The Baby is a King

1-1260127732fbCMNativity scenes are a common sight at Christmas time. People set them up in their homes and public places to remind us all of the true meaning of Christmas. Regardless of the size, nativity scenes always include the same characters: Mary, Joseph, the Wisemen, and some shepherds (not a mention a few animals). The focal point of the nativity scene is always baby Jesus lying in a manager.

If you are not careful, you will get the wrong idea about Jesus. Yes, Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances. Yes, Jesus was born a real-life, flesh and blood baby boy. Yes, Jesus was born into a Jewish family, but he was also born a king.

Matthew goes into exhaustive detail in his Gospel to emphasize this part of Christ’s character. Jesus was an heir to the royal throne and the promises of God through his connection to Joseph (Matthew 1:1-17). Jesus brought the presence and saving the power of God to earth through his supernatural conception (Matthew 1:18-25). Jesus received immediate attention and respect as the true king of God’s chosen people (Matthew 2:1-12). Jesus experienced unspeakable heartache and endured exile in order to fulfill his mission.

When you see a nativity scene this Christmas don’t forget that baby wrapped in swaddling clothes also wears a crown. He was born in humility but destined for glory. Jesus was and still is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Three Books to Read about Personal Evangelism

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Personal evangelism is sharing one’s faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. D.T. Niles described it more vividly as “One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”  As exciting as evangelism is, most believers find it challenging and intimidating. Here are three books to read about personal evangelism.

1. Everyday Evangelism by Matt Queen

81a75EKsx2LMatt Queen wants to create a culture of evangelism in churches across North America. He writes as a Southern Baptist to other Southern Baptists, but his simple strategy can be applied to any church that wants to improve her evangelistic efforts. Queen explores a number of common questions and challenges before recommending a hands-on strategy for personal evangelism. This book is great for church leaders who are looking for straightforward way to motivate others to share their faith.

2. Turning Everyday Conversations into Gospel Conversations by Jimmy Scroggins and Steve Wright

81u0LR0h7DLOne of the most difficult parts of personalism evangelism is making the transition from talking about everyday things to talking about spiritual things. Scroggins and Wright use the concept of “brokenness” to move unbelievers into a conversation about the gospel and our need to recover God’s original design for our lives. This book is will be a help to anyone who is afraid of personal evangelism

3. Evangelism Is… by Dave Earley and David Wheeler

51pSyEc0VVL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_This book is a devotional book about sharing one’s faith. In it, Earley and Wheeler approach evangelism from 40 different angles – from motivations to methods. This book is thoughtful, thorough, and practical. It is great for readers who are willing to reexamine their thoughts about personal evangelism in order to become a more faithful witness. Every chapter is full of ideas on how to share Jesus with passion and confidence.

As always, you can find these books at your online retailer or bookstore. Feel free to share this post and these books with anyone that you know who wants to improve their personal evangelism.

The Value of a Multigenerational Church

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Family reunions are multigenerational by design. Grandmas and grandpas get together with their children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins, and in-laws to love on one another and reconnect. As often as they happens, they are times to pass family values on from one generation to another.

The Bible affirms the value of the young and the old when it states, “The glory of young men is their strength, And the honor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29, NASB).  The Bible also assumes that the younger and older generations will come together in the ministry of the church. Titus chapter 2 includes instructions for older men and women who are worshipping and serving along side their younger counterparts. Older believers are to set a good example while looking for ways to encourage the next generation to follow in their footsteps (Titus 2:2-4a). Younger believers are to be teachable and responsive as they live out their faith (Titus 2:4b-8)

A multigenerational church is a healthy church. It’s not easy to bring the younger and the older together into one big family of faith. Every generation has its own concerns, preferences, and expectations in life and life in the church. It’s not easy, but it’s good and healthy. It’s good to see grandparents and their grandchildren worshipping together for the sake of the gospel. It’s healthy for young adults to learn from senior adults and vice versa in the ongoing ministry of the church.

 

Three Books to Read to Spark Gratitude

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Thanksgiving is a holiday built around gratitude. It has been a national holiday since 1941 and it was an annual tradition for a longtime before that. We should be thankful all year long, but the holiday helps to remind us of our God-given blessings. Here are three books that will spark your gratitude this Thanksgiving.

Choosing Gratitude: Learning to Love the Life You Have by James Autry

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James Autry is a former Fortune 500 executive turned author, poet and business coach.  In this book, Autry writes about finding gratitude for the simple things of life like family, friends, spiritual matters, those who serve, and even the pain of life. He doesn’t necessarily come from an evangelical Christian direction, but his writing is humorous, warm, and inspiring. His original poetry is a breath of fresh air too. This book is great for someone who is looking for new inspiration this holiday season.

Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin

81k6cZbsAYLCranberry Thanksgiving is a classic children’s tale about sharing with others and mistaken impressions. In the Devlin’s tale, