Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Dangers of Santa Claus

The Dangers of Santa
By Pastor David Holt and Mark McAndrew

We certainly do not mean to be a “scrooge” in this blog, but we do want to offer some thoughts about modern day Santa Claus.  Consider these four concerns:

1.    Santa is presented as a “god” figure.
Children are told, “He watches when you sleep; he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”  He supposedly flies all over the world, able to enter every home, and bring glad tidings of great joy.  This gives omniscience and omnipresent qualities to Santa. 

My (David) daughter was recently babysitting for some neighbor children, and they said to her, “Sarah, we have to be good or else Santa won’t come to see us this year.”  Kids really believe this stuff.

2.    Santa presents a works’ salvation.
You might think we are going to an extreme here, but think this through.  In telling children that if they are good, then Santa will come with gifts, we are subtly communicating a works’ righteousness.  The common belief today is that if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, then God will accept you into heaven.  And yet, God’s Word says we are “saved by grace through faith, that not of ourselves… not of works least anyone boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

If good works could get us to God, then Christ did not need to die. Our only hope of being made right with God is through the substitutionary blood atonement of Jesus Christ.  He died to pay for our sins.  This is the only payment God will accept.

In addition, it is interesting how Santa ends up coming to all children, regardless of whether or not they were really good that year.  In much the same way, most believe that all will go to heaven, regardless of their behavior, unless of course they are someone like Hitler or Adam Lanza.

3.    Santa promotes self-centered idolatry.
We have never met a kid who loved Santa. Not one. But we have met hundreds who love his stuff. Every second a child spends on Santa's lap is spent doing what? Asking him for stuff. No one is asking for Santa. Santa is a means to the child's end. The Santa Claus "gospel" is idolatrous and trains us to use God rather than love him. We begin to think that we should be good so that God will give us nice gifts.

However, Scripture shows us that the greatest gift of the gospel is not God's presents, but his presence. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" (I Pet. 3:18). The highest and best gift that Jesus purchased for us was entrance into the presence of God.

4.    Santa Claus is not real.
The bottom line with Santa is that he is not real.  Duh!!  But parents who go along with the whole Santa thing are promoting a lie.  Now I know most will object by saying, “It’s just fun and games, and they will eventually figure out that it isn’t true.”  Perhaps, but also think about a comment I heard recently from a college student.  She said she really struggled with believing in the reality of Jesus as a young child, because she thought to herself, “If the whole Santa Claus thing wasn’t real, but my parents presented it to me as if it were, then how can I believe them when they tell me about God became a man by being born of a virgin, performing miracles like walking on water, dying on a tree, and then being raised after three days?”  Which is more absurd sounding to a young child?

Now, as an alternative, I suggest parents tell their children the truth.  And the way to not totally throw Santa under the bus is to tell them the true story of how Santa came about.  Remember that guy St. Nicholas?  Look him up and tell the story to your children. 

Merry CHRISTmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Making Biblical Sense of a Senseless Act

What happened last week in Newtown, CN is unimaginable.  How could anyone go into a school and kill teachers and children?  This tragedy elicits all kinds of emotions in us:  hurt, sadness, brokenness, anger, revenge, confusion, etc.  Some will quickly turn to God, while others may blame Him.

It is times like this we must turn to God’s Word for help.  His Word does address these things.  His Word gives wisdom and guidance.  So, what biblical sense can be made of this senseless act of violence in Newtown?

1.    The depth of sin and the depravity of man. 

This killing reminds us of the depravity of man and the depth of human sin.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”  This was true of Adam Lanza, but it is also true of me.  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Apart from Jesus, there is no sin I am incapable of committing. 

Adam Lanza had to be deeply troubled.  Adam Lanza had to be very far from God.  Adam Lanza displayed sin at a level close to that of Hitler.  Unfortunately, human history is filled with many examples of horrific things done by the heart and hands of sinful man. 

