of racism, discrimination, and untold abuses of power—and still could somehow utter the words, “I Have a Dream.” His dream was founded on a scriptural understanding of justice and our response to the Kingdom of God at hand. In his famous, often quoted, ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, King referred back to the prophesies of old, calling for a day to come when justice would “roll on like a river” and righteousness like a “never failing stream” (Amos 5:24).For years, King paddled up that stream with the currents of culture and legal precedent pressing towards him. He dealt with insults, abuse, imprisonment, and ultimately death for the sake of the cause he cared for so deeply. Despite the many forces fighting against King and his companions, their relentless pursuit of justice ultimately gave way to many of the governmental and societal reforms they had hoped for.What about White Clergy?King had to push other (white) ...Continue reading...
Nehemiah 6:16 And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God. God did the work. The work had been from difficult […]
Nehemiah 6:12 And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. A “man of God” had come to condemn Nehemiah and his work. Nehemiah wanted to respect true men of God. He had to try the spirits to see […]
Nehemiah 6:10 Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in […]
Sanctification beyond Standards Perhaps you have heard the statement, “Jesus loves you just as you are, but He loves you too much to allow you to stay that way.”It's true. God loves us unconditionally, and He doesn't love us more or less based on if we are currently growing or backsliding. But He does call us to grow in Him.For this is the will of God, even your sanctification…—1 Thessalonians 4:3Sometimes I'm afraid we give the idea that sanctification is the process of developing more or “higher” Christian standards.Standards that are rooted in biblical principles are certainly part of how we live out the process of sanctification. But they aren't the starting place…or the ending place.So what are the ingredients for this biblical process of sanctification?1. Gospel MotivationFor the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.—2 Corinthians 5:14–15This isn't about us trying harder to white-knuckle our way with stronger discipline and higher standards. It is about us knowing Jesus and being compelled by His love.God calls us to grow in our knowledge of Him and in His grace.But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.—2 Peter 3:18Grace is the inner disposition of God in our hearts, and it motivates us to “both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).2. Holy Spirit ConvictionWe're not left to ourselves to figure out in what areas we need to grow. This isn't a process of trying to copy other Christians or measure up to random expectations.The Holy Spirit who indwells us (Ephesians 1:12) works in our hearts. He convicts us and shows us where we're wrong when we grieve Him.And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.—Ephesians 4:30Sometimes He does this in my life as I read His Word, sometimes through preaching, sometimes in a moment when I am displeasing Him.When the Holy Spirit convicts us, we can respond, or we can quench His voice.Quench not the Spirit.—1 Thessalonians 5:19We grow in grace as we respond to the Holy Spirit's conviction.3. Biblical ApplicationThe Bible is God's gift to us for this process, and it is central to it.All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:—2 Timothy 3:16Doctrine teaches us what is right. The Bible gives clear direction on what is right and wrong. If we want to believe and walk in truth, we must spend time in God's Word. One of the outflows of that will be developing personal standards based on biblical convictions from God's Word.Reproof points out where we are wrong. The Holy Spirit often uses His Word to convict us of sin and point out where we are grieving Him.Correction leads us how to get right. God's Word does more than just condemn wrongdoing; it shows us how we can gain restored fellowship with God and begin living a purified life.Instruction teaches us how to go forward on the right path. Through His Word, God nurtures and cultivates His likeness in our lives (2 Peter 1:4).Do you want to grow in sanctification this year?You need motivation, conviction, and application.Let the love of Christ in the gospel motivate you. Respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Increase your personal application of God's Word.
Cultivating Your Heart for Revival Revival is more than simply having a special guest preacher and a few extra nights of meetings. True revival is a work of the Holy Spirit. That is why Habakkuk prayed, “…O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years…” (Habakkuk 3:2).Revival Will Come When We Recognize Our NeedDo you ever get discontent with your spiritual progress? Do you ever hunger for something more from God, or sense conviction from the Holy Spirit that things are not what they should be or could be? As long as you and I are content to keep the status quo spiritually—as long as we think we are doing fine—revival will not come.Denial of our true condition is a major obstacle to revival. Real revival will not come until we reach the place where we cannot and will not ignore the truth of our spiritual condition. The simple fact is: if we never take time to let God speak to our hearts, and show us our need, we will never experience revival.Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.—Psalm 139:23–24Revival Will Come When We Confess Our SinRevival is held back when God's people refuse to get right with Him. How can the Spirit of God freely work when our hearts are pre-occupied with other things? David understood this and sought the Lord's cleansing and restoration in Psalm 51:10–13.Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.I am constantly amazed at God's grace in my life. He truly is patient and longsuffering with me and is always, always, ready to hear my cries for mercy and forgiveness—when I repent and confess my sin to Him.For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.—Isaiah 57:15Did you notice? God will revive the spirit of the humble and the heart of the contrite ones. We often quote 1 John 1:9 which says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But we often forget the verse begins with the word if and that is the great pivoting point. No confession—no forgiveness and no reviving of the heart.The importance of confession is seen in 2 Chronicles 7:14 as well.If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.Will revival come? Yes, I believe it will, but only to those who are of humble hearts and willing to confess and forsake their sin.Revival Will Come When We Ask for ItWhen we are confronted with our sin, the devil tries to keep us from moving toward God. He tries to hinder us even after we have fully and honestly confessed our sin and received God's forgiveness. Remember the words of David? “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” David understood that a clean heart needs the joy of God once again.Jeremiah 29 has one of my favorite passages of encouragement. It reveals God's message to Israel at a time when they were going to be chastened for their sin. God extends to His people—including you and me—an offer of His presence and renewed Spirit:For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord:—Jeremiah 29:11–14We need revival, and I believe God is ready to send it when He hears our prayers lifted up to Him and sees our seeking hearts. Paul wrote to the believers at Philippi, “That I may know Him.” That should be our cry and heartbeat.God invites you and me to see what He can do in us, through us, and for us.Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.—Jeremiah 33:3Revival Will Come When We Are in the Place of RevivalAnd let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.—Hebrews 10:24–25
