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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.
3 Actions Bible-Believing Pastors Can Take to Help Guide Their Churches Discerning Christians are aware that a revolution against God, godliness, and biblical teaching has been underway for the past few decades. We are currently seeing a rage in our society that resembles the description of Psalm 2 and will likely continue fomenting until our national election. Between the COVID-19 crisis and the anger in the streets, we need biblical Christians to discern the times and deploy with the gospel message.The revolutionaries are successfully intimidating Americans away from Scripture and reorienting society away from godliness. We see this taking place in several areas, but two in particular stand out:A fight against the sanctity of life: The Wall Street Journal reported just last year that the American birth rate is at a thirty-two-year low. The fall in birth rate coincided with the availability of the birth control pill.Environmentalism, which can border on being an idolatrous religion, has become a leader in promoting abortion. In an article in the Global Environmental Change journal titled “Reproduction and the Carbon Legacies of Individuals,” authors Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax went so far as to advocate for abortion because women must take responsibility for their “carbon legacy.”As Christians, we certainly believe that we are stewards of the world God created. But we are also stewards of the life He creates. And human life, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) is unimaginably sacred.A fight against the biblical family: The teachings of the Bible clearly collide with the revolutionaries' teachings because they reject the gospel revelation.In Genesis 1, God created human life in His image and designated male and female. In Genesis 2, He ordained marriage. Indeed, a stable society requires stable families. Yet, beyond the tragedies of pornography and divorce in our society, Satan has now convinced a seeming majority of people that even the designation of male and female is unnecessary. Just last year in Canada, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ordered that a fourteen-year-old girl could receive testosterone injections without parental consent. If the parents intervened, they would be charged with family violence. Society says that gender identity is up to the individual (even children) and has nothing to do with God.Furthermore, the titles of mother and father are being repudiated in Europe. Callum Paton reported in Newsweek that France's National Assembly voted in favor of amending the terms mother and father and instead using parent 1 and parent 2. These title gymnastics are designed to comply with the European Nations' laws on same-sex marriage.Here in America, corporations are now forced to acknowledge and address these changes. Just last month, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights act of 1964 which prohibits employment discrimination based upon one's “sex” now effectively means one's “sexual identity or gender identity.”Not so long ago, Pete Buttigieg said that God made him gay (an idea not found in Scripture). He demands Christians evolve in their understanding of this issue. Sadly, many churches are “evolving.”Besides the fight against the sanctity of life and the biblical family, we could list other platforms from which our society is raging against God. But I think it's evident that this is taking place.The response to the current crisis has been varied.Certainly, there is great anger in our land. We all see the angry demonstrations, and we hear from angry politicians. But average citizens are quite emotional as well. A June 30, 2020, Pew Survey indicates that only 17 percent of our citizens feel “proud” when thinking about our country. Anger and fear are widespread. In the same survey, 53 percent of adults said they are not hopeful about our country's future.We know anger is not the answer. “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:21). It is true that a godly Christian will be angry against sin and injustice, but the book of Proverbs repeatedly cautions us against the kind of reactionary anger that is currently being stirred in our nation.He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly…—Proverbs 14:17Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go:—Proverbs 22:24An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.—Proverbs 29:22Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.