Sunday, December 27, 2009

Batteries Included

I wonder how many frustrated parents assembled some special toy for their child this Christmas, only to discover “batteries not included”? To have the shell without the power to run the device is quite irritating. No toy should be sold without the batteries to run it, wouldn’t you agree?

Well, praise God that salvation comes with “Batteries Included”! You know what I am talking about – the power of the Holy Spirit. When we repent and trust Christ for salvation, the batteries are included because we immediately receive the person of the Holy Spirit. He comes to indwell our lives! “If you have not the Spirit of Christ, you have not Christ” (Romans 8:9).

For a Christmas toy, the batteries serve two important functions. First, they enable the toy to do what it was created to do. Without the batteries, the toy is lifeless. Second, the batteries empower the toy. They give it energy and power to fulfill its everyday function.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit gives us life. The Holy Spirit brings us to salvation. The Spirit convicts us of sin, enables us to repent, and gives us the faith to receive Christ. At salvation, the Spirit enables us to begin our purpose for which we were created – to know God and make Him known.

Furthermore, once we are in relationship with God, the Holy Spirit empowers us. He lives through us. He directs us. He gives us the strength to do God’s will. He works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Apart from Christ’s indwelling presence through the Spirit, we can do nothing of any eternal value.

Praise God the batteries are included! Just be sure to keep them charged!

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Ephesians 3:16-17

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lessons From Tiger Woods

In light of the recent tragedy in the life of Tiger Woods, I want to include on my blog something I read several years ago that really spoke to me. It was written by former pastor and author, Randy Alcorn. It was first published as an article in Leadership Magazine.

He simply shares the many possible consequences if he fell into sexual sin. It is good for us to remind ourselves of what “could happen” if we gave into temptation.

Satan is very crafty. He only wants us to see the immediate gratification in sin. He wants to blind us to what is on the other side of sin. Let us seek to live holy lives, and thus experience the great joy and peace that comes from staying in God’s will!

Consequences of a Moral Tumble

By Randy Alcorn

“Whenever I feel particularly vulnerable to sexual temptation, I find it helpful to review what effects my action could have:

  • Grieving the Lord who redeemed me.
  • Dragging His sacred name into the mud.
  • One day having to look Jesus, the Righteous Judge, in the face and give an account of my actions.
  • Following in the footsteps of these people who immorality forfeited their ministries and cause me to shudder: (list names)
  • Inflicting untold hurt on Nanci, my best friend and loyal wife.
  • Losing Nanci’s respect and trust.
  • Hurting my beloved daughters, Karina and Angie.
  • Destroying my example and credibility with my children, and nullifying both present and future efforts to teach them to obey God (“Why listen to a man who betrayed Mom and us?”).
  • If my blindness should continue or my wife be unable to forgive, perhaps losing my wife and my children forever.
  • Causing shame to my family (“Why isn’t Daddy a pastor anymore?”).
  • Losing self-respect.
  • Creating a form of guilt awfully hard to shake. Even though God would forgive me, would I forgive myself?
  • Forming memories and flashbacks that could plague future ministry with my wife.
  • Wasting years of ministry training and experience for a long time, maybe permanently.
  • Forfeiting the effect of years of witnessing to my father and reinforcing his distrust for ministers that has only begun to soften by my example but that would harden, perhaps permanently, because of my immorality.
  • Undermining the faithful example and hard work of other Christians in our community.
  • Bringing great pleasure to Satan, the enemy of God and all that is good.
  • Heaping judgment and endless difficulty on the person with whom I committed adultery.
  • Possibly bearing the physical consequences of such diseases as gonorrhea, syphilis, Chlamydia, herpes, and AIDS; perhaps infecting Nanci or, in the case of AIDS, even causing her death.
  • Possibly causing pregnancy, with the personal and financial implications, including a lifelong reminder of my sin.
  • Bringing shame and hurt to these fellow pastors and elders: (list names).
  • Causing shame and hurt to these friends, especially those I’ve led to Christ and discipled: (list names).
  • Invoking shame and life-long embarrassment upon myself.”[i]

[i] Randy Alcorn, “Consequences of a Moral Tumble,” Leadership Journal Volume 9, Issue 1, Winter 1988: p. 25.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why We Should Give Thanks

The bible has a lot to say about giving thanks. During this Thanksgiving season, I want to offer four reasons why we should give thanks.

1. God commands us to give thanks. "In all thing, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:18). We often hear people ask, "How do I know God's will?" Well, we know God's will on this issue - it is His will that we give thanks. Therefore, when we are thankful we can know we are doing God's will.

2. God is deserving of our thanks. The Bible says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (Jas. 1:17). Every good thing in our life is ultimately a gift from God. Therefore, He deserves our thanks for all He has done for us.

3. Thanks does us good. We all know how giving thanks helps to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto what is important. It is too easy to focus on things in our life that we do not like, circumstances that are difficult, or other struggles we are having. However, when we make the choice to rejoice and assume the attitude of gratitude, it actually serves to change our emotions for the better.

4. Giving thanks is contagious. When we have a thankful attitude, it spreads to others and can sometimes cause the complainer around us to stop! Wouldn't that be something! Better yet, people like to be around others who are positive.

So, this Thanksgiving (and every day for that matter), let's be a thankful people. For those who are followers of Christ, the most important thing to be thankful for is salvation in Jesus!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Facing Disappointments in Life

Life is full of disappointments. We all have expectations that are not met, whether it be in our jobs, health, churches, marriage, finances, or even relationship with God.

Jesus experienced disappointment. He was certainly disappointed with the religious leaders of the day for how they were leading people astray. In addition, we see Jesus on numerous occasions being disappointed with His disciples ("how long shall I put up with you?").

Perhaps one of the reasons Jesus often got away to spend time with His Father was to release those disappointments and to get His Father's perspective.

One of the greatest challenges of disappointment is how it often leads to anger and potential bitterness toward others. Now the Bible says to be angry ... but to sin not. Jesus was angry in the temple because of His disappointment over how they were using the temple for financial gain instead of worship. His anger was righteous anger; however, most of ours is not. Most of our anger is due to selfishness.

Another challenging component of disappointment is whether or not to tell the person toward whom we are disappointed. Will this help this situation or make it worse? Is the disappointment justified or due to pride and selfishness? Are we the vessel to confront the other or is God wanting to teach us a deeper level of dependence on Him or 1 Cor. 13 love? These are all very difficult questions to answer and take a deep work of the Holy Spirit to show us the true answer.

Most of my blogs I try to give answers. On this one I am simply posing the dilemma and challenging us all to seek the Lord for answers. Feel free to share with me in the comments section below your thoughts on this and what God has taught you.

"Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and besides Thee I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but You are the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalms 73).

"My soul finds rest in God alone ... Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge" (Psalms 62:1, 8).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Is 100% Required?

