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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.
Revival Preaching Is Biblical Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosenyou, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that yourfruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, hemay give it you.—John 15:16The night before Hedied on the Cross, Jesus told His disciples that He had ordained (appointed)them, and all those who believe on Him, to experience a very wonderful life. Itis a life of productivity (abiding fruit), and miracles (answered prayer). NoChristian could ask for anything more. In the tenth chapter of John, the Lordsaid we would have life “more abundantly,” and this statement in chapter fifteenis referring to that abundant life. Some Christians, however, express doubtabout whether such a life can actually be experienced and sustained.With the rise of interestin real, scriptural revival has come concern in some quarters that seeking andpreaching revival might do us harm. Some voices express the fear that a revivalemphasis will bring disappointment that will hurt faith. Others say that theemphasis breeds frustration, as Christians pursue ideals that are neverachieved. We are told by detractors of revival not to raise expectations, or giveweight to certain promises, or lead people to pray for a filling with theSpirit. Those who believe in revival, however, see such concerns as rising fromunbelief, and believe that the new interest in God-given revival is a goodthing for Bible-believing Christians. The truth is that the worries aboutrevival talk come from doubts that the abundant life can be lived—that revivalis achievable and sustainable.In the thirteenththrough the seventeenth chapters of John, we read what Jesus said to Hisdisciples about what His followers can expect in the New Testament age. Withtheir Mediator seated at the right hand of the Father, believers have specialprivileges in prayer. With the Spirit of God dwelling inside them, Christianscan expect supernatural enablement to fulfill their mission. The words of Jesusin this important section of the Bible promise us a life of miracles (John14:12-14), victory (John 14:15-17), divine manifestation (John 14:18-23),illumination of Scripture (John 14:24-26), abiding peace (John 14:27), and spiritualreproduction (John 15:1-12). These are the things Jesus told us to expect if wewill “abide” in Him; that is, live in complete submission to Him (John15:9-11). Revival preaching calls on Christians to live this way and to expectthese things. The question for many Christians is whether such a life is really“do-able.”Believers who seekrevival in their lives and in their churches will not be disappointed orfrustrated if the abundant life is do-able. Those who think that a revivalemphasis puts the congregation on a perpetual “guilt-trip” (as some criticshave argued) don't think that the abundant life promised by the Lord Jesus isreally do-able. But Jesus certainly said that it is.He summed up Hisdescription of this life (described elsewhere in the New Testament as being“filled with the Spirit”) in terms of friendship with Him (John 15:13-16),concluding with the promise of productivity and miracles. This is the life Heplanned for us, and therefore it is do-able. Since revival is achievable andcan be sustained and lived, we must take care to handle our talk about it withcare.1. Don't Preach As if it Isn't Do-ableBoth proponents ofthe truth that we can expect God to revive His people in response to theirrepentance and faith, and those who deny this idea, must be careful not to actas if the victorious life is beyond the reach of most believers. Even revival preachingcan sound as if the Lord expects things out of His children they can never giveHim. It is true that God does expect things of us that we cannot produce apartfrom faith in Him for enablement. This is the message of the fig tree that wascursed for not bearing fruit even though the time of figs was not yet. Jesus saidwe must have faith in God, and the life of faith will make do-able what livingaccording to the flesh cannot do. Preachers need to live a life of faith and befilled with the Spirit in order to preach about these things, so that folks canbelieve they can live this way.2. Don't Deny That it Is Do-ableOpponents ofrevival need to be careful about what they say. The concept of revival (when itis defined scripturally) is that of God bringing His people back to spiritualhealth. Sometimes we have confused revival with its results. New TestamentChristianity is such a powerful thing when it is lived that it always has amighty effect on the unconverted. The revival in times of widespread awakeningamong the lost was not in conversions but rather in a change in believers that broughton the conviction and salvation of so many of the lost. The idea that revival onlyhappens as a sovereign act of God has no support in the Bible. Although God issovereign (and we are grateful that He is), not everything He does is asovereign act. The conditional promises of Scripture say that if men will dothis, God will do that. In matters affected by a conditional promise, God canbe expected to do what He said He would do. If we confess our sins, forexample, the Lord is faithful to forgive us. About revival, God says, “If my people…then will I,” and “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh toyou.”Critics of revivalsay that it doesn't matter if believers repent of their sins or seek God'sface; He will not revive them (bring them back to spiritual health) unless Hehas independently chosen to do it. Revival as an unpredictable, unlikely eventrather than the promised response from a God who is ready to revive His peopleis not a teaching of the Bible. And the related teaching that denies thedo-ability of the Christian life as taught by Jesus is virtually blasphemous. 3. Don't Live Without ItThese things have I spoken unto you, that inme ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of goodcheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33We can live in Christand experience “peace.” This is living by faith, walking in the Spirit,savoring the things that be of God. Otherwise we will live “in the world” andexperience “tribulation.” This is living by sight, fulfilling the lust of theflesh, savoring the things that be of men. Every Christian can learn to live inJesus. Jesus died, rose again, and ascended to Heaven in triumph so that wecould have this abundant life. It is the revived life, and it definitely isdo-able!