4 Elements of an Effective Biblical Apology People are dangerous! Our sinfulness often brings with it the capacity to hurt others. We hurt one another with the words we say and with the things we do or forget to do. Sometimes we injure our relationships with others through carelessness or negligence. When this happens, we need to learn to find the grace to forgive as the Lord has commanded us to do.Forgiveness is one of the great themes of the Christian faith. We learn from the Bible that God has forgiven our sins and that He expects us to pass along that same forgiveness to others. Forgiveness, though sometimes very hard to do, is absolutely necessary in order for our personal relationships to stay strong. It grows us into the image of Christ and frees others and ourselves from the bondage of bitterness and resentment.No doubt many of us have heard numerous sermons, Sunday School lessons, and devotions on the subject of forgiveness. It is important to realize, however, that there is not only a scriptural obligation on the part of an offended party to forgive, but there is also a responsibility on the part of the offender to make things right.It is a universal experience to be hurt, to be offended, or to suffer injury in a personal relationship—everyone knows this pain. Husbands at times say things to hurt their wives; wives now and then hurt their husbands. Parents, children, friends, and associates all know the bitter sting of being falsely accused, taken advantage of, or hurt in other ways. However, it is also true that it is a universal experience to cause offense. Our selfishness and insensitivity frequently injure others. Any time human beings live near each other, they will most likely hurt each other.Intentionally or unintentionally, we are dangerous. We get hurt. We put up barriers. We distance ourselves from those who have hurt us, and—if we are not careful—we let bitterness and resentment grow in our hearts. To prevent this, we need to learn to forgive, and we need to learn to apologize. Apology is often the forgotten responsibility when people hurt other people, but apology and forgiveness are the hand-in-glove requirements for damaged human relationships to be properly restored. The problem is that both of these things are hard on our pride. The only thing in this world more difficult than forgiving someone is asking someone to forgive you. An apology is the highway that must be paved for forgiveness to travel.We can learn a great deal about biblical apology from David. In Psalm 51, we get a glimpse into the heart of this man of God after he had committed an array of unimaginable sins. His heart was broken, and he knew he had damaged his relationship with his Heavenly Father. So David—in a desire to restore the joy and intimacy he once enjoyed with God—offers a sincere apology to God. From David's confession we can learn four elements of an effective biblical apology.1. Remorse and RegretThe starting place for a biblical apology is expressing remorse and regret. When our actions hurt people, the injured party needs to know that we are remorseful—that we can identify with their injury.We can encapsulate this principle in three simple words: “I am sorry.” Saying these words can go a long way in healing another's heart.It is impossible to miss David's remorse over his actions: “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:2–3). David was truly sorry for what he had done, and he wanted God to know it. He recognized his actions hurt others, and he sincerely acknowledged that to the Lord.An apology cannot stand alone, though. It must be coupled with true contrition. It was David's words spoken with humility that God took notice of in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” A flippant apology only adds to the damage. It is a second insult. An injured party does not want to be compensated because they have been wronged; they want to be healed because they have been hurt. Only a sincere apology can heal the hurting. It is important that we do not offer excuses for our actions, that we ask nothing in return, and that we are specific in our apology.It may not be enough to simply say, “I am sorry.” The offended party is healed by hearing that you know specifically what you did that hurt them. If you lost your temper with someone and said hurtful words to them, your apology needs to recognize this. It would sound something like this: “I am sorry for losing my temper today and saying things I should not have said. I realize my words were hurtful, and that is not the kind of person I want to be.” Expressing remorse with a contrite spirit is something we all need to learn to do.2. ResponsibilityThe second component of an effective biblical apology is encapsulated in saying the three most difficult words known to mankind: “I was wrong.” These words take us beyond remorse to responsibility.David not only was remorseful for what he had done, but he also accepted full responsibility for his actions. He said in Psalm 51:3, “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.” David acknowledged his sins and admitted they deserved judgment.This step is vital. The admission of failure holds the potential to bring true change in our hearts. Saying “I was wrong” takes courage because we are afraid of what the admission of guilt will bring. But leaving outcomes up to God is an important part of growing up in Christ. Admitting guilt also requires humility, trust in the Lord, and maturity. It is a function of integrity—admitting I am not the person I want to be, but I am still trying to get there.3. ReconciliationThe third step in offering an effective biblical apology is learning to say, “Will you forgive me?” Expressing remorse communicates that you understand you hurt someone. Admitting that you were wrong is owning responsibility. But saying “Will you forgive me?” brings reconciliation. Years ago I learned that when I had offended my wife, in order for her heart to fully rest again, it helped her to hear me ask if she would forgive me. This is because these words are more than a question; they are also a statement. They say to the offended party, “I want our relationship to be restored; you are important to me; and my pride will not stand in the way of my love for you.”These three phrases combined say to the injured party that there is still hope. “I am not finished growing, I have not given up on myself, and I don't want you to give up on me either.” Alexander Pope said, “A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong; he is merely saying that he is wiser today than yesterday.” And, I might add, that there is still hope for our tomorrow. One of life's greatest failures is not admitting that you have failed. No one has ever choked to death on the words, “I am sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?”David cried out for reconciliation to God when he asked the Lord not to cast him away from His presence. His relationship with God was more important than anything else in his life.4. RepentanceThe first three components could be communicated with words, but this fourth component is an action. True repentance is the final component to an effective biblical apology. It will never be enough to simply apologize. As sinful and dangerous people, we also need to change. Repenting not only recognizes that what we did was wrong, but it also expresses a desire to do right.We owe it to the people we love to be at our best for them. An apology is a desire to continue growing. It is the best way to keep a contrite heart and not be at odds with the Lord. An apology is required to safeguard the important relationships in our lives, and it is necessary to do what's right!
This January marks Terrie's and my thirty-third New Year at Lancaster Baptist Church. A few weeks ago, we were able to host several families from our church who were here when we came or who we were able to lead to the Lord in those first couple years. Their faithfulness over the decades is such an encouragement to us.In this season of the year, when many of us are focused on our newly-set goals and investing our energy in developing new habits, it's easy to overlook the obvious—that there is great value in consistency and faithfulness over time.We all know that God blesses faithfulness, but sometimes we forget how significant those blessings are. Here are five blessings that come through faithfulness:1. Faithfulness Develops FaithWhen you think back to what challenged your faith in the earliest days of your walk with the Lord compared to what challenges it now, usually you can see growth.This is because faithfulness is an exercise of faith. And faith is a muscle that grows over time. Do you want more faith? Keep being faithful.As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.—Colossians 2:6–72. Faithfulness Proves the Reality of GodWhen a Christian continues forward despite opposition and setbacks, it sends a powerful message to others that God is trustworthy and able to sustain those who follow Him.Think of Paul and Silas and the Philippian jailer. The jailer didn't ask, “What must I do to be saved?” in Paul's first days of ministry at Philippi. It was after the jailer watched Paul and Silas' response to persecution and their steadfastness through it that he asked them for spiritual help.Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?—Acts 16:29–303. Faithfulness Builds Families and RelationshipsWhat a blessing it has been over the years to see families in our church who have remained faithful to the Lord and stayed in the church where God was working in their lives. I've watched God strengthen marriages and develop the spiritual roots of young people through parents who have remained faithful.Faithfulness also build relationships within the church. As you serve the Lord with the same people year after year, the depth of friendship and fellowship in that relationship grows.Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.—Hebrews 10:254. Faithfulness Gives a Clear ConscienceWhen you are faithful even if your service for the Lord doesn't have the visible results you desired, even if circumstances go differently than you hoped, you can have a clear conscience. And you can know God is working in ways you cannot see.And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house,—Acts 20:205. Faithfulness Produces FruitNo farmer quits in disappointment at not seeing crops the day after he plants his fields. He knows it takes time. Similarly, fruit in the Christian life—both the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of souls—takes time to multiply. And those who are faithful reap the benefit of seeing it developed.And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.—Galatians 6:9
