The Deadly Mistake Of Minding Your Own Business

He was the rock. He was a foundational leader of the church. But he wasn’t above being called out when he was wrong.

 

Peter was eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14). At first, that doesn’t seem like much to me because, well, I’m a Gentile. But Peter had spent his entire life living by the strict dietary restrictions we find in the Old Testament. Things changed in Acts 10 when God gave Peter a vision of several unclean animals in a sheet and said every hunter’s favorite Bible verse, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:9-13). My friend calls this the first pig in a blanket.

So a little while later Peter finds himself doing the unthinkable. Eating with Gentiles. And I’m sure that he loved the taste of those pulled pork sandwiches and catfish. Something like that. You get the picture.

But then some of the Jewish elites showed up. And when they did, Peter was caught. Should he stay at the Gentile table at that proverbial New Testament high school cafeteria or should he go back to sit with his old friends. Peter went back to his old friends. But it was more than just nostalgia that pulled Peter away from the Gentile table. It was fear.

The message was clear from Peter. “Gentiles, I’m with you and this new covenant until my people show up and then it’s back to the old way. It’s been real.”

Thankfully, Paul was there and his message to Peter was even clearer. He opposed Peter publicly.

[14] But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas (Peter) before them all, “If you, though a Jew, llive like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Galatians 2:14 (ESV)

Here’s a translation of what Paul said. “Peter, why do you hold the Gentiles to standards that you can’t even keep?”

This was a pivotal time for the church. Peter was influential and his hypocrisy could have led the young movement back into the self-righteousness that they had been delivered from. Paul’s open confrontation could have caused a major split between he and Peter and, by extension, the church as a whole.

But it didn’t. And for that, we have Peter to thank.

Paul doesn’t tell us how Peter responded to being held accountable by the former murderer turned missionary to the Gentiles. Did he storm out of the room? Did he post a vague Facebook status in all caps about people needing to, “Mind their own business?”

One of Peter’s letters, written years after this incident gives us a good clue.

[15]  And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, [16] as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)

Peter refers to Paul, the one who rebuked him years earlier, as, “Our beloved brother” and speaks of him having God-given wisdom. He acknowledges that Paul’s words can be hard to understand and easy to to distort but he finishes with a very important assessment of Paul’s letters. They are part of the Scriptures. That is, they carry the authority of God’s word.

We need Paul’s in our life. We need people who care enough about us and the gospel to lovingly correct us when we are wrong. The very worst thing that could happen to the church or to you as an individual is for everyone around you to, “Mind their own business.”

And when those people do step in to lovingly hold you accountable, it does no good unless you respond like Peter and accept their authority and wisdom. Use their words as an opportunity to examine your life.

My growth in my walk with Christ has little to nothing to do with my own individual perseverance. It has much more to do with God putting people in my life who love me too much to, “Mind their own business.” I pray that he does the same for you.

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A Political Warning For The Church

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There are a few people in my church who will be voting for Hillary Clinton. There are more who will vote for Donald Trump. And then there’s me. I’ll find someone else to vote for because I don’t like either candidate.

But I love the people in my church, regardless of who they’re voting for.

We really need to be careful. This election year has been more intense than any I have ever seen. The country is divided. It’s been divided for a while but the divisions are becoming more and more obvious. And if we don’t watch out, those divisions will find their way into our churches.

Two emotions seem to rule our political age. They are anger and worry. People are angry with the way that politicians are representing them. And for good reason. But inevitably, that anger toward a broken system usually redirects itself toward other people. We’re not just angry at Washington D.C. We’re angry with one another.

And we’re afraid. Some are afraid of what might happen if Hillary is elected and rules the country with her progressive agenda. Others fear the chaos of a nation led by President Trump.

With that in mind, the words Paul wrote to the Philippian church two thousand years ago seem like they were written this morning.

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Philippians 4:2 (ESV)

Some issue had divided these two Christian women. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t simply tell them to figure out how to get along. And he doesn’t tell them to find some common interest that they can agree on. If he were writing it today, Paul wouldn’t tell these women to vote for the same person. Instead, he tells them to agree, “in the Lord.”

Everyone in our churches won’t vote the same. There will be people who have different opinions on education, state politics and who the next president should be. And not everyone will agree with the pastor’s political views. We shouldn’t want that. An assembly where everyone shares the same views on every single cultural issue is more like a cult than a unified body.

