... from the pastor

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR BIBLE READING

 

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1. Pray before you begin, asking God for wisdom (James 1:5) and insight (Ps. 119:130; see also 119:125, 169).

2. Ask God to give you at least one observable truth you can take home from the passage.

3. Read with pen in hand, ready to take notes from the Word as God speaks to you. Keep your notes in a journal dedicated for Bible reading (can be on your computer/ipad).

4. Summarize the passage that you read in one paragraph (Gen. 40-41–Joseph in prison interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants. He asks them to remember him, but they forget him and he remains in prison for 2 more years. Pharaoh dreams 2 dreams no one can understand; the cupbearer then remembers Joseph. Pharaoh brings Joseph out of prison, God gives Joseph wisdom to interpret the dreams, and Pharaoh promotes Joseph as prime minister of Egypt.)

5. Thank God for His Word and its insights and ask Him to help you apply this Word to your life (or the life of someone else) today.

 

...From the Associate Pastor

Light Shine

 

Matthew 5:14-16

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14  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.16In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

 

What does it mean to be the ‘light of the world”?

 

            A light allows us to see, it reveals the truths which lie around us as we walk through life. If we attempt to walk through an unfamiliar place in complete darkness we are sure to scrape our shins, stumble over an unseen object and possibly even fall off a cliff to our death below. We learn to trust our eyes to guide us as we walk through new areas, but our eyes require a light source to be able to see. In these verses, Jesus uses this depiction of physical light being necessary for sight as a metaphor for the spiritual reality. He is pointing to the fact that the world is shrouded in spiritual darkness because of sin causing separation from God. In the same way that we need a physical light source to navigate this earth, we must have a spiritual light source to guide our spiritual existence. In John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jesus is the spiritual light source that reveals all truth and makes a way for us to see and know God. He came into the darkness of the world to bring light and life to all people. Those who respond to His light by submitting themselves to be bondservants of His are given life. They are then sent out into the world with His light and therefore become the very light of the world.

 

What is this spiritual “light”?

 

            In essence, the spiritual light is Christ Himself. How He shines out through us is manifested in various ways. In Ephesians 2:8-10 we see a brief discourse which reveals that as we have been saved (made the light of Christ) by grace through faith so we must work out our salvation (our lightness) by doing the good works prepared for us by God. Another way that Christ is shone brightly is by righteousness. Paul shares in Philippians 3 how this actually works out. Righteousness is not a set of actions to be done or rules to be followed to appear a certain way but a state of being approved and cleansed by Christ and thereby being made right with God. This cannot happen in any way apart from faith in Christ and surrendering all in complete reliance on Him.

 

How do you "let your light shine"?

 

            Let us think about lights in the physical world. Where are they usually placed? We have light poles, ceiling lights, bedside lamps, reading lights, head lamps, flashlights, vehicle headlights… etc. There are a few commonalities about the placement of these various light sources. They all shed light on something, reveal something that was previously covered, and are terribly conspicuous. Every time you walk into a room with a light switched on it is plain to see what the contents of the room are, the fact that light is shining, and the source of said light. Following Jesus’ corollary, we can understand how we should let our light shine. Our life should manifest the spiritual light of Christ within us clear and bright. When people come into our space they should immediately be aware of the light of Christ and its source (you). Not only that, but the light of Christ also reveals the sinfulness, evils, and wrongs that are everywhere around it. In order to let your light shine it is imperative to be overflowing with joy in the Lord and confident in the gospel, boldly living out the life God had prepared for you. Your life in Christ should be conspicuous, not hidden, revelatory, not concealing sin, and actively shining, not switched off or covered.

 

Go shine  :) 

 

 

 

... from the Pastor

THE DISTRESSING TREND AFFECTING CHURCHES TODAY

Church attendance is declining in US culture, and this tendency affects churches of every denomination. This decline is all the more distressing because the issue is not people dropping out of church but rather members attending less frequently. Thom Rainer explained: 

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The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago. Allow me to explain. If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if one-half of those members miss only one out of four weeks, the attendance drops to 175.(1)

This distressing trend impacts all facets of church negatively, but the true losers are the members who skip. What do these members lose?

1. They lose the joy of regular corporate worship. Paul insists that only when the saints gather together do they truly understand the love of Christ: “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be able to be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:17b-19, NKJV). Regular corporate worship nourishes the soul and strengthens the heart in the daily walk with God. We need corporate worship; such worship supplies a facet of knowing God that personal intimacy alone cannot provide.

2. They lose the accountability of brothers and sisters. The body provides accountability that prevents all of us from becoming “Lone Ranger” Christians. The New Testament records over 50 “one another” commands; these cannot be practiced in a vacuum. The book of Proverbs warns, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment” (Prov. 18:1). Brothers and sisters hold me accountable, pray for me in my weakness, bless me by their strengths, and find support from me as I exercise my gifts toward them and in the body. The absent church member does not know who’s hurting and cannot share either hurts or joys. The body loses.

3. They lose the regular diet of hearing the Word preached. Nothing discourages a pastor more than preparing and preaching a message from the Word anointed by the Spirit to empty pews. Adding insult to this injury, sometimes members who missed the service will come the very next week with a “problem” that the sermon they missed answered. God’s Word is the true antidote to discouragement, temptation, and fear (among a host of other battles). When believers forfeit their opportunity to hear the Word of God, they invite for themselves battles that they are ill-equipped to fight. Regular, private reading of the Word is critical for daily growth, but God exalts the preaching of the Word among the people of God as essential for spiritual health and growth (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

4. They teach their children what they value. The main reason children drop out of church is not the lack of apologetics or doctrinal training they receive; rather, children abandon church because their parents teach them—by their lives—that it’s not important. Ministry Best Practices lists reasons why kids abandon the faith, and offers this gem as reason 4: “Their parents are hypocrites and come across as ‘softly-committed-but-seemingly-good- church-folks’ for many years. The kids see that there is no real joy, no real integrity to their parents’ faith, so they either a) reject the church and never come to faith, or b) they ditch the church for a while and journey out to find a more authentic expression of their faith.”(2) Either parents neglect the house of God, or they invalidate during the week by their lives what they profess on Sunday; both of these failures train their children that Jesus is just not that important. Some parents even let their children decide if they will go to church. On no other subject do parents give their children a say in the habits of life—not school, not eating, not even brushing teeth—yet parents give to children the decision over church attendance. This action alone reinforces to children that parents don’t consider it in any way essential.

5. They lose the reward of regular service to others in the body. One of God’s promises to His people is the possibility of future reward; reward is based on using what you have for the glory of God. Every time the body assembles, opportunities exist for believers to use their gifts, talents, time, and finances to bless and help others. When believers attend one or two services in the month, they forsake those opportunities, robbing others of needed blessings and robbing themselves of future reward. Infrequent attenders lose the impact their presence, service, and encouragement offer to others in the body.

6. They lose the effectiveness of gifts exercised and resources employed in the kingdom. Churches are kingdom entities; every church is an outpost for the kingdom of God, displaying His glory and ministering in His name. When believers fail to attend, they diminish their kingdom impact; their witness to the lost may be neutralized, and their gifts and resources may be shelved. One of Jesus’ warnings comes to the servant who buries the talent entrusted to him rather than using it in the public forum. How many believers miss the privilege of investing in the lives of others for the King’s sake because they won’t make the time to be with God’s people regularly?

Declining attendance at its heart is a spiritual problem of kingdom priorities. This article is a plea to every believer to invest fully in the kingdom of God through his or her local church. In a day of busyness in lesser things and apathy over the main thing, God’s people ought to lead the way to set their priority and first love on God and His people—the local church where He has placed them to use their gifts, build up others, serve the body, and worship Him in spirit and in truth.


1 Thom Rainer, “The Number One Reason for the Decline in Church Attendance and Five Ways to Address It,” The Christian Post, August 23, 2013, https://www.christianpost.com/news/the- number-one-reason-for-the-decline-in-church-attendance-and-five-ways-to-address- it-102882/ (accessed October 25, 2017).

