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Top Books of 2014: Seven Books Worth a Look in 2015

2014 has flown by! That’s all I’ll say by way of commentary on the year coming to a close. There are plenty of other voices covering that at length…for good or bad.

First, let me say that I don’t post nearly as often as I would like. Perhaps blogging will make my list of commitments for 2015. Feel free to call me out on January 2nd when I fail to keep that commitment. Second, this list could be longer, however, I sometimes begin books and never get around to finishing them. This list is comprised of books I HAVE read this year and that left an impression on my life and walk with God.  Third, there are plenty of lists hitting the internet this month recapping the year. It is my prayer that as a result of this post, you might be encouraged to grow in grace and that some of these titles will bless you as they have me.

Prefaces out of the way, on to the list:

Finally-FreeFinally Free by Heath Lambert. Pornography is one of the most, if not THE most pervasive cancer in the church/culture today. Sadly, it is also one of the least discussed. Finally Free is a thoroughly biblical treatment of the subject, free from provocative language and imagery that might trip the reader up in the very battle they are engaging in. Lambert does a superb job of holding out biblical truth to enable the reader to understand the heart of the matter and how God’s grace meets us to set us free. I highly recommend this book for those struggling with pornography or helping those who are.

Art_of_Neighboring-570x881The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. A great book encouraging believers to fulfill the 2nd Great Commandment, The Art of Neighboring focuses primarily on loving your literal neighbors, i.e. those who reside immediately around you. Pathak and Runyon are thoroughly practical and accessible in their effort to nudge us to bring the love of Christ to bear upon the broken people/families right next door. If you are like me, and struggle to think of practical ways to reach out, I highly recommend this make your reading list for 2015.

out of the silent planetOut of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. I read very little fiction, however the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis had been on my list for some time now. This is the first book in the trilogy and gets the series off to a thought-provoking start. What it lacks in action and special effects it more than makes up for in heart and imagination. Out of the Silent Planet is a fantastic commentary on humanity and the war between good and evil packaged in a creative world, crafted by the author of the Chronicles of Narnia. I look forward to reading part 2, Perelandra.

5422b264b8a14851e7ade647ea659b1dMultiply by Francis Chan. What is a disciple? Unfortunately, the current health and programming of the local church necessitates that we ask this basic question. Chan writes the way you might converse with someone over a cup of coffee: real and straightforward. He succeeds in articulating the biblical qualities of a true disciple of Jesus. Chan devotes the first half of the book to outlining biblical discipleship, followed by a survey of the entire Bible in the second half. Multiply will be an important resource for our church in 2015.

25354_largeFound: God’s Will by John MacArthur. The subtitle reads: Find the direction and purpose God wants for your life. This small book will not blow your mind with some new revelation, but MacArthur does a superb job of pulling together scripture that explicitly states the will of God for our lives. He contends that when one is obedient in the clearly expressed will of God, what we often feel is the mysterious and hidden will of God for our lives will become clear. If you are struggling to find direction and purpose, perhaps this short read will serve you well in 2015.

0825433517Why Elders? by Benjamin L. Merkle.  Merkle provides a great service to the church by providing biblically specific instruction, while giving tremendous freedom in implementing what it says. With clear biblical definitions articulated for the offices of elder and deacon along with appropriate responsibilities for both, Why Elders? serves as a practical resource for church leaders who desire health in the local church. Understanding God’s purposes and designs for His bride are paramount for those of us called according to His purpose.

c125a0e888590eb5057f59eb109b0590Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen. Primarily focused on adult small groups, Small Groups with Purpose is helpful in thinking through small group dynamics and the challenges of implementing them. Gladen does a great job sharing his vast experience overseeing small group ministry in a variety of local church settings. The need for more intimate community and biblical fellowship in the local church should spur all to seek out avenues that facilitate both more effectively.

 

 

 

 

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Why Fewer People Are Reading the Bible

I would like to take credit for this post, but I cannot…at least not entirely. I came across a blog post this morning that was compelling enough to post some observations and repost what I found to be very insightful.