—Ecclesiastes 7:9A committed Christian will be a counter-revolutionary…but not through anger.So what should we do?It seems that as our society needs answers, many Christians are stammering and struggling. Perhaps the change of our worship schedules and the limitations on assembling as local church bodies has made it hard to know when to speak. Perhaps Christian leaders feel now is more of a time to encourage and comfort people. This has definitely been a part of my game plan lately. But we must do more.I believe there are at least three actions Bible-believing pastors must take:Preach about The Sacredness of God's InstitutionsIn the midst of a confusing and hateful moment, we must preach for life and the biblical family. We must open God's Word and speak to the issues of the sanctity of life, the sacredness of a God-created gender identity, and the sacredness of the family.Our second president John Adams said it well:It is the duty of the clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against such sins as are most prevalent, and recommend such virtues as are most wanted. For example, if exorbitant ambition and venality are predominant, ought they not to warn their hearers against these vices? If public spirit is much wanted, should they not inculcate this great virtue? If the rights and duties of Christian magistrates and subjects are disputed, should they not explain them, shew their nature, ends, limitations and restrictions?How will the people in our churches overcome the aggressive onslaught of secularization and anti-God rhetoric and philosophies if we don't biblically address these areas? Because these ideas are so pushed on secular college campuses, young adults—in particular—are vulnerable to philosophies which could draw them away even from the faith.Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville toured America to understand the secret of her greatness. He wrote:I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers—and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce—and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution—and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great. (emphasis added)But if the pulpits are no longer aflame with righteousness, could it be that the people will no longer know the truth?Stop Mimicking the Message of the RevolutionariesSadly, in the midst of major cultural upheaval, many Christian blogs and podcasts are little more than the regurgitating of secular ideas with some Bible verses tacked on. And the ideas they are sharing are often rooted in agenda-driven, hard left goals of dismantling the biblical institutions of the home, government, and church.For instance, recently we have heard the plea to acknowledge that black lives matter. Every biblical Christian acknowledges that black lives do matter and that racism is a sin. (I preached a Sunday morning message on this topic two months ago.) I am burdened for my black friends and neighbors who have felt their lives are devalued by our society, and I am thankful for any wise steps that lead to healing in our society.At the same time, however, I'm concerned to see the Black Lives Matter organization gaining such traction among well-intentioned people who want to help. Even a cursory look at blacklivesmatter.com reveals an underlying agenda, including stated objectives to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure,” ”foster a queer‐affirming network,” and “do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege.” This is not an organization that is bringing real help to black families…or to anyone else, for that matter. Rather, it seems to me to be an anti-Christian organization seizing the moment to push their agenda.So when a Christian turns all his creative energy for blogs and podcasts to restate what is already being stated in secular spheres, he loses the opportunity to share the transforming power of the gospel and exactly how it changes lives.What is happening today is that the revolutionaries are setting the conversational bait, and soft preachers are taking it.Part of this is because Christian leaders are acting with false guilt. Part of it is because they are not disciplining their minds to thoroughly examine what they are passing on. Part of it may be that they themselves are not grounded and experienced enough in Scripture to, “By reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).The collateral destruction is larger than a single podcast episode or blog post. I fear that churches today are “evolving” in their convictions and are at the same time losing the truth.Pastor, what about what you want to share is uniquely biblical? If it could be said by someone who isn't a Christian or if it is solely on the topics non-Christians are discussing, you may need to go to Scripture for a fresh message.Preach the GospelRound tables and discussions on current issues are good. I have met with many groups and leaders in my own community to discuss legal, moral, and ethical issues of our day. But I won't do these meetings without sharing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.At the root of the revolutionary message is faulty theology—about man and his depravity, about sin and its consequences, and about salvation and its availability through Christ.So the message this world needs is not kinder Christians who “lovingly” encourage people to seek salvation in themselves. The message this world needs is that Christ died for their sins, was buried, rose the third day, and offers salvation to all who will believe.Preach the gospel.ConclusionWe want to be wise. We want to listen to counsel. We still care for the concerns of our church members. But above all, we want to follow Christ and lead others to Him.The combination of problems facing our country and the people we serve is astounding. But we serve a God who offers peace, grace, and healing.