2 “Why Do Kids Leave the Church?” Ministry Best Practices, http://www.ministrybestpractices.com/2012/08/why-do-kids-leave-church.html (accessed October 25, 2017), emphasis in original. 

...from the Pastor

VACATION

 

Summer is here and vacation time is in full swing; this little note is to encourage Christ-followers to handle vacation time responsibly. Here are five tips for ensuring great vacations.

 

  1. Take a vacation! This may seem redundant, but our busy society has almost crowded out actual vacations. Take them, go, and relax. Your body needs a break, your mind needs a break, your emotions need a break. Take your vacation and do it without a shred of guilt. The world will survive without you.
  2. Take Christ on your vacation! If you’re a Christ-follower, you obviously will, since your body is His temple and His Spirit dwells in you. We need to be reminded, however, that we are His witnesses wherever we go, so we need to see even vacation as an opportunity to enjoy Him, love Him, and be available to Him for the blessing of others and for His glory.
  3. Take your vacation responsibly! If you’re a Christ-follower, make sure all your bases are covered. Inform your group you’ll be out, leave your tithes with your church while you’re gone, and provide substitutes if you have teaching or nursery duties (if you’re in a church, please serve in the nursery no matter your age; parents of small children need your ministry). Plan for someone to cover your mail and papers, care for your pets, and even check on your house. Leave a number for someone to call if there’s an emergency.
  4. Take your vacation wisely! Live within your means; if you can afford a simple vacation at a cabin in the mountains, take that vacation. If you can afford more, enjoy it, but don’t go into debt and come back in worse shape than you were before you left. If you’ll plan to set aside money every week for your vacation through the year, you can have a great vacation without a dime of debt. Add those extra blessings to that vacation fund, and it will grow to a great vacation.
  5. Take your vacation joyfully! Christ-followers ought to be those on the planet who enjoy the King’s creations to the fullest. Fill your days full of the best that is available, enjoy it to the hilt, and take pictures to have fun memories of the best of the trip. We are commanded to "love life,” so love it and enjoy it—all of life, including vacation—with all your might.

 

...from the pastor

MY FAVORITE MARRIAGE COUNSELING VERSE

Sitting next to a pastor frightens some people. Last week I was flying to Richmond to teach missionaries, and I ended up sitting by a young woman. Eventually we talked, and she found out that I was a pastor. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” She asked. “I’ve always wanted to ask a pastor; what do you think of interfaith marriage?” I told her my favorite verse for marriage counseling, and I asked her what that meant.  She admitted that, based on that verse, she could see that it would be problematic. 

My favorite verse for counseling couples about to be married, for counseling married couples, and for counseling people in marital issues, is found in Amos 3:3. The prophet writes, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” The prophet is speaking about walking with God, and the clear answer is, “No.” Agreement with God is the foundational premise for a relationship with Him. He is right, and we must conform to His Word; when the Bible says, “Enoch walked with God,” it pictures a relationship of mutuality as Enoch listened to and heeded God.

Amos’s words speak volumes to marital relationships as well. Some assume that the heart of biblical teaching is submission and authority, but this is not the heart of marriage. Marriage at its heart is two people who have agreed to walk with God together; no marriage will work unless two people agree on the road they will travel and they way that they will journey on that road.

In light of this verse, it is no wonder that God commands believers not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. They will pull in different directions, and the yoke will only create conflict. If one spouse is committed to going to heaven and the other spouse refuses to follow Christ, they will ultimately travel to two diametrically opposed destinations. The journey they take will only produce heartbreak and alienation unless one or the other renounces their path. The majority of such cases reveal that the unbeliever generally drags the believer down. 

Real marriage works best when two believers are yoked together in Christ to travel the same road of life—they commit to follow Christ as Lord and to serve Him together. They commit to rear their children in His ways, to serve together in a local church where their lives can reflect His love and their gifts can be exercised for His glory, and to seek Him together in prayer and the Word. They may occasionally disagree; then they employ biblical counsel to resolve that disagreement. The heart of marriage is joyful agreement with one another and God; such marriages fill life’s journey with joy and end well.

... from the Pastor

THE PATH OF REBELLION

2 Sam. 15:1-12

          Perhaps one of the saddest stories in the Bible is the story of Absalom. This young man literally “had it all.” He was handsome, wealthy, and powerful, and in line to become the next king. He could not wait on God, however, and tried to get what he thought God wanted his way. He rebelled against God and his father David. What does a young person in rebellion look like? Here are seven indicators of the path of rebellion in the life of a person.

 

A Rebellious Person will spend others’ wealth to promote himself (15:1). Absalom spent his father’s money to hire men to run before his chariot (something David never did). He had an attitude of entitlement that shouted, “I deserve it.” He also had an attitude of superiority that asserted, “I’m better than others.” These attitudes reinforced his rebellious heart and pushed him to spend money to “win friends and influence people”—money that was not his. Many today (in government and elsewhere) use other people’s money to win people, but that attitude only masks a heart of rebellion.

 

A Rebellious Person will criticize authorities to others to make his cause appear right (15:3-5). Absalom was happy to put himself in between his father and the people as a way to criticize his father and steal their affection. He listened to the grievances of others (15:2), and instead of honoring his father, he legitimized their gripes and presented himself as their champion. The Bible records that Absalom “stole the hearts” of the men of Israel; they weren’t his to take, but in his rebellion he won the hearts of others by a criticizing his dad behind his back while loving him to his face (2 Sam. 14:33).

 

A Rebellious Person will use a trusted position to win others to his side (15:6). Absalom’s role as one of David’s “chief ministers” (2 Sam. 8:18) gave him insight into kingdom workings and an entrance into the lives of others. While they may have come “to the king” for resolution, Absalom’s trusted position allowed him to insert himself between them and the king to win their loyalty and sow seeds of distrust toward his dad.

 

A Rebellious Person will lie about spiritual things to give his parents false assurance (15:7-8). Absalom lied about two spiritual things to gain his father’s trust: he lied about false vows that he had made, and he lied about coming back to “serve the LORD.” When I was in rebellion against my parents, I often used “church” things to deceive them and indulge evil habits and plans.

 

A Rebellious Person will sneak around to fulfill his desires (15:9-10). Absalom’s spies sent throughout the tribes reveal a heart of deception and rebellion; honest people don’t have to “sneak” around and use “spies.” Absalom’s rebellious heart caused him to engage in deceit on a grand scale.

 

A Rebellious Person will use others who are not involved to further his agenda (15:11). Absalom took 200 men from Jerusalem who went along “innocently” and didn’t know what was happening, but they made his rebellion look even more serious than it was. Rebels seek to involve others to justify their sin and promote their cause.

 

A Rebellious Person will cloak his sin in religious terms to justify his actions (15:12). “God told me to do it” is the motto of the rebellious; Absalom employs his father’s trusted counselor in his scheme, and Ahithophel, with an axe to grind because his granddaughter’s marriage was destroyed by David, gladly joins him. One truth played out again and again in Scripture is that evil men will always find counselors to approve of sin. There will always be someone—even a “religious leader”—who will help rebels justify their rebellion and cloak it religious terms.

 

A Rebellious Person will eventually pay the price for rebellion (2 Sam. 18:15). The price of rebellion is incredibly high. Absalom lost his kingdom, his wealth, his respect, and eventually his life. Rebellion ate away everything valuable. His example reminds every person of rebellion’s consequences (1 Sam. 15:22-23). God deals harshly with rebellion, but loves the repentant heart. Absalom would have had the kingdom had he only waited; rebellion cost it all. 

 

... from the pastor

Leadership Lessons from a Rejected Ruler

One of the great values of reading through the Bible every year is the insight God gives over time. Each year new light shines on the pages of the Word, and each year God exposes some truth—there all along—that He holds in hand for the one who “listens daily to [Him], watching daily at [His] gates, waiting at the posts of [His] doors” (Prov. 8H34). Saulʼs life offers lessons on leadership for those who learn by example and precept.

