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Friday, June 16, 2017

Daddy Issues

A Notification?  This early?

“I’m praying for you.” 

Huh?  Certainly, I appreciate as much prayer as I can get, but generally I can pinpoint a purpose for it.  I wasn’t sick.  I wasn’t having any major crisis. 

I reply “Thanks.  I appreciate it.”

“I know this day is hard for you.” 

This day?  It’s Sunday?  What could be the….

Oh.  It’s Father’s Day.

Father’s Day has always carried with it a variety of feelings.  Typically, it is not until someone else points out the elephant in the room that the weight comes crashing down.  I have no one to celebrate today.

But I have stop letting it be a day of mourning.  Father's Day is a day of remembrance.
Whether your father was completely absent or was less than a model example, I would encourage you to not make today a day of mourning, but a day to remember.

Father's Day is a reminder to three realities: identity, forgiveness, and the strength to forge ahead.

Reminder 1: Fatherlessness is not my identity.

Friend, the accuser will look at you on this day and declare many lies.  "You are not loved."  "You will never not hurt."  "If he could leave, so could God."

Satan's method is always to make us identify by something other than the Word of God.  When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, he went after Jesus identity by saying, "If you are the Son of God..."  Satan would tempt us by having us question all we are in Christ.

Don't believe his accusations.

Satan's song is loud.  But our Savior's song is louder.

The people of God overcome the accuser by embracing their blood-bought identity.

"And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death."
 - Revelation 12:11

Our value, our worth, our identity, is not grounded in the love of an earthly father, but in the love of our Heavenly Father.  God loves you!  The Son of God displayed it in his blood and by our testimony we declare it.  In the gospel, we find new life no longer defined by fatherlessness, but new life founded upon faithfulness.

God loves you, whether your father did or not.  God is healing your broken heart, no matter how real the pain is.  God will never leave you or forsake you, regardless of how far they fled.

God loved you before the foundation of the world, He sought you out by entering into this world in flesh.  He lived the perfect life none of us could not.  He willingly faced separation from the Father through his death on the cross that we might be adopted by God the Father.  He cried out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" But, He did not stay dead- God raised Him from the dead!  By trusting in His death on the cross and Resurrection from the dead we have the promise that we will never be forsaken.  Over believers God sings,

"The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;he will exult over you with loud singing."
- Zeph. 3:16

This new identity transform how we relate to our past.

Reminder 2: Forgiveness is today's theme song.

As fully forgiven people, we can forgive.  In fact, as fully forgive people, we have no option but to forgive.

"How could I forgive a monster like him!"

But that is where the gospel becomes so much sweeter.  No one has offended you more than we have offended the Father by our sin.  Sin is not simply a mistake, sin is divine treason against our God and King.  Sin is less the son's misunderstanding and rather the son who stole his Father's wealth and wasted it on wild women.  Sin is dishonor to ourselves and to God who created us to reflect Him.  When we sin we are saying, whether we recognize it full or not, "This is what God is like."

But, God is willing and able to fully forgive.  But, not without pain.  He bore divine wrath and separation in order to bring divine forgiveness and reconciliation.

As the parable goes, the Father pursued the prodigal, even when far off and ran to him.  He did not wait to get the money back, he did not wait to even get an apology or explanation.  He responded in forgiveness at the return of the son.

If God can forgive you, you can forgive your father today.

I know he hurt you.  It may take time.  It may take your whole life.  But we must let go of our bitterness and place it on the cross of Christ, where it already is.  We need to recognize that our pasts no longer have a hold on us.  Bitterness is caused by the strain of a disappointed hopes continuing to be hoped in.

Yes, he let you down.  He broke your heart.  But, holding onto it is simply destroying you.

Forgiveness means freedom.  Forgive today.

Reminder 3: Forge ahead knowing all the wrong things to do.

With a new identity and the fruit of forgiveness, we can now forge ahead.

We may not know what being a father, or living with a father, is in experience.  But, we do know what it is not.  We have the opportunity to offer something better.   From darkness can come light.

But where the ideal is lacking, grace abounds.  God will help you to forge ahead.  This does not mean all your questions will be answered.  They won't.  It doesn't mean you don't have a long journey ahead of you.  You do.  It doesn't mean you are alone though- because you are not.

