Sometimes I wonder why I ever ended up in the pastorate. From the early days of childhood into high school I desired to be a surgeon, then along came chemistry and I was satisfied in music. Along the way, I’ve become an expert in many subjects and hobbies from illusions/sleight of hand to martial arts. I’ve spent countless hours studying the human mind, quantum physics, defensive logistics, combat theory, chess, and tonal dissonance. Years have taught my body to dance, climb mountains, swim, trackstand on a switchback, and devour ten thousand calories in 24 hours. My mind has learned to foster thought, engage the critics, leave the fight, stay the course, feel the pressure and rest in grace. Skills have prepared me to fix dryers, motherboards, vehicles, bones, restore homes, landscape, hang drywall, frame houses, dig footers, and put in the pipes. I can even sew, hem pants, taper a shirt, prepare a marketing analysis, produce video, graphic design, program websites, and set the clock on the microwave. The point, I’ve done a lot of stuff in my short life and none of it has ever been half-hearted. I don’t understand the purpose of being so-so at anything. Those things that my body did so well have fallen away to a thing called arthritis. What my brain used to manage abruptly wrecked through another harsh and painful experience known as depression. In all of it, I have never found an identity. None.

A common thread has always been stitched into every part of my life. The Word of God, from the earliest of days, has been a source of joy and power for me. It’s a grand example of the grace and mercy of the Lord to work in His children a love for Him through Scripture. For most of my life, I could engage in any forum, any hobby, any point in culture and do well. I’ve learned to shoot, sing, fight, play seven instruments and have done well at a few business ventures but in all of them, I have always found myself in the word, ministering to others, listening and teaching them the truth of Christ. As a matter of honesty, I never really wanted to be a pastor and was content with the idea of being used by the Lord in everything. But God in all His purpose will do with us as He chooses, not how we choose. In the Lord’s “putting” me into the ministry as a vocation I brought a lot of my personality and ‘skills’ to the table. I was taught early on that my ‘tool belt’ was vital to the success of the ministry of the church. Looking to be the best and giving myself the OK to be “all in”, I quickly began to surround myself with successful people who were accomplishing what I felt to be the right fruit.

Historically I have served in many areas of church life having worked with youth, children, music, teaching, seminaries, evangelism, missions, and everything in between. I have witnessed 300 enter the baptismal waters in a year’s time, seen thousands “come to faith” at “services”, and been on staff with church plants and mega-churches, some of the prior becoming the latter. In the end, even “ministry” never became my identity. There is a lot of heartache and pain under my belt for which I am eternally grateful because without it, I would have never truly seen the substance of Christ’s suffering and how we identify with Him. Having written several unpublished works on my journey, I’ve learned it doesn’t really matter at the end of all the suffering if we don’t finish well. I’ve also learned that pain is part of progress and thinking that utopic days are our goal is childish and foolish surrealism. There are a few pain points of ministry though that I’ve learned sting much harder than normal. In all the calamities of sorts, nothing has been more hurtful than when friends and loved ones reject the Lord Jesus and love the world more than ever.

  1. When Family Members Claim Christ but Hate Truth
  2. When the Fan Base Becomes the Mob
  3. When the Brother is replaced with Beligerance 

Suppose that a life without Christ was blissful with no pain. No poetry in the heart from the labor of pestilence and persecution. A life with no rejection, separation, angst, or problems appears on the surface to be ideal, but my experience as well as the experience of the record of history, including Scripture, is that pain becomes part of the joy. It is the darkness in our lives that makes the light so glorious. To leave suffering in life would be to leave the fellowship of Christ, and in turn, bring suffering all the more as it became an eternal certainty rather than a light and momentary teacher. When bridled with agony, I have learned to lean into Scripture and thus into Jesus. Nothing can take the burden like Christ and His gospel of peace. Rest well in the power of Christ through His Word. 

