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Encouraging, Equipping, and Engaging Ideas from Local Church Leaders.
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A new Gallup survey reports that for the first time in American history, church membership nationwide has dropped below 50 percent. This past year has been a challenging one for pastors and churches. Although there are multiple factors that have contributed to decreased church attendance and membership, the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly brought them to a head. Consider these reasons that may factor into the decline: Government mandates and media: Having liberal governors and secular news media tell people for months on end that they should not to go to church has taken its toll. Some of the decrease in membership we're seeing is a result of the onerous activities of overreaching government and fear-mongering media. Broken homes: In our church, we have many single parents who are raising their family in church. I greatly respect them and thank the Lord for their faithfulness. But across our nation, as the fabric of the family is being torn apart, one staple of life that has fallen by the wayside is church attendance. Where there used to be continuity of values passed down to children through the family, now there is strife and sometimes even a ridiculing of those values. Secular humanism in education: After more than a generation of secular humanism being taught in public schools and universities, the unavoidable result is young people believing they don't need God. In fact, as you look at the church membership poll from Gallup, you see that while the majority of Baby Boomers and older are holding strong in church affiliation, the younger generations are seeing less of a need for God or church. Retiring leaders: Many pastors are retiring, and fewer younger men are responding to God's call to ministry. The two-fold result is that more churches are left without pastors and fewer new churches are being planted. The churches without a pastor struggle to sustain meaningful gospel outreach. Meanwhile cities around our nation are expanding, but church planting efforts are not even close to keeping up. Simply put, we need more young men to surrender their lives to preach the gospel and to train for soulwinning-based ministry. This is why we continue to train laborers for Christ at West Coast Baptist College.Laodicean church: It's no surprise that unsaved people would become less interested in things of God. The real grief is that churches, like the Laodicean church of Revelation 3:14–20, are lukewarm to the Lord and to the needs around them. In fact, it may be that the real story behind the decreasing church membership is decreasing gospel outreach. If fewer churches are passionately and strategically saturating their communities with the good news of Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and offer of salvation, it stands to reason that fewer people would be trusting Christ and following the Lord in baptism and church membership.So, considering the data and these contributing factors, why do I say that local churches can flourish in 2021? 1. The World Needs the Message We HaveThink of it this way. The first three factors—government mandates, broken homes, and secular humanism—are all reasons people need the Lord more than ever. You may remember a Gallup survey in December that revealed the only group of Americans whose mental health improved during the pandemic were those who attended church frequently. It may be that the decline in membership represents churches that didn't actually preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation from sin. Or it may be that churches that do preach that message have become less bold in doing so. In either case, the fact remains, Bible-believing churches still have the only message every person in this world needs. 2. The Lord Is Able to Revive His ChurchBut if the first three reasons point to a world that needs the Lord, the last two point to churches that need the Lord. Where we have become lukewarm in our zeal for Christ and sharing the gospel, we need to heed our Lord's words to the church at Laodicea and repent:And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:14–20)Could it be that fewer young people are surrendering their lives to gospel ministry because they are not exposed to a fervent faith?Could it be that when Bible-believing churches return to their first love for Christ that the young people in these churches will have a desire to invest their lives in that which will last for eternity? Could it be that our communities are full of people who would gladly respond to the message of the gospel if people from our churches would go into the community and share our faith? A Fox News article commenting on the below-majority church membership poll pointed out similar possibilities:The poll suggested that major factors in helping spiritual leaders regain some of that lost membership included “spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers, community outreach and volunteer opportunities, and dynamic leaders were also factors in their attendance.”“A focus on some of these factors may also help local church leaders encourage people who share their faith to join their church.”3. We Live in the Perfect Moment to Declare the GospelI believe that God has allowed this past year with the Coronavirus pandemic, in part, to expose our need for Him and for His power in ministry. I also believe that there are people in every city in whose heart the Holy Spirit is already working (Acts 20:23) and who will respond to the gospel if you and I will share it.Because our world needs the gospel and because the Holy Spirit will empower Christians to witness (Acts 1:8), gospel-preaching churches can flourish regardless of the cultural religious apathy of our day. So, I encourage you, pastor, preach the gospel this Sunday. People need the Lord. There are plenty of news articles to discourage you. There are statistics to distract you. But you have a message this world needs. Lift up Christ!And I encourage you, Christian, share the gospel this week. Don't let the media tell you the world is hopeless. You and I serve a risen Savior who gives hope and renewed purpose for living. And you and I know Him and can introduce others to Him. The church can flourish if we will, in the power of the Holy Spirit, declare the gospel.____________If you would like to be encouraged in both motivation and methods for declaring the gospel in this moment of history, I invite you to join us October 3–6, 2021, for Spiritual Leadership Conference here in Lancaster, California. Our theme for this year's conference is “Declare the Gospel.” Every service and every session will be centered on Christ and the why and how to share the good news of His death, burial, and resurrection. Additionally, we have added some afternoon opportunities to connect and collaborate with every conference speaker as well as the staff of Lancaster Baptist Church. I believe this will be the most encouraging and equipping Spiritual Leadership Conference we have ever had. I hope you will join us.
It's hard to read James 1:27 and see it meaning anything less than exercising compassion toward those in need: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Christians throughout history have left us a rich heritage of modeling this kind of “pure religion” as they have sacrificially given of themselves to care for the exploited, rejected, and abandoned. Historical examples—such as George Muller, Amy Carmichael, and William Wilberforce—are the easiest to give, because they are the most widely known today. But I personally know Christians around the world—from Sunday school teachers here in our church to missionaries such as Rick and Becky Martin in the Philippines—who serve the poor and marginalized in sacrificial ways. I know missionaries who have established children's homes for orphans and schools for the illiterate. I know Christians here in the States who have opened their homes to foster children, advocated for unborn children, or worked to combat human trafficking.Where the gospel has gone forth, acts of mercy and compassion—including hospitals and schools around the world—have always been a result. Christians and local churches by the thousands give benevolence daily in America. Many Christians are involved in hands-on efforts to minister to people as well as to enact legislative policies to help with some of the great tragedies of our day, such as human trafficking, abortion, homelessness, and a broken, overwhelmed foster care system.But there is a significant difference between Christian compassion and the social justice movement of today. Caring for people and involving oneself in policy changes to counter the sin and brokenness in our world is needed. Supporting organizations and causes that include anti-biblical ideology is wrong.I see the first (caring for issues and loving your neighbors) as involvement in social issues. I see the second (aligning with questionable groups and causes) as the social justice movement. Someone else might define the terms differently—and I won't quibble over semantics—but for sake of clarity in this article, that is how I'm using these terms.One of my concerns with the larger social justice movement of our day is that it finds a ready home in theological liberalism. For instance, consider this tweet from Raphael Warnock, a progressive pastor and United States senator, that he posted (and later deleted) on Easter Sunday 2021:“The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves.”—Raphael Warnock, April 4, 2021To biblical Christians, this statement is outright heresy. There is nothing more transcendent than the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And there is no ability to save yourself through a commitment to helping others or any other way. Salvation can only be found in Christ. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Furthermore, to make the atoning death and resurrection of Christ anything less than a substitutionary sacrifice for our sin is not only incorrect, but it is blasphemous. Have you ever noticed that the strongest voices in the social justice movement are either non-Christians (and often outspokenly so) or theologically-liberal Christians? Some point to that reality and say, “See, Christians aren't involved enough.” I disagree. As mentioned earlier, I know many Christians who are deeply involved in social issues and needs. Christian compassion is always an appropriate and needed response to a world that is suffering. But I believe there are reasons that biblical Christians are not the strongest voices for the social justice movement: First, they mostly aren't welcome in the mainstream social justice movement because much of the movement has philosophical roots that run directly counter to Christianity, including pro-LGBTQ and pro-Marxist ideologies. (See my little book Which Justice? for more on the connection to Marxism.) Second, they aren't as likely to broadly align with the movement because their theological belief system sees different answers to social needs—namely, the gospel. The social justice movement of today reaches back to the social gospel movement of the early twentieth century. Both have been championed by professing Christians with progressive ideologies and, in many cases, with progressive theologies. In some circles, progressive Christians insist that engaging in acts of social justice is a requirement for preaching the gospel. Some even go so far as to say that if a church does not do works of social justice it is not preaching the full gospel. (Both of these positions were also espoused by proponents of the social gospel movement.) Eventually, these ideas give way to a belief that involvement in the social justice movement is part of how one earns salvation. (In personal conversation with a pastor of a church in Los Angeles a few months ago, he specifically told me his hope for salvation was based in his involvement in social justice.) Remember that theological liberalism is rooted in unbelief, namely unbelief in Christ as the only way of salvation and the Bible as the infallible, preserved truth it claims to be. But these theological systems of unbelief often find footing in lives and churches that desire cultural acceptance more than they desire the approval of God. Unfortunately, a desire to be liked by the world leads to a willingness to be like the world. Where this desire for acceptance by the world connects with the social justice movement is in its unwillingness to define sin as “the transgression of the law” as God does (1 John 3:4). In the modern social justice movement, “sin” has nothing to do with God or His law but everything to do with whatever contributes to a negative outcome someone may experience. The obvious cultural problem is that this thinking leads to a lack of responsibility, but the larger theological problem is that it leads to a lack of accountability before God. How can someone see his need for a Savior if he doesn't even believe he is a sinner?This unwillingness to call what violates God's law “sin” extends even further as the social justice movement as a whole rejects the Bible's clearly stated commands concerning marriage, gender identity, and human sexuality. Biblical convictions in these areas are not popular or welcome among the mainstream social justice movement, thus they are often downplayed or denied by Christians seeking to model involvement in social justice. As biblical Christians, we must be careful that we speak from God's Word to the issues of our culture rather than attempting to adjust Scripture to culture. In his book The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture and the Church, author Albert Mohler gives an example of the radical nature of the social justice movement and how it can fundamentally change the very doctrinal moorings of the church. In fact, he describes how this exact thing happened to an entire denomination, the United Church of Canada, through a theological downgrade beginning in the 1960s. He concluded, “Social justice concerns propelled the denomination rather than theological commitments. As such, this church became a servant to secularism and liberalism in Canada. It pioneered transgender ministers, supported abortion, and championed same-sex marriage, even before it became legal in Canada.” (Nelson Books, 2020, page 24)When culture becomes our gauge for what is offensive or helpful to the gospel, we will give an uncertain sound concerning truth, righteousness, and the Bible itself. The church will never please the world when it is living according to the New Testament. Our goal must not be to appease an angry culture; it must be to please God and declare the gospel. One of my great concerns with the social justice movement is that, while cloaked in a veneer of compassion, underneath lie worldly philosophies and anti-Christian agendas. The warning of Colossians 2:8 applies, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”Are the physical needs of people relevant to Christians? Yes! If we believe James 1:27, we are to practice sacrificial compassion as an expression of the love of Christ. But we who know Christ personally also know that the soul of man matters most. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). With this in mind, if we engage in a movement that, while espousing a form of worldly compassion, denies personal sin and the vicariously atoning work of Jesus Christ, we are not helping as we may think. Justice matters, so give sacrificial compassion. Jesus matters most, so stand firmly committed to Him and to His unchanging truth.
