Tag Archives: church

It’s a Process

“It’s a process.”

My coworkers will tell you that I say this often, as much of what I do in my job is based on analysis, study, conversation and commiseration. I’ve learned that when I follow a careful process and work the process diligently, I achieve the best outcome.

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2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV

The Christian life is a process, too. Once we come to faith in Jesus, we are saved. But that is just the beginning. When we truly understand the magnitude of what Christ did for us on the cross, there ought to be some sense of urgency to share this good news with those who do not yet know Him. The qualities described here are outward signs of the faith that is living and growing within us. They set us apart and cause some to wonder what it is that makes us different, and thus they open doors.

It doesn’t happen overnight. It requires effort. Disciplines such as regular church attendance, daily Scripture reading and prayer, and the encouragement and support of Christian brothers and sisters are all integral components of our growth. As we grow, we tune in to our words, our behavior and our conduct and make changes when those things point away from Christ. We make mistakes, and when we do we confess our sins and work to change.

Growing in faith requires effort. Indeed, it is a process – an ongoing process. And the outcome is oh, so worth it.

Equipped to Witness

Quite some time ago, my employer at the time conducted an investigation that involved me and several other employees. Outside attorneys were brought in, and we were called before them multiple times. The process was a tough ordeal, but through it all, I had no sense of worry; no sense of fear. One morning, as the interviews were approaching their  conclusion, a non-believing coworker came into my office and closed the door. He told me that he was impressed that I had maintained such a calm demeanor through the investigative process while others were short-tempered, lashing out at coworkers and visibly concerned. He asked me what it was that enabled me to maintain my calm. I told him that I trusted God for the outcome, and that I prayed every morning that He would see me through. My faith in Jesus Christ would not allow me to despair. He simply said, “oh” and left my office. We didn’t speak of it again.

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Acts 1:8 NIV

We Christians are commanded to share the Gospel with the world around us. This can seem quite daunting, and even rather intimidating. The world has thrown up barriers to witness in the very places we spend most of our time: our schools and our workplaces. But one thing the world cannot do is forbid us from leading godly lives that catch the world’s attention. Our actions and behaviors are, themselves, witnesses to something, and I pray each morning that every aspect of my life will point straight to Christ. I don’t always get it right, but my hope and prayer is that the Lord will open doors for me to share the Gospel with somebody who hasn’t heard it, or has heard it and rejected it just as He did with this coworker. And when God opens that door, we need not fear for Jesus promised in this passage that the Holy Spirit Himself will equip us to respond.

As we seek and await opportunities to witness, what should we be doing in preparation? Awhile back, Pastor Keith Sanders of First Baptist Church in Keller, Texas shared three ways to witness that I have sought to put into practice:

  1. Seek to become an expert witness by reading and studying God’s Word.
  2. Seek to become a character witness in the way I live my daily life.
  3. Seek to be an eyewitness by sharing what I have seen and heard.

As promised, the Holy Spirit will equip us to do these things if we simply make ourselves available and ask Him to do so. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that this is unequivocally true.

We are in the process of relocating to Houston, Texas. We plan to join Grace Presbyterian Church, whose mission statement is “Making disciples by encouraging people to make Jesus visible in their daily lives.” You see, this is where the rubber meets the road. Our daily lives are where witness happens. This past Sunday, each of us were given a tag to place on our key chain reminding us that “We are Here” and this is where we are to start living to make Jesus visible. “Here” is wherever we happen to find ourselves at any given time.

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“You Are Here”gpch.org

I intend to honor God by seeking to follow Jesus’ commandment to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and I am thankful that the Holy Spirit has used faithful pastors like Keith Sanders, Trey Hill and others to equip me to do so. He also equips me through my morning reading and study time. I am convinced that, by living my daily life in a manner pleasing to God, people will notice and some will ask what it is that I’ve “got”. God will give me the opportunities to speak and the words to say. I just have to be available and ready.