Saul had the honor of reigning as the first king of the united monarchy in Israel. He began well; he was humble, he was obedient, he was respectful of God and His prophet. He was the peopleʼs choice for king—tall, handsome, and wealthy (1 Sam. 9H2; 10H23). His life spiraled downward, however, in an ever-increasing trajectory of failure, sin, and blame that cost him his kingdom, his sons, and ultimately his life. Saulʼs legacy offers powerful lessons for those interested in leadership; sadly, they all are written in a minor key and all teach what not to do.

  1. 1  Saul started humbly, but eventually he began to believe his own press. He refused to wait on Samuel to offer sacrifices as God had commanded, and in his impatience offered the burnt offering for the battle. Samuel arrived immediately after he finished, rebuked him for his folly (1 Sam. 13H13), and told him that his kingdom would not continue, for Saul was not a man after Godʼs own heart (13H14). God honors the man who waits on Him rather than promoting himself.

  2. 2  Saul spoke foolishly in a public oath that hurt his people and endangered the life of his son. When Jonathan started a rout of the Philistines, Saul put the entire army under the threat of a curse, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies” (1 Sam. 14H24). Both the curse itself and the emphasis in it     (“. . . I . . . my”) show a self-focus not befitting a monarch serving the living God. Had not the people intervened, it would have cost him the life of his son Jonathan (14H45). God honors the man who guards his words because he cares more about Godʼs honor than his own publicity.

  3. 3  Saul worried more about what men thought about him than what God told him to do. Samuel sent him to slay the Amalekites for attacking Israel when they came out of Egypt (15H2); he was to take neither prisoners nor prizes. He did not obey the Lord fully; instead, he blamed the people (15H21) for his failure to do what he knew God had commanded. His incomplete repentance further compounded his attitude; he only wanted to worship with Samuel so that he would be honored before men (15H30). No wonder Solomon later wrote, “The fear of man brings a snare” (Prov. 29H25). God honors the man who fears Him more than men and takes responsibility for his own sin.

  4. 4  Saul lost courage when he needed it most; Goliathʼs size—someone finally taller than Saul —showed up his cowardice as well as his lack of faith. His willingness to send a “youth” (1 Sam. 17H33) to fight a giant speaks volumes. Since God commands His leaders to be courageous (Deut. 31H6; Joshua 1H6, 7, 9), a failure in courage is a sin. God honors the man who chooses the courageous path even though he is trembling.

  5. 5  Saul let the green-eyed monster of jealousy devour his heart. Instead of rejoicing when David wrought victory for Israel, Saul demoted and finally chased away his best warrior at a time when Israel most needed strong-hearted soldiers for the battle. He whined over the singing of songs about David (1 Sam. 18H8), sought to kill him outright with a spear, and sent his soldiers to kill him at home. Each scheme failed, but Saulʼs preoccupation with David gave his enemies strongholds in the land (1 Sam. 23H1, 27; 28H1). God honors the man who rejoices when his companions succeed because he is busy building Godʼs kingdom and not his own.

  6. 6  Saul attacked and killed the servants of the Lord because they helped his “enemy” (1 Sam. 22). Saul had been reduced to appealing to pity (“there is not one of you who feels sorry for me”—22H8) from his soldiers in order to seek out David; when he found out where he had been, he killed the LORDʼs priests (22H18). Saulʼs jealousy had so corroded his heart and seared his conscience that he had no compunction to condemn, attack, and destroy God-called men and their families. God honors the man who honors His servants. He ascribed his own evil motives to the priestʼs innocent assistance, and brushed aside the priestʼs protestations of Davidʼs loyalty.

  7. 7  Saul confessed his folly only once, but once was enough; God provided David with a situation where Saul was exposed and David had opportunity, but David refrained from killing Saul (“Who can stretch out his hand against the LORDʼs anointed, and be guiltless?”—26H9). When Saul responded to Davidʼs kindness, he confessed, “I have played the fool” (26H21). He never said it again, but out it came, defining his reign and exposing his heart. God honors the man who so lives in the fear of the LORD that, though he does foolish things, does not end as a fool.

  8. 8  Saul sought the counsel of the world instead of God. Like men today who listen to lawyers, accountants, and stockbrokers rather than the Word of God, Saul turned to a medium to conduct a séance (28H8). Godʼs rebuke from this experience so unnerved him that he gave up; he went into battle without Godʼs protection or His leadership, and so brought defeat on his kingdom. God honors the man who treasures more the Word of God than all the counsel of man.

  9. 9  Saulʼs death testified to his failure; he died alone and abused, after the deaths of his sons and all his soldiers in one day (31H6). He deserted God to chase a loyal servant, so God deserted him. He was even killed by the very Philistines whom David had been defeating. Saulʼs rebellion cost him more than he had ever dreamed. His kingdom lasted only one generation; his reputation was tarnished forever by his sin; his only true mourner was the man whom he had pursued unjustly; and, his name became a synonym for poor leadership. God honors the man who may live in obscurity but obeys Him. As Adrian Rogers said time and again, “The faith that falters at the finish was faulty from the first.”

  10. 10  Saulʼs failure may be traced to his lack of Bible literacy. Saul failed at the outset because he did not listen to the Word of God with its clear instruction for kings. Had Saul bothered to read and copy the Book of the Law as God commanded kings to do through Moses (Deut. 17H18), he would have seen in both Exodus and Deuteronomy that God had sworn to have war forever with Amalek and that one day He would call upon His people to “blot out Amalek from remembrance on the earth” (Deut. 25H19). Further he would have also learned the behavior of kings and honored God rather than ending in disgrace. God honors the man who lives in His Word daily.

Learn the lessons Saul teaches, or perhaps become one who repeats them. 

... From the Music Minister

Psalm 131

A Psalm of David

1

Lord, my heart is not proud;

    my eyes are not haughty.

I don’t concern myself with matters too great

    or too awesome for me to grasp.

2

Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,

    like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.

    Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

3

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord— 

    now and always.

 

 

A contemplation:

We all go through seasons, both calms and upheavals, 

Each week after month after year. 

With snow all around as the world slows down, 

The word of the Lord speaks clear. 

When life is bustling and the windy storm rustling

It always seems hard to hear. 

 

More often than not we’re stuck in that spot

Where life all around seems drear.

‘Midst times of mourning, appearing without warning, 

To the Father we must draw near. 

Most vital of word, “put your hope in the Lord”, 

And find joy in the drop of a tear. 

... From the Youth Pastor

I am not God. 

(Disclaimer: This was originally written several years ago as a conversation and reminder to myself about student ministry. A few changes have been made and it now applies to me in parenting as well. I believe that it may also be helpful to you as you walk through the adventures know as ministry and parenting.)

 

Youth ministry is a beautiful thing. To be a youth pastor is a smattering of challenges rolled together into a nice little package of blessings. In no other way does one have the opportunity to impact so many students in a way that truly counts towards eternity. Even though I, like you, have had many hard days, long nights and extended time away from my family, I love the adventure that is known as youth ministry. It has taken me a while to get to the point where I can truly enjoy and see the greatness of this calling. This is due in part to the ever-present challenges that are common to all of “our” youth groups. It is mostly due to the fact that I came into this whole thing with several wrong assumptions. Excuse the slang but, “I had my job description all jacked up.”

 

First, I thought what my students needed most was a buddy. I thought if I could just “be cool” with them then that would give me the street cred that I needed to speak the truths of God into their lives. That method came up wanting. My group, like yours, is not immune to the destruction of the family. I have always had several students that are hurting because of their pasts. I also have had several students that have “interesting” parents. Interesting in that I know that these parents exist because I see the proof (the students) but outside of that, they are a no-show. This led me to my next misconception in thinking that the students needed me to be a father figure to them. If I could love them in a fatherly way, then they would in turn trust me to minister to them. Strike two. Then there was the third idea that I was some kind of superhero. I was mistaken in thinking that I could do something to magically fix or protect my students from pain. I/We can’t. I still struggle with all three of these false views of student ministry. Quite honestly I always will because I do think that certain areas of youth ministry require us to walk closely to the line of each of these places. However the greatest realization in this process has been both freeing and empowering for this ministry. While not the most revolutionary of ideas it is most certainly true.