Sermon outline: This is an abbreviated outline with an expanded outline downloadable at the bottom of the post.Text: Revelation 2:20-23Title: I Gave Her SpaceIntroduction: The one fault with which the Lord Jesus confronts the church at Thyatira is that they allowed Jezebel to do her wicked work in their midst. In verses 22-23, the Lord pronounces terrible judgment on her and her followers. But after He confronts the church with her faults and before He pronounces judgment on Jezebel, He makes this amazing statement, “I gave her space.” While the Lord was angry with Jezebel's sin, and certainly intended to deal with it, He nonetheless gave her room to repent. God loves to give sinners—both saved and unsaved—space to come back to Him before judgment falls.God's PatienceExamplesExplanationGod's PurposeGod gives us space to repentGod gives us space to returnOur ProblemWe are ignorantWe ignoreThe PrinciplesLiberty is not licenseTime is not tolerancePatience is not permissivenessConclusion: Microsoft Office document icon i-gave-her-space.doc
3 Aspects of the Normal Christian Life It's a question I have heard frequently—perhaps daily—for over ten months: “When is life going to get back to normal?”Sometimes it takes other forms: “Will things ever get back to normal?” “Is this going to be the new normal?”The civil unrest of earlier this year, the political angst of this election season, and the violence in DC last week have only made our hearts yearn more for “normal.”I strongly believe that, as far as Covid itself is concerned, we will get past it and that God will bring lasting good from it. But none of us can predict the future with certainty, which includes describing what “normal” will look like tomorrow or next year or twenty years from now.But I believe that one blessing of the past ten months—Covid and all—will be if Christians rediscover the normal Christian life.It's a sad reflection on our hunger for God that when Christians voice their desire for “normal” it is usually talking about the normal routines of being able to eat inside a restaurant or go through a checkout line without a mask.Could it be that we no longer long for what the first-century churches in Acts experienced as the normal Christian life?When you read Acts and understand some of the historical and political events that happened concurrently to the exploding growth of the early church, it's a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit through what should be the ordinary routines of the Christian life.The Christians in Acts faced cultural division, prejudice, religious hypocrisy, and outright persecution from their government. But they also experienced the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. I'm hungry to see that kind of normal.What were the “normal” factors of the early church?1. PrayerThere is hardly a page in the book of Acts without a reference to prayer. It seems the apostles and the early church Christians prayed in every situation. And God answered their prayers.These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.—Acts 1:14And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.—Acts 2:42And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.—Acts 4:31Prayer should be as normal to the Christian life as breathing. And fervent, regular, importunate, intercessory prayer should be the norm—not the exception—among God's people.The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.—James 5:162. PraiseNo matter what was happening in the larger picture of culture, including how that influenced direct persecution of Christians, the early church praised God.Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.—Acts 2:47And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.—Acts 5:41And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.—Acts 16:25Do you think the average Christian today is known for their high view of God and constant praise of Him? Or do you think they are more known for their views on the pandemic, politics, personal disappointments…? God inhabits the praises of His people. May we be people of praise.Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;—Philippians 2:14–153. Proclaiming ChristThe early church just never stopped proclaiming the gospel. For too long now, American Christians have allowed others to drive the narrative in our country to one cause or another. It's time for God's people to drive the narrative back to Jesus Christ.The gospel spread in the first century because Christians shared it.And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.—Acts 5:42And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.—Acts 8:25Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. … Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.—Acts 8:4–5, 35And there they preached the gospel. … And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,—Acts 14:7, 21I find that statements about the importance of declaring the gospel are easy for Christians to agree with. But are you doing it? Have you told anyone this week how they can find forgiveness and salvation through Jesus? This month? Last year?Yes, the pandemic has made some of our normal methods of outreach less feasible. So let's find new ones. If you can't talk with people door-to-door in your community, can you canvass and leave gospel flyers? Can you visit new move ins? Can you visit your neighbors while wearing a mask? Can you post your testimony on social media?For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.—Romans 1:16These three activities—prayer, praise, and proclaiming Christ—aren't reserved for certain people or only practiced by the spiritually mature. They are baseline discipleship. They are the normal Christian life.Let's not give up on the essential aspects of our faith.Let's not allow current events to disrupt the basics of our love and loyalty to Christ.Let's get back to normal—the normal Christian life.
My father was not raised in church. When he was in his early 20's, someone invited him to a church service. As a result of being invited to church, Jesus changed his life forever. My dad got saved that night, ended up going to a Baptist college and met his wife (my mom). My brothers and sister and I were raised in a Christian home because somebody invited him to church.Studies show the vast majority of people come to Christ primarily because someone invited them to visit a church service.It should come as no surprise that evangelism does not happen unless we become intentional about it. So, I'd like to challenge you at the beginning of 2021 to make a simple but significant resolution. Resolve that once a month you will invite at least one person to attend church with you.According to a Lifeway Research, around 1 in 10 churchgoers (10%) average at least one evangelistic conversation a month. What if we could increase that to 5 out of 10? Or 7 out of 10? Or even better, 10 out of 10?It's true, most people we invite will not respond affirmatively. Even for the Apostle Paul, the world's greatest evangelist, the book of Acts reports that some scoffed at him, others said, “We want to think about it,” but “a few believed.” A few believed! That's our goal.If you become serious about inviting others to church, then I would recommend you take the next step and go out of your way to make friends with people you invite by serving them. People will be much more likely to be responsive to your invitation if you show a genuine interest in them and help them along the way.It's amazing how much influence we can have, if we will simply be obedient to Jesus' commands to tell others about Him and invite people to come to His house with us. I never met the man who invited my dad to church, but I am going to hug him one day in Heaven.
Considering how crazy 2020 turned out to be, the “20-20 Vision” goal-setting and planning puns that were going on this time last year are almost humorous. In reality, if there is anything 2020 has taught us about biblical vision, it is that it must be developed in faith-filled confidence of God's sovereignty.In fact, as I have prepared personal and ministry goals for 2021, I've thought much about the role faith plays in this process. I don't want to set unreasonable goals that amount to delusional “happy thoughts”—ideas that make me feel good while writing them, but are not grounded in reality.Neither do I want to allow the challenges of this past year to leave me cynical toward goal setting at all. Truth be told, not all of the challenges of 2020 have been resolved, and we enter a new year with a need for continued flexibility and creativity in outreach and ministry. But people still need the Lord, and we must remain committed to faith-filled endeavors in the core essentials of reaching our communities and around the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.The happy medium between these two extremes—delusional and cynical—isn't to simply plan out what we believe we can accomplish in our strength. It is to develop faith-filled vision for what God can do. Planning what we can do amounts to forming a to-do list; determining how we can strategize our efforts in obedience to the Great Commission is faith.This faith-filled vision is what I endeavor to cast to our church family each year on Vision Sunday. This is when I share with our church family the new theme for the year as well as opportunities to serve the Lord as a church body in the coming year.We need biblical vision—in our lives, our churches, and any sphere of influence God has given to us. Proverbs 29:18 warns, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”Biblical vision isn't simply listing what you want to do. That is a list of goals. If our vision is not drawn from God's Word and embraced by faith, it's not a vision at all; it is simply a to-do list. So, how can you tell the difference between a biblical vision and a to-do list?Biblical vision comes from God's Word; a to-do list comes from personal dreams. Spiritual vision is viewing my life and ministry through the lens of God's Word. It is centered around obeying God's commands and fulfilling the Great Commission.Biblical vision requires faith; a to-do list simply requires good administration. To be sure, a visionary must implement wise and careful administration for a vision to succeed. Without a strategy of faith, no biblical vision will see the light of day. However, biblical vision always requires faith. It requires dependence upon God—knowing that without God's intervention you are wasting your time.Biblical vision invents the future; a to-do list predicts the future. We can set goals that will help us be more effective in what we already know we should be doing. Setting wise, measurable goals and following through on them will impact the future. Biblical vision, however, is different in that it doesn't just predict the future; it invents the future. Biblical vision forecasts our faith-filled obedience to God's Word. It stretches more than our resolve; it stretches our faith.Over the years, as I've planned to cast vision for our church, the Lord has often convicted me that I was planning with little faith. And I've often needed to pray with the disciples, “Lord increase our faith” (Luke 17:5)!There are those who will tell you that goal setting and vision casting are worthless endeavors. They would have you believe that forward momentum in gospel ministry is unattached to biblical vision or habits of faith. My suggestion? Avoid this negativity. Faith flourishes when your eyes are on Christ and your determination is centered on obeying His Great Commission.The world still needs the gospel, and Christ has still entrusted it to us. So let's reach forward with faith-filled vision for what God could do through us in 2021.And remember, the temptation to plan without faith doesn't lessen as you grow older. It actually becomes easier as you get older to simply coast and count on seeing the continuing results of past faith. But I don't want to live from the past. I want to see God use our church in the coming year as never before. I want to claim the blessings of faith!
It's true that Christmas may not be as festive or lighthearted as past years, but even in the face of the bad news of our world and in our lives, the good news of God should resound in our hearts and minds as we enter the Christmas season: God is with us. I am reminded of the angel's message to the shepherds:And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.—Luke 2:10–11Admittedly there's much sadness in the world right now due to serious problems. People are terrified of contracting a sickness or being hospitalized. Businesses are closing. Church services are limited. People have lost jobs. Suicides are increasing at an alarming rate. Yet, despite these serious problems, we need to remember that Christmas was made for times like these!Christmas is a reminder that although this world stinks sometimes, we have a hope that will never fade away. The good news of God's reign exists even in the midst of crisis. If we think about what Christmas really means, it's not so much about gifts, parties, and laughter—the hope of Christmas is that Jesus came to deliver us from our sin, death, and the grave. The angel informed Joseph:And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins … they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.—Matthew 1:21,23Because of Bethlehem, Calvary, and the empty tomb there is a new day coming when the dead in Christ shall rise and all things will be made new! Jesus reminded us of that reality when He said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).So, let's believe what we say we believe and behave like we know what the birth of Christ really means. Let's invest in our kids, love our families, share the gospel, and make the most of this day that the Lord has made.
