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Developing a 2020 Vision for the Lord (Part 6 – Conclusion)

Friends: We are thinking about the incredible possibility that awaits us as we anticipate a brand new year — 2020. The expression “2020” reminds me of my first eye exam in high school — when I memorized the eye chart before going to the doctor’s! (I don’t know why). As we face this new year, we have the opportunity to focus on several priorities for our lives.

First, we can commit ourselves to becoming more like the Lord Jesus, Second, we want to focus on the truth that we are not to be conformed to this world. Third, we need to have a deep desire to get into God’s holy Word! Four, we would deeply care about the salvation of those around us. Five, we should desire to use our gifts to build up God’s people in the local church.

Those are a lot of priorities for this upcoming New Year! If you and I commit ourselves to becoming like the Lord Jesus, we are opening ourselves up for significant change! If we choose not to be conformed to this world, we will have to become much more vigilant in recognizing “the world, the flesh, and the devil” and their influence on us. If we decide to get much more serious about getting into the Word of God, time and our priorities will wage war against us! If we begin to deeply care about the lostness of people around us, we will find opportunities everywhere to sow the seeds of the gospel. And we will realize that we desperately need the local church and we will choose to use our gifts to encourage other believers.

Would you pray this prayer with me? “Lord of Eternity, You know this New Year — 2020 — provides a great opportunity to grow in Your grace and make significant progress in our becoming more like the Lord Jesus. Help us, Lord! Left to ourselves this year will barely surpass the mistakes we made last year. Help us, Father, by Your grace to make this year different. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2019 in resolutions

 

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Developing a 2020 Vision for the Lord (Part 5)

Friends: We are thinking about the incredible possibility that awaits us as we anticipate a brand new year — 2020. The expression “2020” reminds me of my first eye exam in high school — when I memorized the eye chart before going to the doctor’s! (I don’t know why). As we face this new year, we have the opportunity to focus on several priorities for our lives.

First, we can commit ourselves to becoming more like the Lord Jesus, Second, we want to focus on the truth that we are not to be conformed to this world. Third, we need to have a deep desire to get into God’s holy Word! Four, we would deeply care about the salvation of those around us. If we believe the gospel is true, then every person is headed either to heaven or to hell. Do we think about that truth as we meet people, engage with our co-workers and neighbors, and come in contact with total strangers?

A fifth priority challenges us this new year: We should desire to use our gifts to build up God’s people in the local church. Every believer in Christ has at least one spiritual gift that is to be used to encourage the people of God. We learn about our spiritual gifts in Romans 12, I Corinthians12, Ephesians 4, and I Peter 4.

May I ask you a few questions, dear blog-reader? (1) Do you know what your spiritual gifts are?  (2) Are you using your gifts to serve the local church?  (3) Would you mind leaving a comment at the end of this post specifying which gift you have?

And may I ask you to pray this prayer with me? “Lord of All Gifts, would You use me this year to honor You and to build up the Body of Christ, the local church? Father, make me aware of how I can serve others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2019 in New Year's Resolutions

 

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Developing a 2020 Vision for the Lord (Part 4)

Friends: We are thinking about the incredible possibility that awaits us as we anticipate a brand new year — 2020. The expression “2020” reminds me of my first eye exam in high school — when I memorized the eye chart before going to the doctor’s! (I don’t know why). As we face this new year, we have the opportunity to focus on several priorities for our lives.

First, we can commit ourselves to becoming more like the Lord Jesus, Second, we want to focus on the truth that we are not to be conformed to this world. Third, we need to have a deep desire to get into God’s holy Word!

May I suggest a fourth priority for each of us in 2020? And it is that we would deeply care about the salvation of those around us. If we believe the gospel is true, then every person is headed either to heaven or to hell. Do we think about that truth as we meet people, engage with our co-workers and neighbors, and come in contact with total strangers?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this issue. It’s the reason I recently wrote Unlike Jesus: Let’s Stop Unfriending the World. In that book I make the case that we are to be friends of sinners like Jesus was. And I challenge each excuse that many of us give for having only Christian friends, listening only to Christian music, and eating only Christian casseroles. [I’d be glad to send you a copy for around my cost, about $10 with shipping. Just let me know.]