Does God really expect us to commit 100% to Him? Isn’t it good enough to just go to church faithfully and try hard to live a good life? Cannot God be an important part of our life without actually being the center of everything? Isn’t it a bit extreme to think about God in all we do? These are great questions, and the Bible has answers.

Let’s examine God’s Word and discover whether or not God wants us to be 100% committed to Him.

“He is the image of the invisible God … He is before all things and in Him all things hold together … He is the beginning, and firstborn from among the dead so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:17; NASB)

“And you shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart … in all your ways acknowledge Him” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“Trust in Him at all times” (Psalms 62:8).

“I wish you were either hot or cold … because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15).

I think you can see from these passages that God does expect us to give 100% to Him. Being a follower of Jesus means that we seek to grow in our commitment and loyalty to Him. It means we put Jesus at the center and have everything revolve around Him.

Obviously maturity takes time. Certainly we never feel as though we are giving God 100% of our life. But this does not change the fact that total allegiance to Christ is what we should go after – 100% commitment, 100% heart devotion, lordship of thoughts, surrender of all our possessions, etc., etc.

100% only seems radical when you don’t understand who God is and all that Christ has done for us.

In conclusion, here are 6 reasons why God deserves our 100%:
1. He is God and has a divine right over our lives.
2. He created us and knows what is best for us.
3. Without Him we would be nothing.
4. Jesus gave His all for us.
5. In giving God 100%, we find the greatest fulfillment and joy in life.
6. Living all out for God is the most eternal thing we can do.

May God bless you as you seek to live totally devoted to Him! Let’s not settle for anything less than 100%!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lessons From a Tragic Death

This week has not been easy. I learned on Monday that the receptionist at my chiropractor’s office committed suicide. She was only 46 years old. I knew she struggled with severe depression, and on several occasions had called me in desperation. When I learned of her death, I had all the emotions of a tragic death: shock, unbelief, sadness, sorrow, confusion, and even anger.

Suicide is a terrible thing. Satan, who comes to steal, kill and destroy, gets a tragic victory when one takes his/her life.

Here are some lessons from this tragic death:

1. There are many hurting people in the world, and they are right next to us every day.

Few people would have known that this woman struggled with severe depression. For the most part, she was able to cover it up and be quite pleasant in the office. This just shows that behind every smile can be great pain. Oh Lord, give us the ability to see the pain in those around us, so that we might be a “sweet aroma of the knowledge of You in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).

2. God cares about the pain we experience, and He can help all who call upon Him.

I am so thankful that God is merciful and compassionate. He is near to all who call upon Him in truth. Jesus said, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” If you are hurting in any way, call out to God, and allow His healing power to transform you. He is able, more than able, to accomplish a new and fresh work in your life.

3. The body of Christ is there to help us, and we must be willing to receive that help.

I made numerous offers to this woman to get into a special women’s group we have at church, but she did not. I know of others who encouraged her to get counseling. Unfortunately, she tried to make it alone. As hard as it can be to avail ourselves of others’ help, we must do it. God calls us to live in community, to be transparent, and to allow others to help us when we are in need. Often it is pride that keeps us from sharing our needs with others. God’s Word says to “bear one another’s burden” (Gal. 6:1).

4. Life is so short, and we have the privilege of living for what is eternal.

The Bible says, “It is better to go to a funeral than a party, for death is the destiny of every man, and the living should take it to heart” (Eccl. 7:3). Every time I attend a funeral (as I did this week), it is a fresh reminder of how brief our lives on earth really are. May God stamp eternity on our eyes, so that we live for what really matters most. And what really matters most is the things of God.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Be Sure to Spiritually AIM

This week I have been intrigued with a simple little phrase out of the book of Nehemiah: “Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king” (2:4).

The context of this passage is Nehemiah sharing with the king his concern over the broken wall in Jerusalem. After sharing his concern, the king asked Nehemiah, “What is it that you want” (2:4a)? Before just responding from his flesh, Nehemiah prays to insure that he answers from the Spirit. I love this. To me, this is a great model of what it means to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16).

Too often I do things in the flesh. If I was Nehemiah I would have been so excited that the king asked me that question I would have quickly said, “Let me go and rebuild the wall in Jerusalem.” I would have taken off on my own and not even thought to ask for help, as Nehemiah did … after he prayed. By praying before speaking, Nehemiah was given wisdom from Above to ask the king for all kinds of help – which by the way, he received. The king gave him safe passage, resources to use in building, and even officers and cavalry (see 2:6-9)!

This reminds me of Jesus’ ministry motto: “I do nothing of my own initiative, but only what I see the Father doing” (Jn. 5:19). Jesus made sure what He did was led by the Father. This is why we see Jesus breaking away so often to pray. He made sure He was in tune with His Father in what He did.

I need to become more like Jesus in this aspect of life and ministry. I am typically a “ready, fire, aim” kind of person. My growing edge is to take time to “aim.” The best way to spiritually “aim” is to A – acknowledge God, B- be sure to pray and ask God what He wants, and C – carry out what you sense God leading you to say or do.

Oh that we might all grow in being led by the Spirit … hear God’s voice … sense His direction … and boldly step out in faith!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One Day in DC

Today I had the privilege of visiting a few significant places in Washington, D.C. – the WW2 Memorial, the Holocaust Museum, and the Capitol.

I have some strong feelings as I reflect on my visits today:
1. We live in a great country.
I am so thankful to live in a country where we can travel freely, pursue our dreams, and worship as we chose. There is no doubt God’s hand has been on this country.

2. It is important to remember the past.
I love history, and I love the rich history of this country. Lessons abound in history – both good and bad. Each of the monuments and museums in Washington are filled with lessons. We must learn from the past and seek to be vessels of godliness for the future.

3. Freedom always has a price tag.
Freedom is never free. Our national freedom has been paid for with the blood of many soldiers. At the WW2 Memorial there is an inscription, “The Price of Freedom.” Behind it are 4,000 gold stars representing the 400,000 American soldiers who gave their lives in that war. As I observed this part of the memorial, I was reminded that Jesus gave His life to purchase our freedom from sin, Satan, and slavery.

4. The capacity for evil is great in the sinful heart of man.
What Hitler and others did in seeking to exterminate the Jews is horrific. The pictures, videos, and descriptions of human suffering at the Holocaust Museum make your mind ponder, your stomach turn, and your heart grieve. During my entire visit I kept thinking of the verse, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it (Jer. 17:9?” The only cure for this sinful condition is the blood of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit to change a person from the inside out.

5. Though our country is not perfect, we have been a huge force for good in the world.
Despite the heaviness of going through the Holocaust Museum, I left proud of my country in helping to bring an end to WW2 and the Nazi atrocities. If it were not for the Allied forces, who knows what else Hitler would have done. Furthermore, our history is rich with Christian influence and the greatness of democracy.

6. Biblical Christianity has played an enormous part in shaping our history.
Everyone you go in Washington there is evidence of the enormous influence of the Bible and Christianity on this great country. Just today I saw scripture on every wall in a certain room at the Holocaust Museum, as well as paintings in the Capitol rotunda of the baptism of Pochohontas and the Pilgrims arriving with Bible in hand.