While certain disciplines are not for everyone, and a temptation to be legalistic in our spiritual disciplines is very real, the lack of hunger for the word of God amongst the people of God has become quite alarming. Not only does your average church member not hunger for the word, they know very little of it. With the start of a new year, the systematic and intentional intake of God’s word are fresh on my mind and heart. I just began my 4th reading plan in 4 years and I am more excited to read through the word than I was when I first began. We are 9 days into a brand new year. A great time to grab a reading plan and begin the journey through God’s word.

Here’s why. According to Biblica (an organization whose mission is “Transforming lives through God’s word”) Bible reading is down in churches. Their research concluded 3 key reasons for this:

1. People read it in fragments
2. People read it a-historically
3. People read it in isolation

Here is what Peter Enns* summarized regarding these conclusions:

In fragments, meaning in the verse level rather than in large sections. A focus on verses not only encourages proof-texting, but prevents readers from seeing the larger points of biblical works–whether we are talking about a letter like Romans, or large narratives such as we find in the Old Testament.

A-historically, meaning without a feel for the historical context of the texts being read. Many Christians might be unnerved to learn that the present ordering of the books of the Bible is relatively late and wasn’t “finalized” until the mass production of the 16th c. Geneva Bible made possible by the printing press. There is nothing whatsoever sacred about the order we are used to, and switching things up can actually help people connect more with the texts.

In isolationmeaning individual “devotions” rather than in groups. The idea here–completely correct, if you ask me–is that reading Scripture is meant to be a community task for mutual enlightenment and encouragement.

*excerpts take from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2014/01/3-biggest-reasons-why-bible-reading-is-down/

While devotionals can serve as helpful tools in acquainting one with the Bible, they should be treated in the same way baby food is used by parents. Once a child moves on to solid, “real” food, the parent must adjust their diet to meet the physical needs of the child. There ought to be a point where a follower of Christ moves on from the milk of the word to solid food, the meat, in order to meet the spiritual needs of the believer. Isn’t this what the author of Hebrews means when he says:

“11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb. 5:11-14)

Journeying through the whole counsel of God will take your engagement with the word of God to a new level. Followers of Christ are called to growth and maturity. We must press on and get beyond simple devotional thoughts from the word of God. The Christian faith is rich and we must plumb the depths of God’s revelation in order mine all that we can in the short life that we have.

Much more could be said, but I close with a couple of questions: Are you consuming God’s word more than you were a year ago? Five years ago? Be intentional, get a plan, pray against legalism and eat to your heart’s content!

YES: Promises of God: Presence

Have you ever felt alone or lonely? Why do these feelings seem to stick with us so strongly? The Bible declares that we have been created in the image of God. The God of the Bible is a social God. He enjoys perfect fellowship and community within the Godhead. Being created in the image of a triune God means that we desire community and relationship with others. When relationships are lacking in our lives or we feel disconnected from others, there is an unsettledness in us that affects this deep-seated reality as image-bearers. More than that however, is the unsettled loneliness we feel in our hearts when we are separated from our Creator. We were created for relationship with God plain and simple. When this is broken, we carry the immense weight of being out of communion with our Maker.

In numerous places, God has spoken in strong language to assure us of His unceasing presence in our lives. First, God has promised to NEVER leave you nor forsake you. If you are God’s, He will NEVER ever ever leave you! Never is a long time right? I mean, this is a promise that doesn’t just last for our lives here, it will go on forever after this life is over – amazing! God first spoke these encouraging words to the people of Israel in Deut. 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Again, but on a more personal level, in Josh. 1:5 “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” Remember, God does not change. If you think that this is a promise just to be with them in the past, God inspired the writers of the NT to transfer this promise to those of us who are in Christ. Before He returned to heaven, Jesus said this: “and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt.28:20). Hebrews 13:5 says it like this, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Wow – close your eyes & meditate on that – the God of the universe has promised to YOU, that He will NEVER leave you.