Would you pray the following prayer with me? “Lord, I want this new year, 2020, to be different as I engage with lost people around me. Open my eyes, Father, to opportunities to share You with them, beginning with a bit of explanation about how I was lost. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2019 in New Year's Resolutions

 

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An Illustration of DEVOTION!

You may have heard the story about the young check-out girl at a local Wal*Mart. She seemed bored with her job, somewhat unfriendly to the customers, and was always looking at her watch to see how much longer she had to be at work.

Her supervisor took her aside and said, “Becky Anne,” (she was a Southern girl), “you don’t seem too interested in your job here at Wal*Mart. You don’t seem real motivated to contribute to our philosophy, but I’m not going to fire you right now. I want to ask you a few questions. Are you ready?” “Yessir,” Becky Anne said.

“Becky Anne, let’s imagine that you had the power to hire any one of the following three guys you see working in a rock quarry. You interview the first guy and ask him, ‘What are you doing?’ He says, ‘I’m moving these stupid rocks. Boy, are they heavy!’ You interview the second guy, ‘What are you doing?’ He says, ‘I’m moving this pile of dumb rocks so I can get enough money to make my truck payment.’ You go to the third guy and ask him, ‘What are you doing?’ He says, ‘I’m helping to build a cathedral!’

Which of those three guys would you hire, Becky Ann?” Becky Ann thought hard for a few seconds and then said,

“The cute one, I guess!”

[Acts 2:42 says the early Christians devoted themselves to the four priorities listed there. Are we today marked by that kind of devotion?]

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2019 in devotion

 

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Some Thoughts about Church Membership – Part 5

“Well, I guess we’ll just have to pray about it!”  How often have you said (or, at least, thought) those words?  I’m embarrassed to say that one of my weakest Christian disciplines is . . . PRAYER!

We’re thinking about the issue of church “membership.”  I’ll be preaching at Cedarcroft Bible Chapel in New Jersey the two Sundays of September 30th and October 7th.  The elders have asked me to draft a proposal about a more strategic process of church membership.

As we look at the early church, we don’t uncover ancient church membership roles, but we do find specific principles and priorities which marked those believers.  They were not mere attenders.  They were dedicated to four specific goals which they consistently practiced.  We learn of their deepest concerns in Acts 2:41-42.  Here’s the text for our consideration.

We have seen their emphasis upon biblical doctrine and their concern for genuine fellowship with one another. We’ve also considered the great value they placed on worship (“the breaking of bread”).  Let’s notice their fourth priority which is —

Priority #4: Passionate about Prayer

This fourth priority makes me extremely uncomfortable. I am not a prayer warrior. I am not a prayer conscientious objector. I am not even a prayer pacifist. I would classify myself as a pathetic, prayerless Christian who has much to learn – and much more to put into practice – about prayer.

This was not my professor.

When I was a first-year Bible college student, one of my professors gave a wonderful lecture on the Christian discipline of prayer. He was not a real approachable teacher, but I gathered my courage about me, caught up to him after class, and said, “Mr. __, I really appreciate what you said about prayer. In fact, I’m going right over to the bookstore and buy a large spiral notebook and I’m gonna’ start studying all the prayers of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation!” He looked at me and said, “Hmmpf. I think you’d be better off just praying.” And then he walked off. But he was right.

Why do I find prayer so difficult? Part of my problem is that prayer seems to me to be passive, a last resort alternative, the farthest thing from being proactive that I can think of. Maybe I do need to study biblical prayers, for I would soon learn that the prayers of God’s people have stopped the rain (Elijah, James 5:17-18), opened prison doors (Peter, Acts12:12ff), prevented God from wiping out a nation (Moses, Num. 11:1-3; 21:7; Deut. 9:23-29), kept God from dispensing justice to some incredibly foolish counselors (Job 42:7-9), etc.