I love days like this – rich in thought, deep in emotion, and motivation for the will.

I desire to be a history-maker, but not for my glory or fame. Instead, I want my mark to be eternal for the glory of God.

Let’s give our all for Jesus in the few years we have on earth!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Biblical Principles of Financial Stewardship

1 Chronicles 28-29 provides us with some amazing principles of financial stewardship. I love this passage and used it as my guide in leading my former church in four capital campaigns. "Raising money" can often be seen as a necessary negative of ministry; however, I have come to see financial needs as a wonderful opportunity for a church to experience God in tangible ways. This can be accomplished by following these biblical principles:

1. Humility ("my son, Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced" - 29:1. Humble dependence on God is the first and most important principle. Experience is not what God is after, but rather a heart that is totally dependent upon Him. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, and we certainly need His grace when it comes to a capital campaign. Are you walking in humility?

2. Vision ("I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark" - 28:2). Vision is affected by the past, rooted in the present, with a picture of the future. King David had this vision for the Temple. God put this vision in his heart. Though he was not the one to actually see it fulfilled, God still used David in the process. What is your vision? Put it on paper and share it with others.

3. Purity ("The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man, but for the Lord God" - 29:1). David's vision was pure in that he wanted something for God's glory. It is very easy for a building project or capital campaign to be for the glory of the pastor. We must have no part in such endeavors. Instead, we must pursue a vision that is truly for the Lord's glory! Is your vision for God's glory?

4. Sacrifice ("With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God" - 29:2). David personally invested in this project. He did not call others to do anything that he was not personally willing to do. Each time our church did a capital campaign, I had to personally sacrifice. During one campaign the Lord directed Dede and me to give three months salary for three years to the campaign. Therefore, I signed over every paycheck for the months of October, November, and December (for three years) to our campaign. To this day, there is no explanation but God for how we made it during those three years. I love this definition of sacrifice: "Giving up something you value for something you value more!" Pastor, ask God what He would have you commit to the campaign, and then wait expectantly for His provision and power.

5. Leadership ("then the leaders ... gave toward the work" - 29:6-7). Because of David's example, the leaders gave sacrificially. If you are in leadership, ask God what he would have you do. Your example is crucial to the overall success of the campaign. Lead by example, and as you experience God in your sacrificial giving, be willing to share your story with others. Testimonies are so powerful in a campaign.

6. Participation ("The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders ... And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you" - 29:9, 17). What a great progression we see here: David gave, leaders gave, and now the people follow suite. This is the way it usually works. The congregation will follow the example of their leaders. Notice also the joyful and willing participation. This is because of our next principle:

7. Lordship ("we have given only what comes from Your hand" - 29:14). The essence of stewardship is lordship. When we truly believe that all we have is God's, then we are willing to offer it freely to the Lord. We are merely managers (i.e. stewards) of what God owns. It is not mine. If God says, "Give back to me ___", then we must give back to Him what He says. Pray and obey is a great theme to have in a capital campaign. If everyone prays and obeys what God's says, then whatever God wants to provide will be there! Is Jesus lord of your life? Of your money?

8. Eternal Perspective ("We are aliens and strangers in Your sight ... our days on earth are like a shadow" - 29:15). A huge piece of stewardship for me is having an eternal perspective. What is really going to last? I want to invest my time, money, and possessions in that which will last forever. Giving to kingdom ministry is an eternal investment, and will yield eternal fruit and rewards.

What a privilege to give toward a capital campaign that is for the glory of God and rooted in biblical principles! I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What Have I Learned Since High School?

Last night was my 30-year high school reunion. Wow - that is enough to make you feel real old! The planning committee asked me to share a brief message at the main event. I was extremely honored to be asked to do this; however, it was very much out of my comfort zone to do so. I was more uncomfortable doing this than any sermon I have preached. Therefore, much prayer went into it. I had two goals: to not be preaching and to keep it way under the 20 minutes they gave me. It was actually about 12 minutes and here is what I shared:

It is a great privilege to be here tonight and share a few thoughts with you.

I want to introduce my wife of 23 years, Dede …. we have 4 children and just moved back to GA after 18 years in the frigid state of WI. Someone put on Facebook yesterday that they wanted to put up Christmas decorations because it was getting cool – it is not cool in GA right now.

I don’t know about you, but isn’t it kind of weird to come to an event like this? I mean, it makes you feel old. I told some people this week I was coming to my 30 year high school reunion they said, “Dude, you are old!” Thanks a lot!

Here is what will make you feel old, do you know how much a gallon of gas costs in 1961? 31 cents; and a postage stamp? 4 cents

But as weird as it might be to come to a reunion like this, these kind of events are actually good for us, because they make us reflect on our lives and hopefully consider what is most important, so what I want to do tonight is share with you:

The 4 Most Important Things I Have Learned Since High School. This first is this:
1. Time Flies.

It seems like yesterday that Mike Bush had the big club hand and the spirit stick was being fought for!

You know the country song “Don’t blink”? We’ll; we blinked, and all of sudden we are nearing 50 years old, some of us have kids in college, and some are even grandparents. By the way, how many grandparents do we have?

Billy Graham was interviewed recently on CNN and they asked him what is one of the most important lessons you have learned, and he said, “The swift passage of time.”

Time flies. Life is so short.

I have a sobering habit of reading the obituaries and I am amazed how often I see people who are 18, 26, 40, or my age: 48. I read the obituaries to remind me of how short life is.

Even tonight we have remembered those from our class who have already died. None of us are guaranteed another day!

The 2nd thing I have learned is this:
2. Life can be painful.

As a pastor I come in contact with pain on a regular basis. I have done the funeral for small children, even infants, seen a good friend die at 40 from bone cancer; just this week one of my best friends’ divorce was final, and in about a month I will see my wife’s brother go back to Iraq for the 3rd time and he is scheduled to leave one week after his 2nd child is due.

Many of you here have probably been through or are going through some serious health issues, the death of someone close, divorce, cancer, depression, anxiety, or any other number of painful situations.

Well it was Jesus said, “in this world you will have much tribulation…” I like the way Jesus always tells the truth.

And those painful situations will either make us better or bitter, and I have sure seen both. I have seen people get bitter through pain and then try to cover it up with all kinds of things that end up being very harmful and sometimes addictive.

And I have also seen others get better through pain. And these are the ones who are amazing agents of help to others who are hurting. Mike Broom, you are one of those people. I cannot imagine the pain you had in losing Beth.

The 3rd thing I have learned is:
3. Success is not determined by what you have.

Our culture often tells us you measure success by the title you have, your position in the company, or the toys you own.

It’s like the person who said he spent his whole life climbing up the ladder, only to realize at the end it was leaning against the wrong wall.

The problem with living for material things is that you can’t buy happiness and it is all so temporary, it can be gone in a moment, and ultimately when you die, you can’t take it with you. I have never been to a funeral where a U-Haul followed the Hearst.