More than that, He has promised to never forsake you. That means that no matter what, He will not turn His back on you, leave you hanging, let you down or break up with you, or stop being your friend. Now let’s take a closer look at Hebrews 13:5, because the author pairs this great promise with a warning: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Now it seems odd to say “free from love of money” in the midst of God encouraging them that they will never be left alone. The author of Hebrews is making a connection between the love of money (discontentment) and God’s presence. The people the author of Hebrews is writing to were going through persecution. In chapter 12 it says that they haven’t yet shed blood, but they were indeed enduring persecution. People were taking their things and the government wasn’t doing anything about it. They were being thrown in prison unjustly…again, no one stepped in to carry out justice. These were tests of their faith and the writer is trying to encourage them to hold fast to the faith. To bring it forward into today terms, imagine your unbelieving neighbors/classmates start taking your stuff by force. They take your iPhone, your new shoes, your laptop, your sweet Vera Bradley purse and no one stops them or arrests them and returns your stuff. How do you feel? What kind of questions do you think you would have about God’s presence when that’s going on? So, God’s promise is connected here to the fact that even when things are going terribly wrong in your life and you feel alone in it, God has not left you. The text says “for,” indicating why they need not lose heart in the midst of their circumstances. So the truth becomes more clear: don’t seek your joy in your stuff or other people. Someone could just steal it or you could lose it; friends come and go or let us down. Seek your joy in God alone because He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Ok, maybe you believe me, or better yet, you believe the word of God. But you might be saying, “what if it doesn’t feel like He is here with me? Right now, I feel alone.” Short of reading the “Footprints” poem, I believe Jesus has revealed a great truth to us in John 14:21. Jesus indicates that He will manifest His presence in our lives more and more as we “keep His commandments.” Keeping His commandments demonstrates our love for Him and in turn, Jesus says that He will love that person and manifest Himself to him. So what does manifest mean? According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: “readily perceived by the senses and especially by the sense of sight.” Let’s take a look at how this truth is revealed to us in scripture.

We believe the Bible teaches that God is omnipresent = everywhere present. This means that there is no place where God is not. Psalm 139 is the clearest example of this truth, expressed by a question that clearly only has one answer: “where can I go from your presence?” He proceeds to express the answer by mentioning various locations where he could go, and yet not escape God’s presence. If God is everywhere, this must mean that He is in hell as well. But how can this be? To understand this properly, we need to understand this word manifest. Throughout the Bible, God chooses to manifest His presence in some places and not others. He is everywhere, and yet He chose to manifest His presence to the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness (as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night). Later, in the Tabernacle and Temple, God chose to manifest His presence in the holy of holies. Later still, we see God manifesting Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. Of course we know that God’s manifest presence is most pronounced in the heavenly realm where He sits on the throne. It follows then, that hell is the place where God’s manifest presence is the least of any place in all creation. This is the great horror of hell: permanent separation from the presence of God. Now that we have a little more of a handle on this, let’s return to Jesus’ promise.

 

Jesus has promised to manifest Himself to us more and more depending on how our relationship with Him is going. You show you love Jesus by obeying Him and He in turn shows you His love by manifesting His presence in your life more and more.  What else is He going to give you to satisfy the longing of your soul: Stuff? Money? A girlfriend/boyfriend? He is the greatest treasure in all of life. The greatness of this promise is seen in giving more of Himself to His children the more they find their satisfaction in Him. He rewards those who seek Him by giving more of Himself.

When you treasure Jesus above anything else in your life, you will sense His presence with you in unbelievable ways. Perhaps the reason you struggle with this promise is due to the health of your relationship with Christ. By God’s grace He has given us His word which serves as a mirror to continually check our spiritual health (James 1:23-24). Praise be to God that He has not left us to grow in our own strength, but has given us the Holy Spirit who helps, counsels, guides, instructs, illumines, convicts and strengthens that we might be conformed into the image of Christ. If you feel lonely today, know that God has promised to never leave you nor forsake you. Feelings are subjective, but the word of God is sure (Psalm 19:7). Oh what a promise!

