Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The gift of sleep

Certainly kings understand what it means to bear the responsibility of leadership over a nation, over armies, and to consistently be aware of head hunters. That’s why Psalm 127 is unique since it was written by Solomon—both the son of a king and one who succeeded his father David to the throne. What we find in this short psalm is a reminder that we are to work hard for the glory of God and sleep well.

How many people do you know who can’t sleep because they are so worried about their work? Often such people pride themselves in burning the candle at both ends. In our culture of greed, it’s an honorable character trait to work endless hours, go to bed late and rise up early to continue the labor. The world cheers on that type of unending rat race of selfish ambition.

Solomon understood what it was like to go to bed at night with a nation depending upon him. He understood what it was like to rise up early with people looking to him for firm and consistent leadership. Yet, Solomon in a great stroke of wisdom, pens the following words:

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2).

Solomon was looked to as an earthly sovereign, but as a child of God he understood that God was the Sovereign King who rules and reigns over the entire world. R.C. Sproul has rightly stated, “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.” 

Nothing moves or exists without the sovereign decree of God. All things are under the rule of God including, heaven, earth, clouds, rain, snow, ice, bees, bears, locusts, lions and thrones. God literally holds our next breath in His hands.

If you know anything about American cities, the city of New York is nicknamed “the city that never sleeps.” The city is always full of lights and cars and people. It’s common to see people always moving about—going to work, carrying out their labor and trying to move up the corporate ladder all hours of the day and night. 

Often, Christians fall into the trap of eating the bread of anxious toil like the rest of our culture. Charles Spurgeon explains, “Through faith the Lord makes his chosen ones to rest in him in happy freedom from care…those whom the Lord loves are delivered from the fret and fume of life.” [1]

The Baptist catechism asks a very important question. It asks, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is provided, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” When we rise up early and prepare for work and then go out and perform our labor for the glory of God, we should return home tired and sleep well at night. However, when our labor is carried out with selfish ambition we will continue to work and seldom slow down to sleep and rest in God—who never sleeps.

If we learn to work hard for an honest day’s wage—we can trust in God who always provides for His people (Matt. 6:33). If a person labors for selfish purposes, it naturally produces anxiety and inner turmoil to be successful. 

The next time you are tempted to think you are responsible to keep the whole world moving forward—remember your body will eventually tell you that you need sleep. It’s a simple reminder that you aren’t God. It’s also a blessing to rest and have assurance that God is never sleeping, He is always alert, and God is able to honor the labor that is carried out for His glory. Each day we should work hard, come home tired and sleep well.

  1. Charles Spurgeon, Psalms, Crossway Classic Commentaries, ed. J. I. PACKER, “Introduction,” (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 273.

This article originally appeared here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Two Indicators You Are Thankful This Thanksgiving

By Eric Geiger on Nov 22, 2017 
The apostle Paul closed his first letter to Christians living in Thessalonica with these words: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
In these verses, we see a close relationship between joy, prayer, and thanksgiving. As one of them rises, so do the other two. If you are struggling with gratitude, you are simultaneously struggling to rejoice and struggling to pray. If you are thankful this thanksgiving, you have obeyed the commands to rejoice and to pray.

1. If you are joyful, you will be thankful.

As rejoicing increases, so does gratitude. Christians are commanded to rejoice always because always our sins have been forgiven and our King always rules and reigns. When we rejoice in Christ, our gratitude increases as we celebrate Him and what He has done for us. When rejoicing in Christ ceases, so does gratitude.

2. If you are prayerful, you will be thankful.

“Pray constantly, give thanks.” When we pray and spend time with God, we are filled with gratitude for Him as He fills us with peace and joy. A prayerful person will always be a thankful person, deeply attuned to the blessings of God. The one who prays constantly is in constant awareness that everything he/she has is only what the Lord has given. We are only as grateful as we are humble. 
Charles Spurgeon, writing of this passage, stated: “When joy and prayer are married, their firstborn child is gratitude.” If you are not rejoicing and not praying, you will not be thanking.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

