Sunday, December 31, 2006

Inspirational or Inconsequential?

At the end of 2007 will it have mattered to anyone in the world or in heaven that you lived through this year? Year after year God gives us 365 days to invest ourselves in. What are you going to do with yours?

Every year at this time I think about and offer these kinds of questions to the congregation I serve and to the people closest to me. I am inspired to do so by my old pastor and mentor Pastor Bob Mowery who every year at this time sends out an update of all he did with his life in the last year. In his eightieth year of life this year brother Bob led 29 people to Christ. He preached countless sermons and ministered to hundreds of people each week. He was and is an inspiration.

There are many Christians who have never led a single person to Christ or even tried. Statistics tell us that only 20% of all so-called Christians in America have ever read the entire Bible and less than that read it daily. Many Christians are languishing in mediocrity spiritually speaking because they are more interested in making a buck, a name, or getting another toy or gadget they don’t need for themselves.

Let’s get serious. You and I are far too valuable to be wasting our one and only life. Our God is too great and good for us to ignore Him. God’s Kingdom work is too important for us to call in sick or busy.

This year I challenge you to do 3 things. They are the three passions of my life and the mission of the church I serve.

One, Get to God every week through worship and help other people do the same. A great way to do that is using a tool called “i2”. The first “i” stands for invest. Invest time, prayer, and truth into another person’s life and build a life-long friendship. The second “i” is invite. Invite that person to church with you and invite them to know Christ.

Second, Grow in Christ through Church membership and Bible study. Read through the Bible this year. Get in a small group and discuss what you are learning. At Living Hope we are using D.A. Carson’s book “For the Love of God” as a guide to read through the entire Bible and asking everyone to get in a small group.

Third, Give to Others. Don’t just go to church, serve your church. Find a place to minister to other people. There are plenty of needs in the nursery, the children and youth areas, the parking lot, the ushers, the choir, or anywhere you can use your God-given gifts. And look beyond your church and give to others in your community, your nation, and your world. Provide a service project in your community with your small group. Go on a national or international mission trip. Give to other people and you will find that God is pleased and you are the true beneficiary.

We’re not going to get this year again. We might as well make the most of it! Be an inspiration and avoid being inconsequential.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

And Then There Were 5!

Well, it finally happened. He is here! Asher James Pettus was born Friday, December 15 at 1:44 pm. He was 8 lbs. 3 oz. and 21 inches long. Mom and baby are both at home and doing well. It is a pretty exciting time at the Pettus house. The other two Pettus kids love having a baby brother around. He eats good, goes #1 & #2 good, and is sleeping good, which are all very important things.

It is amazing to me that something so small will grow and become so big. I look at my other 2 children now, Mackeznie 10 and Jackson 7, and am amazed at how big they are compared to him and they still have a lot of growing to do. It may be that this little 8 pound mound of pure Pettus will one day be bigger, stronger, and smarter than me. It may be that this little one may have to care for me the way I am caring for him now .

For that to happen, Asher has a lot of growing to do. He has the potential for great strength, great love, and great thoughts, but in order to realize his potential he will have to eat and sleep, and in time exercise and study. It is only by being fed and later learning to feed himself, and then using those calories for productive purposes that he will become all that he can be.

So it is true of all babies. And so it is true of all who are born in Christ. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3 “In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’”

All believers are born as babies into God’s great family, but God does not intend for us to remain as babies. God’s will is that we grow. Ephesians 4:13-15 “...and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

God’s will is that we be capable of fulfilling His plan for us in Christ, which He has prepared us. Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

In order to grow and fulfill God’s plan for our life, we must do the basics. Feed our soul on the Word of God. Exercise our spiritual gifts in love and share the Gospel with the world. We are to give all that we are to God for His glory.

One of the things I love most about being at Living Hope is that we all, pastors included, are given the opportunity to help people get to God, grow in Christ, and give to others. This simple and yet profound mission enables us to fulfill our potential in Christ.

In 2007 Living Hope is going to “Walk in the Word”. We are going to study the Bible from beginning to end. Every time the church gathers for worship a book of the Bible will be preached through. Each person who is willing will read through the Bible using D.A. Carson’s devotion For the Love of God. It is our hope that everyone will be in small group by the end of the year so they can discuss what they are learning and how they are growing in Christ and do life with other followers of Jesus.

Pray that Asher will grow and reach his potential. As his father, I promise to challenge him and provide every resource necessary.

Pray also that we will all grow and reach our potential in Christ. Our heavenly Father has provided every resource necessary. James 1:17-18 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Officiate Your Life Well

On Saturday night, December 9th I sat in astonished silence in Diddle Arena where Western Kentucky University’s men’s basketball team was being dismantled not by the opposing team, but by the officials. They were from the Missouri Valley Conference where the opposing team, Southern Illinois, is from and though I would not want to condemn the conference or the team, I can not help but know that these officials were showing partiality and a lack of integrity. They were calling fouls on WKU and ignoring fouls committed by SIU. Two of WKU’s players fouled out, which rarely happens to a WKU player, especially at home.