So the source of our unity will not be our politics. For the church, Christ is what binds us together. At the appropriate times, we can have discussions on school choice and Hillary and Donald. And we can agree to disagree. But we must always find agreement in the reality that Jesus Christ is the crucified and living God who died for the sins of his people and is coming again.

There’s another “in the Lord” phrase in this passage.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (ESV)

The answer to your fear of Hillary is not found in Donald Trump. Your worries over a Trump presidency will not ultimately be relieved by a Clinton presidency. Yep, you guessed it. The remedy to our fears are found, “in the Lord.”

When we place our identity in a political party or candidate, consuming fear is a natural result. But when we realize that as believers our identity is found in Christ, we really start to respond to scary situations differently.

Instead of doubting God’s sovereign control, we worship him (Philippians 4:4).

Instead of lashing out at others, we treat them with grace and love, knowing that the Lord is always near (Philippians 4:5).

And rather than allowing ourselves to become consumed with fear, we take our concerns to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6).

That’s when we experience the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).

In just under a month, we will elect a new president. That new president will have a lot of power. But the next president of the United States will not have the power to heal fractured relationships. And that president will not have the power to bring genuine peace to our hearts and minds.

So, no matter our political differences, let’s remember to love each other. And let’s not believe those who profit from preaching a gospel of fear. Let’s not look to Hillary or Donald to give us what can only be found in the Lord.

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Thankfully Broken

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I have to preach a tough sermon this Sunday. It covers a passage from the Bible that is often overlooked. It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when preachers didn’t shy away from the topic addressed by Jesus in these verses. Sure, many of those preachers probably could have used a little more grace in their sermons on this topic but at least those sermons were preached. Today, they rarely are.

This Sunday, I’m preaching on divorce.

We preacher types love sermonizing to the choir. We speak boldly against abortion and gay marriage and we should. Once I preached a sermon against abortion and a lady came up to me afterwards to thank me for being so brave. There’s nothing brave about preaching against abortion in the Bible belt. Divorce is a different story.

More and more people in the church have been divorced. And some of those people give a lot of money to the church. It’s been said that people vote with their feet and their wallets. One good way for a pastor to get people to vote against him is to preach on divorce. It’s a sore subject for a lot of people so many pastors find it easier to skip it and carry on with preaching for the choir. People say that they like to have their toes stepped on. They really don’t.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this Sunday’s sermon. All of those thoughts have led me to one conclusion.

Thankfulness.

I’m thankful that I grew up in what society often refers to as a broken home.

I’m thankful that I had to battle with the pain and bitterness that often become permanent residents in those broken homes.

I’m thankful that I routinely saw my mother crying about bills that she wasn’t able to pay.

I’m thankful for those occasional weekend trips to visit my dad.

I’m thankful for a mother who, when she talked about my dad, preferred funny stories from their dating days rather than ones that would fuel bitterness and rage.

I’m thankful for a dad who, when I was an adult, drove me to the side of a middle Georgia road, looked me directly in the eye and told me that he was sorry for the way that I had to grow up.

And I’m thankful for a Heavenly Father who worked in my heart in such a way that I was able to gladly give genuine forgiveness.

I wasn’t always thankful for those things. I spent a significant portion of my life resenting they way that I grew up. But something happened. When I started preaching and counseling and talking to people who have been ravaged by divorce, I noticed something. I wasn’t just sharing information from some book some guy wrote. I wasn’t just giving the Baptist talking points. I was saying what the Bible had to say but I was doing it as someone who had been there. I was like the coach who knew what it was like to play the game.

My mother used to talk about feeling like everyone in the church was staring her down because she was one of the few people who had been divorced. I think about that whenever I preach on divorce. I probably wouldn’t if I grew up in a perfect family situation.

The experiences of my childhood taught me that not everyone who is divorced wanted the divorce. It’s likely that the single mom in your church did everything she could to keep her marriage together and probably lives more fervently for Jesus than you do. There’s a good chance that the single dad who only gets to see his kids every other weekend made tremendous sacrifices to keep his family together. In the realest of senses, his divorce nearly came over his dead body.

God is in the business of bringing beauty out of broken situations and people. Most artists use a perfect blank canvas for their masterpieces. God often uses our brokenness as the canvas for his perfect masterpiece.

Paul wrote it like this.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout he whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. Philippians 1:12-13 (ESV)

In case you missed it, Paul wrote those words while he was under arrest for the terrible crime of preaching the gospel. I like to think of this as gospel math. Our pain plus God’s redeeming power equals the advance of the gospel.

