As I normally do, I started my day off around 4:30 a.m. this morning with a wonderful reminder of God’s love for us. Romans has the simple reminder, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 (ESV). That’s good news anytime, but it’s especially good news at 4:30 a.m.
God loves me, and He loves you. His love is unconditional, uncontested, and unadulterated by our messy lives. He loves you and your pile of two-week old unfolded laundry on the couch and it’s counterpoint of dirty clothes on the floor in the laundry room. You know those clothes to which I’m referring – the clothes laying on the floor beside your fancy laundry basket? God loves you and your messy kitchen. God loves you and your poor spending habits. God loves you even though you tightly hold on to some hatred of your neighbor over things which should have long been forgiven. God loves you when you decide T.V. is of greater worth than a few moment of prayer and interaction with God. God loves you when life and people overwhelm you and your words and actions fail to represent the kindness, compassion, and mercy to which you have been shown. God loves you when you doubt Him and fail to trust.
In the middle of our mess, God has never failed to love us, just as Satan has never missed a chance to whisper destruction into our mind. Satan will tell you that your life is not reflective of Jesus – you’re just too far gone, you’ve walked in independence of God too far down a path of your own choosing, and God has no further interest in you. You’re not worthy of God’s love.
The blood of Jesus screams a different story. God has long loved us, and His love for us, shown most dramatically through the sacrifice of Christ, continues on. Don't let your messy life, and Satan little whispers, cause you to miss it, and don't let your messy life cause you to not show love to the world around you.
As you begin your day, start it with the knowledge that God loves you through every failure you’ll experience in the next 24 hours. Use that as a reminder to show love to others (whether you like them or not), because you are loved so perfectly by God – and God loves them just as much as He loves you. Remember that every person you experience today needs love, because their lives are as messy as yours. They don’t want you to know that, but they are. Be the person who surprises them with compassion instead of judgment, help instead of criticism, and the simple beauty of being kind and friendly. That’s becoming less common. We need more kind and friendly.
There will be enough evil, hatred, and animosity shown today on the news, social media, and other places to cover that quota. Let your day be filled with the personal knowledge of God’s love for you, and let that knowledge catalyze some love in your own life for a world that seems to be screaming for a fight.
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation
is not to utter the words, but to live them out."
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Memorial Day is special to me, as it should hold a special place in all of our hearts. I've lost family and friends to both war and training accidents in military service. Their memory hasn't faded from my mind, and their sacrifice screams out to me every time I see the flag of our nation. We often mistake this day as just another patriotic holiday that relieves us from the obligations of our employment, without fully examining those it is meant to honor. I think we should honor our veterans everyday, but Memorial Day is not set aside to show respect to those who currently serve; instead, it was established to honor those who, through their selfless dedication to our nation, paid the ultimate price. Those honored on Memorial Day are no longer here with us to accept the gratitude of a thankful country; instead, they lie entombed, having given far more than their best for the United States of America.
The Civil War ended in 1865, and before the turn of the decade, Americans in various towns around our nation began to meet together and decorate the graves and pay honor to the nations fallen heroes. Originally called "Decoration Day," Memorial Day was recognized as a federal holiday in 1971.
I thank God for the American solider, and it is with a humble heart that I remember those who have died on my behalf, and for my safety and freedom, while proudly wearing the uniform of our nation. I fear that the sacrifices of our fallen heroes have been somewhat forgotten over time, as we live in a nation today that shows a great distraction from the hard lessons of history. This is painfully evident to me as I sadly observe how politics and politicians recklessly abuse the spirit and message of our founding documents and, with profane arrogance, seek to undermine the freedoms that heroic men and women have labored and died to preserve. It's a different country – a divided county. If we're not careful, our division will catch up with us. There's a possibility it already has.
Arlington National Cemetery currently has over 400,000 graves. Not all of those present were soldiers, and not all died in combat, but the many gravestones present should still stand out to us as a stark reminder of the sacrifices that have been made for the preservation of our national freedom.
Let us also remember that each grave represents much more than a fallen solider. These gravestones represent an individual who took upon themselves the defense of nation full of people they did not know or necessarily agree with. They represent months and even years of hard training, learning the art of war. Each gravestone represents a great degree of courage, and, most assuredly, a great degree of palpable apprehension and fear that may have never been conquered as they fought America's battles on foreign soil. These gravestones also represent their families. Too often we fail to understand that each solider is a son, daughter, mother, or father. These gravestones represent the shared grief that can only be understood by families who, as Abraham Lincoln said, "have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom" (From a November 12, 1864 letter from Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, mother who lost five sons during the Civil War).