Four Ways Christmas Is a Gift There have been years on which Christmas Eve was my best day of Christmas shopping—not because it was the best of several good days, but because it was my only day! Covid-19 put me a little ahead this year, because I purchased my gifts online.I love giving to Terrie, our children, and our grandchildren. But as we approach Christmas this week, I'm mindful of the fact that Christmas itself is a gift. Christmas is when we received Emmanuel—God with us!And with Jesus' very presence, He gives us gifts:1. He Saves UsThe ultimate gift of Christmas is salvation. It is the reason Jesus came—to die on the cross for our sins, in our place, and give us a relationship with God through Christ.Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.—2 Corinthians 9:15If you can rejoice in nothing else this season, you can rejoice in your Savior!If you have not yet received Christ as your Saviour, you can! (Click here to learn what the Bible says about how you can have a relationship with God.)2. He Understands UsWhen my son Larry was younger, I took him outside one day to teach him how to play basketball. I would shoot and show him the techniques, then hand him the ball. He was still young, and he struggled to get the ball to the rim. Finally, after I made another shot, Larry said, “Yeah, Dad, it's easy for you up there, but you don't know what it's like for me down here!”He had a good point.Sometimes we repeat Larry's words to our Heavenly Father. “God, it's easy for You to say what we should do and what we should be, but You don't know what these circumstances are like from down here!”Christmas proves otherwise.And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.—John 1:14God does know what it is like for us down here. He came in person, wrapped in a tiny human body. He lived among us, experiencing human life from our perspective and through our limitations. He knows the trials we go through; He understands the pressures we feel. He is Emmanuel—God with us.Have you ever longed for someone who could understand how you feel? Someone who has experienced what you are going through?Jesus is that Someone.3. He Helps UsScenic Christmas cards and softly glowing lights seem to suggest that this is a season of perfect nostalgia—a time when everyone can rest and reflect in the midst of unified relationships as they make family memories. But reality says otherwise. Real people live lives fraught with loss, pain, and brokenness.That's why Jesus came.Jesus didn't come to a perfect world, and He wasn't born in a perfect setting. He came to a dark world—steeped in sin and riddled with discord and pain. He was born into abject poverty and grew up under the strain of political oppression. Christmas reminds us that this fallen world will never be perfect.Remember though—this is God. He didn't have to come. He didn't have to endure this. And He definitely didn't have to give His life for our sins.He chose to come. He chose to leave the splendor of Heaven to dwell amongst the squalor of men. He chose to live with us, to know us, to love us. He chose to die for us.And now, He reminds us that He stands ready to help us. Because He is Emmanuel—God with us—we never have to face another need alone. We have God on our side.What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?—Romans 8:31Christ's presence wasn't just for Mary and Joseph and the shepherds as they worshiped Him in the manger. It was for us, too. As the eternal God, Christ has promised, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).4. He Changes UsThe presence of Christ in our lives is more than a stirring sentiment; it is a radical life change.From the moment Gabriel announced to Mary that she would carry the Christ child in her womb all the way to the piercing cry of a hungry newborn, Christ's presence changed life for everyone on that first Christmas.All throughout Christ's ministry, He changed lives. He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, words to the mute, strength to the lame, healing to the lepers, and even life to the dead. He fed the hungry and comforted the hurting. He taught words of life, and He lived with grace and compassion. He rebuked the proud and forgave the repentant. Everywhere Christ went, He brought change—not always change in circumstances but change in lives.Then He did the ultimate—He gave His life, bearing in His body the sins of all mankind. And when He rose from the dead three days later, He proved that He has the power to change lives to the fullest extent. When we trust Him as our Savior, receiving His gift of eternal life, He changes us—from the inside out.Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.—2 Corinthians 5:17But the change Christ's presence brings doesn't end at salvation. We have the opportunity to daily experience His changing presence in our lives. From the moment we trust Christ as our Saviour, His presence can begin to change us. He can change our fear to courage, our worry to trust, our pride to humility, our selfishness to love, our bitterness to forgiveness, and our despair to hope.These changes don't happen in an instant. That's why we need to rely on His presence daily. As we walk with Him and grow in Him, He changes us.Enjoy the GiftTake time to enjoy Christ's presence this Christmas.For many of us, it will be an unusual Christmas—perhaps a lonelier Christmas. But we have the gift of Jesus.Remember He is Emmanuel—God with us. He understands your needs. He even understands you. And He is a very present help.Christ's presence actually is a present. It is the reason that Christmas is a gift!
The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.—Proverbs 21:5In a fast paced world where we often try to see how many things we can “multi-task” at a time, it's easy to forget the importance of spending real quality time with those we want to see grow spiritually.There are many aspects to this, and I think all of them are important, I'm going to simply mention a few from a missionary/pastor point of view.We need to remember to never get too busy to spend quality time alone with God. It seems elementary, but if every Christian did that, there would be very few broken homes and hearts.We need to make time for our spouses outside of the logistics of keeping the bills paid, kids fed and activities attended. Purposefully set aside blocks of time to simply express your love and commitment.Spend time playing with your children while you still can. A few hours ago as I write this, I was preparing to leave on a short trip with some men of the church (more on that in a moment). With only an hour before I had to walk out the door, my three boys begged to play a game together. My wife helped me pack quickly so we could sit down and play a table game before I left. It was really a lot of fun and a good reminder to me of how sometimes just a little bit of quality time goes a long way.We also need to spend quality time with the people with whom we are trying to minister. Last night after church, we had a young couple come over and eat with us and then we had some counseling time with them. What a joy to see them grow spiritually. This morning we hosted a national pastor's meeting and had 20 pastors and their wives, come over to our house for a time of fellowship and encouragement. Then we had a time where our senior high students invited all of the school staff to a special thank you party they had prepared for us, and as part of that, they shared the biggest lessons they have learned. Not surprisingly they were most impacted by different people taking time for them.As I write this I'm sitting on a bus with a group of guys from our church driving late into the night to go to a men's meeting in Honduras. The time spent together making memories and even having some great one-on-one talks is helpful and strengthens relationships. Some view going to a conference like this as time consuming, I'm seeing it as quality time with these future leaders.I once heard an expression down here in Central America referring to Americans that makes a lot of sense, and changed how I do ministry. The saying goes like this, “Every American has a watch, but none of them have any time.”As the pressures of accomplishing more pile upon you, take the time to purposefully spend some non-rushed time with the people who are important in your life. The benefits are long-lasting and worthwhile.
One of the great desires of my life is to finish well. At the end of my race, I want to be able to say with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).There are many aspects to lifelong faithfulness, but I think one of the most overlooked is thankfulness.When I'm consistently thankful for what God has done in my life and His calling me into the ministry, there's a much better chance for me to be faithful. Conversely, when I'm constantly weighed down by the challenges of ministry and focused on the negative aspects of either my past or present, I am less likely to continue my race with joy and consistency.If anyone had reason to complain about the burdens of ministry, it was the apostle Paul. Beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, often in danger…yet, Paul gave thanks for the privilege of being in ministry.And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;—1 Timothy 1:12As you give thanks this week, don't forget to give thanks to God for His calling on your life.Give thanks for the teaching and mentoring others have invested in your life.Give thanks for the experiences and opportunities God has given you.Give thanks for the truths entrusted to you to share with others.I know that sometimes we look back at our early years in ministry and we think we need to unlearn idiosyncrasies of our mentors or misapplied truths. But when I look back at my heritage, for the most part, I don't find myself unlearning but being grateful for what I learned.If gratitude relates to thankfulness in ministry, it does in parenting as well. If I cease to be thankful, my children and grandchildren will assume that what I was previously grateful for is no longer important. And their faithfulness may falter as well.Every reader of the this blog has seen good churches and good families that have lost passion and biblical convictions. I would suggest that it often began with an unthankful heart.When a pastor or parent ceases to be thankful for what they have been taught or those who have invested in their life, when they change their directional course in their family or ministry philosophy, you will notice the generational impact for years to come. Family values can change, educational choices can change. Passion for good and godly things can change.On the other hand, all of us have seen people in their later years (Dr. Sisk and my mother, who went home to be with the Lord this morning, are two who come to mind) still faithful in the things of God and in reaching others with the gospel. Without exception, the men and women like this I have known are grateful people.Thankfulness strengthens faithfulness. Give thanks.
We have hope in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that our Lord died for our sins and was resurrected from the dead. In Him, we have a victorious hope.I read the story of two brilliant young men in England who were both students at the University of Oxford in the 1740s. George Lyttleton and Gilbert West agreed if they could disprove the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to Christianity and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that they could destroy Biblical Christianity. Lyttleton investigated the conversion of the Apostle Paul while West intended to demonstrate the resurrection of Christ was false. They decided to meet together a year later to discuss their findings. Each planned to do a thorough examination and bring Christianity down.When they came together the next year, George Lyttleton said to Gilbert West, “After a year of investigation, I am convinced of the conversion of the Apostle Paul and I too have been converted.” Gilbert West replied, “As I have spent the past year investigating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I too have discovered that it is an undeniable fact. And this may surprise you, but I have received Jesus as my personal Saviour. I am saved!”While these men sought to destroy the hope that is found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they had instead discovered true, victorious hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. The reality is that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and He is alive! Every truth seeker must come face to face with the undeniable fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.Thomas Arnold, the famous headmaster of Rugby School and author of the three volume set of History of Rome, declared, “I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better or fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair enquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.” We can rest assured from both a biblical and historical perspective that Jesus Christ is alive. We have victorious hope that is enduring, everlasting, and eternal in Jesus.Let us offer victorious hope to those around us who do not know the Saviour. Let us be His witnesses during this season of pandemonium. Let us proclaim the death, burial, and resurrection to our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers!