As our Lord is coming to the close of His earthly life and ministry, He shares a meal with His closest followers, girds Himself with a towel, draws a bason of water, and kneels to wash the feet of His friends. It is a wonderful lesson on humility that convicts me each time that I read it. It is my desire to be that kind of a servant.As we consider John 13 and John's account of this impactful event, I think it is important that we not overlook the very first verse of the chapter. I believe it holds a key to why Christ did what He did with that towel and bason of water. In that verse we read these words: “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” Jesus served these people because He loved them!Many years ago I was concerned about a man who had accepted a pastorate. At the time, this man was not a very gifted pulpiteer. A friend commented to me, “He doesn't have to be a great preacher as long as he is a good lover. People will put up with poor preaching if they get good loving.” I have never forgotten that statement, and I have tried, for more than thirty years, to be sure that my people have received “good loving.”We can determine in our hearts to serve, and we can run on that fuel for a while. Inevitably, serving will become laborious and we will eventually find ourselves operating on fumes. The alternative to that motivation is to love God and love people. If you love God, you will find joy in serving Him. Likewise, if you love people, you will want to serve them. Kneeling down at someone's nasty feet is not such a difficult task, if you love the people to whom those feet are attached.Jesus operated from a heart of love. He genuinely cared. He did not weep at Lazarus' grave because Lazarus was dead. He wept because Mary and Martha were broken-hearted and He loved Mary and Martha. Jesus did not have to force Himself to spend time with the crippled man by the Pool of Bethesda, He approached that man because He cared about him. Jesus had to go to Samaria. He did not have to go because He was making Himself go, He had to go because there was a woman there for whom He cared.I would rather be good at loving people than to be a good preacher, a good administrator or a good supervisor. It is compassion that makes a difference, not so many things that we think make us more effective. Love is powerful. Love is impactful. Love is necessary. However, there is more to this passage than just the statement that Jesus loved the people. The Bible states, “…He loved them unto the end.”Too often, we claim to love people, and we do love them as long as they behave like we think they should. Over the years, I have seen many ministry workers who obviously loved the loveable. As long as those to whom they ministered “toed the line,” they were quick to express their love to them. Thank God, that was not how Jesus loved.Jesus loved unto the end. Of whom was John 13:1 speaking? It was speaking of His disciples, including Judas. He did not love them as long as they did the right thing. He loved them unto the end. He did not love them as long as they dressed a certain way, walked a certain way, talked a certain way, or lived a certain way. He loved them unto the end. He did not love them as long as they kept the rules at the Christian school. He loved them unto the end. He did not love them as long as they took a stand for what was right. He loved them unto the end.Yes, Jesus loved them unto the end of His earthly life, (and beyond). He also loved them unto the end of themselves. When they came to the end of the dead-end road that led them away from the Saviour, He still loved them. Much like the father loved the Prodigal when he had gone as far away from home as his conscience would allow him to go. From the pig pen, the wayward son knew that his father loved him.When our young people disappoint us and rebel against all they have ever been taught, may they know unto the end, that they are loved. When our church members allow temptation to overcome them and sin to take up residence in their hearts and lives, may they know unto the end, that they are loved. When those in whom we have invested the most seem to appreciate it the least, may they know unto the end, that they are loved. May we love them the way we will want to be loved if we walk away. May we love them the way we will want someone to love our son or daughter if they are overtaken in a fault.Over the past three decades, I have been let down too many times to count. People for whom I had the highest hopes have driven me to some of my deepest disappointments. I have watched some of our Christian school graduates make tragic decisions that have destroyed their lives. I have watched faithful church members walk away from the Lord in betrayal, and in some cases, denial. Again and again I have felt so helpless. I have felt that there is nothing that I can do to make any difference whatsoever. Then I am reminded of John 13:1. There is something that I can do. I can love them unto the end!
I was amused when I read a prediction offered in 1962 that reported by 1985, technology would have made so many advances, that the average workweek would be twenty-two hours, and we would only work twenty-seven weeks a year. Our biggest problem would be what to do with so much leisure time! How did that work out for you?When we think of the New Year, we consider our resolutions for changing our behavior and enjoying success going forward. Sadly, we recall that some of our resolutions are repeats from last year. Ephesians 5:15–17 is a passage that can help us in ordering our priorities and establishing our direction for 2019, and I believe there are three truths that God would have us to consider.See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.—Ephesians 5:15–171. Our Time on Earth Is LimitedGod reminds us of this truth in Psalm 39:4: “LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.”I remember (barely) in my teen years, that I thought seventy years old was just shy of eternity! Now as I quickly close in on that important landmark, it seems like such a brief journey. Everything depends on perspective, and we are to have a measured perspective. We do not have endless days or multiple lives to be obedient Christians, great spouses, godly parents, and loyal friends. We have a measured number of days. In Psalm 90:12, the Lord gives us more to consider: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”Several years ago, I read an article entitled “Dead Ahead.” It described a new clock that was being sold for $99.99. The Dead Ahead clock kept track of how much time you had left in your life. It was programmed for seventy-five years for men and eighty years for women. Every day when you got up and every evening before you pillowed your head, you could see how much time remained in your pilgrimage on earth. I hope the goal was to inspire wise living—not eat, drink, and be merry living! We as believers should not even boast of tomorrow, for we know our days are numbered and to be used wisely, which leads us to our next principle.2. Make the Most of Every Worthwhile OpportunityPaul told us to redeem the time, because the times in which we live and the world in which we live is evil. One of the shades of meaning of that word evil is the thought of being worthless. We live in days when people spend their time, energy, and resources on worthless pursuits—things that do not matter and will not last. We as believers are to live lives that are worthwhile! Satan is a thief and his desire is to steal the best years, the best desires, the best goals of our lives and move us toward the worthless.Part of redeeming the time is carefully recognizing that we are to seize every opportunity to learn of Jesus. If we are not wise, we can miss what Mary saw. Martha was busy and cumbered with much that was good to do, but she was not careful about attending to the best.When our lives become a flurry of activity without time dedicated to sitting at the feet of Jesus, we have allowed Satan to steal something very important from us. Jesus taught us that we cannot live by bread alone, but that we need every word that comes from the Lord. We must be careful to redeem the time, but we must seize the most worthwhile opportunities in our lives. In our world, it is easy to be overcome with commitments, information, and possessions, but we must make wise choices. To make wise choices requires us to understand the final principle.3. Understand What the Will of the Lord IsI would never suggest that I know what the will of God is specifically for anyone's life but my own. I would, however, make one suggestion for all of us about discovering and doing His will in the New Year. Make your greatest priority your relationship with the Lord. Making your relationship with the Lord your number one priority will find you prioritizing church attendance, devotional time, family time, and even spending and giving practices. When our relationship with the Lord becomes our number one priority, it is amazing how our whole perspective on life falls into a worthwhile pattern.Robert E. Lee guided his life with the phrase, “Carpe Diem!” or “Seize the day!” Let's seize the day, the year, the life—but let us add to that thought: “Seize the day to the glory of God!”