The entire letter reads:
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
In the current and costly political divisiveness so prevalent in America, let us choose to take a moment and stand together in unity to honor the sacrifice of heroes. Let us acknowledge that they were only normal people who became extraordinary, because they did not run from evil when freedom was challenged. Instead, they answered the call, trained for the cause, and overcame their fear. They stood up and took action, leaving their homes and families, drawing a line in the sand between freedom and tyranny, and, in that pursuit, they gave their life. We are indebted to those who have fallen, and let us not forsake the beauty of their memory or diminish the weight of their sacrifice.
To the fallen America Solider, Sailor, Airmen, and Marine, from the hearts of a grateful nation, and from the heart of a very proud and humbled American citizen...thank you.
"...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Romans 5:8 (ESV)
Swiss theologian and Catholic priest, Hans Urs von Balthasar said, “What you are is God's gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.”
I love the picture I chose in creating the graphic for this blog. It's simply two people walking down a desolate road. One of those adorable little humans has her arm around the other. Maybe her walking partner is lonely, frustrated, or angry? Maybe they just need a friend? Whatever the case, she's comforting them and showing love. One of the things that stands out to me in this picture is that she's doing so in the absence of the eyes of others. She's not trying to impress anyone or persuade the masses to think of her as loving and compassionate, because there's no one there to watch. To me, this little girl is showing genuine affection to someone for whom she holds great care and concern...and obviously a depth of love. I think it's precious, and it's a picture of the goodness of God...so often found on a lonely road.
On many occasions, God puts us directly in the path of someone who simply needs a friend – if only for the moment. Earlier this year, I was in a store, minding my own business, when I saw a lady walking towards me. She had obviously been crying, and I could tell her conscious was distracted by the source of her tears. My heart just went out to her, but I didn't know anything of her situation. It wasn't my place to say anything to her...or was it? I feel it was, because the compassion I had for her, and the desire to speak to her, were put there by a God who was asking me to show her His goodness. (We often think God will only give us direction in a way that awes our senses, but I feel He mostly just gently "hints" to us in our mind.) As she passed by me, I simply said, "Ma'am, are you OK?" She stopped, almost shocked, and starred at me with red, puffy eyes...but eyes that were completely focused on me. I was ready for her to tell me that her condition was absolutely none of my business. I could almost feel it coming. But, her response was kind and almost submissive. She said that she was upset, but that she would be fine. I didn't know what to tell her, because I didn't know anything about her situation, but I still felt that God made her walk down that specific aisle, directly at me...giving His often rebellious child a reason to be obedient. So, shooting from the hip, I dug down deep into my collection of "things you say to upset people" bag and simply came up with this: "I don't know what's happened to you that is causing your tears, but just know that it's not something God can't heal."
It was the interaction that she needed, at the very moment, right in the middle of the paper goods aisle of the Dollar Store in Jackson, GA. We stood and talked for another thirty minutes. I won't share her problems, because there were many, and none of them easy to solve. My words didn't solve any of them, but this kind lady just needed a friend. She needed one right then, and God saw fit to cross our paths. I reminded her that Jesus died on the cross for us, but that our eternity isn't His only concern. Jesus is concerned with our day-to-day struggles, and He was well aware of what she was going through at that very moment. I asked her if she had taken these problems to the feet of God in prayer, and she no. So, we prayed right there, in front of the paper plates...holy ground is wherever you find yourself when you realize God's already present in that place.
Who are we becoming?
Are we becoming disciples of Christ who spread God's goodness? If we're living our life with God as the foundation, then we should be becoming more like Jesus. Although there's many verses I could choose from, let me just use one today...
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me."
Galatians 2:20 (ESV)
It was Jesus who put His arm around us as we walked down a lonely road. It is Jesus who paid our debt, comforted our rebellious heart, and offered us an eternity with Him – an eternity that surpasses anything we can currently comprehend. We should become more like Him, because He is a part of us. It is Jesus who is always there. He's there in our life when our friends fail us; He's there when our health fails us; He's there when our finances fail us, and He's even there when we fail Him. What great love. The Spirit of God shares with us this earthly life we live. Through every victory and defeat, He walks the same road our feet trod. Through the cross, He showed us the goodness of God. Should it not be our desire to bring into the light this same goodness?
We live in a world full of people who need the love, forgiveness, and life-sharing companionship of a Savior. We live in a world that needs us to act like the disciples of Christ that God intends. A great picture of this in action is the graphic of the little girl walking with her arm around her friend. It's a selfless act, because she has nothing to gain. There's no one there to be impressed by her "Godly compassion." There's no one there to Facebook the moment. It's just her and a needy soul who needs love.
Life can be hard, and, like the picture, the road we travel can be a little desolate at times. The scenery may be beautiful, but the road is often lonely...and we need someone to come beside us in genuine love and give us a reason to believe in the goodness of God.