This Thanksgiving season we face several harsh realities—the ongoing election debacle, our biased media, civil unrest, indefinite restrictions as a result of COVID-19—I could go on and on.As a result, many of the conversations around the Thanksgiving table this year will be similar to that of Statler and Waldorf. These were the two old guys on the Muppet Show. They would sit up in the balcony and just complain about everything in the show. In their cantankerous tone, these two would feed off of one another:“Well, he wasn't funny.”“No, he wasn't!”This Thanksgiving, for at least one day, instead of griping and complaining, spend the day thanking God. We have so much to be thankful for and many of these blessings we take for granted every day. Thank the Lord for His mercy, His grace, good health, a warm house, a full closet, a soft bed, a packed freezer, a loving family, a good friend, a free country, an alert mind, a dependable job, and so much more. Even if some of those blessings do not describe your current situation, some of them surely do.Most of all, be sure to give thanks for our wonderful Saviour.Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.—2 Corinthians 9:15Through His atoning death on the cross, Jesus has graciously provided us with the forgiveness of sin, the hope of eternal life, and an ultimate purpose for living every day.Ingratitude is easy, that is what is in our sinful heart.Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.—Romans 1:21Through Christ, God has transformed our heart. Giving thanks to God is only proper response to His love, mercy and grace.I believe of all the Christian virtues, thankfulness is one of the most important! In fact, thankfulness is a part of God's will for your life.In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.—1 Thessalonians 5:18But this virtue of thankfulness has to be cultivated. This takes work, energy, and intentionality.So this Thanksgiving, let's flip the script. Instead of long discussions about political differences which are sure to end in a screaming contest, aim to turn all of our conversations on how thankful we are to the Lord. For all that He has done for us.
3 Aspects of Moving forward When Your World Is Stuck When the Lord laid a phrase from Philippians 3:13, “Reaching Forth,” on my heart for our church theme in 2020, I had no idea that less than three months into the year, our plans would be derailed by a global pandemic.Yet, what I love about God's Word is that it is applicable in every moment in history. And since our theme was based on Scripture, not on our plans, it is still applicable. In fact, it has been just what our church needs.I'm a believer in setting goals and establishing check points along the way. But if you are like me, your goals for this year have been rewritten multiple times. In fact, over the past several months it seems survival is as much a goal as advancement!But there is more to “reaching forth” than setting and achieving goals—even when those goals are Christ centered and gospel focused. In fact, in the context of Philippians 3, the verbiage suggests posture as much as product. That is, “reaching forth” is a posture of someone with their eyes on Christ as they focus every muscle of effort toward “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”Remember, Philippians is a prison epistle. Paul certainly did not have the physical freedom to reach forth in his ministry plans as he would like. Yet, he did continue to reach forth toward Christ, and he continued to urge the Philippian church to do the same.Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 3:12–14What does this posture of reaching forth look like? I believe the text indicates three aspects:Reach forth with a Humble HeartPaul began with the acknowledgment that he still had a long way to go.One of the blessings for all of us—on both a personal and a ministry level—during this coronavirus season is the reminder that we don't have it all figured out. For me, there has been an earnest dependance upon the Lord for wisdom and direction that, aside from the physical and mental toll, has been spiritually refreshing. There is something about coming to the Lord in complete dependence for every decision that strengthens our walk with Him.None of us have arrived. And that should encourage us.Rather than having something to prove about our spiritual walk or ministry prowess, Christ simply calls us to abide in Him. He is the vine; we are not.Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.—John 15:4–5Do you want to reach forth for Christ? Begin with an honest and humble spiritual assessment.Reach forth with a Reconciled MindPaul said he reached forward “forgetting those things which are behind.” There is much in our rearview mirror that we must dismiss if we are to successfully navigate forward.In Paul's context, he was forgetting the self-righteousness of his past and reaching forward clothed in the full righteousness of Christ (verses 4–9). But lest you assume that Paul had a past that was easy to forget, remember that his self-righteousness was a comfortable home for deeply-regrettable sins—including the violent persecution of Christians.Whatever our past holds—self-righteousness, regret, hurt, failure, sin—it doesn't hold the future. And we can't reach forward for Christ while clinging to the past. To reach forward well, we must be good forgetters.Obviously, forgetting here does not mean “not able to remember,” because Paul had just listed aspects of his past. But what it does mean is “not choosing to remember.” It is not calling it up on a regular basis to hold onto it in some way. This is the context in which forgiveness includes forgetting. It means we entrust the offence and offender to God and don't keep calling it to mind.And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.—Ephesians 4:32In these days of Covid, I suppose all of us have things we need to forget—hurts, failures, offenses committed by others. Forgetting the past enables us to reach forward for the future.Reach forth with a Godly PassionWhat I love most about Paul's determination to reach forth is the intensity behind it. This was no casual expression of a lukewarm Christian who was willing to pursue an opportunity for service if it fell into his lap. This was a red-hot determination to press forward in the face of obstacles. That is the kind of passion we need in this coronavirus season.Spiritual passion begins with the Who not the why. Carnal passion, on the other hand, has those reversed.A carnal Christian is willing to exert himself only if the why is great enough—if he sees the upside. A spiritual Christian is so in love with Christ that he will find a way to love and serve Him regardless of what it costs. My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God….I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.—Psalm 84:2, 10I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.—Revelation 3:15–19Like other churches, there are ways in which our ministry plans for this year have slowed. And yet, they haven't stopped because our church family has continued reaching forth in their spirit.These principles are true on a personal level as well. I don't know what these past months have held for you. I don't know what personal goals or spiritual disciplines you may have dropped or struggled to maintain during this challenging season. But I do know that when momentum or motivation lags, the renewal you need is found in Christ.If there is an area of your life or service in which you are finding yourself frustrated and defeated, remember that “reaching forth” is a posture, not a product. Rather than giving up in discouragement or spinning your wheels by just “trying harder,” consider the patience and sustained effort of a long-distance runner. Keep your eyes on Christ, and keep the posture of reaching forth.
“I clothed thee with…silk.”—Ezekiel 61:10(The Hebrew word for silk here is meshiy meaning as drawn from the cocoon.)The Creator desires the best for each of His children. For centuries, royal families had silk as a luxurious commodity in their wardrobes. The virtuous woman of Proverbs understood its worth by adorning herself in silk and purple. The process of manufacturing one pound of silk begins with the death of approximately 2,495 silkworms, or silk moth larvae. Each worm spins about a mile of silk preparing a cocoon in which to await metamorphosis into a silk moth. Legend has it that the wife of a Chinese emperor, around 3000 BC, was drinking a hot cup of tea when a silkworm cocoon fell into the steaming liquid. She noticed something unraveling from the floating, white object. The Silk Road from China was born. Silk's value was equivalent with gold and often used as a monetary source.To extract silk, the cocoons are placed in boiling water to kill the silkworm and loosen the lustrous fibers from the cocoon. If left untouched, the encased worm will eventually exit the cocoon thus breaking the precious strands of silk. The riches bestowed on mankind through the silk industry all began with the sacrifice of the silkworm.The eternal riches bestowed on mankind through the gospel all began with the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness…—Isaiah 61:10Our Saviour gladly entered the heated agony of death on the cross and the darkened tomb to await His resurrection.And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.—Revelation 19:13We can greatly rejoice in His sacrifice because it provided the garments of salvation for us. He humbled Himself for us.But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men…—Psalm 22:6In our heated trials, we must follow Christ's example and die to self; allowing God to unravel us, if He must, so that others may see Christ in us. The next time you wear 100% silk clothing or accessories, remember the sacrifice of all those hundreds of silk worms providing you the enjoyment of royal luxury!
As a private citizen of the United States of America, I still believe that:A majority of Americans are God-respecting and freedom-loving people.Freedom isn't free, and that we owe a great debt to those who died under the banner of our flag so we can live with the liberties we enjoy—“we kneel before God and stand for the flag.”Our police officers as a whole are honorable public servants who put their lives on the line daily for our safety.Any injustice must be addressed, but an injustice cannot be corrected by another injustice—“an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.”There are moral absolutes that cannot be changed by man.Individual soul liberty means that we are all free to believe as we choose and that we cannot force faith or our opinion on someone else.We have a right to peaceably assemble, however my right to protest stops where your nose and property begin.All individuals have the right to defend themselves and their personal belongings.When you leave God out of society, there will be those who try to take His place through government; and become judge and executioner of all who express any thought or belief different from theirs.When you put yourself in the place of God, you become the final authority in finding fault and canceling people (or your country) altogether over their faults (and by the way, we all have sinned).People who do not understand grace and forgiveness seek vengeance instead of justice.America is the greatest country on the face of the earth and our ideals of life (which begins at conception), liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are timeless and priceless.Our country does not need to be torn down; it needs to be healed.If you tear down and destroy your free country in the name of redeeming it, you will not replace it with true liberty and justice, but with tyranny and the failed experiments of history such as socialism, Marxism, and communism.It is wise to look at a candidate's platform of beliefs over personality, and as much as possible vote your salt and light values.The need of the hour is a personal return to God, compassion, common decency, and respect for others.The crown jewel of America Is FREEDOM! Our founding fathers understood that tyranny (the desire to rule over and control others) is inherent in the heart of sinful man, and developed checks and balances to limit government control over our citizens.The ultimate hate speech is when someone tries to silence another over a difference of opinion. I'm simply a fellow citizen saved by the grace of God who has chosen to embrace an understanding of human nature, God-given rights, and personal responsibility that tends toward a vision of a brighter future for us all.God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America!For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.—Ephesians 6:12If 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.—2 Chronicles 7:14
The Biblical Plan for Supporting Missionaries Jesus gave the church a very clear command—evangelize the world. But each church cannot do this alone. The only way we can reach the world before the “night cometh when no man can work” is to support the work of pioneering missionaries.There are different ways churches have supported missionaries. Some give because of an emotional appeal. Others give as part of their budgets. But one of the most effective, biblical means to support missions is through a method called faith missions giving.I first learned about faith missions giving while preaching in a missionary conference at the Marquette Manor Baptist Church in Chicago. I had been a missionary to Japan for five years and even pastored before going to Japan, but I had never heard of faith missions giving. When I heard the pastor teach on the subject from 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, I was convinced that this was God's plan for financing missions. When I returned to my sending church after the conference, I could not wait to tell my pastor what I had learned. We agreed to present this to our church at the next missions conference. I well remember taking a faith missions card at that conference in 1968 and committing to give $5 per week to missions. We have made over fifty faith missions commitments since then, and Virginia and I increased our giving every year. For many years now, the largest item in our budget has been faith missions giving.God blesses faith. I have preached in over 1,300 missions conferences and taught on faith missions giving in most of those churches. Following are some of the reasons I have told them why they should consider giving by faith missions:A Biblical PlanSecond Corinthians 8 and 9, two entire chapters in the Bible, are given to one subject—an offering. The offering was not for the church at Corinth. Instead, it was to be given for causes outside the church. When we think of our church financially supporting causes outside our own church, we naturally think of missions. It is an offering that is given through the church but not for the church.God has a perfect plan for supporting missions with the offerings of the members. Paul points out that everyone should give: “Every man as he purposeth in his heart so let him give” (2 Corinthians 9:7). He makes it clear that this is an offering by grace (2 Corinthians 8:7). It is not something we have to do but something we get to do. He tells the believers that it is good for the giver: “This is expedient for you” (2 Corinthians 8:10). God's provisions are promised to those who give. “He which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). “God is able to make all grace abound toward you” (2 Corinthians 9:7). These are only a few of the great truths taught about faith missions giving in these two chapters.A Simple PlanWith faith missions giving, once a year every member of the church is challenged to give something above his tithe and regular offering to his church for missions. This can be done during a missions Sunday, or, even better, a missions conference. When these commitments are collected and counted, the missions budget for the new year is established.There is a place on most offering envelopes for missions giving as well as the tithe and other special offerings. Church members can write one check, and the funds are divided among the various projects. A separate account is set up for the missions giving, and from that account the missionaries and other missions projects are supported. For both legal and ethical reasons, it is very important that faith missions is used only for missions projects and missionaries.An Effective PlanChurches are able to give much more by this method than by just taking the missions money from their regular budget. Contrary to the thinking of many, the regular budget does not suffer because of the emphasis on missions giving. In nearly every church I have known, when people get involved in giving by faith to missions, their giving to the general fund of the church increases. Faith missions giving is good for the church; it is good for the giver; and it is good for the cause of worldwide evangelism.Perhaps the greatest benefit of faith missions giving is that it teaches us to trust the Lord. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him.” It works in any geographical location, and it works in any economical situation. God's Word says, “Give and it shall be given unto you” (Luke 6:38).Years ago I was teaching the leaders in a church about this method of giving to missions. The pastor was preparing the leaders before he presented it to the church. As I was enthusiastically teaching about the value of faith missions giving, a deacon raised his hand and asked, “Brother Sisk, do you mean to tell us that we have been giving to missions the wrong way all of these years?”I thought for a minute and responded, “No, there is no wrong way to give to missions. Emotional giving is not bad. In fact, if you get emotional and give me $10,000 today, both of us will get emotional!” Budget giving is not bad. It is more consistent than emotional giving. I believe, however, that the best way to financially support missions is the faith missions method. Please study these two chapters in the Bible, and let God speak to your heart about giving to missions by faith.
