Christianity

Let Us Consider: Neglecting to Meet Together

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“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m sure these are verses that we all have heard quoted many times, especially by preachers who are trying to guilt us into coming to church. Let me say right now before we go any further, I don’t want to guilt you into going to church. I tell folks all the time, even the folks that I pastor, that it is not my job to beg people to come to church. Sure, I want you to know that I want you there. Yes, I want you to know that the doors are always open. Please, know that everyone is welcome. But, I will never beg you to come to church nor will I make you feel guilty for not being there.

Does this mean that I don’t think church is important? Absolutely not. There are few things in this world and in our Christian lives that are more important than worshiping corporately with fellow believers. In fact, as this passage from Hebrews shows us very clearly, corporate worship is a command from God. We are to “not neglect to meet together…” Why? So that we can stir one another up to good works, and encourage each other.

Likewise, in Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul gives another powerful illustration of what is accomplished through the local church. Paul says that the saints are equipped…”for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The picture we have throughout the Bible, ALL of the Bible, is that believers WILL gather with other believers in order to worship God and to be built up in their faith. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn who God really is. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn what God has done and is doing through Christ. It is through the local church that believers are built up in their faith, grow in their walk with Christ, and are shaped more into his image. It is through the local church that believers draw close to other believers and build relationships that help them to love God and love others as Christ has called them to love. It is through the local church that believers encourage each other, love each other, and build each other up.

This isn’t just a preacher talking, this is the Word of God talking.

So, no, I don’t want to beg anyone to come to church. But what I do want you to know is that if you aren’t a member of a local church, or if you don’t attend a local church and serve in a local church then your faith WILL suffer. Your Christian life WILL suffer. Your relationship with God WILL suffer. Your knowledge of and affection for the Lord Jesus will not be what it should be. Perhaps most frightening of all…If you are neglecting to meet together with other believers, you are neglecting and disobeying the clear command of the word of God, and this is called sin.

As a pastor, I don’t want to see people coming to church because it strokes my ego, or makes me feel more successful. As a pastor, I want to see people coming to church because I want to see people drawing near to Jesus and growing in their relationship with him.

I was reading this week about the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, and I was reminded yet again what an amazing privilege we have here in the United States to worship and speak the name of Jesus freely. In other parts of the world there are believers who have to meet in secret, and literally risk their lives to speak, sing, and praise the name of Jesus. Believers in other parts of the world would literally die to do the things that so many of us take for granted, and even neglect.

I said previously that I don’t want to guilt anyone into going to church, and I don’t see it as my job to beg you to do so. Those things may be true, but I do want to leave you with this encouragement: PLEASE, for the sake of your own soul and your relationship with the Lord, find a local church. Attend that local church, join that local church, be faithful and serve that local church. This is the will of God for your life – Scripture commands it, a thriving and vibrant Christian life demands it.

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Book Review: Balance, by Gregory Tyree

Let me start off by saying that I am not generally a fan of “self-help” books or anything that might resemble them. That being said, I really enjoyed this book, Balance by Gregory Tyree. 

First of all, Gregory is a really good writer. His writing style is friendly, and easy to follow, and makes you want to continue reading. He isn’t overly technical, nor is he too “wordy”. He says what he needs to say and he moves on. This is a quality that I wish more writers possessed.

Secondly, Tyree’s illustrations are helpful, clear, and serve to hammer his points home. While I usually find charts distracting, and even at times annoying, the charts in this book I found quite useful. Even his self-assessment tools are extremely helpful, not only to help make his points, but also to make you think about the areas of your life that you may be struggling.

Most important of all, this book is truly a beneficial book. While written from the perspective of a Christian and a Pastor, anyone can be helped by reading this book. Whether most of us realize it or not, there are areas in all of our lives in which we struggle in, or are less successful than we are in others. Gregory does a great job of helping us pin-point those areas without coming off “preachy” or overly critical. In fact, he sees himself as a “fellow struggler”, which is in some ways is quite reassuring.