When my father had heart failure a few years ago, I arrived at Piedmont Hospital while an ambulance was still transferring my dad from another medical facility. I sat in the CCU waiting room completely alone. It was tough. The only comfort I felt through the uncertainty of that situation was Jesus, walking beside me, His arm around my shoulders...just me and Him. Shortly after I arrived, my good friends, Wally and Kelly Bryson walked in...and then my pastor, David Cofield. They made it to the hospital before my father even arrived. Elizabeth Wootten, Craig White, and so many more just showed up at a time I needed them the most. I received concerned calls, texts, and emails that entire afternoon and evening, some from people that I didn't even know. I didn't answer most of them, but I saw them...people, my friends, showing the goodness of God. These precious people will never know how much that meant. Their presence didn't take away my anxiety regarding my father's health, but their presence and calls of concern did relieve the loneliness of walking that road by myself, and almost every person referenced their prayers for me and my family – prayers to a God of goodness. They were showing me a reason to believe in the goodness of God. So often God shows His goodness to others by our actions. Those actions are powerful, healing, and they carry the weight of God's call on our life – a call to be Jesus to the world around us.
Look for reasons to join someone in their walk down a lonely road. You may not have the answers to address any aspect of their situation, but your compassionate and caring presence is a reflection of Jesus. Ultimately, although they may not even be aware, it is Jesus they are seeking. Be the individual who puts your arm around the shoulders of the hurting, not because you can necessarily help, but simply because you care. In this, we show the goodness of God.
There's a lot of discussion today about what things are really essential, and the criterion we use in making those determinations are important. Certainly we would deem grocery stores as being essential, because we need to eat. But everything we would like to classify as "essential" may not really be necessary in a time of crisis. Consequently, as I mentioned previously, the criterion we us in making our classifications are important, and the criterion is often swayed greatly by the interjection of a "crisis."
In crisis, we are first seeking a solution, and when the solution fails to be easily established, we then seek comfort. What's essential in our life is often determined by the things that stabilize our ability to feel comfortable. Is your mobile phone essential? If it is essential, is it placed in that category because it can connect you to your family and emergency services, or is it primarily essential because it connects you to social media on demand? If the latter is the case, it's more a device of comfort and distraction than safety and necessity.
What's really essential in our life? What things bring with them the sheer weight of absolute necessity for our survival, both physically and emotionally? That list would be much shorter than our predilection for total comfort would allow, but they would be the things that are truly essential.
Let me just speak of One...
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." – John 1:14 (ESV)
Jesus is essential, and He's certainly essential for more reasons than I could ever express here, but lets name a few...
As I close, let me briefly discuss the last bullet point, because it's important for today.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
Jesus is essential, because He offers peace, hope, and rest...
COVID-19 has not only peaked our concern about the immediate availability of toilet paper – it's done far greater damage than that. COVID-19 is a stark reminder that life is not only fragile, but our health, freedoms, finances, employment, travels, purchases, graduations, and "necessities" of comfort can all be changed in only a moment. Life can be uprooted and thrown completely out of balance. Future plans can be destroyed, and fortunes can disappear in the blink of an eye. Peace, hope, and rest can take a position far outside of our ability to recognize where they even exist, but Jesus offers them daily. He says, "Come to me..." He also says, "...learn from me..." There's something greater in our current situation than surviving a pandemic; there's an opportunity to learn from the God of all creation about His willingness to be involved in our fear, our insecurities, and our inability to find peace and rest.
It is here, in the rubble and debris of everything we deemed "essential" falling completely apart, that we are forced to examine the criterion of what's truly essential. Is Jesus essential to your life? If living in peace and security are essential, if rest is essential, then Jesus is certainly essential. He calls out to us, not from the periphery of the crisis, but from His position right beside us, in the middle of it all, to come to Him and find what the government and medical science can't provide. He's not looking to provide us with a cure for a virus; instead, He's offering Himself...and if you will accept His offer, you will find He's more than enough.
"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:19 (ESV)
“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us,
we have to see it as something done by us.”
– John R.W. Stott –
At times, I get along pretty well with my sin nature. Don't you? I'm sure I'm not alone.
It's often way too easy for me to walk comfortably through my day and not even think about my very large predisposition to sin, and when I say large, I mean it's huge...really, really big. You know...just like yours. I fight it frequently, but I don't fight it constantly. I guess it's just a sad fact that my focus isn't always on what's been done for me; instead, my focus may just be fixated on the beauty contained in the "results" of what's been done for me. However, we shouldn't just live in the "results." The results (in this case, forgiveness, redemption, and grace) aren't fully appreciated unless the effort put forth to enable them has been identified and thoroughly examined.