God has given you His presence but also His people.  God has given us His church to help us along our journey.  The church will help "bear our burdens" and "weep" and "rejoice" along with us (Galatians 6:1, Romans 12:15)

You've got a Father to guide you.  You've got a Father to mold you.  This Father's Day, you've got hope that will sustain you.  You are no longer defined by what happened to you.  You are not a victim.

Through Christ, all suffering that inflicts us is a means for our good (Romans 8:28-39).  The Fatherless are not victims, in Christ, they are victors!

If you have not come home to your Heavenly Father, you can turn and trust Him today.  You can find out more about having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by watching this video.

If you have a relationship with God today, you must choose today how we must live.  Don't put off another day in anger and bitterness.  Will you forgive and forge ahead into all the good works which "God has prepared for you?" (Eph. 2:8-9)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Am I Taking a Risk or Being Reckless?

This Sunday I will be preaching on “Risk” from Numbers 13 and 14.  Hope you will be blessed by this sermon excerpt.
John Piper in his book Risk is Right defines risk this way, “risk is an action that exposes someone to the possibility of loss or injury.”  God expects His people to step out in faith and to embrace discomfort- for His glory.
When we start to talk about risk, one of the first questions that people ask is, “How can I tell the difference between risk and recklessness?”  Is there a way to tell the difference between godly risk and sinful risk?
I believe the Scripture is clear.  The difference between Godly risk and sinful risk can be summed up in one question: Are you trusting the Lord or are you testing the Lord?
This manifests itself in several ways:
1) People who are trusting adore God’s grace, those who test the Lord assume God’s grace. 
People who are reckless carry an attitude that says, “Whatever I do does not matter.”  “Shall we go on sinning that grace will abound?”  That is far from God’s perspective.  Paul would respond to these people in Romans 6, “By no means!”
Assuming that we can do whatever we want is ultimately abuse of God’s grace and defaming of His name.  The attitude of risk is one of adoration for God’s grace which propels us to recognize that we are freed from prideful attitudes to step forward in faith.  The attitude of recklessness is one that says, “God doesn’t care.”  The attitude of risk says, “God cares profoundly.”
2) People who are trusting the Lord accept God’s Word, while people who test the Lord Abuse God’s Word.
Consider Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  Satan brings Jesus to the top of a building and claims a promise in the Word of God in order to get Jesus to jump off the building.  Jesus responds back with the Word, “I shall not put God to the test.”  Jesus, of course, believed the Word of God.  He claimed and accepted God’s Word.  But, He also understood that recklessness came out of abusing God’s promises. Yes, God promises to protect us, but we cannot use God’s Word as a license for craziness.
3) People who are trusting the Lord have “Yes” hearts, people who are testing the Lord have “Unless” hearts.
Habakkuk is a fascinating prophet.  He argues with God throughout His book.  But, ultimately God uses His words to teach us about faith and by extension risk.  See how the book closes:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
 – Habakkuk 3:17-18
An attitude that tests the Word will hinge their worship on His “Yes.”  If God does not come through, they will not worship Him.  Their hearts say, “Unless.”  But, a hear that trusts is one that recognizes that even if they lose everything, God remains good and He remains worthy of praise.  Do we have hearts that say, “Yes” or hearts that say, “Unless”?
4) People who are trusting the Lord are Humble and Confidence, those who are testing the Lord are Haughty and Cocky.
Trusting the Lord produces humility and confidence (which are not opposed).  Testing the Lord is rooted in pride and self-sufficiency.
At the end of Numbers 14 the people were proud.  They thought they could go forward without God with them.  They thought God would give them a second chance, and when He said no, they thought they could do it by themselves. God brings judgement and makes it clear: He opposes the proud!
5) People who are trusting the Lord act out of calculation, those who are testing the Lord act out of compulsion.
One thing that stands out in Numbers 13-14 is the difference between the two actions of the people.  When they intend to initially enter the land (before chickening out) they were planned.  They sent spies.  They were careful and calculated.  God’s promise to them led them to be careful stewards.  Certainty led to care not carelessness.
Whereas after they chicken out and God sends them back into the wilderness for many more years, they decide to try again.  They do so out of compulsion.
Taking risks does not mean having no fear.  In fact, in the first scenario (which God commanded), they feared God.  In the second (which God condemned), they had no fear.  Taking risks for God requires a proper fear of God.
Let me give an example.  I rarely, if ever, use a fake news story as a sermon illustration, but in a sermon on risk, what do I have to lose?  This past week a fake news story appeared telling of a pastor who was eaten by an alligator because he and his congregation thought that through enough faith, through fasting and praying, they could walk on water like Jesus did.  This pastor tried to walk on water, and the alligator got lunch.
This story provides a perfect illustration of testing the Lord.  They assumed God would be gracious, they abused passages in God’s Word, they put all their hope on results instead of having an attitude of “yes”.  Their perceived humility was actually pride in their own abilities.  They did not fear God truly.  They were not calculated (for they may have prayed, but they did not pick a body of water without crocodiles in it!).  This fake story illustrates a very real truth.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:6 that the whole Old Testament is written for our instruction, that we might learn from them.  God judged His people for not taking risks for His glory and God will do the same for us.  Church, may we take risks for His glory!
May we not confused risk and recklessness and may we step forward in faith, pursuing God’s mission for His glory!
Join us this Sunday at 11am at Garden Green Baptist Church for more.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Personal Reflection & Repentance: Bitterness