I was always taught that these things were God’s gift for me to use for His glory. Now of course if they are enjoyed they are for His glory, but they are not what is needed by the church. While I have fixed a few computers, renovated a few buildings, and played a few funerals on the saxophone, the purpose of my life is to be a voice that points to the One that matters. Jesus Christ. I had to come to the end of my worth and usefulness and recognize that I was not the powerhouse I was always praised for being. This kind of death is hard on the esteem, but the grace of God, it’s powerful and useful. This means that all those years of training, leadership development, persuasion, influence etc. was all for nothing. Looking back I am thankful for having come through it, but at the time I counted my life as a large failure and a waste of God’s time as far as the ministry was concerned. This type of death makes your ministry history moot. As it should be. After all, didn’t John the Baptist even proclaim that Christ must increase therefore he would decrease? God took his life because the bridegroom gets the bride. So often, the current “church” gets the bride, the groom, the glory and the whole nine yards. They share their programs and people. The music and their measurements as if they are running for Ms. America. After all, isn’t ministry about attracting people to look at us? No. That’s the devil’s job.

Evangelism is one of those terms/practices that has become culturally determined. Just like everything else in Scripture, if not held to the authority of the text, it will become subject to human error and self-glory. I’ve been thinking about this and hope you’re listening too….

 

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Bible Questions Answered

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I have been asked many times over the last few weeks about what is required to “know” in order to be saved vs. what is considered “growth”.

Scripture speaks of the power of Christ. The power of the cross, the authority of Jesus, the power of the gospel etc. all speaks to the power of Christ. While you may consider the power of Christ the manifestation of miracles, supernatural knowledge or signs, the reality is that the apostles make the claim that the power of Christ most glorious is the transformed heart of the believer toward truth and love for the brethren. Teaching through John’s writings gives us a constant reminder of this fact. That there are many who “live” in a manner they feel is worthy of Jesus Christ in their own eyes, but when they refuse fellowship with others, they, in turn, are displaying “unregenerate” powerlessness. 

Paul speaks to the Corinthian church about the power of Christ. He says that he will know if Christ is in them if they heed the authority of his writing and instruction. Mainly, that they forsake themselves and “COMPLETE” all the restoration between them. This means that they will be intimate, together, free, and in fellowship. 

2 Corinthians 13:11–14 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you.
14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Several hours, if not days can be expended on this holistic reality. But for now, let’s say this. One of the primary expressions of regeneration is that we are sealed by the same Spirit. God the Holy Spirit in us brings our unity and because of this, there is NOTHING that can separate us from the Lord and from each other. When factions come between the church and cause people to scatter, it is always wicked. Sometimes it is due to ignorance but most of the time these things happen because of an active and living flesh. IF we have the same Spirit within us there is nothing that would cause divorce amongst the brethren.

In the end, this teaching is extrapolated continually throughout the New Testament through the instruction and commandments for every Christian to be subject to the Word, the Elders of the church, the Assembly (that is the church, only when it gathers) and exercising the gifts God has given them for the benefit of the assembly. We can feel justified in doing “home” studies and “online” sermons, but in reality, that type of existence as a believer is a continual rebellion against the teaching of God. So, in the sense of the text, true regeneration produces a complete unity that nothing will stop and to say otherwise is to refuse to love the brethren, thus, according to John, the Love of God is not in us. 

We may see that all the works of the law, all the dressing of worldly “righteousness” and all the prayers, pleadings, purity and the like are not the measure of the Power of Christ in us. But it is the evidence of TRUTH by the LOVE we have for each other. Love well beloved by the grace that is YOURS in Jesus Christ!  Amen.  While this is not exhaustive, it is truth. Are you listening?

The second commandment is something that many people have questions about often. I wrote an article last year in relation to the question, “Can a Christian Violate the Second Commandment with Pictures of Jesus?” Here is a podcast on that answer.