What's been done for us is both sad, violent, shameful, and yet, still beyond precious...all rolled into one. What's been done for us was the passing of our guilty punishment onto the life of an innocent – an innocent who willingly took our place. Our spot on the cross was assumed by another. The price for our sinful rebellion was paid in full by the blood of a Savior. It was our cost to pay, but He took our blame. Ultimately, we hold the responsibility for the activities that took place on Calvary that day. We did it.
In his quote above, John Stott had it correct, "Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us." That's a hard truth, but the dark reality of our guilt stands in stark juxtaposition to the beautiful, redeemed innocence we enjoy through the blood of Jesus. The two stand side-by-side as further proof of Christ's great love for us...both His guilty executioners and His forgiven children.
Our lives are far from perfect, and they are often imperfect because we choose to embrace that sinful imperfection over God's will. Christ was sentenced, shamed, beaten, and ultimately killed for the same imperfections that we gravitate to in our unchecked, and often shamefully ignored, sin nature. Let's not make a claim to the "results" of what He has done on our behalf without first taking complete ownership as the cause. We may find it helps our focus to remain on the One who took such punishment for transgressions He could lay no claim to...but claimed all the same.
Jesus didn't really choose the cross. What Jesus did was to definitively choose us, while accepting the cross as part of the process. When He made that choice, the cross was inevitable, but He made the choice anyway. What a wonderful Savior!
This Easter, as you will most likely be sitting in front of a screen watching your church, take ownership of the events that happened to Jesus. It's only then that we can begin to fully understand and appreciate the depth of what was really done for us.
Calvary, the pivot-point where justice met grace. I thank God for the cross of Calvary, and I thank Jesus for draping His innocence upon that cross to stand in my place.
It's Friday on the hill of Golgotha, and Jesus is dead, but the tomb won't hold Him very long. Resurrection and redemption is on the way. But what was necessary has been accomplished. It is finished...well, almost. Sunday is coming...
Anyone who knows me would certainly understand that I love good music. Music has been a foundational aspect of my life for as long as I can remember. My mind is an extensive library of songs, old and new, and that library seems to never reach a point of overload. Much of the music that is stored forever in my mind is sung by my wonderful friend, Janet Paschal.
Early last year, I invited Janet to Rainsville First to sing at Christmas. The previous year, in 2018, we had set up a concert date which ultimately fell through, because North Carolina was covered in snow. In December 2019, she made it! The concert was beautiful, and it was great to see Janet again. It was also wonderful to meet Kay, Janet’s sister, and John, her pilot…who also serves faithfully as her loving husband. I had never met John, but I will assure you that we became quick friends. He said he would let me fly his plane. John was a Senior Captain for United Airlines who flew 747's...my expectations on the plane are high!
Following the concert, we spent a few hours talking over dinner. Well, John and I were talking. As the “think-tank”, John and I solved more than a few world problems that evening. I’m not sure what everyone else did. John and I assumed they talked too, but who knows? It was a great evening with wonderful friends. We laughed, reminisced, and thoroughly enjoyed our time together.
As Janet sang through her program earlier that night, I began to recall her decades of spectacular music that has graced the lives of so many. Songs like, One Rock, Written in Red, If I’d Had My Way, God Will Make A Way…and so many more. My eyes teared up a little as I thought about how these songs integrated themselves, not just into my heart, but into my own ministry, as well. Many of Janet’s greatest hits were sang by me at churches across the southeast in the early years of my own ministry. Those songs helped to form my mindset of how wonderful God actually was and His great love for me. And, those same songs, slowly and methodically, taught me the power of one voice willing to be used by God.
We all have a voice. Some of us use that voice behind a microphone, accompanied by music, to sing to others of the wonderful message of Jesus. Many would preach or teach. Whether you have a voice that reaches many, or a voice that reaches only a few, you still have a voice. Everyone’s voice has the capacity to reach someone. What does your voice say to the world around you? If, more often than not, it’s full of gossip, opinion and complaining, then you’re probably not saying much of worth. If it’s full of compassion, grace, and love, then you may be saying more than you even realize. Using our voice is a privilege. Whether speaking or singing, our voices are created to bring glory and recognition to God. We carry a powerful message!
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” – II Corinthians 5:20. (ESV)
Have you ever stopped to really understand what that verse is actually saying? God has chosen us to carry His message to the world! He makes His appeal, His holy and righteous appeal, through our lives and our voices. What an incredible privilege to be found worthy to pass along that powerful and life-changing message. Do you view yourself as an ambassador of Christ? You should, because you are! If you do, you’ll understand the importance of your voice and the message it speaks forth.