The Stirring of a Church to Revival Sermon outline: This is an abbreviated outline with the complete sermon downloadable at the bottom of the post.Text: Acts 9:36-43 Title: Revival in Joppa Introduction: Acts 9 is a testimonial of: The miracle of salvation! The ministry of serving! The manifestation of a overeign God! This passage is about how the Lord uses revival to stir a church for His glory. I. A Special Damsel A. She was special because of her devotion B. She was special because of her deeds C. She was special because of her donations II. A Sickness unto Death III. A Supernatural Demonstration A. A time of review B. A time of requesting C. A time of revitalization D. A time of rejoicing Conclusion: Revivals are a spiritually necessary working of the Holy Spirit in the life of a church and its members. Revivals are used of God to awaken the saints, strengthen the things that remain, and “resurrect” some things that may have died. Microsoft Office document icon revival-in-joppa.doc
Fulfilling. Consuming. Exciting. Challenging.Parenting is all of this, and more. And it is one of the greatest privileges of my life.The Lord gave Terrie and me four children who are now married and all serving the Lord with their spouses and are raising our eleven grandchildren for the Lord.As a parent, and now a grandparent, I know that there is an immense responsibility of training a young life to follow God. While raising children, there can be a pull to simply create a checklist and assume that if enough godly standards or Christian experiences are in place, a child will grow into a godly individual.Resist that pull.I believe in the importance of living a godly, holy life, and I'm all for surrounding children with church activities and the input of godly Sunday school teachers and youth leaders. But embracing these external factors is not the goal in raising children.Jesus is the goal.We want to raise children who first and foremost have a personal relationship with Christ and a life that is centered around Him. How does that happen?There are many helpful resources in raising a family, including many good books. But what are the necessities?We see three in the life of one of the first-century church leaders, Timothy.But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And 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. 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 3:14–17What I love about Timothy is that his home situation was far from ideal. He apparently had a Christian mother but an unbelieving father. Yet God gave his godly mother (and grandmother) the wisdom to point Timothy to three necessary components of a Christ-centered life:1. ScriptureTimothy didn't begin learning the Bible from the apostle Paul. He began learning from his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois (2 Timothy 1:5).Children and teen programs at church are a help in the way they come alongside and help a Christian family. But church programs are not a replacement for godly parenting.Raising Christ-centered children requires Christ-centered parents who teach God's Word in the home.God uses and blesses His written Word in our lives to point us to the living Word, Jesus Christ.2. SalvationThere is no greater way to influence a child than to help them to Jesus. “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16)One of the most important reasons for teaching the Bible in your home is that the Scriptures “are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The Bible reveals to us our sin and our inability to save ourselves. And best of all, it reveals the gospel.As we see in Timothy's life, even a child can be saved. Salvation is not passed down from one generation to the next. Each person must make a personal decision of faith in Christ (Romans 10:13).So yes, have rules in your home to protect your children. And yes, make decisions for your family based on what you believe would please the Lord. But remember the power of the gospel in a heart.You cannot raise truly Christ-centered children without them having personally received Christ.3. SanctificationOnce we trust Christ as our Saviour, God begins the ongoing process of sanctification in our hearts as He conforms us to the image of Christ. This is a life-long process, and it begins at the moment of salvation—even for a child.The primary tool God uses in this process is His Word. That's why Paul told Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”Once again, then, we see the importance of making God's Word central in the Christian home. This happens as Mom and Dad make the Bible central in their own lives and as they diligently teach God's Word to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7).The most practical way I know for a family to develop habits around the teaching of God's Word is through daily family devotions and faithful attendance and involvement in the local church. (I wrote some tips on having family devotions here and compiled a resource available here.)The Goal Is JesusIf you are a parent, your child is a trust given to you by God to raise for Him.Success is not measured solely, or even primarily, by your child's achievements. It is measured by your child's heart for God and obedience to Him.May God give you grace to raise Christ-centered children who obey the admonition of 2 Timothy 3:14 to “continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.”
