Jun 24

Be Still

Have you ever been sleeping good and then all of the sudden you wake up, look at the alarm clock, and realize that you could sleep for another one or two hours but you are unable to fall asleep?  I’m an “on-the-go” kind of person for the most part.  From the time my feet hit the floor until right before bed my mind is moving, my feet and hands are moving, and some would say my mouth is moving.  There are very few times in which I slow down.  This is sometimes by choice and sometimes by necessity.  Is this the way we are designed?  I would argue that it isn’t, yet we all find ourselves trapped in this rat race.  Again many times by our choice and sometimes by necessity.  One of my favorite verses in the Old Testament, although one of the toughest for me to practice is Psalms 46:10.  The first part of Psalms 46:10 says, “be still and know that I am God.”  We don’t know all the specifics surrounding the writing of Psalms 46, but if we read it and infer from the text the author was experiencing a time of difficulty or expecting difficulty for the nation of Israel.  The psalm is written to assure the people that God is their defender.  Many church historians call this “Luther’s Psalm.”  History tells us that when Martin Luther and those who were leading the Reformation would get discouraged that Martin Luther would sing this psalm, and remind them of God’s faithfulness to them.  If we are honest, we have times in our life in which we need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness to His children.  In fact if we are honest with ourselves, most of the mornings we get awaken before the alarm clock, or the days when our mind is racing the most, it is because there is something weighing heavy on us.

I want to suggest to you that those times in which you are woken up or those times in which you mind is racing that that is actually an invitation from God to slow down and be still.  Many times in our lives these occurrences reveal our anxiousness about something.  Yet Paul reminds us in Philippians to “be anxious about nothing but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.”  Tell God what is on your mind, what burden you are carrying.  I read a devotional about a month ago and it talked about taking our cares and concerns to God, especially on nights that we are struggling to get to sleep.  The writer reminds his readers that the Bible says that “God never slumbers nor sleeps” in Psalms 121.  The writer suggested we give our cares over to God, because there He is already up and there is no reason for both of us to lose sleep over the problem.  I found it humorous, not because God is losing sleep over our problems (because He isn’t), but because I thought to myself how many times have I stayed awake with my mind racing?  Worry and anxiousness is a sign that we are not trusting God for our particular situation.  I want to assure you that God is worthy of our full trust as He will work things out in a way that is best for you.  Notice I didn’t say He will work it out how you want Him to, but rather in the way that is best for you.

One final note on this, God has a way of making us slow down if we will not do it ourselves.  There have been a few instances in my life in which something has happened and it forced me to slow down, and in some cases stop what I was doing.  It was frustrating at first, I saw it has a huge inconvenience, but when I got quiet before God I learned it was for my own good.  I’ll give you one final example.  I deal with gout from time to time.  Most people know what gout is, and those who have it know it can be pretty painful.  When I begin to have a break through attack of gout, I slow down (not by choice, but by necessity).  I begin to do a few things.  I first examine my eating habits.  Sometimes when I am working longer than normal or I am working through a difficult situation, I will tend to eat a little more than normal.  So I will look back over the past week’s meals and see if that is the case.  I will also examine my drinking habits.  Am I drinking enough water so I can flush the bad out of my system?  I will also ask God, are you trying to slow my down because I haven’t been still before you lately?  Sometimes the gout attack is for physical reasons and sometimes for spiritual reasons.  God isn’t trying to hurt me or be mean to me.  In fact it is just the opposite, He is trying to slow me down, help me be still so that I can hear what He is saying to me.  My final encouragement to you in this post is this, God wants a real relationship with you.  A relationship requires to parties fully committed to each other.  We can’t just talk to God, we also need to be still and listen to what He has to say. He is the creator of it all, He is the One who has planned all of life out, I promise what He has to say to you and to me is worth us slowing down and listening to.  So the next time you feel anxious, worried, or frazzled just remember, Be still and know that He is God.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Jun 16

Encouraging Our Children

Yesterday morning I preached on what it takes to be a godly father, whether biological or a spiritual father.  It was interesting as I talked to my wife after the service, that I mentioned a few verses in the 8:30 service, but for some reason they were left out in the 11:00 service.  I don’t worry when things like that occur, because I simply trust God to lead me in what to be said during a sermon.  However, there are some important points that can be gleaned from the passages.  Therefore, I wanted to put them here.