I hope you've made time over the past week or so to prayerfully evaluate needed areas of growth in your life and set some goals for this New Year. Setting goals, however, is the easy part; living them out in day-sized pieces over the coming year is the challenge.So, how should our large goals filter into our daily to-do lists?The answer lies in our God-given roles. A role is a divine assignment—a set of responsibilities placed into your life by God.We all have multiple roles which God has assigned to us. I have learned that the best way for me to be sure that my daily priorities match my responsibilities is to remember my roles and list my priorities by them. I then review these roles on a daily basis. (Of course, my roles in life have grown and shifted over the years, so this is not an exercise to do once and be done with. I pause at least annually to review my core roles.)My current roles are as follows:Child of GodHusband/householdFather/familyPreacher/teacherPastorCollege presidentEquipper—writing/missionsI have found that making these roles the determining factors of my daily tasks is the difference between a day when I'm spinning my wheels all day and one in which I am making focused progress toward my core responsibilities. Sometimes it is the difference between getting lots done that doesn't matter and fulfilling the calling God has on my life in that day.So what are your roles? Take a few moments as you move into this new year to evaluate the big-picture responsibilities God has given you by role.List your roles for daily reference.And then use that list daily, or at least weekly, as you are determining your upcoming to-dos.On any given day or week, there are many things calling for our attention. We must be sure that we are giving time and attention to each of the roles which God has given to us.
Living in Spiritual Victory We find written in the Word of God the words, “He brought them out that He may bring them in.” This statement refers to the children of Israel. They were delivered from Egyptian bondage. The purpose for their deliverance was not that they might wander in the desert, but that they may enter into the promised land. The desert wandering was an unnecessary detour. God does not desire for us to wander in the desert but to have victory in the promised land.Victory for the child of God is accomplishing the will of God for his life. Jesus said in John 4:34, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.” Meat represents satisfaction and sustenance. Thus, Jesus was saying that the thing which will bring joy or a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment is to do the will of God and to finish His work.Too often people are delivered from the power of sin (thank God for this!); however, they really never get involved in the work of God. Churches often come out of a liberal denomination (this is the right thing to do); however they never really go on to minister to the community where they are located nor to the world through a great missionary program.The purpose of God for Israel was not just to get them out of Egypt. His purpose was to get them into the promised land.Missionaries often leave America and go to another country but, regrettably, never really get into the country. Oh, geographically they are in another country; however, they really never enter into the life of the people of the country in which they are located. It is sad to say, but too many missionaries leave their hearts somewhere other than where they are ministering.Let's determine to go into the promised land this year. We have been saved, now let us go on to a victorious Christian life. By the way, the victorious Christian life is not success (whatever that may be) but obedience to God's command. Many of us independent Baptists have come out of liberal denominations. It does us no good to spend the rest of our days bragging about it. Let's go in! God has a great work for us to do. It is regrettable but true that many who come out, never really go in. This is sad and a disgrace. It is a sin!During the tenure of Oliver Cromwell the British government began to run low on the silver they used for coins. Lord Cromwell sent his men to investigate the local cathedral to see if any of the precious metal could be found there. After investigating they reported, “The only silver we could find was the statues of the saints standing in the corner.” To this the radical soldier and statesman of England replied, “Good! We will melt the saints and put them into circulation.”May the fervent heat of the Holy Spirit melt us and put us into circulation among the lost and dying multitude. God has brought us out. Let's not be satisfied with the desert. Let's go into the promised land. God desires to put you, your church, and your organization in a place of useful service which is the Christian's promised land.
There's nothing like a new year to renew our passion for growth and excellence.I think, however, that in our haste to set new goals sometimes we miss careful evaluation of where we're really at currently in some of the key areas of life.Before you decide what goals to set, I encourage you to evaluate where in your life new goals are most needed.The list below is one I developed several years ago during a challenging life season when I realized that I had not been stewarding the various aspects of my life well. While I was fully committed to Christ and His calling, I wasn't managing my health, energy, and various areas of my life like I should have been.This list helped me realign my thinking and planning. I hope it can be a help to you now as you begin a new year.You may even want to score yourself on a 1–5 scale, or give yourself a letter grade in each area. Then choose a few areas in which you score low to focus your goals.1. Walk with God—This is the single most important aspect of your life, and it relates to your most vital role in life—child of God. Anything you do to develop and enrich your personal walk with God is time well spent.2. Identity—Identity and legacy have become buzzwords in our generation. As Christians, however, stewarding our identity means remembering that who we are and what we do is a reflection on Christ. In fact, the identity God has given us to steward is the very identity of Christ, for at salvation, He placed us “in Him.”3. Family—Next to our salvation, our family is the most valuable gift God has given us. Cherish your spouse, and make time for your children. The needs of your family are as important as any other needs calling for your attention, although your spouse and children rarely press on your time with the urgency of other demands.4. Time—Time is like money in the sense that we can waste it, spend it, or invest it. We all have the same amount of time, but unless we steward it for God, we will come to the end of our lives with nothing eternal to show for our time. The best way to steward our time is to invest it in that which makes a difference for eternity.5. Health—We live in a fallen world and should not expect perfect health, nor should we make health an idol in our lives. But we should steward the health God has given us by taking care of our bodies so we can serve Him with as strong health as is possible. 6. Finances—The way we steward our finances indicates our most passionate interests. Wise financial stewardship begins when we recognize that everything we have belongs to God, and He has entrusted it to us to provide for our needs and invest in His work. 7. Relationships—God did not design us to walk the Christian life alone. He created us with a need for Christian fellowship to help encourage us in our pursuit of Him. A true and godly friendship is a precious gift from God, and we must intentionally invest in Christ-honoring relationships.8. Faith—When God allows difficulties in our lives, He gives with them the grace we need to grow in faith and give that faith to Him. Growth in faith is something we should pursue in every season of life.9. Thoughts—Left unchecked, stress and worry overcome our thoughts, rule our emotions, and compromise our health. Stewarding thoughts is a process of learning to think biblically in stressful times. It is the grace-enabled decision to fix our minds on Christ and allow His Word to filter our thoughts.10. Leadership and Influence—Regardless of your title or your position on a flow chart, you have an opportunity to influence every life with whom you come in contact. Stewarding your influence is choosing to purposefully invest yourself in the lives of others.11. Testimony—It's not nearly as important what others think about us as it is what they think about Christ because of our lives. Stewarding our testimony is accepting the responsibility that comes with bearing the name of Christ. It is choosing to base our lifestyle and habits on the truths of God's Word.12. Witness—The truth of the gospel is a precious gift which God has committed to our trust. If we are not stewarding the gospel by sharing it with others, we are not stewarding our lives at all. Stewarding the gospel is, in fact, at the core of every Christian's life purpose.I'm sure none of us consistently hit the mark of perfect balance and growth in all twelve of these areas. But taking time to consider how we are doing in them is helpful.And regular review of these areas helps keep us from getting tunnel vision in just one or two areas and to ask the Lord to help us keep growing as well-rounded Christians with a commitment to steward every area of our lives for Him.(All twelve of these areas are more thoroughly covered in the book Stewarding Life, and a simple list version is included for regular review in the Stewarding Life Planner.)