Truths Demonstrated during Coronavirus For most of us, the last few months have been drastically different, and for some, even difficult. The COVID-19 virus quickly turned our world upside-down. Our normal routines were changed, and our immediate future was put on hold. As I am writing this, we are two months in, working through shelter-in-place orders—no gatherings over ten people, travel bans, and churches trying to figure out how to navigate these uncharted waters. Only recently is our country slowly beginning to reopen.As I think about what we have experienced, I must believe that God has had a hand in all of this. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that God has brought judgment on our world. I do not think anyone can know whether or not that is true. What I am saying is that nothing touches our world and our lives without God allowing it to happen.We can see God's sovereignty throughout the Bible, and it is in the Bible that every believer can find help and encouragement. I sure do! As I look through the pages of Scripture, I find many places where God interrupted the world and the lives of His people to carry out His plan. Sometimes His interruptions were a form of divine judgment, but other times His interruptions were simply bringing about His greater plan. In the Old Testament, we can consider His work in the lives of Noah, Joseph, Moses, and David, as well as in Israel, during the times of the judges, and in Judah, during captivity. In the New Testament, we can consider Paul held in prison and John exiled on the Isle of Patmos.It is clear to me, that God always uses interruptions in the lives of people to accomplish something. I do not know what God has done in your life during this time, but I know He has worked in mine. Allow me to share a few truths that I have learned.Life Can Change Dramatically in a Short Amount of TimeNo one but God could have known at the beginning of 2020 that our world and lives would be altered by this thing called the coronavirus. Life was as usual for most of us until March when everything was turned on end. Suddenly, this mysterious virus brought our lives to a screeching halt. There was not an area of our lives that was not touched by this mystery virus. Our normal routines quickly became not so routine. The plans we once made with little forethought now required careful consideration. Our expectations for the future were no longer expected. However, because of the Covid-19 scare, the way I look at my plans has changed.I am reminded of these statements made in theBible:Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.–Proverbs 27:1Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.–James 4:13-14The events of the last two months remind us all that it is God who governs our futures.God Does Not Consult with Us before He MovesAs stated above God is in control. He does not have to stop and consult with us before He allows a global pandemic to permeate our world. For some reason, we begin to think that our lives are our own and we should get to make the decisions about the things that touch us. That is not the case. God has His reasons for what He does, and I do not think anyone has a corner on Him, knowing exactly what He is doing through this whole situation.I know many people have had important events of their lives disrupted by Covid-19. The entire class of 2020 have seen their final year of high school, college, or graduate school completely interrupted. Weddings, funerals, vacations, and other planned events have been cancelled.Yet we must always remember that God is in control, and He can do and does what He sees is right.These Disruptions Cause Us to Realign Our PrioritiesAnother lesson the Lord has taught me during this time is to consider what is truly important. We think dining, traveling, and going wherever and whenever we please are important. But when life as we know it is suspended or even stopped, we are compelled to realize what we once thought was so important really isn't.Sometimes as we become busy living life, we do not always prioritize our lives properly. Sometimes business or pleasure take priority, and we push away what should be important. Yet in the last two months, sports, business, busyness, and most pleasures have ceased, and we have been made to realize what makes our lives so special. God, faith, family, and friends are the true priorities of life. I have a renewed appreciation for each of these. As life begins to return to normal, I do not want to forget about the truly important things that should be emphasized and prioritized in my life.God Can and Does Take Care of His PeopleThere has been a lot of fear and anxiety in many people's lives. After all, this virus has been proven to be deadly and the economic impact has been significant in our world. Many people continued to work, yet much of our economy was affected by businesses being forced to close and people being ordered to shelter in place.In my own life, my travel and ability to hold meetings has completely come to a halt. Much of my livelihood is dependent on being able to travel and conduct meetings. Churches' offerings can also be affected by not being able to conduct in-person services. Yet as we have passed through this time, I have marveled at how God has been so faithful to take care of me, my family, and my church. As I have talked to pastors from across the country, they have shared how their churches have also been taken care of.We should not be surprised that God keeps His promises. God is faithful.These are just a few of the things that God has taught me through this time. What are some of the things that God has taught you?This article is reposted with permission from kevinfolger.com.
