boyradd

Forgiven…Loved…..Transformed!

Losing the Faith

If you run in the Christian circles like I do, you have most likely heard or read about several recent prominent Christian leaders who have “lost the faith” or “turned away from the faith.” While this is alarming, it is definitely not a new trend.

Back in the 80s and 90s there were quite a few very popular Christian bands that had some high profile artists. There were several of those who turned away from Christ. Many are now claiming atheism.

But let’s go farther back.

In the Bible we see many stories of people who either turned away from their faith or doubted it. In Exodus 12, for example, we learn that Miriam and Aaron both oppose Moses but end up being restored. The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert due to a lack of faith. It even led to a bloody conflict that led to half of Israel being killed by the other half of Israel because of faith.

Then you have Jeremiah who wished he had never been born.

King David, in Psalm 13, had doubts. Even in 1 Chronicles 21 we see that David counted his armies rather than trusting God.

Even Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, despaired.

Then you have the doubters. Moses, Thomas, and Gideon all doubted. Peter both doubted and denied. Judas turned away from the faith altogether, and he was in Jesus’ inner circle.

I know that over the years, I have viewed my faith as a moving target sometimes. As humans, we all wax and wane in our faith. There are times we feel so far away from God and others we feel that we are best friends.

One thing I have learned about doubt, or even the “failure of faith” is that we easily get confused when we see ourselves as the prime leader in the relationship. I’d like to focus on a few Biblical characters whose failures could have led to any of them turning away from God altogether. But they each ended up humbling themselves, realizing that they were not the Creator of the Universe (even their own), and came back from their failures.

I like to start with Paul. He is someone I like to think I associate with closest in the Bible. An evangelist at heart but with so much baggage in his past that he always wonders how God can use him. Paul was the epitome of sinner. Prior to his conversion, he was the dreaded Saul of Tarsus. Not only was Saul a killer of Christians, but he was the one who approved the execution of Stephen in Acts. Saul’s sole purpose was to destroy the Christian church. He would go door to door in Jerusalem and seek out Christians and then throw them in prison. Once there, he would track the letters they sent to fellow believers and gather them up as well.

After Saul’s conversion to Christ he changed his name to Paul and became one of the world’s greatest evangelists.

But he still hated who he was.

1 Timothy 1:15-16 – Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

So what can we learn from Paul? No matter when you give your life over to Christ, even after an entire life of horrible sins, the Gospel is too powerful to leave you the same person you were and that transformation becomes a powerful testimony to God’s grace.

Next, let’s look at David. David was the same guy who took a stone and killed the Philistine champion Goliath. He wrote many of the Psalms as worship to God. He was a man after God’s own heart.

However, David was not only mentioned in over half of the Bible’s books, but he broke over half of the 10 commandments!!! He coveted Bathsheba, committed adultery, stole her from Uriah, lied to him, and then had him killed!

But when he is confronted, David repents.

That repentance doesn’t undo everything he did in the past, but it does change the trajectory of his spiritual future.

2 Samuel 12:13 – David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

What we can learn from David is that if we truly do repent of our sin we are not saved from the consequences but we are still able to be used by God.

Third, I would like to look at John Mark. John Mark came from a very important family. Peter went to John Mark’s house when he was released from prison. Paul & Barnabas pick up John Mark on the way back from a mission journey. Unfortunately, we learn that John Mark left Paul & Barnabas in Perga and went back to Jerusalem.

While we don’t know the reasons behind why John Mark left them, we do know that it wasn’t for a good reason. Barnabas later suggests they go get him and Paul refuses to do it. This leads to the disagreement between Barnabas and Paul that causes the two of them to part ways. Barnabas chooses Mark and Paul chooses Silas and they go their separate ways for as long as we know in the Bible.

Later, when Paul is in prison, he writes to Colossae and tells them that John Mark is with him and has been a great comfort and that they are to welcome John Mark. This is the same person that disappointed Paul earlier in life so much that it caused division among the saints.

And now, Paul is calling him a “fellow worker.”

What can we learn from John Mark? While conversion is instantaneous, it takes a lifetime to grow into the faith you are accepted into. Maturity comes at a later date, even when we think we are mature enough to handle situations we cannot. As long as we persevere, we can outgrow those immature moments in life.

Next, let’s look at Peter. Peter was loud and shoots from the hip quite a bit. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He was the only one to attempt walking on water and he was the first to tell Jesus he believed He was the Son of God.

But we know what happens, Peter denies Jesus not just once but three times!

Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter though. Peter is the first person Jesus appears to. He restores Peter at the Sea of Galilee.

And then Peter went on to preach the first sermon in which 3,000 people got saved!!!

What is it that Peter can teach us? Failure doesn’t disqualify you from the Kingdom of God.

The last person I would like to look at is Elijah.

Elijah was someone who worked so many miracles it would be hard to think of him as human. He caused the rain to stop for 3 years, he was fed by ravens, he witnessed a young man resurrected, and he called down fire from heaven, thus destroying the prophets of Baal.

But then we see that Elijah burned out. After calling down fire, Elijah realized he couldn’t take anymore. He fled to the wilderness and felt totally alone and afraid.

God met him there. He fed him. He allowed him the time to rest. And after a while, he answered Elijah in the still, small voice.

What can we learn from Elijah? Burnout is only permanent if you allow it to be. Don’t listen to everything and everyone when you are exhausted. Take time to care for yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Then get back out there and win people to Christ.

The only way that failure will win in your life and cause you to leave the faith is if you allow it to do so. We serve a big God. This is the same God that created the universe! He can give us what we need, if we only allow Him to do so.

The Sinner’s Songbook

I love music. Not the music all you people like, but music that speaks to me. Sometimes that will be hymns. Sometimes that will be punk. Sometimes that will be rap. Sometimes that will be swing.

Tonight I was listening to a band that I used to listen to when I was growing up. The band is the Insyder’z. They consider themselves ska-core. Basically punk music with a lot of horns. Their newest album is The Sinner’s Songbook.

Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

As I was listening to the title track, I started to really relate with what they were singing. I got to remembering people I have come in contact with during my short life in ministry. I’d like to share some of those stories here. Please know the names have been changed to protect people.

First, there is Harvey. I met Harvey in 2013 when I led young adults at my former church. Harvey approached me one night afterward and said he was exploring his bisexual side. I didn’t know what to say. I simply asked him to explain to me what he was feeling and why he was feeling that way. We spoke for a very long time that night. Over time, I noticed that he started coming less and less. Eventually he stopped coming altogether.  When I saw him at work a few months later we started talking again. He said that he really loved our conversations but others in the church weren’t accepting him because of his lifestyle. I explained that he, as a person made in God’s image is always accepted, but his lifestyle is not. Even to this day, we talk when I see him at work and he thanks me for being approachable.