If I look at prayer as speaking with my Best Friend, I become comfortable and ready to share my deepest secrets with Him. If I look at prayer as passing on my burden for a lost loved one, I find relief and assurance that He loves my unsaved relative more than I ever could. If I look at prayer as a reporting in for duty, I find that I become submissive to His guidance and ready to get into the battle. If I look at prayer as the means by which my life receives order and calmness, I find its effects far better than any medication our overdosed world can sell over the counter or by prescription. If I look at prayer as a primary vehicle of praising God, then I can do what ought always to be done: worship the One who gave His Son for my sins.

My problem, and yours too I suspect, is that I look at prayer wrongly. I either view it in a cosmic vending machine way (we insert prayers as if they were coins, pull the handle, and wait for God to deliver our selection), or in a monastic grit-your-teeth discipline way (we pray because God commands us to – that’s all the reason we need), or as something religious to do when all our efforts at solving a problem have had little success (“Well, we’d better call God into this mess! We’ve done everything humanly possible!”). We seem to have God on speed dial, but His only number is 911.

When I fail to spend significant time conversing with the God I cannot see, part of my problem may be that I am walking by sight, and not by faith! The Christian life demands that we talk to Someone we cannot see, Someone who normally will not audibly speak back to us, Someone whom we must believe is there, especially when all evidences of His presence seem to be missing. We are to walk by faith, meaning that we take His promises in His written Word seriously. His Word says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). I either believe that passage of His Word – or I don’t.

Can we talk? Sometimes my problem is that I don’t believe. I don’t always believe that He has my best interests at heart. I don’t always believe that He cares about my needs. I don’t always believe that He answers my prayers. I don’t always believe that prayer works. But in my saner moments, I must acknowledge that unbelief is sin, that I had better be careful in how I define “my best interests,” that I often don’t have a clue about how my “needs” ought to be met (or even what my real needs are), that I am sometimes so out of it spiritually that I wouldn’t know an answer to prayer if it came up and bit me on my….

The first Century Christians devoted themselves to prayer. They gave themselves to systematic, strategic, heart-changing, energizing communication with the Creator. Prayer is God’s gift to straighten out a messed-up Christian like me. What do you think? Am I alone in this struggle? (from the book DocWALK: Putting into Practice What You Say You Believe, pp. 170-172). (to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2018 in church membership

 

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Some Thoughts about Church Membership – Part 4

This morning I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the Lord.  He is letting me write this blog on the critical issue of church membership while I am teaching Burmese students in Myanmar for three weeks!  In a country of great poverty, he has me in a nice hotel room with time to work on class material and a fairly strong internet connection!  I am a blessed man.

But do I worship the Lord only when things are going well?  I hope not.  As we continue our examination of the early church and the issue of connection to the local church, we have been looking at a pivotal passage, Acts 2:41-42.  Here’s that text again:

I’ve grown up in a denomination (the Plymouth Brethren) that has frowned upon church “membership.”  Sometimes for good reasons.  However, the New Testament testimony is that the early Christians bound themselves together to serve the Lord with four specific priorities in mind.

We have seen their emphasis upon biblical doctrine.  We have also noticed their concern for genuine fellowship with one another.  Let’s notice this morning their third priority which is —

Priority #3: The Worth of Worship

We learn from Acts 2:42 that the early Christians devoted themselves to “the breaking of bread.” This expression could refer simply to the sharing of a common meal together, but that would seem to repeat the idea of fellowship. The early believers practiced the Agape feast which archeologists tell us was the precursor to our pot-luck church dinners (I think they have uncovered the clay equivalent of a Tupperware casserole dish). Christians shared a common meal, fellowshiped over the things they had in common in Christ, then someone would make a smooth transition and bring out bread and wine so they could celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. Remembering the Lord’s death until His return was one primary form of worship for the early Christians.

I grew up in a tradition which has very few distinguishing characteristics. The “Open Brethren” celebrate a weekly Lord’s Supper, usually by a separate service dedicated to following the instructions given by the Lord Jesus in Luke 22 and repeated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.