That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.–2 Thessalonians 2:2Our World in Data estimates that 284 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 19.1% of Americans had an anxiety disorder in the past year. A recent article in a Christian news periodical raised concerns over the spiked increase of anxiety disorder since our country has been in shelter in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Paul carefully and compassionately addresses believers who were soon shaken in mind and troubled. Let us see God's help for a troubled mind.We See the SourcePaul was addressing his friends at the church at Thessalonica. He described their situation as being soon shaken in mind and troubled. There was the problem of persecution. Persecution is when you are threatened, attacked, and spitefully pressured by those who oppose you. The believers took a bold stand for their faith, but the intensity and nonstop assaults took a toll on their spiritual and mental well-being. There was the problem of personal paranoia. Paranoia is defined as a troubled mind. They were fearful of harm. They were fearful of loss. They were fearful of danger. Their fears overtook them, and they were much shaken. Paul had not been away from them very long, but his physical absence resulted in them being soon shaken in mind.We See the SicknessWhen we are afflicted by fear, our faith and trust in God is little. Praying becomes difficult. Trusting God feels impossible. We withdraw from other people. Sleeping becomes difficult, and we have insomnia. We lose our appetite and do not eat well. We show in our faces that we are anxious. Anxiety disorders can be a stronghold of the mind and spirit that enslaves us. When this stronghold sets in, it is difficult for us to concentrate. Our minds wander. We tend to think in the negative. We expect the worst to happen instead of the best. Our nights are long and mornings difficult. Be careful of anxiety disorders becoming a stronghold and making you captive to their power.We See the SolutionFirst, bring every thought captive to the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ. Pray for an extended season until you know that the burden is lifted and the stronghold is released. Second, have faith in the fact that God is in control. Remember, you are a child of God and have overcome this world. “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” Third, see the future in its brightness: Jesus is coming soon! Don't let the soon coming of Christ overtake you as a thief in the night. Be steadfast in doctrine, duty, and devotion. Rearrange your daily schedule to serve others. Commit to a Bible study with a spiritually mature person whom your pastor can recommend to help you learn God's Word. Fourth, there is good hope through grace in our Lord. Dwell in God's love and comfort for your life so that this settles your heart and mind in the Lord. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:15–17.If you have been soon shaken in mind and troubled, there is help from our Lord. Jesus is a nail in a sure place for your faith and trust. Come to God for His good hope through grace for your mind and spirit.
7 Thoughts on Leadership in Time of Crisis Times of crisis are the most difficult times to lead. The leader faces all of the same pressures and difficulties that everyone else does. On top of that, he carries the weight of the organization and the people within it upon his shoulders. That being said, a crisis is when a leader is needed most. How we lead during difficult days will determine how effective we are and how we will be remembered.One of the greatest leaders in the Bible is Joseph. Joseph was not a pastor; he was a politician. He overcame extraordinary trials to become the Prime Minister of Egypt at the young age of thirty. He led the nation through a worldwide famine and economic depression. The world may have starved if it had not been for Joseph's leadership. When COVID-19 began sweeping through our country, the Lord led me to Genesis chapter 41. I want to share some crisis leadership principles that have helped me in recent days.1. Lead YourselfThen Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.–Genesis 41:14The crisis began when Pharaoh had a dream he could not interpret. In a few frantic moments, Joseph is called from prison to the palace. He gets shaved, dressed, and before he knows it, he is standing before the most powerful man on the face of the earth.It may only take fifteen minutes for a man to get his body ready to stand before the king in the moment of crisis, but it takes much longer than that for a man to get his heart and mind prepared. In a few short hours, Joseph will be leading a nation.Joseph was ready to lead others publicly because he had been leading himself privately for years. His heart was right with God. His emotions were under control. His mind was sharp. In a metaphorical sense, we have all been “in prison” over the last months. How have you been leading yourself? How has your Bible reading and your prayer life been going? Have you disciplined yourself to get your work done? Have you been discerning in your entertainment choices? We should not expect God to call us to the palace if we have not been faithful in the prison. Before a man can do much for God he must first be much with God. Before we can lead in a crisis, we have to lead ourselves.2. Know the Difference between the Source and a ResourceAnd Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.