The Blessings of Weddings and Funerals

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In his Primer for Pastors, Austin B. Tucker ties pastoral ministry to the ministry of Jesus. “The first miracle of Jesus…was at a wedding where he turned water into wine (John 2:1:11) The last miracle was at the grave of his friend, Lazarus, where ‘Jesus wept’ before he restored his friend to life (John 11:35). Every pastor who walks with his people will have his own mixture of joy and sorrow.”

I have had the privilege and blessing of officiating more weddings and funerals than I can count. As a minister of the gospel, I have always tried to highlight the power of God’s Word during these milestone moments with couples and families.

Here are two guides that I have developed, one for each end of the spectrum of life. One is for Christian couples who are about to get married. The other is for someone who is planning or participating in a funeral for a family member or friend.

Wedding Planning Guide

Funeral Participation Guide

 

Three Ways to Balance the Tension Between Avoiding Bad Company and Living Like a Missionary

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This past Sunday I preached a sermon from Proverbs 1:8-19 on avoiding bad company, especially those who are fascinated by violence and greed. I focused the message around the corrosive character of trouble-makers as well as their ultimate destiny. I warned the young and the old in the congregation I serve to avoid violent people or you will become the victim of their own crime. I encouraged them to set their sights on living a God-honoring life and to distance themselves from anyone who might distract them from that goal.

But what about living as a missionary? Aren’t Christians called to live as “salt and light” among those who lost and spiritually separated from God (Mathew 5:13-16)? Didn’t Jesus spend at least some of his time with sinners and other “unsavory” people (Mark 2:14-17)? Didn’t Jesus commission his followers to live like missionaries in neighborhoods and nations around the world (Acts 1:8)?

At times, there is a tension between avoiding bad company and living like a missionary. Here are three questions to balance out that tension.

1. Is this a voluntary or involuntary association?

You can’t choose your family members, but you can choose your friends. This means you may have to make the most of an unpleasant relationship with a relative. You can’t (or shouldn’t) disown a family member just because he or she is not receptive to the gospel. You may want to rethink friendship, however, that is consistently pulling you away from the things of God.

2. Is this a short-term or long-term connection?

There is more at stake with a long-term partnership than a short-term acquaintance. You will have a much great opportunity to influence someone while you work on a work or school project together than by sitting beside them at a one-time social function. The longer timeframe will also give you an opportunity to assess the health of the situation.

3. Are you in a position to influence or be influenced?

Peer-to-peer relationships involve people who have the same level of influence, while superior-to-subordinate relationships involve two different levels of influence. Knowing where you stand in relation to those around you will help you assess your ability to persuade others. You may have a lot more control over a positive relationship with a co-worker than a negative relationship with your boss.

There are many other factors to consider in the tension between these two goals.  Is there any kind of abuse or criminal activity involved in the relationship? Are you actively praying for the spiritual wellbeing of the person or persons you are trying to reach? Are there any cultural or communication barriers that are obscuring relational goals?

What other questions would you ask in balancing out the tension between living like a missionary and avoiding bad company?

 

 

The Cure for Racism and Injustice

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Last Wednesday, the Lt. Gov. of Texas, Dan Patrick, said what many born-again, Bible-believing  Christians were thinking – that you can’t cure racism and injustice without first accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior. This opens the door to a change of heart and a change character which allows individuals to love their neighbors as themselves.

There are no simple solutions for the racism and injustice that has been exposed by George Floyd’s death, but spiritual revival is a place to start. This approach reminds me of the connection that is made in the first chapter of Proverbs between reverence towards God and wise living. In verse 3, the Biblical author claims the righteousness, justice, and equity can only be achieved through obedience to God’s Word. Justice and equity are values we all really need right now.

Verse 7 is the theme verse for the whole book of Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (NIV). It is repeated again 9:10  and 15:33 to emphasize the connection between fearing God and living rightly. When someone starts with a personal relationship with God and does their best to follow the path of life laid out in the Scriptures, they are much more likely to live overcome racism and injustice, in their heart and in their community.

Verse 7 also underlines the chaos that comes from marginalizing God and ignoring His Word. Lt. Gov. Patrick also spoke of the efforts of some to “kick God out” of our country. Those who discount faith in Christ and the wisdom of God’s Word should expect turmoil, confusion, and violence – and that’s exactly what we have right now in our country.