I personally am very glad I ventured outside of my normal reading habits and gave Balance a read. I’m confident that Gregory has given me many helpful, practical, and easy to follow steps that will allow me to begin to cultivate balance in my life in a way that I’ve not done in the past. I pray that as I continue to take these steps, and as the grace of God continues to work in my life and ministry, that I will become a better husband, father, pastor, and friend. I believe that this book is certainly a tool, that will aid me in this process.

Balance, by Gregory Tyree is available in paperback or kindle. Click HERE to check it out.

Coming Soon! Jonah and the Mercy of God

 

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I’m thrilled to be working with Focus Forward Publishing to release my next book, Jonah and the Mercy of God. Tentative release date is early May, so be watching out for it! I’m so excited about this project, and I can’t wait to share it with the world!  More details to follow.
http://www.focusforwardpublishing.com

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Follow Me: The Danger of Comparison

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On a recent Sunday as I was recovering from some minor surgery, I was home and therefore had an opportunity to listen in to various church services led by other pastors. For the most part this was a very positive experience and very uplifting.  To listen to other pastors as they expound the Word of God is such an encouragement, and something I enjoy tremendously. As a preacher, one of the ways I improve my craft is by listening in to how other guys approach the art of preaching. Of course anytime you hear the Word of God proclaimed, it should drive your heart to worship, and on this Sunday I was certainly moved to worship by many of my fellow laborers in the Word.

That being said, I was also reminded of something that I all too easily forget. Comparison isn’t always a good thing for a Christian, and very often it can be a dangerous thing. Let me explain.

As I listened to some very gifted preachers boldly speak of the truths of God’s Word, I found myself thinking, “Wow, this guy is a great preacher. I sure wish I could preach like that.” This might sound innocent enough to most of us, and I too am tempted to just shrug it off…but I think there is a bigger problem here than we might think. The problem as I see it, is that if I can hear a man proclaiming the amazing truths of the Scriptures, and all I can do is wonder if the guy is a better preacher than me…then I have a problem. How can I hear about the beauty of our God and the wonderful acts of our savior, and instead of being driven to worship…be driven to compare myself to another of God’s servants while wondering who the better preacher is?

Sadly, this isn’t something that is limited to this particular Sunday. It happens quite often. I find myself on many a Sunday afternoon scrolling social media and reading about what God is doing through other Pastors and other churches, and I often find myself questioning why God doesn’t seem to be blessing me and my church in the same way he might be blessing others.

But, comparison isn’t just a bad thing because it brings out our insecurities. It can also lead to pride.

You see, on this same Sunday I heard other guys totally miss the point of the text they were preaching. I heard others say things that were completely false. I saw some guys being just plain silly. I picked up on others who had weird quirks or mannerisms. I could go on, but you get the point and can probably tell where this is going. Just as previously I was questioning myself, and feeling very insecure about my gifts as a preacher…when I listened to others, I found myself feeling pretty good about myself and getting puffed up with pride.

It’s really quite silly. But, whether most pastors want to admit it or not, this is a problem for many of us. I know, because I have a lot of friends who are pastors and I know the conversations that we have.

Now, a lot of you are probably reading this and thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with me? I’m not a pastor. Why should I care about your weird insecurities?”

The reason I think you should care is because I don’t think this is a problem limited to pastors. I think all of us look around at other Christians from time to time and wonder why God is or isn’t blessing us like he is blessing them. Perhaps we look at how God has gifted someone else to serve Him, and we wish that we had that gift. Maybe we wish we could pray like someone else. It could be that we would like to teach that Sunday school class. It might even be the fact that we look at one of our brothers or sisters who have such an outgoing personality that the ability to witness or evangelize seems to come so easy to them, and we wish that God had given us that gift. It could be any number of things.

Perhaps this isn’t you, but maybe you are the one whom God has gifted in one of these ways. Do you ever look down on other Christians because they don’t have the same abilities that you do? Do you ever find yourself feeling superior to other Christians because you have the ability to pray in public or the gift of teaching, or because you’ve done so many great things for Jesus while others haven’t? Surely, none of us would want to admit to this…but in our most honest moments, are those feelings there?