Unless we have bitter and unforgiving hearts.

There would be no gospel advance through Paul if he had allowed bitterness toward his captors to derail his mission. And there would be no gospel advance through me if I would have allowed bitterness to keep me from forgiving my dad that day on the side of the road.

Forgiveness is supernatural.

Without the supernatural grace of God, none of us would be forgiven for our great sins against him. And without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, none of us would ever forgive those who have sinned against us.

You may not know divorce like I do. But you do know brokenness. Do not allow that brokenness to morph into bitterness. Instead, trust your heart to God so that he can do the supernatural work that only he can do of protecting your heart from hardness. And trust your future to God. Only he can do the supernatural work of turning your pain into a vehicle that advances the gospel.

As I write this, I am beginning the preparation for a really tough sermon that I have to preach this Sunday.

In reality, the preparation for this sermon began many years ago.

And I couldn’t be more thankful.

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What America Needs More Than Trump And Clinton

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America doesn’t need Hillary Clinton.

America doesn’t need Donald Trump.

I’m a Southern Baptist pastor so here’s the part where I’m supposed to say that America needs Jesus. While I believe that to be true, that’s not the angle I’m going with this. Of course we need Jesus. But quite often, Jesus likes to make himself known through his people. Even a quick reading of the Bible reveals flawed followers of God who were beams of light in a dark world.

That’s what America needs.

America needs brave young people like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who remain standing while everyone else bows. And make no mistake, there are a host of 90-foot statues to kneel before today. The most prominent one in our culture is naked and painted in rainbow colors. We need young people with the courage and love to say, while standing outnumbered, “I love you but I worship a different God.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18 (ESV)

But that isn’t going to happen if parents care more about raising great athletes who make the family a lot of money than they do bringing up men and women with godly character. And it isn’t going to happen if students at church are fed a steady diet of entertainment and sermons about following their dreams. We need young people who stand for truth when everyone else bows but that only happens if the parents and pastors of those young people are committed to teaching them the truth.

America could use people like Daniel who aren’t afraid of the threats of the tolerance police because they know that the Lion they belong to is far more powerful than the lions sent to kill them. When the world opens up our closets to find a skeleton or two, they need to see us in there praying (Daniel 6:4-5). And when praying suddenly becomes an act of terror, they need to see us doing it anyway. Continually. With the windows opened.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10 (ESV)

America needs prophetic voices like John the Baptist who aren’t afraid to speak up against evil, even when it means a trip to the guillotine. Far too many of our pastors are too preoccupied with building their brand or being buddies with the world to go through the trouble of being a light in the world. Others have no problem speaking out against the evils of the world but they do so in a way that leaves them only preaching to the choir. And that choir is made up of their own family members. Yes, I’m looking at you, Westboro Baptist Church.

John was different. He wasn’t afraid to confront sin but he did so in a way that the very man he confronted wanted to hear more. That’s because, unlike many today, John was fueled more by grace than anger. America could use a voice like that today.

And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. Mark 6:19-20 (ESV)

America needs churches filled with people like the Apostle Paul who care more about winning people to Christ than they do winning people to their favorite political party (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). The church today has consumed itself with either fearing evil or embracing the supposed lesser version of it. We could do worse than praying for the human instruments of that evil to come to grips with their sin, repent and put their trust in Christ (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Paul had to stand trial for the terrible crime of lovingly proclaiming the gospel. As he stood before the king, he didn’t respond with the proverbial middle finger to the government, as many are quick to do today. Rather, he responded with compassion, boldness and gospel truth.

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Acts 26:28-29 (ESV)

America doesn’t need Hillary Clinton.

America doesn’t need Donald Trump.

And America doesn’t simply need a better candidate. The best president history has ever known would have no real success in leading a people whose hearts are turned from God. Our Lord can work through any means he chooses. He has worked through tyrants before to accomplish his will. More frequently, he works through his people. But he doesn’t work through his people so that he can make America great again.

His aim is to accomplish his kingdom purposes. And regardless of the opposition, his kingdom purposes will be accomplished. The only question is this. Will we be a part of his kingdom purposes or will we be too busy clinging to our own tiny, crumbling kingdoms?

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Be Careful What You Fear

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Fear can make you do some crazy things. It can physically shut your body down. It can convince you to make decisions that you’ll later regret. It can convince you to buy some products and get rid of others. As followers of Christ, we have to be very careful of what we fear.