The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy. - Proverbs 14:10

In the Scripture bitterness is almost always connected with suffering. It is a sign of not suffering well. Great suffering lead Naomi to declare rename herself Mara (Bitter).

Bitterness is called a "poisonous root." Another reality the Scripture shows us is that bitterness leads to self-reliance. The author of the Hebrews pairs together the root of bitterness with the rebellion of Esau.

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. - Hebrews 12:15-17

But, it doesn't stop there. Bitterness has effects on this around us as well. Proverbs 14:10 talks about others not sharing in the heart's joys due to bitterness. Hebrews warns of it defiling "many." Moses warned the congregation of Israel to avoid it (Deut. 29:18-19).

God's answer to those caught in the tangle of the poisonous root? Christ is the Gardener!

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. - John 15:1-2

First, bitterness may be rooted suffering, but suffering may also be it's cure
. Pruning is not a pleasant process, but Jesus promises to prune us so that we might produce fruit. All of our suffering is working to conform us into the image of Jesus. In fact, according to Romans 8:28-30, all things are.

Second, bitterness is a worship problem.
Over and over the Bible points the bitter, through Christ, to worship the Lord.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel... Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire
.
 - Hebrews 12:23-25, 28-29

Third, bitterness is a forgiveness problem.
We are called to forgive as God has forgiven us. This requires a proper recognition of our condition and Christ's kindness.

The cross and Resurrection is the greatest example of kindness mankind has ever experienced.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. - Ephesians 4:31-32

Kindness softens the bitter heart. Paul writes that the "kindness of God leads us to repentance" (Romans 2:4-5).

Fourth, bitterness has bitter results. We are warned that those who persist in bitterness are met with separation from God! Recall Moses warning to the Israelites,

Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit...The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven. - Deut. 29:18, 20

Bitterness has been a besetting sin in my life for the past 2 years or so.

But, in God's kindness, He is breaking the hold of bitterness on me.  One day at a time.

This breaking involves repentance. I repent to all who are reading this of my bitterness. First and foremost, my repentance is toward God (Psalm 51), but I also recognize that healing comes from confessing out sins to one another (James 5:13-18). I come to say I'm sorry. I come to find healing.

Pray for me in these things. That God would continue to break me and that I would keep my eyes on his kindness toward me. Psalm 130:7 describes the kindness of the Lord this way,

"For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption."

That kind of kindness shatters the hold of bitterness. Praise God.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Some Advice for the Heartbroken

Source
Let me be transparent: Heartbreak sucks.  When people leave you, whether due to conflict, differences, or death; the aftermath can be total disaster.  As a Christian and a pastor, I have felt heart break. I have felt the gut-wrenching, soul-crushing, flat-on-my-face-begging-God-to-please-end-my-life kind of heart break (that is a lot of dashes). I have also set across the table from people who have experienced great trial and pain. 