The first passage is Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  This verse is directed towards fathers, because we are generally the gruffer of the parents.  We are more authoritarian in our nature.  However, this verse equally applies to mothers are well.  The command to “provoke not your children” refers to displaying your anger towards your child in a way that they believe it is ok to act out in anger in other situations.  Children are parrots in many cases.  They grow up and the emulate what they have seen.  This verse doesn’t mean that you condone everything that they do.  It also doesn’t mean that you do not discipline your children.  Rather this verse tells us to not discipline in anger.  Paul says that we (fathers specifically) should raise our children in a way that trains them in the ways of God.  Our discipline should be modeled after the discipline of God in the life of a believer.  When God disciplines one of His children, it is not done in anger, but it is done out of love.  It is not meant to break us, only to break the sinful attitude or action.  That is our model.  The other verse that builds on this is Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.”  Have you ever known someone that no matter what you did, it was never good enough for them?  You might try for a while to please them, but the majority of people get to a point in which they just throw up their hands and quit trying.  This is a very sad thing and a very dangerous time in a child’s life if they don’t feel like they have the love and approval of their parents.  Dads, we must be careful on how we talk and interact with our children.  We want to make sure that they understand, even if we do not agree with the decision they made, we will always love them.

So many times we as parents try to make our children perfect.  In doing this it is easy to focus on the things that our children do wrong.  But how many times do we notice and praise them for what they have done right?  We spend so much time trying to “fix” our children so that people will like them and accept them that we forget the people that our children want to love them and accept them are us, their parents.  Yes we need to discipline and correct sinful attitudes and actions in our children.  We do so because we love them.  But we also need to praise them for the good they do as well, lest they become discouraged.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Jun 12

1 Corinthians 3:10-15

In Part 2 of chapter 3’s devotion, we will look at judgment.  This set of verses has been misunderstood many, many times and created a lot of confusion.  As a Southern Baptist, I believe in the doctrine of eternal security.  I believe it because it is in Scripture.  I will not list all the references, but if someone would like them please feel free to contact me and I will be more than happy to provide them for you.

Paul says that by the “grace of God” he became a “wise masterbuilder.”  Paul couldn’t always say that.  In fact there is a time in his life (see the early chapters of Acts) that Paul was a foolish builder.  He was building his life and basing his eternity on a works based salvation.  However, in this passage he says that we are a wise masterbuilder by building our salvation on the grace of God.  Salvation is based upon what Christ did on the cross, not who or what I am or have done.  There are those who want to point to this passage as a proof of someone losing their salvation.  They base it on verse 15.  However, a careful reading of this will correct the thinking. Verse 15 says “if any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” Notice what is burned.  It is the man’s work, not himself.  Therefore, it is not talking about his eternal soul.  Rather it is talking about his life and what he did in his life, specifically how he invested his life.  Verse 14 also talks about a man’s work that abides will result in a reward.  Therefore, this passage is not talking about salvation, it is rather talking about rewards.

Everyone will be judged.  I know that is not a popular statement, but it is true nonetheless.  Those who have never trusted Christ will be judged at the end of time at the Great White Throne Judgment as given in Revelation 20:11-15.  However, even believers will be judged.  This passage talks about it as well as 2 Corinthians 5:10.  This passage speaks of some bad ways to invest our life in terms of wood, hay, and stubble.  It also talks about good ways to invest our life in terms of gold, silver, and precious stones.  What is the difference?  A bad way to invest our life is in selfish things such as trying to live comfortably, living for pleasure, and living in excess.  A good way to invest our life is in the world of building God’s kingdom. We must remember that we have been called to make disciples of all nations.  That doesn’t just apply to those in full-time ministry, making disciples is applicable to all who call themselves Christian.  We want to make sure at the end of our life we haven’t wasted it, but rather we are invested it in making an eternal difference.  See each day and each opportunity as a gift from God for the purpose of bringing glory to God.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Jun 12

1 Corinthians 3:1-4

In Part 1 of chapter 3’s devotion, we will look at spiritual growth.  Believe it or not, spiritual growth doesn’t just happen.  It is something that we must be intentional about in our life.  Paul says that he desires to have spoken to them as “spiritual” but that he can’t.  Paul invested 18 months in the church at Corinth, and now time has passed and he has expected them to grow more in their faith.  However, we see in the end of verse 1 that they are still “babes in Christ.”  Paul uses a physical illustration to teach a spiritual truth.