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.—Luke 2:7Have you ever been invited for a special event, only to find out that there was no space for you to sit at the table? I can remember many times being invited as a guest to a dinner event or speaking conference, but somehow the host did not have a spot for me to sit! Once they figured this out, the host would tell his coordinator, “Please make room for Mr. Fong.” Here, we see one of the most disturbing moments of human history. Our Lord Jesus entered into this world by way of a virgin birth, and was placed in an animal manger, or cave stall, because, “There was no room for them in the inn.” It is extremely important that we make room for Jesus!Make Room for Jesus in Your DevotionDevotion is what we give our heart's affection, love, and worship to. Matthew 6:33 instructs us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. First Timothy 2:1 instructs us that, prayers, supplications, and the giving of thanks be made to God. No man can serve two masters: you will hate the one and love the other. Give your heart devotion to Jesus. Don't let the day's distractions keep you from coming to a church worship service to worship God with your best. Don't let a busy schedule leave you with no room for time with God in His Word and prayer. Make room for Jesus in your devotion.Make Room for Jesus in Your Decisions“Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established” (Proverbs 16:3). Life is made up of many decisions. There are big and little decisions. However, every decision should include the Lord. How will this decision give God the glory? How will this decision result in people hearing the gospel? How will this decision help me be the kind of person God wants me to be? Proverbs 16:3 helps us understand the practical importance of making room in every decision for the Lord.Make Room for Jesus in Your Donations“There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty” (Proverbs 11:24). Someone has said, “Giving to God is a grace: not giving to God is a disgrace.” It is very expensive to live in California. We establish a financial budget in order to not overspend, and to be able to save. However, much of our budgeting leaves God and His work out. There is no room for giving! Make room for giving by being a tither! Make room for giving by including special church offerings. Giving to God should be planned, but it should also be spontaneous.Make Room for Jesus in Your DependabilitySomeone has said that the best ability is availability. We can be available when we are dependable. As a Christian, be dependable in your witness and testimony. Carry tracts with you and be conscious of witnessing to people along the way. As a church member, always be a volunteer for service in the church. The church is always in need of more volunteers. The church and the pastor are always in need of more workers and helpers. The priorities of the church are everyone's priorities. It is wrong to cherry-pick the areas of help that only interest you. We should be dependable in anything and everything.The night that Jesus entered this world, there was no room in the inn. God came in the flesh, and there was no room. Make room for the most important Person: the Lord Jesus Christ!
Busyness Will Rob You of Joy And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.-Isaiah 35:10“I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?), down in my heart (where?), down in my heart. I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?) down in my heart to stay.” We listen to the children sing this cute song and smile, and often we enjoy the motions and tune out without considering what the words really mean to us.Joy is a godly inner attitude that applies to us as Christians even when we are busy. Does the word busy sum up your life? Busyness is a compilation of actions, and hurried is the attitude that flows out of that action. As women, we are multi-talented and multi-taskers. The housework is ever present. The children are calling our name. Time with our husband is due. An outside job crowds our life. We often volunteer in the community, and our church commitments await us. All this busyness can certainly rob us of the joy that should accompany our everyday lives.The devil knows if he can steal our joy then eventually he can be victorious in our lives. The devil is the joy thief, and he often comes to us dressed in the garment of busyness. Proverbs 19:2 reminds us, “He that hasteth with his feet sinneth.”Most of us do all we can to prevent a thief from entering our home. We lock our doors. We set an alarm. We put away valuables. Keeping our physical possessions from being stolen by a thief is very important, but how much more important it is for us to protect our spiritual treasures. Let's take a few minutes and see how busyness affected the life of Jesus.1. Jesus was busy, but never too hurried to pray. “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). We often have our public life in order, but what about our prayer life? Get up on time and read your Bible and pray each morning. This prepares your heart for the day. We often snooze the clock one too many times and skip our much-needed intimate time with God. Jeremiah 15:16 says, “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” God's Word is our everyday nourishment, not just medicine for emergencies. Be consistent and don't miss your appointment with the Lord. Keep a journal of what you read and how it speaks to your heart. Meditate on what you have read during the day. Psalm 1:2b, “In his law doth he meditate day and night.”Pray faithfully and consistently. Dwell on such verses as John 16:24 and 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Keep a prayer journal. If you write down your requests, it will help you remember whom to pray for and their specific needs. It is very important to pray for others and not just ourselves and our family.2. Jesus was busy, but never too hurried to wait on the Father's timing. Frequently, we get caught in traffic on the interstate, and we use our GPS to navigate around that traffic. Our philosophy is that we would rather be moving than sitting in traffic even if it is not a shorter route. That is not God's philosophy concerning our lives. Activity is no substitute for spirituality. Wait on God, and He will give you peace about your indecisive situation. Too often, we act thinking that we must “do it now,” and we miss God's blessing due to being in a rush for an answer.3. Jesus was busy, but never too hurried for sinners. If you are like our family, you shop at certain stores every week. We hurriedly rush in, get what we need, stand in a checkout line longer than we had planned, get on our cell phone and try to explain why we will be late to the person that is waiting on us, and we forget that we are to reach the people that God has put in our path.The quote goes, “Others, Lord, yes others, let this my motto be. Let me live for others that I may live like Thee.” Depend on the Holy Spirit for leadership and guidance in your everyday life. Share your personal testimony with others. Let's not be ashamed to talk and walk our Christianity.4. Jesus was busy, but never too hurried for children (Mark 10:13-16). We desire to have children, and then we rush through their lives leaving them without proper parenting. We wouldn't admit it, but we are so busy that we don't even have time for the precious treasure that the Lord has so richly blessed us with. Do everything possible to prevent your family from feeling the hurriedness that comes with your busy life.Has the “Joy Thief” visited you lately? Let's all use preventive measures to keep him from entering our lives! “I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?), down in my heart to stay!”
At Christmastime, our church holds many special Christmas services—including “The Journey of Christmas” event with live drama and a gospel message.And we're not alone in this. All around the world, churches are holding special services and events with the express purpose of sharing the gift of the gospel with people who do not yet know Christ.Our church family has worked diligently to invite guests—their family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, as well as reaching into every home in our community with a personal invitation. And we pray that guests do indeed come.But what then?Here are five gifts I pray every guest who comes to our campus will find:1. LoveI pray that each guest will sense warmth and acceptance and through it see the love of Christ.There will be people who serve on our hospitality team who will welcome them with a smile and cookies and hot chocolate. But the place a guest will really find (or not find) love and acceptance is at their seat—the person sitting next to them.If you, during this Christmas season, find a guest next to you or near you, welcome him or her. Give the warmth and acceptance you want others to show any guest you may bring.2. AweI hope our guests will sense the awe of our church family over the Christmas story.I want them to see that this isn't old to us. It isn't just an event we “put on” to get them in. It's real, and it's awe-inspiring—that God would come to live with us.3. Christian MusicOur choir and orchestra isn't singing and playing to impress, but to magnify Christ.Some of the songs will even be the same as someone will have heard at the mall at some point this season. (Christmas carols are amazing like that.) But if we are doing it right, it won't really be the same. It will be so different. It will come from a choir and a congregation truly worshipping Jesus—not just singing familiar words. I pray our guests sense the greatness of God through our worship.4. Bible PreachingWho knows but that this might be the only time any single guest hears preaching. I want it to be full of Scripture and to point them to Christ.This will be my thirty-third year to preach Christmas messages, and each year, my understanding of God's grace through Christmas grows. I don't study less with each passing year, but more.5. SalvationThis is the gift—the unspeakably wonderful, miraculous gift—of Christmas. God humbled Himself to come to us, be born in a manger, give His life on the cross to pay for our sins, and was raised again. Today, He offers salvation as a free gift, and He uses us—His people—to share this gift with the world.I pray that each special service, each act of love, each moment of awe, each song, each message, each effort of God's people will lead toward someone receiving Christ this Christmas.