What about you? Are you prepared? Are you available? Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38) Friends, we live in the harvest field. It’s time to get to work.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Godless Chatter – Who, Me??

A kind person blocked me on Facebook a few months ago in response to my sharing some memes that were aggressively critical of President Obama. That got my attention. After a thorough review of my posts I realized she had a point, and since then I’ve made an effort to temper my Facebook posts to avoid mean-spirited political jabber. Instead, I try to focus more on encouragement, the Lord, and the good things of life. Each morning I scroll through my posts from the day before, pleased to some extent with the progress I see but sometimes reminded of how easy it is to be sucked into the pit that Paul calls “godless chatter”. I still post politically from time to time, as it’s important to be engaged, but hopefully with factual and thought-provoking content.

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2 Timothy 2:14-16 NIV


We Christians must be wary of being drawn in to “godless chatter”, but with the immediacy of social media, it can be easy to fall into that trap. Note Paul’s warning here: those who indulge in such chatter will become more and more ungodly. As I scroll through Facebook and Twitter I can see that. We Christians must strive to be salt and light in all aspects of our lives. We are to be Christ’s workers in the harvest field, speaking and living a life that points straight towards our Savior. When we indulge in the “godless chatter” Paul speaks of here, our witness is tarnished and we become ineffective.

Christian friends, let us seek to honor God in all that we do – and in all that we post.

It’s Not About Me… John 3:22-30

Several of the churches in my area send postcards by mail advertising the latest sermon series or newly launched program. I’m always curious when the pastor’s picture is featured prominently on the card, sometimes to the point of dominating the message. What is church all about, really, and who takes center stage?

(John the Baptist’s words): “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:29-30 ESV

After Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, Scripture tells us that He and His disciples went into the countryside. People came to Him, and He baptized them. Some of John the Baptist’s disciples asked John about this, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:26) It’s a perfectly understandable concern, really. John the Baptist had drawn crowds for quite some time, baptizing many for repentance from sin as he announced the presence of Jesus the Messiah. Now Jesus’ time had come; His public ministry was well underway. And, with that, John the Baptist had fulfilled his purpose. It was time to step aside.

How easy it would have been for John to let ego cloud his judgment. Had he shown bitterness, resentment, or envy at the fact that people were flocking to Jesus instead of to John, I suspect that many would have understood those feelings. Instead, John took his rightful place.

Egoism is a prevalent trait in our sinful world. As defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, egoism is a condition in which a person’s motives are driven by their own self-interest, sometimes with an overt display of self-importance. We see this all the time, don’t we? Be careful here. While we may be tempted to think that politicians, athletes, entertainers, or successful business executives have cornered the market on egoism, the reality is this: Even “regular” people like you and me can be overcome by an air of egoism manifested in feelings of entitlement, self-centeredness, or perhaps through overtly seeking attention for ourselves. We have many avenues through which we feed our egos – ever hear of Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter…? Yes, I am as guilty as anybody when it comes to putting myself out there in social media and taking pleasure as the “follows”, “likes”, and “retweets” come. Don’t misunderstand me; I think social media is great. I get news and information via social media. I stay connected with friends through social media. I also take hiatus from social media from time to time when I start to feel like it is dominating how I spend my time.

What is really important? What is it that should supersede everything else? John the Baptist knew that it was Christ.

So, back to the postcards. Since egoism is such an easy trap to fall into, I suspect that many preachers and teachers are sorely tempted, and even give in to the temptation once in awhile. While some postcards prominently featuring the smiling face of the church’s pastor raise the question, I know not to judge a book by its cover. But I wonder what those preachers talk about in their sermons. Do they present the Gospel? Is their message focused on Christ and the fact that He suffered and died to save us from the eternal damnation we all deserve because of our sin? Or do they feed egos by telling their flocks that God wants them to be happy; He wants them to be rich. Is the message they deliver each week about Him? Or is it about the people and their quest for happiness and self-esteem? Do they take the stage accompanied by pounding music and raucous applause or do they quietly, humbly, and contemplatively step to their position to deliver the Word?