Next, there is Cassidy. Another young adult, she has had a troubled life. She has been abused by her “loved ones.” This led to her having a low self-worth and eventually ended up in her making poor life choices. She had an unhealthy addiction to sex and has had several abortions. Immediately I connected her with women in the church that could walk alongside her. She wouldn’t go to church that often because she felt as if the people in the pews were judging her, but she continued to come to young adult group and built great relationships with the women there. As those women moved on in their lives, she eventually dropped off. I haven’t seen her in a long while, even before I changed churches.

The next person is John. I met John as he was mid-divorce and dealing with an addiction to porn. As someone who has been through a divorce and had those same feelings that John had, I started meeting with him along with one other man. The three of us would hold each other accountable. Then John started pulling away and I didn’t chase after him to find out what was going on. Then it happened. I got a call from one of his family members that he isn’t answering his phone and one has seen him. I called the other guy that we were meeting with and he and I searched everywhere from his apartment to his hang outs to his work. That’s where we found John. He was hanging from a tree. Dead.

The last story is Fred. Fred led a great life. He had a wife, 2 kids, 5 acres with a large house and a 6-figure job. Fred spent his whole life focused on a great career so that his family would never have to worry. Unfortunately because of the focus on the career, the marriage ended. Having it all and then losing it brings with it a ton of baggage. Fred has turned his life around, but still struggles with the sins of the past. Sometimes that past creeps into his new marriage. Sometimes his past creeps into his job at the church. Sometimes it leads to Fred withdrawing from people, focusing on tasks rather than relationships. The fear of another broken relationship is sometimes overpowering. His relationship with Christ gives him the strength and ability to bring about change in his life. A lot of that had to do with the people God put in his way. He had people to talk to and to build him up.

Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord

If you haven’t guessed, that last story is me. The other 3 were people that I have come across in my time in ministry since 2013. There is one thing that is a common thread between all of these people. They all have a strong desire to change their lives. Something else that is common among all these people is that they all cried out to the church to help.

All four of the stories were affected by sin. Every single person was singing from the same Sinner’s Songbook. It didn’t matter if you were homosexual or have had several abortions or was suicidal or had an unhealthy focus on career. The tune might be different for each person, but the lyrics are the same.

“My life was affected by sin. I let the enemy win. I cried out in my distress. Depending on my difficulty, God’s people could do more but usually do less.”

Ok, so I am a terrible songwriter.

But the interesting part of the story is that there is a God who created all these people. All these sinful people. He created us all in His image. We all struggle. We are all afflicted. Any one of us, left alone in our sin, will be separated from God for eternity.

But God….

(any of you who read this blog regularly know that I love that phrase)

Romans 5:8 – But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

But God….

God can change your trajectory.

I know that for sure because, as I said, I was that fourth story.

The same God has called to each of us in His still, small voice.

But I listened.

I didn’t fear the change that comes with listening to the One True God.

Because of listening, my life has changed course. I was headed to hell with a full tank of gas and I listened to God as He intervened in my life and made a complete U-turn.

My salvation is sure.

My future is bright.

I went from a 6-figure salary and a focus on myself to less than half that salary and filled with joy. Am I always happy? Of course not. But I am assured that the God of all creation has secured a place for me in His Kingdom.

I don’t have to fear when my life is up ended. It just means that I am either being attacked by an enemy who desires to steal my testimony or my God is trying to get my attention back on Him.

Either way, I win.

So I implore you, reader. If you are a Christian, then live like one. Live like you have the God of all creation in your corner. Live like He has nothing but your best interest and His glory at heart. Live like you belong to the family of God.

If you are not a Christian, then I will ask you to sincerely seek the God of all creation. If, at the end of your search you can still tell me you don’t believe, then we can still be friends but not family. If, however, you decide to make the decision to follow Christ, then welcome to the family and please tell me about it.

Your life will never be the same.

You are still a sinner singing from the Sinner’s Songbook, but you are a sinner that is redeemed by the blood of Christ and being sanctified each day.

Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast

 

Learning to be in dependence

John 15:5 – I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

It has been a very long time since I posted anything on here. People were worried. Women and children were crying. News outlets posted that something nefarious had happened to me.

Actually, none of that is true.

Apart from a couple of people who regularly read my posts, I didn’t hear anything from anyone.

And, yet, surprisingly my numbers didn’t fall either.

So why has it been almost 3 months since I posted anything here?

I’ve been learning about being in dependence.

Tomorrow is July 4th. This is the date in America that we celebrate our independence. We are free. We aren’t tied to any other country.

We celebrate independence so much in this country. When children reach certain milestones in their lives they accept more responsibility which leads them to being more and more independent.

When we move out of our parents’ house and on our own, we accept full independence in our lives.

Growing up becomes a journey toward complete independence.

Psalm 40:3-4 – He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!

Sometimes we become so independent that we need to be stepped back a little.

That’s where my life has been.

I have always been able to handle what comes in my life. I have had tough times, but usually my own determination and grit got me or my family through. Sometimes that didn’t go so well. I think back at my divorce, for example. I didn’t have enough determination or grit to make it right and I didn’t listen to God enough to accept his grace and mercy and help.

But now I am starting to learn to move away from independence and move toward being in dependence.

My wife and I have had a lot of turmoil in recent months. I took a new job in full-time ministry. Right around the same time, she was laid off from her job. Then my dad was in and out of the hospital and then decided to move closer to us.

There is a lot of good stuff in there!

But it is also a lot of stuff that is happening at once. And couple that with the fact that our bank account is dwindling daily, it is pretty daunting.

In my past I have had 6 figure jobs and was never trying to find the next dollar to pay for anything. I was always able to do it on my own power. I can flippantly say that God gave me those jobs so I really was depending on Him, but truth of the matter was that I didn’t need God to do anything that I could do in my own power.

Now I am learning just how little of a man I am.

And in that weakness, God has done some very amazing things!

Each day I go to God and ask Him for the provision for the day. In my past I would have had enough provision for the year within 6 months of working. Now I am learning to lean on God more and more.

It has changed the way that I speak to Him.

Isaiah 30:15 – For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling

When I had everything I ever wanted, I found I wanted more. “God, please give me the ability to take the vacation so I can go cruise the southern Caribbean again.” Or, “God, let me be able to save enough so I can clear the trees from one acre of the property so I can build a party area.” Or here is my favorite, “God, give me more so I can start tithing. I just don’t have enough to give back to you yet.”

But now, my prayers are quiet. I don’t have any ambition left in me. There is nothing more that I want out of or from this world.