Our minds, hearts, body, and voice are designed by a loving God to be used as ambassadors for Christ to a world in great need. That great need is Jesus. I’ve often heard it said that we may be the only “Jesus” someone will ever meet…meaning, we may be the only person who takes the time to speak the love of Christ into someone’s life. You know, we don’t meet anyone by chance. Every person crosses our path for a purpose, even when the point that “path-crossing” occurs happens as they carelessly run a red light and almost plow into the side of your car. At that moment, how you choose to use the voice that God gave you might be instrumental in their life. Know that it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to either be screaming mad and obnoxious or to “be Jesus.” What will you leave as the legacy of that spoken moment? It matters.
We’re still in the opening week of a brand new year, and this is a great time to evaluate our own voice and examine what it’s speaking to the world around us. It’s hard to always be nice to a world that may seldom extend any nicety to us, but it’s not harder than Jesus dying on a cross for the very people who nailed Him to it. Our ability to speak Jesus into our world is not dictated by our circumstances...it's chosen by the depth of our walk with the Lord. Regardless of what may be occurring at any given moment, choose to use your voice to "speak Jesus."
I thank God for Janet and her voice. I’m thankful that it’s always quick to speak and sing about the love of God. I pray my own voice would be tempered by her example, and I pray my future words might be evaluated under the light of Christ abiding within me…and those words be found worthy of the ambassadorship God has called me to.
“And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
– Revelation 14:7
The great English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “The present age is so flippant that if a man loves the Savior, he is a fanatic, and if he hates the powers of evil, he is a bigot.” That quote would have emerged from his lips in the mid 1800’s, referencing an opinion that society held, even then, regarding true followers of Christ…”fanatical bigots.” It was a prevailing thought in the 1800’s, and it continues to be a prevailing thought to this very day.
Spurgeon’s quote is reflective of several promises in Scripture, and I’m not referring to “feel good” promises; I’m referring to the promise of some harsh criticism and ill-intent towards those who outwardly live a life that seeks to glorify God.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” – John 15:18-20 (ESV)
What does 2020 hold for you and your relationship with a sinful world? Let me encourage you to hope and pray that your walk with God is so strong that the new year will hold some harsh criticism (and even hatred) of you by a world that sees you making a difference for Christ.
Now, that doesn’t sound right, does it? Why would we hope for criticism, hatred, or even persecution? Here’s why: It’s proof that our life is showing the outward signs of the Lordship of Christ, and therefore, it’s boldly challenging the normalization of evil in our world. There will always be evil in this life, and thus, our own lives should always stand in stark contrast to that evil. So, until the Lord returns, if we are living for Christ, we can expect some problems. Frankly, instead of fearing those problems, we should revel in them.
Instead of praying that this new year holds only calm waters, agreeable peers, and great personal prosperity, would it be so odd for a serious child of God to pray that their life is at least a tad disruptive to Satan’s agenda, disruptive enough to possibly see some consequences from the opposition? Remember, if we’re not receiving opposition from the world regarding our faith, it’s probably because our faith isn’t making a difference in the world.
Do we long for that type of walk with God? Do we have the faith to pray for God to use us even if it means we will have to stand against a world full of angry people (many who identify as Christians) coming against us? I guarantee you that very few people who read this will start praying for a walk with God that produces friction, criticism, or problems of any kind, but very few people will choose to live a life that brings any challenge to the comforts of Satan’s agenda in this present age.
Let 2020 be a great year of building your walk with God, increasing your faith, and living a life that is constantly disruptive to Satan’s plans. Let people say what they will. We’re not present on this earth to please people. Expect some criticism, and walk through it empowered by a much greater vision…a vision of pleasing God by living a life in stark contrast to the world. Trust me, if you truly intend on following God, you will not please the world. Honestly, you won’t even please many of those at your church. They may think you to be crazy, fanatical, or even bigoted. In the context of this post, love the Savior, hate evil, and be the fanatical bigot!
I wish you a wonderful New Year! I hope it’s a year of happiness, health, wonderful relationships, growth in Christ, and immense disruption of Satan. If it is, expect some problems. Greet them with a smile, because your God is greater than the war that rages against Him! Live 2020 in victory, my friends!
As I studied today, I ran across some startling statics regarding the decline of the church
in our nation. The numbers are startling, and they are heartbreaking. We should pray daily
for the hearts of American churches, for God to give them a passion to let go tradition,
agenda, and the pursuit of comfort and seek simply to follow God's path
into ministry that leaves a mark on the world.
I won't share my discoveries today. Instead, I thought I would share some truths
from Thom Rainer, truths that he shared in a blog post from March 17, 2017.
His blog post is below...
NINE CHANGES WE MUST MAKE OR DIE
It broke my heart…
Another church closed. This church had unbelievable potential. Indeed, it had its own
“glory days,” but only for a season. But, 10 years ago, few would have predicted this church’s closure. Today, it is but another statistic in the ecclesiastical graveyard.