Once again, there are no simple solutions for racism and injustice and America, but there is a cure. Those who change their hearts towards God and the Savior that He sent, Jesus Christ, will be uniquely equipped to love their neigbhors as themselves, regardless of the color of their skin.

Do you agree with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick? What other connections do you see between faith in Jesus Christ and justice and equity?

 

Why We Need Revitalized Churches More Than Ever

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It has been a turbulent year. The COVID-19 crisis caught us off guard and threw the whole world into a panic with a rising death toll, social distancing restrictions, and a slumping economy. The recent protests, rioting, and civil unrest sparked by George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis has proven racism and injustice are alive and well in our country. This is also a presidential election year, which means we will also be confronted with all of the political issues that divide us as we move close to November’s election.

The Church was always been an “essential” element of society, whether it was recognized as such or not. But now more than ever, we need strong, healthy, revitalized churches in America. We need churches to grow past their disunity and dysfunction so they can make an impact on the world for Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Here are three reasons why we need revitalized churches now more than ever.

  1. The reputation of the church is tied to God’s glory.

The local church gathers in God’s name and for His glory. Like the Israelites of old, New Testament believers belong to God and are called by His name (2 Chronicles 7:14). New believers are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

If the reputation of the church “stinks,” so does people’s impression of God. That is especially true in a neighborhood or community where a church is perceived as uncaring, quarrelsome, or snobby. An unhealthy church robs God of His glory.

  1. The church is a place to model healthy, diverse relationships.

All people are made in God’s image and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (Genesis 1:26-27). Those who have a biblical worldview should lead the way in loving those who are different than themselves. The church is an ideal place for those relationships to happen. In fact, if Christians can’t model healthy, diverse relationships in the church, what does that say about the gospel we say we believe?

  1. Strong, healthy churches are a blessing to the communities that surround them.

In Reclaiming Glory, Mark Clifton explains that one of the characteristics of a dying church is that “they cease, often gradually, to be a part of the fabric of their community.” Conversely, revitalized churches and the people who belong to them look for ways to meet emotional, physical, and spiritual needs within their community. This outward focus allows believers to showcase their reason for hope – the gospel of Jesus Christ.

These turbulent times provide a wonderful opportunity for the church to become the best version of herself. Christ Himself is calling churches all over our country to shake off their apathy and to put His Word into practice (Ephesians 5:26). Not just for themselves, or their children, but for the sake of the cities, towns, and neighborhoods in which they have been planted.

What reasons would you add for the need for revitalized churches? Please leave your response below. I would love to hear from you!

Three Biblical Habits That Have Become More Important During the Quarantine

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As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” The Coronavirus quarantine has forced Christians to change the way they express their faith (at least for a little while). Who would have thought earlier this year that believers would have follow Jesus while staying 6 feet or more from everyone else.

Here are three biblical habits that become more important during the Coronavirus quarantine:

1. Gathering for Worship

Church attendance has been in decline for decades, but during the quarantine the faithful have been clamoring to get back to church. Even those who rarely attended before have shown an increased interest in starting to attend when in-person services are resume.

The church I pastor is scheduled to resume in-person services this Sunday. We will be taking many precautions to keep our people safe, like maintaining social distancing, encouraging that people wear masks, and discontinuing long-help traditions like passing an offering plate or shaking hands. Even with all of these changes, I get the sense that those who are able are ready to get back to church.

2. Preaching and Prayer

Even though we haven’t been able to meet together for the past few months, we have still  been able to connect through technology. We have had a strong response to our online worship service that features singing and preaching. I have gotten a steady flow of online comments and personal notes thanking me for the messages that I have been able to share via video. I have also had many phone call with people in our congregation. While I appreciate the opportunity to hear about their lives, it’s the time we have to pray together that matters most.

3. Serving Others in Jesus’ Name

There is never a bad time to serve some in Jesus’ name, but the current pandemic has added extra emphasis to the action. I have been encouraged to hear about all kinds of things that have been done to help those in need around our church and across the country, from delivering food to a family in need to setting up a field hospital in Central Park New York (thank you Samaritan’s Purse.)

The Coronavirus quarantine has undeniably changed some things in our lives, some for the good and some for the bad. I hope a renewed emphasis on gathering for worship, preaching and prayer, and serving others in Jesus’ name are here to stay.

What about you? Are there some biblical habits or spiritual disciplines that have become more important to you during the quarantine? Please your answer below in the comment section. I’d love to continue the conversation.