My car is no longer something that matters to me. It is a utilitarian need for the ministry.

My house is no longer that something that I care about. It is simply there to shelter us and keep us safe. As long as it does that, I don’t care if it is decorated or sterile. I don’t care if it is clean or filled with pet hair.

Food? That is still my issue. Anyone who knows me knows I love food. When I used to have a lot of money I would get my favorite, steamed blue crabs, as much as I could. Now, those are a far-off dream since they are so expensive. I was blessed to be able to have crabs once last year. Who knows, the summer is young, there still may be a chance this year. God willing.

But see, my prayers are no longer about the stuff that I have or the stuff that I want (except steamed crabs lol). My prayers are about how I can be used in my current role, in my current condition, in my current state, for God.

I pray for provision to make it through the day. I pray to not have anything pop up in our expenses that God won’t cover. And I pray for the time to get everything done that He is requiring of me.

Other than that, my 45 minutes or so in prayer each morning is in silence or reading the Bible. I am looking for God to speak to me rather than spending all my time speaking to Him.

And it is in that place, the place of utter dependence on God, that I find my contentment.

Yes, I still get frustrated. Just today as I was talking with my wife about finances I showed my frustrations. That is still my humanity. I can’t give up my humanity.

But it is in that place that I learn dependence.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So on this Independence Day in America may you seek to be in dependence of Jesus Christ, the One and true Creator, brother and friend. He is all that and yet is God alone.

Things I Wished I Learned in Seminary

2 Timothy 2:15 – Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

A few months ago I stepped into a full time ministry position. It is truly a dream job. I had been chasing that dream since the end of 2013, so, almost 6 years. It took so long for several reasons, but, suffice it to say, God was preparing me for the ministry.

The position I took is a Director of Ministries role at a solidly medium-sized church. We run about 200 each Sunday and have over 65 people each week engaged in growth groups, which is an amazing percentage!

As Director of Ministries, I find that my role encompasses a lot. We only have 2 full-time staff: the pastor and myself. This means we both wear a lot of hats.

In all churches the staff wears many hats, but that number of hats you wear goes up exponentially as you get smaller. But I have found that the number of hats follows a sine curve. When the church is very small, the pastor wears all the hats, but the number of things that pastor is responsible for from a production standpoint is minimized simply because one person cannot do it all.

Then, on the other side of the curve is the megachurch. These churches typically have someone for almost every position in the church and the only reason someone would have to wear another hat is when they are transitioning between leaders.

Then you get to the mid-size churches. These are the churches that are between 200-400 people. In those churches you don’t have the congregation size to pull for every ministry that the church wants to do yet these churches are really starting to expand their community relations, build their worship teams, and see guests coming each week to check out the church.

It is in these churches, which don’t have the income to support full staffs, that the team is tasked with wearing several hats all at once so that the ministries continue to grow and the Sunday worship experience is on par with churches of larger size.

So when I went to seminary, I was told that the most important thing to understand was the Bible.

I still don’t doubt that.

Knowledge of God is the most important piece of ministry. I spent thousands of dollars studying a single book, The Bible.

But after seminary I feel woefully unprepared for many of the day to day parts of ministry.

Seminary is preparing people to be Ed Stetzer, Steven Furtick, David Platt, Louis Giglio, and many others. They aren’t preparing people to be the day-in and day-out shepherds of a congregation that can be challenging, amazing, beautiful, maddening, heartbreaking, and powerful. It also doesn’t prepare you for the operational aspects of ministry.

Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men

So what I would like to do is give a list of classes that I wish I had a chance to take in seminary. Seminaries don’t offer most of these classes, just so you know. These are things that you would never see in an MDiv or MAR.

  • Rigging 101

The past couple of days I have been helping the pastor plan the 4 services we are going to have this Easter weekend. The first service is Good Friday at 7 PM. For this service, we are moving a huge, close to 200 pound, cross from its normal place on the stage to hanging it from the ceiling in the middle of the room. This is requiring chains, aircraft cable, and a lot of prayer. If this thing falls in the middle of the sanctuary, it won’t necessarily be a “good” Good Friday.

  • Graphic Design

One of my first tasks was to prepare a brochure for the church that was to be used in the business meeting. Our goal was to make it something that looked professional yet didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I had the brochure almost completely done when I found one of our congregants has graphic design experience. I showed it to her and was almost laughed out of the room. I handed it to her and, within a week, she had something that was absolutely hands-down amazing. I wish I had that skill!

  • Application of the Fruit of the Spirit

We all know the fruit of the Spirit. It is laid out in Galatians 5. Each one of those fruit will be tested by the congregation. They will be attacked by Satan. It would be amazing to hear from pastors who have stood the test of time to give a class on how to maintain the fruit of the Spirit while in ministry. The other day my pastor and I were talking about how I have a very corporate mindset and how I like to tell someone what to do and expect them to immediately do it. Unfortunately in ministry, it doesn’t work that way. It is much more relational. This is definitely a skill I need to learn more from him, and I am. But imagine if seminary had prepared me for this.

  • Sound & Lighting

I realize that for those who take a worship track in seminary get a lot of this, but during my time at seminary it wasn’t even an option for me to take. I guess they figured that I was going for church planting and therefore would not have need for a worship team? (please note the sarcasm in that question). I am thankful that I studied it when I went to college, but that was in the 80’s and 90’s, so things have changed…a lot.

  • Children

I have kids. I haven’t been the best father in the world. I will never win any dad awards. But when you have several other children and yours are grown, and children were never a strength of yours, it takes a lot more focus and energy for me to deal with children than it does for someone who is good with kids. I don’t know how to put together a lesson plan. I don’t know how to control a classroom (unless the people in it have already been through puberty). A basic class on classroom management for dummies would be awesome.

  • Construction Techniques

Much of my job is working with people to keep the church from falling apart. The church is old. At least 40 years old for the main section. This means there are things that are breaking, falling apart, and not efficient. If I knew how to build, fix, and update all the things in the church for cheap it would be awesome!

  • Keeping your marriage strong during ministry

This is another one of those things that I think would be an amazing class to have ministry couples teach a class about the storms, the tests, and the trials you will face as a ministry couple. There are times that I can see strain between us for things at the church. I am thankful that I have a pastor that has been through that storm and is a great resource for me.

So these are a few of the classes I wish were available at seminary. And I know that some seminaries do a better job at some of these than others, but for the most part, many of these aren’t even on the radar of seminaries to prepare future pastors for the calling.

Pastors and ministry professionals have a high burn-out rate and a high turnover rate. Perhaps if we spent more time in seminary preparing people for both the knowledge of God and the intricacies of bathroom cleaning, then we might see that turnover number go lower.