None of us are taught how to fear. At varying degrees, we just enter the world that way. And to make it all better, our parents lie to us. They tell us, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” As we get older, we realize that they were lying to us. There’s plenty to be afraid of. It might not be under our bed but it’s certainly outside our door. If not, we tell ourselves, why do we have security systems on our cars and homes? But then we get even older and we tell the same lie to our kids. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Go back to sleep.”

Jesus doesn’t work this way.

Consider the story of Ananias. Ananias doesn’t get much attention. I don’t know of any VBS themes devoted to him. But if you’re a Christian, it’s very likely that the story of your salvation could be traced back to Ananias. All by God’s grace, of course.

God came to Ananias in a vision one day. Ananias responded like any good follower of Christ. “Here I am, Lord.”

By the time Ananias found out what God was requesting, perhaps Ananias was wishing that he wouldn’t have answered so quickly.

There was a man named Saul. He was well known among Christians for all the wrong reasons. He wanted to kill them. And God wanted Ananias to meet Saul.

Ananias was afraid. So afraid that he felt compelled to talk the Sovereign God of the universe out of his plan.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

As if God would say, “Oh. Good point. I didn’t think about that. Scratch that. My bad.”

When I read this, I picture God laughing when a frightened Ananias talks about the “authority from the chief priests.” Do you remember one of the last things that Jesus told his disciples after his resurrection? In Matthew 28 he told them that, “All authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to him. All authority. Ananias had either forgotten that or hadn’t learned it yet. And the same seems to be true of us.

In this age of fear over elections and Supreme Court appointments and terror strikes it is important for us to remember who the authority really belongs to.

It’s not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

It’s not ISIS.

It’s not the Supreme Court.

It’s Jesus. And any authority anyone on this earth has ultimately rests under his authority. He gives it. He takes it away. All for the good of his Church.

When the Lord responded to Ananias, he didn’t say what parents usually say. He didn’t say, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” And he didn’t even promise that Ananias would be safe. He just said, in so many words, “Go, because I’ve got a plan for Saul and you play a part in the beginning of it.”

So Ananias went. He wasn’t given the assurance that his going would be free of difficulty or danger. But he wasn’t going alone. He was going with the presence of his Lord. And he was going in the fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord is different from the fear of man. The fear of man sees man as ultimate and leads to paralysis. The fear of God sees God as ultimate and leads to worship and obedience and joy.

It’s a scary world that we live in. There is plenty to be afraid of but we must be careful what we fear. It is impossible to simultaneously live our lives in fear of man and obedience to God. Our only hope is to fear God.

If we allow the fear of man to consume us we will eventually embrace evil. Our fears will convince us that evil is our only option. But if we fear God, that is, stand before him in reverential awe and obedience, we will see the world in a whole new way.

Yes, the world will still be a frightening place when we fear God.

But the terrors of this world will have no control over us.

That’s because our eyes will be fixed on the Authority that is over this world.

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Georgia Is Being Governed By Demetrius The Silversmith

Football America

You’ve probably never heard of Demetrius the Silversmith. No, he’s not a rapper. He was a businessman who lived a long time ago. But, in some ways, it’s like he’s still with us today, using his influence to get things done in the state of Georgia.

Demetrius lived in a place called Ephesus. Ephesus was a large, wealthy city that was home to some 250,000 people. It was what we might today call a progressive city because of all of it’s art, industry and educational opportunities. Above all of that, Ephesus was known for it’s gigantic temple which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This temple was devoted to the worship of a goddess named Artemis.

In Ephesus, worshiping Artemis was big business. It’s the reason why over 20,000 people kept coming back to fill that giant temple. And the reason why people like Demetrius made a good living. He sold little silver gods for people to keep in their homes.

But then some guy named Paul came to town and messed everything up.

And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. Acts 19:17-20 (ESV)

A lot of people in Ephesus who used to partake in the national pastime of worshiping Artemis heard the gospel that Paul preached and responded by repenting of their sins. They became new people. The old was gone. Included in that old was all of their Artemis worshiping products. But they didn’t just quit using them. They burned them. The value of what was destroyed was somewhere around $6 million dollars.

That was bad news for our friend Demetrius the Silversmith. He was losing his customers. His reaction shows us that the god he really worshiped was not Artemis. It was money.

