Friday, November 30, 2007

That Time of Year

Today our family received our annual Christmas poinsettia from Jim and Annis Wiggington and placed it, as we have for years now, as the center piece on our dining room table. Jeff Carlisle, our missions pastor at Living Hope, has been playing Bing Crosby in his office nonstop. There are enough cookies in the church fellowship hall to feed a small nation. All that can only mean one thing - Christmas time is here.

The way we kick off Christmas every year is with our Holiday Kick-Off Concert. It is our gift to the city. We invite everyone to come to one of our three concerts: Saturday at 6 pm, Sunday at 3 pm or 6 pm. It's not just a concert. We share the sights, the smells, the tastes, and the sounds of Christmas. We will enjoy Christmas desserts with coffee, hot chocolate, or cinnamon cider. All around there are Christmas trees and lights and decorations. In the auditorium there is a concert with the Living Hope Choir and orchestra. We are visited by Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and there is snow. Yes, there is snow and we let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

We also get to hear the Christmas story told in a way a child can understand. It is the Gospel and the true reason for the season.

I hope you have your tickets and are ready to come with guests in hand to celebrate the greatest hope on earth - Christ has come and taken away the sins of all who believe.

Our next big event is our Christmas Eve Services. I hope you, your friends, and your family plan to attend and celebrate Christmas with a worshipful Candlelight Service.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Book Recommendation

This morning I mentioned a book that I read every year usually between Christmas and the first of the year. It is Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I believe I have read this book every year since the first year I read it almost fifteen years ago. It’s one of those books that provides me with the reminders I need to be ruthless with my sinful self and get on with the business of walking closely with God.

It was John Owen who said, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”

This book helps me kill sin in me.

I hope you will join me in this Holiday reading and be trained to fight the good more effectively.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

When It's Hard to Give Thanks

On this day when we give thanks as a nation, I was reminded in my devotional reading that it is exceedingly difficult for some to do so. Life is hard and filled with hurt. Even in the midst of it God's grace can make us say, "it is well with my soul."
The fact that we are well in Christ no matter what comes our way gives us reason to give thanks today.
Here is the devotion reading for today from Robert J. Morgan's On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997), November 22

In November, 1873 Chicago lawyer Horatio G. Spafford took his wife and four daughters, Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie, to New York and boarded them on the luxurious French liner, Ville du Havre. The Great Chicago Fire had destroyed everything they owned, and Spafford was sending his girls to an English Academy until the Chicago schools—and his own life—could be rebuilt. As he saw his family settled into their cabin, an unease filled his mind and he moved them to a room closer to the bow of the ship. Then he said goodbye, promising to join them later in France.

During the small hours of November 22, 1873, as the Ville du Havre glided over smooth seas, the passengers were suddenly thrown from their bunks in a jolt. The ship had collided with an iron sailing vessel, the Lochearn. Water poured in like Niagara, and the Ville du Havre tilted dangerously. Screams and prayers and oaths merged into a nightmare of unmeasured terror. Passengers, losing their footing, clung to posts, tumbled through darkness, and were drenched by powerful currents of icy, inrushing sea. Loved ones fell from each other’s grasp and disappeared into foaming blackness. Within two hours, the mighty ship vanished beneath the nocturnal waters. The 226 fatalities included Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie. Mrs. Spafford was found nearly unconscious, clinging to a piece of the wreckage. Nine days later when the survivors landed in Cardiff, Wales, she cabled her husband: “Saved Alone.”

He immediately booked passage to join his wife. On the way over, on a cold December night, the captain called him aside and said, “I believe we are now passing over the place where the Ville du Havre went down.” Spafford went to his cabin but found it hard to sleep. He said to himself, “It is well; the will of God be done,” and later wrote his famous hymn based on those words:

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Give thanks today because in Christ it is well with your soul.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

With Jesus

Why would any person raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4) miss a moment to be with the Lord? He is the one who gave the new life. His day is set aside so that He can be worshiped and honored for His greatness, His grace, and His love.

John 12:1-2 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.

Of this encounter Charles Spurgeon writes,

It would have been a strange thing if Lazarus had not been at the table where Jesus was, for he had been dead, and Jesus had raised him. For the risen one to be absent when the Lord who gave him life was at his house, would have been ungrateful indeed. We too were once dead, yea, and like Lazarus stinking in the grave of sin; Jesus raised us, and by his life we live—can we be content to live at a distance from him? Do we omit to remember him at his table, where he deigns to feast with his brethren? Oh, this is cruel! (Morning and Evening : Daily Readings, November 21 PM)

What a strange thing it is that so many who claim to be born again do not go and meet with the Lord on His Day. It is prescribed in Scripture that His followers are to worship Him on Sunday. What could possibly be more important than honoring the One who brought them from death to life? What responsibility outweighs the duty a disciple has to worship the risen Christ on Sunday in a congregation of the redeemed (Hebrews 10:24)?