I believe one of the most painful things God ever did was give man a free will, knowing that he would use this free will to do horrible things.  The alternative is for God to have made us puppets, under His total control, always doing His ever bidding.  This is not love, but rather control.  Because God is love, He gives us the freedom to choose.  We have the choice to love and follow God, or go our own way and sin.  Unfortunately, most choose the latter.  Though we have the freedom to choose our actions, we do not have the freedom to choose the consequences of our actions.  “Whatsoever a man sows, that will he reap” (Galatians 6:7).

2.    Reaping what we sow.

As a country we have sown violence in movies, video games, and sports.  This has desensitized us to the value of life.  Furthermore, we have legalized the killing of unborn children.  And if all that is not enough, we are increasingly abandoning the Judeo-Christian moral foundations that started this country.  In light of all of this, is it really surprising that these types of killings are getting more, and not less, frequent?  It seems to me that the protective umbrella of God’s grace over our nation is being lifted, and we are seeing evil unleashed to a greater degree.

So, the sin of the human heart, coupled with the lack of moral fabric in our country, are key players in this tragedy.  But there is another factor.

3.    The reality of Satan and demonic spirits.

A biblical world-view involves more than earth and heaven.  There is a “forgotten middle,” which is the realm of angels and demons.  Jesus said, “Satan comes to steal, KILL, and destroy” (John 10:10).  Satan hates God and everything about God.  Since God created us and loves us, Satan wants to destroy people and love.  Unfortunately, Satan had a heyday last Friday.  Satan hates people and loves to kill.  The ultimate source of a murder is Satan and demonic spirits. 

I have seen demons cast out of people in Jesus’ name.  I know firsthand that demonic spirits are real.  Make no mistake about it, Adam Lanza was demonized!  Again, this does not remove any responsibility from him, and he will face the judgment of God for his acts, but let us not forget that there was another power at work last Friday.  Speaking of God’s judgment:

4.    The judgment of God.

It will not be a pleasant scene when Adam Lanza stands before Almighty God.  “It is appointed unto man to die once, and after this the Judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  I am thankful that the Bible assures us that God is a just God.  He will see to it that justice is carried out in this case.

But it is important that we each look past Adam Lanza to our own day of judgment.  What will my outcome be?  Even though I have never murdered anyone physically, Jesus said that anger in my heart is worthy of divine judgment (Mt. 5:22).  When Jesus was asked about tragedies such as Pilate mingling blood with sacrifices and the Tower of Siloam falling on people and killing them, He never addressed why it happened.  Instead He said, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).  One of the most biblical things we can do when tragedy strikes, is look into our own heart and make sure we are right with God.

And the only way to be right with God is through Jesus.  He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). The only solution for my sin (and others) is the precious blood of Jesus, shed on the cross so that I might be forgiven and healed of my sinful nature.

Some may respond, “But Pastor David, this idea of forgiveness through Jesus, seems too simplistic and just gets people off the hook too quickly.  Isn’t there more to it than just getting forgiven for our sins?”  Yes there is.

5.    The power of the Gospel.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful at two levels.  First, the Gospel is powerful to forgive and cleanse of all sin.  “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).   In addition, the Gospel is powerful to keep us from sinning.  When a person receives Christ, he/she receives the indwelling Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).  As we allow this indwelling Spirit to fill us, control us, and empower us, then we can have victory over temptations and sin.  In other words, we can say “no” to sin.  We are not helpless victims to sin and Satan. We can have victory!  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is living inside of every follower of Christ (Romans 8:9-11).

Not only must we know and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, but we must also know the nature of God.

6.    The character of God.

When tragedy like this occurs, much garbage gets dumped on God’s doorsteps. It is common for people to want to throw God under the bus over this.  “Why did God allow this?  Why did He not stop this?  Does He not care?  If He knew this would happen, then He is responsible for it.” 

I heard an interesting response to this at church Sunday, “When a plane crashes, many will blame God, while at the same time not thanking Him for all the planes that take off and land safely each day.”  If we only knew how many tragedies God DOES prevent. 

