Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Breaking Silence

Many people set out with great intentions to share their faith.  In fact, they attempt to pave the way to share their faith by building bridges into other people's lives by doing credible acts of love and kindness towards them.  The challenge is that their faith never turns into the words of the Gospel.  Personal fear and shame are two of the largest deterrents for Christians to shun their responsibilities when it comes to sharing the Gospel with those who don't know Christ.  

Chuck Colson once said, "The most important thing we can do today in obedience to Christ is to break the spiral of silence that is pervasive in our culture. The way movements start is when people finally realize that in a free society they have to be able to speak out. They can't be cowed into silence."  Christians in this country have the freedom to boldly share of the One who transformed their lives and have given them hope for the future.  They can personally testify how God has brought forgiveness and given the new life.  If Christ is truly at the center of the believer's life then their first and foremost concern each day should be, "How do I share Jesus Christ with others who have no hope"?  

I would like to encourage you today to walk with confidence that the Gospel of Christ is so powerful that it can transform the vilest of sinners—the one that we have given up on.  The light is most obvious to those who walk in utter darkness.  God has not asked us to do this in our own strength, which is why we are told:  "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).  Also, Acts 1:8 tells us that we go forward with the Spirit's power to share the Gospel: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

Would you intentionally decide this New Year that you would proclaim and share Christ like never before?  Claim with me Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.  

When we sense fear remember that it is Satan that wants us to fear in order that we cease to share the Gospel.  Paul says,  “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).  Walk with confidence that you possess the message of eternal life in your hands and that God will give you the power to break silence and to share the joy of knowing Christ!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Frustrated with Disciplining Your Children?

All of us have watched children manipulate and even torment their parents through poor behavior and flat out disobedience.  Many times the parents willfully neglect to discipline their children or they issue multiple empty promises and warnings.  This ultimately brings high frustration to the parents and to those who must endure the poor behavior.

As Christian parents, we have the responsibility to shape the hearts of our children that govern their behaviors.  Parents must be united and support one another in their parenting practices.  Without this support, the child not only rules the home but the trust and commitment to the marriage relationship to one another is fractured. I do believe that discipline is actually instruction and at times both negative and positive reinforcement are necessary.   Proverbs tells us that, "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away" (Proverbs 22:15).  We are also told, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:16).  These are both positive and negative ways to discipline (instruct).  These are proverbs that generally hold true as we practice them with our children.

Here are some principles to help enforce good child discipline.   
  1. As you discipline be practical.  Children need to know exactly what you expect from them~~they are not adults.
  2. Focus on the heart~~ Don't settle for behavior modification alone.  Look for ways to influence heart change and for your child to understand how they have sinned and pursue forgiveness to those offended and God.
  3. Don't discipline while you're angry.  Take the time to allow God to work in your heart and practice godly behavior in front of your children.  Show Christ's love while instructing them.
  4. Be Biblical.  God's Word has strategies and answers for the issues that families face.  Trust in His promises and discipline in the power of the Holy Spirit--not your own power.
  5.  Look for adult solutions to your child's problems.  Remember, the answers to their problems are the same as ours.  Look for the adult solution and then break it down for your child's developmental stage. 

There is much more to parenting but sometimes parenting takes the best that we have and know.  Seek help and input from those who are parenting well or grandparents who have given their life to parenting already.  Choose a good book recommended by your pastor or a Christian friend.  Above anything else, remember that you are working with a child's heart that is made in the image of God.  Treasure the gift of parenting and don't give up!  Go to your Heavenly Father for wisdom, endurance, patience, and the love that you need to shepherd your child's heart better.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Signals of a Maturing Church

Most of us would like to believe that we are part of a mature church that is growing in Christ but how do we begin to quantify this?  Another author that I read often is Sam Rainer and he has written an article that I believe is most valuable:

“Is your church healthy or not? It’s a difficult question to answer. When people ask, I often reply, “What is your definition of ‘healthy?’” There are many metrics that point to—or signal—the health of a congregation. If attendance has declined for 50 years and the church has not baptized anyone in 10 years, then the likelihood of that church being unhealthy is high. But a fast-growing church may or may not be healthy. Defining church health is a bit of a moving target.

As most established church pastors know, you inherit a culture when you come to a church. Changing that culture takes time. Therefore, “healthy” is more a process than a static point. You are either becoming healthier or less healthy. In each church, there should exist a maturing process. I use the word “maturing” as opposed to “mature” to indicate the process of becoming healthy. We never really arrive at a point of maturity, individually as a member or collectively as a church.

Some pastors land at a rapidly maturing church. Others inherit messes. A few walk into death traps. Ironically, the least mature churches at times can be the oldest. And new congregations are not necessarily immature. Blaming a new pastor for the unhealthy state of a 100 year-old, multi-decade declining congregation is like blaming brand new homeowners for the ramshackle home they just bought. Give them time, and the transformation will happen. But it takes time.