I am the proud father of four beautiful children, and so this illustration makes sense.  When a child is first born, why do we give him or her milk?  We give it to them because their stomachs cannot handle solid food.  They are still growing and expanding, and the body is learning how to digest and process foods.  However, long about the six month mark you begin to give some baby food.  You continue to give them a little more “table” food until around their first birthday they are primarily eating solid food.  They are relying on “table” food for the nutrition more and the milk less.  This is a sign of natural growth.  The same is true in the beginning for a Christian.  They are not able to handle, understand, or process some of the deeper truths and theological discussions.  They are not unintelligent or anything, they simply aren’t able to handle it at this time.  However, as they grow in their faith through obedience to the Bible, they are able to handle more and deeper teaching.  The church at Corinth wasn’t able to handle it because they were still fighting among each other.  There was jealousy, fighting, and divisions in the church.  Paul uses those things to tell them that they are living like they are not saved.   A mature Christian is not going to get into the senseless debates of secondary doctrines that often cause division in a church.  A mature Christian is going to understand that fighting with my brother or sister is not helpful to the cause of Christ.  A mature Christian will understand that they are not to compare themselves to other Christians, but rather they are to compare themselves to Christ’s example.  However, Paul says that they can’t do that because they aren’t growing in their faith.  I wonder how many people Paul would say this to in our churches today?  The truth is many people accept Christ, but they never grow out of their spiritual infancy.  This has had a crippling affect on the effectiveness of the church today.  In today’s culture there are many who want to debate the merits of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible.  Yet, there are not many Christians who can sufficiently defend their faith.  The result is more and more people are walking about from Christianity.  I know that we are to walk by faith and not by sight, but God did not call us to check our mind at the church door on Sunday and Wednesday.  Christianity is a logical belief system that can be understood and defended if we give ourselves to careful study of the Scriptures.

How does one become able to eat spiritual “steak” instead of spiritual “carnation instant breakfast?”  The answer to that is found in John 15 where Jesus says that we are to “abide in Him.”  That means we are to remain in Him, depend on Him, and follow Him.  To do that is going to take a high level of intentionality.  I am going to have to discipline myself to read the Bible, and ask for God’s help to live it out.  Not only is spiritual growth not automatic, it is not easy.  If you are going to grow in your faith you are going to have to know that it will be difficult.  The Bible will confront you with sinful actions and attitudes that you must allow God to change.  You are going to have to set out a regular time to read the Bible and to pray asking for wisdom to live it out. It may not be easy, but I assure you it is worth it.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Jun 04

The Greatest of These Is Love

We all have a lot of responsibilities in life.  As a husband I am to be supportive, trustworthy, a leader, a friend, pure, and a partner for life.  As a father I am to be many of the same things, but I am also called to be a disciplinarian (out of love), a parent who looks out for the best interest of the child, and an advocate.  As a pastor I am to be a leader, a shepherd, a corrector, a teacher, a counselor, a confidant, and more.  But the one thing I have to be to all people is a person who loves.  That is my greatest responsibility.  I read a Billy Graham quote early today that said, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, but my job is to love.”  How many times do we forget to love people?  I know that there are days that I really struggle to love others.  Sometimes they do things that cause me frustration or angst, but if I am honest the majority of times that I am not as loving as I should be are because my heart is not right.  The burden falls on me.  Any sin that we commit reveals that we have a heart problem (see Mark 7:21-23).  I am struck by the number of times the word compassion is used in the Bible, as well as the word love.  On two particular occasions in the New Testament it says that Jesus “had compassion on them.”  Compassion is a by-product of love.  If I don’t love someone, I am not going to have compassion on them.  Again this points back to a problem in my heart that I need to talk to God about.  Does this mean that we condone everything someone does or approve of their choices?  Absolutely not!  But it does mean that we try to see their side of the story, and that we get past what we think about the person or their choice to see their pain.  Compassion is similar to empathy.  I can have compassion on someone even when they make a bad choice, because even though they made a bad choice I still hurt for them because of the consequences they are going through.  I will admit, that is not always the easiest thing to do but it is what we are called to do as Christians.  So I will suggest a few ways that we can be more compassionate.