00Over the last year, I have been inundated with numerous calls per day from unknown numbers, local number, toll-free numbers and even numbers I know only to find a telemarketer on the other end trying to either sell me something or trick me into thinking I had to hear their pitch. The list of ‘blocked’ numbers has grown to over 150 and quite honestly, I have become quite frustrated with the constant intrusion. Due to the fact that I receive a ton of calls every day that are legitimate when you add the garbage calls, it makes a phone a hated tool and sometimes it causes me to miss good conversations.  For 2018, it has been a different story.

I have started answering every call that comes to my phone when appropriate without fail. And in an effort to do all things without complaining and have joy while doing everything for the glory of God, I have found that answering every call as an opportunity to share the gospel is the best way to handle what otherwise is a means to frustration and sin. 

Everywhere we look we see the idea of studying the Bible. Well maybe not everywhere, but in every Circle of Christianity it seems that there’s always someone talking about studying the Bible.  As a matter of fact, most likely every religion in the world has some writing that requires being studied. From study comes knowledge, and from knowledge comes belief. While every truth claim cannot be true. For the Christian, we believe that the Bible is truth. Jesus says in John 17 when he prays that eternal life is knowing the one true God and knowing the son whom he has sent.  So in this line of thinking, studying the Bible is actually the study of God which is actually the knowledge of God which is actually salvation.

 For many churchgoers, however, the study of God’s word has been relegated to just mere pragmatism or topical investigation. Sadly, this type of study that we find very normative in our culture, is not sufficient for salvation. Neither is it sufficient for a right understanding of the gospel of grace. And because the right study of God’s word is waning in our present economy of faith, many pastors and teachers have gone the way of teaching moralism and humanism and calling it Christianity.  All of this type of teaching results in a different type of learning. So that the believer or the professing Christian if I can, have no idea what they’re talking about because they are listening to the wrong information. Now we could go on and on and discuss types of interpretation and different ideas related to what the Scripture is actually teaching. But if we are honest, the simplest syntax of the holy writ is very easy to understand. So when I ask the question, “are you. listening?”,  I am asking if you are truly listening to the word of God.

 Let’s all be very honest, every day we hear thousands and thousands of words. We see hundreds and hundreds of images that teach us something. We are inundated in our society by information overload. Some of which we go and seek and others that are just imposed upon us without our knowledge or permission. Because this is true, many people have developed a worldview that is so foreign in comparison to Scripture, that it’s no wonder that so many congregations do not look like the people of God any longer. The remedy to this is not more teaching about how to be or how to look like God’s people from a humanistic point of view but is direct and simple teaching straight from the Bible.

If many pastors were to poll their congregations they would find very few congregants actually read their Bible every day. Now many people may do a small devotion or read a short paragraph related to some scriptural teaching. And these things are not bad in and of themselves, but they are not sufficient for the knowledge of truth. So often when I make a statement like this, people will say,  “I’m not a theologian.” To which I respond, well you should be. A Christian that is not learning is a Christian that is not growing. In the Christian that is not growing, is a Christian that is not living.

There’s much to be said about this particular dilemma and there is plenty inside the Bible that give us a clear picture that Scripture is necessary for the health and joy of every Christian and in turn every congregation.  So as we consider this idea today let us take a moment and hear the word of the Lord written by the apostle Paul to Timothy.

2 Timothy 3:14–17

[14] But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [15] and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)

This text shows us that the Bible is enough for a successful Christian life and it’s also sufficient for the knowledge of the truth. No one needs extra-biblical revelation or extra-biblical instruction in order to rightly live for the glory of God. And Sadly, those who look to other sources find themselves in a very precarious position. Either weak and immature in their faith or at worst, totally unregenerate. But we’ll talk about that in future discussions. From this point let me encourage you to pick up your Bible and read it.  It is through Scripture where you will find peace in the midst of frustration and it is there that you will find intimacy with Jesus Christ, the eternal God of Heaven, the creator and savior. So guard your heart and mind to the power of the Holy Bible.  And you will begin to experience what Scripture teaches as the peace that surpasses all understanding.