God Works through the Seasons of Our Lives The Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons can be a combination of great joy and, oddly, some melancholy. They mark the coming and going of not only the literal seasons of fall to winter, but they also mark the passing of seasons in our lives. My wife commented to me as we were decorating the house recently, “I miss the days when our little ones opened presents that were under the tree.”You see, we have come to the gift card stage of life, because Papaw and Mamaw are not with it enough to know exactly what to buy. It is just a little less exciting to hand cash or an Amazon gift card to our children and grandchildren, rather than a beautifully wrapped gift that we can watch them rip through in a matter of seconds. In my morning meditation, God brought this beautiful verse to mind:To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:—Ecclesiastes 3:1In doing so, the Lord reminded me of two great truths: everything in life has a season, and every season in life has a purpose.To Everything There Is a SeasonA season has a beginning place and an ending place, which are not always easily perceived. Summer kind of slides into fall, and there are days when you are not sure which it is. You love the coming of fall, but you hate the turning loose of summer.Inevitably, the change occurs and the new season comes. You can't stop it because God has ordained it. You can bemoan it, fret about it, get bitter at it; but friend, you cannot stop it. Everything has a season. Some seasons are easier to love than others, but all have highs and lows.There is a time to be born! What a season of joy, of promise, of excitement! That new child learns, grows, loves, and achieves, but he is in the process of leaving when he arrives. Our being born ensures our dying. That is not so attractive. Not because we fear eternity—our hope is in Christ! But because we sorrow at the separation.There is a time to weep. There are no lives that are not touched with trials and a measure of sorrow. But weeping is also a part of a season, a part that gives way to laughter—laughter that would not be appreciated were it not for the weeping. I love God's promise in Ecclesiastes 3:11 to make everything beautiful in His time.Every season has highs and lows, but every season in the life of a believer will ultimately be made beautiful by a loving God. I love summer. I enjoy walking outdoors, fishing, and grilling out. I love daylight until 9:00 in the evening, and baseball and all that summer is. At times, I regret yielding to fall. But then God paints the mountain slopes with orange, red, and brown; and that cool morning air invigorates. Thanksgiving comes, and I think how can anything be better than fall?I regret when the fall season ends and hard old winter comes on. But then, God does something! He puts a fire in the fireplace, erases the color of the leaves, and paints the trees white and glistening with snow and ice. Then He does His greatest work: He closes school for a snow day, and you sled and walk at night when things are so quiet you hear the silence. Then God brings Christmas, and I say how could God be so good to give us such a wonderful season like winter! As He works in the seasons of our world, so will He work in the seasons of our lives.To Every Season There Is a Reason God directs the steps of a believer.The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.—Psalm 37:23A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.—Proverbs 16:9God knows where we are, what we are going through, and He has a design for our lives. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). It is a comfort to consider that even in times when I do not see God's plan or what His purpose is, God does know and it is for my good!I recently finished a study of Joseph's life. Time after time, he faced difficult circumstances for reasons that were not apparent to him. But in all these seasons—whether it was in bondage to the Ishmaelites, Potiphar's house, or prison—God had a plan, and it was for His glory and Joseph's good!God has a purpose for the season in which you find yourself. He wants you to be the parent of the children He gave you, the spouse of the husband/wife He blessed you with, and a member in the church to which He led you. There is something you can be, a way you can live, something you can give, or learn, or do that no one else can.To everything there is a season, and for everything there is a reason. See it your way: it can make you bitter. See it God's way: it can make you better.
The Need to Guard Our Tongue The Bible says, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another,” (Galatians 5:15). Sometimes I hear people say, “I just let so-and-so have it.” When I hear someone say that, my sarcastic mind immediately thinks, “What did you let them have?” I assume it is a piece of their mind, which is something I cannot afford to give—I need all the pieces I have left! Besides, he who slings mud loses ground every time.But what makes us feel so free to unload both barrels? What comes unhinged that allows us to do the unthinkable?An Available WeaponIf someone broke into your home and made you feel defenseless, scared, and threatened, you would look around for the nearest blunt object and start swinging. But what if someone's words or behavior do the same. We reach in our arsenal and begin firing words off like an automatic machine gun. Why not? After all, it feels great (at least in the moment).The “Why Not”How about God's commands?Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.—Ephesians 4:29Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.—Colossians 4:6But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:—Ephesians 4:15…to name just a few. But in that moment, we aren't thinking Scripture; and we definitely aren't walking in the Spirit. That's like letting a child have a loaded gun during a temper tantrum!Maybe we should come to our senses about the damage that our words can inflict. Proverbs 12:18 says that we can speak, “Like the piercings of a sword,”—a tough injury to return from. The greatest danger of our words is that they just might work. And then what? How many years will it take to restore trust and friendship? Or maybe that person will just turn away from God? I know none of us want to be responsible for that.All We Like SheepSheep bite each other. They are pretty mean about it. The problem with biting is that soon it becomes chewing, then devouring. Stay off that course. The casualties are high. Don't “let them have it” unless “it” will be a help.
6 Characteristics of a Disciple-Making Church—Part 2 In the previous blog, we noted that while it is easy to give lip service to the Great Commission as the mission of the local church, it is also easy to get distracted from it. We saw that a disciple-making church is actually a Christ-centered church. Our goal is not so much size as it is health, and a spiritually healthy church will be centered around Christ and His mission.In part 1, we looked at the following three characteristics. (If you have not had a chance to read the previous blog, I'd encourage you to read it quickly here before reading further.)A Christ-Centered Philosophy—Our goal to seek the lost and train disciples must be biblical and Christ-centered, not fleshly and ego-centered.A Christ-Centered Motivation—Any motive less than the love of Christ will be unsustainable. A Christ-Centered Approach—We must give consistent and thorough gospel presentations with purposeful and biblical follow up. But what then? What is it like for a new Christian just saved through the ministry of a Christ-centered, disciple-making church? This is where the following three characteristics come in: 4. A Christ-Centered EnvironmentBut we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.—1 Thessalonians 2:7–8A new Christian should be welcomed into a church that is intensely loving and fully Christ-centered. They need people who will come alongside them and point them to consistent growth in Jesus.This is why at Lancaster Baptist Church, we place a lot of emphasis on the Sunday morning adult connection groups or Sunday school classes. These provide great opportunities for acceptance and growth in a setting that easily lends itself to both Bible teaching and relationship building. It's so important that young Christians be pointed to Christ and to His Word, rather than being surrounded by contentious, frustrated, bitter Christians. A new Christian needs time to grow and encouragement in grace.5. A Christ-Centered DiscipleshipAnd when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.—Acts 14:21–22Discipleship is not a series of ten lessons. It is a life-long decision of daily following Christ. The very emphasis of the word disciple—follower—suggests that our focus is on Christ, not on ourselves or others.So at Lancaster Baptist Church, our goal in our discipleship curriculum is that we are pointing new Christians to Jesus through the series of one-on-one mentoring meetings. We want to help them establish a strong, daily walk with Christ and to become grounded in the foundational doctrines of His Word. In short, we want to point them to Christ—the living Word through the pages of His written Word.6. A Christ-Centered Pulpit MinistryFor the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.—1 Corinthians 1:18Biblical preaching is primary in discipleship. It is foundational for establishing doctrine, reinforcing doctrine, and encouraging the disciple's faith and continued growth.And this is not just true for new disciples of Christ. Preaching is vital for all Christians.For these reasons, a disciple-making church has Christ-centered preaching. There may be illustrations, and there should definitely be applications. But the core message should always be the Bible—not opinion or fluff. When God's Word is preached, Christ is exalted, for He is the living Word. In part 1, I mentioned that a disciple-making church is a Christ-centered church. But the reverse is also true. A Christ-centered church will be a disciple-making church. In fact, a church that is centered on anything or anyone other than Christ may produce converts, but it will not produce disciples. From gospel-driven philosophy and motives to an others-focused outreach and church environment, to a biblically-grounded discipleship and pulpit ministry, it must all be centered around Jesus.This is the kind of church that produces fully-committed followers of Christ.