That weekly service typically is not led by a minister. The men of the congregation are encouraged to come to that service prepared to share a Scripture or lead the congregation in a hymn which focuses on the sacrificial death of Christ for us. Some Brethren celebrations of the Lord’s Supper are painful (for example, when there are long periods of silence because the men have not prepared themselves to lead in worship, or one brother in particular waxes long on some pet doctrine, or the singing, often a capella, is so bad it would shatter a paper cup). Most I have found are encouraging and meaningful.

There are many ways to worship the Lord. “The breaking of the bread” was a reminder to the believing community of the sacrifice the Son of God gave that we might be forgiven and worship God “in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2). (from the book DocWALK: Putting into Practice What You Say You Believe, pp. 169-170). (to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2018 in church membership

 

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STUCK! Ten Areas That Will Bury You as a Believer and How to Dig Your Way Out! (Area #4- The Saints!)

How do Jesus-followers get STUCK on THE SAINTS?  We are looking at ten areas that bog down the believer in Jesus (our sermons will be posted on the church website: crossroadschurchinaugusta.com).

By THE SAINTS, let me make myself clear that there is no special category of Christian which gets elevated to the status of “saint.”  “Saint” simply means holy one — and every born-again believer in Jesus is a SAINT!  We may not act like it, but it’s true!

I’m reminded of the poem that says, “To dwell above, with saints we love, Oh, that will be glory!  But to live below, with saints we know, now that’s a different story!”

What are some ways that fellow Christians can bog us down?  We harbor hard feelings, we choose to get mad at one another, we decide not to pursue reconciliation, we don’t pray for one another, we remain spiritual strangers to one another, etc.  What would you add to this list?  I believe most of us need a refresher course in friendship.  And we need to commit ourselves to spending TIME with one another.

The main text that I will be preaching on for this topic may seem strange, but it details the priorities of the early Christian church.  That text is Acts 2:42 where we read:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

That’s it!  One verse.  But notice that these four priorities united believers first to the Lord, and then to one another!  Today let’s notice the devotion of the early Christians:  “they devoted themselves to …”

Perhaps you heard the story of the young check out girl at a local WalMart. She seemed bored with her job, somewhat unfriendly to the customers, and was always looking at her watch to see how much longer she had to be at work. Her supervisor took her aside and said, “Becky Anne,” (she was a Southern girl), “you don’t seem too interested in your job here at WalMart. You don’t seem real motivated to contribute to our philosophy, but I’m not going to fire you right now. I want to ask you a few questions. Are you ready?” “Yes sir,” Becky Anne said. “Becky Anne, let’s imagine that you had the power to hire any one of the following three guys you see working in a rock quarry. You interview the first guy and ask him, ‘What are you doing?’ He says, ‘I’m moving these stupid rocks. Boy, are they heavy!’ You interview the second guy, ‘What are you doing?’ He says, ‘I’m moving this pile of dumb rocks so I can get enough money to make my truck payment.’ You go to the third guy and ask him, ‘What are you doing?’ He says, ‘I’m helping to build a cathedral!’ Which of those three guys would you hire, Becky Ann?” Becky Ann thought hard for a few seconds and then said, “The cute one, I guess!”

In what ways do we show that we are devoted to the four priorities of the early church?  Feel free to post your comment below.  (to be continued)


 
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Posted by on September 21, 2017 in christian growth

 

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Some Rantings and Ravings from Someone Who’s Been in Christian Ministry for a Long Time! (Part 2 of 2, I Promise!)

We’re ranting and raving here for a few minutes.  There are so many concerns screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-4-50-23-amthat I have, especially for the next generation.  I hope I don’t come across like the old curmudgeon to the right, but these are matters that are really critical.

What got me thinking about these issues is the conference I just attended.  I’m actually writing this before the conference, but, Lord willing, it will (did) take place and I will do (did) an okay job of speaking on the topic “Anti-Intellectualism Isn’t Spirituality.”  The conference took place at Emmaus Bible College February 6-7 and was called the “Christian Ministry Seminars.”