Jeremiah 3:15 – “‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.

Depravity & Delight – A Study in Psalm 36

Did you ever do your morning devotions and wonder why you were crying?

That was me this morning. You see, each morning I take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. We walk about 2 miles each morning. It is during that time that I try to do my morning devotions and prayer time. My devotion is simply a chapter of the Bible. Lately I have been working through the Psalms.

This morning was Psalm 36.

Have you ever known anyone who was genuinely delighting in God alone?

That is what Psalm 36 is about.

David talks about delighting in the Lord in other places. Psalm 37:4 says:

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of desires in my heart! Keeping the desires of my heart provided could be God’s full-time job!

But Psalm 36 was today’s devotion.

And David begins this chapter in a way that he doesn’t use too often. David identifies himself as “the servant of the Lord.”

Psalm 36 – For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord.

The only other time David uses this explanation is in Psalm 18.

Why did David use that explanation in only those two Psalms? I’m not sure. But delighting in the Lord goes along with being submissive to the Lord.

But this isn’t the only strange thing David does in this Psalm. He starts this chapter by giving an analysis of sin’s effect in our lives.

Psalm 36:1-4 – Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.

I start to question what David really means here. Is David speaking about, as Calvin call them, the “abandoned despisers of God” or is it much more than that? I have a problem thinking that David is simply talking about a select group of people here. I think this is more a treatise on the condition of the human heart.

And this is where conviction came in this morning.

Have you ever had an argument with a friend or a loved one?

My wife and I had a pretty big argument the other night. When you think “big argument” your mind immediately goes to hard questions like addiction or worse.

But no.

We were arguing over something small and insignificant.

Yes, the argument was a little more than that, but at its core, we were arguing over something that means nothing in the grand eternity of life.

Now both of us have valid points in our arguments. And both of us have nothing but the good of the outcome in our minds.

But neither of us were unified with each other in the Spirit of God. We were both unifying around our own agendas and when we have divided passions we get a lot of spent energy rather than positive momentum.

But these four verses hit me hard. I had to text my wife from work this morning to own up to my shortcomings. I can’t speak for my wife, but my own transgression, whether that be pride or anger or even simply divided passion, spoke deep to my own heart as David says here. And, if you look at most Hebrew manuscripts, it actually says “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in my heart.”

My transgression was speaking to me deep in my own wicked heart.

During this argument with my wife I was not fearing God. I had an agenda and I was, literally, hellbent on enforcing it. My own pride and the thoughts that I had was flattering in my own eyes. I was so blinded by pride and arrogance that I couldn’t see my own iniquity.

Because of that, my words to my wife were trouble and not wisdom.

Later that night, I laid in bed and my mind was racing. Satan had a secure grip on my mind by that time and, just as David says in verse 4, I laid in bed and trouble was plotted in my mind. By the end of the night, I fell asleep so angry and I didn’t even reject the evil that was in my mind.

Those first four verses show us what the human heart, divorced from God’s grace, becomes. It is an unfolding of sin. It starts in the heart and it then continues to go into our words and then into our actions.

While there are interpretive differences in some manuscripts, there are some amazingly profound insights into sin and how flattery works in our lives to lead us into sin. This flattery leads us to think that we are justified by God for all of our actions, even those He calls sin.

Man, sin sucks. It is painful to come face to face with our own sin. The Puritan Ralph Venning said, “Consider that no sin against a great God can be strictly a little sin.”

So, in verse 1 our sin deceives us so that we don’t even know we are in sin. By verse 3 we see that our wickedness and deceit is happening toward God and others. Then by the end of verse 3 we see the downward spiral that our sin has placed in us. We abandon the wisdom we once had and we think about the next sin rather than denouncing sin altogether.

This is where I was in my argument with my wife. I was in the depths of depravity in my own pride.

But then, without any transition, David jumps right into the delightfulness of God.

David takes us from depravity to blessings in verses 5 through 9.

Psalm 36:5-9 – Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

The Hebrew word for “steadfast” is hesed. It is usually combined with the word for “faithfulness” to show a covenantal love. In the Septuagint, it is combined with “mercy.” The Hebrew work for “stork” comes from hesed as well because the Israelites noticed how tender and careful the stork was with her young. Combining this with Psalm 104:17, we see a better picture.

Psalm 104:17 – Where the birds build their nests, And the stork, whose home is the fir trees.

Baby birds are ugly. They spend all day crying for food and they aren’t able to support themselves. And yet, the stork shows this loyal love to her young. This is a picture of God’s loyal love to us.

How does David go from sheer depravity to overflowing joy?

Because he realizes that the permanence of the Lord is the beginning of delight.

We are permitted to take refuge in God’s house! How can you not be excited about that!

Not only are we given refuge but we are given our fill of meat and drink. In verse 8 David uses the word “abundance.” That is literally translated as “fatness.” This pictures the best meats that would have been offered to the temple for sacrifice. And then to drink from the river of God’s delights would literally mean to be drunk on God.

To truly appreciate the idea of the “river of your delights,” you need to look at who David is writing to. This is a desert people. A flowing river would mean life. It gives you something to bathe in or water your crops with. The word for “delight” is Eden, which could be a reference to the original Garden.

This is such a different view of the effects of sin before.

Is your concept of God this big? Do you see His faithfulness and love that large? Do you see his provision as abundant and delightful?

If you see God as this big then you can begin to move beyond the wickedness of sin and move into the life and light of Christ.

So David starts off by showing us how sin deceives the sinner by flattering him so that he plans and pursues it rather than hating it. Then David abruptly contrasts the immense delightfulness of God to make us want to seek Him as the source of every blessing.

Then, David ends his Psalm with verses 10-12.

Psalm 36:10-12 – Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away. There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise.

This prayer is for those who know God. Even though we know God and we experience His love and grace and mercy and all the blessings that flow from Him, we need a continuing flow of it from His river of delights.

To go back to the argument with my wife, it is when I stop seeking God that I fall into wickedness. We will never be fully sanctified until we are with Jesus face to face. Until that point we need to constantly be seeking God’s righteousness. We don’t just want to see God for an outward behavior but for an inner heart change.

That is the struggle of the modern day Christian. We sin so we seek God’s righteousness. When we do well enough to act good enough we stop seeking God and therefore we fall back into sin as it flatters us again.

If we stay on that cycle, we find our lives, our relationships, and our thoughts become tainted by the world because we can rely on our own righteousness for only so long. We need to rely solely on Christ to change our hearts and minds.

When you find yourself struggling with something, look inwardly first to determine if you are stuck in sin before you allow sin to flatter you and deceive you.