 

YES: Promises of God: Prayer

Promises – what do you think about when you hear that word? We love promises – kids especially want a promise to secure something that they hope to get; it seems to add weight to what they are hoping for. Not just for the simple fact that they feel a guarantee to get what they want, the promise also serves to put their minds at ease about the issue. Like Agnes in Despicable Me. She’s this cute little girl who loves ballet and wants nothing more than for her adoptive father to come watch her dance at her recital. She twirls over to Gru, hands him a ticket and asks, “You’re coming right?” He sarcastically says that he is on pins and needles he is so excited to come. Then she drops the “P” word in her own child-like way, “pinky promise?” Gru thinks he is pretty smart as he says “Oh, yes, my pinky promises.” In his mind, he convinces her that he has promised to come, but he knows better. He knows only his pinky promised to come. Gru has no intention of fulfilling his promise to Agnes…until a heart change later of course.

Some of us though, have had some rough experiences with promises. Someone has broken a promise and it has hurt. Might be simple things, like a friend not showing up to something when they said they would. It could have been something devastating, like someone breaking the promise of rich/poor, sickness/health, til death. Whatever your experience with promises, they strengthen our hope when we believe what has been promised will come to pass.

This month, I hope to share several promises with us, that we can claim as children of God. But before launching into our first promise, I feel it necessary to remind us Who it is that is making these promises to us. God makes several strong statements regarding His unchanging nature. This is called the doctrine of God’s immutability. This doctrine is absolutely essential to embrace and is foundational for our faith in God’s promises to us. In Malachi 3:6, God declares to His people: “For I the LORD do not change.” Numbers 23:19 says “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” Isaiah 46:9 & 11 say “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do.” And to bring it closer to home, Hebrews 13:8 says this of our Savior: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” As we consider the promises of God, embracing the unchanging nature of God is vital. No matter the circumstance or situation, our God is the same always and forever. Amen!

The launching point for our study this month comes from 2 Corinthians 1:3 which says ““For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him.” What an incredible verse the undergirds our hope that our heavenly Father has secured all of His promises toward us through the finished work of His Son. If we are in Christ, all of the promises throughout the scripture to God’s people are ours. Before we continue, two exceptions to be clear on: 1) if you aren’t truly a child of God, these do no belong to you. The only promise from God that is yours is His promise to save you if you repent and declare Jesus Lord over you (Rom. 10:9-10); 2) If you are living in unrepentant sin, you cannot claim the promises of God. Isaiah 59:1-2 declare, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or His ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you & your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” With that said, on to promise number one.

God has promised to answer your prayer. Now we have heard this thousands of times. In our minds we believe this. However, we have all sorts of coping mechanisms to assure ourselves that while we believe this to be true, it is ok that I believe there is unanswered prayer in my life. One of the more popular explanations for this goes like this: God always answers prayer, but it is always 1 of 3 possible answers. 1) He says “yes.” 2) He says “no.” 3) He says “wait.” Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds way more discouraging than the way the Bible puts it. Here is one way the Bible says it to us, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Here is another: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14); or “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7); or “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8); or “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13). Sounds pretty affirmative right? God’s promise to us is to give us what we pray for. Perhaps it would be better to say that God always answers prayer in one of two ways: 1) Yes to what you ask for the way you ask for it; or 2) Yes to something better. Rather than walking away discouraged, we can be energized in our prayer lives that God has promised to say “yes” to our prayer.

Why then do we grow frustrated in this spiritual discipline? I think James 4:3 gives us a clue. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Is it possible that in your prayer life, you are more concerned with your will be done, rather than God’s? Is the desire of your heart for God and God alone? Do you have other passions that affect how you pray and what you pray for? Both the Old and New Testaments speak to this issue in the positive. Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” First John 5:14-15 says “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.” This is the very essence of what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. To pray in His name is to pray according to His will, His desires, and for His glory to be magnified as a result. His name represents Him. It isn’t a magic word we tack on at the end to ensure our prayer makes it to the throne of grace.