This past week, Urban Meyer, legendary football coach of The Ohio State University, announced his retirement. Meyer had won more than 90 percent of his games as the Buckeyes' head coach, including all seven of his games against rival Michigan. He had won three Big Ten championships and the 2014 national championship. In addition to his success at Ohio State, Meyer had won two other national championships while coaching at Florida, and his 186-game win total over 17 years is higher than any other FBS coach over the same period of time.So, why resign now? There were several reasons—the most dominant being that of Coach Meyer's health. Meyer revealed in October that in 2014 he had surgery on a cyst in his brain that causes stress-related headaches. The symptoms of those headaches were visible this past fall during some of Ohio State's games when Meyer frequently wore pained expressions on his face and at one point collapsed on the sideline.Though Meyer did not draw a straight line between his stress-related headaches and his suspension that occurred earlier this year, he did say that the suspension also contributed to his decision to retire. Ohio State put Meyer on leave in early August while investigating reports that he had mishandled allegations of domestic violence and other inappropriate behavior made against former assistant Zach Smith in past years. The school suspended Urban Meyer for the first three games of the season after finding he failed to live up to the standards of the university and did not tell the truth when asked about those allegations at a Big Ten media event in July. Meyer said that he believes the suspension will have some lasting impact on his legacy.Urban Meyer leaves the Ohio State program strong, and the future of football at OSU is bright, though Meyer himself leaves, at least to some degree, bruised and blemished. Several points are worthy of consideration for those of us who are involved in ministry.Remember the SabbathWhen Meyer left Florida to take a year off before going to Ohio State, he said that it was a time of reflection when he had to ascertain his priorities. He determined to make family more important than football, something he had not previously done.There is no denying that the constituents we serve never fully understand the pressures that leaders are under—the pressure to succeed, the pressure to always be there, the pressure to always be professional when reviled by inside and outside sources.And to deal with these pressures, leaders have to take time away and off. Whatever is most therapeutic for you—whether it is yard work, sitting in a cabin with a book, hunting, fishing, preaching out—do it! You will be criticized for it. You will be called lazy for doing it. And you will always feel like there is no convenient time for it. But go see a ball game with your son, get away with your wife, take your daughter shopping. Do it!I have heard preachers say, “The devil never takes a vacation.” True, but you are not trying to be like the devil. You are trying to be like the Lord. And He took a Sabbath.Remember the SourceI have a pastor friend who is an avid fan of Michigan, and understandably, he hates Ohio State. If Urban Meyer would have duplicated the feeding of the five thousand, my friend would tweet, “Urban Meyer takes little boy's lunch.” There is no denying that we have enemies, and these enemies will never be able to be pleased by anything that we do.Urban Meyer was strongly criticized for the way he handled Zach Smith, but my hope is that no leader would be handed such an unwinnable situation. Are there things that Coach Meyer could have done better? Of course, there are! But I hope that we never become proficient at handling disciplinary situations, for that would necessitate we have an abundant amount of them. Of course their hopeful rarity is not an excuse to mishandle them—there may be times when we need to seek counsel on how to handle them.All too often stress is caused in our lives by the armchair quarterbacks who have never taken the field, but are absolutely certain they know the best way for us to lead the team. This is not to say that we cannot learn a germ of truth in even the most destructive criticism. It is to say that we cannot allow the destructive critic to get into our minds and eat us alive. Always consider the source of the criticism.Remember the ScriptureThe Bible tells us that, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.” God's Word is filled with multiple promises for every emotional struggle of life. God gives peace! And we must allow ourselves to be filled with God's peace even when the media critics are field dressing our leadership style. At times, all of us need to go back to the Bible and encourage ourselves again in the Lord.In the ultimate analysis, the Lord is the final judge of our ministries. Other coaches, irate fans, and wealthy boosters are not primarily where our ear is bent. It is bent to the One whose, “Well done,” means the most—the Lord Himself. The fear of man brings a snare, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.As an Ohio State fan, I am very appreciative of Urban Meyer's contributions. I trust that his retirement will give him the sabbatical time, the stress release, and the spiritual reflection that he needs. And may I, in turn, learn from the strengths and weaknesses of our legendary coach.