The family of John D. Rockefeller was asked when he died, “How much did he leave?” And they said, “All of it.”

The 4th thing I have learned and this one is by far the most important and makes a huge difference in the other 3, and that is this:
4. God is real and He wants us to know Him.

Some of you might be thinking, “Now don’t get religious on me.” Trust me, this is not religion, but rather a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and there is a huge difference.

I have had the privilege to traveling to the Holy Land twice and to Greece where so many biblical events occurred, and it is incredible to see firsthand the accuracy of the bible and tangible proof for the historicity of Jesus.

I did not become a Christian until our senior year at Clarkston, largely due to the influence of a Bible Study held in the home of Rene Walker Harris. Thanks Rene. And I can tell you Jesus Christ has made such a difference in my life – to give me purpose and joy.

So as I wrap it up, I want to go back to the first three lessons and show how God can be real in each of those:

1. I mentioned that Time flies and our lives are so short here on earth,
But when you are a follower of Christ, He promises you eternal life and your life here on earth can be lived with an eternal perspective, so that whether you live to be 14, 48 or 90 your life can make a difference for all eternity.

I love that scene in the movie the Dead Poets’ Society where Robin Williams takes the students to the trophy case and shows them the picture of past athletes and heroes, and he says, “Look in their eyes; think back to what it must have been like for them – so young with the world before them, but now their bodies are being eaten by worms.” And then he gave hem this challenge: “carpe diem. Seize the day.”

And our lives are so short that we must seize the day, and live for what really matters – God matters the most.

2. Life can be painful but God wants to be there in the midst of our pain to help us through it.

We never know what life may throw us, which is why we need One who is bigger than life.

It is often through pain that we can experience God the most. C.S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasure, but He shouts to us in our pain…. Pain is God’s megaphone.”

The Bible says, “Caste all your care on Him, for He cares for you.”

God wants you to get closer to Him through your pain and then be able to help others in their pain.

Earlier I quoted Jesus when He said, “In this world you will have tribulation” and the second part of that verse is, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

3. Success is not about what you have but rather it’s about who you know.

It’s all about relationships – with God and others. That’s what matters the most, and not how big our house is or the car we drive.

This is why Jesus said the 2 greatest commandments are to love the Lord with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself.

I love that scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey opens the book the angel left him and written inside was this message: “He is not poor who has friends.”

That is why events like this are so good, because they help us deepen relationships.

Not to be morbid, but who will come to your funeral and what will they say? Will they have to lie or will there be a long line to get to the microphone and talk about how your life impacted them and made a difference?

Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

I don’t want any of you to forfeit your soul!!!! So I want to end with some really good news; our world is filled with bad news, but here is the best news ever given to human beings:

Jn. 3:16 God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever trusts in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Jer. 29: 11-13 “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not calamity, to give you a future and a hope, and you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

I pray that God will reveal Himself to each one of you! Thank you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What Has Helped Me Grow in the Lord?

This past Sunday our Sr. Pastor preached on the 7 things that have helped him grow the most. It was a great message. It got me thinking about what has helped me grow spiritually. Here is my list of 7:

1. Time Alone With God - Nothing has helped my relationship more than spending daily time alone with God. The best way to grow close to another person is to spend time with them. This is most true about our walk with God. I am amazed that even Jesus, who had an eternity of fellowship with the Father built up before coming to earth, still took time on a regular basis to pray and be alone with His Father. This one will always be #1 for me.

2. Small Group - This has been huge for me. All of my Christian life I have been in a small group, especially an accountability group with other men. "As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17). God made us to need others in our walk with Him. I don't know where I would be today without my "Iron Man" group in Wisconsin and my current men's group on Georgia. I desperately need others to hold up my arms when they get weak. Howard Hendricks once said, "A man who doesn't meet with other men for encouragement and accountability is an accident waiting to happen."

3. Church - This would include everything from corporate worship to biblical preaching and fellowship. I love the local church, even with all her faults and failures. God has often spoken to me through a sermon, moved my heart during worship, and encouraged me to go further through the people I fellowship with at church. I love to sit under anointing preaching, and I love to get lost in worship. When I was in college and attending Watkinsville First Baptist (where I am now an Associate Pastor), I did not want to go home on weekends because I thought revival might break out and I would miss it. Oh that we would have a hunger to meet with God ... at CHURCH!

4. Timely Books and Conferences - Someone once said, "We are most influenced by the people we know and the books we read." I agree. I love to read an anointed book when it speaks to something that God is doing in my life. Books like "The God You Can Know", "Victory Over the Darkness," and most recently "Crazy Love" have been used of God to keep my heart tender toward the Lord. In addition, I will never forget the time at a Piper conference I was touched so deeply that I wept uncontrollably for over an hour.

5. Understanding the Exchanged Life - For many years I tried hard to be a good Christian. I almost burned out. Praise God the Holy Spirit introduced me to Galatians 2:20 - which is now my life verse - where instead of me trying hard to live for God, I need to allow Jesus to live His life through me in the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, when I feel weak, I rejoice and exchange my weakness for His divine power - this is the exchanged life: exchanging my life for His.

6. Being Out of My Comfort Zone - We often trust God the most when we are out on a limb and feel very inadequate. For me this has come when I have gone on mission's trips and been called to serve in some way that made me uncomfortable. When I was a college student I did some open air preaching at the University of Minnesota. Wow - that was out of my comfort zone. Pastoring in and of itself is out of my comfort zone, but through it I have grown so much. Someone once said, "God wants us to feel wholely inadequate that we might wholely depend on Him."

7. Extended Times in Prayer - I try to take one day every month to pray and seek God in a deeper way. These times have served to take me deeper with the Lord and to hear His voice. My dad used to have a poster in his church office that said, "God speaks to those who are still enough to listen."

As you read my list, what is your list? What has helped you grow the most? What can you do to faciliate greater growth. Let's seek the Lord with all our hearts! Let's go as far with Him as He will allow us to! What a privilege to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Preacher's Prayer

One of the greatest privileges of pastoring is preaching and teaching God’s Word. The potential for eternal life-change through the anointed preaching of God’s Word is both humbling and exciting. I know my life has been changed by Spirit-anointed sermons. I desire with all my heart to be used by God to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit.

As I preach again this Sunday, here is my earnest prayer that I invite all preachers to pray with me:

Lord God Almighty, thank You for Your Holy Word. In it is found life and truth. You tell us to “preach the Word in season and out of season” (1 Tim. 4:2). I want to do just that, so I ask You to “bring Your Word to light through the preaching entrusted to me” (Titus 1:3). I pray that Your written Word will reveal to people the Living Word, Jesus Christ, because it is in Him that eternal life is found (Jn. 5:39-40).