Declaring War, Accepting Healing

In America, we have a very specific method for declaring war. While the lines have been blurred many times, there is still a written plan of declaring war in America.

Spiritual warfare is very different.

And, as Christians, I believe we do spiritual warfare wrong.

Too often, Christians in America go through their comfortable lives and, when something bad comes up, they claim spiritual warfare and start praying for God to remove the warfare from their lives.

Ephesians 6:12 – For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

I am fairly certain that I have lived this way for much of my life. But spiritual warfare is a daily event, not a single circumstance.

I’ve played the victim.

The Bible is clear, spiritual warfare is not singular event that becomes a speed bump in the road toward sanctification. Spiritual warfare is an every day mindset.

When life throws everything it can at you, it is very easy to stand up claim spiritual warfare and pray hard for about a week and then fall back into your life of Christian mediocrity.

So I believe we get spiritual warfare very wrong.

Those life events? Yea, they aren’t necessarily spiritual warfare. They are opportunities in this life to continue toward sanctification and grow in Christ.

They are an opportunity to heal.

But we have to accept it.

When we feel ourselves slipping into the victim mentality and half-heartedly claiming spiritual warfare, it is important to go to the book of John and go to chapter 5. Right there in the beginning is an account about Jesus at the Well of Bethesda, a place where healing would happen to a select few people.

John 5:1-9 – After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.

You see, this pool was supernatural. Our modern day minds can’t wrap around this, but an angel would come down and stir the waters of this well. The first person to go into the well would be healed.

There was a man at this well who had been diseased for over 38 years. Each time he tried to get in the pool when the water was stirred, someone would beat him to it and obtain the healing before him.

When Jesus sees this man, he asks a strange question, “Do you want to be healed?”

In many of the cases of healing in the Bible that involve Jesus, we see that people seek Jesus out for healing.

This man was just sitting there in his illness and Jesus goes up to him and asks him if he wants to be healed.

Jesus realizes that this man had not been sick for a short amount of time. This disease had a hold of this man for a long period of his life. So much that it could have become his identity. What afflicts us, or comes against us, can easily become a part of our identity.

At first, Jesus’ initial comment to the man can look uncaring and cold. Jesus doesn’t ask for the man’s history. He doesn’t seem to care about why this man is in this position.

He simply asks him if he wants to be healed.

It is as if Jesus is saying to the man, “Do you really want to be healed or are you happy playing the victim?”

This is where we begin to see the reality of victimization.

The man doesn’t immediately answer Jesus by saying “yes.” As a matter of fact, in this account, the man never tells Jesus that he wants healing!

To anyone reading this, we would think that if we had Jesus standing in front of us asking if we want healing from a disease that has crippled us for 38 years that we would immediately break down and cry out “YES!”

And yet, this man doesn’t say “yes.”

This man answers as a victim.

“Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the waters are stirred, but while I am coming, another steps in before me.”

Jesus didn’t care about the man’s reasons. Jesus didn’t want the back story.

Jesus asked a yes or no question.

Very simple question.

Do you want to be healed, yes or no?

Being a victim rarely allows us to answer the easy questions easily.

It causes us to get caught up in our circumstances rather than the solutions. This man had the Creator of the universe standing in front of him and asking him if he wanted healing and yet all he could do is give Jesus an excuse!

If this man really wanted healing, he could have figured out a way to be healed. It might have involved bribing someone to throw him in the pool or making promises to someone to hold people back. Instead, this man was so caught up in his story that he couldn’t see the healing in front of him.

Lately, my wife and I have had a lot happen in our lives. And, while I say “lately,” it feels as if every step of the way since we were married that we have had something come up that knocks us off balance. The past couple months has involved several surgeries for my dad, all 3 of the vehicles in our family breaking down at the same time, loss of jobs, loss of insurance, loss of incomes from both her employment and mine. If you want, I can share the story of the past 3.5 years that kept us off balance.

Every time I have claimed “spiritual warfare” and blamed Satan.

Meanwhile, I wonder if God is simply standing before us saying, “Do you really want to be healed or do you like your story more than my power?”

That was painful to write.

It was painful to hear in my head over and over.

If we aren’t careful, we can hold a story within us that is not the story that God wants known. Our story can be filled with unhealed pain, distorted beliefs, and personal limitations. We can carry that story into every chapter of our lives and even write it into future chapters before they are even written.

This man at the pool had a chance to stop his story where it was and change it to the story that Jesus wanted to give him. The story Jesus wants to convey is becoming whole and healing.

Back in 2013 I started my ministry call. Over the years, I have asked people the same question Jesus asked this man at the pool.

Do you want healing?

Are you willing to give up the unemployment check if you can find a job. Are you willing to give up the disability check if you have a chance to be healed?

Many times I received silence at that question. They didn’t immediately tell me yes, and, in some cases, never gave me a yes or no at all, they just gave me their story again.

With healing comes a new way of thinking about life. With healing comes a new lifestyle. With healing comes a new perspective.

Many times people want to be healed, but they don’t want to change their lives to accept it.

That is a victim mentality.

Jesus does heal the man. Some texts say that Jesus made him whole.

God is more concerned with us becoming whole and being healed.

But the story doesn’t end with verse 9!

John 5:14 – Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

In verse 14 we are told that Jesus sees this man later in the temple and tells the man that he needs to sin no more so that nothing worse comes his way. Basically, Jesus is telling this man that if he isn’t careful, he can very easily slip back into his victim mentality and that would cause him to be sicker than before.

Ouch.

For most of Christendom, we find it hard to believe that our disease can be caused by sin. We try to preach grace only and try to sanitize the gospel message to be a happy go lucky, rub Jesus’ belly and all will be well story. We try to remove the guilt and condemnation from the gospel message.

But we can’t avoid the fact that Jesus warned this man that if he wasn’t careful he would lose what he gained.

This man played the victim all his life. For at least 38 years. He had no room for love or hope or faith. If we continue to live as a victim, we carry with us unbelief. That unbelief means that our situation cannot truly change until we get rid of the unbelief.

We lose hope and believe the lies that we are only what we see.

Jesus called us to live as victors, not victims. Living as a victim is a sin and needs to be repented of.

We can’t simply say “the devil made me do it” when we live a life of unbelief.

 

Are we Really a Hospital?

Luke 4:18 – The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed

If you run in the evangelical circles for any length of time, you have more than likely heard the phrase that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.

I realize that is the goal, but are we truly striving for that?

As I write this I am sitting in a hospital setting as my dad is getting a hernia surgery today. Let me explain my experience.

It snowed today in Pennsylvania. About 5” of snow came down overnight. As we drove to the surgical center, we went by a couple of churches and I noticed that their parking lots were not cleared. When we got the surgical center, not only was the parking lot clear, but the majority of the parking surface was dry, which meant no ice.