What can we say?  What encouragement can we give?  So often our answers are correct (read your Bible, pray, etc..)  These answers are right in so many ways.  If it were not for abiding with Jesus through the means of the Word and prayer I would not be alive today.  But, is that really all there is?  So often it seems we offer these things as a magic pill, when they are less like a drug and more like physical therapy.  Overtime they shape, they mold- and not without pain.  Alongside the Word of God and prayer, what can we do (or advice) hurting hearts to do?  

Here are three things that have helped me.  But, I want to again emphasize that healing from any sort of pain is a process.  True heartbreak will (rarely) pass away over night.  These three suggestions will not make the lonely nights disappear tomorrow.  These suggestions will not bring satisfaction to your soul.  Those are things only Jesus can do.  But, these suggestions are natural means that, alongside the Word of God and prayer, will bring healing.

1. Cry.  A lot.
Jesus wept.  The ink of the Psalmist's paper was drenched with tears.  Psalm 42:3 says, "My tears have been my food day and night."

Emotions are not the enemy of healing.  In fact, built up emotion is truly a dangerous thing.  God created us with emotions- to react properly to the things around us. 

Heartbreak hurts.  We should weep.  Our command is not, "Tell the weeping to suck it up!" but to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).  Weeping well was something Jesus did, and it is something we must learn to do.  

In fact, someone who is unafraid to show emotion is very unlike Jesus.  What makes Jesus sanctified is that He knew how to experience emotion without sinning.  He could grieve, laugh, cry, be angry, and celebrate without sin.  This sort of emotional self-control is a sure sign that the Spirit of God is at work in our emotion (Galatians 5:22-23).  Sanctified emotions produce fruits of the Spirit, sinful emotions produce works of the flesh (Galatians 5:22-23).

To have sanctified emotions we must, therefore, experience these emotions.  God is using good and bad times to conform us more into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28-30).  He is after our good- our conformity to Jesus in this life and the next.

We cannot learn to weep well until we weep deeply.

Cry.  Encourage others to cry.  Cry with others.

2. Remember, but don't recline.  
The Scriptures give examples of the faithful setting up memorials (Joshua 4).  While these examples were often of victories, many of these reminders were of victories that at the time seemed to be defeats.  Consider Noah, looking at the rainbow.  Consider the disciples taking the last supper with Jesus.

Our lives are filled with such memorials.  There are places and things that will always bring back memories for us.

Go eat at the places that were dear to you.  Go walk at that park with all the memories.  Go to the last place you saw them.  Visit their grave.

I can remember where I would sit with my uncle before he died.  I remembered the spot in the lunch room where I would set with old high school friends.  I remembered where I first told a girl I loved her and where I had my first kiss.

Now, this may not happen right away.  Going back to some of these places will be painful, but climbing this hill will help bring solace in an unimaginable way.  Take time to go there and remember, alongside what happened, where God was during it.  The good and the bad.  The Psalmist remembered his past times of worship in the midst of his suffering, "
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival."

(This verse is also a reminder of the importance of the local church to those who are suffering, but that is for another post).

It's alright to sit in these places and remember, but it is not okay to never get up.  Or to put it another way:

But, don't let remembrance turn into reclining.  

Sitting in old chairs can be an enjoyable experience, but once you recline, you'll never be able to get up and press on.  Much like the post Thanksgiving dinner crash, it makes the joy of a past meal turn into regret.  Don't recline into regret, recall for remedy. All memorials were given to a people meant to move on.  Noah was to repopulate.  The disciples would be given a mission.  As we remember, we are healed and God enables us to move forward.

Hearts remedy through remembrance.

3. Forgive.  Them and yourself.
Here it is.  One of the hurtles of God's remedy to a broken heart.  Forgiveness.  I know what you're thinking, "You don't know what they did to me!"  I may not, but I know what Jesus did for you and that is all I need to know.

Jesus forgave the worst in you.  Extend the same to others.  The beautiful thing about Jesus' forgiveness is that He provides full reconciliation, without restraint, to all those who turn to Him.  Sadly, this side of Heaven, our forgiveness will never look like that.