–Genesis 41:16When Pharaoh asked Joseph for the interpretation of the dream, Joseph told him, “I am not the source of peace. I am a resource. It is not in me. I am someone who can point you to the One who has the solution to your crisis.” In that answer, Joseph did two critical things: First, he gave glory to God. Second, he took the pressure off of himself. Joseph did not have all the answers, and he did not have to have all the answers. He was merely a man who pointed others to God.Leaders, remember that you are not the ultimate source of truth, provision, or wisdom. God is. The greatest thing the leader can do for his spiritual health and for the health of those who follow him is to direct them to God and His Word. Leaders have clarity in crisis, but they know where they got it.3. Be Transparent and Tell the TruthIn verses 25-32, Joseph gives Pharaoh the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The king probably loved the first part of Joseph's prediction: Seven years of bumper crops and economic explosion. He probably did not appreciate the second part of the prediction: seven years of famine that would lead to a depression so severe the years of plenty would be totally forgotten. Joseph would have faced the all-too-familiar temptation to water down the truth to curry favor with Pharaoh. He refused.The leader's job is not to trim the truth, complain about the truth, or react to the truth. It's to accept it, declare it, and to lead people to respond accordingly.4. See Crisis as an Opportunity, Not an ObstacleLet Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.–Genesis 41:34-36While everyone else focused on the problem, Joseph was leading towards a solution. He could see that God was doing something—not in spite of the crisis, but because of it. Our church has seen God do some important work during this crisis. We have seen souls come to Christ. We have experienced seasons of encouragement and unity. New ministries have been started, and new platforms have been adopted. The crisis has also revealed some weaknesses that need to be strengthened. We would have never known about them if not for the famine.Charles Spurgeon said, “Trials make room for consolation. There is nothing that makes a man have a big heart like a great trial. I have found that those people who have no sympathy for their fellows, who never weep for the sorrows of others very seldom have any of their own. Great hearts could be made only by great troubles.”The classic leadership debate is, “Are leaders born or made?” The answer is both. Crisis is the crucible in which the leader's dross is purified, and his resolve is strengthened. We should all see crisis as an opportunity to grow.5. Refuse to Promote YourselfJoseph had a million-dollar idea, but he did not assume that he was the man to implement it.Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men: For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.–Proverbs 25:6-7In a crisis, people will find a leader. You will turn around, and they will be following you. If no one is following, it may not be your time to lead yet. Keep leading yourself and refuse to be a self-promoter.6. The Leader's Greatest Need Is the Filling of the SpiritAnd Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:–Genesis 41:38–39Pharaoh did not say, “Can we find such a one who is as handsome, educated, winsome, or eloquent as this one?” Joseph's wisdom, discretion, and godliness distinguished him from others. After knowing him for only a few minutes, it was apparent God was with him and in him.In his classic book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders observes, “Spiritual leadership requires Spirit-filled people; other qualities are important; Spirit-filling is indispensable.” Leader, can others see Christ in you?7. Be Willing to make Unpopular DecisionsHow do you think the Egyptian people responded to a 20% tax during the years of plenty? My guess is that Joseph was wildly unpopular. He was willing to bear the burden of unpopularity, however, because he had a Word from God, and he knew he was doing the right thing.Every leader has to decide whether he wants the people that follow him to like him, or whether he wants to lead them. Those things are not always mutually exclusive, but sometimes they are.Genesis 41:54 says, “And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.”Crisis times are the most difficult times to lead, but leaders can make a difference.
Think of Others at Christmastime Christmas will be difficult for many this year. Perhaps the death of loved ones is becoming incredibly real all over again, or maybe financial hardships have brought a family to the breaking point. I hurt deeply for those who are struggling, suffering, or sorrowing this Christmas. Christmas is the message that Christ came to help His people. And just as God gave mankind the greatest gift, we are to make giving a priority this season.Here is my question for you—how will you be a help to someone in need? Do something special and out of the ordinary this season, and if you're not sure how, here are a few ideas.Go Caroling to the ElderlyMy family has been able to do that on many occasions, and we absolutely love it. Some of the people we sang to were sick. Some of them were widows. Some of them were hospitalized. And some have since gone home to Heaven. While we are the ones striving to be a blessing, we always leave blessed. We take them some cookies that Amanda and Alayna bake with some notes from our family and some pictures from our kids.Use Your Phone on Christmas DaySend a few messages; make some calls. Send an encouraging or funny picture to someone that you know might need it. Think of others on that morning, not just you.Open up Your HomeInvite someone who can't make it home or some young couple with no family nearby. Or open your home to a shut-in who doesn't have anyone to spend Christmas with. Maybe someone you know has family serving in the military on foreign soil. Invite them over or reach out to them in some way.You Can GiveThere will be many who won't have any funds this year. Find them and put some extra cash in their pocket or discover what their kids enjoy and bring some gifts. Or maybe you could bring them a meal or give them some decorations to brighten their home.I hope this holiday season will be more than just a reprieve from the rigors of your job. Look for ways to be compassionate to the hurting, lonely, discouraged, broken, and depressed.