 If you would like more information about how to study the Bible or if you have questions related to Bible passages or theological issues, please contact us and we will be more than happy to help you.  We look forward to hearing from you. soon and until then rest well in the gospel and grace of Jesus Christ who lived a life of obedience and died a substitutionary death for the glory of God the father in the redemption of his people.

Success can be confusing. No matter the field or context of life, measuring success is a dominant desire. This measuring becomes problematic when the matrix is misunderstood. Ignorance of what constitutes success can bring a plethora of issues both externally and internally in the life of an individual or organization. Considering successful ministry can be daunting and I know in my tenure as a pastor I’ve been taught conflicting thoughts on how to know if I am successful. For over 20 years the idea of ‘counting’ heads and money has been the measure of success but if we peer into the pages of scripture, there would be no example of a successful church, pastor, apostle or Savior if that were the case. Others have concluded that success should be based on the experience of the individual or the congregation. They would posit that true success isn’t how many, but rather, how powerful the experience. Again, if this is measured in comparison to the New Testament, there would be no historic picture of success found in these measurements.

There is the room of course, for many conversations of practical wisdom as it relates to dealing with people, communicating, caring and doing life together, but any human being can pull off successful ventures of gathering up people with a common goal or vision. It only takes a brain and a voice. The problem comes when all this discombobulated instruction on success invades the mind of a pastor or congregation and they begin to make strides to ‘measure up’ according to man’s wisdom. While I’ve spoken to these things before, I want to know just put the authority where it should be; the Word of God.

When we want to see an amazing feat we can go to either a magic show, and be deceived and enjoy it, or we can go to a sporting event or daredevil exhibition. Either way, there are many amazing things to behold in the world of daring humanity. If we want our breath to be taken we can listen to a chorale of voices singing the classics of old, a symphony bringing the trills and tonal harmonies to life in our ears, or we can view the grandeur of the sea, the mountains or the beyond! Sadly, all of these things, while awe-inspiring, are not majestic or awesome in comparison to the glory of God. So, in man’s feeble mind, he has tried to find other ways to behold the power of God and then painted the canvas of “worship” and “church” with these silly and boring tactics.

How amazing would it be if I were preaching this Sunday and out of the blue I began to float in the air and fire came from my hands as I read the words of Jesus? People would think they had witnessed a miracle and their hearts and minds would be overpowered by that experience. Likewise, if I walked out into the congregation and touched the ailing and their bodies were actually healed, legs grew back, eyesight restored; people would lose their mind in amazement. What if I were able to know things that were not mine to know or had the ability to provide music that would shudder the soul and cause others to feel, what they thought, the very presence of God? I would submit that all of this, even if it happened in greater detail, would be boring and nothing in comparison to seeing the glory of God face-to-face!

So, if we want to SEE a miracle, it is better to stop looking for the next great “work” of God and realize that there is already a perfect miracle for us to behold every moment of our lives! Jesus in John 6 says, “This is the work of God that you believe in the Son that He has sent.” See, the people of John 6 wanted more miracle food. When Jesus refused to feed them in their hunger and commanded them to be satisfied in Him, they wanted a sign for Jesus to prove Himself as worthy. In the same manner, many professing believers seem to believe in anything they can feel, create, and experience that satisfies their flesh instead of actually believing in Jesus Christ and His finished work of redemption. The point is that success in ministry is not measured by the number of people in the pews, money in the bank, missionaries in the field, miracles on the stage, healings in the clinics, or tongues in the air like cymbals. It is measured by the majesty and glory of God in the face of the people of God, who believe, worship and love each other with all authority. So how then are we to measure this? How is this experienced and evident in the life of the church? Through the Word of God Alone!

God’s word faithfully proclaimed is the only measure of successful ministry.