 

Wash Me and I Will Be Whiter Than Snow (Psalm 51:1-15)

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This is a guest post from my 15-year old daughter, Reese Couture. She wrote this devotion for a Kentucky WMU Acteens retreat that she helped lead.

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Sometimes the best feeling is to get clean. After a long day of hard work, whatever that work may be, it is satisfying to shower. Being greasy or sweaty or dirty probably isn’t one of your favorite things to be, but feeling fresh at the end of the day might be. No matter how gross or smelly you get, you are only a bath away from being comfortable again. In Psalm 51, we read David’s cry to God for a spiritual bath.

When you start reading these verses, you are in the heat of King David’s conversation with God. So much passion and intention are in these words, it seems like too much to unpack. In order to fully understand what is going on, we need to rewind. David was one of the most remembered kings of Israel. He was described as “a man after God’s own heart.” Unfortunately, he is remembered for both the good and the bad; Psalm 51 comes after the bad.

Long story short, King David saw a woman one day named Bathsheba and he instantly knew he wanted her. Bathsheba was a beautiful woman, but she was married to Uriah, an elite in Israel’s army. Since David had kingly powers, he decided to use them to get what he wanted. He was sexually immoral, he lied, he murdered, and he caused unnecessary pain. The prophet, Nathan, confronted David about what he did, which is where these verses pick up.

There are so many things that are asked of God here: to have mercy, to blot out transgressions, to wash away iniquity, and to cleanse from sin. The magnificent thing is that God can (and will) do all of those things for us, we just need to ask Him. His unfailing love will never run out, no matter how many times we come back to it and ask for it again. Have you been corrected by someone and all you want to do is just tell them all of the things they have done wrong? It is an unfair feeling for someone to seemingly place themselves above you when you are equal. The only person 100% justified in judging you and correcting you is God. He is 100% perfect. When you sin, you are sinning against God and His commandments. Being shown by Him what you are doing wrong can be a scary feeling that makes you feel small, but it is truly such a blessing.

Sin is a paralyzing feeling; it comes little by little until you are trapped. The scary thing is, Satan has been doing this for years and he knows the best way to get you. You come to this point where you can’t escape regret or guilt and it just feels like your sins are permanently hanging over you. You are absolutely devastated at yourself and it feels like you can’t do anything to shake the feeling. David was at this point. He was mourning and grieving, so clearly upset at what he had done. That’s not the end! We don’t just get left at this cliffhanger where our main character is at his all-time low. He asked God for forgiveness. He wanted to experience joy and gladness; he wanted to rejoice. David didn’t throw himself a sin pity party and wallow in his wrongdoings, he was able to have freedom when he gave his wrongdoings to God.

Renew and restore are some of the most beautiful words. They present a new outlook on life and create a new chapter. David asked God to renew a steadfast spirit within him and to not take His Spirit or presence away from David. Once we have God, He is with us forever. To be made new in Christ is something so spectacular; everytime we mess up, we can experience that over and over. It isn’t a one-time-only feeling. David also asks for his joy of salvation to be restored and to have a sustained, willing spirit. The encounters had with God cause great joy in Christians’ lives. It is the best feeling in the world to be filled with the Spirit. When we ask for our same old, boring interpretation of life to be transformed into a joyful outlook, things radically change. Having God’s restoration in your life will open up a pathway for you to be able to teach others how they can be restored as well.

In verse six, David talks about God’s desire for faithfulness. Life is busy, it’s just a fact. Every corner you turn there is something else competing for your time and attention. It gets so overwhelming. God wants us to give Him our schedules and focus. This is obviously so hard to do, but our Father really wants to be a part of every aspect of our lives. He wants not only the Church You, but the Work You, and the Social Life You, He even wants the Saturday Night Movie and Ice Cream You. When you give every part of your life to God, He becomes the most important thing in every part of your life. It is a full-circle moment because when God is at the center of attention in everything we do, we are using our energy to please Him. That in-turn lessens the tolerated sins that occur when we place God on the backburner in our lives.

Worshipping God when He once again helps us is so important. The reason we have the ability to praise God is so we can do just that. He gives us opportunities again and again to freely receive His compassion that we do not deserve whatsoever! Not only do we need forgiveness once, but we need everyday when we struggle on our path to righteousness. I think it is especially hard for a Christian to feel trapped in their sins because they have already been originally forgiven. It can feel like uncharted waters. You need to remember we all struggle and we will all always need God’s unfailing love and compassion. You can always turn around and be renewed and restored. Start a new chapter in your life where you are closer to God than you ever have been. Stop procrastinating and take a spiritual shower because you know you need one. He will wash you and make you whiter than snow.