Ultimately it is a mystery why God prevents some things, while allowing others.  It is in such confusing times that we need to clutch to what we DO know is true.  Proverbs 9:10 says “the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  In other words, to have understanding in a situation like this requires the knowledge of the Holy One. 

Therefore, what do we know (knowledge of) about God that can help us cope with this tragedy and others?  We know that He is good, and that all He does is good.  We know that He is holy, and all of His works are holy.  Furthermore, we know that God is loving, and expresses that love toward people more than anything in all of His creation.   He cares about the pain that every family in Newtown feels.  Jesus said, “Come to Me all who are weary and heaven laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). 

2 Corinthians 1 says, “the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives so that His comfort might overflow.”  No one hurts more over this tragedy than God!  I think we forget that sometimes.  He created each one of those teachers and children.  They are His divine handiwork.  To see them destroyed pains His heart at a level we cannot imagine.  

As if this is not enough, God is also faithful and true to His Word.  What He promises, He will deliver.  He promises that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (James 4:8).  He assures us that He is a very present help in time of need (Psalms 46:1).  He says, "Call to Me, and I will answer you" (Jeremiah 33:3).

Even though there are aspects of God’s character that are hard to grasp in such times as this (i.e. His sovereignty), there are many more that are not hard to grasp. These aspects of His nature (i.e. love, grace, mercy, compassion, etc.) are the very ones we need to cling to for help.  

Don’t doubt in the darkness what God has made clear in the light!

Finally, because God is loving, gracious, merciful, compassionate, and just, He assures us that a day is coming when all will be made right.  This is eternally great news!

7.    The eternal future!

God promises that when Christ returns, He will establish a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21-22).  The final judgment will involve casting Satan into the lake of fire forever (Revelation 20:10).  This assures that all evil and sin and everything opposed to God will be destroyed.  This also assures a place called heaven where only righteousness and purity and love will dwell forever.  Revelation 21-22 speaks in great detail about this eternal place.  There will be no more mourning, crying or pain.  I can’t wait.  All who are in Christ will be with God forever in this place.  Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2).

Do you know for sure that you are going to heaven?  Nothing in all the world is more important than making sure your eternal destiny is in this wonderful place.

While here on earth, tragedies will continue.  Sin will abound.  Unfortunately, there will likely be more wars, murders, and school shootings.  But if we receive Christ and live for Him, we have hope … power to live … a community of supportive people … God’s Word … promises to claim … and an eternal home to look forward to!  This is what CHRISTmas is all about.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Living Together Before Marriage

Questions to Consider in Living Together

It is increasingly popular for couples to live together before marriage.  The following are some questions to consider before making this very important decision:

1.    Does this glorify God?

1Cor. 6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

To glorify God means to live in such a way that God is known and honored and pleased.  Looking at the purpose of marriage (to be an earthly picture of Christ and the church), does cohabiting glorify Him?

2.    Is this being more like Jesus or conforming to the world’s way of doing things?

Rom. 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Being a follower of Jesus is not meant to be easy.  Our standards of behavior are to be distinct from those of the world.

3.    Will we have premarital sex?

If so, then this is clearly against God’s standard of purity.  God says that sex should only be for a married couple.

Matt. 19:5-6 Jesus said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Heb. 13:4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

1Cor. 6:18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

1Th. 4:3-5 For this is the will of God, your sanctification:  that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;

If you cannot refrain from having sex, then God’s Word says you should go ahead and get married: 

1Cor. 7:8-9 To the unmarried and the widows I say that cit is good for them to remain single das I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

4.    Does living together put us in a tempting situation?

Rom. 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

5.    In living together, could we cause another brother/sister to stumble?

1Cor. 8:9  Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.

Rom. 14:12-13 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
Rom. 14:21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

6.    Does living together build commitment and trust?

Every healthy marriage is built on commitment and trust.  Does living together build trust, or does it make it easy to get out of it once times get tough?