 

I am not God!

 

I know that right now you are probably hammering that statement with every 90’s child’s favorite term, “Duh.” I don’t think or believe that I am God but sometimes my actions or feelings demonstrate otherwise. I often allow myself to believe or act in ways that say, “I understand all, know all, can handle all and desire to do so.” As a matter of fact there is an ever present saying among the youth in the ministry that I lead, “Brock knows all.” This comes from the curse of finding out every detail about the students that I minister to. I say curse because I flat out wish I didn’t know about all of their drama, family issues, hurts, and foolish decisions. I want to scream in reply to their statement, “NO I DON’T NOR DO I WANT TO.” Deep down, however, I like it (Confession Time). It makes me feel special and important and like I can do something about it. I am in my 7th year of vocational student ministry so I am still one of the new kids on the block but I am slowly beginning to see the a truth that is absolutely freeing. Hence this message to you (mostly me) about what I have learned thus far. 

 

We are not God!! The great thing is that we are not supposed to be. We do not know all! Praise Jesus. We can fix nothing! Though this is a jagged little pill to swallow, it is absolutely freeing and transformational when it comes to working with students… or anyone, for that matter. It is freeing because it allows me to get back to what I am supposed to be doing in the first place. I was not called to be a superhero. God did not call me to be Him but to talk about Him and to point people to Him. I am slowly realizing that the only thing I can offer His students is myself (time), prayer (concern), and His word (answers). If anyone coming behind me into student ministry were to ask me, which would be shocking, what I would teach them about daily ministry these would be the only 3 things I would share with them. I would round it all out with the truth that like adults, students are not something that we can figure out. Not because they are bad, but because they are ever morphing. The moment that I sit back and think that I have them figured out I have just become negligent of my calling and useless to the King. Throughout His word God frees us from being Him when it comes to knowing people. Here is one example: 

 

Lord, you have examined me

and know all about me.

You know when I sit down and when I get up.

You know my thoughts before I think them.

You know where I go and where I lie down.

You know everything I do.

Lord, even before I say a word,

you already know it.

You are all around me—in front and in back—

and have put your hand on me.

Your knowledge is amazing to me;

it is more than I can understand.

Psalm 139:1-6

 

These 6 verses make me want to scream for joy when it comes to youth ministry. They make me want to hide in fear when it comes to being a man. I am not God… He is! He knows everything there is to know about us as His creation, His children and His friends. Because He knows all things, we are allowed to focus on what He has called us to do. Give our time, our concern and His answers to the students that He has entrusted to us for such a time as this. (That should make us tremble.)

 

I have a great pastor, seriously I mean great. He will probably read this for editing purposes because he is a grammar snob, so a little schmoozing never hurt anyone. All kidding aside I completely mean this. I have several reasons that I think this but I am most thankful for the lessons that he has taught me about ministry. These next 3 points I have watched him live and the Lord has greatly used him to point people to Jesus; which should be our only actual goal. 

 

TIME

Your students don't need you but they need you. This is absolutely confusing, but it is nonetheless true. Your students don’t need you as a parent, a buddy, an answer or anything else that we so often fall victim to believing. They simply need you. They want to know that you are available when they come. Are you available to talk? Listen? Listen some more? You don’t need to understand, and you probably won’t. (Note: Beware saying, “I understand.” You don’t. We are not students in today’s world and therefore have no background to say these words. Remember you are not God.) They simply want to know that you care and that can only be displayed in your time spent with them. All the normal youth functions are great ways to do this. School lunches, Wednesday nights, after services, camps, and your home being constantly filled with students (make limitations on the last one for your family’s sake.) However I have found that the things that make more lasting impact are the intentional conversations with your students. Do you care about their latest break up or other school drama? Nope!! However do you care about them as they wade through the seemingly world ending issues that they face each day? This will lead to some majorly draining conversations about topics that you haven't thought about since they rocked your world back in the day. Give them the time that you wish someone had given you. It will pay dividends for the ministry, their relationship with the church, and more importantly their relationship with Jesus. Nothing will give you more credibility with your students than the time that you invest in them. So put the extra chairs and couches in your office that non verbally say, “Come in, I want you to sit, talk, and feel welcome.” God went into the garden to spend time with Adam and Eve because He desired to do so. It was intentional and that should be lived out each day by those of us who are called by Him to serve His students.

 

CONCERN

** Disclaimer: This can be dangerous. Approach with caution!

I am serious about this warning. We can become obsessed with our students. I don't mean in some creepy way but we can become so involved with our students’ issues that they absolutely become the main thing when they were never supposed to be that. The main thing is Jesus. To quote my father in law, “Keep the main thing, the main thing.” We are drawn to these issues because they scream out as a different story. We, as sinners ourselves, are drawn to lesser stories than Jesus. His Cross, and Him crucified. We are obsessed with other stories. If you don't believe me then look at the current television lineups. Reality shows. Other people’s stories that offer more than entertainment (if it can be called that) but instead a different story to get lost in. Your students don’t need you to live in their concerns, problems or anxieties with them. They need you to pray for them and point them to The Father that is already near to them in the midst of the chaos. You are already spending time with them and showing them that you are concerned, now do something about it. Take all of their concerns to the Father. Pray for your students by name everyday. It is amazing the amount of love that you will gain for them as you practice this discipline. This is perhaps one of the most rewarding yet invisible acts of the ministry. God knows what is best for HIS students, so entrust them to Him. Let Him do a mighty work among them. No one will see you praying for them. They may not even know. Could there be anything more important than, “boldly approaching the throne of grace” with the names of the students that He has entrusted to you? Just think of the company that you share. Romans 8:34 says that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. That means that when you take your students’ names to the Father that He is hearing from both Jesus and you. Now that is a dynamic duo. This will produce fruit but don't fall victim to looking for it. Take your/their concerns to the throne and let Him do a mighty work among them. You are not God!

 

ANSWERS

I read books…a lot. If you enjoy reading then we are both part of a dying breed. People simply don't read anymore. I once asked my students what the last book they read was. I got answers along the lines of, “I have never read a full book” ; “I don't like to read.” “Reading is boring, give me the movie.” I was devastated for their sakes. When I read I often find myself reading books about youth ministry, today’s culture, and all of the other ministerial answer booklets that we are so drawn to.  I have realized that they are of no help. By the time that most of them are published and delivered the teens have done that teen thing again and morphed into something different. As Peter so wisely wrote in his first letter, “The word of God endures forever.” Your students don't need wisdom from books. We would never think of taking a book that was written in the 70’s about students and using insights from it to teach our students today. Why is today’s information any more relevant? God’s word is vastly different. He knows His students, infinitely loves them, and desires for them to know Him. When giving answers to your students, give them His Word. We are often victims of believing our own press. This leads us to believe that we can offer answers to students that will have eternal impact on them. The only problem is that we are not eternal. If you want a good humbling session before you give counsel to a student or students, read Job 38 - 41 and put yourself into Job’s shoes. That will put a limit on your words and a damper on your self cheerleading. We have nothing to offer when it comes to advice. I know, I know, you want to tell them about your life experiences and how you walked through them. I am not saying that your life experiences aren’t valuable but seriously (Job 38 - 41) what do they compare to God’s experience and knowledge? I say this from a position of my counsel always being, “Don't do what I did, I was an idiot” (I should probably change that “was” to an “am”). Give your students counsel from the Word of God. The best thing that we can do is to share with them the truth that they can seek His Word for His answers and His ways. Not much job security in that but If your students learn to seek Him instead of you, then you have completed your task well.

 

In conclusion I want to thank you. I know that I may not know you but I truly mean that. I love students. I know that God has specifically called me to serve among them for His Name’s sake. I know that He desires for them to hear that they are not the future of the church but the current church and therefore have a major role to play in it today. I greatly appreciate each and every one of you that is in the work of student ministry; digging in the ditches and waiting on God to provide the water.  Live free in knowing that we are not God, nor are we supposed to be. We are simply supposed to be His ambassadors among His students and to point them toward Him.