Paul writes, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” We don’t arrive as believers until we are glorified, but there is a process of maturing along the way.

How can churches know they are maturing—moving towards better health? How might leaders discern if a church is moving forward and not backward? Like the flashing arrow sign on roadways, certain signals provide a direction.

Signal 1: Maturing churches have a posture of service, especially the leaders. Maturing churches have leaders that serve first and lead second. When people are willing to take a posture of service and wash feet, it speaks volumes to the general tone and direction of a congregation.

Signal 2: Maturing churches have an outward focus. The people in these congregations have a desire to reach others that are not like them. These churches know their community, are committed to diversity, and are willing to make sacrifices to reach the next generation.

Signal 3: Maturing churches have a large segment of people who attend frequently. No church can work towards a healthier state when people do not gather together. In fact, a culture of infrequent attendance produces a death spiral from which few churches recover.

Signal 4: Maturing churches build community in small groups. There is no such thing as a healthy church without healthy small groups.

Signal 5: Maturing churches pray regularly. The prayers of the people in these congregations are not only reactive (someone is ill) but also proactive (reveal a lost person for me to reach).

Signal 6: Maturing churches understand the difference between personal preferences and vision. These congregations build upon the past, but they also know greater things are out in front and not in behind them.

Signal 7: Maturing churches not only understand the “what” of discipleship but also the “how.” They have a clear process of making disciples.

Obviously, this list of signals is not all-inclusive. But they act like giant flashing arrows, pointing a church towards an avenue for better health. If many of these signals are absent in your congregation, then it might be time to change direction.”

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Is Setting a New Year Resolution Biblical?

It would appear the setting goals would be wise and would lead to better results.  In fact, Solomon tells us that, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance.”  (Proverbs 21:5)  Some people love to plan out every detail in life but it does not ensure that all of our planning or goals will be met. 

I worked for a pastor as a summer intern who detested laziness so he had all of the young men working on the summer program at the church to memorize Bible verses that focused on planning and working hard.  I recall memorizing Proverbs 6:6-11 which reads:

“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.  Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard?  When will you arise from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” 

Biblically, according to this verse, there is much to be said about the one who will not work but Scripture also challenges those who do not plan for the future.  Christ even said in Luke 14:28, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” 

I believe that planning and setting goals are an excellent way to complete work.  However, I do believe it is possible to set goals for one’s own glory and never consult or include God.  Solomon says in Proverbs 16:9, ““In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”  In other words, do we consult our sovereign God before we make our plans or are we guilty of asking Him to bless what we have already established in our minds.

Even James says that Christians can plan arrogantly by failing to remember that God is the One who gives us each day to live.  Listen to James 4:13-15, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”

I believe that all goals (even a New Year resolution) should be made in tandem with God’s will.  Christians should plan and live with an eternal mindset that demonstrates that there is more than just today that they are living for. Christ told His followers, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Let’s plan and work with God to accomplish great things this year for His glory!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Does the Bible Say to Celebrate Christmas?

You may have never thought to ask this question; however, there are many sincere Christians who choose not to celebrate Christmas for good reasons.  Sadly enough, even though Christmas is considered to be a Christian holiday Christ is being more and more removed from it--even among Christians.  How should a Christian approach this holiday or redeem the holiday in order that Jesus Christ is seen and glorified?

Let's be honest, nowhere in the Bible are Christians told to celebrate Christmas, purchase gifts for one another, cut down trees and decorate them, play Santa clause, or spend excessively because Jesus Christ was born.  Where did all of this come from?  Around the 4th century A.D. and in response to many pagan holidays already existing, some churches (particularly in Germany) chose to celebrate their faith found in Jesus Christ.  It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of every tradition but they were not chosen for pagan purposes.  Some Christians wanted to celebrate the incarnation of Christ and the redemption story.  The challenge for many today is that Christ is being removed from Christmas and the story of redemption is seldom talked about.  There is a story line in all of Scripture and every book of the Bible supports that story line which is the redemption of God's people through the person of Jesus Christ.  This indeed gives believers much to celebrate because salvation has come!

There are some who would argue that the traditions around Christmas are pagan in nature.  Searching traditions from thousands of years ago is very difficult and it becomes very obscure.  In fact, as I've sought to study this out for myself I find sources that even contradict one another.  There are definitely pagan roots to some traditions; however, there are many traditions that have been made to be very Christian in nature and to shine the light on Jesus Christ.  Each year, the secular world crowds Jesus Christ out more and more and alternative rituals and traditions are chosen in order to misrepresent the Christian's Christmas.  Some would argue that Christ was not born on December 25th and offer various reasons concerning the time of a Roman census, the time that the shepherds were in the field, and what the climate would have been at that time in Israel.  I don't believe we know the exact date and I also don't believe that is necessarily important.