 

 

Three Ways the Coronavirus Crisis Has Affected Me Personally

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The Coronavirus crisis has affected us all in profound ways. Every aspect of our lives has been interrupted with no clear timeframe (at this point) for when they will return to normal. Some of the things we used to take for granted, like seeing the doctor or going out to eat at a restaurant, have become forbidden for the time being.

Here are three ways the COVID-19 crisis and the quarantine has affected me:

  1. I am uneasy and off-balance because I’ve lost my routine.

Before Coronavirus hit, I had a daily and a weekly routine. I got up early and got ready for my day. I kissed my wife and dropped my kids off at school on my way to work. I came home after work and got ready for whatever activities were planned for that evening. I took most Fridays off and I spent most of my Sundays and Wednesdays at church.

Now that routine has been disrupted and I’m having a hard time finding a new normal. Most of the same things are still happening, they’re just jumbled up and in a different order. I’m still kissing my wife, but I see her more during the day since we are both working from home more often. My kids are still getting an education, but they are working from home too. I am still preaching, shepherding, and leading, but I am doing it from a distance and that feels odd.

  1. I am grieving the loss of community.

By nature, I am an introverted extrovert. That means that I’m not afraid to be alone, but I enjoy social time with small groups as well. I miss being able to visit with people at the ballgame or the grocery store. I miss being able to study for my sermons at Starbucks. And I miss being able to worship and minister with my family of faith at church.

I’m certain we will be able to rebuild a sense of connection in our neighborhoods, schools, and churches, but for now, I feel a sense of loss. I’m enjoying the extra time with my family, but I need to rhythms of life that tie my family to a larger community.

  1. I am hopeful for the future.       

While many things were good before the crisis, not everything was good. I was too negative, too busy, and too dependent on myself – and I wasn’t the only one.  If there is an upside to this, it’s that we have an opportunity to change. Moving forward, we can choose to see the positive instead of the negative. We can slow down and appreciate all of life’s blessings. And we can put our faith and trust more fully in the God who created us and sustains us day by day. He is not caught off guard by the Coronavirus and He will use it and the complications surrounding it to strengthen our faith in Him (James 1:2-4).

I hope and pray that the Coronavirus crisis ends soon, but that the lessons I learned from it last forever.

How has the Coronavirus crisis affected you? Please share in the comment section below.

Is My Anger From God or Somewhere Else?

christian-buehner-Fmn-feyisWI-unsplashTraumatic events, like the current Coronavirus quarantine, seem to bring out the best and the worst in people. Responses range from patient and supportive to annoyed and angry. Emergencies, disappointments, and delays of all kinds have a way of eliciting a strong response inside of us.

In Scripture, anger is usually lumped in with emotions and attitudes that are to be avoided (Galatians 5:20, Colossians 3:8). But is anger always sinful?

Like most of the characters in the Old Testament, King Saul had his share of flaws. Early on in his reign, however, he showed a lot of promise. In 1 Samuel 11, some of Israel’s enemies attack the town of Jabesh-Gilead and took the resident hostage. When Saul heard about it, the Spirit of God came upon him and he became “very angry.” Saul used his anger to call an army together and to rescue the residents of Jabesh from their attackers.

How do you know if your anger is from God, or somewhere else? The answer comes from assessing your emotions.

1. Is your anger something you want to hold on to?

Ephesians 4:26-27 puts a time limit on anger. It says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil and opportunity.” Smoldering angry quickly becomes bitterness, hatefulness, and even violence. Leftover anger from days, months, or decades ago is a sign that your anger is not from God.

2. Did you get angry often?

Would people describe you as someone with “a short fuse?” If you get angry quickly, chances are you get angry a lot. James 1:20 encourages readers to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” If you dismiss the feedback of others and jump to angry conclusions on a regular basis, your anger is coming from within, not God.

3. Are you angry because you didn’t get something you want?

Children aren’t the only ones who get angry when they don’t get what they want. James 4:2 says, “You lust and do not have so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain so you fight and quarrel.” Unrighteous anger comes from the unmet wishes and desires of our hearts. That desire doesn’t have to be for something material; it can be for recognition or recreation. If you are angry because you feel deprived of something you deserve, your anger probably isn’t from God.