3 Reasons Why Jesus Was Hated

3 Reasons Why Jesus Was Hated
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why Jesus is so hated in our culture? 

 We must remember, hating Jesus has always been a popular position by many different cultures. In fact, any society that rejects God ultimately rejects Jesus. This has been the case from the beginning of time.
As we read through the Bible, we see three main reasons why the people of Jesus’ day hated him. That same hatred continues to compound from generation to generation.
Jesus Confronted Empty Religion
One glance at the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s Gospel will reveal the polemical style of Jesus’ ministry. While Jesus was not always polemical in his approach to preaching and teaching, he certainly did confront the empty religiosity of the scribes and Pharisees. On one chapter alone (Matthew 23), Jesus is recorded as having used the “woe to you” bombshell seven times. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus said:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
It was John Calvin who said, “A pastor needs two voices, one for gathering the sheep and the other for driving away wolves and thieves.” [1] Jesus certainly possessed both voices. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus called his sheep to him and they heard his voice clearly. As the Prophet greater than Moses, Jesus spoke with authority and defended the truth of God’s Word from the hypocrisy of the legalists and false teachers of his day. For that, Jesus was hated.
Jesus Loved the Outcasts
The religious leaders of the day hated Jesus. He did not spend time with them nor did Jesus show them honor as they were accustomed to receiving from the community at large. Instead, Jesus spent time with the outcasts, the poor, the lowly, the sick, the needy and the helpless. Consider the fact that Jesus called a group of disciples together from the fishing industry and tax collection. Those people were looked down upon greatly—yet Jesus called them to himself, and after discipling them—he sent them out on a mission. Their mission turned the world upside down.
According to Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” The religious establishment did not know what to do with Jesus—he broke their categories and confounded their minds. Since the rabbinical society was the highest ranking class in the Jewish society—for Jesus to be a powerful teacher and to associate with the lowly and sinful was taboo. While it was considered out of bounds by cultural standards, Jesus literally exemplified how the church of Jesus should engage all classes of society. For that, Jesus was hated.
Jesus Forgave Sinners
Out of all of Jesus’ miracles including turning water into wine, walking on water, feeding the 5,000, raising Lazarus from the dead, causing the lame to walk, the dumb to speak and the deaf to hear—the greatest miracle was when Jesus revealed his power and authority to forgive sin.
Luke, in his Gospel, records a story about Jesus healing a paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus on his bed. Because the crowd was so dense, the friends took the man onto the roof and took apart the roof and lowered the man in before the presence of Jesus. Sitting around on the peripheral were scribes and Pharisees watching the whole scene unfold. When Jesus saw their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” Immediately, the scribes and Pharisees protested. They said, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone? (Luke 5:21)” As everyone was intently watching the whole drama-filled scene unfold, Jesus responded to the religious leaders.
Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—he said to the man who was paralyzed—’I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God (Luke 5:22-25).
Jesus was hated for many things, but at the heart of the religious community was an intense hatred for Jesus’ authority to forgive sins—an authority that transcended their own and it caused jealousy. They didn’t believe Jesus looked like the promised Messiah. And when Jesus taught, he did so with authority—unlike the scribes (Mark 1:22). The reason Jesus was eventually nailed to a Roman cross was based on a fundamental rejection and hatred of Jesus’ divine authority.
When Jesus died, they thought their problem was finally gone. When they heard news of the resurrection, they were greatly troubled. Their only response was to lie.
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day (Matthew 28:11-15).
The world continues to find Jesus’ authority troubling. They continue to spread and believe lies about Jesus ignorant of the reality of what will happen before the throne of God in the near future.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
This article originally appeared here.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

4 traps of ingrown churches

Slowly over time most churches grow primarily inward in their focus, rather than focusing outward to meet the needs of those outside the church.  The result of this inward focus is that churches stop reaching non-churchgoers because they are less frequently meeting the needs of those outside of their fellowship. 


Most non-churchgoers will avoid an ingrown church all together because it does not appear to be sensitive to their needs. Even newly launched and emerging churches are not immune to becoming ingrown. 

The close fellowship created in new church plants, multiple-site churches,   cell-churches, art churches, cafĂ© churches, and house churches often subtly redirect the leaders’ attention inward and away from their mission field. 

Ask yourself, “How much of my volunteer time at church do I spend on meeting the needs of the congregation rather than meeting the needs of those who don’t go to church?” If you do not see a balance, then the church you attend may be ingrown. 

Good churches have this problem too

Ingrown churches actually arise for a good reason. A church’s fellowship often is so attractive, compelling, and beneficial, that before long most of a congregation’s attention becomes directed toward these benefits. 

Donald McGavran in Understanding Church Growth summed up these positive/negative attributes by saying a good church will create “redemption and lift.” By this he meant that once a person is redeemed (restored back to a relationship with God), the person’s fellowship with other Christians will lift him or her away from previous friends who are non-churchgoers. The cure, according to McGavran, is to realize that this lift is good (it raises your life to a new level of loving Christ) but also bad (it separates you from non-churchgoers who need Christ’s love too). McGavran argued that balance is needed in meeting the needs of those inside the church and those outside of it, and so does this post. 