...from the Pastor

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2017 has dawned, and it’s a good time to refocus. Forward focus is critical; surprisingly, churches move forward most effectively by being tethered to their biblical roots. These roots properly understood and applied ought to drive all that we do.  What are the roots of our church family?

  • Jesus is LORD—He is Lord of all (Acts 10:36), is the Head of the church, and deserves preeminence (Col. 1:18).
    • Pastors and deacons are servants, not rulers (2 Cor. 4:5).
    • The church exists by His power and for His glory (Rom. 11:36).
  • The Bible is the very Word of God—all true (2 Tim. 3:16-17), unbreakable (John 10:35), and the final arbiter of heaven and hell, time and eternity, and death and life (Matt. 24:35).
  • All people are sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23), separated from God (Eph. 2:1-3), and in desperate need of restoration to God (Rom. 3:20).
  • Sinners can only be reconciled to God by the death of Jesus the Messiah as the final offering for sin—His death and resurrection, received by faith, bring forgiveness of sins and restoration to a right relationship with God (Rom. 10:9-13).
  • Faith cannot be coerced; it is the voluntary and free response to God’s gracious initiative (Eph. 2:8-9).
  • The church is a covenant community of baptized followers of Christ who commit to God and to one another to gather regularly for worship, witness, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry at home and abroad. Attendance is not mandatory; rather, it is essential.

It Was Always On His Mind

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It was always on His mind. Before the first star was ever hung on nothing, before the first snowflake ever fell, before the first pair were placed in the Garden, it was on His mind. When the cunning serpent hissed his poisonous lies to the guileless couple, it was on His mind. When they ate the fruit and lost the glory, it was on His mind. When He killed the innocent animal to cover their shame, it was on His mind.

It was on His mind when Abraham raised the knife to slay his son, and the ram was provided as a substitute. It was on His mind when Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave. When every Israeli home in Egypt had blood on the doorposts and the death angel passed over, it was on His mind. It was on His mind when the children of Israel offered a sacrifice in the desert, and fire from heaven consumed the sacrifice, demonstrating that the sacrifice was accepted by heaven.

It was on His mind when Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and everyone who looked lived. It was on His mind when Rahab hung the crimson thread in the window of Jericho, and faith saved a scarlet woman. When Boaz played the part of kinsman-redeemer and lifted Ruth to Judah’s tribe, it was on His mind.

It was on His mind when the shepherd boy slung the stone that killed the giant, and when that same boy-king failed, still it was on His mind. When the prophet proclaimed that one day a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, it was on His mind; but when that same prophet spoke of another day when that same servant would be “wounded for our transgressions,” those inspired words rolled forth from His own heart, for it was on His mind.

It was on His mind when Israel’s sin divided their kingdom and then sent them into captivity, and as well when they returned to rebuild their demolished temple.

When Malachi, the last of the prophets spoke of the Sun rising with healing in His wings, it was on His mind. During the four hundred silent years, as Israel yearned for the coming One, it was on His mind.

It was on His mind when a virgin girl conceived in a once-for-all miracle, and when an older carpenter heard the name he was to give this boy. “You will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

On that glorious night when angels announced to shepherds that a Savior had been born, when He entered the arena of human history not as a king but as any other ordinary Jewish kid, born not in a home but in a stable in David’s town, it was on His mind. Even as He entered this globe, took on this flesh, He said, “Behold I come–in the volume of the book it is written of Me–to do Your will, O God.”

It was on His mind when His parents dedicated Him in the temple, and Simeon held Him to speak of the day of Israel’s redemption. It was on His mind when His parents took Him to Egypt for protection and prophecy. It was on His mind as He returned again to Galilee to grow up in the carpenter’s shop, working with wood.

It was on His mind at the age of twelve, when He tarried in Jerusalem after the feast, answering His mother’s anxious enquiry, “Did you not know that I would be about My Father’s business?”

As He worked in the carpenter’s shop, the artist Holman Hunt has painted a picture of Him at the end of a hard day, the setting sun sending His shadow against the back wall in the eerie picture of a cross, for it was on His mind.

It was on His mind as He went to hear His cousin John preach, and stepped into the waters of baptism to identify with sinners. It was on His mind as He went into the wilderness to face the foe, the enemy of our souls–all alone–to wrestle in the spirit with the deceiver and cling to the sword of the Lord–“it is written!”

It was on His mind as He returned in the power of the Spirit to proclaim in the town of Nazareth where He grew up, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).

It was on His mind as He proceeded to give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf; indeed, it was much on His mind every time He confronted the powers of evil and cast the demons out.

It was on His mind as His disciples awakened Him in a ship already swamped with water under the eye of a deadly storm. It was on His mind when virtue–power–life–went out of Him as the woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of His garment. It was on His mind.

It was on His mind as preached and taught, telling the crowd and His followers about the kingdom of God and calling them to take up their cross and follow Him.

When He entered the city of Jerusalem as the hosannas echoed down the dusty streets, it was on His mind. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and even the Romans sought to outwit Him, but at every turn, His answers proved both appropriate and infuriating, because it was on His mind.

He sent His disciples to prepare the Passover meal, and as they ate that night, that which was always on His mind surfaced and He talked to His friends of His soon sufferings–but they could not hear, for what was on His mind was not on theirs.

It was on His mind when He led them to the Garden where He was used to praying, and as they slept, He prayed–the fear and shame despising–so that He would fulfill that for which He came. He prayed in agony, seeking strength for the day, seeking a way out but refusing at the next breath to take it, and finally relenting in trust. It was on His mind.

It was on His mind when the soldiers came–led by one of His own who actually kissed Him to identify Him as a friend–and led Him off to the cross. As He watched one betray, another deny, and all depart, it was on His mind.

It was brought to the forefront of His thinking as He was tried illegally by His own people, under the cover of night, and charged with crimes He did not commit. It was on His mind as He was delivered to the Romans, brought before the governor, and condemned to die.

It was on His mind as the crown of thorns was driven into His head, as the soldiers tore the beard from His cheeks, as they beat Him with rods, whips and cat-o-nine-tails until His body was in rags and the very muscles themselves showed through where the flesh was torn off. Though He belonged in the ICU, instead He was forced to carry the cross of His execution up to Golgotha hill to be crucified as an evildoer. Finally falling, they forced an African man, Simon of Cyrene, to carry that cross.

Now the soldiers threw Him down on the ground and bound His hands and feet. Then they nailed Him to that cross, stood it up in the air, and dropped it in the 3-foot hole in the ground that held it up.

It was on His mind as the thieves crucified alongside of Him mocked, but when one repented, He promised Him paradise–that very day. It was on His mind as He remembered care for His mother to the disciple He loved, and as He listened to the insults of the soldiers, the Jews, and the crowd. The pain was excruciating, but the horror ahead He knew held no limits.

Suspended between heaven and earth, between time and eternity, He watched the midday sun grow black as it refused to shine, felt the silence of the crowd as this unusual solar event quieted them, and then came the great pain–as He cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” The sin of all humankind, the holiness of the Father, and the love of redemption coalesced at that fateful juncture as the Man of Sorrows bore it all–all alone.

As the day waned, so did His life. In order to finish well, He cried out, “I thirst,” being barely able to speak because His life was draining out–literally. The soldier who thrust the sour wine to his lips permitted Him to utter the final cry–the cry of triumph, the cry that laid to rest what had been on His mind all the days of His flesh–“It is finished.”

The head that bore the thorny crown bowed low, the chin rested on the chest where soon the heart that beat inside would cease and be pierced by a soldier’s spear, ending any speculation that He did not die, and He who had come to make wrong right and to redeem mankind–He who knew no sin and did no wrong–died.

The earth shook, the graves were opened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom–no longer needed, no longer separated. Jesus was dead. Sin had done its worst, the devil had slain the last Adam, the grave was about to receive the second Man.

Joseph of Arimethea took the body, wrapped it in burial cloths, and because the Sabbath was so close, laid that body in a tomb hewn out of stone where no one had yet had been buried. Now He lies silent and still, death’s pallor resting on His cheek. The body has been beaten beyond recognition, torn by human hands, and murdered by executioners whose only job was to make sure that He was dead. 