I know. We don’t compromise doctrine. I know. We must never say we will change God’s Word.
But many of our congregations must change. They must change or they will die.
I call these churches “the urgent church.” Time is of the essence. If changes do not happen soon, very soon, these churches will die. The pace of congregational death is accelerating.
What, then, are some of the key changes churches must make? Allow me to give you a fair warning. None of them are easy. Indeed, they are only possible in God’s power. Here are nine of them:
1. We must stop bemoaning the death of cultural Christianity.
Such whining does us no good. Easy growth is simply not a reality for many churches. People no longer come to a church because they believe they must do so to be culturally accepted. The next time a church member says, “They know where we are; they can come here if they want to,” rebuke him. Great Commission Christianity is about going; it’s not “y’all come.”
2. We must cease seeing the church as a place of comfort and stability in the midst of rapid change.
Certainly, God’s truth is unchanging. So we do find comfort and stability in that reality. But don’t look to your church not to change methods, approaches, and human-made traditions. Indeed, we must learn to be uncomfortable in the world if we are to make a difference. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is a death declaration.
3. We must abandon the entitlement mentality.
Your church is not a country club where you pay dues to get your perks and privileges. It is a gospel outpost where you are to put yourself last. Don’t seek to get your way with the music, temperature, and length of sermons. Here is a simple guideline: Be willing to die for the sake of the gospel. That’s the opposite of the entitlement mentality.
4. We must start doing.
Most of us like the idea of evangelism more than we like doing evangelism. Try a simple prayer and ask God to give you gospel opportunities. You may be surprised how He will use you.
5. We must stop using biblical words in unbiblical ways.
“Discipleship” does not mean caretaking. “Fellowship” does not mean entertainment.
6. We must stop focusing on minors.
Satan must delight when a church spends six months wrangling over a bylaw change. That’s six months of gospel negligence.
7. We must stop shooting our own.
This tragedy is related to the entitlement mentality. If we don’t get our way, we will go after the pastor, the staff member, or the church member who has a different perspective than our own. We will even go after their families. Don’t let bullies and perpetual critics control the church. Don’t shoot our own. It’s not friendly fire.
8. We must stop wasting time in unproductive meetings, committees, and business sessions.
Wouldn’t it be nice if every church member could only ask one question or make one comment in a meeting for every time he or she has shared his or her faith the past week?
9. We must become houses of prayer.
Stated simply, we are doing too much in our own power. We are really busy, but we are not doing the business of God.
Around 200 churches will close this week, maybe more. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes. The need is urgent.
Hear me well, church leaders and church members. For many of your churches the choice is simple: change or die.
Time is running out. Please, for the sake of the gospel, forsake yourself and make the changes in God’s power.
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period.
Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively. The Rainers have ten grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, Bren, Joshua, Collins, Joel, and James.
He is the author of more than two dozen books, including I Am a Church Member, Breakout Churches, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, Essential Church, and Who Moved My Pulpit?
It's been a while since I've posted anything here, and I appreciate the gentle reminders
from many of you who continue to follow the sporadic posts
of a very busy and often distracted mind. I have determined, at least for
the moment, that 2019 will hold more posts...we'll see!
I hope that each of you had a wonderful Christmas, and I also hope that the entrance
of 2019 into our life brings with it great hope and excitement!
Let me thank you guys for continuing to ask about my father,
his health, and his continued recovery. I promise to update you very soon
on my dad...just know that he's doing great!
Below, I've posted a blog from Meg Bucher. The topic is on Scripture memorization.
Let me encourage you (and myself) to start 2019 off with a mind determined
to "hide God's Word in our heart." There's nothing more important!
7 Effective Ways to Memorize Scripture
Memorizing Scripture alludes a lot of us. Why would the Devil want to make it easy for us to carry around the Living Word of God on the tips of our tongues and the top of our minds? Because it’s powerful!
“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." – Psalm 119:11
The Hebrew word for “word” in this verse is “promise.” David wanted to hold onto God’s promise, knowing that was the only way he stood a chance of resisting sin. This side of the Gospel, we cling to the promise of Jesus. We no longer have to worry about the impossibility of avoiding the fall into sin; rather, we hold onto the grace of forgiveness that allows us to repent and keep moving towards holiness … and a heart like His. Jesus is the Word.
“In the beginning, the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” – John 1:1-6
“Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”
– Joshua 1:8
Study. The very word requires effort and exudes the dread of the impending work required; however, studying the Word every day is the only way we will be able to benefit from God’s instruction.
I once heard a pastor speak on being obsessed with God’s Word over obsession with self that is pride. How often do we look to ourselves for solutions to our problems? How often are our problems a result of our pride? We can self-create a world full of doubt inside of our minds that plays right into the Devil’s lies and schemes to derail our effectiveness as Christians.