Maybe no one else has ever had these feelings, and I’m just a bigger sinner than everyone else…but I tend to doubt it. I think all of us have a tendency to want to compare ourselves to others and gauge where we are in the Christian life by our perception of where someone else might be.

In John 21:18-19 Jesus tells Peter not just that he would die in service to God, but he tells him how he would die and glorify God in his death. He then tells Peter, “Follow me.” Upon hearing this, Peter looks around and sees John. Peter then questions Jesus by saying basically, “Well, what about him?!?” Jesus’ response to Peter are words of wisdom that we all need to take to heart. Jesus said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that you? You follow me!”

Friends, we aren’t called to compare ourselves to others. We aren’t called to question why we have some gifts and others don’t. We aren’t called to wonder why God may be blessing someone else one way, while our blessings don’t seem so obvious. The fact is, God has gifted us all differently and called each of us to serve him in unique ways. My service to God won’t look the same as yours, and yours may not look the same as mine…and that is okay.

The fact is, we all have one calling in common, and that is to follow Jesus. We all would be well served by worrying less about how God is using others and comparing ourselves to them, and instead focusing more on our Lord who has called us to follow Him…no matter how he chooses to use us to glorify Himself.

Don’t Waste Your Social Media

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Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has heard the “Great Commission”. Even if you aren’t a Christian, chances are you probably know what I’m talking about when I refer to the “Great Commission”. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says these words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”

As I contemplate these words of Jesus, I am both encouraged AND discouraged, let me explain.

First of all, I am encouraged as a believer, because God has placed me in a time and in a society in which it is easier than ever for me to reach the masses with His Word. Now, we could list any number of things to make this case – things like air travel, radio and television, or even print media – and these are all wonderful things. What I have in mind though is social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter.

I can hear some of you chuckling right now. Many of us don’t take social media seriously. Many of us think of our social media time as simply a way to connect to friends or to share cat videos and photos of our dinner. Others think of social media as a complete waste of time. I want us to think about this, however: In what other forum do you have dozens, maybe even hundreds or thousands of people listening to hear what you have to say? In terms of Gospel impact, what other forum do you have in which you can post a Bible verse or an inspirational quote or thought, and that same verse or quote get seen and shared by people on the other side of the world? All with the simple click of a button. All of us have a circle of friends and a sphere of influence. Social media allows us to multiply that exponentially.

Again, some of us think of social media as a giant waste of time. A lot of us value a physical visit or a phone call more than a message on Facebook or a comment on a status. I get it. In a world that is increasingly becoming more digitized, and folks are communicating by text and email, the sound of someone’s voice or the sight of a friendly face at your door is often refreshing. I don’t think social media can ever replace that, nor should it. BUT, this shouldn’t be a reason to ignore such a powerful tool that God can use for His glory and to spread His message.

As a pastor, I share a lot of Scripture on social media. I often post inspirational quotes or even thoughts that come to my mind throughout the day. I post links to blogs that I find helpful or even blogs that I myself write. Some people would see all of this as a giant waste of time. You would be amazed though at how often people who would never step foot in a church send me a message and ask me questions about spiritual matters. You would be amazed at the number of people, and the types of people that interact with the things that I post. Again, people from all walks of life, with a variety of beliefs, and worldviews. I hear often, “well I never thought of that” or, “I’ve never had anyone explain things like that before.”

I don’t say this to puff myself up, but to say that all of us can reach people via social media that perhaps we would never be able to reach otherwise. I think we would be silly to ignore such a powerful tool. Do we really believe if Paul or Jesus had access to the internet that they wouldn’t take full advantage of it? Absolutely they would, and so should we.

The power of social media and its potential to be used for Great Commission impact is very encouraging to me. As I said though, I am also a bit discouraged, and here is why. With such a powerful tool that we have been given as Christians to make such a powerful impact for the Kingdom of God, I see so many of us wasting this opportunity…and not just because we aren’t using it, but because we are using it so unwisely.