What Should Factor into a Christian's Vote? As Americans, we are blessed to live in a nation where we choose our own leaders and where we have freedom of speech in the process of doing so. Although the candidate choices presented to us in any given election or for any given position may not be our favorite personalities and may not align with our views on every issue, we should not lightly esteem the opportunity to select who will represent us.As Christian Americans, we want the Word of God to inform every decision of our lives, including for whom we vote. This is not to say that our vote is an endorsement of every aspect of a candidate's life. It is to say that it is a biblically-informed selection between the choices available. And this process is not nearly as complex as some would suggest.In fact, most of the positions up for vote in this coming election (and there are more positions than the presidential position!) can be selected through the following criteria:1. Policy AlignmentI have written before of three major policy positions I believe must be taken into account in an election:Life—Every unborn child is a person created by God who deserves the opportunity to live out his God-given purpose. Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”Christians who argue along the lines of, “Yes, unborn babies are important, but so are economic policies that help this or that disenfranchised group,” are not understanding the seriousness of abortion and sacredness of life. Because this is so abundantly clear in Scripture and because the taking of a life is irreversible, when given the choice between a candidate who supports life in the womb and one who supports that life being taken, I will always vote for the pro-life candidate.Israel—In the early pages of Scripture, God promised a special blessing to nations who support Israel and a definite curse to those who harm her. Genesis 12:3 says, “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” I believe that some of God's blessing upon our nation can be attributed to our continued support of the State of Israel, and I am always concerned by candidates who tolerate antisemitism or who support policies that weaken our support for Israel.Family—From creation, God built the home as the foundation of society (Genesis 1:27, 2:24; Ephesians 5:22–25, 6:1). Any politician who attempts to redefine the biblical foundation of a home and marriage is, in fact, chipping away at the bedrock of society.Good leaders—and good Christians, for that matter—may differ on the specifics of forming financial or foreign policies that are most likely to help the American people. But because the three I just listed are clear in Scripture as definite either/or choices, I care most about these.2. Stated PlatformWhen it comes to policy alignment, even with the three I just mentioned, not every candidate checks every box, and sometimes there will be multiple candidates who check a box. So my next criteria is the platform on which a candidate is running. In most electoral races, this boils down to with which party a candidate has chosen to run.In years past, the two primary parties of American politics had similar end goals but different paths on how to get there. That is, both parties wanted to see America flourish and, because our nation was, by and large, comprised of more Christians than it is today, both parties tended to have similar views on clear moral issues. That is not always the case today.I recently came across a guide that provides a comparison of the party platforms for this election season. It compares the party platforms on the sanctity of human life, redefining marriage, conscience rights in healthcare, religious liberty, international religious liberty, and several other areas. (You can download it here.)3. PersonalityIf all things were equal in policy alignment and stated platform, I would then make my selection based on the candidate's personality. This may include everything from relatability to communication style to likability. But where there is significant differences in policy and platform between two different candidates, personality doesn't factor into my decision at all.The reality is, no matter what a candidate's personality is—whether it is bombastic and overbearing or compassionate and relatable—what will matter for his or her time in office is what policies are implemented and what platform is furthered.• • •As we approach this election, I do believe it is an American Christian's civic duty to vote. But I think it is important that we remember that no candidate represents our ultimate hope.As a father, grandfather, and pastor, I deeply care about the preservation of moral values and, especially, religious liberty in our state and nation. I believe those values and liberty are on the ballot this year (on both local and national levels). So, for those reasons, I'm going to vote along the considerations in this post—even if I don't particularly care for everything about every candidate I select.As a Christian, I remain confident in the sovereignty of God and the power of the gospel. I continue to pray for a spiritual awakening, and I continue to preach the gospel of Christ. Ultimately, I look forward to the Millennial reign of Christ when Jesus—the only perfect ruler who will establish the only perfect government—will rule.But meanwhile, I still vote.
As long as we sojourn on this earth, we will encounter struggles. However, God is not taken by surprise with our challenges, problems and trials. He knew about the Corona Virus, for example, well before it hit, as well as the human responses to it. Governments shut down many businesses, a multitude of employees lost their jobs, citizens were kept indoors; and yet God remains sovereign—His promises, power, and provision still stand.How should we respond when we find ourselves in the middle of a financial crisis?1 Peter 1:6-7 teaches, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:” Isn't it interesting that the “trial of our faith” is more precious than gold. At the time this passage was written, gold was a form of currency. People need currency (money) to pay for the necessities in life, and yet God calls our attention to the fact that the strengthening of our faith is more precious than the money issues that concern us!Because we are humans, we want the shortest route and the quickest way out of any type of struggle or trial. Yet when we do things our way, we will more than likely fail. God's ways are much more excellent than ours, as is His timing. Isaiah 55:8 promises, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”Charles Spurgeon once said, “I have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.” There will be times when we wonder, “What on earth is going on? Why is this happening? When will it end? How is it going to be solved?” During the recent quarantine and virus scare, hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs. They could quickly become angered, doubt God, and shake their fists at Him. Out of panic or urgency, they could run to the quickest solution they can think of, even though that may be out of the will of God.We can rest assured that God loves us. Trusting Him does not require our knowing every step in advance, but to simply trust Him. God is a rewarder to those who put their trust in Him, and we can believe His promises:But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.—Matthew 6:33I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.—Psalm 37:25But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:19Sometimes we make financial decisions that we eventually regret. (Sometimes these decisions help to bring on a financial struggle, and sometimes we make these poor decisions in the midst of a financial struggle, thereby exasperating it). There are times when illness or other trials can make financial struggles unavoidable, but we will focus on financial struggles that were born of bad decisions. When we find that we have made unwise decisions, we must be willing to realign our financial beliefs with God's Word and accept the extra work and adjustments needed to work out the situation.Realize there is no easy way out. Running to a quick fix will usually make the problem even worse. Asking for loans from family and friends, refinancing a home, getting credit extensions, etc. will do nothing to solve the problem if you spent money on something you couldn't afford. My dad used to say, “If it is worth having, it is worth saving for” and, “The easy way out is rarely the best way out.”Know God has a plan in the midst of your trial. We should learn from the experience, pain, and discomfort of going through financial struggle and be encouraged to know that we can improve our perception of money so that we do not repeat the same mistake or action that brought on the financial struggle in the first place. One benefit of these trials is that we would learn to seek the Lord for counsel in future financial activity versus following our heart or old, long-held, unhealthy financial habits.Understand God's promises. The last thing we want to do is compound a mistake by making more mistakes. It is easy to think, “Maybe if I give less to the Lord, or stop giving for a while, I can get out of this mess.” That is man's attempt to correct an error or an unhealthy financial predicament, not God's. At the heart of the matter is the heart towards money. In a glaring contrast to man's view of handling money, Deuteronomy 14:23 reveals God's purpose for the tithe. It is God's will that we always put Him first, even when we mess up, or it seems difficult, “That thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always.” God's promises require trust and action. So that He, not we, can receive the glory.When things seem impossible to us, we ought to yield our ways to God's ways, humble ourselves, be willing to be changed, change our outlook, see things through the lens of Scripture, and trust God.