Still fearful, however, the Jews asked Pilate for a guard, and a Roman quaternion, 16 soldiers in 4 groups of 4, stood constant watch at the tomb to satisfy the governor’s annoying religious co-rulers.

On the seventh day, God rested. As did the Jews. As did the disciples. As did He.

But on the first day, the re-creation began. The Father, who started all things by a word in the first creation, spoke to the dead body of the God-man, and He arose. He passed through the burial cloths, rose in triumph, and defeated death, hell, and the grave. As the day dawned, the earth quaked, the guards were startled by men whose brightness and majesty drove terror into their hearts, and in fear they fled, while one of them rolled away the stone from the door–not to let the One inside out, but to let the world in to see an empty tomb. The women who came to anoint the body found no body to anoint, but rather came face to face with the One who had died and now lived again. He is alive. The cross was on His mind from the time He came into the world to redeem sinners–He lived for that day so that we could be free.

Is the cross on your mind today? Are you truly free? Do you have such a compelling reason to live?

Ten Reasons Why I Believe in Christ

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1. The Prophecies of the Old Testament

The prophecies of the Old Testament point to His coming and confirm His work. After the fall in the garden, Eve is promised the Seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) who will bruise the head of the serpent; Abraham is promised a Seed in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed; Jacob tells of Judah’s descendant who will rule the nations; Moses promises a Prophet like Himself; David is promised a ruler on His throne who will reign forever; Micah foretells that He will come from Bethlehem; and, Isaiah announces that a virgin will bear a son called Immanuel.

2. His Amazing Birth

He is born to a virgin named Mary in real time in Bethlehem. Though many scoff at the virgin birth and imply that the ancients were apt to believe anything, that very scoffing proves only the folly of the scoffer. The ancients may not have had modern training, but they certainly understood pregnancy and its cause—they were not stupid! Joseph was ready to put away his fiancée because he knew he did not impregnate her, and he only believed when the angel spoke to him. 

3. His Matchless Life

Even a casual reading reveals One like no other. He accepts the outcast, heals the leper, opens the eyes of the blind, feeds the multitudes, and raises the dead. He elevates the place of women, He proclaims good news to the poor, He exposes the hypocrisy of the religious all the while shining in an impeccable righteousness that is without spot. 

4. His Incredible Teaching

A careful reading of the four Gospels, however, unveils One whose teaching calls into question human assumptions, demands a standard of perfection, and points to Himself with such audacity—His claims alone are like no other’s—that either He is who He claims to be, or, as C. S. Lewis has said, He is a liar or a lunatic.

5. His Inglorious Death on the Cross

His death is not merely a martyr’s demise or an noble example; no, His death on the cross is the fulfillment of every Old Testament type of the innocent dying on behalf of the guilty. He is the Ram caught in the thicket to substitute for Isaac; He is the final Passover lamb slain to avert the death angel; He is the final Day of Atonement sacrifice that offers once-for-all forgiveness; He is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s vision in his 53rd chapter.

6. His Glorious Resurrection

He alone has conquered death. The resurrection is the centerpiece of the Christian faith. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christians are not well-meaning people who believe in something (“It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere” malarkey), but rather fools who ought to be pitied. The apostle Paul said that if Christ is not risen, then our faith is both empty and useless, and we are fools (1 Cor. 15:14, 17, 19). The gospel accounts and the letters of Paul were written when people were still alive who saw, and they could have been contradicted, but they were attested. Thousands of Jewish believers in Christ changed their day of worship from Sabbath to the first day of the week because they believed in the resurrection. The apostles all died for the resurrection—while people sometimes die for something they believe to be true but is actually a lie, no one willingly dies for something he or she knows to be a lie. All Peter or James or John had to do to avoid suffering would be to produce a body, but they could not—for He had risen from the dead.

7. His Return and the Reality of Death

Eternity is too long to bank on without Christ. Jesus promised to return to claim His own and to judge the world; one day He shall ride on a white horse to judge the nations with a sharp sword from His mouth. He said, “What shall it profit someone to gain the whole world and lose his own soul, or what shall a person give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt. 16:26)

8. His Mediation

He alone reveals the Father and He alone is the way to the Father. He said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:10). He refracts the pure light of the Father so that humanity can see and know God. He also said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). He did not claim to show the way, but to be the Way. Jesus is the centrality of the Christian life—not religious rituals, not political opinions—Jesus Himself. He demands to be followed as Master, trusted as Savior, and obeyed as Lord, because He is Lord of all.

9. Humanity's Sinful Condition

The Bible proclaims what every heart knows, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). C. S. Lewis wrote, “Our longings give us away.” We know innately that we do not live up to our own standards, and flashes of our true condition condemn us when our selfish, proud hearts show themselves, in spite of all of our attempts to cover them up. Humans create plans in the vain hope of earning favor with God through religious rituals or self-mortifying deeds, but they cannot remove the dark stain of sin. In fact, these very rituals veil the heart and dishonor God, who says that “all of our righteous acts are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). None is good enough to enter heaven; only a perfect Savior can redeem and rescue fallen humanity.

10. The Reality of Forgiveness of Sin and Hope for the Future

Jesus promises forgiveness to all who come to Him and rest. His forgiveness produces true joy and lasting hope. No other world religion promises genuine forgiveness of every sin and lasting hope by grace rather than by works, but Jesus promises this very truth indeed. All who believe in Him receive eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, and genuine hope. He has changed my life; He will change your life.

Getting What You Want From God

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Why do people come to Christ and His churches?

To be honest, they come for many reasons. Some come because they are about to get married or have a baby, and they have no true circle of friends for a shower or wedding. Some come because they have financial or social needs no other group is meeting. Some come because of tradition or even the pressure of relatives. One brother even told me that he came to church as a youth to meet girls. While none of these reasons are necessarily wrong, they are insufficient for a true understanding of church. In fact, most who come for these reasons alone eventually drop out.

Perhaps a biblical story might explain this idea. Luke's Gospel records the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers (Luke 17:11-19). Ten lepers--men whose physical affliction made them social outcasts and religious rejects--saw Jesus; from afar they called out to Him to have mercy on them. He commanded them to go show themselves to the priests and offer what the Law commanded for cleansing. The Bible says, "As they went, they were healed." Excitedly, they hurried on their way--all but one. This man--a Samaritan (a half-breed despised by the Jews)--returned to give thanks to and worship Jesus. Jesus responds with a question and an affirmation. His question: "Where are the nine? Were not ten healed?" His affirmation: "Go in peace; your faith has saved you" (17:19). All ten received what they wanted from Jesus; nine wanted only healing, but one knew he needed more. He realized that Jesus is not just a Healer; He is Savior and Lord. This Samaritan alone went away with a life changed both outside and inside.

You may have come to church for many reasons; if you do not meet Jesus as Lord of all and Savior of sinners, you miss out. You may end up with gifts from your shower, help for your temporary financial need, or even a new circle of friends, but the Lord Jesus offers genuine love, unconditional acceptance, and eternal purpose to all who bow the knee to Him and trust Him truly as Lord. Come, but be sure that you get what you truly need, not just what you want.

Ten Truths About Offenses

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  1. Offenses must come (Luke 17:1)
  2. Mature Christians will not take such offenses to heart (Ps. 119:165)
  3. Most offenses are meant to be ignored (Eccl. 7:21-22 )
  4. Offenses that cannot be ignored are to be addressed properly
  5. The offended person cannot tell others about the offense until he/she has gone to the offender to restore the relationship
  6. The person who involves others in the offense without seeking restoration commits a second and greater offense (Prov. 11:3; 18:8)
  7. The offended one must go to the offender and seek restoration (Lev. 19:16-18)
  8. The offender must repent or go through the process of church discipline (Mt. 18)
  9. The circle of confession about the offense can never be greater than the circle of knowledge about the offense (Prov. 25:8-10)
  10. The offender must get right if he realizes he has offended a brother (Mt. 5:23-24)

Why Develop Discipline?