“Keep their words always in your heart. Tie them around your neck. When you walk, their counsel will lead you. When you sleep, they will protect you. When you wake up, they will advise you.”
– Proverbs 6:21-22
Reading God’s Word daily will help us to recall and remember the pieces of wisdom He knows our hearts need to hear the most. Early morning discoveries can make our hearts stop. Jot them down on a sticky note, and remember.
God’s Word has the power to look beyond our circumstances and reach into another life with encouragement. Daily time in the Word will move us to recall a verse when bringing cheer to a friend through a note or a text. There are hearts in need all over this world, and when we are moved by something we read in God’s Word, it’s for a reason.
“So encourage each other with these words.” – I Thessalonians 4:18
A Bible that is highlighted and page-marked with sticky notes can be a road map to encouragement. Christian-authored books consumed with highlights and notes beg to be quoted. Journals kept in an effort to maintain focus may meet everyday needs of reference. God will use a piece of Scripture buried in that Bible to enlighten someone with the hope that it holds.
Sometimes, memorization occurs naturally as we encourage others with the knowledge that God reveals. An earmarked moment helps us to remember.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2
Memorization requires repetition. When we start slowly, with one verse at a time, God begins a change in our hearts. Patience and persistence in our quest to internalize His Word allows our Father to speak to us through it.
Recollection of Scripture will transform us, as the verse above promises. The choice to focus on God’s Word reveals His character. Our Father will provide us with insight into our dilemmas, and advice for enduring suffering. God’s Word has the power to put everything into heavenly perspective.
Whether it’s repeating Scripture in the elementary car pick-up line, on our morning walk or jog, instead of playing Candy Crush during our work break, or while we cook dinner—just keep repeating.
It’s important to tune our hearts to God’s song. Although our lives are full of craziness, if we don’t re-route them, they will throw our efforts to retain Scripture at the front of our minds overboard.
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”
– Colossians 3:16
When we find our minds drifting into the abyss, we can tune our earbuds or our satellite radios to Christian music, say a prayer of thanks for God stirring our hearts to spend time with Him, and remember our goal to memorize. If there is a song with remnants or whole versions of the verse we are trying to memorize in the lyrics, that’s even better. After all, we’ve been taught to remember things by song our entire lives, starting with the ABC’s!
Why do our brains sometimes choose to remember exactly what the piece of paper our memory verse is written on looks like, but refuse to connect the visual to audibly spoken words?
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” – II Timothy 3:16-17
Scripture is most accurately remembered when directly applied. God does not randomly inspire us to memorize just any old verse. Let’s not miss the direct application to the situation God is speaking into. There’s no “coincidence” where God’s living Word is concerned. He speaks directly to our hearts.
God can take one verse and teach many lessons and different times in life. Some people claim a “life verse” because it’s become a sort of anthem to their life and reflection of their relationship with God. We are more likely to remember God’s Word when we seek to continually apply those verses to everyday life.
“But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” – John 14:26
Memorizing Scripture doesn’t have to be something we do alone. God reminds us in His promise in John 14:26 that the Holy Spirit will help us. It literally says that He will “remind” us, and the power of prayer to ask Him for help doesn’t hurt!
Here is an example of a way to prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit’s help in remembering Scripture:
Father, praise You for Your Word! It is alive and active and applicable to our everyday lives. Thank You for equipping us to serve You through it, and for encouraging and teaching us with every phrase and story. Forgive us for failing to focus on Your Word long enough to internalize it. Bless us to be able to memorize Your Word, Father. Send Your Holy Spirit, who lives in us from the moment we accept Christ as our Savior, to allow our minds to apply and recall Your Word. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Prayer is powerful! He hears every prayer. Don’t ever hesitate to ask for help from the God of miracles.
The most important purpose in memorizing Scripture is to spread the love of Jesus and to share the Gospel. A point-blank question as to why we believe can shock us. How can we explain something that has become such an automatic part of our existence? It’s our job to know.
“Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” – I Peter 3:15
There are always simple truths to fall back on, that we as Christians need to have ready at the tip of our tongues. Even if we can’t quote the chapter and verse, we can repeat the truth of God’s Word just as powerfully.
It’s important to remember, and to tell, of the glory and hope of the love of our great God. The forgiveness that Jesus died to grant us. It needs to be so passionately woven into our conversation by our efforts to remember God’s Word that it practically falls our of our mouths in praise. Remember, God promises that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).
Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ on her blog, http://sunnyand80.org. “Mom” is the most important calling on her life, next to encouraging others to seek Him first…authentically. A writer, dance mom, substitute teacher, youth worship leader/teacher, and Bible Study leader, she can often be found having some kind of an adventure in the small little lake town where she resides with her husband of ten years, two daughters, and their Golden-doodle.