As we pulled into the parking lot, the signage was amazing. This place has several doors and they are very well marked with signage throughout the parking lot as to which door to use and how to get there. I know in many churches signage is a huge issue. Many people who lead churches are still thinking old-school. You walk up to the front door and have a one-room schoolhouse mentality. Those days in churches are over. The church today is a multi-venue location that has several KidMin locations, Bible studies running concurrently to the service, and, in some cases, several different entrances to the service venue. If you walk through your church and pretend to be a newcomer, do you know where to go?

Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Try bringing someone who has never been to your church before and let them try to navigate it on their own and see what they say. That is how your church looks to the world.

As my dad and I walked into the building we were easily able to figure out where to go as it was all clearly, and cleanly, marked. If we couldn’t figure it out, however, there was an information desk that had a very happy woman with a smile from ear to ear who got up from her desk and walked out to me to ask me if I needed help. And they must have cloned this woman because there was someone just like her on the lower level of the building at the other entrances.

Is that the same in our churches? Can we honestly say that if someone new comes to our church that we are that exuberant to greet them? Do we have someone smiling at the entrance or does the person looked stressed out? Are we simply happy to see newcomers or do we say, “I don’t know who that person is…?”

A side note to entering the building is that, while it was snowing and messy outside, the building had someone there who was putting out wet floor signage and keeping the floors as clean as possible. I don’t expect the main floors to be so clean you can eat off of them when the weather outside is dreadful, but making the effort is important. That same person was going around the building and changing the trash as well as cleaning the windows and sweeping/mopping the floors. A single person who was taking care of a building probably 4-5 times the size of most churches.

Once we got to the check-in area there were smiling people behind the desk ready to take our information. I liken this stage to our KidMin check-in areas. We signed in and my dad’s name went on a screen with a number associated with it that I have access to at all time. I am able to track where my dad is in the surgery and determine when it is time to get ready to go into recovery with him.

What about our churches? When we sign our kids into KidMin, do we even sign them in? I know a lot has changed recently with child safety in churches, but in the past when I would go to different churches when I was on business trips I would go in and see parents just dropping children off at a classroom. No check-in system. No way to track their child.

Even today, many churches minimally give the child and parent a sticker to wear. But what happens if there is problem? It is at this point that most churches and KidMin leaders would say, “But I know which kids are in my class, it rarely changes.”

Right.

So you are creating a system that opposes growth in the ministry.

1 Timothy 1:15 – The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

I know, ouch. That is painful to hear, but any system we create or put in place needs to be scalable to future growth. If we cannot scale a system upward, then it isn’t worth having as to grow would involve a lot more money, time, and energy to install.

As I dropped my dad off after check-in, he did what all children do at KidMin. He said, “I don’t wanna go.” We hugged and he went off with the KidMin, er, I mean the nurse. I was able to track anything happening with my dad either on my phone via an app or on a screen that was in the waiting room.

If there is a problem, the nurses come and get me based on the number they gave us at the beginning.

Now, what about our services?

I am a big believer that if you are going to be in a ministry in the church, whether paid or volunteer, you need to be putting everything you have into that ministry to make it successful. If we go in with a mind set that we are simply going to “do the job and then go home” then you may as well step down from ministry.

Again, ouch. There will be days that we wake up on the wrong side of the bed or there may be a lot going on in a season of our lives that wear us down, but our ministry should never suffer for it.

Just like Paul, I am going to ask you to imitate me. I am in Pennsylvania today, Friday, for my dad’s surgery. Tomorrow afternoon I will be heading back to Maryland for an event at our church Saturday night and then, unless there is a major issue with my dad, in church on Sunday morning.

Galatians 5:14 – For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Yes, I realize I get paid to do that. But I don’t do ministry for the paycheck. I am making less than I usually have in the past 20 years of my life, so the money is not the motivator. I do it with the hope that the event we are doing will motivate our church to even more excellence and that on Sunday I can introduce myself to someone new that never attended our church before. It is about trying to have a heart that God would want.

So what I am going to say about our services will run counter to what many people in our churches believe.

I’ve never been scared to upset an apple cart, or turn over a table in the temple.

When my dad went back to get his hernia operated on, everything about his experience was to make sure the service was focused on him so that he was comfortable enough to be healed and not have any anxiety or fear.

How often are newcomers to our churches fearful?

It is probably more often than you think.

Fear of church comes from various places. They are fearful that church environment will be too different than their normal lives. They are fearful of being judged if they wear the wrong clothing, don’t shave, let an f-word slip, have to step outside to smoke, or something else. They are fearful that they will not be accepted because they aren’t part of the clique.

Philippians 3:7-9 – But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith

How can we alleviate fear in our churches so that we can reach more people in our communities?

We need to look like our communities.

Now this is where purists will maintain that we need to be in the world but not of the world and if we are doing things that make us look like our communities then we are too much of the world.

I disagree.

If your community is used to watching TV, making sure you have a significant video presence on the screens will keep the community members engaged.

If your community is listening to rock music, then why does your worship sound like folk music? If your community is listening to country music, why does your worship sound like rock music?

If your community is military, then why do we not have more events for military families?

If your community is a lot of blue-collar workers, why does the church have a distinct white-collar feel?

If the community has a lot of African-American people in it, why is congregation mostly white? If the community is mostly white, why is the congregation mostly Africa-American?

You see what I am getting at?

If our churches look more like our communities that we serve then we don’t need to jump through hoops to attract them.

The problems come when the people currently in the church don’t want to see change.

But, Fred, that is how we have always done things and we will upset this family over here if we start changing.

I understand that.

And I understand that Jesus left the 99 to go save the one.

We are not Jesus.

Paul became all things to all people so that he might save some.

We are more closely like Paul.

Don’t be scared to change the worship. Don’t be scared to change the demographic. Don’t be scared to change the focus of the church to reach the people in your community.

My church was given the vision by my Senior Pastor to reach at least 10% of the 60,000 in a ten-mile radius of our church. If we stay the same way we are right now, 5 years down the line we will look the exact same as we do today with about the same number of people in our congregation.

How can we get there?

I want to echo something I heard from Thom Rainer a couple weeks ago:

  • Spend 5 hours a week working outside your church. Don’t work from home, but work from a local restaurant or coffee shop.
  • Go to a restaurant in between services on Sunday and look at the people sitting in the restaurant, those are the people that are skipping your, or most likely any, church on Sunday.

We need to become the hospital for sinners that we so emphatically like to claim we are.

Unfortunately we have way too many similarities to a resort that caters only to paying members than a hospital that takes and heals those who can’t heal themselves.