I joyfully acknowledge that “apart from You I can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5) on my own. I desperately need You. If You do not breath life into this message, it will be dry bones at best (2 Kings 13:21), and no one today needs lifeless bones. Therefore, I ask You to empower and anoint this message by Your Spirit. Help me not to “preach with persuasive words of human wisdom, but rather with the demonstration of the Spirit and power, so that people’s faith would not rest on the wisdom of man but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable unto You, my Strength and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).

Just as in the book of Acts when the Spirit “came upon people” (Acts 10:44), I ask You, Holy Spirit, to come upon those that hear me preach – come upon them with conviction, encouragement, and insight. Move their hearts and their wills to want to follow You. Work in them both to “will and to do for Your good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Make this message an encounter with You, the Living God.

Finally, Lord, I ask You to speak to my heart and life through this message. Change me, O Lord, through my own preaching.

Most importantly, may You get all the glory and honor that is due Your Name. I pray this in Jesus’ precious Name. Amen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Remembering and Forgetting

I am currently going through The Truth Project class at our church. Del Tackett said in one of the lessons, “We often forget what we should remember, and we remember what we should forget.” I found this statement to be very thought provoking.

Let’s reflect for a moment on what we should remember and what we should forget.

What are we to remember? The bible is very clear that we are to remember such truths as:
- The goodness of God.
- The faithfulness of God.
- The ways God has worked in our life.
- The blessings of God.
- The cross of Jesus.
- The future of Satan.
- Our identity in Christ.

Psalms 78 tells us that Israel fell away from God because they frequently forgot what He had done in their past. When the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River, God had them stack stones as a memorial, so that future generations would not forget what He had done for them. Let us not forget what God has done – in the Bible, in history, and in our lives!

On the other hand, what should we forget? God’s Word tells us to forget such things as:
- Our forgiven sins. If God has thrown our sins as far as the east is from the west, and if He remembers our sins no more, then we have no business remembering them. Instead, we need to thank God for His amazing love and complete forgiveness of all our sins (see 1 John 1:9).
- The sins of others. 1 Cor. 13 says that love does not keep a record of wrongs. We must forgive those who hurt us just like Christ forgives us.
- Our past mistakes. Now, there is a place to learn from our mistakes, but too often we condemn ourselves for things in our past that God has already forgiven and forgotten. Satan is the “accuser of the brethren” and loves to use our ungodly past against us. God sees us as new creatures in Christ, “the old has gone and the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

When Satan brings up your past, you remind him of his future and remind yourself of your identity in Christ. Let’s learn to remember what we should remember and forget what we should forget.

Friday, July 3, 2009

True Independence Day

This weekend there will be lots of talk about Independence Day. And isn't it great that we live in a free country? Praise God for all that has happened to give us the freedoms we enjoy in this great nation. However, there is an even greater freedom that comes only through Jesus Christ.

Here are some of the many freedoms one can have through Jesus:

1. Freedom from the penalty of sin. Jesus fully paid the penalty for us when He died and rose again. Therefore, the Holy God of the universe can accept Jesus' payment and clear our account from the huge debt we owe. In Christ, we can have eternal freedom from the penalty of sin! "God made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behave, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Cor. 5:21

2. Freedom from the power of sin. Not only did Jesus' death and resurrection win the victory over the penalty of sin, but it also won the victory over the power of sin. In other words, through the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, we can now live a life of victory over sin. We do not have to sin. We can resist through God's power. "How shall we who died to sin still live in?" Rom. 6:1

3. Freedom to be real. God loves and accepts us in Christ with an unconditional love. This doesn't mean our behavior is irrelevant, but it does mean that we do not obey to earn God's love but rather because of His love. Therefore, we can be real. We can be honest. We can admit our weaknesses and failures, and come to God just like we are. We can even be real with others, which is how we grow the most. Let's take off our mask and be real.

4. Freedom from Satan. Though Satan is more powerful than we are in our flesh, he is not more powerful than the God who lives in us. "Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world" (1 Jn. 4:4). Because of Christ's death and resurrection, Satan lost his upper hand over us. We can submit to God, resist the Devil and he will flee (Jas. 4:7).

5. Freedom from condemnation. Satan loves to bring condemnation upon believers by reminding them of their past or current failures. However, we can bring those sins to the cross and claim the forgiveness of Christ. "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). When Satan brings up your past, remind him of your righteousness in Christ. Also, remind him of his future!

6. Freedom to live "all out" for God. How cool that we can give our all for the One who gave His all for us. How cool that we can give our lives for something that matters for eternity. We are set free to live freely for our Master, Jesus. We do this because He has put a new song in our heart. We do this because He is working in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).

On this Independence Day weekend, let us give thanks to God for the freedoms we have in Christ!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lessons From the Life and Death of Michael Jackson

The entire world is talking about Michael Jackson’s life and death. Wow. Amazing that one person can get the attention of the entire world through his life and death. I actually know another Person that has done that in an even more profound way!

As I reflect on the life and death of Michael Jackson, here is what comes to my mind and heart:

Incredible Talent – This man had incredible talent from the earliest of age. He was a phenomenal artist. All good gifts come from Above, so this talent was God-given; however, did he use this talent to glorify the One who gave it to him?

Worldly Success without True Fulfillment – Michael Jackson was undoubtedly successful in the eyes of the world. He sold more than 61 million albums in the U.S. alone; his 1982 hit “Thriller” is still the second best-selling U.S. album of all time; and he won 14 Grammys. However, it is obvious he did not have inner fulfillment and true happiness. He seemed to be constantly on the search for something that would give this to him, but like a dog chasing his tail, it doesn’t seem he ever found it. Perhaps this was due largely to his deep insecurity.

Deep Insecurity – Michael never seemed to advance beyond the childhood stage of development. His popularity came at such a young age that he was never able to have a proper childhood … and also move beyond childhood to adulthood. He was a boy in a man’s body. His insecurity manifested in obvious ways such as his many plastic surgeries. But probing beneath the skin reveals his uncertain relations with children. None of us will ever know the deep pain that he probably had in his spiritual, mental, and emotional life.

Financial Mess – Like so many who are successful in the world’s eyes, in reality Michael was up to his nose in debt. It is reported that he had over $400 million in debt. His upcoming tour was to help alleviate this problem. He spent $20 million to $30 million more per year than he earned. In March of last year, the singer faced foreclosure on Neverland. He also repeatedly failed to make mortgage payments on a house in Los Angeles that had been used for years by his family. In addition, Jackson was forced to defend himself against a slew of lawsuits. I am amazed at how often I learn that someone who lives in a big house and drives nice cars is actually in huge debt. This debt had to add enormous stress to Michael Jackson’s life.

Eternal Life or Death? I have shared many tragic aspects of Michael Jackson’s life. But the greatest and most long-lasting tragedy in Michael Jackson’s life and death is his unknown eternal fate. It doesn’t appear that he knew Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Perhaps he did. Only the Lord knows for sure. Jesus said it best: “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mt. 16:26).