What about the music and those who deliver it? Are they more concerned about their appearance and what the congregation thinks of their presentation? As they lead worship, do they move or dress to draw attention to themselves, or are they entirely focused on leading the congregation in worshipping the Lord? In my church, the congregation commonly applauds after the choir or soloist sings and after various ensembles offer their music. To be honest, as a musician I’m a bit uncomfortable with the applause, and I constantly remind myself, “this isn’t about me.”

God called John the Baptist to a very specific ministry. John was to announce to the world that the Messiah had come:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” “No.” finally they said, “Who are you?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John 1:19-27 ESV

My role as a Christian is to announce Jesus to the world as He commanded in The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). It is not to draw attention to myself in doing so. Yes, I want to sing well as a member of the choir and when I assist in leading worship. When I play bells, I want to hit the correct notes at the correct time at the proper volume. I want to do those things to give glory to my God and my Lord. I confess that I am sometimes tempted to relish in the applause when it comes; God forgive me. As a Christian, I must also lift my pastor and all who preach the Word in prayer, that they would honor God in presenting His Word and that they would present His Word faithfully, truthfully, and forthrightly.

John the Baptist announced Jesus’ coming to the world, just as he was called to do. And, as Christians, we are called to do the same. It’s not about us; it’s about Him.

Ponder This: What is my attitude towards God? What is my attitude in worship, especially when I play a leadership role in the service?

My Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, You and You alone are worthy of glory, honor, praise and worship. Even so, I confess that I sometimes forget that, as I focus on myself and what others think about me. I confess that I sometimes give in to the temptation to bask in the positive feedback others give me to the point at which it overshadows You. Forgive me, renew me, and continue to lead me on the path of sanctification. Help me use the gifts and talents you have so graciously given me to Your glory. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Sources:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Scripture text from BibleStudyTools.com

A Truly Good Life ~ John 3:1-21

Registered trademark for Life Is Good, Inc. Photo Credit: businesswire.com

Registered trademark for Life Is Good, Inc. Photo Credit: businesswire.com

“Life is good.” In the mid-1990’s an apparel line was launched by Life is Good, Inc. According to their website, the company’s mission is to spread the power of optimism as they remind us that life is not perfect, life is not easy, but life is good. Featuring their eye-catching logo (pictured here), the apparel line quickly grew in popularity; I had a few of their t-shirts myself. This is a good, relevant, and healthy message. I like it. But in the grand scheme of things it is not complete.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘you must be born again.’” John 3:5-7 ESV

Jesus and Nicodemus. Photo credit: catholicireland.net

Jesus and Nicodemus. Photo credit: catholicireland.net

Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It is rich with meaning and insight. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a leader in the Jewish synagogue. The Pharisees as a group had been badgering Jesus with trick questions and false accusations since He began His ministry. Here, at night, Nicodemus approached Jesus in private, as if something in his heart was leading him to believe that Jesus was something more than a carpenter who taught with authority (verse 2). Nicodemus seems genuinely curious about the Lord, but to approach Him in a manner offering credibility and respect in public would likely have resulted in great personal trial for Nicodemus.

These days, we tend to toss the phrase “born again” about rather casually. But this is a big deal, really. In this passage, Jesus describes a changed person; one who evolves from having been born of the flesh to one who is now born of the Spirit. This is a new life; a life with a focus beyond the things of this world. It is a life rooted in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of the overriding principles of Scripture is that the person who truly loves the Lord knows, first and foremost, that his salvation is solely rooted in the sacrifice that Jesus made in our behalf on the cross. There is nothing any of us can do to earn our salvation.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” ~ John 3:16-17 ESV