Lazarus was where he ought to have been? Are you where you should be each Sunday?

Friday, November 16, 2007

When God Let’s Me Hurt

I’m about to do something I hate to do. I’m going to the doctor. I’m not sick. I’m in extreme pain. My back hurts so bad that a cough or a sneeze brings tears to my eyes.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sissy. I hate pain, but there is something frustrating about a pain that can’t be fixed with a pill or a week’s worth of rest, which is what I’ve had since Monday.

In the midst of this I have been mindful of the millions of people who live with pain. They get up and do life as best they can in the midst of pain I can’t describe.

This pain and these thoughts of others in pain have made me think theologically on the matter. C.S. Lewis and other great thinkers have provided more than I could ever on the subject so I won’t waste time sharing a theology of pain.

What I would say is that we need to be mindful of well-meaning Christians who teach, preach, and counsel people to believe that God wants us to be healthy and always well. I do not believe that. As a matter of fact, I believe God has decreed and designed my life in love to go through pain right now and will do so again.

Why? I don’t know all the reasons, but I do know it is because He loves me and does not want me to forget what matters most – Him.

Is there a Biblical foundation for this? Yes, Paul lived in pain by God’s plan (1 Corinthians 12:7-10). James writes to the church and reminds them of the Old Testament saints who God called to live in pain and encourages them to draw strength from those who’d gone before them (James 5:10-11). Peter reminds the church to grow in their faith through suffering (1 Peter 4:19).

As we enter into a season of Thanksgiving, I pause and give thanks in the midst of a little back pain. I give thanks that I have a Father in heaven who loves me. I thank Him that even if I had to live with this pain and other pains for the rest of my life, I praise Him that my eternity is pain free. I give thanks that I have a Father in heaven that is looking to grow me in my faith and ordains pain in my life to guide me to trust and pray to Him. I give thanks that I have a Father in heaven that is looking to humble me and allow me the joy of community and friendship as my church family and friends pray for me and as I go to my doctor who is my brother in Christ and submit to be served by his gift and ability God has provided him.

Pain is not our enemy. Sin is. Painlessness is not our hope, joy, and peace. God is.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It’s Like Chopping a Tree

Recently, a tree fell into my backyard and I had to cut it into pieces to remove it. My back is still hurting. I’m a big dumb boy, but even with a sharp ax I couldn’t chop that tree in half with one swing. I had to go at it several times and from different directions. It was a process.

Leading someone to Christ is very similar. It is very rare these days that a person will accept Christ with one shot and one perspective. Years ago it was not uncommon for a person who had never heard anything about Jesus to go to a “revival meeting” and get saved. These days it takes a process to reach people.

In his outstanding book “The Complete Book of Discipleship”, Bill Hull describes a four step process based on steps he adapted from B.A. Bruce’s 1871 publication “The Training of the Twelve.”

Step One: “Come and See” based on John 1:35 – John 4:46. This step can take anywhere from one week to five months. At this stage a person gathers information about the faith. They learn about who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He requires from those who will become His disciples. People will engage in Christian community and might even connect in a small group or Bible study.

Step Two: “Come and Follow ME” based on Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:16-18. This step is the first step of faith followed by consecutive steps of obedience for 6 months to a year. At this stage a person repents of sin and receives salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by completely surrendering themselves to Him and leaving their old way of life. They will be baptized, join a local body of believers, be trained to participate in and begin a daily devotional life, serve somewhere in their local church, and get connected in a small group for accountability, Bible study, prayer, and support. They will also begin to help others take step one and step two as they have.

Step Three: “Come and Be with ME” based on Mark 3:13-14. This step is the first step of leadership in disciple-making. During this year to two year stage a disciple will come to understand their unique giftedness and begin to focus their spiritual development and service to Christ. This phase of their faith fosters a deep love for God that results in humility, courage, kindness, mercy, peace, joy, discipline, and faithfulness that may wane but will never die. They will begin to equip, encourage, and enable other disciples to take others through steps one and two and will journey with other leader-disciples who are in the process of step three.