Another source of discouragement in seeing this promise realized in our lives is indicated by Jesus in Luke 11:5-8. Jesus tells a parable about a friend who comes at midnight looking to get some snacks for a house guest. Even though its terribly inconvenient, and frankly rude and shameless, the person will give the friend what he wants because of what Jesus calls “impudence.” One must not transfer too much of the analogy onto God, but the point is found squarely in the bold nature of the friend who had the audacity to ask for the food. God wants us to be shameless and persistent in asking Him for things in the name of Jesus. He wants to blow us away with answers to our prayer. Are we daring in our prayer lives? Would Jesus call our prayers “impudent?”

If you are like me, you may find prayer a challenging spiritual exercise. With such great promises to claim in Christ, I have been challenged to double down on my prayer life. So much so that I have set my alarm even earlier in order to spend more time with God in prayer. A final caution. The goal of our prayer lives is not to get answers to our prayers, but to enjoy our God. We live in a culture of Christianity that loves to “name it and claim it.” God wants us to love Him and desire Him with all our hearts. Prayer is a vehicle He has provided for us to do just that. What’s more is that He is gracious toward us in blessing us with answers to our prayer. God’s pinky doesn’t merely promise, but the full weight of His unchanging nature stand behind His promise to answer our prayer.

Say Uncle

This past Sunday night was a BIG Night which is designed to pack a whole lot in a single Sunday night: part outreach event, part fun, part worship, part Bible study. The goal is to provide an exciting atmosphere for our students to invite unchurched friends so they can connect with our ministry & hear the gospel. We took a break from the 1BY1 Challenge, but will wrap it up this Sunday.

Have you ever played the “mercy game” with someone? You know, where you lock fingers and go to battle to get the other person to say ‘mercy’ or ‘uncle’ before you do. The goal is to get the other person to cry out for mercy, to which you gladly oblige as you emerge victorious. I’m sure guys are much more into this than ladies. The point being, a person doesn’t cry out for mercy until he/she realizes they need it. Until the pressure is applied and one realizes they cannot find relief in their own strength, he/she goes on without regard to the situation they may in fact be in.

Such is the case with every person on the planet. Born sinners don’t realize the peril they are in with their Creator until it becomes obvious to them through encountering the truth of the gospel. A quick pop quiz through the 10 Commandments opens our eyes to our utter sinfulness…and even if we were to score a 90% on that test (which is unlikely), according to James 2:10 we would still be guilty of it all. Most people claim to be good. Unfortunately we do not determine what is good and acceptable to the Creator…He does. I say unfortunate from an under the sun perspective, however our Creator is so gracious and good, we ought to rejoice that He is the One who determines what is acceptable in His sight.

The psalmist found himself in a reality that brought him to his knees, crying out for the mercy of God in Psalm 130. When confronted with his sinfulness, he responded in fear before the Lord…but it was fear with hope. A few points to be gleaned from this text: First, if God chose to test your goodness, you would fail miserably. Verse 3 highlights this very truth: “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” The obvious answer the psalmist is looking for is an emphatic ‘no one!’ This is the Romans 3:23 verse of the Old Testament. No one is good in and of themselves before the Lord. This fact alone should cause us to cry out to the Lord for mercy.

Second, complete redemption is found in Christ.  Verses 4, 7, and 8 highlight this reality for us in beautiful language. God is not a harsh, mean, grumpy old man. He is a God of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. He wants us to turn to Him for His mercy. But we must come out of fear and respect (Mt. 10:28). This is the hope that we have in Christ. Although we cannot defend ourselves before a holy and just God, we have an advocate who substituted Himself on our behalf. God’s love is unconditional – He does not love us because of who we are, but because of who He is. Love without conditions, and in Him is “plentiful redemption.” Unlike the progressive redemption program (i.e. layaway) Walmart rolls out every holiday season, God’s redemptive program is full and complete upon repentance and faith.