The service aspect is the exact same between a resort and a hospital, the difference, however, is what means the growth or decline of the church.

Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

You are Free

Ok, I need to air some dirty laundry here. I have something I need to admit to you all.

I, not so secretly, love Christian rock from the 1980s and 90s.

Yes, the music sounds very similar to secular bands like Depeche Mode, Motley Crue, or Run DMC. Sometimes the theological message of the songs is, well, way off base. And many times those artists weren’t even really Christians, they were simply cashing in on the latest craze.

But bands like Daniel Amos (hands down my absolute favorite band of all time), Adam Again, the 77s, Mad at the World, 20/Twenty, Crumbacher, Rage of Angels, Common Bond, the Altar Boys, Bride, Code of Ethics, D-boy, the Dynamic Twins, Farrell and Farrell, Jacob’s Trouble, Jerusalem, Leviticus, One Bad Pig, and yes, even Petra are all still on my playlists to this day.

I don’t even listen to Hillsong or Bethel or any of those top 20 Christian artists today.

So why do I bring all this up?

In 2017, one of my favorite Christian bands from that era reunited to record an album.

Roger and Randy Rose, otherwise known as Mad at the World, put out a new album in 2017 entitled Hope. The album goes back to their earlier sounds of being very Depeche Mode-esque. They cover a lot of songs that deal with leaving behind our oppressions, addictions, and hang-ups in life.

The underlying theme of the album is that we have hope in a Savior, Jesus Christ.

One of the songs really struck me tonight.

It is called You are Free.

One of the key points in this song is that once we accept Christ, we are free. Jesus died for all the sins that we have ever done or will ever do, once and for all.

But Satan continues to tell us lies, claiming that we will never be free. The problem is that we believe those lies.

Roger Rose sings in this song the words of Isaiah are repeated as a benediction of sorts as he quotes Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Isaiah (quoted by Luke, quoted by Roger) uses the word free twice in this series of verses. It is the exact same word used twice which literally translates to “deliverance.”

So what are we delivered from?

Many would say sin.

But that isn’t entirely true.

Even the most well-meaning Christians still sin.

No, what we are delivered from is the power of sin.

Sin can no longer control our appetites. It can no longer keep us slave.

But I know so many people who are living as if they were never delivered. Some of them are close to me. Some are just people that God has placed on my heart without knowing who they are or the details of their oppression.

To the person who is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol or pornography, there is deliverance in Christ and accountability found in community.

To the person who is struggling at work, fighting for their job daily, God has freed you of the concern over other people’s views. You are not a slave to them, you are free in Christ. Seek first the kingdom of God and then you will find all you seek.

To the person who has been fired from their job, God has given you a freedom to pursue Him. Seek Him during this transition and understand that God will take care of you. The Creator of the universe adorns the sparrows and they don’t have any needs that God has not met.

To the person who is dying of a deadly disease, know that now is the time to finish well. Take this time to celebrate the blessings God has given you in your family and friends. Make your legacy a desire to see God’s Name proclaimed for years as yours diminishes through the years.

To those who have sinned and have been found out, know that the truth is freeing. It may lead to short term pain and significant change, but eventually God will show you the way that leads to heaven as you mature and learn how to live as Christ desires.

To those who have sinned and are doing well at hiding that sin, you also need to know that the truth will set you free. The more you fight repentance that more energy it takes from you and the more you drift from God. Once you repent and come clean, you will find that freedom waits for you. It is your choice.

To person who just feels like he or she can’t go on and wants to take their life, know that freedom comes in living. If you give in to the sin of suicide, you will never know the person God has created you to be. You are beautiful. You are not a mistake. You are a beloved child of God and there is a community of believers who love you and want you to know that.

To those who have been hurt by others or called stupid or fat or bad, know that those words can only define you if you allow them to. God created in you someone special. God created you to be you, no matter the circumstance. Don’t allow people define your purpose, allow God to define it.

To the single parent who is trying everything just to provide a decent life for their children, know that God sees your sacrifice, and, while you might feel like life is a constant closing door, your children will understand your sacrifice and they will rise up to call you blessed.

To the divorced parent who doesn’t have custody of the children, simply be there for them as much as you can. Allow them to see all your bumps and bruises and teach them where to follow in your footsteps and where not to.

To those who are alone, take this opportunity to find your purpose in Christ. You are never alone, God has promised not leave you nor forsake you.

To everyone else that I have left out, God has a purpose and a plan for you. You simply need to know that and follow that.

You are free.

Accept the freedom that comes in Christ.

Don’t believe Satan’s lies.

Believe your freedom and live a life that exemplifies it.

Can you tell me about Jesus?

John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

So today, after the snowstorm of the century in Maryland (actually, it was only the 7th worst storm in the last 30 years), I decided to go to the grocery store. Safeway was not busy at all, so I got a space pretty close to the front. Since there weren’t a lot of cars, I was able to pull through the parking space and into the next space.

When I came out of the store, I rolled the cart to my car and started to put the groceries in the trunk. The space behind me was still open, and there were several other spaces throughout the parking lot that were actually closer to the store than the one behind me.

I just put the last bag in the car as it dropped and the groceries went all over the back of the trunk. I started to clean them up when a car started to pull into the spot. The woman blew her horn and proceeded to yell at me through her windows. I couldn’t understand what she said because all her windows were up, but she clearly was not happy at me.

I held up my index finger to say, “give me a minute” and continued to clean up the groceries in the trunk.

She blew her horn again and, as I looked at her, she threw up her arms in frustration and stared at me until I was finished.

I rolled the cart to the cart return area as she parked right behind me. As I walked back to my car I noticed a couple of Christian decals on her car.

When she got out of the car, I decided to ask her if she could tell me about the gospel message.

She gave me a nasty look and turned and walked away from me and into the store.

My mentor shared a sermon once as the church handed out bumper stickers to everyone that he didn’t want people to put the stickers on their cars if they were going to not act like a Christian as they drove places. This woman was clearly the subject matter of his sermon.

Now when I asked this woman to share the gospel message with me I clearly had a ulterior motive (I needed a topic this week for my blog!)

But the point, to me, is clear as crystal.

The world is watching us.

What would have happened if it wasn’t me, but someone who really needed to hear the gospel?

What if someone was contemplating the sermon they just heard and whether they need Jesus in their life and then they have this experience.

Now let me say that I don’t know what this woman was going through. She may have had a serious problem happen in her life that I don’t know about that she is struggling with that set her off.

But the world doesn’t know that, unfortunately.

The world just sees a supposed Christian woman acting very un-Christian like.

When that happens, we lose our testimony.