Good reasons that trap churches into ingrown behavior

Let’s look at four common church characteristics that when left unattended can unintentionally redirect a church into a closed, inward focus:

History Trap—A church with a long history. 

A church that is focused internally will eventually lose sight of its original mis- sion and gravitate toward being an organization consumed with helping itself. Years and years of internal focus will result in a church that knows little else. Leaders raised in an internally focused church will think that the volunteer’s role is to serve the existing congregation, perhaps to the point of burnout. Time erases the memory of the earliest days of a church conceived to meet the needs of non-churchgoers. 

The Organizational Trap—A sizable congregation that must be managed. 

Have you ever noticed that when new churches are started, they often have an outward focus? This may be because a newly planted church is often keenly aware that without reaching out to others, the new church will die. However, I have noticed that once a new church is about eighteen months old, it starts becoming so consumed its organizational needs, that it spends most of its time internally focused. Thus, any church with a history over eighteen months long will usually be internally focused. 

The Experience Trap—A church with a talented and long-serving team of volunteers.

 When a church has a cadre of talented and gifted leaders, these volunteers are often asked to stay too long in their positions. They thus become regarded as experts by others and newcomers. The result is that leadership unintention- ally becomes a closed clique, which newcomers with innovative ideas will often feel too intimidated to penetrate. 

The Infirmity Trap—A church with a ministry to hurting people.

Hurting people are often seeking to have their hurts healed by the soothing balm of Christian community. A church that is offering this is doing something good, because to help hurting people is what Christ calls his church to do (James 1:27). And a ministry to hurting people must be conducted with confidentially and intimacy. 

An unintentional result of such confidentiality is that these churches can become closed communities too. Subsequently, churches often thwart their mission to reach out to the hurting and instead gravitate toward a closed fellowship where outsiders find it increasingly harder to get in and get the help they need. 

There is a difference between an internally focused church and one that is balanced with equal emphasis upon internal and external needs. Check all that apply to your church. The column with the most checks may indicate whether your church is growing in, growing out, or is equally balanced (the goal of an uncommon church).

Is your church ingrown?


Check all that apply to your church:




































 More curated ideas from professor, award-winning writer and consultant Bob Whitesel DMin PhD at ChurchHealth.wiki, WesleyTours.com, MissionalCoaches.com & ChurchHealth.expert

Excerpted from Cure For The Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health,by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing House 2012)

Friday, November 3, 2017

10 SPIRITUAL SHORTCUTS EVERY CHURCH LEADER NEEDS TO AVOID

10 SPIRITUAL SHORTCUTS EVERY CHURCH LEADER NEEDS TO AVOID
                    -   By 

For several weeks, I have been crafting a list of the most common shortcuts we take as leaders. This growing list now stands at 24!
I realized, finally, that our lists will vary, depending on our particular vulnerabilities and shadows. So I decided to list the top 10 shortcuts that I have struggled with over the years. In each of these I have discovered J.R.R. Tolkien’s words to be very true: “Shortcuts make long delays.”


1. Not Leading Myself First

To clarify our goals and values in the midst of the innumerable demands and pressures around us is a great challenge. The easier route is to get busy, running around and checking off our to-do lists. I’ve discovered that it takes a lot of time to get clear within myself on how God intends that I steward my gifts, time, energy and limits.

2. Rushing

Rushing is an oil light in a car dashboard indicating that something is wrong with the engine. When we find ourselves rushing, we need to ask ourselves, “What difficult thing might I be bypassing? What anxiety am I carrying that I need to bring to God?” Vincent de Paul described the shortcut of rushing best: “The one who hurries delays the things of God.”

3. Cheating on Your Time With Jesus

The more skilled, gifted, competent and experienced we are, the more easily we can take this shortcut without apparent consequences. The reality, however, is that when we skim on our time with Jesus in Scripture, prayer and silence, we hurt ourselves and those we aim to serve.

4. Not Giving Thoughtful Preparation to Meetings

Like many pastors and leaders, I find it easier to prepare sermons than prepare for a staff meeting. It is easier to take the shortcut of riding on my gifts of speaking and “big-picture” vision to avoid the hard journey of prayerfully reflecting on God’s purposes for a particular meeting. And in so doing, I have wasted a lot of people’s time.