7.    Does living together present the appearance of evil?

1Th. 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. (KJV)

Not that we are ultimately responsible for what others think, but living “above reproach” means that no one would have any reason to suspect us of sin.  This is part of our testimony to others.

8.     In living together, do we loose authority to speak into our future childrens’ lives?

Imagine years from now that your 16 year-old daughter wants to move in with a young man.  What will you tell her?  What if she says, “but you moved in with ____ when you were young.”

1Th. 1:7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

2Th. 3:9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 

After considering these questions, what do YOU believe is the right thing to do?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Don't Lose Heart

Don’t Lose Heart

It is easy to get discouraged in our walk with God and our ministry for God.  We are daily in a battle with the world, our flesh, and the Devil.  The state of the church is not good.  Terrible things are happening all around us.  Tragedy often strikes.  Our emotions are quite unpredictable.  And sometimes it can feel like God is asleep.  All of these factors can cause us to get discouraged. 

God knew this when He warned us to not lose heart.  To lose heart means that we get discouraged to the point where we are tempted to throw in the towel.  We tend to isolate ourselves and drift into depression.  We begin to believe that the good we are doing is not making any difference.  And we start questioning whether God is really in control.

Let’s examine a few scriptures about losing heart and see what practical lessons we can gain from them.  This is so important because every Christ-follower will at some point in his/her life struggle with losing heart

Eph. 3:13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

Paul did not want others to lose heart over his suffering, because through his suffering others were going to benefit.  When we go through hard times, though it seems like God has abandoned us, He actually is working new things in us that will benefit others.  This is the price we pay in ministry to others.  Those serving God must go through hardship in order to better minister to others who are suffering.  One develops credibility to minister to hurting people when having gone through tough times yourself.  God comforts us that we might be able to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-8).

2 Cor. 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self his being renewed day by day.

Outer pain and hardships is what God uses to develop inner character.  No one likes this.  The process is not fun at all.  However, inner character is more valuable for eternity than temporal difficulties.  The key in maturity is to actively have your “inner self … renewed day by day.”  Listen closely:  doing that which renews our inner self is the key to not losing heart!  Here are some suggestions for having your inner self renewed:

a.    Meditate on the Word of God every day. 
God’s Word will encourage us.  God’s Word will speak to us.  God’s Word will give us hope.  Sometimes we have to force ourselves to read God’s Word, but when we do, He does speak to our heart and gives us hope.  The Word of God is living and active and able to show us where we are living from our soul or from God’s Spirit (Hebr. 4:12).  Sometimes our hardships are to wean us from living out of our flesh to that of God’s Spirit!

b.    Be in community with Godly, mature believers. 
When we are discouraged, our flesh often wants to isolate from other believers.  We tend to only see the negative in the body of Christ.  But our spirit needs the input and fellowship of godly, mature Believers.  Again, sometimes we have to force ourselves to get this fellowship, but when we do, God uses it to give us hope and encouragement.  Mature Believers can speak into our lives the truth we need to hear.  We particularly need to spend time with those who have ministered for many years, and in so doing, have endured great hardships.

c.    Read the biographies and stories of those who have gone before us. 
Read about suffering missionaries who had a great impact for God.  Read about those who have persevered under trial.  Read the wisdom of pastors and servants of God who have endured hardship but stayed true to the Lord.  Hearing from some of that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebr. 11) can be very inspiring.

d.    Resist the Devil.
Don’t underestimate the spiritual warfare involved in discouragement.  Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy.  He wants to steal your joy, kill your motivation, and destroy your walk and witness for God.  Your enemy, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, but resist him standing firm in the faith (1 Pe. 5:8).  Those who are truly seeking God and expanding God’s kingdom, will come under severe attack.  Don’t be ignorant of his devices.  Put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6).  Pray against him by pleading the blood of Jesus over your life. And don’t be too proud to ask others to pray for you and over you.  Ask God to strengthen you for the battle you are facing. 