You may not be able to have what you once had.  That isn't biblical forgiveness anyhow.  What you once had is just that- what once was.  Forgiveness is a present action that is forward facing.  As far as it depends on you, seek peace (Romans 12:18).  You don't need what was, you need a present peace.

Peter's restoration meant taking a new role (John 21:15-19) and sometimes ours will as well.  They may not trust you again, and you don't have to trust them again.  but, you cannot forsake peace.

Restoration is not about setting a relationship back, restoration is about making a relationship right.

Don't forget that this also means forgiving yourself.  Forgive yourself for things said (or unsaid), things done (or not done).  Those things are dead with Jesus and new life is an ever-present reality.  Resurrection from the dead is in many ways a lifetime project.

Jesus has raised us with Him, and yet we are growing into all that we will be (1 John 3:1-3).  We are being raised more and more from our deadness- and forgiveness is a massive piece of that.

Forgiveness is about peace to move forward, not the ability to go back.

Alongside abiding with Jesus, God uses ordinary things to shape us and heal us.  Tears, memorials, forgiveness: these are ways God, through suffering, conforms us more into the image of His Son.

We can go forward knowing that God has promised to complete this mission (Phil. 1:6).  Even in our pain, we can worship alongside the words of Jude:  
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. - Jude 24-25

Friday, February 24, 2017

How do we Glorify God in "Whatever We Do"?

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http://www.theversesproject.com/
1 Corinthians 10:31 has become a mantra for many, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  But, we seem to consider this as a reason to take Jesus onto the end of what we do.  But, what if this verse is calling for more?  Paul, in the context of this verse is calling us to consider how Christians are to think about Christian liberty and "gray areas" in all of life.  God never calls us to tack Him onto the end of our life- He wants everything.
So, what does it mean to give glory to God?  I offer this definition, "To glorify God is to delight in God and His rule over all things."  Three observations from this definition.  First, glory is far more than simply recognition, but it starts there.  We do not just recognize glory, we treasure it.
Second, to glorify God involves treasuring God Himself.  More than simply what He does, all glory involves delight in a Giver.  A person.  Glory involves delighting not just in what God does, but who God is.
Third, but, to delight in God as a person also means to delight in His way. Jesus is King, and He reigns and rules- to love the King is to love His rule and His way.  How can we truly love someone and yet rebel and stand against all they do?  God's person and God's rule and reign over all things cannot be separated.  To glorify God is to delight in God and His way.

Paul commands us to do this in "whatever we do."  Including eating and drinking.  How do we glorify God in the mundane things of life?  Here are three foundations...
1) Thankfulness for God’s work.  First, we must recognize that thankfulness is in the context surrounding this verse (1 Corinthians 10:30).  But we should also consider 1 Timothy 4:3, For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.  A lack of thankfulness is, at it’s root, rebellion against God.  See Paul’s words in Romans 1:21, “ For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
A lack of thankfulness was not only rebellion against God, but what we gave thanks has direct effects on our thinking and our hearts.  Thanksgiving changes us.  A proper thankfulness for God’s work changes our hearts and our minds, not toward rebellion, but toward glory.  Thanksgiving leads to greater delight.
2) Mindfulness of God’s way.  Giving glory to God involves not simply thanksgiving, but also mindfulness of God’s way.  We can be thankful for food, and still be a glutton.  Thankfulness alone can still be thankfulness for the wrong thing.  We must be thankful both for God’s work, but also God’s way.  1 Timothy 4 again is helpful.  We are to give thanksgiving “with the word of God and prayer.”   We do it with the means by which God directs us toward His way.
It is important to note that Paul is calling us to consider God’s way when he writes just a few verses later, “be an imitator of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  The infamous question has always been, “What would Jesus do?”  But, I believe the best question is “What did Jesus do?” and let that inform our next step.
3) Wonder at God’s world.  Thankfulness for God’s work and mindful for God’s ways, leads us to wonder at God’s world.  We are Christian often minimize the voice of God in creation, called “general revelation.”  While general revelation is loud, but not specific, revelation of God’s existence to the world (Psalm 19:1-2, Romans 1:18-20), special revelation, the specific divine revelation of God in the Scripture, is a hearing-aid that allows us to hear God in creation is a deeper in more profound way.  We can gaze and wonder and enjoy God’s creation is a way the rest of the world can’t.  We can enjoy these gifts in a greater way because we know the Giver.
Consider this analogy.  This proves this well.  Have you ever seen anyone receive gifts and notes from a secret admirer who was satisfied without knowing who they were?  Why?  Because lovingly given gifts prompt us to recognize the giver.  How much the loving gifts of our Creator, who has written us a note in the Scripture, and He has called us to know Him through the person and work of Jesus Christ!  How much more can we enjoy His gifts when the Giver is no longer secret?
May we, in all we do, give glory to God in whatever we do!