My last message in my four-part series expressed some of these concerns that I am summarizing here and in the earlier post of the same title (Feb. 18th).  Permit me to share just a few more of my “issues”:

(1)  I’m concerned that young believers get into the battle and do good work on an intellectual basis.  This means reading books that challenge the Christian faith (what I call “Boiling Books”, i.e. books that boil your blood before you get through the preface).  If we only read the books we agree with, we will not learn the questions and issues an unbelieving world has with the gospel.  “Doing good work” on anscreen-shot-2017-01-31-at-5-37-06-am intellectual basis involves good study skills, critical thinking, and solid research.  Believers of the next generation need to work hard in what are called the “primary” sources, rather than get all their information from secondary sources.  Primary sources are the original documents of a writer or thinker, not what others have said or written about him or his position (secondary sources).  So, if one is going to challenge the abandonment of the gospel by someone like the late Chuck Templeton (at one time Billy Graham’s best friend and an evangelist), one needs to read Templeton!  His Farewell to God as well as his An Anecdotal Memoir would be the first place to start (before one reads Lee Strobel’s interview of Templeton in The Case for Christ).  Does that make sense?  Sometimes Evangelicals are guilty of reading only what others have said about a person’s beliefs — and not that person himself.

Suggestion:  Start small.  Begin a blog and take on some topic with which you want to engage.  Be positive toward the writer and gracious toward what they have written.  But point out the weaknesses in their argument or position as you formulate your response from a biblical perspective.

(2)  I’m also concerned with how many of us view life in general.  My generation frowned on such activities as going to the movies, roller skating (it was dancing on wheels, unless you fell a lot like me), and visiting museums (a waste of time — one ought to be reading his or her Bible).  Today’s generation, it seems to me, doesn’t give those issues a second thought (which is good), but doesn’t hesitate to go to (or download) just about any movie screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-5-40-12-am(some are downright diabolical), learn and sing the lyrics of just about any contemporary song (have you analyzed the words in songs by Lady Gaga or Beyonce?), or attend any play just because the critics said it was good.  If you’ve never been tempted to walk out of a movie theater, turn off your TV in disgust, or ask for your money back at a play, check your Christian pulse.  You might be dead.

Suggestion:  There’s a better way than the legalism of my generation and the libertarianism screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-52-13-amof today’s young people.  I believe Mike Witmer has articulated that better way in his book Becoming Worldly Saints.  Christians are to enjoy God’s good creation (I Tim. 6) and not become or be known as anti-world.  We should live in biblical freedom!

(3)  I’m also concerned with how many of us look at the local church.  It seems that for many today the local church is a big bother.  We go through the motions; we serve when we have to; we give when we must. Instead of seeing the church as the one thing that Jesus is presenting building, we tolerate it as our Sunday activity and as a gathering place with other Christians.  I’m not surprised that one of Philip Yancey’s books is entitled Church: Why Bother?  We must move from thinking of the local church as a place we must be to a place we get to be.

The church in Acts focused on four priorities, according to Acts 2:42 —  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  Here’s my final list of questions:

1.  Are you truly “devoted to” the local church? How do you or I show that?

2.  How concerned are we about biblical doctrine/truth?  Do we see theology screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-5-41-09-pmonly as the domain of elbow-patched, sweater-wearing academics who debate how many angels can sit on the head of a pin?  Or are we committed to knowing, enjoying, and defending the truths of God’s Word?

3.  Do we really understand “fellowship”?  Perhaps we all need a primer on something as basic as FRIENDSHIP!

4.  We must constantly ask, are we truly worshiping the Lord?  Or are we just keeping the machinery going?

5.  I have so much to learn — and to practice — when it comes to the issue of prayer!  I commend you to my post back on January 9th when Dr. Roy King talked about the three prayers we all ought to pray everyday!

So much for my rantings and ravings.  Any you wish to comment on?

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2017 in christian life

 

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The Super Bowl and Priorities!

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Posted by on February 5, 2017 in priorities

 

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The Joy of Unit-Reading #22 (the Minor Prophet Haggai)

Our journey in reading 65 (of the 66) of the Screenshot 2016-01-12 07.15.19books of the Bible in one sitting continues today.  This is called unit-reading and today we are looking at the minor prophet Haggai.

God cares about the work we do — and the spirit in which we do it.

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Posted by on February 10, 2016 in unit-reading

 

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