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

ὠφέλιμος – means valuable, profitable, having worth and bringing a yield. So, the word of God, which is God speaking, is profitable for all things that the church needs. It teaches (doctrine), reproofs (disapproves), corrects (sets right), and trains in righteousness (teaches Christ). The successful pastor is equipped for every good work through the Scripture. That is the miracle of God and a display of His creative power at work. His word being taught, His sheep hearing and heeding, and His people being governed by the Miracle of New Life by His everlasting Grace. Anything else is just boring and of lesser awe than this!  Stop seeking out the devil’s measure of majesty and rest in the revelation of God to you.

Rest in Christ!

With today’s culture of constant interaction, information, and interruption, getting ‘away’ from it all has taken many forms. It appears as if instead of scheduling time away through short trips or vacations periodically, most people feel the need to ‘vacate’ every day. With every week containing 168 hours, most people spend 40 laboring to live. That leaves 128 hours of time that has to encompass sleep, eating, restroom breaks, bathing, preparation, and relationships. Let’s take 56 out for sleeping 8 hours per day leaving 72 hours every single week for necessities and obligations. For the Christian, there should be a minimum of 3 to 4 hours a week in fellowship, if we never make excuses to miss work, we should not make excuses to miss fellowship with the saints, it’s actually stupid to do so.

So now we’re down to 68 hours.  That’s time enough to take on another FULL-TIME job still leaving 28 hours to spare.  Where does the time go? Well, I could write for ages on the wasters of time in the name of profitable things. How many of us have one full book of the bible memorized? OK, how about one chapter? Maybe one portion, let’s say the introduction to the Gospel of John? That’s 18 verses… I know for a fact there are several people recently who know each lyric of each song on their iPhone. That equates to five verses of music times 400 to 600.  Why?  I know many people who know the lines out of movies verbatim. But can’t tell a clear story of Jesus life and ministry.  A movie that takes two hours vs. a story that takes 25 minutes? The problem here is not time, it’s idolatry. But that’s not the point of my writing.

Out of all this waste of time, it seems that people want to meddle in worthless areas of life while professing that Christ is enough. See, the scripture shows us what to do when we feel overwhelmed, broken, fearful, worried, angry, forgotten, martyred, etc.  We are to “think on the things that are eternal….”  The matter is simple. When we want to “escape” we often pray that God would help us get out of the matter at hand or change our circumstances, our hearts, or our minds. The conflict arises out of a misunderstanding of how to pray and how to listen to the scripture. See, getting away from everything can be found in books, media, movies, sports, vacations, games, etc., but those things are just temporary deflections. They do not actually set us in any real place or give us any real benefit at all. Without quoting myriads of research on the matter, psychologists have long known the effects of constant avoidance of life through natural or ‘artificial’ means. They have a word for it, addiction.

Addiction to stuff, feelings, thoughts, stories, interaction, social media, phones, games, sports, solitude, or whatever robs us as believers of the core of God’s presence which is found in the Bible. Some argue, “well, I read other books and the bible, can’t I just enjoy escape in reading, after-all, the bible is a book right?” No, is my answer. NO! The Bible, while a book in its form, is not a book. It is God’s word, thus it is the utterance of God speaking to us. Scripture teaches that the basics of salvation come through hearing the Bible (Rom 10:17) and that comfort comes from putting our minds on the scriptures. The error rests in the attitude of approach. That is that so many times we just peek into the bible for answers rather than digest the scripture in order to be intimate with Jesus Christ. Scripture reading is intimacy. So putting our minds on eternity is to literally put our minds on the teaching of the truth of Jesus. Who He is and what He’s done. We don’t run after Jesus in the biblical texts to find His “message” about our problems, we run into Jesus through the Holy Writ because while we read God the Spirit interacts with us. So, reading Scripture puts our mind on the very thing that we will ETERNALLY be focused on: Jesus Christ and HIS GLORY!