About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” Acts 19:23-27 (ESV)

Allow me to translate Demetrius for you.

“Hey, these Christians are coming in here and preaching this gospel and it’s cutting into our profits. We can’t just sit back and let them stop our cash flow. And what about our giant temple? If this keeps up, it’ll just sit empty. On top of all of that, this Paul had the nerve to say that our god wasn’t really a god since it was made with hands. What’s with the hate speech? Someone has to put a stop to this.”

All of this kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We still pretty much have the same players – the Christians, the agitated business leader and the angry mob.

When Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the religious liberty bill earlier this week, he didn’t do it because he cares about diversity or the LGBT community. He did it because he didn’t want his state’s brand new temple to be sitting empty on Super Bowl Sunday.

And when Coke and Disney and Hollywood threatened to leave the state if the governor didn’t veto the bill, it’s not because they care so much about LGBT rights. They care about profit. And in this case, just like in Ephesus 2,000 years ago, profit and the Christian message simply could not coexist, if I may borrow a term from the progressive crowd.

The true gospel can never fully coexist with the culture. At some point the two come to odds with one another. When that happens, there are only three options. Either the culture can repent, the gospel crowd can abandon their message or the culture can start a riot and throw the gospel crowd out of town. Or veto them. Whichever is more politically appropriate at the moment.

This week, we found out that the people of the state of Georgia do not have the voice that they thought they had. Even our elected officials don’t have quite as much power as we would like to believe.

The functional leaders of our state, we learned on Monday, are the NFL, Hollywood and Disney. To put it another way, in Georgia, we are being governed by Demetrius the Silversmith.

Earlier in Acts 19 we read an interesting account of seven men who were absolutely humiliated by a demon (19:16). We have no record of a riot breaking out because the people were mad at the demons filling their city. There is no record of mass protests due to the fact that Artemis could do nothing to stop the evil that lingered over the city. The only riot is the one we read about that broke out when all of the gospel conversions started to cut into the false god industry. It was Paul, not the demon, that got under the skin of the Ephesian Chamber of Commerce.

 

One way of knowing that you belong to a corrupt society is when blatant evil is accepted simply because it’s good for a few politicians and the businessmen behind them.

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Suppose That You Are The Chairman Of Your Church’s Pastor Search Committee

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Suppose that you are the chairman of your church’s pastor search committee. Most of the handwork has been done. You’ve figured out what type of candidate you’re looking for. You’ve put ads in all the right places. You’ve reviewed resumes. Finally, your search has been narrowed down to two people and you get to meet with them individually today.

Both men somehow managed to meet the standards that your committee has for its new pastor. They’re both young, married, look like a superhero, have 3.5 kids, have all the right letters after their last name and they drive a Buick. Classic pastoral traits.

Your meeting with the first candidate is over lunch and he leaves a fantastic impression. He’s well-dressed and personable. He convinces you that preaching the Bible would be a priority in his ministry. But that won’t be all. This candidate would be a busy pastor. He tells you about all of the ministries he has begun at his current location. There’s the men’s Bible study that he leads on Monday nights. Tuesdays are devoted to a cutting edge outreach program. The Wednesday night program at his church has grown exponentially during his time. On Thursday nights he meets with elders and other key leaders while he devotes his Friday nights to leading open gym. On Saturday nights, due to all of the growth at his current church, this pastor leads a worship service aimed at reaching younger adults who otherwise might not attend on a Sunday morning. And, of course, Sunday nights are devoted to small groups, one of which he hosts at his home.

The old line about a pastor only working one day a week is far from true for this candidate.

Eventually, conversation moves to his family. He tells you how much he loves his wife and 3.5 children. He speaks glowingly of his wife’s hard work of raising the children while he devotes himself to the many ministries of the church. After some small talk, the meal is over and the committee promises to call within the next week.

The second candidate meeting is over dinner. He leaves a different kind of impression. While talking about his current ministry position, his responses are short and to the point. He spends a significant portion of his time preparing sermons and Bible studies but he also frequently checks in on the sick and does quite a bit to lead his church in engaging the community.

This candidate finally starts to say a bit more when you ask him about his family. Like the previous candidate, he talks about how much he loves his wife and children. But he goes into more detail describing all of the nights they spend going to practices, ballet recitals, school meetings and just playing games at home together as a family. There aren’t really all that many evening church events on this man’s iCalendar.