First, we must have our heart right. There are two great commandments given.  The first is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind (Mt. 22:37).  If I’m not loving God the way I should, I’m going to struggle to love those who God loves.  The second great command is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:39).  If I’m struggling to love others the way I’m supposed to, I can almost bet I am not loving God the way I am supposed to.  How can I love God, yet hate or dislike those He died for?  The simple answer is I can’t.  The next way I can be more compassionate is to remember how much God has forgiven me for.  Many times our lack of compassion comes from one of two things.  Either it is because a person has hurt us in some way.  Or we disagree with the choices they are making.  Either way, we need to be more forgiving.  Ephesians 4:32 tells us, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  Notice why we are to forgive, we are to forgive others because God has forgiven you.  In dealing with bad choices, have you ever made a bad choice?  I can’t count the number of bad choices I’ve made.  So who set me up as judge and jury?  The answer, no one!  Yes they may have made a bad choice, but the consequences of that choice are still real and they are still painful, and we need to empathize with them in their suffering.  Finally, if I want to be more compassionate I need to realize that I don’t know the whole story.  There is a man who use to be on conservative talk radio by the name of Paul Harvey.  He was well known for one thing, “and here’s the rest of the story.”  The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13 that “we see through a glass darkly. . .for now we see in part. . .”  The truth of the matter is that we only know as much about someone and their story as they tell us.  There is so much we don’t know about people, that if we did know about them would probably change how we deal with them and our level of compassion for them.  We can only see what is in front of us, but we must realize that a person has a past that is affecting them today, and there may be circumstances in their life that we know nothing about that is affecting them.  At the end of the day, our job is to love those that God loves which is everyone.  He doesn’t condone everything people do, neither should we, but we should still love them because God loves them and wants a relationship with them.  I will end this post with one final question aimed at us Christians.  The question is, how many people have ever come to faith in Jesus Christ because of our judgment? (We know the answer to that question, so we must change how we live and how we relate for the Gospel cause and the losts’ sake)

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Jun 02

Bad Calls Aren’t The Issue

All three of my sons play baseball.  I must admit that as a father who loves the game of baseball, I really love watching them play the game and get enjoyment out of it.  As with anything done by humans, there are going to be mistakes made.  Both of the teams my sons play on have been on the wrong end some calls.  It is very frustrating, especially when a call leads directly to a loss.  I have to admit there is at least part of me that wants to argue with the umpire.  But thankfully God has put His hand over my mouth every time, because in the end it simply isn’t worth it.  It’s not worth it because the umpire isn’t going to change his call.  It’s not worth it because if you make the umpire upset, he can make life even more difficult for the team.  Finally it’s not worth it because it sets a bad example for the kids.  If my boys see me getting upset and being disrespectful to the umpire, then they are going to think that it is ok for them to do it as well.  Or they will grow up playing ball and always blaming the umpire when they lose or something doesn’t go there way.  Here is a truth (although very difficult to admit), the umpires get more right than they get wrong.  There are lessons that can be learned through these times.

Although I would not have admitted this in my playing days or even when I was a little younger, the truth is it is just a game.  I’m not getting paid to be out there, my kids aren’t getting paid to play the game, and the Chicago Cubs are not going to hire me as their next manager (although I think I could do as good of a job as anyone they have).  The game of baseball is fun, it is exercising, it is relationship building, and it is teaching how to be a part of a team and working together.  Here is the biggest lesson that I am learning and I hope to instill in all of my children.  You can’t control most of what happens in your life, but you can control how you react to it and how you deal with it.  The Bible is full of stories of people who got the short end of the stick, yet in the end they actually benefited from it.  It doesn’t make it easier to handle in the moment, but when you look back at the event and where you have come, you can see God working through the situation, and that is what is important.  That is what develops and strengthens our faith.  After all, we can define faith as trusting God for today based on how He has taken care of and provided for us in the past.  Trials, difficulties, and setbacks are a part of life.  In baseball terms, even one of the greatest hitters of all time, Ted Williams, in his best season only got a hit every four out of ten times.  That means that he failed more than he succeeded, yet he is widely celebrated in baseball because of how great of a hitter he was.  The difficult times in life are character building moments and teaching moments.  We as parents must remember that our children often mimic what they see us do.  Allow God the chance to develop your character, and to prove that He is in fact “working all things together for good to those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28).