e.    Choose to focus on the positives. 
When we are discouraged, it is often because of circumstances that are negative (e.g., state of the church, decline in support, unexplained tragedy, decline in morals in our world, lack of fruit in our ministry, etc.).  Though we can’t ignore these negatives, we have to take time to equally focus on anything positive we can think of (e.g., look back at how God has used you; rejoice in churches/ministries that are making a difference; dwell on how God has always had a people; etc.).  This is why Phil. 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  And the promise for doing this?  “And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9).  We certainly need peace when we are losing heart.

f.     Keep an eternal perspective.
It was probably an eternal perspective that helped to place you on the field of ministry.  Knowing what lasts and what doesn’t is likely a major motivation in your service for God.  Be careful not to lose this perspective.  When the things down here aren’t going well, it is easy to lose sight of what will last.  Take time to once again renew that eternal perspective, and pledge to God your willingness to endure difficulty for the sake of eternity.  If you remain true and faithful to God, you will be able to look back from heaven one day and give praise to God that you did not throw in the towel!  “For this light and momentary struggle is producing an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

It is easy to lose heart in prayer.  Prayer is such a mystery.  Why do some prayers get answered quickly, while others take years?  When you pray for something you know is God’s will (e.g., salvation of a person), how do you not lose heart when you see nothing happening?  The parable Jesus tells in Luke 18 is about persistence in prayer.  He speaks of how we must be persistent and exhibit faith.  The unjust judge responds to the repeated request because the widow wears him out with her asking.  Wow.  Are we to wear God out with our persistence?  Maybe.  I don’t know, but that is what the parable seems to teach, among other things.  Clearly persistence in prayer is one way to keep from losing heart. 

One aspect of persistent prayer that is important is listening.  In other words, don’t do all the talking in prayer.  Listen to God.  Believe that He will speak to you.  When discouraged, listen to God’s still, small voice of encouragement.  You might be surprised at what He lays on your heart.  As a loving Father, He wants to put courage and confidence (i.e., encouragement) into His people.

Discouragement is a normal part of the Christian life.  This is why God’s Word tells us things we can do to avoid losing heart.  Don’t lose heart.  God is in control.  He loves you and wants to build you up.  He is using you.   He wants to use you more.  He wants your walk to be full of joy and purpose.  He is not mad at you for losing heart.  But He is sad, and wants to encourage you in Him.  He wants your number one joy to come from just knowing Him.  Look to Jesus.  Focus your eyes on Him.  Focus on the blessings of your salvation.  Leave to God those things you don’t understand.  Rejoice in the Lord always. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Leadership Principles

While in Uganda I was asked by the local pastor to speak at a leadership conference.  The following are the main points I gave to these local church leaders and church planters:

1.    The most important thing you bring to your church is a spiritually-alive leader; do whatever it takes to remain spiritually healthy.
What those we lead need more than anything else is not some dynamic and charismatic personality.  It is not bold and aggressive leadership.  It is not radical quotes on facebook and twitter.  Rather, what those we lead need from us more than anything else is a strong walk with God.  They need to see us in love with Jesus.  They need to see us spending time with God.  They need to see us growing in the Lord.  Therefore, do whatever you need to do in order to stay close with God.  If you are getting burned out because you have been too busy to seek the Lord, then cancel appointments and get to a private place for a day or more in order to get alone with God and get your heart revived in Him.

2.    Walk in humility; order to get God’s grace.
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:6).  We sure don’t want God opposing us in ministry.  We have enough things and people opposing us, already.  Oh, how we need God’s grace.  Humility is the pathway to God’s grace.  To be humble means we realize we are nothing without God, and can do nothing without God.  At the same time, to be humble means we know we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but the emphasis is on “through Christ who strengthens us.”