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You’re on a mission trip hundreds of miles away from home. You’re involved in work you probably don’t do on a daily basis. To top it all off, you’re asked to have a devotional time every day before you go out. Why in the world are you doing all of this stuff? Why should you develop discipline, especially in the area of your Christian life?

You’ve probably had to develop discipline in some area of your life before this day. Perhaps you’ve learned to play a musical instrument—the piano, or perhaps the guitar. You remember well the tedium of practice; if you’re honest, some days you were bored out of your mind. If you stayed with it, however, you found that you eventually could play pretty well, and you may even now be using that talent.

Perhaps you don’t play an instrument, but you play a sport. If you play football, you remember the grueling summer drills when you ran laps and sprints, and when you did agility drills. Many days you wanted to quit—practice just wasn’t what you had in mind when you signed up—but you kept at it, and now you enjoy the sport. No matter what sport you learned, it required discipline to excel.

Maybe you’re not into either one of these hobbies, but you take your schoolwork seriously. You don’t want merely to pass—you want to excel and win a scholarship. You stay up nights, you write papers that express your thought clearly, you develop your ideas, or you learn every notation on the periodic table, just to be ready to pass the test with ease.

Every person who develops discipline knows of a time between the beginning of their journey and theattainment of their goal that requires discipline. Discipline means the willingness to stick to what’s important when it doesn’t feel like it so that when it does matter, you’re ready. Tom Landry, the legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys, put it this way, “Discipline is getting men to do what they don’t want to do to become what they want to become.” The writer of Hebrews put it this way, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

What is the “harvest of righteousness”? What is it that you “want to be”? Every musician hates practice, but no musician wants to blow it at the recital (or worse yet, in front of your peers when you are asked to perform). No football player likes “two-a-days,” but every player loves to win the big game in front of the crowds. Nobody likes studying, but the student who receives the scholarship for his or her grades sees the fruit of all the hard work pay off.

We who are Christians are promised a Day when we will stand before Jesus. We won’t be judged for our sin, for that took place at the cross. The Lord Jesus will judge us, however; Paul writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). On that Day, we don’t want to be ashamed. On that Day, we want to hear Him say, “Well done.” So, do what you must this day—develop the painful discipline that seems slow and unrewarded—but keep in mind the Day, because on that Day the disciplines of this day that you do—or do not—will matter.

Prayer Journal

Because I've been asked to do this, like, a million times (well, actually, Joe Andrews asked, but my conscience kept nagging me to do it), I am writing out some basic ideas for a prayer journal. I've kept a prayer journal for at least two decades now, and I make changes to the journal regularly. A prayer journal is not a legalistic formula that I feel like I have to finish; rather, my prayer journal helps me accomplish several goals for my own life. I want to be a man of prayer who prays regularly and specifically; I want to pray for people regularly and keep my promises; I want to invest in the lives of others, and prayer is the greatest investment I can make in people's lives; I want to fulfill the pastoral role of intercessor for the flock as I stand between them and the world (Acts 6:4; Ps. 106:23); and, I want to be more like Jesus, and Jesus is right now praying interceding for His people by name in the heavenlies (Hebrews 7:25).

 

Now as to the specifics of praying for people

This is not in my journal per se, but I begin every day with a season of prayer, praying Scripture verses for the people for whom I will pray. I pray verses of thanks (Ps. 118:24; 136:1; 1 Thess. 5:16-18), I pray verses of dedication (Romans 6:10-13; 12:1-2), I surrender to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to fill me (Ps. 81:10; Eph. 5:18), I pray verses Paul prayed for the people of God (Rom. 15:13; Phil. 1:9-11; Eph. 3:14-21; Col. 1:9-14; Col. 4:12), I pray verses for growth in grace (2 Pet. 3:18; Rom. 8:29), and I pray verses of warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-5 and sometimes Eph. 6:10-18). I also pray through the Model Prayer of Matt. 6:9-13 to remind me of its great truths:

  1. Privilege to Call God Father and the Price He paid so I could
  2. Praise to God for He is Worthy ("Hallowed be Your Name")
  3. Purpose for life and ministry ("Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven")
  4. Provision for every day ("Give us this day our daily bread")--moral, physical, emotional, spiritual
  5. Pardon for self and others--reminding me to forgive those who have hurt me
  6. Protection from myself and from the Evil one ("lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one")
  7. Power for service and glory to God ("for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory")

 

My Journal is made up of 8 sections:

Daily

    • I pray for my family--nuclear and extended
    • I pray for some special people in my life and around it--both lost and saved
    • I pray for my church family--all the regular attenders and about 40 lost people in and around our church
    • I pray for the school--administration, faculty, staff, donors, trustees, students, alumni, finances, revival
    • I pray for our government leaders (I have a list of national, state, and local leaders and their families)

    Sunday

      I pray through the entire church roll

      Monday

        I pray for the school--faculty (& wives and children), trustees, donors, and students

        Tuesday

          I pray for the school staff, spouses, and families (although I actually pray for them by name several times each week from memory)

          Wednesday

            I pray for friends that are special and lost friends who need Christ

            Thursday

              I pray for all my students for the semester by name along with their families

              Friday

                I pray for missionaries (I actually pray for many of these by name every day, but Friday I have a list of about 80 missionary families so that I take their names as well as their children's names before the Lord)

                Saturday

                  I pray for about 80 pastors, their churches, their wives, and their families

                  This structure helps me to pray for people and invest in their lives weekly. If it serves as a guide to help you develop an organized prayer pattern, perhaps all this typing will have been worth it. If you see this as legalism, my only question to you is, How do you pray for those you love regularly?

                  Mercy for the Messenger

                  Mercy seems to have gone out of fashion. Lawsuits among Christians are on the rise, over 1000 pastors are terminated every year, and church splits have reached alarming proportions. Churches and believers today need a new appreciation for loving mercy; they need to hear Micah’s clarion call anew, “He has shown you, O man, what is good;and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

                  The prophet Micah lived seven hundred years before Christ and wrote to a nation in spiritual decline; along with his contemporary Isaiah, he sought to call the nation back to true worship and practice before God. His summary statement of God’s requirements is perhaps the most well-known verse in his prophecy (although 5:2 is quoted in Matthew’s Gospel), and these few lines summarize well God’s desire for His people. The first section of this triad deals with the horizontal relationship of justice, the third phrase discusses the vertical aspect of humility before God, but the middle portion balances both the vertical and horizontal aspects of the human and divine relationships.

                  Loving “mercy” has to do with covenantal relationships; faithfulness, loyalty, kindness, and mercy together express the idea of this one Hebrew word (חֶסֶד). This word often speaks of the loyalty or covenant faithfulness that God shows to humanity and that humans should show to God. For example, Hosea addresses the nation’s lack of loyalty toward God, “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (Hosea 6:4). This word also speaks of human relationships, as Micah indicates. When in the context of human relationships, the ideas of loyalty and mercy suggest that men live in right relationships with one another; this means both that believers should work to  develop right relationships, and when broken, they should seek to reestablish those relationships. One key way to restore relationships is through forgiveness.

                  Forgiveness is the truest sense of showing mercy toward others. Mercy does not give what is deserved, but instead what is undeserved. When David had established his kingdom, he asked, “Are there any yet left of the house of Saul, to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Sam. 9:1). His merciful actions to Mephibosheth were based on his covenant with Jonathan, but they certainly display more than mere covenantal obligations. David shows mercy in every facet of its meaning as he welcomes this cripple into his home, seats him at his table, and restores to him his grandfather’s land.

                  Forgiveness extends the olive branch of mercy to those who have hurt or offended us. Mercy compels us to forgive because we realize the great debt we have been forgiven, the great mercy we have received, and the great love that we have tasted. Loving mercy means that we are able to look at our offenders and say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Loving mercy means that we have been loved to mercy.

                  Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt. 6:11). Our forgiveness toward others is predicated on the Divine forgiveness that we have received. He makes this clear in the parable concerning forgiveness found in Matthew 18:21-35. After Peter questions Him about the number of times he must forgive his brother (7), Jesus responds with a story. The story follows two servants in debt, one who owes in modern terms about $10,000.00 to a fellow servant, and the other who owes about $6,000,000,000.00 ($6 billion) to the king. The king freely forgives the man in astronomical debt; in an astounding turn of events, this forgiven servant immediately finds his debtor and does not forgive him what is comparatively a minor debt.