In our charged political climate, as opposed to us seeking to make an impact for Jesus, we would rather use our time online to spout off about our political ideas and philosophies. Instead of us taking advantage of the opportunity to share about the love of Jesus, we use that time to tell everyone how angry we are about this politician, or this group of people, who we believe are ruining our country.

But it isn’t just politics. So many times I see Christians sharing posts with language or images that certainly do not honor the Lord we say that we worship. I see Christians themselves using language or writing posts that are unbefitting of one who calls himself a child of God. I’m no prude, and I can enjoy a good joke, but it is hard for people to take you seriously as a Christian if you share Scripture in one post, then in the very next post go on a profanity-laced rant about the guy who cut you off in traffic.

Social media, like anything else, can and should be used for the glory of God, and I believe this is the reason for which God has given it to us. That being said, Satan will do everything in his power to use it for evil and distract us from using it for its intended purposes. For some, he will simply try to convince us that there is very little value in it. For others of us, he will try to tell us that it’s really just a big waste of time…and if we aren’t using it as a means to glorify God, then he is right.

Don’t fall for Satan’s trap. Take advantage of every opportunity to make much of Jesus. Take every opportunity you can to spread the message of the Gospel. Use the power of social media to take the Word of God to all nations. You never know how much impact one click of a button might have.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or WHATEVER you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

I’d Rather Have Jesus

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Jesus asks the question in Mark 8:36, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” The answer, of course, is nothing. There is no profit, no matter how much you gain in this world and in this life if you lose your soul. If you lose your soul…then you lose everything. If you lose your soul, then you lose eternity.

As I contemplate this question from Jesus and the powerful implications, I’m reminded of King Solomon. King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes talks at length about his pursuit of meaning, purpose, joy, and ultimate satisfaction. Solomon in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes talks about how he pursued meaning in laughter, having a good time, alcohol, his work, possessions, wealth, wisdom, and even sexual pleasure. Yet, in spite of all his pursuits, Solomon arrived at the conclusion that ultimately all of these things he pursued were empty and meaningless. Listen to his own words in Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all ALL WAS VANITY AND A STRIVING AFTER WIND, and there was NOTHING TO BE GAINED UNDER THE SUN.”

Solomon is basically telling us in these few verses, and really the entire book of Ecclesiastes, “I’ve done it all, I’ve tried it all, and I had it all…yet in spite of all I did and all I had, I found it completely meaningless.” All of Solomon’s pursuits left him empty. He found no lasting and ultimate satisfaction in any of it.

I think the question we all have to ask ourselves in light of these revelations from Solomon is, why.  Why can Solomon not find meaning or satisfaction in any of his earthly pursuits? Well, it’s for the same reason that you or I can’t.

You nor I won’t ever have the wealth of a King Solomon. (Just guessing) You nor I won’t ever possess the earthly wisdom of a King Solomon. You nor I won’t ever have the means to pursue the many things that King Solomon does as we read about his life in Scripture. But the same conclusions that Solomon arrives at in the book of Ecclesiastes are just as true for us as they were for him. You and I won’t ever find ultimate satisfaction, meaning, or purpose in the things of this world.

Why is this? Very simply because we weren’t created to be satisfied by the things of this world.

This doesn’t mean that everything in this world is bad. Laughter and fun is a wonderful thing. Most of us could use more of it in our lives. But it’s not an ultimate thing. It’s not why we were created. A nice house, more money, a lot of possessions can be good things. Wisdom is certainly something that we should all strive for. Even sexual pleasure is a gift from God. But all good gifts must be enjoyed in their proper context and with a proper perspective. The good gifts God gives us must not overshadow the God who has given us the gifts.

Is this because God is some cosmic killjoy who doesn’t want us to have fun? Absolutely not. God wants us to enjoy our earthly existence. It’s why he gives us good gifts. But ultimately those gifts are meant to point us to the ultimate good, which is God himself. God doesn’t want us to settle for the inferior pleasures of this world when he himself offers us the greatest of all pleasures.