So here’s the point: Read Scripture for your escape. It will not rob you of glory and power but will put you in an intimate place with God. Through scripture, God will speak, settle us, and give us the ability to rest in His promises as He comforts us. Our relationship with God is only found in His word. And for those who are constantly reading, listening, gleaning, and hounding after other “theological” arguments, stop that also. Find more time in the word so that your joy will be full.  “These things are written…”  This is found many times in Scripture to the following end: that you may BELIEVE in Jesus Christ and so have ETERNAL LIFE. This life beloved is NOT eternal and I think it’s time that we as the church spend out time thinking on better things.

“He Is a Self-Made Man.” “Yes, And He Worships His Creator.”

Said historically of Horace Greeley, attributed to William Allen Butler and Benjamin Disraeli, this quote, no matter how it came about or whose voice from which it originated, it is surely a truth of men in our contemporary times. Conversing of our culture the main idea of self-worship as a Western invention birthed from liberty and myopic interest. The annals of history beg to differ. Even the narrative of the New Testament teaches that men have long loved the glory of their own interests and if we see the rulers and ‘success’ stories of yesterday, finding self-love is not far behind. As a matter of fact, it was self-worship, in a sense, that caused the fall of the first humans. Satan tempted them to “be like God” and this sounded grand in their ears and minds. To be powerful, to be successful, to be independent is the core of the heart of humanity and one could argue that it is the essence of sinfulness and depravity. The ancient connections of self-worship though are not the point of this writing.

The central essence of “self” is fired in the kiln of self-worth and self-glory. Man has always considered himself the central figure in his life and each person, at some time or another, has considered themselves the point of the world. At least the world in which they live. This is evident in calling, vocation, values, affections, material possessions, image, esteem, and a plethora of other areas and ideas. This type of attitude and delusion touches every wall, corner, floor and ceiling of life, even one’s own theology. Such is the case for self-willed, free-willed, soteriology.

FIGHTING AGAINST GRACE

“While I see the truth of what you’ve just preached, the Grace of God is the most offensive to my people and especially to my family, parents, and grandparents.”  Said to me at First Newark after a sermon by a Messianic Jew speaking of his family. Logic shows man that grace is not earned, affected, or pursued by the recipient. By definition, grace is unmerited and unconditional. While others will argue these terms, let the fools be fools. Don’t put God’s grace on trial. The human mind hates the Lord of Heaven. And thus, he hates the work of God, the grace of God, and anything that God holds over his head without his permission, approval, or acceptance. This type of self-worship is damnable. Scripture teaches that a man who controls his life, goes his own way, rests in his own choices, sits in his own wisdom is a man who is utterly lost and condemned. One primary work of God’s grace is repentance of mind whereby the dead, blind man sees his inability, his need, his deadness and he hates it.

Fighting against grace, in essence, is fighting for one’s own rights. The right to be in control, the right to govern, the right to be right and in some small way, be like God. Arguments against such statements in reality actually prove them to be true, as only a self-righteous person would afford the time to measure the volition of man against the sovereignty of God. The freedom of the will is not on trial, for God has stated that all men are guilty before him and that no one is righteous, not even one. So, approaching the Lord’s mercy with autonomy is a stupid and damnable debate for which one will claim to see, claim to believe and claim to be right while they ease themselves into a satisfaction interrupted only by the bold and fierce fury of God’s holiness on the day of Judgment.

While much more could be said, this “self-made” theology of man must continually be uprooted and purged from our midst. It has no place on the table of the Christian landscape and especially has no place inside the assembly of God’s redeemed. We are to call out the attitude that seems to fight for one’s “right” to free grace or free will. Many seem to be fighting for God’s glory or proving His innocence when Scripture securely seals God’s holiness perfectly in all things. Isaiah 46 comes to mind. At the least some who argue this considers that “fairness” must be upheld, but we know according to Scripture that if God were fair, we wouldn’t be here to engage His mercy.

I leave this article unfinished… may the Lord have mercy.