We will be speaking more about this, this Sunday at Garden Green Baptist Church

Friday, February 17, 2017

How to Tell the Difference between Righteous Indignation and Sinful Anger: 3 Questions to Ask

As I have been preparing to preach on Matthew 5:21-26, the enemy has been at war with me.  I have seen temptations and opportunities toward anger this week more than I have before.  How easy it is, in our self-centered culture, to find us focused on ourselves instead of the world around us.  Sure, they ran us late, they cut us off, they hurt us; but we are not to act like the rest of the world.  As a people saved from the anger of God through the death of Christ, we must understand mercy and grace toward others.  This is a reality I have forgotten this week, I have repented and asked the Lord to empower me going forward.  I hope you will do the same.

In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus is teaching the people about the true meaning of God’s law- it more than external obedience, it is about the heart.  Sinful anger is just as serious as murder.  But, doesn’t we see Jesus himself getting angry?  Consider the words of Paul, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).

Not only we are we encouraged to make sure we settle our anger quickly, but we are told that there is a way to be angry that is not sin.  In fact, we see Jesus had a righteous indignation.  But, how can we tell if our anger is sinful or righteous?  I submit we can start by asking three questions.

Question 1: Is my anger opposed to the fruits of the Spirit and does it produce the works of the flesh?
This question alone provides a fantastic grid for examining our anger.  Paul writes in Galatians 5:19-22,

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

If our anger leads us to produce the works of the flesh, it is sinful anger.  If our anger leads us to squelch the fruits of the Spirit, it is sinful anger.  Anger must not muzzle goodness, gentleness, self-control, or peace in our lives.  In other words, when we look to Carrie Underwood as a solution to our cheating boyfriend, we are not looking to Jesus as the model for our anger.  Righteous anger may not always feel good, but it is the pursuit of what is good.

Question 2: Does my anger lead to wanting and doing what is truly best for others, or does it lead me to seek to destroy others?
Notice what Jesus says is a mark of sinful anger in Matthew 5. 

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. – Matthew 5:22 

Jesus is saying that murder is more than simply intentionally taking the life of a human being.  .  Sinful anger is the desire to damage or destroy another, even there reputation.  Notice he emphasizes what is said with our mouths above what is done with our hands.  Out of an abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  To be straight forward: Intentional damage of another’s character is no different than intentional taking of their life.  Do we desire the destruction of others or do we want for our neighbors what we want for ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40)?

Question 3: Does my anger lead to seek peace and reconciliation or division and strife?
Consider Jesus’ words again in Matthew 5.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.  Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.  – Matthew 5:23-26

Notice, Jesus takes the application of His teachings into the temple, among the people of God.  Forgive and reconcile- even before sacrifice.  Reconciliation is more important than sacrifice because reconciliation was the goal of sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).  Reconcile soon and quickly with your brother or sister.  The punishment for sin is great, but also peace is better.  Peace should be our motivator.  Jesus is a reconciler and we are to do the same. 

May our anger be righteous that we might see the blessing Jesus promised

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
– Matthew 5:9



Saturday, January 14, 2017

5 Reasons Young People Should Connect with Church Revitalization

Citation
“The young people are the problem!”  “Once we get young people in here- like back in the good ole days- then our church will be able to do ministry.”  These represent the diametrically opposed views of young people in churches-especially among churches in need of revitalization.  One of the common ways this manifests itself is in a war of worship songs.  A classic hymn says, “Wherever He leads, I’ll go.”  Many have taken that song and taken a different spin, “If they are gonna lead, I’ll go!”  These often cause divisions in churches.