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Jun 02

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the author of all truth is God.  Paul in chapter two is dealing with the issue of truth and wisdom.  Specifically he deals with types of wisdom and who can understand God’s wisdom.

First, beginning in verse six Paul tells the church at Corinth that true wisdom isn’t human wisdom.  In our culture today, we seem to elevate people and call them “gurus” if they are able to come up with something that amazes us.  While discovery is amazing, it should amaze us even more that even though we are just learning it, God already knew it.  He is the one that made it discoverable for us.  Paul says that he doesn’t want to give the Corinthians his wisdom, but rather he wants to share God’s wisdom with them.  Paul began talking about godly wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18.  In context we see that the wisdom of God was to send Jesus into the world to die for sinful mankind.  We see that God’s wisdom confounds even the wisest of people.  In verse 7 Paul mentions the “hidden wisdom.”  Paul wants the Corinthians to know and us to know that there are simply some things that we are not going to know.  However, just because we don’t know it, doesn’t mean that it is unknown.  The “hidden wisdom” is first mentioned in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong unto the Lord.”  We see it talked about in Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My way, saith the Lord.”  Many people find this very frustrating, the fact that they can’t figure out life or the fact that there are things that happen that simply don’t make any sense.  Many times in church circles when these events occur in our life, we say to just trust God and the fact that He knows what He is doing.  Sometimes I wonder if we really mean many of the things we say, or if we say them because that is what we think we are supposed to say (that’s a whole other post at a later time).  Two things come to my mind concerning the “hidden wisdom” of God.  First, there is a God and I am not Him, so I don’t have to know everything.  Secondly, I’m glad that I can’t figure out God, because if I could figure Him out, why would I need Him?  When the unexpected happens we must remember that God is in control, that He does have a plan, and we must choose to praise Him, even when it is hard to see Him.

Towards the end of the chapter, Paul switches gears a little.  He goes from talking about man’s wisdom versus God’s wisdom to talking about who can understand God’s wisdom.  Time and time again I have to remind myself, I can’t expect the lost to act like the saved.  I catch myself thinking or saying, “don’t you know how bad of a choice that is and that this is not what God desires for you.”  But then I have to remind myself, they don’t have a relationship with God yet.  In verses 13-14 we see two truths.  First, if I am going to learn the Bible, I am going to have to be Spirit taught.  Anything I learn about God’s Word is because God’s Spirit is teaching it to me.  This helps keep me humble and to fulfill 1 Corinthians 1:31, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”  Secondly, spiritual truths are foolishness to the lost.  The natural man is a reference to a person who has never trusted Jesus as their Savior and Lord.  They are still in the same state they were born in, lost.  Again, we cannot expect the lost to act like the saved.  The answer to man’s problems is not more programs, it is the Gospel.  Once a person is saved, the Holy Spirit begins the process of transformation in which based upon God giving them a new heart, they have a renewed mind, and live a renewed life.  The old things will not attract them as much anymore, rather they will want to please God.  None of this can happen without the person first being born-again (John 3:3).

So as this devotion closes, let me challenge all of us.  First, be patient with the lost, they are only doing what comes natural to them, the same way you and I did before Christ saved us and began to transform us.  If you want lasting change in someone, they need a new heart and a renewed mind, nothing less will do.  Secondly, pray and ask God to give you faith to be okay with the things in life you may not understand or may not know.  Profess your trust in Him that even though you can’t see the single tree for the forest, He does and He will walk with you through it.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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May 27

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

As we prepare the sermon series on 1 Corinthians, I want to look at a few verses that are not part of the sermon text.