May God use the life and death of Michael Jackson to cause each of us to do some serious self-examination and repentance of that which does not please God. Finally, let us be careful to avoid any inappropriate joking about Michael Jackson. Instead, let us faithfully pray for his children and entire family – that God may use this to draw them into the arms of the Perfect Father God!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Sheep and the Shepherds

Here is an important lesson I have learned as a pastor: Those in leadership need to hear from those in the body, and those in the body need to share with those in leadership (Gal. 6:6).

Let me explain how God wants this to work. If the leadership of a church is in the center of God’s will, they will want to hear from the church body. They need to hear words of encouragement when people are blessed by their ministry. On the other hand, if they are not in the will of God, they still need to hear from the church family so as to bring needed correction to their leadership.

In both cases, God wins because in the first case the leaders are encouraged to “keep up the good work.” If the second case, the leaders are corrected through the body to change. Leaders must be humble and receptive enough to hear words of concern, so that if they are not leading in the Spirit, the Lord might use those comments to bring needed repentance.

At the same time, those in the church body need to share with their leaders. They need to share when things are going good so as to give appropriate affirmation. We leaders sure need encouragement! Also, the church body needs to share with their leaders when they have concerns, instead of murmuring and complaining to other members of the body and thus creating satanic division. In this scenario, God wants to get the attention of the leaders, and He is trying to use various members of the body to do so. If you have concerns, go to the leadership of your church and speak the truth in love. Do nothing that will cause division. Remember, unity is so important to God that being divisive is cause for church discipline (Titus 3:10).

One more thing: If the leaders are “right on” but people are still voicing concerns, then the leaders need to do a better job of communicating so as to bring peace and harmony back to the body. Often leaders know why they are doing something, but if they fail to clearly articulate this to the body, the church at large will not have a clue as to what is happening. And in the absence of information, we can all assume the wrong thing!

Let us all, the sheep and the shepherds, be diligent to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Perfect Father

Do you have a perfect father? I know I don’t, and I know my children would say they don’t. However, there is a perfect Father – only One, and that is, God our Heavenly Father.

This past Sunday was Father’s Day. The Father most deserving of thanks and praise on Father’s Day is our Heavenly Father. He is perfect in the following ways and more:

1. Unconditional Love – No one can love us like God does. No one can truly love us unconditionally like God, because He knows all of our imperfections and yet, He still loves us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). He demonstrated His love by sending His own Son to die for our sins. And He wants His perfect love to motivate us to love Him back and live for Him. Paul said, “The love of Christ constrains me.”

2. Constant Faithfulness – God is faithful to His Word, faithful to His character, and can always be trusted to remain the same. Therefore, He is the best One to turn to for needs and questions.

3. Loving Discipline – When we get off track and out of His will, God loves us enough to discipline us. If He did not care, He would not deal with us when we get out of line. He disciplines us through natural consequences, circumstances, feelings, the inner promptings of the Spirit, other people, and various other methods. “The Lord disciplines those He loves” (Hebr. 12:6).

4. Abundant Provider – As a father, I love to give to my children. I love to bless them. If I as an imperfect earthly father love to bless my children, how much more does God as our Heavenly Father love to give us good things? God loves to bless His children. He loves to reward obedience. He promises to provide for all of our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).

5. Strong Warrior – Every little child loves to proclaim, “My dad is stronger than your dad.” As children of God, we can proclaim that our Father is stronger than sin, Satan, and any obstacle that comes our way. We live under the mighty power of God. With our Father, all things are possible!

So many today are without a healthy earthly father. This is very sad and grieves the heart of God. However, there is a Perfect Father that all need, and all can turn to – His name is God the Father. Love Him, trust Him, turn to Him, yield to Him, and allow Him to be your Perfect Father.

“Sing to God, sing praise to His name,
extol Him who rides on the clouds--
His name is the LORD--
and rejoice before Him.
A Father to the fatherless, a Defender of widows,
is God in His holy dwelling.”
Ps. 68:4-5

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bloom Where You Are Planted

Often I have people ask me what it is like to go from being a Sr. Pastor for 17 years to an Associate Pastor. I answer with all honesty, “I am totally OK with it because I know this where God has called me, and I am simply to bloom where I am planted.”

It is not about title, position, or prominence in man’s eyes. What is important is being faithful where we are called. Too often we look at our lives through a human lens instead of a divine one. We are simply to “Trust in the Lord, and do good. Dwell in the land, and cultivate faithfulness” (Ps. 37:3; NASB). And the key to being able to do this? “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). Did you notice these two verses are right next to one another?

Our delight must be in the Lord and not in our place, position, or job. I know this is not easy, but I also know it to be very true! All I am required to do is be faithful where I am called, and right now that is serving as the Pastor of Discipleship at Watkinsville First Baptist Church. And I love it!

From July, 2008 until April, 2009 I was called to dwell in a small 800 square foot cottage, trust God while unemployed, and diligently work on writing a book – which I had no clue at the time whether or not it would ever get published. There were many days when I said, “What in the world am I doing? Why did I leave such a good situation to come to this? God, what are you up to?” One day I was so uncertain that I had to go back and listen again to my resignation sermon. After doing so, I was convinced again that I had heard from God and was in the right place – as uncomfortable as it was at the time.

Whenever we are in very unpleasant situations, we need to get alone with God and allow Him to reassure our hearts. “He will never leave us nor forsake us” (Hebr. 13:5b); therefore, we can “be content with what we have” (Hebr. 13:5a). And what do we have most of all? God’s powerful presence.

In many ways, what I am talking about is learning to be content in whatever circumstances, so I will close with the words of Paul who, over time, learned the secret of this contentment. And the secret is in the last verse below:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Phil. 4:11-13

Wherever God has you in life right now (i.e. employed or not, married or not, good marriage or not, good health or not), bloom where you are planted!

Many times God will not move us to greener pastures until we learn to eat and prosper in that pasture in which He has us in at the time.

Bloom where you are planted.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Anger at God

Someone asked me recently if I had ever preached a sermon on being angry at God. Regretfully I have not. However, I do have some thoughts on this important topic. Please read with a prayerful spirit.

1. Anger with God is normal.

Most of us at various points in our life will get angry with God. Circumstances, health, relationships, and just life will cause us to feel as if God has let us down. Just this week I was talking to a woman who had lost her mother at 12 years of age. After this occurred, she felt abandoned by God and didn’t want to have anything to do with the Lord or church. Just recently she has been able to work through this disappointment and anger and return to a healthy relationship with the Lord. I heard someone once say, “You cannot be angry with someone you don’t really care about; therefore, if you are angry with God, at least it says your relationship with Him is important to you.” You would not be reading this if your relationship with God was not important to you. Hats off to you for that!