Among these “distracted” churches, young people are seen as a hindrance or as Saviors.  Both are unhealthy.  Regardless, there are many reasons for young people, who are often wanting to connect with the “cool, hip” churches should pour out their lives into distracted churches.

1) You have more of an opportunity to use your gifts.

God has gifted every one of us, and we should consider those gifts as a stewardship (1 Peter 4:10-11).  In my experience, in many larger churches (notice, size is the measurement, not health) you can have many gifts people, but only the “most” gifted get to participate.  There is little room for a believer wanting to grow in leadership to teach because- to be frank- there is little freedom to fail.  While you may be able to have a gifted teacher lead a small group or Sunday School class, there are still limits on the amount of classes and the amount of teachers that can be used.  You can only use so many on the worship team.  Also, these venues are often still not fit for the less experienced believers.

Smaller, distracted churches offer a better avenue for believers to use their gifts.  First, from my experience, there are literally a hundred ways to serve.  There is room to fill in the youth, in the music, and so on.  In fact, a staple of distracted churches is that there is little desire on the part of the members to create new ministries.  A sure sign of a distracted church is a desire to control, not a desire to create.  Creation of new ministries, whether it be music or youth or discipleship classes, provide a context for less experienced believers to steward their gifts. 

Less experience is often mistaken for less gifted (no such thing!), and younger believers can get lost in the crowd.  When there is less people and more need, this is less of a problem.

2) You can grow in your experience and giftedness.

Sure, some of these believers you send out to create and work to equip will blow it- good.  We all blow it.  No one learns without blowing it.  The gospel is for people who have blown it.

 So, we should give believers, especially those with a desire to be involved, freedom to create.  As they create, the job of the pastor is to shepherd through control and crafting.  Be careful giving the keys to the new youth group to a youth, but don’t be afraid to sit in the passenger and let them try out the experience.  As they go, you can help them cast vision and craft the ministry- this provides the opportunity and context for discipleship and leadership development.

Young believers, you can benefit from the church revitalization process as much as the church you help serve.

3) You need wise godly council (and you may learn that “old people” are not that bad).

One of the many benefits of the church revitalization process is that generation gaps tend to be less cut and dry in smaller churches.  When the college student, the retiree, and the pastor’s high school daughter all share a pew together- bonding is bound to happen.    Circles of friends have to be more diverse because more diversity (in one sense) sits in the pews. 

One of the benefits of this is that natural connections can form.  Another is that both parties will see the benefit of the other.  In fact, the various generations may see that they need each other.  The zeal of one and the wisdom of the other complement one another.  Pastors must make it clear that every person in the church is dependent on the other.  Lastly, we must make sure not to view young believers as the “future” of the church.  They are the “present” of the church.  They need to be involved.  They need discipleship for now, not for later.  Older believers, mentor the next generation.  

Next generation, seek and submit to mentorship from others.  You may find it shocking, but you’ll realize that you need each other.

4) You will learn that the church is not about you and your preferences- and that is a glorious thing.

Younger believers learn through church revitalization that churches do not exist to serve every preference, but they exist for the increase of the kingdom of God.  A short but profound point is found here: The church you attend will have a direct effect on how you view the church.  It is not about us- we need to know that.  We need to recognize that the Christian life is one about sacrifice.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Can we consider our churches faithful if we never have to crucify our desires?  Since when was “denying ourselves” a comfortable experience?  What does this say to younger believers about the purpose with the church?

5) You need to be revitalized too.

Revitalization is simply refocusing.  Friends, young believers, while you may think the problem in the church is the older generation (and vice versa) we all need to be refocused.  We all need what Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  While our distractions may be different, we all need to be focused on what matters- obedience to God.  We need each other- may we never forget that.


Younger believers, is God calling you to leave behind the comforts and coffee shops of larger “hipper” churches and to pour your life out helping to refocus the distracted church down the street?  