3.    Keep a wet blanket on your fatal flaw, lest it burn your house down and possibly burn other houses down, as well.
Each of us has a fatal flaw.  Our fatal flaw is that area of our life which we are most prone and vulnerable to sin in.  It is that “besetting sin”/”sin that so easily entangles” spoken of in Hebrews 12:1.  This area may never be taken away.  It might be there to keep us more dependent on God.  In any case, it is that smoldering fire in the corner of our living room.  If we don’t keep a wet blanket on this smoldering fire, it can burn ours and other houses down.  To keep a wet blanket on a fatal flaw involves not putting ourselves in a tempting situation, having others hold us accountable, being in God’s Word, keeping short accounts with God, and quickly repenting if we even get close to falling.  What is your fatal flaw?  What are you doing to make sure it doesn’t burn your house down?

4.    Don’t sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry.
Too many pastors get so busy, they neglect their family.  One of the qualifications for an elder in God’s church is being able to manage his own family (1 Timothy 3).  This is sobering and challenging.  For me, I need to listen to my wife when she warns me of being too busy about the things of God that I forget the most important disciples under my care:  my family!

5.    Depend totally on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  Do we really believe this?  I sure do.  I know that without God’s power, no one I minister to will ever be changed.  I am so grateful for the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  He is available to us today!  We must minister in the power of the Spirit. We must ask Him to fill us over and over again.  “Be ye continually filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

6.    Build into the lives of future leaders.
Paul told Timothy, “The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable me, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).  Like Jesus, we must be strategic about how we spend our time.  Jesus’ most fruitful time was not with the masses, but rather with the twelve men He discipled.  Who are we investing in?  Who are we discipling?  We are we equipping to take over when we are gone?

7.    Always be going deeper with God, as your church can never grow deeper than its pastors and leaders.
Effective leaders are those who are always going deeper with God.  We need to be in the Word, reading good books, shepherding our own heart, pursuing more of God, etc.  Our church will never go deeper than we go.  We set the pace.  Our people need to see us growing in progressive sanctification.  What am I doing to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)?

8.    Preach the Word.
This sounds so obvious and yet so few are doing it today.  Isaiah 55 says the Word will not return void.  The power is in the Word.  God blesses His Word.  The only way to speak confidently and boldly is to speak God’s Word.  We never go wrong if we stick to God’s Word.  People today are perishing for lack of knowledge, the knowledge of God’s Word, that is.  We must use every available opportunity we have to bring God’s Word to God’s people so that God’s Spirit can produce Godly disciples of Jesus.

9.    Be alert to spiritual attack.
Our enemy, the Devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, but resist him, standing firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9).   Leaders have a target on their chest.  Satan goes after leaders, because he knows that if they fall, the fallout will be great.  Too many leaders have fallen to sexual and financial sin. Be alert.  Be aware.  Be faithful to God.  I would rather God take my life than my sin cause others to stumble.

10. Listen to God and follow His lead.
Jesus said, “My sheep will hear My voice” (John 10).  God wants to lead and direct His people.  God wants to speak to us, if we will simply get still enough to listen.  Take time in prayer to just listen to God and then boldly do what He says.  People today are hungry for leaders who will listen to God, and follow His lead.  The best leaders are followers:  followers of the Spirit of God.

11. Seek to birth “Isaacs” by the Spirit instead of creating “Ishmael’s” in the flesh.
When God gave Abraham the promise of a son, Abraham and Sarah got impatient and got a son through Hagar.  This was a son of the flesh (Ishmael) and not the son of the Spirit.  God wanted them to patiently wait on the son of the Spirit to be supernaturally birthed through Sarah.  Isaac finally came after faith and patience.  I believe we often birth things in ministry that are more like Ishmael than Isaac.  Let’s be willing to wait on the Isaacs of the Spirit.  Let’s seek to do things through God’s Spirit and not by mere human effort.

12. Allow your weaknesses to push you closer to God.
God gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” in order to keep him dependent on God (see 2 Corinthians 12).  This was not pleasant, but it was necessary. His feeling weak was the very thing God used to help Him tap into God’s power.  The same principle applies to us today.  God will use our feeling weak to make us more dependent on His power.  I have learned to embrace my weaknesses in order to experience God’s power. 