2. Some of the greatest God-followers in history have been angry at God.

If you are angry with God, take heart, because some of the greatest saints in history have experienced anger at God. Throughout the book of Psalms, King David and others pour out their heart in frustration at their circumstances and the God who is sovereign over circumstances. Consider the following passages and see if you can relate to these feelings:

“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will you hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalms 13:1-2

“My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?” Psalms 6:3

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but You do not answer, by night, and am not silent.” Psalms 22:1-2

"Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from You: Withdraw Your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with Your terrors.” Job 13:20-21

“Why do You hide Your face and consider me Your enemy? Will you torment a windblown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff?” Job 13:24-25

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” 2 Cor. 1:8-9

3. Anger is due to blocked goals, so you need to discover what goal is being blocked and then ask, “Is it a Godly goal?”

Often our anger at God is due to selfishness on our part. We want something, do not get it, and then we blame God. However, there are other times when our anger can feel somewhat justified. Perhaps we were dealt a difficult blow in life, and we had nothing to do with it. For example, when the tragic death of a loved one occurs, we can feel quite abandoned by the Lord – “Where were you, God? Why did you allow this to happen? Don’t you care about me and the others affected by this?”

It is helpful to know that anger is due to a blocked goal. Therefore, we need to analyze the reason for our anger at God. If I am angry due to an ungodly goal (i.e. making a bad shot in golf), then I need to change my goal (i.e. enjoy the game of golf vs. make a low score). If the goal being blocked is indeed godly, then we need to make sure we pursue the godly goal in a godly manner – Jesus being angry in the Temple and overturning tables instead of physically hurting people. I may be angry with God that someone is not responding to the Gospel. In this situation, I need to release that person to God and trust that God is at work even if I don’t see evidence of His work in their heart.

4. You need to actively work through your anger with God.

It is not healthy to neither ignore the anger nor feed the anger. Instead, we must work through the anger in a godly and biblical manner. If we do work through our anger, it can actually serve to lead us to greater intimacy with God. Here are some suggestions in working through our anger toward God:

a. Pour out your heart to God in prayer.

God already knows that you are angry, so instead of sweeping it under the rug or pretending it isn’t there, just be honest with God in prayer about your anger. Tell him exactly how you feel. He won’t be surprised because He knows every detail of your life anyway. As you pour out your heart to God, you might discover some things about your heart that you need to see. Often when I get gut level honest with God in prayer, I end up confessing sin to God. As I am honest in prayer, I realize sinful things about my heart that I needed to get in touch with.

b. Read the Psalms.

The book of Psalms is the best book to read when you are angry with God. This holy book of God is filled with all kinds of emotion. At the same time, most all Psalms end in praise. We must ultimately praise God for who He is, despite how we feel. That is what faith is all about – holding fast to God regardless of our circumstances or feelings.

c. Ask God for help.

This may sound elementary, but it is so important. We need to acknowledge our weakness before the Lord, and humbly ask for His help in working through our anger. As our Father, God awaits us to ask for His help. “You have not because you ask not” (James 4;2).

d. Talk to a Godly person.

We need each other in our journey with God. One of the best things about the church is that in the body of Christ we have many Godly resources. Go to someone you trust and share with them your anger with God. Humbly get their counsel and prayers. You will be better for doing so.

e. Submit to God no matter what.

Maturity involves submission to God in the midst of difficult emotions. I am most impressed with how the godliest of persons have chosen to submit to God amidst very trying circumstances. The bottom line here is believing that God has done no wrong because He is incapable of wrongdoing. All His works are right and just. “He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He” (Dt. 32:4).

We often do not perceive His works as being perfect, but they are. Ultimately we must come to the point of standing on the truth of who He is. This is one of the keys to becoming a spiritual father as discussed in 1 John 2:12-14. A spiritual father is someone who “believes in Him who has been from the beginning.”

In conclusion, don’t beat yourself up for being angry with God. But do face it and work through it with the above suggestions and others the Lord might give you. Let me hear from you about this blog. I would love your input on what the Lord had taught you on this important topic! God is good and His mercies endure forever! He loves you and wants to help you with any need you have.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Coming Full Circle

Two weeks ago I started my new job – Pastor of Discipleship and Spiritual Growth at Watkinsville First Baptist Church. It is hard to believe I am now one of the pastors at the very church that has meant so much to my wife, Dede, and me over the years. You could say “I have come full circle.”

This week I went into the old sanctuary at Watkinsville First Baptist Church to work on a talk I was giving at a Men and Boy’s Retreat. As I sat in the sanctuary I reflected on how special this very sanctuary had been to my wife and me – memories of a pew, a baptistery, an aisle, and an altar. Let’s start with the pew.

In the fall of 1979 I arrived at the University of Georgia as a college freshman. I was a brand new Christian with an intense hunger to grow. Through the influence of my brother, I got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ and Watkinsville First Baptist Church. Sunday after Sunday I sat in the same pew soaking in the Word of God as Brother Charles Stewart preached.

This week I walk over to the very pew I used to sit in and had tons of memories – memories of great worship, Charles’ anointed series on Romans, the college Sunday School class, and special speakers like Leonard Ravenhill and Jack Taylor who came to minister. I grew so much sitting (and kneeling) in that pew!

Now, let’s go to the baptistery.

Being raised Lutheran, I had only known about infant baptism … until I got to Watkinsville First Baptist. I don’t remember who it was, but someone challenged me to look up every verse in the Bible on baptism. I love challenges like this – to get into the Word and not just believe something based on tradition or upbringing. So, I did look up every verse on baptism, and I concluded that baptism should take place after (and not before) a person receives Christ. Even though it went against my upbringing and tradition, I had to be obedient to Jesus. Therefore, I was baptized in the baptistery at the front of the sanctuary at Watkinsville First Baptist Church in 1981.

I can distinctly remember the week after I was baptized. The presence of God was so strong on my life. I walked across campus at the University of Georgia and experienced abhorrence for sin. This had not been true before my baptism. The sense of God’s activity in my life was so strong that I wondered if I had been saved before my baptism. I felt God say, “Oh no, you were saved; I am just honoring your obedience.”

The next special place in the sanctuary is the aisle.

During my sophomore year I began dating a girl named Laura. She had five roommates. Each of these roommates was saved … except one – Dede. You probably know where this is going, don’t you? The Christian girls were often praying for and sharing the Gospel with Dede. But she was a pretty hard nut to crack. However, God’s Spirit got through to her.

One weekend I went home to see my parents. I remember Laura calling me with excitement on Sunday afternoon to tell me that Dede had “walked the aisle” that morning at Watkinsville First Baptist Church. Walking the aisle is a southern expression for coming forward to indicate a decision to receive Christ. Dede had indeed gotten saved that day! To make a long story short, Dede began to grow in her faith and we eventually started dating. That leads us to the final part of that sanctuary that is special to me: the altar, or front platform.

Soon after Dede and I started dating, God called me to be the College Pastor at a church in Minnesota. Therefore, our dating relationship had to survive a 1000 mile separation. And survive it did, because in the fall of 1985, at the altar of Watkinsville First Baptist Church, we were joined in holy matrimony.