The experience may not be the most comfortable, but the gospel is not a call to be comfortable.  Ask God to lead you.  Ask God to empower you.  Take up your cross and follow him.  Whether you realize it or not, the generations before you have tons of teach you.  They have sacrificed a ton for you to reap the benefits.  May one thing we model the attitude found in one of those “old people songs”…”Wherever you lead, I’ll go.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Some Reflections on Church Revitalization

From here
“I don’t want to serve in a dying church.”  My jaw dropped as I heard a pastor friend retell this story.  He recounted the story of how someone had decided to stop filling in as the music leader at a small country church.  They played a role on the music team of their much larger home church, and didn’t see a point in serving as a music leader at a much smaller country church 15 minutes down the road. 

As a pastor of a church that is far more similar to the latter than the former, I was dumbfounded.  Stories like this are not unfounded.  There a massive misunderstanding, especially among younger believers, about “dying” churches.  The Bible speaks a different word over these churches.

First, the title “dying” next to any church is a denial of the gospel.  Yes, while I know what they mean, if there are believers in any church than it is by definition a “living” church.  Ephesians 2:5 says, even when we were dead in our trespasses, [Christ] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”  No church is a dying church because every church contains people made alive by the gospel.

Now, certainly we need to be put a title on the type of church we are talking about.  Often times by “dying” many are meaning to say “declining.”  Certainly spiritual life and numerical decline are different.  Also, there are studies that show that the majority of churches are in decline, not able to grow at a pace equivalent to the surrounding area.  Decline is not just something that affects the tiny country church, it’s just has a faster effect on them.  

Also, the term “unhealthy” could be used.  Often times there are churches are overrun with unbiblical traditions, whether with their membership, leadership, or practices.  Certainly these traditions could be having a negative effect.  While "unhealthy" is a better term than "dying", and gets more to the point than "declining", it doesn’t address everything that can be happening to a church.  I know many churches who are healthy in terms of their membership and leadership, but are far from impacting their community.

I propse that the term “distracted” better displays the reality of what is taking place in most churches.  Yes, they are in decline.  Yes, they are unhealthy.  But, ultimately this is due to distractions.  This could be doctrinal distractions (liberalism), or practical distractions (traditionalism) or a mixture of the two.  Ultimately, all distraction in a church is a distraction of affection.  Jesus speaks to a church in this same situation in Revelation 2:4, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” 

The goal of church revitalization is to restir affections toward Jesus and toward His Word.  Once a church is more in love with Jesus than with prior commitments (doctrinal or practical) then transformation can begin.  Jesus speaks in John 15 of this reality, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  To see the fruits of transformation in the life of our people, they abide in Jesus, and they cannot do this without their affections resting on Him.

How do we do this?  Here are 5 reflections...

First, we need faithful preaching.  Pastor, I know it is tiring, but continue to preach faithfully.  Exalt Jesus.  Lift Him up.  They need to see the one they are to love as lovely.

Second, evaluate where the churches affections rest.  What “golden calf” do they have?  What areas of church life will be a battle to see transformation in?  When those are evaluated, make immediate changes in areas that can be changed without a battle (for us, this was leadership and membership).  Once those changes are made, and the benefits are seen, you will be in a better position to see future transformation.

Third, set your focus on the long-term.  I know I am one who cares far more about the short-term comforts of life (this is a reality I am repenting over as we speak).  But, Abraham set his eyes on his heavenly home (Hebrews 11:17).  His eyes were to the long-term, which was how he endured through the short-term discomforts.  In fact, every single biblical figure lived this way, why should the pastor be any different?

Fourth, pastor, get friends.  You may feel alone, but you are not alone.  Form networks and fellowships with other pastor's in your area.  You need brothers to cry with, to pray with, to bounce advice off of.  Especially if you are without a plurality of leaders, get friends!  Spurgeon said “Friendship is one of the sweetest joys of life. Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend.” 

Fifth, be willing to confront the golden calf.  I will write more about this in a future post


Church revitalization is not easy, but it is necessary.  We must give ourselves toward transformation.  This will require humility and unity- we need people of all ages!  In a future post, I implore young people to plug into church revitalization and address other issues that I have seen in the past two years of working with church revitalization.