13. Develop and share your God-inspired vision.
Without a vision the people go unrestrained.  People will go off in their own direction without leaders providing a God-inspired and God-led vision.  Vision helps everyone go in the same direction.  We may each have a different role in accomplishing the vision, but we need a vision to tell us what direction to head.  It is the job of the leader to get this vision from God.

14. Boldly ask others to come around you to support your vision.
Once you have a clear vision, it is imperative to recruit other godly people to support this vision:  with involvement, with time, and even with money.  Don’t be shy about asking others to support the vision, assuming you have a Godly vision!

15. Combine truth and grace in every situation.
Moses came with the Law, but Jesus came with Grace and Truth.  Jesus modeled ministry with Grace and truth in a powerful way.  Sometimes truth was heavier than grace, like with the Pharisees.  Other times, grace was heavier than truth, as when people were sincerely repentant.  As we minister as leaders, we should ask God to give us the wisdom to combine truth with grace in ministry.  The best example in the bible is when Jesus ministered to the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  He told her, “Neither do I condemn you” (i.e., GRACE!) … “go and sin no more” (i.e., TRUTH!).

16. Make disciples and don’t just win converts.
Jesus made it clear we are to make disciples of all nations and not just win converts.  We make disciples by preaching God’s Word verse by verse.  We make disciples by investing in a few good men.  We make disciples by putting structures in place that help people go deeper with God and one another.  I believe the best structure to accomplish this is small groups that meet in homes and is well led by a godly, growing disciple.

17. Get your identity from God and not from your ministry.
As leaders, it is easy to start defining ourselves by our title or ministry results.  This is dangerous and lethal.  It can lead to pride.  Instead, God wants our identity and OKness with ourselves to come from who we are in Him.  This never changes and can never be taken away.  God has given us a new nature, and our greatest joy in life should come from simply being a child of God, and not from our ministry achievements.

18. Be encouraged that you are making an eternal difference.
Don’t be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not (Galatians 6:9).  If you are walking with God and serving Him, then you are making an eternal difference, even if you don’t always see the visible fruit of your labor.  Continue to give yourself to what will last forever.  Be not distracted by the temporal things in front of you each day.

19. Rest in God being the Lord of the harvest.
Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God causes the growth.  Leaders should sleep well at night, realizing that only God can ultimately change a life.  He does use us, but we are merely a tool in His hand.  The Spirit convicts of sin to bring about conversion.  God works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure.   As we ministry day in and day out, let us rejoice that God is always at work to bring about His own glory! 

Ministering for God and in God’s power is the greatest privilege in the world.  Continue to faithfully minister for God’s glory!  Ask God to make you Christ-like and to empower your leadership for His glory.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Uganda Missions' Trip

I just returned from a missions’ trip to Uganda. This was my 9th missions’ trip, and definitely one of the most fruitful in many ways.