Godly anger is usually referred to as righteous indignation. It’s the feeling we get when we see someone who is abused or mistreated. It springs for our desire for justice and fairness.

As you navigate the days ahead, be mindful of your feelings. Be aware of where your anger is coming from. Is God moving you to help someone in need, or are you obsessed with your desires?

By the way, the photo at the top of this post isn’t me with a shorter haircut. It’s a great stock photo by christian buehner that I found on Unsplash.

Three Keys to Sharing Your Faith through Social Media

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The coronavirus crisis has turned our world upside down. People all over the world are dealing with the disruption and uncertainty of event cancellations, extended quarantines, and furloughs from work. On top of that, a growing number of people are getting sick and being overcome by the virus.

People are using social media in new ways to stay connected these days. They are sharing daily updates and adapting games so they can be played at a distance. Some are inventing new challenges to impress their friends. Churches that have had a minimal presence online are streaming their services and bible studies.

This crisis presents a unique opportunity for Christians who want to share their faith. We aren’t able to gather face-to-face, and yet people are hungry for a sense of peace. Here are 3 keys to sharing your faith through social media.

1. Stay Positive

Social media seems to bring out the best and worst in people. Avoid venting out all your frustrations in a long, nasty rant.  Resist the urge to comment on or repost that inflammatory political post blasting “the other party” (this means you). It’s hard to point people to the good news about Jesus Christ when you are known for your negativity.

2. Be Interactive

Social media can be used at a distance, but it has to be interactive to be effective.  Give friendly and thoughtful replies to your friend’s posts and be responsive when they reply to yours. Ask good questions and look for opportunities to turn things toward the gospel. Host a watch party for your church’s online worship service and invite some of your unchurched friends.

3. Use Good Resources

I’ve been recording and posting a brief prayer every day focused on different groups of people who have been affected by the coronavirus. You can make up your own faith-filled content or post links to quotes, articles, and videos that are already done. Two videos that I’ve found to be helpful are “The Story” which can found at www.thestoryfilm.com and The Three Circles presentation on Vimeo. The church that I pastor is live streaming our Sunday Worship service on our website homepage and our Facebook page which can also be shared.

Every crisis is an opportunity to grow and adapt. The message of God’s sinless Son, Jesus Christ, has been overcoming obstacles and barriers ever since He walked out of the grave 2,000 years ago. Coronavirus will not steal my reason for hope.

What are some ways you’ve used social media to share your faith? Leave your responses in the reply area below.

Three Books to Read about Preaching

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Most people who go to church only thing about preaching on Sunday, but preachers think about preaching all week long. I have the privilege of explaining God’s Word every week to an eager congregation. Here are three books that have had the biggest impact on my preaching.

1. He Is Not Silent by R. Albert Mohler

41fz3IoB3fL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Albert Mohler argues that preaching God’s Word is a central, irreducible, and non-negotiable part of authentic worship.  The kind of preaching he has in mind is expository preaching. He defines expository preaching as “reading the text and explaining it – reproving, rebuking, exhorting, and patiently teaching directly from the text of Scripture” (p. 52). This book has been foundational in my approach to preaching.  It would help anyone who wants to make the most of their ministry.

2. Biblical Preaching by Haddin W. Robinson

41G7zdZdvqL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Haddon Robbin makes a case for expository preaching and then explains in step-by-step detail how to produce an expository sermon. The thing that I like best about the approach described here is the flexibility. Messages that are based on the text of Scripture need to conform to the contours of each passage preached. This book is great for the preacher who wants to sharpen his skills or the church member who wants to get the most of the messages he or she hears.

3. Planning Your Preaching by Stephen Nelson Rummage

51kUpd7ZGpL._SY346_Preaching is a privilege, but it’s also a great responsibility. Preaching expository sermons week after week can benefit from careful planning. In this book, Stephen Rummage explains how a preacher can plan his preaching up to a year in advance. I don’t usually plan that far ahead, but  I have used his approach to plan out my preaching calendar for almost a decade. It works! Preachers who want to make the most of their time and resources would do well to use the techniques described in this book.

As always, you can find these books at your online retailer or bookstore. If you decide to pick up one of these books as a last-minute Christmas gift for your preacher, make sure you don’t include a note that says, “Your preaching stinks. I hope this helps you get better.”