At Lancaster Baptist Church, we give “Christmas gifts to Jesus.” It's an opportunity for us as a church to tangibly give to the Lord whose birthday we celebrate, and it's a great way for children to be reminded of the real purpose of Christmas.But the truth is, regardless of the gifts we present to Jesus at Christmas, Christmas really is all about His great gifts to us.What are the Christmas gifts given from Jesus?The Gift of His PresenceBehold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.—Matthew 1:23Let those three words—God with us—sink in. Meditate on the phrase, emphasizing each word a different time.Christmas means we are no longer alone, and we do not face the needs of our life with human resources. God Himself took on flesh and is with us.The Gift of His SympathyFor we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.—Hebrews 4:15–16Have you ever been going through something difficult and longed to talk to someone else who knows how you feel? Not only did Jesus come to us, but He cares for us. He felt what we feel and allowed Himself to be tempted with our temptations. And He invites us to cast our cares on Him, knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).The Gift of His PeaceGlory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.—Luke 2:14The angels said it first—Jesus' birth brought peace. He is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), and through Him we have both peace with God (Romans 5:1) and the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).The Gift of His RighteousnessFor he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.—2 Corinthians 5:21This verse is one of the most astounding verses in the Bible to me. Jesus not only took our sin on Himself at the cross, but He gives us His very righteousness when we trust Him as our Saviour.The Gift of Eternal LifeAnd I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.—John 10:28Jesus didn't come just to be a token of God's love to mankind. He came to give us eternal life. He came to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He came to pay for the barrier in our relationship with God.And what this gift of eternal life cost Him! Yes, salvation is the true gift of Christmas.No wonder the apostle Paul—who never got over the wonder of his own salvation and spent the rest of his life bringing the news of salvation to others—would write, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15)!Every Christmas gift from Jesus actually is Jesus. He is the unspeakable gift.
Thirty-four years ago this summer, the Lord brought our family to Lancaster, California. On our first Sunday night service, I preached a message from Philippians 1:27 which not only set the direction of our church for these past thirty-four years, but also became our theme verse.Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;—Philippians 1:27In recent days, I've been thinking especially of the phrase “whether I come and see you, or else be absent.” As our church family has been physically separated now for the past several weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, this phrase has taken on new significance.I'm grateful that our church family has risen to the challenges of the moment and maintained the unified spirit, mind, and faith the apostle Paul wrote about in this verse. This unity is the result of the grace of God and the Christ-centered focus of our church family.But whether it is a single local church or the combined efforts of multiple churches (such as in sending missionaries or planting a new church), Paul gave us three components of what creates true gospel unity.One SpiritEffective gospel effort requires Spirit-filled labor. This is why it is vital that everyone involved in a church or gospel endeavor is saved and surrendered to the work of the Holy Spirit in their personal lives.And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;—Ephesians 5:18As our church begins a new season of returning to corporate worship after two months of absence from one another, I have no desire to externally motivate people or guilt them into returning before they have peace in their spirit. In fact, my greatest concern as we enter this season is my personal walk in the fulness of the Spirit. And that is what I desire for our church family as well. As multiple individuals are indwelt by and yielded to the Holy Spirit, the result will be a unified group with “one spirit.”One MindEven surrendered Christians can find themselves pulling different directions from one another. So how did the early church maintain such unity in purpose as they marched forward for Christ?Well, in reality, they didn't always maintain one mind, but when they didn't, the apostles appealed to the authority of Scripture (which was sometimes being delivered in real-time through them into the New Testament we have today). Where unity returned was where all parties brought their minds under the Word of God.Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.—Philippians 3:16Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:—1 Peter 1:22We, too, are bound to one another by the truth. There is no unity like the oneness that comes through shared doctrine formed through a shared commitment to God's Word as the final authority.All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.—2 Timothy 3:16–17When you think about it, everything that the early church preached and practiced was contrary to their culture and society. But through the gospel and their shared obedience to Christ, the early churches were unified around the truths they held dear.One FaithThere is a battle raging today for “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). Many are leaving the faith, many have crawled into a closet to hide, but we must stand for our faith. This is the exhortation of Philippians 1:27: “that ye stand fast.” A group of people who cherish the faith and rally around it in their shared purpose is a group of people who have gospel unity.So how do we stand fast in the faith with unity?It begins with a personal stand in our everyday living. We can't deny Christ in our Monday through Saturday lives and effectively labor with others at church on Sunday. This is why Paul warned Timothy to take heed to himself as well as to his doctrine.Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.—1 Timothy 4:16When individual members of a church family share this personal commitment to the faith, they are in unity as they stand for the faith in the church life.Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.—Titus 1:9And when a church stands for the faith as a unified body, they can expect it to impact their community…which will eventually result in opposition.Sometimes we forget that Philippians 1:27 is followed by verse 28 which says, “And in nothing terrified by your adversaries….” The church at Philippi had adversaries who not only opposed them, but apparently opposed them with persecution which could have been terrifying.So Paul admonished them to expect adversaries and persecution. He encouraged them not to forsake the assignment God gave them because of opposition and suffering, but to stand strong by standing together in it.Striving TogetherThe unified efforts of the church at Philippi didn't happen in a vacuum. They were the result of one spirit, one mind, and one faith.In a season unlike any we have faced before, as churches around the world determine how and when to return to corporate worship, may we all heed the admonition of Philippians 1:27. May we, like a championship rowing team with synchronized efforts, strive together in one spirit, with one mind, and for the one faith of the gospel.