Anyone who tells you that they have local church ministry during Covid-19 figured out is either delusional or far wiser than I am. Because after thirty-four years of pastoring, I am finding this season the most challenging—by far. I have never seen anything like it. The health, political, and social challenges are real.Additionally, as a pastor, I am engaged in a work in which a primary aspect of my responsibility is calling people together to hear God's Word preached. Literally, my job is to gather crowds in a time when that is highly discouraged!I'm sure there has never been a time in my life when I have prayed more earnestly for God's wisdom nor sought clarity and counsel as frequently.As an undershepherd of Christ's church, I feel responsibleTo teach and preach God's Word to our church family.For the safety of our members and community.For the health of our church family.For the spiritual wellbeing of Christ's flock.To continue to reach out to our community with the gospel.Balancing all of these concerns is challenging, to say the least. Other pastors I have discussed these issues with have expressed the same challenges.Some pastors, church staff, or church members may look at just one issue—perhaps scientific data—and think the answers of how to proceed are clear as day. But I can assure you, it's not that simple. The Bible tells us, “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). Something similar could be said for there being safety in seeking guidance on multiple facets of these issues.In the midst of such conflicting information in the news and multi-level concerns for the church, how can a pastor make wise decisions regarding when and how to hold services, how to minister to the community, and how to biblically care for the spiritual wellbeing of his church family?There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. Here in California, we're still in a position to have to make new decisions almost every week as varying types of data emerge. But in making these decisions, there are several aspects I consider.1. Biblical ObedienceThis is where it starts and ends. My primary and ultimate concern is to obey Christ and follow His Word.God's Word commands us to assemble: “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 10:25).As I shared in a blog post, because assembling is a biblical mandate for the church, I do not see a scenario in which a church can refuse to assemble for an indefinite amount of time and be obedient to Christ. Obviously, there are emergency situations in which a temporary pause or change of venue (such as we all believed would be the case at the beginning of this pandemic) are not an abdication of assembly. But an ongoing, indefinite cessation of assembly cannot be an option on the table.While we will take every precaution possible to keep our church family and community safe—out of love for them and respect for government leaders working to protect public health—at the end of the day, we say with the apostles, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). And the general rule of weekly assembling is a biblical mandate.2. Spiritual ConcernI am concerned for our church members who want and need spiritual encouragement during what has become one of the most difficult times of their lives. These people—from medical professionals on the front lines of exposure to the virus, to widows and singles living alone, to young couples faced with the challenges of raising a Christian family during job losses, to men, women, and teens struggling with various emotional challenges—need the spiritual encouragement of preaching and fellowship more now than perhaps any other time.Every time our church is required to pivot in some regard to our services—outdoor or indoor location, service times, in-person or online group studies, etc.—I think of these people and how the options available in the decision could impact their access to spiritual growth.3. Legal GuidanceThe politicization of this pandemic has undoubtedly made the medical issues fuzzier than they would have been otherwise. Even so, there are public servants who are genuinely doing their best to protect public health.I respect the office of these leaders (as Romans 13 instructs us to do), and I appreciate the efforts of those who want to keep our community safe. To whatever extent we can comply with legitimate orders that do not conflict with God's commands, we absolutely will (and have done so).Over the past several months, I've spent much time trying to understand and follow the latest guidance. This has included frequent calls with legal counselors as well as with our local leaders at the city and county level. It has often been frustrating to receive conflicting counsel at federal, state, and local levels. But we have done our best to understand and work with those in authority. And we have been careful to question if our decisions are sound according to legal counsel.4. Physical NeedsI have concerns for those with underlying conditions. I'm legitimately concerned for Covid patients. I have had pastor friends experience serious cases of Covid-19. And even, one of our dear church members with Covid-19 went to be with the Lord. I don't take the physical needs lightly.When I speak to younger leaders, they sometimes tend to be dismissive of the health implications of the virus. Some hope for it to spread quickly so we can develop herd immunity. When I speak to older leaders, they usually tend to be concerned about taking as many precautions as possible. I pastor a church with people from infants to the elderly. I can't take a flippant attitude, and I can't take a fearful attitude. My practice has been to try to hear all of the concerns and be learning and understanding the best medical and safety procedures.5. Medical InformationThe medical information on Covid-19 is all over the map. Some outlets lead us to think that half of America is dying. Others seem to take it too lightly. Over the past several months there has been conflicting information, sometimes seemingly released at opportune moments to further one or another agenda.But because this is a real medical issue, I can't just assume no medical information matters. As a leader, I try to understand the dangers and needs for caution. Obviously, this varies from one state or local community to the next.6. Perception of Those Concerned Scripture commands me to show concern and deference, even to someone who is more concerned than I am. Romans 12:10 says, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” And Philippians 2:3–4 says, “…in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”If I, as a pastor, blow off the concerns of those in our own church who are fearful of contracting the virus, my brashness could limit the ability of some to receive spiritual encouragement because they do not feel they can come to services.Whether or not it is medically relevant, there is a real sense in which wearing masks, making careful provision for and following social distancing guidelines, and taking every precaution possible in church services becomes a matter of humility and deference. Even if I didn't think it was necessary for protection, I would gladly do it to facilitate spiritual support and encouragement for others.7. Testimony with CommunitySince I came to Lancaster, California, just over thirty-four years ago, it has been my prayer that no honest history of our community could be written without mentioning Lancaster Baptist Church. Our church's desire is to impact our community for Christ with the gospel.For thirty-four years, our church has reached out to every home in our valley with the gospel. We have served law enforcement and medical professionals. We have built relationships with our city and county leaders.So when those same leaders find themselves in the middle of a pandemic, I want to be a team player who helps serve the public health of our community. I want to be someone who listens to concerns and is part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.But beyond our relationship with community leaders, our church members are still inviting their friends and co-workers to come to our socially-distanced, masked, sometimes-outdoor services. Some have been saved. So, I don't want to brazenly defy the health concerns of an entire community and leave the people I want to reach with the gospel fearful of coming to our church.8. The Leading of GodEven with the seven considerations listed above, there are many variables from one church to the next and from one community to the next. For us, there have been variables from one week to the next! There's no special formula to make the perfect decision in such a challenging time. At the end of the day, as the senior pastor of our church, I must seek the wisdom of God and obey His impulses.If you're a pastor, seek God's face. Ask Him boldly for His wisdom. I've been claiming the promise of James 1:5 more now than at any other point in my ministry: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”If you're a church member or church staff, pray for your pastor. And trust God to lead and direct him. Although the context of Hebrews 13:17 is primarily spiritual, the reality of the phrase, “For they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account” is weighty. Speaking from the heart of a pastor, I can tell you that the physical pandemic overlaps real spiritual concerns for the flock. With this in mind, follow the guidance your pastor provides, even if your personal concerns or medical intuition would be less cautious.This pandemic has dragged on for a long time. And there are some indications that aspects of it will continue for some time to come. But it won't last forever. We will get through it. And if we are following the Lord and receiving His grace, we'll be stronger for it.Meanwhile, our church is having services, witnessing, finding ways to engage our community with the gospel, and, most of all, desiring to be found faithful to Christ.
Don't Quit Praying One of my favorite Scripture passages in the gospels is found in Luke 18:1–8. The first verse states the Lord's purpose, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” The purpose of this parable was to encourage God's people in the matter of praying; it was also to give them an incentive not to quit praying.The parable is told of a widow that went to a judge to seek his help in a matter. In the beginning, he evidently didn't give this woman any help. Perhaps he said, “I don't have time, nor am I interested in this matter; goodbye.” The parable indicates that this woman didn't take “no” for an answer. It seems that she was determined to get this judge to respond to her need in a positive way. The idea is that she was there continually.I get the idea that she was there when the judge arrived for work and would speak to him on his way into the courtroom. Maybe she was there during his recess and would speak to him about her need and case. Perhaps she was there when he headed home. Finally, the judge said, “While I don't fear God or regard the person of man, I am going to grant this woman's request lest she continue badgering me and wearying me with her continual coming.” Then the Lord goes on to say, “Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him.” That is a rhetorical question; the obvious answer is, of course, He will avenge His own elect.Let me give you some prayer lessons from this passage.1. God expects us to pray. It is obvious from this passage that our Lord is encouraging us to pray.2. God knows, as human beings, we tend to quit when things don't immediately happen as we ask. We are told here to keep on praying and not to quit. The indication is that there are times when God is going to stretch out the praying time and delay His response.3. God rewards those who continue praying.4. We know that God isn't giving us a lesson that we can have whatever we want as long as we pray long enough and endure enough—that is not the case. It is obvious that we are talking about something that is within the framework of God's plan for us. He wants us to pray, and pray, and pray some more.In my own life, I have found that God wants me to pray about His power for ministry. We need to know that the key to accomplishing things for God is not found in better programs or slick marketing techniques. While there is nothing wrong with programs or making sure the literature produced is first class, what we really need is the power of God upon our lives. That doesn't come unless we are praying. There is a price to be paid to have God's power.Whatever your problem may be, it is a problem that God wants you to pray about. There are times when God puts things in our lives that cannot be dealt with any other way than by prayer and seeking Him. Let me encourage you to learn from this parable—God wants you to pray, and pray, and pray some more.
Lessons from Two Men Who Spent Time in a Cave The battles intensified for Elijah. He had witnessed the power of God in defeating nature, death, Ahab, and Baal, but the next battle would not be so easy. This time it was Elijah vs. Jezebel.Jezebel was as committed to Baal as Elijah was to Jehovah. Her hometown was the worldwide headquarters for Baal worship. She spent a boatload of money housing 400 prophets during a brutal famine.When she took an oath, she was letting the world know that Elijah had 24 hours to get out of town. It would not be enough to send a company of soldiers out to kill the man of God, she had to discredit him. He had done great damage to the religion of Baal on Mount Carmel, and making a martyr of him would only worsen the situation. She needed Elijah to run.The discouraged preacher ran. From Mount Carmel in the north to Beersheba in the south, Elijah put as much distance between himself and Jezebel as he was able. With his servant in the rear-view mirror, he went to Mount Sinai (Mount Horeb), and found a cave.Certainly he knew the mountain was a holy place. The religious history of Israel was centered on the meetings of Moses with God on that mountain. But that cave may have been more holy than he knew. Five hundred ninety years earlier Moses had ascended that same mountain and found himself by a “clift of the rock.” More than one knowledgeable commentator thinks the cave of Moses in Exodus 33 and the cave of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 may have been the very same place.Two men in a cave on Mount Sinai. One was searching and one was hiding. Their motives and life standing could not have been more different, yet the visit to a cave on Sinai was precisely what they both needed.Maybe in our busy lives, we need to find our own “cave” where we are alone with God. We need to find a place where the cell phone doesn't ring, where twitter accounts don't need updating, and schedules don't run the day. Moses found direction. Elijah found encouragement. Perhaps the reason we have our doubts and discouragements stem from the lack of time we spend alone with God.In the Cave They Spoke with GodMoses spoke with God as a friend speaks to a friend. An upset Elijah spoke words of anger and frustration, yet it is fascinating they were speaking with God. They were not praying. They were not worshiping. They were talking to God.We can talk to our Father. Of course there are times we fall on our knees before Him in worship, and there are times we humbly pray according to His will. But these men had such a relationship with God, they could carry a conversation with Him.In the Cave They Returned to the Word of GodGod told Moses he would write His words in the tables of stone. For Elijah, the “Word of the Lord came to him.” The secluded spot is a great place to open the Bible and read. Sometimes, we need to put the notes and commentaries and computer programs aside, and just read the Word of God. No sermons. No lessons. No outlines. Just Bible.In the Cave They Were Challenged by GodMoses was impressed with the importance of the “presence” of God carrying the people of God. Elijah heard the question, “What doest thou here?” Both of the men were reminded they were incapable of accomplishing the King's business in their own power and ability. It is not about us. It is good to make our way to the cave and let the Lord remind us.In the Cave God Passed by ThemWhen God “passed by” Moses, the glory of the name of God was proclaimed. When God “passed by” Elijah, there was a great and strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire. This was a life changing moment in the lives of these two men. God passed by. They would experience stunning manifestations of the magnificence of God that no one else would ever know.When we are alone with God, we are in the place where He can pass by and change our lives permanently.In the Cave They Died to ThemselvesWhen Moses finally returned to the children of Israel, he had to put a veil over his face. Everyone that saw his shining face knew it was no longer Moses, but God speaking through Moses. When Elijah stopped talking and started listening to the “still small voice” of God, he impacted Hazael, Jehu, and anointed the next mighty prophet of Israel, Elisha. He would spend the rest of his life preaching to a world that knew he was different. He was the voice of God.George Mueller, when questioned about his spiritual power, responded simply, “One day George Mueller died.” It is awfully hard to die to ourselves when we are wrapped up in the hectic activity of the church. There has to be an appointment on the calendar where we get alone with God in a special place and let Him work on our hearts. We need to find our own little cave.