For us here in Vancouver, the day began with beautiful sunshine which always lifts our spirits. But with nowhere to go for many people; i.e. no work, no school, no shopping outside of government permitted essentials, even the sunshine has limited effect.As God's children through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have a greater Light to encourage our souls. Not only our Saviour–Who is the Light of the world, but also His Word–a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path. Here is a great text through which we can find hope in our difficult days and nights.Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.–Romans 5:1-5 Hope is a necessary element for surviving the tests and trials of life, and God promises hope because He loves us and is at work in us even through the tribulations of life. Andrew Murray, a pastor from some years ago wrote the following in commenting on this passage. I was blessed by it and would like to share it with you:First, He brought me here, it is by His will I am in this strait place; in that fact I will rejoice. Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace as His child. Then, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn, and working in me the grace He meant to bestow. Last, in His good time He can bring me out again–how and when, He knows. Thus: I am (1) here by God's appointment, (2) in His keeping, (3) under His training, and (4) for His time.These truths, of course, can help us in whatever trial the Lord allows through life, but I was reminded that even though we are all going through the stresses and burdens of COVID-19, our God has a personal purpose for each one of us to learn of Him and grow in His grace and hope. What personal lessons are you learning? Let's be alert to the Holy Spirit's school for our soul and let God make us more like Him in these days of trial.
A Right Spirit Is Essential to Spiritual Growth “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”—Proverbs 25:28The picture here is intriguing. A city broken down and without walls is open to attack. It is vulnerable to the enemy. It is easily destroyed. Scripture tells us that if we do not accept responsibility for keeping our own spirit right, we become equally open to attack.The EnemiesOur spirit can be affected by:Our foes—dwelling on our criticism robs us of our joy, ruins our day, and causes us to lose focus on who God is and what He wants us to do for Him.Our friends—most of us can accept the fact that there are those who dislike and oppose us. However, when a friend turns his back on us, it is especially difficult to deal with.Our families—hardest of all is the attack that comes from within. I know many dear preachers who find little support from a hurt, critical or bitter family. They truly have a difficult burden to bear. How hard it is for them to keep a good spirit.The facts of life—Scripture tells us, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Flat tires, bad weather, financial reversals, a broken furnace: all of these can affect our spirit.The EffectA bad spirit can affect us in at least three ways:It can affect our perception. Because of the unhappiness within us, we see everything in a negative vein. I am told that a drunk one time passed out on a sidewalk. A prankster decided to rub limburger cheese into his thick mustache. When he aroused from his stupor, a few breaths caused him to wrinkle his nose in disgust and say, “Boy, it stinks here. It smells like limburger cheese. I'm going out to the park where it won't smell so much. To his surprise, when he got to the park, he still smelled limburger cheese. He decided to go further out into the country, but there he found the scent unchanged. “It's terrible!” he exclaimed. “The whole world smells like limburger cheese!” His perception was that everything was bad, but the trouble was right under his nose. Likewise, those who allow their spirit to become damaged perceive that there is something wrong with everybody and everything when the trouble is right under their nose.It can affect our perspective. When we have a bad spirit, we don't see things in perspective. All our troubles become maximized, and all our blessings become minimized. Most of us have far more blessing in our lives than we do burdens. A good marriage, sweet children, loving church members, material provision—not to mention eternal salvation, an unchangeable Book, and the indwelling presence, comfort and help of the Holy Spirit! Sometimes when we develop a bad spirit, we forget our blessings and do not see things in the proper perspective.It can affect our potential. People with a bad spirit can accomplish little for God. We become unattractive to others. We lack faith. We find ourselves in a critical mode.The ExhortationLet me make two suggestions to help you keep your own spirit right.1. Keep the right focus. Focus on God, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3). It does not matter what happens in the rest of the world: our God is good. He is loving; He is perfect; He is sinless. He never leaves us or forsakes us. When we find ourselves becoming negative, discouraged, and down it is a reminder that we have not focused enough attention on God.Focus on the goodness of God. He has saved us. He has sustained us. He has delivered us from innumerable difficulties and provided for multiple needs in the past. He has been better to us than we deserve.Focus on the good around us. Not everybody is critical. Not everybody is negative. Not everybody is disloyal. Not everybody has left the church. Not everybody is insincere. Not everybody is a hypocrite. Rather than focusing on those who discourage and disappoint you, think about those who have done right and are a blessing.2. Keep the right friends.“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”—Proverbs 27:17“Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel.”—Proverbs 27:9All of us are human. We have the tendency to become down and discouraged if we are not careful. Having friends with good spirits, right attitudes, and good hearts will do much to keep us on the right path and in the right attitude. Spend time with people who lift your spirits, not those who tear you down.