These are unusual days for everyone and unique days to serve in a church. Over the last few weeks I have spent a great deal of time talking and praying with pastors who are doing their best, under God, to lead their churches through this crisis time. While these faithful pastors are working to help God's people, we should also be thinking about how God's people can help God's pastors. Remember, we are all in this together!1. Be PrayerfulThe most effective use of our words is always in talking to the One who can do something about it! In Hebrews 13 we are encouraged to “remember…follow…obey…and submit” to spiritual leaders (Hebrews 13:7, 17). However, one of the most overlooked requests in the passage is the key to all of the others: “Pray for us” (Hebrews 13:18). If ever there was a time to intercede for your pastor and help to carry the load in prayer, it is now.2. Be PatientEvery under shepherd is being called upon to make difficult decisions. The shepherd's job is to look out for the entire flock–and sheep often go in different directions! Know that we do not always have all of the information and give your pastor room to make decisions as God gives him definite direction.3. Be PositiveThere are enough naysayers in the world, people who focus on the negative and can only tell you what they do not like. By God's grace, don't be that person! Speak a good word and ask the Lord to make you an encourager.4. Be a ParticipantOver the last couple of months church members have been limited in their involvement. We must guard against becoming disconnected. Now is the time for faithful Christians to take their place alongside the pastor and do their part to help the church move forward. Be more than a spectator.Write your pastor an encouraging note this week. Do something nice for his family or send a kind text message. You never know how God may use you to help both him and the entire church.
Scheduling Your Time for the New Year Have you ever found yourself thinking: “I wish I had more time?” When flying back home from the East Coast, I have sometimes had the ridiculous notion—“This is going to be an awesome day! I gain three hours flying home. I have twenty-seven hours today to get everything done.” By the end of those days, I am glad the Lord, in His wisdom, only gave us twenty-four!The story is told of an old Norwegian who kept very careful notes of his life in a series of notebooks. On his eightieth birthday he pulled all of those notebooks off the shelf and began to compute his life. He was surprised to find that he had spent five of his eighty years waiting for people. He had spent six months tying neckties, three months scolding children, and eight days telling dogs to lie down and be quiet!Each week of our lives brings us one hundred sixty-eight hours. When someone complained to Ralph Waldo Emerson that they did not have enough time, Emerson responded with: “Well, I suppose you have all the time there is.” According to reports, the average person spends fifty-six hours a week for rest and recuperation. We spend approximately twenty-eight hours for eating and personal duties. We use forty to fifty hours each week earning a living. That leaves us with thirty to forty hours every week to use as we please.May I challenge you in this New Year to set some goals with respect to your time for God. One wise man has said: “God has not bowed to our nervous haste nor embraced the methods of our machine age. The man who would know God must give time to Him.”Now, I know that some of you reading this have tried New Year's resolutions in the past and have failed. We have decided we are going to lose fifteen pounds or read fifteen chapters in the Bible a day or memorize fifteen verses a week or stay out soulwinning until someone gets saved. Often, these types of numerical goals leave us frustrated and defeated.In 1 Corinthians 16, the Apostle Paul is letting some folks know that he has set some goals of “time.” In verse five and following he writes: “Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia. And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go. For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.” Notice that Paul is not focusing on what he would like to accomplish at these places—only that he is designating on his schedule some “time” for them.Look at your schedule—particularly those thirty to forty hours that are “left over.” Set some goals for the year. How about spending fifteen or thirty minutes a day in Bible reading and prayer, an hour or two a week for soulwinning, ten minutes a day for Scripture memory, or perhaps a couple hours a week for some special family time. I will let you decide your priorities, but if they really are priorities, they are going to require some “time.”When asked what he would do if he knew Christ would return in three days, Evangelist George Whitefield replied, “I would do just what I have scheduled to do.” How will you schedule your time in 2020?