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name
under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Acts 4:12 (ESV)
There are many roads to failure in this life. There are fewer roads to success, but there is still more than one way to get there. But what about the path leading away from this physical life and into eternity? How many roads lead to Jesus?
Recently, a video surfaced of Pope Francis comforting a small boy whose father, an atheist, had died. The young man simply asked the Pope if his father was in Heaven. Even though his father was an atheist, he was a good man, and he had taken the time to have his children baptized. Now he had departed this life, and the mind of his young son was suddenly focused on thoughts of eternity.
Upon the death of a precious loved one, we all find great comfort in imagining them walking into the loving arms of Jesus. Many begin to examine the life of the departed from the standpoint of their good works. As people gather around the casket, stories are exchanged and tears are shed. We find great solace in reminiscing the good times, because they often bring about smiles and laughter…enough to cover the grief and tears of the moment. But, there’s always the question, and it’s a question that may never be voiced aloud, but it should be.
It’s the very same question that troubled the aforementioned young boy…”where is my loved one now?” “Are they with Jesus?” Certainly no one would appreciate a negative answer to this question at the graveside…and so, the emotion of the moment, and the quest to show compassion and comfort, outweighs further inquiry into whether or not the departed really had a genuine relationship with the Lord that was evident. The desire to feel good about the moment trumps the desire to know the truth, and it reinforces in culture a false narrative that God would never send a good person to Hell.
When someone we love dies, many will often loosen their theological perspective to allow room for emotions to buffer the pain of what my remain unspoken but still staggeringly obvious. Here, I’m referring to a person who has died and who has never evidenced a genuine, life changing faith and relationship with Jesus.
If “dad” was a true atheist, and if he lived his entire life personally rejecting the existence of God, then it is doubtful that he had a genuine relationship with the Lord. If his words and actions are the evidence of his real beliefs, then “dad” is not in the presence of God upon his death; instead, he is awaiting a final judgment which will eternally separate him from God. It’s a hard truth, but it’s a truth that should be spoken aloud for others to hear and understand.
Often the death of a loved one is all that will focus people on the question of eternal security, because the weight of that question has just hit them in the face. Yet, we often hide Jesus, the one true way to Heaven, behind softly spoken assurances that the good life of the deceased has done its job and swept them into the arms of Jesus…regardless of the evidence of Lordship.
Many embrace religions that entertain multiple paths to salvation. Many of these would factor in our works and good deeds as pivotal to our “attainment” of a place in Heaven. Sadly, many of these religions are loosely based around the Bible, and the followers of these religions would identify themselves as “Christians.”
God’s Word is very clear as to the number of roads that lead to Heaven. There can ever only be one, and His name is Jesus.
John 14:6 says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
I Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…”
John 10:9 says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved…”
I John 5:11-12 says, "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
There’s no room for comforting ambiguity in these verses. Scripture is not vague or obscure in defining for us the one pathway to Heaven. It is man who alters the criteria, often for the sake of compassion or pity. Possibly, we just don’t want to offend others, so we water down the reality of God’s Word, redefining the very nature of salvation, while cheapening the blood of Jesus into something that may not actually be required for an eternity in God’s presence.
Salvation is not “granted” by weighing out the good deeds a man has performed over the course of his life. It is not “acquired” by examining the culmination of our knowledge or wisdom at the end of our days. It is not “given” to us by the demands of a culture that is convinced that a quality life, full of virtue, morals and character, will lead them to Heaven.
Back to the young boy whose father had died…
There’s varying opinions on what Pope Francis meant in his answer to this distressed young child, and I will not debate the theories here. I will say this, if we speak “Heavenly assurances” to someone concerning the eternal destination of their loved one, and that loved one was an atheist who denied God, we perpetuate a great untruth. The only eternal comfort to others in the death of a loved one who did not know the Lord is the realization that, for those who remain, Jesus is still waiting, and very much longing, to save them. There’s still time for them to make a decision to follow Christ.
Replacing truth for comfort is dangerous. The words of Scripture cannot be bent around emotion. The Words of God are not meant to console the grieving as much as they are meant to bring a recognition of the truth. So, it’s important to understand that not all of Scripture is intended to comfort…a great deal of it is there to warn. Death is coming; Heaven is real, and, my friends, Hell is also real…and it will have residents.
In times of death, be compassionate, but do not fail to see the consequences of a life lived in rebellion towards God. When dealing with those who believe that there are multiple paths to Heaven, again, be compassionate, but do not fail to speak the truth. Forever, there has only been one way to Heaven, and that one way is Jesus Christ.
“Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” – Hebrews 7:25 (ESV)
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!