Let me begin by saying I am young in the pastorate, and some would quickly point out that I have no business attempting to share counsel about music in the church. I am somewhat of an enigma because I am soon to be fifty years old, but I have only been a pastor for less than seven years. So I am an older guy with very little experience in the pastorate! My goal is to be biblical in these thoughts!With that in mind, here are five truths that have been helpful in our ministry.1. The Purity of the Vessel Is PrimaryLet the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.—Colossians 3:16Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:—Isaiah 29:13This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.—Matthew 15:8Even while singing, the singer's heart may be many miles away from the words on his lips! We would do well to ask the question, “Do they see Jesus in me?” When the vessel is pure, the song can then be pleasing to our holy God!2. The Date of the Selection Is Not a DisqualifierSing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.—Psalm 33:3And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.—Psalm 40:3O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth.—Psalm 96:1O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.—Psalm 98:1I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee.—Psalm 144:9Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.—Psalm 149:1Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof.—Isaiah 42:10And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;—Revelation 5:9And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.—Revelation 14:3There seems to be some validity to singing new songs! There may be some (I say this “tongue-in-cheek”) who will be in a corner with arms crossed and a scowl on their faces as Revelation 14:3 becomes reality!It is certainly true that every song was once new! On the other hand, older songs that are in hymnbooks have arrived there through longevity associated with quality. They have survived because of their brilliance!3. The Excellence of the Delivery Is EssentialAnd it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place: (for all the priests that were present were sanctified, and did not then wait by course: Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:) It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.—2 Chronicles 5:11–14From appearance to performance, excellence was on display! “Winging it” may sound real, but it can be lacking in excellence. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might!” Interestingly, the glory of God arrived after the excellence was on display!4. The Critique of the Writer Is Not CompulsoryAlthough I do not advocate for completely disregarding the source of our music, it is worth observing that some of our favorite hymns were written by those who would never be asked to speak in our churches. Their songs have been preferred because of the beauty of the words, but the writer and his or her doctrinal beliefs are not always identical to ours! It has been said and bears repeating that the greatest songwriter of all time (David) was an adulterer, liar, murderer, and polygamist!5. The Direction of the Praise is a DistinguisherColossians 3:16 indicates that we are to sing “to the Lord.” When our singing is to bring praise to our name, we have lost our purpose! The goal is to draw people closer to God with prepared hearts for the preaching of God's Word.We should pray more often than we criticize! It is not easy to prepare and sing publicly! Pray that every service is marked by songs that lift the name of Jesus and glorify His great name!To God be the glory!Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.—Ephesians 3:21
6 Characteristics of a Disciple-Making Church—Part 1 The Great Commission of Christ is to share the gospel and make disciples.Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.—Matthew 28:19–20Sometimes I paraphrase it, “go, win, baptize, teach.”Yet, as clear as this commission—this mission statement of the local church—is, it is easy to become distracted.Sometimes if we honestly ask, “Are we really making disciples, or just superficial converts?” the answer may be uncomfortable.In a day of comfortable Christianity, testimonies like the Apostle Paul who was stoned and left for dead and then the very next day went on to preach in the next city (Acts 14:20–22) are unheard of. We need renewed tenacity in reaching and building people from the Word of God.Jesus spent approximately half of His three years of public ministry purposefully investing in training twelve leaders—making disciples.A disciple-making church, then, will be a Christ-centered church.What are the characteristics of a disciple-making church?1. A Christ-Centered PhilosophyFor the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.—Luke 19:10Jesus came to seek the lost. A Christ-centered church will actively, passionately, and purposefully seek to reach people with the gospel.This will not be a side goal; it will be a consuming mission from the pulpit to the pews.But it doesn't stop there. A Christ-centered church will put a priority on training disciples (2 Timothy 2:2) and teaching people to share their faith. The goal of the Great Commission has never been that the pastor and a few especially-committed Christians share the gospel. It is that every Christian would share the church's God-given mission to reach the world with the gospel.2. A Christ-Centered MotivationFor the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:—2 Corinthians 5:14If our motivations as spiritual leaders are fleshly, new disciples will not bear spiritual fruit.Motives make a difference, and ours must remain the grace of God (2 Timothy 2:1), the love of God (2 Corinthians 5:14), and the Word of God (Acts 20:32).3. A Christ-Centered ApproachMoreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand…For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:—1 Corinthians 15:1, 3–4Making disciples doesn't end with making converts, but it does begin there. To lead people to Christ—not just to ourselves or to repeating a prayer—we must be committed to consistent and thorough gospel presentations.When someone then makes a profession of faith, we must nurture their faith in the Lord and help them become grounded in biblical doctrine. This is why at Lancaster Baptist Church, we make consistent follow up after salvation a strong priority.From the time a person is saved until they are a faithful, growing member of our church, the soulwinner and adult Bible class leader work together to encourage steps of obedience and growth including baptism, enrollment in an adult Bible class, attending a new members class, and enrollment in our discipleship program. The goal of all of this is to help them become grounded in their personal relationship with the Lord.A Christ-centered, disciple-making church is the New Testament pattern. But it doesn't happen accidentally. It takes leaders and members who are individually Christ-centered and committed to His Great Commission, motivated by His love, and consistent in their biblical approach to leading people to Christ.In part 2, we will look at three more characteristics of the Christ-centered church that relate to the church's culture and environment for growth.
4 Truths I Have Embraced during My Transition into the Senior Pastorate On June 17, 2018, Harvest Baptist Temple of Medford, OR, celebrated forty-one years of ministry. It was also the day that the founding pastor, Dr. Bob Gass, entrusted the heritage and history of that ministry to me. For us, it was a historic event. By the grace of God this was the first senior pastor transition in a forty-one year history.Although it is my desire to wait another thirty years or so until the next transition, I learned that there are truths of preparation that I must embrace even now before the next transition. Preparing to transition is more about dependence than preparation. It begins and ends with a total dependence on God. There are four major areas of dependence I learned during the transition that I have immediately embraced.1. Dependence on PrayerI have four children and every day since we first found out that my wife was pregnant with our first child, I have prayed for their future spouse(s). Since June 17, 2018, I have faithfully prayed for the next senior pastor of Harvest Baptist Temple. Obviously, I don't know who that is, but the absence of a specific name from my prayer doesn't hinder me from praying for my children's future spouses. The same is true with my church; the absence of a specific name shouldn't hinder me from praying for Harvest's future pastor(s). You may be starting a pastoral ministry or in the twilight of a pastoral ministry. It's never too late to start and commit to praying for the next man.2. Dependence on PowerEvery day of my life I depend on the power of the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction. Why should a major transition be any different? Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.”If I rely on God's power and guidance to live a life of sacrificial service everyday of my life… If I rely on God's power and guidance for unction for every message I preach… If I rely on God's power and guidance for every decision in the day to day operations of the ministry, then should I not rely on God's power and guidance for the next transition? God already has a man; I just have to get in the path of the will of God and get my pride and self out of the way of the will of God in order to be totally dependent on His power and guidance through the transition.3. Dependence on PromiseThere are no more sure words than these, “The promises of God are sure.” If God is limited by His Word, then every Word spoken by God is sure. God has promised by His own words to perpetuate His church. It was Jesus who said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” If Jesus made that statement, then He alone is fully responsible for the perpetuation of His church.We can do all we want to prepare, plan, and prosper a transition, but it is the Lord's work. His blessing is absolutely essential. Even while understanding this truth, it is prudent for a pastor to always keep his eyes open for the next potential pastor. Maybe it is someone in the family, but don't put parameters on the Lord. It could be someone that you have followed through the years that you have seen grow in pastoral ministry. It may be that current “problem” child in children's church… you never know who the Lord will choose to use.4. Dependence on ProvisionGod always provides. Where there was Moses… there was Joshua. Where there was Elijah… there was Elisha. I'm reminded of the name Abraham called the place where he was called to sacrifice Isaac (Jehovah-Jireh “God, my Provider”). God provided a ram to take Isaac's place as a sacrifice. God provided the Lamb to take our place as a sacrifice. If God can provide the Lamb, then God can provide a man. Hudson Taylor said, “God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply.”Since it is ultimately the Lord's work, then the Lord will supply. It's sad that while we are willing to trust the Lord with the future of our eternity, sometimes we struggle to trust the Lord with the future in our earthly ministry. If God can be trusted to secure our eternity, then God can be trusted to secure our today. This includes provision in transitions for the ministry and the future of the ministry that He has called us to.Transition is just another opportunity to depend on God. Dependence on God is faith in God and “...without faith it is impossible to please Him.” We must be diligent and keep our eyes open, but our sufficiency in transition is directly related to our dependence on God. 2 Corinthians 3:5 reminds us, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.”
Yes, Isaiah has been preaching against nation after nation. And now, finally, the Word of the Lord turns “homeward,” to the people of Judah and Jerusalem! For some reason he calls this Sermon “The burden of the valley of vision.” (Isaiah 22:1a) Maybe God gave him this sad Message one day as he meditated in […]
As Babylon was being attacked by the Persians (Medes, Elamites) … she was apparently having a “wild” party! She as a nation died “sinning egregiously!” My proof? Isaiah 21:4-5, some clauses found there. “The night of my pleasure hath He (God) turned into fear.” Then immediately: “Prepare the (banquet) table, eat and drink ye princes.” […]

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