Here are some highlights of our trip:
1. We saw people receive Christ and baptized, and I believe these to be genuine conversions. I found the Gulu region of Uganda ripe for harvest.
2. I prayed for a demonized woman one night who was delivered from evil spirits. The power of Jesus is still at work!
3. Pastor George Jabulani, the local Ugandan pastor whom we worked through, has planted 8 churches in 6 years, most of which have come about from the requests of people in surrounding villages, which are quite poor and needy. Most of these churches are also including a school, in order to teach children the Word of God and English from a young age. If you are looking for a worthy indigenous ministry to support, I can highly recommend Pastor George and inform you of how you can help support him. He is in need of about $250 more per month. I can totally vouch for his integrity and trustworthiness.
4. We contributed spiritually through church services, teaching on discipleship, praying for people, and showing the Jesus film; and physically through giving shoes, clothing and hygiene items to the school children, as well as helping to construct a brick church building.
5. I was personally humbled to preach 4 times, teach for hours on discipleship to new Christians (lessons I had written that have now been translated into their language), teach a 2-hour leadership session, and provide copies of my book for pastors to each of the church planters.
6. Having Josiah go on this trip was my personal highlight. Here are his thoughts from our trip: “As this was my first missions’ trip, I experienced many things I was not used to, such as: poverty, disease, and very poor living conditions. I experienced, even through these conditions, the joy of the Believers. When we shared Jesus to the people in the city and also in the villages, people opened up and wanted to hear all about His life. Even though these people lived with nothing in the world, all they wanted and all they needed was Jesus.”
7. A spiritual highlight was the day we walked 3 miles into the “bush” to visit a remote village called Pagiki, located 30 miles from the Sudan border. Pastor George has helped a small group of Believers establish a church there, which present meets under a large tree. As we arrived, we heard the church in joyful worship. Others came as we held a brief worship service. After each member of our team shared a word of Scripture or testimony, Pastor George turned to me and said, “Now you will bring the Word of God.” This has given new meaning to being “ready in season and out of season.” God led me to preach on the magnificence of Christ: His personhood, life, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection. When in doubt, just preach Jesus, right!? I gave an invitation and about 10 locals came forward to kneel on a mat and give their hearts and lives to Christ. What immediately followed was something I will NEVER forget: they began a praise march/dance to a small stream about 200 yards from where we had the service, in order to baptize these new Believers and others who had yet to be baptized since receiving Christ. As we baptized about 20 people, the others sang and danced in worship the entire time. You can view this baptismal experience by going to the blog link listed below.

Every time I have the privilege of participating in a missions’ trip, I am reminded of:
1. The power of the Gospel to change lives everywhere! Jesus is the answer!
2. How joyful heaven will be as people from every tribe, nation, tongue and people will one day worship before the throne of God.
3. James 2:5 where it talks about how God chooses the “poor of this world to be rich in faith.” This is what really touched Josiah in a profound way.
4. How materially blessed we are in the U.S. and yet how spiritually weak we are. I asked the Uganda Christians to pray for our nation. They were shocked when I told them about some things in our country.
5. The importance of investing our financial and physical blessings in the spreading of the Gospel worldwide.

For a complete pictorial summary of our trip (and an incredible video of the baptismal service), go to:

What a privilege we have to help make disciples of all nations!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Battle Between Flesh and Spirit

The Bible states that Christ-followers are in a serious battle between the flesh and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit pulls in one direction, while our natural flesh pulls in another. Which will we choose? Which will win out? What does it take for the Spirit to win?

Consider the following references to this battle between flesh and spirit:
Rom. 8:5-6,9 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace….You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

Matt. 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

Gal. 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Gal. 5:16-17 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

Gal. 6:8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Countless times throughout the day we come to a fork in the road of life: follow the Spirit or give in to the flesh. It can be as simple as the flesh telling us to lie, or it can more complicated as our flesh wanting to make a good impression so others will like us. In both cases our flesh tempts us to live for what seems natural versus following the Holy Spirit in what honors God. Flesh can be obviously bad, but it can also appear deceitfully good, as in the case of wanting to look “good” before others.

When we receive Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins, the impartation of the Holy Spirit, and a new nature. This means that we can have victory; we can choose Spirit over flesh; and we can have power to win the battle. Really? Yes. How? By really knowing who we are in Christ and all that Christ has given us in His Holy Spirit. By being in the Word so as to feed this Spirit who jealousy lives within our spirit. By saying “no” to the flesh and “yes” to the Spirit. By admitting our weakness and crying out for His supernatural power.
This battle between flesh and spirit is designed by God to make us stronger in Him. It causes us to see how much we need His power for victorious living.

Determine to not give in to your flesh. Determine to be filled with the Holy Spirit each and every day. Know that you are not in this battle alone. Get others around you who can help you win the battle.

The more we grow in Christ, the more we will desire to follow the Spirit over the flesh. However, the battle will never totally go away, and the flesh will never improve with time. What does get better with time is our knowledge of the Word, our experience of knowing God, and the abundance of tasting God’s blessings for obedience.

As challenging as it can be sometimes, it is definitely worth choosing the Spirit over the flesh!