Now it’s time for your committee to make the final decision. While the two candidates have a lot in common there is one thing that separates them. The first candidate is highly dedicated to the ministry of the church over any thing else in life. The second candidate, while certainly devoted to the church, values his ministry to his wife and children over any church ministry.

So which will it be?

The church man or the family man?

When Paul lists the qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, he does so in an interesting way. Most of the qualifications he lists are character traits. And those character traits, apart for “able to teach” should be true of all Christian men, not just pastors. In this list, Paul really only gives one responsibility, one thing that the man must do as opposed to the other things that he must be. And this one responsibility has nothing to do with being an entrepreneur, a visionary or a great story teller.

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (ESV)

According to Paul, the most important responsibility that a pastor has, under his devotion to Christ, is his responsibility to love and lead his family.

Find a super-busy pastor and behind him you’re likely to find a church that praises him for doing what they like to call “the Lord’s work.” But behind them, you’ll find an abandoned wife and bitter children who resent him for failing to do what the Bible calls the Lord’s work.

Two candidates.

You only get to pick one.

Which will it be?

The one who devotes his life to the church’s work or the one who devotes his life to the Lord’s work?

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A Word Of Encouragement To No Name Christians

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I’ve never met Billy Graham.

I don’t have one of the Stanley’s numbers in my phone.

But I know an awful lot of people who are just as important to the kingdom of God. They may never get a chance to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. The biggest crowd they’ll ever speak to is that collection of runny-nosed four-year-olds they teach a Sunday School lesson to every week.

The mark of someone who belongs to Jesus is not a ton of Twitter followers or a large platform. The mark of a true disciple is obedience. Sometimes obedience will carry you to a war zone to tell people about Jesus. Sometimes it will have you speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast. More than likely, obedience will have you telling a few people about Jesus in that war zone otherwise known as the children’s Sunday School class.

Wherever your devotion to Christ lands you, there is no better place for you to be than in that place.

Consider Ananias.

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” Acts 9:10-12 (ESV)

Ananias was eager to hear what God had to say. That might be because he didn’t yet know what God was going to say. When God told Ananias to visit a man named Saul, it was comparable to him telling us today to take a trip over to ISIS headquarters to lead a quick Bible study.

Like Moses before him, Ananias tried to talk God out of the idea.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

Verse 15 does not say, “Suddenly the Lord realized that Ananias had a point and reconsidered his plan. After all, the Lord wouldn’t want his people doing anything uncomfortable.”

Here’s what verse 15 does say.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Acts 9:15 (ESV)

Not, “Nothing bad will happen to you, Ananias.”

Just one word, followed by a little explanation.

“Go.”

There was no promise of safety or even worldly success. Just a command. Go.

And Ananias did just that. He didn’t buy a ticket to Tarshish. There’s no giant fish in this story. Just a simple servant of Christ who didn’t allow his fears to overshadow his obedience. Ananias obeyed. Even if obedience to Christ takes you to the home of an anti-Christian terrorist, there is no better place for you to be.

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized. Acts 9:17-18 (ESV)

Saul would later become Paul. He would preach before many. He would suffer much for the kingdom of Christ. Thirteen of his letters are in our New Testament. Paul is a big deal. But so is Ananias.

I never got to meet Billy Graham. He’s a big deal.

But so is Gene Hancock. Before he died, he spent his free time sharing the gospel at a truck stop. I’m glad that I got to know him.

Turk Holt is a big deal too. He has spent most of his life pouring the gospel into young people. I’m glad that I got to learn from him.

When we die, Jesus will not ask us how big our platform was or if we had enough Twitter followers. He’s more concerned with our obedience. Here on earth, there’s no telling where our obedience will take us. But when our time here is done, this much is certain. By grace, our obedience will take us the the welcoming embrace of an accepting Savior.

So no matter how frustrated you are or how unappreciated you feel, don’t quit. Sometimes obedience to Christ and worldly success go together. But when they do not, always remember that there is no better place to be than the place where obedience takes you.

And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Matthew 25:22-23 (ESV)

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So Now What? Get In The Word

Gay marriage is now legal in the United States. So now what? How should the Church respond? The following is the third part of five answers to that question.

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Get In The Word

I’m almost 40. I’ve never been mistaken for Brad Pitt. There is nothing whatsoever that is even remotely cool about me. But none of that mattered a while back at a pizza restaurant when one of the waitresses told me that I was fine. Right to my face.

“You’re fine.”