Psalm 16:11 says, “…in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” We know from Scripture that at the right hand of God is Jesus. So it is in and through Christ that we find the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that God is the greatest good, the greatest pleasure, and the greatest joy. Only in a life focused and centered on God will we find true and ultimate meaning, and all of this is found in Christ. These things being true, I find the words of the well-known hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus” especially pertinent, and my prayer for all of us is that these words would truly be the cry of our hearts:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I’d rather have Jesus than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;

I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hands

Than to be king of a vast domain and be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything, this world affords today.

 

May these words be true for all of us, and may we all live our lives as if it were so.

Gold Medal Faith

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“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Few things are able to capture the attention and the imagination of the world like the Olympic Games. Every four years there seems to be a new story, or a new athlete that captivates the hearts and minds of the people. It’s easy to understand why. The best athletes in the world train their entire lives for this one moment in history. The life of an Olympic athlete is one of drive, determination, and discipline. When they succeed and achieve their goals of Olympic Gold, we can’t help but rejoice with them. When they fall short, or tragedy strikes and they end up injured and fail to obtain that moment of glory they’ve worked so hard for, our hearts break for them and we too mourn.

As I ponder these things, I can’t help but be reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9. He was quite fond of using athletic analogies to describe the Christian life. Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9 of a race in which all the runners run, yet only one can receive the prize. He speaks of the self-control and the discipline that an athlete must possess. He then speaks of the focus and self-control he himself lives out in order that he not be disqualified.

I believe one reason the Olympic Games and Olympic athletes capture our hearts and minds so powerfully, is because we all understand what it is to have a goal and to work hard to achieve it. There are few pleasures as sweet as working your entire life for something, and then achieving it.

Another reason the Olympic Games and Olympic athletes so easily captivate us is because we also understand the desire for glory. What small kid hasn’t dreamed of hitting the game winning home run or the game winning basket or goal? If athletics isn’t necessarily your thing, perhaps your goal is getting the highest grades, or being the best at your job. Maybe you want to be known as the greatest cook, or a great artist. The fact is we all have something we love to do, and if we were really honest with ourselves we would love to be known as the best.

Well, if we want to be the best, we know what it takes: Hard work, discipline, focus, and perseverance. So, when we watch the Olympics, we see people who have achieved, or are striving to achieve their life’s goal of being great and taking hold of Olympic glory. And the symbol of that glory is the Gold Medal.

But here’s the thing. Olympic glory is fleeting. For most of the athletes that capture the attention of a nation, in a few years most people won’t remember their names, or at best they will be simply a footnote in history. Even if they do achieve that ultimate glory and become household names as some do, even that doesn’t last for eternity. One day they will die, and their gold medals will end up lost or in a trash heap. Olympic athletes might no longer receive wreathes like they did in the day, but even a gold medal isn’t imperishable.

We however, don’t run for a perishable prize, as Paul reminds us. If Olympic athletes train so hard and exercise such discipline and live lives of such intense drive and focus in order to attain worldly glory, how much more should we as Christians live and work to take hold of Spiritual glory? An Olympic athlete can’t just drift through life, or breeze through training sessions and hope to win the gold…and Christian, we can’t just drift through life and think we will receive our crown of glory.

In an athletic competition there can be only one winner, and only one who will achieve glory. The good news for the Christian is that all who call upon the name of Jesus will receive an eternal prize, and will know the glory of God and share an eternal inheritance with Christ. The Bible tells us that at the cross Jesus secured the final victory already. How did this powerful truth motivate the Apostle Paul? He said, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Knowing the imperishable prize that awaited him drove Paul. It ought to drive us as well. As an athlete must live lives of discipline and single minded focus, so should we. What is your focus? As those who are partakers of the eternal glory of Christ, then our focus must be on Him. We should live our lives to honor and glorify Him. We should live our lives in a way that shows that instead of living for this life, we are living for something far greater. We as Christians don’t live for the perishable, but for the imperishable.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith..” –Hebrews 12::1-2