inspiration

Let Us Consider: Neglecting to Meet Together

CW2

“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.

Coming Soon! Jonah and the Mercy of God

 

IMG_4279

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

IMG_4275

The Vanity of Envy

envy

In Ecclesiastes 4:4 King Solomon says, “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is a vanity and a striving after wind.”

So, Solomon is saying that the reason he sees people working so hard, and striving, and toiling is what? It’s because of envy! It’s because they want what others have. It’s what we would call trying keep up with the Jones’.

Friends, is this something we still see in our day? Absolutely it is. Do you ever struggle with this? I know I certainly do. We see our neighbor, or our friends with a new car, or a bigger house, maybe even a new boat…and we want what they have! It’s something that I believe we all struggle with on some level, or at the very least we have at one time or another.

We want what other people have, and so many people are out there killing themselves, and working themselves to death – not because they have to and not because they need more money to survive – but simply because they want more stuff. They want the things they see that other people have.

Again, I believe we all struggle on some level with this…it’s simply a part of our sinful nature.

But, Solomon says that this is vanity. It’s pointless! Solomon says that it’s a “striving after wind.”

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that hard work is bad. The Bible certainly doesn’t say that, in fact it says the opposite. Hard work is a good thing. It is a virtue to be a hard worker.

But the question is, what is our motivation? Are we working simply to get more stuff? Or is our work motivated by the desire to honor and glorify God? Because it should be! Is God at the center of even our work ethic? In Colossians 3:23 the Apostle Paul says that, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”

So, your work is to be done for the Lord. So yes, work hard, but not for stuff, not out of envy, but for the Lord!

But, if we just take Solomon’s words here at face value, we could get the idea that maybe we shouldn’t be such hard workers. Some people do see the greed and selfishness that motivates so many people to work, and they come to the conclusion that they don’t want to be in this “rat race” so they just decide they aren’t going to do anything! That’s sometimes why we see 30-35 year old grown men still living with their mamas, or why people decide to be “free spirited drifters” bouncing around from place to place, just ‘living for the moment’ or trying to be ‘free’ and not ‘tied down by “the man”…whoever “the man” is…

But that’s not the right way either, is it? I think experience and common sense would tell us this.

Look at Ecclesiastes 4:5, “The FOOL folds his hands and eats his own flesh.”

Solomon says it’s a fool that won’t work. If you won’t work and take care of yourself you will eventually starve. You can’t provide for your needs if you don’t work, so a failure to work is self-destructive…it’s foolish! This is true economically, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We were created to work! One of the purposes of our existence is to work. I believe that this is why we feel so satisfied after a good hard day of work. So a refusal to work, when we get right down to it, is rebellion against God. (Of course some are disabled or simply unable and can’t work, this is another scenario altogether which I am not speaking of here. Please don’t misunderstand me.)

So, if working our fingers to the bone for more stuff isn’t the right way, and if refusing to work altogether isn’t the way to go…then what is? Well, Solomon tells us.

Ecclesiastes 4:6, “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and striving after wind.”

Very simply Solomon is telling us to be content. Yes, work hard. Yes, provide for your needs. And THEN enjoy what you have. “One handful of quietness is better than two handfuls of striving after the wind.”

Contentment, being content with what God has blessed you with is much better…INFINITELY better that striving for what can’t satisfy.

My church hears me say this time and time again, but folks this world will never provide you with enough “stuff” or money to make you happy. This world can’t satisfy you and this is why it’s pointless to continue to strive and chase after the wind for more of what this world can offer you! Friends, you CAN’T keep up with the Jones’….

Someone will ALWAYS have more than you do! Always. And if you are living your life, and working simply for what others have, or if you are constantly competing or trying to keep up with other people then it is absolutely a striving after the wind, because you will never have enough…

So, be content. Enjoy what God has given you, and WILL continue to give you. Ultimately, our satisfaction and contentment comes when we realize that all we really need is Jesus.

John Piper has said, “No matter how glorious you are, you will never be glorious enough to satisfy your own soul.” Folks, this is truth and a truth we would be wise to take to heart. The only thing that is glorious enough to satisfy our soul is the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how glorious you are and no matter how glorious you think your stuff is, or the stuff that someone else has is…it will never be glorious enough to satisfy your soul. Therefore, the only right option and the only logical option is to run to Jesus, who as I’ve said so many times, is the only one who truly satisfies.

 

Follow Me: The Danger of Comparison

follow-me

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

social-media-jesus

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

rather-have-jesus

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.

No Condemnation

NC

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

The Bible is filled with unbelievably powerful verses that offer strength and encouragement to the believer. I come to this verse today and I’m in awe of the implications of these words as I ponder the realities of the Christian life and most of all the beauty of God’s grace.

The reality of the Christian life is that we all struggle. We struggle with past failures, past sin, and oftentimes the messes that we have made of our lives. Whether it be damaged relationships, financial ruin, or other lingering physical reminders of past sin, we often mourn our past and the mistakes we’ve made.

We also struggle in the present. Even though we know God has saved us from our sin through Christ and given us a relationship with Him, we continue to deal with sin and its consequences. We want to live lives that honor God, but we find ourselves coming up short so often. We live lives of perpetual guilt as a result.

This struggle in the present also leads to a fear of the future. Even though we might say with our lips that we understand our sin has been taken away, we still fear the judgement of God because of our current failures. How will we be able to stand before a Holy God with all of this sin remaining in our lives? Will God somehow punish me later for what I did yesterday?

This is where Romans 8:1 is so very powerful. The Apostle Paul tells us that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. If you are in Christ Jesus, if you belong to Him, if you have put your faith and trust in Him, then you have no need to fear. You are not condemned for past failures. God is not going to condemn you for what you do today. Your standing before God is secure regardless of what mistakes you may or may not make in the future.

Those who belong to Christ are forgiven of all their sins – past, present, and future. When Jesus went to the cross he took on himself the punishment for all of your sins. Every sin you have ever committed or will commit was put upon Him. This is why “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Jesus was condemned to die to pay the penalty for your sin.

Now, some would say, “Does this mean it doesn’t matter what we do?” No, this isn’t what it means. As you read the remainder of Romans 8 you will see that the Apostle Paul speaks about life in the Spirit, and how the Holy Spirit lives inside us and gives us life. Because of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to overcome sin in our lives. We are given the desire and the ability to live lives of increasing holiness as a result of the work of the Spirit that indwells the believer. Each of us who are Christians have the Spirit of God Himself living within us – the very Spirit of God who raised Christ Jesus from the grave. (Romans 8:11) What more could we ask for?

We are often tempted to dwell on past sin, or even current sin in our life. We feel defeated and see so little progress in our Christian walk. Our struggles with sin often lead us to draw back from God. If we’ve failed in the past, then surely we won’t do much better in the future.

But the beauty of God’s grace is that not only have we been forgiven of our past sin, but God is powerfully working within us to make us more like Jesus. (Romans 8:29) He is using all things, even our sins and struggles to make this happen. (Romans 8:28) So, instead of our fears and failures causing us to run away from God, we ought to see them as opportunities to run to God free from condemnation. We run to Him for not only forgiveness of our sin, but also strength to overcome our struggles and sin.

How wonderful is that? As the Apostle Paul says, “…nothing in all of creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)