4 Reasons God Wants Us to Pray As a young pastor on the outskirts of Philadelphia, God gave me the good fortune of having a godly seasoned pastor as my trusted associate. His name was Al Johnson, and he believed in the power of prayer. Frequently, when the church was facing some kind of dilemma, I would walk down the hall to his office and say, “Pastor Al, I think we need to pray about this matter.” In jest he would grab the edge of his desk and ask, “Has it come to that?” Al, of course, was letting me know in his not-so-subtle way that prayer should be our first course of action, not our last resort.The Bible is clear that we, “Have not because we ask not” (James 4:3). Have you ever wondered why God makes us ask before giving us stuff? He already knows that we have need of it. So why, then, should we have to go through this preliminary round of asking? I think there are at least four basic reasons.First, asking recognizes our position. Seven different Greek words are translated ask in the King James Version. The particular word used in Matthew 7:7 suggests that the one asking is in a lower position than the one who is being petitioned. It is used of the priests asking Pilate to crucify Jesus (Luke 23:23), of subjects asking peace from a king (Acts 12:20), and of a child asking something from a parent (Matthew 7:9–10). Thus, when we ask something of the Lord, we are implying that He is over us. God would like for us to recognize His authority, and thus we are asked to pray.Second, asking recognizes our poverty. Obviously, we would not be asking unless we sensed our need. The very fact that we are asking implies that we have a need. We are a needy people. Humans frequently have a difficult time admitting that they have needs. But all of us need the Lord. God asks us to pray in order to remind us of our need of Him.Third, asking develops our persistence. The verb tense used in Matthew 7:7 implies continuous action. Keep on asking. God wants us to be persistent in prayer. In Daniel 10, the prophet had been fasting for three weeks. God had sent the answer to Daniel's prayer on the first day of his fasting, but the answer took three weeks to get there. God sometimes delays the answer to our prayers in order to teach us persistence.And finally, asking demands some particulars. We often pray in vague generalities. We ask God to, “Help us have a good day” or “bless the missionaries.” Of necessity, however, we must get specific with God at times. God longs for us to ask Him for the little things in life like, for instance, a parking space when we go downtown. God wants us to include Him in the little areas of life because as G. Campbell Morgan keenly observed, “Anything we take to God is little.” As Tony Evans says, “Some of us will never know if we have heard from God because we pray so vaguely.”So let us never fail to remember what it cost God for us to have access into the throne room. Let us never cease to marvel at the irrationality of the fact that God wants to hear from us. Prayer should be as natural to the Christian as breathing. Our spiritual life depends upon it. It really has come to that.
7 Reasons Christian Education Is Vital My life has been influenced, informed, and molded by Christian education. As a student, I greatly benefited from Christian education. And since beginning Lancaster Baptist School in 1989, I have labored as a teacher, parent, administrator, and pastor to weave the mind of Christ and a Christian worldview throughout the educational process.That's why this summer our administration has worked diligently with parents, attorneys, teachers, doctors, and government agencies to keep our Christian school open in this needy hour. I have conference called with Secretary DeVos at the White House and had a weekly call with administrators from other Christian schools. Even now, as we wait for waivers, guidance, and court rulings, I am moving forward with a plan for education in our schools, and we are working with many other schools as well.Why is this so important?1. Children re the Heritage of the LordLo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.—Psalm 127:3We do not believe it is primarily the state's responsibility to train children. Children are a treasure from God entrusted to the care of parents to raise for God. Thus, parents are accountable to God for every decision they make regarding the care and raising of their children.2. Parents Are Commanded to Train their ChildrenAnd, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.—Ephesians 6:4Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.—Proverbs 22:6Bringing up a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is not a passive endeavor. It's not something toward which a parent should take a “wait and see” attitude. This is an area in which we, as Christian parents, must be proactive and involved as we raise our children in the ways of the Lord.3. The Church Is Commissioned to Teach Biblical Truths to the Next GenerationGo 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…—Matthew 28:19–20And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.—2 Timothy 2:2As important as the Christian home is in the life of a child, the church also carries a responsibility to disciple and teach its members. In this way, a local church-based Christian school serves as a “teaching arm” of the church and provides an education that is Bible-based and Christ-centered. Such Christian schools provide a place of academic learning for children that strengthens their faith and establishes their hearts in God's ways.A biblical Christian school is something far more than an opportunity for Bible class or chapel. It provides a type of discipleship in shaping a Christian worldview as students learn—in history, economics, math, English, science, and more—to apply God's principles and see life through a biblical perspective.4. The Scriptures Affirm Tutors and Teachers Having a Role in Education and DiscipleshipNow I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.—Galatians 4:1–2Christian homes in the first century employed teachers and mentors whom they asked to help in the process of educating their children. Thus, it is entirely biblical for a father or mother, at their discretion, to allow their children to be taught and influenced by mentors and teachers who have godly Christian testimonies.5. A Threefold Cord Is Not Easily BrokenAnd if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.—Ecclesiastes 4:12Like a strong rope made of multiple cords, good influences weave together in the hearts of children to bring stability and keep them from evil. I believe that a godly family who is faithful in a biblical church and working with a Christian school makes a strong trio for raising Christ-centered children.6. Christians Are to Avoid Voluntarily Sitting in the Seat of the ScornfulBlessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.—Psalm 1:1The modern public education system is greatly influenced by the humanistic philosophies shared in the Humanist Manifesto. (I detailed these in the booklet The Value of Christian Education, Striving Together Publications, 2011, pages 25–29.) The anti-God and anti-biblical worldview of many public educators is something a discerning Christian parent will avoid.7. It Is Vital to Train Children Early in Biblical Principles to Follow in Years to ComeAnd that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.—2 Timothy 3:15As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, he pointed out that the biblical truths instilled in Timothy at an early age—from a child—had been meaningful in Timothy's life. Our goal as parents must not be to raise well-behaved, knowledgeable boys and girls. Our goal must be to raise Christ-centered, thoroughly-prepared adults. The influences we put in their lives as children have incredible potential in leading them on a path of biblical principles for years to come.Christian parents must have convictions of faith that Christian education is a calling—a responsibility—in their roles as parents.Over the years, I have seen that parents of Christian school students either play the part of consumers or of partners. And the differences between the two will be particularly meaningful this fall.Consumers are preference driven. If something isn't preferentially comfortable, a consumer will seek other outlets of education.Partners are co-laborers in the faith. They see themselves laboring arm-in-arm with those serving their children as “laborers together with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9) and “striving together for the faith” (Philippians 1:27). Partners work together with school administrators and teachers to help provide the best academic, social, and spiritual education possible.Many in America hate the Christian school movement and the Christ-centered applications of knowledge it provides. For the sake of the next generation, for the sake of the faith, let us prioritize Christian education this fall.