Now you see why I say I have come full circle in being one of the pastors at this special church? It’s pretty cool to think that 30 years ago God knew full well the college freshman sitting in that pew would one day be an associate pastor at this church. “God determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).

As one of the pastors at Watkinsville First Baptist Church, it is now my sincere desire and prayer to be used by God to help others experience some of what I have experienced in this special place, whether that be in a pew, a baptistery, an aisle, an altar, a coffee shop, a living room, or somewhere else.

What a privilege we have to know and serve the Lord!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Benefits of the Resurrection

It is Easter Sunday – the day we celebrate the greatest event in human history! I want to give you some truth that will greatly encourage your heart. I have listed here 6 benefits that are ours because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Be sure to read the passages that go with the benefits:

The benefits of Christ’s resurrection are as follows:

1. We have proof that Jesus is who He said He was! We can be certain He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Matt 17:22-23
22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life."

2. We have the forgiveness of all our sins! The penalty for sin has been paid for us by Christ.

1 Cor 15:17-18
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

3. We have victory over the power of sin! This means we do not have to sin. The same power that raised Christ is alive with us.

Rom 6:6-7
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Rom 8:11
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

4. We have authority over Satan and the demonic realm! Because of Christ in us, we can tell Satan to take a hike from our life.

Luke 10:19-20
19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

5. We have eternal life! This means we get to live with Jesus in heaven forever. This truth can keep someone devoted to Christ in the midst of the most difficult situations.

1 Cor 15:20-24
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

6. We have hope for daily living! In addition to hope for the future (i.e. eternal life), we also have hope for every day living.

1 Peter 1:3
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

Perhaps you can think of other benefits from Christ's resurrection. If so, just write them in the comments section! What a privilege to serve a Risen King!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hot Hearted For God

This weekend I spoke at a Men-Boy's retreat on "Having a Hot Heart for God." I love to use visual props in my messages, so I gave this message around a campfire. Here are the four ingredients I spoke about in having a hot heart for God:

1. An outside source must light the fire. Without an outside source starting the fire, the wood is simply dead and dry. It has no life in itself. The fire cannot start itself. In the same way, we are dead in our sins and cannot save ourselves (Eph. 2). God, by His mercy, must come to us and save us. He is the One who shows us our sin and gives us the grace to repent and believe unto salvation. When we receive Him, He gives us His Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who works "in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). Ultimately, only God can give us a passion for Him. If you do not have a hot heart for God, ask God to give you a greater desire for Him. I believe this is a prayer God would love to answer.

Does point number one mean we just passively sit back and do nothing? Of course not.

2. We must stoke the fire for it to stay hot. We stoke the fire by spending time with God in the Word and prayer. We must seek the Lord in order to keep the fire of our heart hot. Even Jesus, while on earth, would often slip away to the Wilderness and pray. If the Son of God, who had an eternity of fellowship with God built up, needed to spend time alone with His Father, how much more do we need to spend much time with God in order to keep the fire hot?! When we meditate on the Word and prayer, we stoke the fire and add logs to the flame.

Does seeking the Lord mean it is just a "Jesus and me" deal? Not at all.

3. The logs must stay together to burn brightly. If you remove one log from the fire (which I did when I gave this message), it will soon go out. For a short time it will continue to burn, but it doesn't take long for it to get cold. In the same way, we need the support and encouragement of other "hot hearted" Christians to stay hot for God. "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17). I have been in a men's group of some kind my entire Christian life. I need this. I cannot do it alone. I will drift without other men holding accountable. And so will you? Are you meeting with others who help your heart to stay hot for God?

4. We must be relentless to keep water off of our fire. If you pour water on a fire, it will go out. There are many things in our life and culture that seek to pour water on our fire for God. You and I must identify those things and fight in the Spirit to keep them from our heart. We must "put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh" (Rom. 13:14). Water on our fire can come in the form of temptations, sin, or just "good things" that become consuming - like a hobby. Hebrews 12 says to put off all sin and "everything that hinders." We know we must put off sin, but how often do we also put off things that hinder us that might not be outright sin? To keep a hot heart for God involves being relentless to keep the water off of our fire.

What I have just shared is not easy. The world, the flesh, and the Devil will all work to pull us down. It is increasingly difficult to live for Jesus in 2009. This is why we must depend on the outside Source (Holy Spirit), spend time with God, fellowship with others, and relentlessly fight against those things that can hinder our walk with God.

Do what it takes to get and maintain a hot heart for God. God is a consuming fire!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Death To Life

“For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” 2 Cor. 4:11-12

Both the natural and the spiritual worlds operate on the death to life principle.

First, let’s look at the natural world: a seed must die and go into the earth to produce life; cells die while new ones come alive; and even a forest fire produces much death that will eventually result in much new growth within that same forest. Death produces new life!

Now let’s move to the spiritual world: we must die to self in order for the life of Jesus to be manifested through us. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (Jn. 12:24).

This principle starts at salvation and continues throughout our spiritual journey. In order to be saved, we must die to self, repent of our sin, and receive the life of Christ. Only then does God begin to live inside of us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus said whoever wishes to save his life will loose it, but whoever looses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.

In the same way we were saved, we progress in our spiritual life by dying to self and yielding to Christ. Each and every day we are called to die to any and every thing that goes against God’s will. The above passage says we must constantly be given over to death for the life of Jesus to be revealed in our mortal body.

Being constantly delivered over to death is not a cake walk, for sure. Who likes dying to self? Who enjoys giving up what they want? Who would choose on their own to put others before self?

In addition to going against our flesh, this death to life principle is also counter-cultural. We live in a day that bombards us with messages of “take care of yourself” … “love yourself” … “you deserve a break” … “do whatever makes you feel good.”

As difficult as it is on our own (i.e. the flesh) to die to self, it is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who works within us to give us a desire to live for God; it is the Spirit who convicts us when we live for self; it is the Spirit who moves us to repent of sin; it is the Spirit who prompts us to yield to God; and it is the Spirit who works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Without the power of the Holy Spirit we could never die to self and experience the life of Christ.

Despite how difficult it can be to die to self, and despite how much this goes against our culture, let’s consider the benefits. When we die to self we get the life of Jesus. What a great trade: my life for His! I trade my sin and get His forgiveness. I trade my confusion and receive His peace. I exchange my weakness for His power. Who wouldn’t want this?

Notice one more point in this passage: when we die to self, life comes to others (“death is at work in us, but life is at work in you”). This is a powerful principle of leadership – what God works in us through death will benefit others. You can probably think of areas in which God worked in your life, though it was very hard at the time, which resulted in accelerated ministry to others. When you experience the death to life principle, you have a platform by which to speak to others. You can relate to their struggles. When you are being called to die to something, you can be assured that if you fully cooperate with God in that death, He will use it to advance your ministry.

So, is God calling you to die to something in your life? Is He asking you to surrender something to Him? Is it time to sacrifice for the kingdom? Sacrifice is giving up something you love for something you love even more. Do you love Jesus even more than ….? Let’s die that we might live!