Finally, faith in God’s word is what He requires. This has been true since the beginning of time. Would Adam trust God’s word or believe a lie? Would Noah believe God’s word or think a flood was crazy? Would Abraham believe God’s word or love his son more? Would David believe God’s promise or take the throne himself? Would Daniel believe God’s word or save his own life? Would Joseph and Mary believe God’s word or preserve their reputations? Would Jesus believe God’s word or do His own will? Do you believe that Jesus’ death on the cross fully paid the penalty for your sin and His perfect obedience is credited to you as if you had done it yourself?

Followers of Jesus should never grow tired of these realities. Rather than a cry for mercy, we ought to cry out with thanksgiving at having received the rich mercies of God in Christ.

Why the 1BY1 Challenge?

There are over 160,000 people in Forsyth County; 18,000+ are students just like you – most of which have never heard the FULL gospel! God isn’t calling us to take on all 160,000 or the smaller number of 18,000+ students. He is calling us to faithfully obey His command to spread the gospel to all people 1 by 1. That is all it takes. There are few Billy Grahams in this world who will reach thousands in a moment. The gospel is powerful and it will spread because what God does cannot be stopped (Job 42:2). It is the power of God unto salvation to anyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). Rev. 5:9-10 reveals that the mission of God will be accomplished as we see that ransomed people for God from EVERY tribe, language, people and nation will surround the throne in worship. The gospel is powerful, not weak…it is amazing, not lame or boring…it is true, not just an opinion or religious belief…it is hope-filled, not gloom & doom…it is worthy of our lives, not an extra-curricular activity to do if you can fit it in to your busy life. So why the 1BY1 challenge? Three reasons: 1) Because people were created for a relationship with God (Gen. 1:27; Gen. 3:8a; Phil. 3:8a; Col. 1:16b; Rev. 21:3). God doesn’t need us. He desires to share Himself with us! This should not be old news, but should blow us away! The greatest Being in existence wants a deeply personal & intimate relationship with us. This is why He created us. This answers the question that haunts every human being on planet earth: why am I here? Only followers of Jesus Christ can answer this question for our friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. Rather than seeking their identity in sports, education, dancing, instruments, family, style and appearance, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, all people are to find their identity in the God who created them and this can only be found in Christ. 2) Our purpose for existence has been shattered by sin (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23; 6:23). God graciously gives life, despite the fact that the moment you take your first breath you are His enemy. Sin has destroyed our reason for existing & people are lost in life because of it. This is the ultimate source of anxiety, worry, stress, confusion and fear. People we see everyday feel this way about their lives. Followers of Christ need to share the source of this brokenness. If we know the truth, why do we keep it from them? 3) Jesus subbed in for us to provide the way out (2 Cor. 5:21; John 3:17). Most people we interact with daily here in Forsyth have heard that Jesus died on the cross for sin. Most people have no idea what this actually means. Why did He have to do that? How does His death & resurrection actually provide forgiveness and reconciliation with God? We need to explain how this works so they can put their faith and trust in the finished work of Christ. Second Corinthians 5:18 tells us that this is our job if we still have breath in our lungs. Who else is going to explain this to those God has put us in contact with? Will we own this ministry of reconciliation or ignore it? Will you take the challenge? This month we are going to journey through the word of God and discover that the 1BY1 Challenge is a natural way to begin the process of being intentional in your relationships & owning your identity as a follower of Christ.  Join me in praying for a brokenness for those who are lost and a boldness to help them find the Way.

Education’s Foundation and Source

I had the privilege of attending one of our local middle school’s newly hatched staff/faculty Bible studies this morning. It was great to interact with the teachers, hear what is going on in their lives and be encouraged by their heart for the Lord and love for students…even middle-schoolers : ) I love middle school students, so being in the company of those who have devoted their lives to educating 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students was a joy!