Red Lights Are Not Always Permanent Even a small child knows that a red light means to stop. But what does the word stop mean? It seems to be such a simple word, but the word stop actually has two inferences that are quite different from each other. On one hand, the word stop means to quit. If a father said to his son, “I want you to stop telling lies,” we would rightly assume that he means to quit lying...permanently.On the other hand, if a father saw his son about to run into the road, he may yell, “Stop!” That doesn't mean for the rest of his life he is forbidden to leave the yard or cross the street. His dad was not calling for a permanent stop, but a temporary stop. In other words...wait. When a traffic light turns red, it does not mean the drivers are to quit their journey. It doesn't mean they are to give up, turn around, and go home. It doesn't mean they are never again to travel this road. It simply means to wait. It is a temporary stop, not a permanent one. Honestly, it would be just as appropriate to call a red light a wait light as a stop light.There are many examples of divine red lights in the Bible. Take Abraham for instance. After receiving the promise from God that he would be the father of a great nation, he promptly got stuck at a red light. No son. Perhaps for the first few months after God made that promise to him, he kept thinking and expecting that his wife, Sarah, would conceive a child. But of course, she didn't bear Isaac until decades later.But if you think Abraham's red light was long, what about Noah's? God set him on a life journey that included a 100-year red light! Of course, if the light had turned green after 10 years or even 50 years, Noah and his family would have drowned.Have you ever been perfectly situated to go through a green light only to have someone else make a lane change, or a pedestrian step into the crosswalk, and cause you to miss your green light? That happened to Joshua and Caleb. They were revved up and ready to go. The light was green, and they were ready to roll. Then due to someone else's bad decision, they had to sit through 40 more years of a red light.Then there is Joseph. Poor Joseph. His life was reminiscent of that big boulevard that goes through the middle of pretty much every town and has a stop light every hundred feet. I'm sure your town has one.Go. Stop. Go. Stop.A dream and a vision...green light.Sold into slavery...red light.Favor and promotion in Potiphar's house...green light.Falsely accused and imprisoned...red light.Divine appointments and opportunities in prison...green light.Forgotten...red light.Remembered...green light.You get the idea.I want to direct your attention to a divine red light in the New Testament, encountered by the early church in the days immediately following Christ's ascension. They had been commissioned to take the gospel to the entire world. Notice the specific wording:Go ye therefore, and teach all nations—Matthew 28:19Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature—Mark 16:15Ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.—Acts 1:8But before they could even get up a full head of steam...BAM! A divine red light! Acts 1:4 reads, “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait...” When I read that verse in my Khmer Bible, it jumped out at me as a red light because it used the Khmer word haam which means to forbid. Jesus commanded them to leave Jerusalem and spread the gospel to the uttermost part of the earth, then turned right around and forbade them to leave Jerusalem! Doesn't seem to make sense, does it?But Jesus had a very definite reason for this red light. The red light didn't mean to abandon the mission, and it certainly wasn't an order to permanently stay in Jerusalem. Rather, it was a wait light. Jesus had them waiting for the Holy Spirit to be sent from the Father. Jesus knew that without the Holy Spirit their attempts at obeying the commission would be futile.So let's talk about divine red lights. Divine red lights are every bit as much a part of our lives today as they were in the Bible days. It's not a matter of if, but when. Nobody likes red lights, but as Christians we need to remember that God is God, and we are not. We need to remember that He knows what He is doing. We need to remember that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. Sometimes He sets a red light in our path to protect us. Sometimes it is to give us patience or develop more faith in us.There are myriad reasons why God may bring us to a red light, either in our ministry or personally. There are also myriad circumstances in life that could be classified as a red light. By a red light, I simply mean anything that seems to stop your forward momentum, slow you down, or force you to wait on God for a period of time. Here are a few examples:A missionary arrives on the foreign field with a passion to win the country for Christ. Language school and culture shock often brings his forward momentum to a screeching halt.A church is excited to win their city...then loses some key people or suffers a church split. Nothing like a good old-fashion' church split to bring a church to a stop.Health problems can be a major red light. Obviously health problems are a red light to the person who is ill or injured, but some health problems can cause an entire family or church to have to wait on God. For example, a pastor friend in California has been in a coma for the past nine months. That's been a major red light for his church and for his wife and children.The death of a loved one can stop a person in their tracks. A good friend and fellow-missionary here in Cambodia lost his dear wife recently. I don't think he knows at this point what the future holds for him. He is at a divine red light.Sometimes a church faces a logistics problem like finances or a facility. They want to go forward for God, but good intentions don't pay the bills. They want to reach more people, but if they did get more people, they wouldn't have any place to put them. Red light.Some red lights are hard to put your finger on exactly what the problem is. God just doesn't seem to be doing anything. It seems like the wind is out of your sails, and the air is out of your tires.I suppose the examples of divine red lights are virtually endless. What's yours? Are you sitting at a divine red light right now? As we read the account of the Jerusalem church, we see a good example of what we should be doing if we are stopped at a divine red light.1. Stay in the Car and Keep the Engine RunningOur culture is so obsessed with success that oftentimes people see a rough patch or a red light as the perfect time to bail out. For example, in the world of professional sports, many athletes will start to abandon ship and look for a new team if their season goes belly-up. Their team may have had a really good year, and they may have potential for some more really good years if they'll just stay together. But because they didn't win the championship, they feel like they failed. Time to move on!Sadly, some people are like that with their church too. As long as things are going well, good attendance, exciting services, forward momentum...they are in! But as soon as there is a red light...as soon as some families leave, the attendance dips, there is a dry season with few new converts or baptisms, a favorite staff member moves on, etc...they bail out. Sadly, sometimes it's the same way in a family. Many marriages have fallen apart while sitting at a divine red light.Notice the early church at Jerusalem and how they handled their red light:And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”—Acts 1:13–14Notice also how chapter 2 opens:And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.—Acts 2:1They survived their red light because while they were stuck at it, they stayed together. Imagine if they had all begun to scatter (like after the crucifixion). Imagine if the 120 had dwindled down to 12 because they were discouraged, disheartened, or disoriented by the stop light. But no, they just stuck together. The divine stoplights of life are not the time to walk out on your spouse, your family, your friends, your pastor, your church, or especially your God. When we come to a red light on the road, we don't get out of the car and walk off. Why would we do that at a divine stop light?2. Take Care of Whatever Business You Can While You WaitSuppose a person needs to readjust his seatbelt, pick up a pen that fell to the floorboard, turn to the back seat and scold a child, adjust his mirrors, or send a text message. In those cases, a red light really isn't the end of the world. In fact, a red light can be an opportunity to take care of a few important things.The problem is that many times in our lives and ministries, when we are sitting at a divine stop light, we tend to get lazy. After all, every week just seems to turn out the same as the previous week, so why try. It feels like God's power has been shut off. We've lost some people, and the ones who are still coming seem to be wavering. Be careful! That's a prime time for Satan to move in and convince you to slack off.When the apostles were stuck at a red light, not only did they stay together, but they also stayed busy.Notice what they did:And in those days, Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said...Men and brethren...of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us...must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two...and they prayed...and they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.—Acts 1:15–26They had a business meeting which was, incidentally, combined with a prayer meeting! But the point isn't the business meeting itself. The point is that they were busy at the red light. The task at hand, the job that needs to be done, will vary from person to person and from church to church. But it is a mistake to let things slide because “well, we're just kind of in a rut right now.”There are a couple of important principles found here in Acts 1 from which every church could benefit. First, notice that while they were sitting at a red light, they got busy replacing one they had lost. Sometimes we lose people due to death. (Sometimes I joke with our church people and tell them that if they die, then they have permission to quit coming to church.) More often than death though, we lose people to backsliding. This young church lost one of their friends to both backsliding and death, back-to-back. And his death was not of the “precious-in-the-sight-of-the-Lord-is-the-death-of-His-saints” variety. It is easy for us to write off Judas as a devil. We never knew him other than through the pages of the Bible, in which he is an obvious villain. On the other hand, I believe it was a very difficult time for the apostles and the rest of the disciples when they lost Judas. He was undoubtedly a friend, a companion, and a confidante.Losing someone from the inner circle hurts. In fact, losing someone from the inner circle often goes hand-in-hand with a divine red light. But the church realized that as much as they hurt in their hearts, the work of Christ was bigger than one man, and it had to go forward. Therefore, they replaced him. Sometimes the most important thing a church can do while idling at a red light is to work to replace those they have lost. Don't be discouraged when you don't reach 100 in a month. Just work and pray to replace that one whose loss caused so much heartache.Not only were they replacing who they had lost, but they were also establishing new leadership. This is definitely related to the replacement principle but takes it a step further. New leadership needs to be constantly developed and trained in the church, even in the times when it seems the church has stopped moving. It can feel pointless to train a Sunday school teacher when you are stuck in a small facility (i.e. red light) and don't even have a room to hold another Sunday school class. It is vital that we look for opportunities to train new leadership, because when we train leadership, we are investing in the future. Red lights don't last forever.3. Keep Your Eye on the LightSometimes it's funny to see a person who has no clue that their light has turned green. Perhaps they're engrossed in a conversation with someone else in their car or perhaps they are playing a game on their phone. I saw a guy recently who fell asleep while sitting at a red light! Sadly, the same thing happens at divine red lights.The Jerusalem church did not allow that to happen. Though they were taking care of some business, they were keeping their eye on the light, fully expecting it to turn green soon. Acts 1:14 tells us what they were doing: they were praying! The question is, for what were they praying? I believe they were praying for the Holy Spirit to come. Prayer should be based on the promises of God and the Word of God.I like what E.M. Bounds said about prayer. He said that God's Word is like an orchard, and each of God's promises are like pieces of fruit up in the trees. Prayer is climbing up one of those trees and picking a piece of fruit. There is no doubt in my mind that there was a very special promise at the forefront of every one of their minds. Notice what Jesus had repeatedly promised them just a few weeks previously.And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.—John 14:16I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.—John 14:18But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.—John 14:26But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.—John 15:26Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.—John 16:7Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth.—John 16:13And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.—Luke 24:49But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.—Acts 1:8They had definitely been walking in the orchard of God's promises, and one particular promise had caught their eye! They were looking for God's Holy Spirit!This orchard is still in full bloom today, and God invites His children to climb a tree and partake of His promises. When we are waiting for God to give us a green light, we must take great care not to get distracted by the toys and trinkets of the world. We must beware of spiritual drowsiness, too! The light will turn green, but we need to stay in sync with God. We must stay in the Word and prayer.When we are waiting on God, the answer is never less Bible and prayer. It is always more Bible and prayer. Get in the Bible and find God's promises to you. Then go to God in prayer, believing. Claim His promise. Remind Him of His promise. Plead with Him for His power and blessing. Time spent communing with God and pleading for His Spirit to work is never wasted and is always rewarded.So that's how the church at Jerusalem handled a divine red light. And boy, did their light ever turn green a short time later! I encourage you, whatever the divine red light is right now in your life or ministry, remember the early church at Jerusalem. Stay together, stay busy, and stay praying.
Let me go on record: I am not a fan of quarantine! I have Zoomed, FaceTimed, and Skyped until I have grown to detest the very words. It is just not the same hugging a television, a computer screen, or an IPhone as it is being close to a person you care very much about. Now having said that, I have committed the “nearly unpardonable” sin of watching livestream services in my sweatpants, with a cup of coffee in my hand, and secretly enjoyed the convenience.I have a fear that there will be a temptation to yield to the ease and convenience of staying home rather than the command to assemble ourselves. Disclaimer: yes, there are true and legitimate concerns for safety; and for those who are in real danger with underlying conditions, I get it, and in no way am I judging the need or decision for those reasons to stay away from church services. But there is true value in assembling ourselves; and absent real conditions and concerns, we must desire to get back to assembling ourselves together. Remember the omniscient Lord gave a command that is still in effect:And 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 10:24–25The day is coming when we must make the realization that going to church is not just us being consumers of a product, but us being active ministers of provocation (encouragement)—though I am quite a good provoker in other ways! We can be consumers by staying home and livestreaming whatever church or speaker catches our fancy that day; but as Christians, we have a God-given responsibility to encourage and exhort others in our local church. I would suggest that according to God, that is best done when we assemble. There was already a cultural shift in our world that allowed for what I call a devaluing of the church experience; we must not let the quarantine further that deceptive and dangerous movement. Church matters!Recently, Nancy and I had an opportunity that was just wonderful. Two of our granddaughters are high school graduates this year. Of course, so many who have worked so hard have lost the traditional joy of a graduation service. Thank God for those many educators and schools who have been so innovative in honoring these graduates in some way! To honor our graduates, we got together and had photographs taken to memorialize their achievement. What a wonderful time with grandchildren and our kids!While we were in the park taking pictures, someone snapped the photo above of Nancy and two of her grandsons. What a story, the joy being together. Though we had spoken to them by phone, text, and email, there was an unquestionable blessing in being with each other. I do not think anyone, without good reason, would prefer FaceTime to being with children and grandchildren physically, even though the content of the conversation could be the same. I am so glad the Holy Spirit does not FaceTime me but lives within me!We must be careful not to judge anyone who chooses not to assemble; be understanding of those who take a different view and make a different choice. But let each of us realize that when we are able, there is great value to and satisfaction in assembling ourselves together.

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