Paul begins with his normal salutation (vv. 1-3).  In verse 4 Paul thanks God for His grace.  This can be seen as a reference to the Corinthians salvation, since it is by God’s grace we are saved (Eph. 2:8).  Those who have trusted Jesus as the only way to be saved, should always thank God for His grace.  Especially in light of the fact that since the fall of man (Gen. 3), we are born with a sin nature which is inclined to rebel against and reject God.  There are those who believe that man is basically good. I would challenge them on that by simply asking them to watch the nightly news and then defend their viewpoint that man is basically good.  Paul said in Romans 3:10-12 that there are none who are good, no not one..  That no one seeks God and that no ones understands.  In fact we have all gone astray and out of the way to explain God, sin, judgment, and hell away.  We must realize that it is the work of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin and need for a Savior (John 16:8), that we only turn to God as He draws us (John 6:44), and though salvation is a decision of man’s free-will, it is only offered by God’s grace.   Therefore, we can say that God initiated, provided for, and offers the gift of salvation.  We should thank Him for that daily, because we deserve so much worse.

Now that the Corinthian believers have been saved, we see that they have been given spiritual gifts (vv. 5-7a).  A spiritual gift is different from a natural talent in that we only receive our spiritual gift(s) once we have been saved.  A natural talent is something we are born with.  A natural talent is used to glorify ourselves, while a spiritual gift is used to glorify God.  God can use our natural talents in conjunction with our spiritual gift to glorify Himself and draw others into a relationship with Him.  A great example of this would be an athlete like Tim Tebow.  Tebow is a naturally gifted athlete.  However, Tebow uses that platform he has been given to tell others about Jesus and to teach others about Christ (a spiritual gift).  Every believer has at least one spiritual gift, and no one possesses all the gifts (1 Cor. 12).  That is why we need each other in order for the body of Christ to function properly and to draw others to Christ.

Finally in these verses we get a precious promise, the eternal security of our salvation (vv. 8-9).  Because salvation is a gift from God, and does not depend upon the actions of man, those who are saved are sealed and secured by God as well.  We read in John 10:29, “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.”  This is a promise that if we have truly been saved, we are secured by God.  And that because of the blood of Christ, we are blameless before the Father.  The only way we can be blameless is for 2 Corinthians 5:21 to be true, “For He made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God.”  Literally at the cross, Jesus took our sins and in exchange gave us His righteousness.  And as Christ is blameless, so are those who have trusted in His blood.  In these verses we see the three stages of a Christian’s life.  First we are justified (salvation), then we are set apart by God for God (sanctification), and one day when we leave this earth we will be changed and made like Christ (glorified).  All this is possible only by the blood of Jesus Christ!  To Him we give honor, glory, and thanks.

 

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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May 26

Church Growth-Numerical or Spiritual?

There have been so many articles written by so many different pastors, evangelists, seminary professors, and church growth strategists on the issue of church growth.  I think it is safe to say that we are obsessed with church growth in America.  Many evangelists, revival speakers, and church conferences often talk about “the number of people who accepted the Lord” during their event.  Please understand that I am not against these types of people or the reporting of numbers.  I am simply concerned about the church of America having the wrong focus and the wrong goal in mind.

Many times we in the evangelical world equate large numbers, many salvation professions, large baptism numbers, or growing churches with God’s favor and blessing.  The sad thing is, many people will verbally agree that just because there are a lot of people coming to the church doesn’t mean that God is blessing the church.  But in the next breath begin to tout how many people came to this past Sunday’s services or how many people have been baptized in their church. Then if an outsider says the same thing they person said previously, the pastor or church member says “yeah well that’s not happening at our church”, or “our church is different.”  We agree that there are many false teachers, false conversions, and over inflated church rolls, but we always think it is at the “other person’s” church and never ours.  There is a danger in that mentality, yet we often overlook it.  Large numbers of attenders, baptisms, building programs, etc. does not always equate to God is blessing us.  That is not to say that churches that are growing are false churches or getting false conversions.  The bottom line is healthy things grow.  Just like when you plant flowers in a flower bed, if you water them, fertilize them, keep the weeds out, those flowers will grow.  In the same way, when a church focuses on making disciples of all nations, the natural byproduct is the church will grow.  Ed Stetzer made a great point in his book, “Transformational Church.”  Stezer said, “we need to change the scorecard.”  He did a good job explaining what he meant, but I want to explain what I feel that means.