Step Four: “Remain in ME” based on John 15:5,7. This step is the last step that takes the rest of the disciple’s life. At this stage the guiding power of the Holy Spirit is encountered regularly to direct the disciple down the path of righteousness. There are also dark nights of the soul, when it seems that God has abandoned the disciple, but their faith is strengthened. This strengthening takes place in different ways for different people. Doubt, pain, and personal challenges that may come in the form of persecution, success, solitude, or some other experience will require the disciple to abandon self-centeredness, will-power, and self-capabilities and trust completely in Christ. There will also be times of overwhelming delight and power as God reveals Himself and chooses to work in and through the disciple in miraculous ways.

What step are you on? Are you progressing or regressing? You never stay the same. You are either going forward or backward.

Who are you helping take the steps? In December we will be offering the Holiday Kick-Off Concert on the first weekend in December, the Christmas Eve services, and Sunday morning services for you to bring friends and family to “Come and See.” Is it time for you to be baptized, join the church, and connect in a small group to “Come and Follow ME (Christ)?” Are you ready to “Come and Be with ME (Christ)” and start serving in the ministry and helping others through step one and two? Or is it time to “Remain” and grow through all-out surrender to service to Christ? This is not just giving some time. It is life given to service and surrendered to the Holy Spirit all of the time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Life and Prayer

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

The King has made me His servant. He loves me and has adopted me as His son. He has pardoned me by taking my punishment of death. He died publicly on a cross surrounded by evil and hate. He died for me because He loves me. He has called me to be His and to serve Him.

I serve Him, first, as His servant. My life, my hope, and my purpose rest in Him. Without Him my life has no foundation, no reason, no passion, and no future. In Him my life is found.

I serve Him, second, by serving my family. I serve as a husband to care for my wife and provide for her needs and lead her to be His. I serve as a father to care for my children by providing for their needs, setting them an example, and leading them to be His.

I serve Him, third, by serving His church. I serve as a pastor to care for my flock by feeding them God’s Word, leading them to obedience, and caring for them through systems and structures of leaders who are called and capable.

In this life of service He has called me not to rely on my ability He has given me. My abilities are of no use without Him. He has called me to rely on Him. I rely on Him by praying to Him and trusting in His love, His will, and His power.

I pray because I trust. I pray because I am commanded to. I pray because I am a desperate servant loved by God and called to a life of significance through surrender. When I pray, I surrender to Him all that I am and have and hope.

My prayer is my way to access the King to discover His desire and to request His power to be at work.

Monday, November 12, 2007

An Environmentally Abusive Neighbor In Atlanta and the Evangelical Church in North America

Residents in an upscale neighborhood in Atlanta are in an uproar. The area is facing one of the worst droughts in history and there is a neighbor hoarding and using ridiculous amounts of water. The drought problem is so serious that the governor actually prayed for rain at the capital building on Monday, November 12. There is a serious concern that the region might literally run out of water.

This bonehead neighbor is said to be using over 400,000 gallons of water a month. That is almost ten times what most people would use in a year.

What could he possibly be doing with that much water? There seems to be no visible outcome from all of his consumption.

When I think about what this man is doing, I can’t help but think about what the evangelical church in North America is doing. There is a spiritual drought in the land and throughout the world and yet we evangelical Christians are hoarding the Living Water. We have all that we need of Jesus and His grace, but are we sharing it? Are we helping to solve the moral and spiritual problems of the nation and the world?

No, it seems that we are hoarding it for no visible purpose. Never have so many with so much done so little.

Let’s pray that the evangelical church in North America will share what we’ve been given. Let the end of the spiritual drought begin with you and me sharing Christ effectively and praying daily for a downpour of God’s grace and power.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Beginner, an Attender, a Member, and an Investor Went to Church...

To get where you want to go it is always important to know where you are.

For instance if you are reading this blog, you are probably a person who wants to walk faithfully with God and help other people get to God and grow in Christ so they can give to others. But where are you in that process. Are you helping people get to God? Are you growing in Christ? Are you giving to others? How can you know?

Here are four of the most common places most people begin from and what the right next step is for that spiritual position.

A Beginner

A beginner is a person who has not given God complete responsibility for all of their sin and their future through faith in Jesus Christ. They do not have the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to guide them or to bless them. They live by their own power, for their own purpose, and will have to give an account of their life based on their own performance and be judged for eternity for their sin.