                  Through this story, the Lord Jesus teaches that forgiveness is not measured. Both His reply to Peter (“seventy times seven”) and His illustration of this incredible debt reveal a truly immeasurable forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be measured by the harm done, the offense taken, the words uttered, or the actions committed (and even the consequences of these actions). Forgiveness is given without measure.

                  Jesus continues to show that forgiveness also is not merited. Neither slave did anything to merit their forgiveness; it was simply granted. Those who will not forgive others believe in some way that the forgiveness they have received is deserved, while the forgiveness they withhold is acceptable in the eyes of God. True forgiveness, however, is granted apart from any merit on the part of the one forgiven.

                  Jesus concludes by showing that forgiveness is based on mercy(Mt. 18:33). Loving mercy always means  extending forgiveness; it is both a covenant obligation and an act of kindness. Forgiveness flows from a heart filled with mercy—the mercy that comes from having experienced forgiveness.

                  Recently I went through an experience of personal hurt. Someone struck out at my loved ones and hurt them. As I prayed through that experience, I have experienced the joy of forgiving, even though those who inflicted the hurt have not asked for forgiveness. I have prayed daily for them in obedience to the Model Prayer of Matthew 6, and each day I have chosen to forgive and leave them with the Lord. My joy is full and my heart is light; I have chosen to love mercy rather than to hold a grudge.

                  Unforgiveness is a merciless prison of the soul (Mt. 18:34). Only by loving mercy do God’s people avoid that prison, and only by loving mercy do they escape that prison when they find themselves in it. The pathway to loving mercy is the pathway of humbling oneself before God, the honest appraisal of our own depravity and His wonderful grace that overcomes our sin and forgives us. Loving mercy means that we give freely of what we have received, without measure or merit, based solely on the mercy we have tasted, and knowing how sweet it

                  Discipleship

                  I'm teaching a new course on Sunday nights focusing on biblical discipleship. Several truths emerge from Scripture when we study what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

                  • In the ancient world, all famous (and many unknown) teachers had students who followed them and learned from them. These students were called disciples. Disciples were thus followers of their master and learners from them.
                  • Jesus called people to be His disciples; He called them to follow Him and to learn from Him. Following Him meant acceptance of His authority, submission to His direction, and yielding one's own wishes to the Teacher. Learning from Him meant becoming a humble student, having a learner's attitude, and taking His teachings seriously.
                  • Jesus extends an invitation to all who are interested to become His disciples in Luke 9:23, "And He said to them all, 'If anyone wills to follow Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.'" The invitation is to those who bend their will to His to follow Him. The instruction is the taking up of the cross. The cross--an instrument of death in the ancient world--meant that the disciple embraced a radical break with the past, a dying to self, in order to become Christ's follower.
                  • Jesus' disciples learn how to live in relation to Him as Master. They learn that He is the center of this new life--not rules, regulations, rituals, or even activity--and they learn that following Him means listening to His voice, talking with Him, and living out His love both to other disciples and to those who are not His followers.
                  • Hearing His voice involves daily time in the Word of God as food for the soul, as air for the spiritual lungs, as wisdom for the journey, and as encouragement in times of trouble. The disciple of Christ makes an appointment with God to spend time with Him daily and seeks to keep that appointment at all costs.
                  • Talking with Jesus means learning how to pray, and then praying. Prayer is work, but so is developing communication in any relationship. Prayer develops a heart of worship and honor to the Master so that the disciple lives in the joy of time with Christ (John 15:7).
                  • Living out His love to other disciples means that followers fulfill His command to love one another (John 13:34-35), caring for one another, serving one another, honoring one another, and worshiping with one another, to show the world their Master.
                  • Living out His love to those who do not follow Him means that His disciples take the message of His good news to every creature (Mark 16:15) and become witnesses to Christ (Acts 1:8), so as to make new disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).
                  • As these four areas of life are lived out--the Word, prayer, ministry, and outreach--true disciples of Jesus Christ fulfill the great commandment that Jesus uttered (Mark 12:28-31). In this way, they show to the world that they are disciples of Jesus Christ. He becomes the Center.
                  • He invites you to answer His call and be His disciple--you can be an authentic believer in a cookie-cutter world. You can "break the mold" and follow Christ with abandon.

                  Fruits of the Spirit Described

                  I am enjoying immensely the privilege of teaching on the Holy Spirit. Several of you asked for the list of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit from the Sunday night study. By popular request, here they are:

                  • Love - genuine care for the eternal good of other with no thought of reward for self (John3:16)
                  • Joy - the awareness of God's presence in spite of circumstances (John 15:11)
                  • Peace - the confidence that God is in control of my situation and will work it out for my good and His glory (Rom 5:1, John 14:27, Phil 4:6-7, Acts 12:6)
                  • Patience - accepting others when tempted to irritation (1Thes 5:14)
                  • Kindness - the disposition to show mercy and grace to others (2 Pet 1:7)
                  • Goodness - Spiritual and moral excellence acted out toward others (Rom 2:4)
                  • Faithfulness - Trustworthiness in tasks and loyalty toward others (1 Cor 4:2)
                  • Meekness - Harnessed strength that exhibits restraint in all situations (Mt 5:5)
                  • Self Control - Bringing every facet of my life under the control of the Spirit (2 Pet 1:6)

                  God's work in our midst will mean that this fruit shows up in our lives, our homes, and our church. We exist to exalt Christ as Lord by glorifying Him in worship, growing His children in grace, and going with the gospel to Olive Branch and the ends of the earth in the power of the Holy Spirit.

                  How's your fruit looking?

                  BDU: The School Nobody Wants to Attend

                  Very rarely do I meet people who are ashamed of their alma mater. All the schools I attended shaped me and helped to make me the person I am today. If most people had their choice, however, they would not attend BDU. BDU doesn't print cool t-shirts, doesn't have a great football team, and doesn't even have a great mascot. Most of her alumni are a bit reticent to discuss the school, but the school has some amazing advantages: the tuition is free, the courses are fairly rigorous, and the alumni are an amazing crowd. Where is BDU?

                  Well, BDU is described in Exodus 3:1--"Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God." Here is this stately school, Back of the Desert University. To be perfectly honest, I didn't even know the desert had a "back," but indeed it does. BDU is a lonely place where humans meet with God; the course homework requires solitude and anonymity. No one actually knows that you're attending BDU; that seems to be its basic entrance fee.

                  In this school, God teaches lessons that can't be learned in the public square; they aren't taught in the bright lights of the big city, the lectures don't come from professionals with dazzling features and fat bank accounts, and the students don't get calls from Fortune 500 companies. Instead, these students spend their time in the quiet places, learning not theological hairsplitting but the ways of God (Ps. 103:7). They live alone before God, and when they foray into the public arena, they come with fresh oil from heaven and power in their message. Their clothing may be dated, but the fire in their hearts is hot, recently kindled at the very feet of the King. Elijah graduated from this place to confront King Ahab; Elisha's studies here taught him that he was surrounded by "horses and chariots of fire"; Daniel wasn't afraid of the lion's den because BDU had given him backbone for the journey.

                  David chased away lions and killed bears at BDU before he was called upon to slay a giant. John the Baptist thundered from this school to call Pharisees, soldiers, and tax collectors to repentance. Paul the apostle spent years in one of its classrooms in Arabia so that he could preach and teach in the power of God. BDU's most famous student spent 40 days without food in one class so that He could engage the enemy, but even before that He spent 30 years in the library of obscurity. When He burst on the scene in public, it was only a reflection of the lessons He had learnt (and taught) in these hallowed halls.

                  Has God sent you to BDU? Don't complain--He knows your name, He's given you this assignment, and He's got a plan. The lessons of these classrooms are His preparation for your true usefulness to Him. If you find yourself at BDU, don't quit; graduation day comes, and only God knows where He will put you next.