In one sense, any trial that comes into our lives is unplanned and disruptive to our expectations. But some trials last longer than others and are disruptive to everything in our lives. The COVID-19 crisis has, in many ways, been this kind of trial.Everyone in our nation today who is school-aged or above has had at least some aspect of their lives disrupted by this pandemic. And many of us have had almost every aspect of our lives upended.As this season continues to drag on, with little to no definite timelines in sight, it's easy to become restless and frustrated. But the same grace that was available to us a month ago, is still available today.So, how should we respond to this ongoing disruption and the burdens that come with it?1. Keep Trusting GodNone of this—the onset or the length—is catching God by surprise. So trust Him. He cares for you, and He invites you to cast your every burden on Him.Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.—1 Peter 5:72. Make Prayer a Priority When our prayer life is not what it should be, we easily complain. This is a season for us to instead bring our hearts and needs to the Lord—and to lift up others in prayer as well.Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.—Philippians 4:63. Remain Flexible but PurposefulWe have all had some schedule changes imposed on us, and in these we should be flexible. Some of those early schedule changes, however, may have been easier to adapt to because of the urgency of the moment.As this season drags on, however, without the hourly need for quick reactions, it's easy to slip into lethargy. Resist that tendency by remaining focused on your God-given calling and keeping a daily schedule.I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.—John 9:44. Bring Comfort to OthersEven as the trial is dragging on in your life, it is in the lives of others as well. Reach out with care and encouragement to others in your church family, small group class, neighbors, friends, co-workers, first responders, and others. Be proactive in reaching out to those in your direct sphere of care, and be responsive to the Holy Spirit in reaching out to anyone He may bring to mind.Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.—2 Corinthians 1:45. Prepare for the Blessings AheadThis has lasted for over a month already, but it won't last forever. So like a farmer who, in faith, plants now so there will be a harvest in the fall, plant seeds of faithfulness, obedience, encouragement, and, especially, the gospel. Invest time in your walk with God, nurturing your family, and encouraging and discipling others.And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.—Galatians 6:9
The Reality of the Resurrection Should Motivate Us to Serve Christ The songwriter echoed the words ofthose who were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Saviour, “I serve a risenSaviour, He's in the world today, I know that He is living whatever men maysay… He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart. You ask me how I know He lives;He lives within my heart.”ThePerson of the Resurrection​I was witnessing to a group of highschool students in Northfield, Massachusetts several years ago when a studentsaid, “One of my professors told me that he had studied the major religions ofthe world and that they all basically say the same thing.” I responded, “JesusChrist declared, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh untothe Father, but by me.' Now, take the words of this One who lived a perfectlife, healed the sick, and raised the dead; and set them beside what yourprofessor said. Consider the credentials of both men and decide who you willbelieve.”ThePower of the ResurrectionThe Lord Jesus Christ is, “theresurrection and the life,” (John 11:25) and “the firstfruits ofthem that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus Christ conquered death, Hell,and the grave because He is “the Son of God with power…by the resurrectionfrom the dead” (Romans 1:4).Though God-manifest-in-the-flesh wascrucified and buried, on the third day He rose from the grave. The same power thatraised Jesus from the dead is the same power that will raise us from the dead: “Hethat believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live…believest thouthis?” (John 11:25–26)TheProclamation of the ResurrectionCan you imagine the level of zealand commitment unto death the disciples would have had for a hoax if they hadstolen the body of Christ, as some would tell us? Had they stolen His bodyaway, they of all people would have known they were representing a lie. Yet,because they had seen the resurrected Saviour firsthand, they gave themselvesand all they had to proclaim this message of truth and hope.And with great power gave the apostleswitness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon themall.—Acts 4:33Because He lives, we can facewhatever He allows to come our way. By grace through faith in the Lord JesusChrist, we are more than conquerors. Let's go tell someone about our risenSaviour today!