A beginner’s next best step is to admit that they need God to take responsibility for their sin and life. A beginner can do this by accepting the grace of God that comes by admitting that they have been doing life on their own and have sinned (Romans 3:23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”), but believe that Christ died to pay the price or wage for all of their sin (Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”), and through the power of His resurrection from the dead can live in them and lead them all the way to heaven (Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”). This is how a beginner becomes a Christian.

An Attender

An attender is a person who is showing up at church. An attender may or may not be a Christian. This means you can be both a beginner and an attender. Attenders do not commit to membership. They date the church. They show up and participate in the aspects of the church they like, but refuse to enter into a covenant relationship with a local body of believers that would make demands on them. Attenders who are Christians are in essence Christian Consumers. They receive, but they don’t give. Attenders who are beginners are doing what they are supposed to be doing. They are checking out the claims of Christ and considering the commitment.

An Attender’s next best step is to commit to a local church and give their life and love to the people of the church. If an attender is a beginner, they need to take the beginners best next step first and then commit to a local church. By joining a local church they put themselves in a position to be and receive the blessing of living as the bride of Chirst.

A Member

A member is a person who has committed their life to Christ and has entered into a covenant relationship with a body of believers. They take responsibility for participating in and providing for ministry opportunities.

A member’s best next step is to identify what they have to offer and what the body needs. All Christians have gifts and abilities given to them by God. A member needs to discover and define those gifts and use them for God’s glory through the ministry of their local church.

An Investor

An investor is a member who not only discovers what they can do and what is needed in their church. An investor is a person who gives their time, abilities, and money to fulfill the ministry of the church. They do not go to church to receive. They go to church to give. What is amazing about this way of life is that they end up receiving more than those who go to church to receive. Why? Acts 20:35 “Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

An investor’s next best step is to share the joy of giving and recruit others to be and receive the blessing that comes through giving.

Which one are you? Will you take your next best step?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Reaching People Like Growing Grass

This week I decided it was time to stop having the worst yard in the neighborhood. The drought has only added to the damage. My yard has hit rock bottom, but I decided this week was the time to repent and to begin again with new life.

Interestingly, I have found that growing grass is very similar to helping people get to God with the Gospel and then helping them grow in Christ.

The first thing I had to do with my yard was remove the thatch. The thatch is the dead grass that sticks to the soil and makes it impossible for the seed to get to the soil. So I dethatched my yard and raked it clear.

In reaching people for Christ we have to get past the stuff that keeps them from being able to hear the Gospel. It may be a negative view of Christians or the church. It may be a misunderstanding of what it means to give up their life for the life God wants for them. Either way we must first be able to get past their wall of resistance. We do this by building a relationship with them over time and helping them see and experience the love of God through our life and our community of faith.

The second thing I had to do was aerate my yard. This gets oxygen to the soil. It also softens the soil so the seed can get down into the ground.

In reaching people for Christ the Spirit of God must enable the soul to receive God’s love and soften the heart so the Gospel can get in. Unless the Spirit of God is present in a person's life, they cannot receive the Gospel and be saved. This happens as we pray for God to save a person. Salvation is a work of God. We are only instruments in the process. It is God who saves by grace by giving faith that a person uses to be saved (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The third thing I did was overseed. I put down almost 100 lbs of grass seed on my yard. Some of it won’t germinate, but a lot will.

In reaching people for Christ we have to overseed. We have to share the Gospel with them in multiple ways. We must share what we know of Christ and His Word. We must share our testimony. We must share our worship experience on Sunday morning. We must share our friends and let them see a Gospel community. We must share Christian resources like music, books, and teaching through multiple mediums. We must present the Gospel in multiple ways and pray for God's Spirit to be at work so that one of those presentations will enable the Gospel to get down into their heart.

What I’m doing right now is keeping the lawn watered and letting the sun do its thing. In the next few weeks the seed that germinated will grow and become a part of the yard. I will then have to maintain it by fertilizing it, keeping the weeds and bad grass out, and keeping it watered.

In reaching people for Christ we must not only share the Gospel. We must help them grow. It's not enough to see a person converted. We are commanded to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Once a person has accepted Christ they need to be helped through the first step of Christian obedience. They will need to be baptized and join the church. Someone will have to explain this to them and walk them through the process. Then they need to be fed on the Word of God, given Christian community for encouragement and accountability, and enabled to grow on their own through training and continued prayer.

It is a beautiful thing to see a yard that was once dead become healthy and alive. It is an even more beautiful thing to see a life that was dead to God become healthy by being made alive to God by grace through faith in Christ according to the work of God's Spirit.