3 Ideas to Help Your Church Adapt to its Needs A common challenge that every church planter will be faced with is the challenge of making “mountains out of mole hills.” I am not talking about blowing a given issue out of proportion, rather, I am speaking of providing majestic mountains on mole hill resources. Every church planter will encounter the burden of balancing the need for offering a full service ministry with the limitation of facilities and volunteers. You won't have everything that most people think you will need to have a “real church,” and yet, that is exactly what you are—a real church. It may be a little ragged around the edges outwardly, but there is a whole lot of energy on the inside.I find that far too often young pastors and churches are frustrated by their current living conditions and, in the process, shift their focus from trusting in God to relying on the tools they have at their disposal. It's time we reassess, find encouragement in the moment, and seize the days we are in right now. We must shift our focus back to the basics and remember that we were called to face these very challenges. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:-1 Corinthians 1:26-29We must become willing to view these challenges as opportunities and not obstacles.Our church met in ten different meeting places in the first six six years due to growth and other unavoidable circumstances. Each of those places offered various opportunities for us to create a unique arena for service; and each phase, in some way, molded the church that we are today. In fact, the design of our new church building incorporated ministries that were begun because of limitations in rented facilities when we had a weekly attendance of twenty-five. As we adapt to our various limitations, we find that we can grow in spite of the challenges. Here are some basic rules to apply.1. Be Content, Not ComplacentThe prevailing attitude within the leadership of any church should be a genuine contentment with where the church is and what it has. Your ministry is not now what it will someday be, but waiting until later is not an option; later is dependent on now. Contentment does not allow for complacency. We must constantly expand the vision and take steps forward. As the church grows, make certain the facility allows for growth in all areas such as nursery and children's ministries.2. Be Creative, Not ComplicatedAs a new church, you will face obstacles not realized by established ministries. You will have an opportunity to be creative with almost every ministry. Rented facilities require you to be flexible with service times, and they offer wonderful opportunities to create ministry. Set up teams are the fastest way to “employ” upwards of eighty percent of the church body in the work of the ministry. Ownership comes quickly when people are needed.We had a six hour window in our building during the first two years we rented. Rather than cut a service, we held Sunday School at 10:00, our morning worship at 11:00, fed everybody lunch each week, and then had a 1:30 afternoon service in lieu of our evening slot. This method generated more opportunity for fellowship and discipleship than we ever could have had otherwise. The key is to not change to the point of becoming complicated. Set a consistent pattern in your services and have them every week, even if you have to find an alternative meeting place to accomplish this. Give people services and ministries worth investing in and inviting to.3. Be Christ-centered, Not Conceited1 Corinthians 1:29, That no flesh should glory in his presence1 Corinthians 1:31, That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.God gives opportunities and allows obstacles; He gives the purging and the increase. We ought to be concerned only with His glory and not how we are perceived. Each step of ministry is uniquely designed by God to shape and mold our ministries into what He desires. Sometimes it is better to be energized by “what is” than to be enamored with what “will be.” Don't wait; find out right now what God wants you to be doing with your mole hills on the way to the majestic mountains.After the revolution, George Washington was staying in Boston where British General Howe had once lodged. He supposedly got into a conversation with a little girl there. “You have seen the soldiers on both sides,” he said, “which do you like the best?” The little girl said she liked the redcoats the best. Washington laughed and said: “Yes, my dear, the redcoats do look the best, but it takes the ragged boys to do the fighting.”Don't be afraid of not looking the best. Just put up the fight right where you are with what you have.

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