Photo credit: newjerusalemcoming.com

Photo credit: newjerusalemcoming.com

Through Christ, God’s work of salvation is perfectly completed. We believers are the humble recipients of His mercy (not receiving the condemnation we rightly deserve) and His grace (receiving salvation from Him, even as undeserving as we are). What does this have to do with being born again? Having received the gift of salvation through Christ, our lives ought to change in response. When we are born again, our priorities ought to reflect God’s priorities, not those of the flesh: the sinful world in which we live. Sadly, however, this is not the case. If each of us is truly honest, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that we still cling to the things of this world even as we live under God’s mercy and grace.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” ~ John 3:19-21 ESV

Friends, these words of Jesus ought to give each of us pause; they certainly do me. I have complete confidence in the redeeming work of my Savior, but I still catch myself living in the flesh every day. When I examine my life in the light, I realize there is still a lot of darkness that needs to be dealt with. And I want to deal with it. I want to change the things in my life that point to the flesh, and instead, point to my Lord – not because it is a requirement of salvation (it is not), but as a product of my love and gratitude for my Lord.

Such change is difficult, for we face significant headwind from our society, which appears to grow more in love with the darkness with each passing day. But even worse is the trend we are seeing in some Christian churches to embrace some sins of the flesh over God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. Don’t believe me? Consider, for example the casual approach to marriage and divorce in many churches or the trend towards legitimatizing LGBT relationships by practice and even by rite in some cases. The enemy wants us to reject a life under the Spirit and, instead, live by the flesh. Sadly, he has successfully influenced several major Christian denominations towards embracing such things. Indeed, living in the light under the Spirit is not easy, but it is what all Christians are called to do.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. ~ Philippians 2:12-13

Travel Bible study. Taken 9.15.2013, Chicago, IL

Travel Bible study. Taken 9.15.2013, Chicago, IL

As believers, we are not to stand quietly on the sidelines and wait for something to happen. We must arm ourselves, not with weapons, but with the knowledge that comes from reading and studying God’s Word. We must read our Bibles daily. We must be in prayer, asking God to reveal His eternal truth through His Word and arm us with the loving words of witness to people, even some within the Church, that so desperately need to hear the Truth. Living the Christian life is about humbly accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation, sharing the good news with others, and living a holy and God-pleasing lifestyle in response; even in the face of criticism and persecution from secular society and misguided brothers and sisters in the church.

Jesus revealed to Nicodemus the Pharisee the fact that He is God and Lord, that He came to save the world from the eternal consequences of it’s sin, and that a life reborn of His mercy and grace is a different life, indeed. All believers are called to live that life. It isn’t easy and living under the Spirit does not make us perfect. But if you think that life is good living under the flesh, try putting yourself under the love, grace, authority and power of Jesus Christ. It is then that you will discover how truly good life can be.

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to save me from my sins. Help me to respond by sharing the Gospel, even in the midst of deepening darkness, and by helping me live my life according to Your good and perfect will as revealed in Scripture. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.

Wedding Crisis Averted ~ John 2:1-11

It’s a wedding catastrophe, the prospect of which can give a bride and her mother prenuptial nightmares as they painstakenly plan each minute detail of the big day. Picture this in your mind: The vows have been repeated and the reception is well underway. The bride and groom have started to breathe as the stress of pre-wedding planning begins to fade into the past. The band is cranking out some great country music (remember, I’m from Texas), and the wedding guests have filled the dance floor. As the umpteenth guest compliments the bride’s parents on the lavishness of the day, and long before the reception is scheduled to conclude, the bartender sidles up next to the mother of the bride to quietly tell her that the supply of wine ordered for the reception has run dry. Can you visualize the look of horror that appears on her face as she processes that news? The bride, her parents, the bartender, and the venue manager look at each other, “how in the world did this happen? And what do we do now?”