Should these concerns nullify Christmas for Christ's people?  I would suggest that Christians are provided a phenomenal platform through this special day to proclaim Jesus' love, His incarnation, and the salvation that He alone brings.  In my opinion, to celebrate Christmas without proclaiming the work of Jesus Christ, is of no value and is even purposeless.  Christmas can be a form of idolatry if Christ is not the center and the One to be glorified.  There appears to be no legitimate scriptural reason not to celebrate Christmas.  At the same time, there is no biblical mandate to celebrate it, either.  I believe that in the end whether or not to celebrate Christmas is a personal decision.  Paul says in Romans 14:5 that when it comes to questionable things that glorify His name that, "One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike.  Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind."  The idea being conveyed is to make sure above anything else that you believe in your heart that God is being glorified with your decisions!

It is so important that we honor our brothers and sisters who choose to celebrate or choose not to celebrate Christmas. This should NOT be a point of contention or division amongst believers.  This is certainly a gray area and God's Spirit can convict each person accordingly.  My challenge for Christians who do celebrate Christmas is to make Christ known through every aspect of your Christmas~~share the redemption story!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

What Does It Mean "The Word Became Flesh"?

The term incarnation is a word that Christians use to speak of the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh.  John 1:14 reads, "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us."  The words "became flesh" literally mean, "the act of being made flesh." 

The purpose of the incarnation was that Jesus Christ would come and serve as the sinless sacrifice for our sins since Christ was the prophesied Savior for mankind.  According to Hebrews 9:22, a blood sacrifice was necessary for the forgiveness of sin, and that permanent cleansing would only come through the perfect Son of God. It was necessary for Him to come, take on physical form, in order that he might die. So in essence it could be said that Christ was born to die.  Through this sacrifice the imputation of His righteousness would be placed upon believers as they placed their faith in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). 

John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."Jesus Christ is called the Word, but why?  Scripture also says that Jesus Christ was with God in the beginning--before time began as we know it and before the foundations of the world were ever created.  Jesus Christ was never created by God as He was always God since the beginning.  In this verse we can see the unity of the Father and Son as one.  Christ is called God--He is not another god.  What this verse helps us to understand is that Jesus Christ is the very spoken word of God the Father to us.  Jesus Christ was the full expression of God's love and God's message to mankind.  In fact, Jesus is the total message that God wanted to communicate to the world.

The term "Word" (which means Jesus) is the full embodiment of who God is (Col. 1:19).  Jesus would be that physical message sent by God to the Jews and gentiles.  The message of the promised Messiah that the prophets spoke about went unheeded for years.  Then, at the proper time, the Word became flesh, took on human form, and dwelt among us (Matthew 1:23; Romans 8:3).  Because the Word became flesh, we now have a high priest who is able to empathize with our weaknesses, one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—but yet He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).

God did an amazing and loving work when He sent His only begotten Son into the world to provide us with a salvation that we did not deserve.  Praise the Lord for that moment in which “the Word became flesh.”  We are now redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:19).

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Busy Doing Christmas

In the spirit of Christmas it would be appropriate to ask the question, "How much are we emphasizing the coming of the promised Messiah~~the Savior of the world?" to our families, even more particularly to our children?

I believe that most of the time Christ gets lost in the holly, the mistletoe, the eggnog, the gifts, the lights, the tree, the music, and even within the lives of Christians at Christmas.  The depth of the fulfilled promises of Scripture, the fulfilled prophecy of the prophets, and the witness of thousands of people all testify of the One who came, lived, died, and rose again just as predicted thousands of years prior.  The coming of Christ and the redemption of mankind remains the center-piece of Scripture~~this is the true gift.   Christians have every reason to share this Good News especially at Christmas time!  To merely tell someone "Merry Christmas" is far from the Christmas message of Christmas--yet I suppose it beats "Happy Holidays".

Beyond purchasing gifts for the less fortunate and giving to those who are homeless, are we sharing the best news, which is the Good News of Christmas that our Savior came to die to set men free from the bondage of sin that bans them from Heaven and sends them to Hell?  You see, we must talk about more than just the arrival of Jesus at Christmas time, because there was much more to the prophecy and the story.   Take a few moments to read Isaiah 53 to see what the gift of Christmas really entailed because in that prophecy we find the "gift of salvation"~~a beautiful representation of the love of God through the giving of His Son.

Isaiah gives a description of that special gift from God in Isaiah 9:6, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:14, helps us to understand that only this gift of Jesus Christ could remove the bondage of sin from our lives and bring us peace with God the Father and genuine peace with one another.  Truly, "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  

You see, only telling about the birth of Jesus Christ is really only telling the introduction of the Christmas story.  Let's be careful getting lost in all the tinsel and the holly during this Christmas season and feel the freedom to boldly share with those who truly don't know that Christ came to rescue mankind from their condemned state.  We have much to celebrate with boldness and confidence!