I went back to my table and told my wife. She rolled her eyes. That’s because she knew that there had to be more to the story. There was.

I was coming out of the restroom and, as is usually the case for me, I almost ran into someone. The waitress. I told her that I was sorry.

“Oh, it’s okay. You’re fine.”

Context.

It makes a big difference. Without it, you hear what you want to hear in order to prop up whatever it is that you want to believe. With it, you get to the truth. When it comes to the Bible, many in our culture pass when it comes to the truth. In politics, everyone is a Libertarian until they want something from the government. In matters of theology, every unrepentant sinner hates what the Bible says until they can make it say something different. Paul could see this coming 2,000 years ago.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV)

Paul’s words before this are shocking. They are shocking because there are many professing Christians who would tell us that, since the Bible is unpopular, we need to put it back in the drawer. We need to exchange preaching for conversations where the world speaks their own version of the truth without context while we mostly just sit back and apologize.

Paul gave completely different advice for a culture that, like ours, treated the Bible as their own personal back scratcher.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:1-2 (ESV)

Don’t abandon it.

Don’t try to make it more hip.

Don’t talk about it but never really use it.

Don’t water it down.

Preach it!

But why?

Paul’s answer is simple. Because it is from God and it is true.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

Politicians change their version of the truth whenever such a transition is needed in order to keep them in line with their financial backers and the popular crowd. If you don’t believe me, go on YouTube and look at those old clips of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama talking about how much they support traditional marriage.

Prophets are different from politicians. They speak the truth in love regardless of what it might cost them. The world needs more prophets. Real prophets. The kind of prophets who say hard things in a loving way. But that will never be you if your Bible is nothing more than religious paraphernalia or just something you use from time to time to support whatever opinion you’re latching on to at the moment.

And here’s a little something that you might not like. It is impossible to consistently speak spiritual truths in love while at the same time ignoring the Bible or taking it out of context.

 

When you die, Jesus won’t ask you how popular you were. It is your faithfulness and obedience that will matter the most. But no matter how hard you try or how well meaning you may be, authentic faithfulness and obedience will never be a part of your life if your life is not in the word.

So which will it be? Will you choose the shifting sands of popularity or the solid rock of God’s word?

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Grace Does Even More

“Don’t worry. What we’re talking about today has nothing to do with Jesus.”

You might expect to hear that where you work. You wouldn’t expect to hear it from a pastor.

But that’s who I heard it from.

He was trying to be reassuring to his large audience. He knew that talk of Jesus can make folks uncomfortable. But he forgot that Jesus came to make us all uncomfortable. That’s what grace does. It shakes us. In fact, if what you refer to as grace has not shaken you, it’s not grace that you have.

If you’ve grown up in the church, you’re probably familiar with the definition of grace. Unmerited favor. Getting good things that you don’t deserve. Those are good definitions. And we like them. Well at least part of them. We like the getting part. We like the favor part. But it’s the part about favor that we do not deserve that doesn’t sit well with us. Who are you to tell me what I don’t deserve?

We like to think that we have something to offer. Perhaps God saw something good in us and that’s why he saved us. Maybe God needed us.

And then grace comes along and shows us just how wrong we are.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)

Grace tells you that you are dead. It helps you to see that you are an enemy of God. It tells you that you are a slave to evil. So much for being comfortable.

Grace does even more.

Some people treat grace like a get out of sin free card. They act as if grace is God’s little gift to keep us from feeling guilty while we sin. Others ignore grace all together. “Who needs grace when you’re already perfect?” they might say.

Real grace always points us to Jesus. From the addict to the princess in the pew, we all need grace to point us to Jesus. Any comfort that we find outside of him is a house built on sinking sand. It is only when we discover our identity in Christ that we begin to know what real comfort is all about.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5 (ESV)

Because of grace, you have a new identity. You are no longer God’s enemy. You are his friend. You are his child.

But grace does even more.

When God’s grace has truly stirred in our hearts, it will always stir in our hands. You may think that grace cannot be seen. But you can. You see it every time a person loves another person in the name of Jesus.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) 

The next time that you hear a preacher trying to make you feel comfortable by not talking about Jesus, get up and leave. There is no such thing as comfort apart from Jesus. And his primary instrument is grace. And that grace will always move you.

If it’s not moving you, it’s not grace.

It’s not Jesus.

It’s just empty religion.

And grace does so much more than empty religion.

It shakes you. It points you to Jesus. It does anything but make you comfortable.