To “change the scorecard” obviously means that we need to change the numbers we track.  One of the biggest numbers we need to change is we need to swap out “numerical growth” for “spiritual growth.”  Why don’t we talk about the spiritual growth that takes place in our churches?  I will give you two reasons that are simply my personal opinion. First of all, talking about spiritual growth isn’t sexy or hip.  Speaking as a pastor, no pastor wants to go to a conference and speak about how in his time at the church, he has preached the doctrinal truths of God’s Word and called for a deeper commitment from the members, and the result is 25-50% of his church has left the church.  That is not a fun conversation to have, and it is a sure fire way to make sure you don’t get invited to speak at another conference.  If you don’t believe me, go to your local Christian bookstore and look at the majority of books written by pastors and others.  The overwhelming majority deal with “how to grow your church, small groups, etc.”  The church in America is okay with being a mile wide and only an inch deep.  The second reason we don’t talk about spiritual growth is it is hard to see.  Why is it that they have to bring in sand by the dump truck loads to the beach from time to time, or in the case of Cape Hatteras, move an entire lighthouse?  It is because over time, the constant crashing and pulling of the waves has caused erosion of the beach.  When you go to the beach on Monday and then go back on Tuesday, do you readily recognize that the beach is getting smaller?  Probably not, but the beach is getting smaller.  Our spiritual growth is like the waves crashing onto the shore and eroding the sand.  Many times in my life, my wife has noticed changes in me before I have (probably several reasons behind that).  So how do we define and measure spiritual growth?

I wish this was an exhaustive list, but I’m sure I am going to miss many things.  I believe the first place to start is to define, what is a disciple of Jesus Christ?  Certainly a disciples of Jesus will confess (1 John 1:9), repent (Luke 13:3), be converted (John 3:3), and be baptized (Mt. 28:19).  However, those things are just the beginning of the journey.  Is the person beginning to have more success over past sins?  Are they able to with the Spirit’s help, depend on Christ and not give into their sin nature?  Is there a hunger for daily devotion time and daily prayer time?  Are they regularly sharing the Gospel?  Have the discovered, developed, and deployed their spiritual gift to help the church and build up the kingdom of God?  Are they part of a small group or Sunday school class regularly?  Do they attend corporate worship regularly?  Are they actively making disciples?  These are just a few questions that we should be asking ourselves first and foremost.  But we, as pastors and leaders, should be asking these questions of our people as well.  Jesus did not save us just to leave us where we were when we surrendered to Him.  He saved us to sanctify us (set us apart) for His glory and His service.  Is there progression in the person’s life?  Here is the great part about measuring a disciple’s growth, if I am growing as a disciple of Jesus, and we as a church are growing as disciples, the natural result will be numerical growth with one exception.  The exception is the numerical growth will be by multiplication rather than addition.  If I am growing as a disciple and make a disciple, then we both continue to grow as disciples and each make a disciple, now we have four, and so on and so on.  Healthy things grow!  Therefore, if we are not growing numerically, we need to ask ourselves, are we growing spiritually?  Are we healthy?  I know this isn’t ground breaking research or even probably not even new information.  But I do pray it will call all of us to ask ourselves, am I growing spiritually?

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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May 22

Freedom Isn’t Free

The upcoming weekend is a very special one in the United States. It is more than a three day weekend for many people.  It is more than the Coca-Cola 600 and the Indy 500.  It is a time set aside to reflect and remember those who gave their life in defense of this country.  We owe so much to our men and women in the military, police officers, firefighters, and EMTs.  The blanket of protection you and I sleep under each day and night in this country came at the expense of one of these brave men and women.  Freedom isn’t free.

Yet there was another who paid a ransom with His life so that we might be free from the penalty of sin.  Had it not been for Jesus willingly laying down His life for the world, we would suffer a fate far greater than being enslaved by another nation.  We would suffer in the lake of fire for all of eternity.  As much gratitude as we owe our men and women in uniform, we owe Jesus so much more.  We owe Him our life, because if He didn’t lay down His life, we wouldn’t even have a life worth living.  Yet Jesus is not a tyrant demanding we pay Him.  His request is quite simple.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”   “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”  “Love others as yourself.”  His request is that we live a life surrendered to His Lordship, demonstrating our love and devotion to Him by serving one another in love.  Jesus lived out the words of John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  Now it is up to us not just to say that we love God, but to demonstrate it with our life.

On behalf of our church family, myself, and my family, thank you to the men and women currently serving our country as well as to those families who lost a loved one who died defending our freedom.  May we always remember, freedom isn’t free, it always cost someone else.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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