As it turns out, Jesus and His disciples attended just such a wedding – sans the country music of course. As the celebration is well underway, Jesus’ mother, Mary, learns that the wedding host has run out of wine for the guests. She tells Jesus about the conundrum, clearly in a tone that only a mother can convey:

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “they have no wine.” (John 2:3)

Taken in context, this is more than just an “oh, by the way” comment. This is a statement that expects action on the part of Jesus; an expectant statement that only a mother can deliver. Jesus caught the gist, for He replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) Jesus, honoring the wishes of his mother, commands that the wait staff fill six stone jars with water. They do so, and at His command they draw out a sample for the wedding host who declares, most likely with a huge sigh of relief, that the choice wine is now being served.

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:11)

There you have it. With this, Jesus’ first public miracle, His earthly ministry is launched and His journey to the cross begins.

As we read John’s Gospel, it is important to remember that John, himself, was one of Jesus’ disciples and an eyewitness to the events he recorded for us in his account of Jesus’ time on Earth. Doubters and conspiracy theorists may dismiss this event as some sort of smoke & mirrors trickery, but nothing surpasses the credibility of an eyewitness account; just ask any trial lawyer.

I believe. Do you?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to live on Earth as a man and die on the cross in my behalf. Thank you for calling His disciples and for inspiring John to record his eyewitness account of your Son’s earthly ministry. I pray that You would bless my study of John’s Gospel, strengthening my faith and maturing me into the witness you would call me to be. For His sake and in His name I pray. AMEN.

“I hate the Church” – An Open Letter

Dear Christian Friend,

My heart aches at your statement that you hate the Church and have left her fellowship. You say the Church is full of judgmental hypocrites. In a way, I can understand why you might say that. I believe you when you say you love the Lord, so as a fellow believer, I hope you’ll consider a few things.

I attend church for several reasons. First and foremost, it is a place to offer worship, honor, and praise to the One who sacrificed His perfect life on the cross to save me from the consequences of my sins. Can I praise God while listening to Christian music in my car? Yes. Can I praise Him as I admire the beauty of His creation? Of course. Are those offerings of praise pleasing to God? I believe they are. But it’s in church that I sit side-by-side with Christians from all walks of life, lifting our voices in unity together in praise to the Lord. That energizes me; it rejuvenates me. There is no replacing that. When I miss church, I miss church and I can’t wait to go back.

You say that churchgoers are judgmental. What you call judgmental is really Christian accountability at work. Once we connect with the Gospel and become saved, the desires of life begin to change; such is a sign of one who is truly saved. A healthy church will teach us what a Godly life looks like through Biblical preaching and teaching and encourage us on our Christian walk. I want my fellow Christians to help me along the path of sanctification. The Bible even encourages us to hold one another accountable (see Matthew 18 for example). We do so out of love for one another, not to win a “gotcha!” game. I get it – we don’t always get this right; there are jerks in church. There are jerks at work, on the roads, at the airport, and in the grocery store, too. Are you going to quit your job? Are you going to quit driving your car? Are you going to hole up in your house to avoid the jerks in life? Of course not.

You see, the church is full of sinners. Sinners just like me and just like you. Sinners who know the Lord, seek to live lives pleasing to Him, and make lots of mistakes in the process. Sinners who rally around the fallen and support him as he seeks to mend his ways. Sinners who lift one another in prayer in times of illness, unemployment, mourning, and other difficulties. Sinners who, though well intended, sometimes say the wrong things. Sinners who throw themselves on the mercy of the Cross, just as God intended. Your decision to leave says, in effect, that you think you are better than the rest of us. That, my friend, is the sin of pride rearing its ugly head. If you really stop to think about that, I know you will realize that you’re not. We’re all sinners. We’re all saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We all have room for improvement. We need each other. We need you and we want you to come back.

Friend, you have a lot to offer the church, just as she has a lot to offer you. The things that you say have driven you away from the church are the very things that should draw you inside. I hope you will reconsider. I hope you will come back. I’m praying for you.

Your Brother in Christ,

Jeff

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