As I considered what to share with them for the devotional, a number of things came to the surface, but one stood out to me. The Bible has some important things to say about education, particularly warning us about our philosophy of education and how it shapes our world-view.

In Colossians chapter 2 verse 2, Paul encourages believers to be knit together in order to reach all the riches of understanding and knowledge of Christ. What is astounding to read is that the Bible says that ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ. What does that mean?

First, it means that education (the pursuit of knowledge) needs to be coupled with wisdom. The smartest person on the planet can be the most foolish. Yet the wisest person can also be the least educated. You see, God values knowledge and desires that we pursue it. Jesus echoed the words of the greatest commandment in the Bible (to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, MIND, and strength) to His followers. A key component of loving God is to use the mind He has given us to know Him more deeply. Yet knowledge without wisdom loses its worth. In fact wisdom is so important to God, He devoted an entire book to the subject in His revelation to humanity.

Second, ALL knowledge and wisdom find their source in Christ. I am convinced that many believers are unaware of this truth. Most of us (including me) have grown up in a world that separates our faith from the rest of our lives. I went to school and gained much knowledge from my time there, but it was devoid of Christ and severed from the source from which it came. If all wisdom and knowledge are in Him, we miss the mark if we acquire knowledge without Him at the center. Hence the warning in verse 4, that we not be deluded by plausible arguments. The world’s education is built upon plausible arguments. We would be fools and flat out wrong if we were to make the argument that education in the world is not factual because it is devoid of Christ. Christ has built His world with rules and we have senses that take in our world and allow for discovery and learning. Where we will be deluded is not in whether or not there is truth brought forth in the world’s education, but that the truth is severed from Christ and we become convinced by those truths that He is not necessary for our learning. If we believe the word of God, we must guard against this danger and rethink how we view knowledge in our daily lives.

The fallout of this issue is that believers and our culture value education over spiritual maturity. In student ministry, I have seen many families exert far more energy to ensure that their teen get good grades and get into a good college than energy on the spiritual growth and maturity of their children. They spend countless hours of family life quizzing, tutoring and helping their children gain knowledge that the school requires of them, yet spend minimal to no time quizzing, tutoring and helping their children gain knowledge of Christ. Our teens are becoming acquainted with chemistry and calculus, but remaining uneducated in theology and Bible study. Like our culture, we look down on those who are spiritual and esteem those who are educated. Have we so devalued the things of Christ that the pursuits of this world are prioritized above Him?

I am hopeful. We have a generation of teens and children that are hungry for more and have a passion and commitment that put me to shame when I think of my teen years. If the church can partner with parents in holding out Christ as supreme, we are sure to see a shift toward Christ that will awaken a movement of God amongst the rising generation of the Church.

Missions for the glory of Christ

For the past year, I have had the privilege of planning a missions trip to Ecuador for our local church. We partnered with missionaries who have been serving Christ in Ecuador for over 20 years. We also had the privilege of serving alongside of a local pastor who has been pouring out his life for the sake of the gospel in Ecuador. I have just now returned from this trip and am gripped by the love of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14-15) and further convinced that the global need for the gospel far outweighs the workers who are willing to go (Luke 10:1-16).

Some questions haunt me: How can it be that the Church has existed for roughly 2000 years, with millions of believers following Christ in that span, and yet today, there remain more unreached people groups in the world than the SBC (the largest missions sending organization in the world) has missionaries to send? How can it be, that with the 10’s of thousands of local churches in the US alone, the number of those with access to the gospel & the word of God remains so staggering?

From here, I begin to ask how we can begin to turn our hearts toward the world, not just our backyard? More & more I realize that the mission begins on our knees as we pray to the Father to send workers into the harvest. God is the only One who can change hearts. Only He can mold us into the image of His Son, Whose compassion & brokenness for the lost is infinitely greater than ours ever will be. While He calls some to full-time, life-sacrificing, life-long missions, He calls all whom His Son died for to go. The great commission is not optional.