These officials were inconsistent, incompetent, and inclined toward a specific team. The outcome of the game was decided not by the players on the court, but by the poor performance of the officiating crew.

That sounds like a strong accusation and it is and in all honesty I am in no position to criticize them. At times I have done as poor of a job officiating my own life as they did in officiating that game.

God has commanded His followers, like me, to officiate our lives. We are to blow the whistle on sin and remove from our game of life the things that keep us from winning the prize God has called us to heavenward in Christ Jesus.

When it comes to sin, we are to be consistent in calling it what it is and keep it from working in us. This requires competence that is gained through rightly understanding the rules, God’s Bible. Our bias is to be toward holiness and purity.

Unfortunately, there are times when we let our guard down and let things go. We forget how God has called us to live because we don’t spend time daily being reminded with what God has commanded us to do in His Word. Our bias becomes more toward what our bodies and sensual desires demand.

Romans 6:11-14 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Friday, December 8, 2006

The Power of An Apology

There’s something liberating about being emotionally right with the people around you. When people are getting along, there is a peace and a joy that permeates a room. There is something beautiful and simple about it.

When tranquility is destroyed by a stray word, an unkind action, a forgotten responsibility, or any number of things, it is important that the peace be reclaimed.

It takes two simple words to get the ball rolling – “I’m sorry.”

These two words could save your marriage, your job, or a vital relationship. They are powerful words. When they are spoken from a genuine heart, they release the power of love and hope.

Feel the power. Say “I’m sorry.”

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

What Makes Us A Church

On Saturday evening at around 6:30 pm Jerry Shaw went to be with the Lord. In that moment a wife lost her husband she'd been married to for fifteen years and an eleven year old boy lost his father. There is no doubt that Jerry immediately entered into heaven having trusted Christ with his life at the age of twenty-two, but the loss was a big one to the many people who knew him, loved him, and called him friend.

Heaven was just moments away, but before he died he had two faint tear drops come down his face. It wasn't the disease ravaging his body that caused them. It was the thought of leaving his wife and child.

Fortunately, they will be cared for. They are followers of Christ and the Lord will be with them, but so will a band of believers they have invested their lives in.

The Shaws were in a small group. These people they have shared meals with, prayed with, and studied the Bible with are now caring for them in their time of need.

Long before I got to the Shaw's house, other people had been ministering to them and long after I left, there were people still there. Days and even years from now there are going to be people in their lives to care for them and in time they will return the favor.

Unfortunately, I've also seen the other side of the coin recently.

I visited a woman and she was thankful for my visit and the one she received earlier by one of our deacons, but while I was with her she began to cry. When I asked her why she was crying she said it was because she did not have anyone in her life to help her through this tough time. She was a member of the church and had been for over twenty years, but she was not in a small group and now she was alone.

As the minister on call, I would soon be going to visit with other people just as the deacon who had visited her before me had. There was no one for her to rely on for the long recovery she faced. Of course other ministers and deacons will look in on her, but they will not be able to bear her burden with her for hours on end each day nor is that their role in the church’s life. That is the responsibility of a small group.

This good woman grieved the lack of a small group in her life. She has missed out on hours, weeks and years of laughter, tears, spiritual growth, and friendship. Now, when she needs it most, she does not have people to rely on because she has not developed supportive relationships with other believers.

What about you? Do you have a small group that you are caring for, growing in Christ with, and doing life with?

If you do, you are blessed.

What have been your experiences in small groups?

If you are not involved in one, why aren't you?

Friday, December 1, 2006

Proactive vs. Reactive

I am going to get my car serviced today. It is a few miles overdue, but within safety limits. This is a proactive step in caring for the needs of my car. I could avoid getting this done until a red light comes on, but if I kept doing that it would limit the life and the quality of performance of my car.
My life like my car needs to get serviced regularly. Physically I need food and exercise. Emotionally I need community and care. Mentally I need conversation and intellectual challenges. Spiritually, and most importantly, I need divine interaction and intervention.
I say that the spiritual condition of my life is most important not because of the profession I am a part of, but because of the confession of faith I belong to. As a confessing blood bought Bible believing evangelical Christian, I understand that my soul is what matters most. 1st Timothy 4:8 explains that, “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things," And Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen what was best by choosing to invest her time in a spiritual activity rather than a vital and important physical one (Luke 10:41-42).
God has given us directions in Scripture and an example in His Son as to how we can best care for our soul. We are to gather with other believers for worship every week (Hebrew 10:24-25). We are to spend time with God in prayer and private Bible study every day (Mark 1:35). We are to be involved in a Bible Study with a group small enough to meet in a home that we can love, pray, and care for (Acts 2:42-47). We are to actively share our faith and make disciples with those near and far from us (Matthew 28:19-20). We are to be on our guard against the Devil (1 Peter 5:8-9).
As important as the care of our soul is, we cannot escape the fact that we are spiritual beings experiencing a physical reality. We can not divorce our soul from our body, which means the condition of our emotional, mental, and physical state is going to have a direct influence on our spiritual lives. This means we must be mindful of what is happening with our hearts, minds, and bodies.
The Bible teaches us to be vigilant in providing for the health of entire self. The heart is to be protected (Proverbs 4:23) The mind is to be improved (Romans 12:2). The body is God’s temple and needs to be in good condition (1 Corinthians 6:19).
You are free to wait until a relationship goes bad, your mind grows dull, your heart gets broken or even worse cold, your body breaks down, and your soul shrivels away before you do something, but that would be unwise. Being reactive will rob you of too many good things. Be proactive and provide God a life that is useful to Him. He bought you. Live a life worthy of the calling of Christ (Ephesians 4:1).
Don’t make excuses. Get it done! (This last sentence is for me.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Time to Worship?