5. Spending Too Much Time Preparing a Sermon for Others and Not Enough Time Applying It to Myself

Great illustrations, memorable one-liners and well-crafted messages become shortcuts when we don’t take the more difficult route of silently marinating in a text until it becomes fire in our bones and truly transforms us.

6. Not Seeking Wise Counsel Soon Enough

Most of us seek counsel—from mentors, consultants, therapists, spiritual directors—when things are really bad. But unless things are going poorly, we often don’t want to invest the time, energy and money for this longer journey. Who wants to hear about potential problems when all seems OK?

7. Ignoring Elephants in the Room

This shortcut is when we don’t ask hard questions when something is wrong, or don’t enter a difficult conversation when one is needed. I avoided elephants for years because they take so long to remove. The problem is that little elephants become big ones. And we can’t build Jesus’ kingdom on pretense and illusions.

8. Trusting in a Quick Fix

How often I have said to myself, “If we can only make this one key hire, or if we can just solve this one problem, everything will be amazing.” That is not true. Growth in the kingdom of God has always been small, little and slow—like a mustard seed. There is no shortcut. Just look at Jesus and his discipling of the Twelve.

9. Underestimating How Long Things Take

The shortcut is to live in an illusion of how long something will take (e.g., starting a new ministry, finding a key volunteer) rather than doing the painstaking work of thinking and actually breaking the process down into steps with our calendars before us.

10. Not Paying Attention to God’s Will in and Through Setbacks and Losses

Taking adequate time to process our painful experiences and paying attention to what God is doing is a long journey. The shortcut of medicating ourselves with busyness, social media or distractions is much easier. The result, however, is that we limit the depth of God’s work, in ourselves and others, when we take this shortcut (see Heb. 5:8).

What might you add to this list?


Pete Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, and the author of two best-selling books: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church. This story was originally posted on Scazzero’s blog at EmotionallyHealthy.org.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

12 SIGNS THAT YOUR HEART HAS BECOME HARDENED IN MINISTRY


12 SIGNS THAT YOUR

HEART HAS BECOME 

HARDENED IN MINISTRY  

 BY: 


It happens to most of us. Ministry gets really hard, and we get wounded. Our wounds then become scars, on which other scars later develop. If we’re not alert and self-aware, our heart gets hardened. Be aware of these signs of increasing hardening in your life:

1. You want to spend less time with your church members.

You used to enjoy their company, but not as much anymore.

2. You start looking for the negative in most situations.

You assume that a problem waits behind every door, so you go looking for it.

3. You don’t trust people like you used to.

You got burned one too many times, so now you don’t take that risk.

4. You don’t grieve over nonbelievers anymore.

Likely, your world has become more about protecting yourself from the wolves in the church than about getting the gospel to the lost.

5. You don’t think much about a “God-sized vision” for your church.

That kind of vision requires trusting him, believing in his people and planning a long stay in the church—all things that a hardened pastor struggles to do.

6. You assume that your church won’t grow.

You give up hope when a hardened heart no longer believes God will use your church to reach people.

7. You find yourself getting jealous over others’ ministry successes.

Jealousy is the sign of a frightened and hardened heart, not a soft, godly one.

8. You don’t forgive people like you formerly did.

You used to be gracious and long-suffering toward sinners, but no longer; now, you get frustrated and even bitter when others sin.

9. You hide your sin and do not turn from it.

That’s always a good sign of a hardened heart.

10. You start wondering about nonministry jobs.

“It’ll all be easier if I just get out of ministry,” you think. Your calling loses its significance in light of present struggles.

11. You get short-tempered with your family.

Your increasing frustration has to come out somewhere, and your family bears that brunt.

12. You find no joy in anything you do.

No matter what you’re doing, nothing brings you excitement and joy. Hardened hearts don’t leap anymore.

Do you see any of these characteristics in your life? How might we pray for you?




Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article was originally published on ChuckLawless.com.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Night the Devil Visited My Duplex by Carlos Whittaker

When I was 21, I was in one of the darkest seasons of my life. I was in my fifth year at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, and I was a mess. I was a lost soul looking for any sort of validation. But I wasn’t necessarily looking to fix myself. I had a job. I hadn’t been expelled (yet). I had a condo. I had a girlfriend. People from afar still saw me as having it together. But, man, was I not together—drinking heavily whenever I could, sleeping till noon, and missing work all the time. I didn’t have a name for it, although now I can look back and see that I was suffering from heavy depression and anxiety. I was 2,500 miles away from my parents. I felt so alone. I had slowly but surely pushed away all my friends.