I know a lot of people who would say that this woman is not a Christian because of the way she acted. And she may not be.

But what if she really is?

As I said, she might just be having a very bad day that set her off.

But Satan isn’t trying to “unsave” the Christians.

Satan is trying to destroy our testimonies.

Satan knows that he can’t take us out of God’s hands. So he wants to bring doubt, confusion, anger, bitterness, sarcasm, and other demons into our lives to make sure that Christians can’t share their testimony.

That might have been the case today. This woman might have been having such a bad day and she was trying to handle everything on her own instead of relying on God. What that does is causes us to handle our issues incorrectly.

We lash out.

We say those four-letter words.

We hurt those we love.

We get our testimonies destroyed by the one who comes to kill and destroy.

So what is the answer? How do we ensure that Satan doesn’t kill our testimonies?

Well, even though Jesus, in the beatitudes, commands us to “be perfect,” you are not perfect. You won’t get it right all the time.

But God…

God has enough grace and mercy to love you and give you your testimony back.

The way to do that is to follow what is written in the Bible,

James 4:7 – Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

While I only chose James 4:7, the entire beginning of James 4 is pertinent to this post. James asks us what causes quarrels among us? It is our passion. It is our desire to put ourselves on the altar and not God.

But you might say to me, “Fred, I asked God for help and he never answered me.”

What does James say about this?

James 4:1-12 – What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

James pretty much pegged what that woman this morning was going through. Even though I don’t know the specifics, the fruit of her actions is evident. She didn’t submit to God. Even if she asked God for help, she ask wrongly.

And that is our problem as Christians.

We tend to think that God will do so much more for us that He already did.

Jesus already died on the cross. He did that so you could have an eternity with Him. But sometimes I believe we expect Him to fix every problem that comes our way. To replace the rainy seasons with rainbows, to take away our bad attitudes and idolatry and replace it with smiles and peace.

God is not a genie in a bottle.

We have accountability in this life. If we choose to humble ourselves, God will exalt us. If we choose to exalt ourselves, God will humble us.

Here is my challenge to you, Christian.

Over the next week, take everything you do and place God before it completely. Are you about get in your car and go to work? Pray and ask God to guide you. Are you about to go eat lunch? Pray and thank God for the provision. Are you about to come into a rainy season? Pray and ask God to give you clarity about how to get through it.

It may seem awkward at first. But eventually you will feel more and more comfortable with talking to God and you will learn how to talk to Him and how to listen to Him.

The Church Has Left the Building – Part 2

Back in 2013 I wrote an article called “The Church has left the Building.” It was a year and half after I had started blogging and I hadn’t yet acquired an audience. Looking back at it, theologically there was nothing wrong with the article, but as I have aged, I have come to realize that the phrase, “The Church has left the Building” is more than I wrote about in 2013.

Back in 2013 I was concerned with the state of tithing in the church and that if the church doesn’t follow the God-given request to test Him in our tithes, then as the greater church we cannot do many of the ministries we need to do in order to be a thriving church.

FYI…for the 2019 year my buzzword is going to be “thrive.” That is going to be a post for a different day, but suffice to say you will read that word a lot over the next 12 months.

Now I realize it has taken me 5 and half years to write a follow up to the original post, but I want to share the wisdom that God has been teaching me over the past 5 years as to what the phrase “The Church has left the Building” means to me.

Too many people think the church is the building and the people that are in the building. I recently changed churches from Chesapeake Christian Fellowship to Friendship Community Baptist. One is non-denominational, single-elder led while the other is mainline Baptist and congregationally led. Very different polity.

But the same church.

Both churches are amazing in various different aspects of ministry. There are things that CCF is strong at that FCBC is not. There are areas that FCBC is strong that CCF is not.

How we “play church” on Sundays is different.

But the goal is the same.

Plunder hell and populate heaven.

The writer of Hebrews knows this well (I also wrote an article about who this writer could be back in 2012, but, again, that is for another day as I realize that many people will disagree with my view on that as well).

The writer of Hebrews says,

“For we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of the lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” – 13:14-16

We have no lasting city.

When I started attending CCF back in 2002 I had no clue what Christianity was truly about. It was by the grace of God and His mercy alone that I came to find that faith. As time went on, I became comfortable at CCF, thinking that was my lasting city. I even wanted to eventually pastor there.

But God.

God had other plans.

He realized that I needed to become uncomfortable in order to continue growing.

I needed to leave the camp, so to speak.

Again, the writer of Hebrews explains this,

“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” – 13:11-12

The sacrificial offerings were burned up outside the camp. Jesus suffered and died outside the gate of the city.

In order for us to be used to our fullest for God, we need to go outside the gate of the city.

My city, for so long was CCF. And while I would occasionally go outside and talk to people (usually about how great my church was more than the power of the Holy Spirit), I maintained my comfort inside the building.

I couldn’t be burned up for the sacrifice when I grew comfortable.

God knew this. Honestly, I knew this. I just pushed against it for many years before truly acting upon it.

In order for me to grow, I needed to leave the walls of the city.

And my new church, Friendship Community Baptist, has been challenging yet good for my growth. I am learning how to work inside a different set of church polity. I am learning what it truly means to shepherd.

I am so thankful for my time at CCF. Without that time, I could not have grown from immaturity to maturity. But there comes a time in every believer’s life that he or she needs to step outside the walls of the city in order to be uncomfortable.  The entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews is an example of that,

“…Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain…Enoch was taken up…Noah constructed an ark…Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out…Moses was hidden for three month…Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter…(Moses) left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king…The people crossed the Red Sea…” – 11:4-30 (abridged)

He continues, saying,

“…through faith (others) conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” – 11:33-34

Every single one of those “by faith” comments in Hebrews 11 required going out.

The Church has Left the Building!!!

By no means am I telling people to leave their churches and go to a different church like I did. That was God’s vision for me and my family at this time in my life. That may not be the vision He has given you.

But you need to leave the comfort of the building and get out in your community. If you are not, by faith, stepping out and proclaiming the gospel to others and discipling others, you need to figure out what kind of faith you really have.

Did you simply accept Jesus to try and become a better person and get a “Get Out of Hell Free” card?

Or did you fall in love with the person of Jesus Christ and desire to serve Him. Are you worried less about looking like a Christian and more about looking like Christ? Are you following Christ by faith because you have  desperation to know the person of Jesus Christ?

I want you to move beyond thinking you have a saving faith and move into knowing you have a saving faith.

That will lead the church to leave the building.

It will become a message that simply too big to contain inside the church building that you need to take it to communities, the streets, the cities, the shanty towns, the neighborhoods, and the workplaces.

Know your faith, Christian.

It is time to leave the building.

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