I don't remember when, but sometime ago I realized that a lot of people show up late for church. At first I thought it was just my church, but then I talked with other pastors and they admitted that people show up late at their worship services too.

Realizing that other churches had regular late attenders, I let the issue go. I figured it was a cultural thing that needed to be accepted. Some people are just late.

A few months ago my opinion changed. Ten minutes before one of our services I noticed one of our seasoned saints who is always early for the worship service sitting by herself reading her Bible. So I went over to her and asked, "Why are you always on time for church?"

Her answer surprised me. She said, "The worship service is a time when I give God my best. If I'm not here on time, I can’t sing his praise. If I'm not here early, I can’t meet the guests that might not know God. It's my responsibility as a Christian to be here to give God my worship and serve people who come."

Is she fanatical? Is she over scrupulous? Is it that she's a part of that 'greatest generation' and does what is right because it's right? Maybe or maybe she's just right.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Real Question

In talking with agnostics and atheists about my faith over the years I have learned a great deal about my own hope in Christ. Their honest and open comments and questions have helped me clarify what I believe and why. One of the comments that clarified my relationship with Jesus revolved around the exclusivity of Christ and the way a person gains access to heaven.

The problem many unbelievers have with Christianity is that Christ is considered to be the ONLY way to God. They would prefer that Christ be a way and that the severity of hell not exist for those who do not believe. Agnostic E.O. Wilson complained about hell and Christianity’s claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven in his book The Creation, which I would not recommend, “And that is just the beginning of how long condemned souls will suffer in hell – all for a mistake they made in choice of religion during the infinitesimally small time they inhabited Earth” (p.6). His point is that eternal hell is a ridiculous outcome for a brief life that mistakenly chose a religion or system of life that was not right.

I understand what he and others who hold his view are saying and I agree. That a person would be sentenced to an eternity of suffering for a mistaken belief system is unthinkable to me.

I am thankful that my relationship with God is not built merely on my mental capacity to understand God and choose to do right, but on my love for God. If salvation and an eternal relational bond with God are created by having and believing the right facts about God, then all the demons of hell and the devil himself would be redeemed. James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. Their sound theology does not save them or make their relationship with God right.

So how then is a person’s life saved from sin and death? Romans 10:9-10 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. It’s not enough to know the facts about God. You must believe them in your heart.

The heart is the seat of emotions. The heart is where we feel what we believe. Those who are saved and are united with Christ are those who love God.

The real question that must be asked and answered is, “Do you love God?” It is not enough to say you believe in Him and in what He has done for us in Christ. In order to be saved a person must love God. This is much more difficult than believing a bunch of facts, saying a prayer, signing a card, and belonging to a church.

To truly love God means that God must matter more to you than yourself. To truly love God is to trust Him. To truly love God is to surrender all that you are to Him.

This is not something a person does naturally. In our natural selves none of us can love God. We love ourselves too much. We love being pleasured and empowered. Being able to define our destiny and discover our dreams are much more appealing than looking to God for direction and serving Him like a slave. But that is exactly what a person does who loves God. Serving others like a slave and forfeiting our anger, our pride, our agenda, and our rights is what we do when we love them. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails. Love is hard, if not impossible.

So how do we come to love God? 1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. God must first love us before we can love Him. Thankfully, God has loved us. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. In Christ God has shared His love with us. This love, like all love, came at a great price. It cost God His son.

What overwhelms me is that God loved us and gave His son for us even though we rejected God and despised His Son. Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God did not love us because we honored Him and His Son. Even though we did not love God, He loved us. Even though we believed God was wrong and we were right and we did not want God to have a say in our life, God loved us.

If we receive the gift of His love and love Him with the love He has given to us, then we are saved. Yes, to love Him you must understand something of who He is and believe in what He has done. But it is not enough to merely understand who God is and what He has done for us in Christ. We must love God.

We can know that we love God by our actions. Jesus said “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). If we love God, we will obey his commands. And what does He command? What are His greatest commandments? Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The real question is not do you believe in God and the Christian faith system. The real question is, “do you love God.” That is the question. We would do well and serve our world well to stop talking about God as though He were not in the room. God is there. God is here. God is everywhere. He is not an it or a religious choice. He is God and He is either loved or not loved.

Maybe unbelievers, atheists and agnostics could be more open to the truth claims of Christianity if they knew and we lived as though the issue was not facts and systems, but the real issue was love. Because the real issue is love.