The local church has an immense role in the world-wide mission of God to redeem the lost. We must stand on the front lines, leading the way for global mission. This is not the job of missions agencies or conventions or para-church ministries. This is one of THE primary purposes for the existence of the church.

It is my prayer that the local body of believers of which I am a part, will faithfully engage in the global mission of God. There is no time to waste. The lost are dying daily without the gospel and we cannot stand around and allow it on our watch. May this be the generation that rises up and penetrates the darkness for the glory of Christ alone – the gates of hell will not prevail!

Teaching Stewardship To Your Kids

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”
Philippians 4:11

Stewardship. It is such an important subject that touches on all aspects of life, from time, to possessions, to talents, to money, to parenting, to relationships, to work. The list could go on & on. I want to focus on stewardship as it relates to money. The Bible is serious when it speaks about money because God understands the hold it can have on our hearts. In fact, Jesus spoke more about money than He did about heaven. As parents, we need to be intentional about teaching our children about how to use money for the glory of God. While we need to make many of the decisions regarding money, we also need to teach our children how to be responsible stewards over the money God has entrusted to their care. If you don’t already, I want to encourage you begin teaching your children how to work to earn money. The concept of an “allowance” is foreign to the scriptures. Children should not be given money freely to use as they please, but should learn the biblical concept of reaping and sowing. Provide opportunities for your child to earn money, then, teach them how to steward it. Teach them about budgeting money. First on the list should be tithing. Teach your child to give 10% of what they earn to the local church. This teaches them to put God first in their life, especially when it comes to their possessions. After that, they should look for other ways to give, such as helping out a friend in need, or supporting missions. Finally, they should learn the principle of saving. Teach your child to set goals, be diligent in saving, and be patient to wait for the things that they want. If you are like me, you enjoy buying your children nice things. Be we must guard against the temptation to get them more & more. We must be careful not to feed our children’s sinful tendency to covet more & more & never learn to be content with what God has blessed us with. Teaching your child stewardship will instill godly values in your child that will last forever. The best way to teach them is to model it in your lives as parents. What habits are you demonstrating to your children? Dave Ramsey has some great resources for parents to use with their children to teach them how to manage money & honor God with what He has blessed them with. He is a Christian financial expert & has a very helpful website: daveramsey.com. I would love to share resources if you would like to discover more about teaching your children how to be good stewards of God’s blessings.

 

Serious Time, Serious Discipleship

“Look out for those dogs, look out for the evildoers.”
Philippians 3:2a

We are now living in serious times that are not for the fainthearted. In a culture that seeks to instill a rather laid-back way of thinking & approach to life,  we as followers of Christ & as parents, need to be intensely focused on discipleship of our children. Parents are stewards of these young lives who dwell within our home for only a few short years. However, these few years we have with our children are the most crucial years of development. Will your child be equipped to handle life in this world? To know & process the truth about the world around them? It is our job/duty as parents to build into our children, a framework within which they can live the rest of their lives,   under the Lordship of  Jesus Christ. If you don’t instruct the hearts of your children, someone else will. Think about how much time you have with your child each week. If your children go to school, they spend roughly 8 hours a day in someone else’s care, learning from someone else’s worldview & philosophy of life. If they take part in extra curricular activities, they spend another 1-3 hours a day under that person’s care. If they watch TV or play video games, that is another 1-2 hours per day. Homework, another hour. You get the idea. While being in school & taking part in these other activities are not evil, in and of themselves, they are powerful influencers that parents often welcome into their child’s life, without providing a framework for their child to absorb these influences biblically. Influencing your child to know and follow Christ is YOUR job parent. If you are not hands on with all of these activities & responsibilities in your child’s life, then you are giving them over to the discipleship of someone else. As Paul warns the church in Philippi to watch out for those who seek to influence away from God, we must be watching out for the influencers in our child’s life that seek to do the same. Train them to follow Christ as hard, or harder, than you let them train for athletics, academics, or the arts. Your child’s eternity is at stake. Let’s live as though we believed this was true.