3 Key Words from John 14 Trouble has a way of interrupting our otherwise great lives. How irritating, how unfair when we were busy getting our lives just how we wanted them for trouble to show up on our doorstep! Of course, one of the reasons it is called trouble is that it is not welcome and almost never announced. Covid-19 is one of those life-altering bits of trouble that no one planned to deal with, especially with its interruption of all things normal in our lives. Though every individual will have to tackle their own rearrangement of worship, work, school, and shopping, the Bible does give us some wonderful insight into how we can handle the anxiety and emotional fear that comes along with it.Jesus deals with “troubled hearts” in John 14:1-3. Notice with me three key words from this passage:Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.“Troubled”What is it to have a troubled heart? The word troubled means that our hearts are agitated, stirred up; they have a complete loss of peace, tranquility, and rest. Our circumstances are not what we wanted or planned; and now we have anxiety over what to do, what is next, how to fix it. Jesus speaks these words to His disciples on the eve where everything in their lives is going to change. He is going to be arrested, crucified, and He is leaving. For three years He has been in their lives. Their hope and dreams have been built on His presence and His leadership. Now their emotions are roiling, their fears are rising, and their futures have a question mark over them. To those confused and troubled hearts, Jesus speaks these words in John 14. We have all had our lives thrown into confusion by the events of these last days and weeks because of coronavirus. Our children are out of school, many of us can't go to work, we cannot even worship together at church. Talk about changed lives in a moment, we have them. Welcome to the land of “troubled hearts.”“Believe”When Jesus perceived that His disciple's hearts were troubled, what was His message to them? The first element of truth He offered them was, to believe. Have faith, be fully persuaded in and of God. God is our all-powerful Creator God. He has the power to create but He also has the power to sustain. No circumstance that we face in anyway negates His power. Not only is He Creator God, He is our compassionate Saviour. What the disciples had observed for the three years of His public ministry was the true definition of who Jesus was. He is caring and compassionate. He is kind and gentle. He is aware of our needs and powerfully able to meet them. From the calming of wind and waves, to the feeding of thousands with little, to raising the dead, Jesus is able. Today our circumstances are not beyond the ability of our God to sustain us and even prosper us. Fear would have you think that your circumstances are somehow beyond God's scope of ability but quite the contrary, with God nothing shall be impossible. You believe God is Creator, believe also that He can sustain you in these troubled times.“Prepare”I am not suggesting by the word “prepare” that we develop a prepper mentality, though there is wisdom in appropriate planning. When our President travels, there is an advance team that goes before him and prepares for his visit, wherever it might be. Long before he takes flight in Air Force One the advance team has taken his helicopter, his limousine, and prepared his quarters at the destination so that he is both safe and comfortable. The Lord Jesus has gone on before us to “prepare” us a place for eternity. We did not prepare our place in eternity, Jesus prepared it for us. If the Lord Jesus can prepare us a place in Heaven and take care of us for eternity future, how do we not understand that He is perfectly able to care for us in this present world, regardless of our outward circumstances? My wife is a consummate homemaker, it is not that she loves things; but she loves her family and loves them to have in their home just what they need. When we moved from Virginia to Charlotte, she had to go on before me and prepare the house while I finished things in Woodbridge. When I arrived at our new home, I could hardly believe the attention to detail and the love displayed in the way she had set up my home office. She had put much love and effort into not only making it comfortable for me, but making it special for me as well. Her love for me was seen in her preparation of a place for me. Jesus loves you more than my wife loves me! He loves you now and will care and provide for you in this life and the best is yet to come.Note one final thought in John 14:26–27. While Jesus is preparing a place for you and me, He has not left us alone. He knew there would be circumstances that would trouble our hearts so He left us a Comforter, His Holy Spirit. Yes, there are times of trouble, but believe in the power and goodness of God; for God is preparing for tomorrow and will provide for today. He will comfort your troubled heart.But 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. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

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