It was a pretty scary and sad time. Sad is the easy word to define here. But I was also scared, and that word is a little harder to nail down. What did I have to be scared of? Nobody was after me. I had parents who loved me. But I felt this fear. I didn’t know why. It just lingered.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Man, I wish I had known more about this struggle back then. I didn’t. But I was about to be right in the middle of it. It was a Wednesday night in the middle of summer. Somehow I had figured out a way to extend going to a four-year liberal arts school into almost six years. My girlfriend had broken up with me the day before. Looking back, I don’t blame her. I was a hot mess. The week before, I had been fired from my job at Buffalo’s. I had stopped showing up. And on this particular Wednesday, I just sat in my condo and cried. How had my life ended up so sad, and why did I have this feeling of fear? I wasn’t telling anyone about my struggle. I was determined to figure it out on my own.

That night, after spending the entire day inside my duplex, I remember feeling even more fear. It was kinda spooking me a bit. I checked all the closets to make sure nobody was in them. (Don’t fool yourself; you’ve done this before.) I remember even praying a shotgun prayer before I fell asleep. It was a heart cry loaded with, Dear Lord, help me not feel this way when I wake up.
I woke up around 3:00 am. The feeling that came over me can only be described as dark. I had never felt so scared in my life. I pulled the covers over my head and started praying.

Dear God, I pray that you make this stop. I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll behave, God. Please. Whatever is in here, make it leave!

I knew nothing was in my room, but I knew something was in my room. The darkness was darker than just the lights being off and the sun yet to rise. Something was up. And that something was dark. My window was open, and the curtains were flapping a bit more than normal. I was freaking out. After about two minutes of nonstop prayer, I knew I needed to be rescued from whatever was happening in my duplex that night. I needed my dad, so I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen to call him.

Yes, I had to get out of bed to call him. The phone was 15 feet away. This was before cell phones.

Why would I call my dad? Because although I didn’t know much about this whole dark, evil, and spiritual warfare stuff, I was most certain that I was in it right then. And I was sure that my dad would know how to help me out of it.

It was midnight in Fresno, California, where he lived. Would he even hear the phone ring when I called? I hoped so. I flipped the light switch on, and as I reached for the phone to dial his number, it rang. Read that again: Right as I was reaching for the telephone, it rang. And it rang. And it rang.

I had never, nor have I since, felt as scared as I was in that moment.


What was going on? Was I going to pick up the phone and hear the voice of Skeletor on the other end?

Everything froze. I slowly reached for the phone, picked it up, and put it to my ear.

“Carlos, it’s dad. It’s okay. I love you. I was woken up to pray for you, and I want you to know it’s okay. It’s time to come home, son. It’s time to come home.”

I grew up in a Southern Baptist home where we sang hymns and nobody lifted their hands in worship. I didn’t grow up in a house where we talked about this spiritual warfare stuff. I didn’t grow up in a church where people fought against demons and things that go bump in the night.

But you know what I did grow up in? I grew up in a home where I would seldom go a day without seeing my father on his knees with the Father. My dad was a giant. And apparently he had direct access to the Holy Spirit ’cause things just got crazy.

You see, that is the sort of moment that you can’t ignore. You can’t forget.

Guess what I did.

I didn’t say a thing. I just cried. My dad prayed for me and then hung up. Then I started packing. I packed up everything I could fit into my Honda Accord. I mean everything. And the next morning when my Vietnamese neighbors I shared a wall with woke up, I let them know they could have everything I’d left in my duplex. “What happened? Where are you going?” they asked me.

“I’m going to be with my dad because whatever he has, I want it. I want all of it.” And I drove west from Rome, Georgia, heading toward Fresno, California. I had no idea at the time that I would not return to Georgia. But I did know that I needed to sit under my father’s roof again. I needed to pay attention to whatever I had been ignoring for so long. I believed it now. 

Yeah, it took a crazy moment like that for me to believe. And even still, to this day, sometimes I think things like, It was a coincidence. Every once in a while, the stars align. What are the chances? And, every time, the response I get back from God is, “Yeah, Carlos, what are the chances?”

The battle is real, my friends. The sooner we accept that, the sooner our spider killing can begin. And the sooner the spider dies.

You may have heard the saying, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to make you think he doesn’t exist.” When we sit in denial of the reality of spiritual warfare, we are denying the enemy exists and that he is trying to distract us from the work God wants us to do to clean out the cobwebs and get rid of our spiders. So much of the struggle we face comes from the enemy feeding us lies and us buying into them. 

The sooner you stop allowing him to have control, the sooner you can get on to living without cobwebs in your life.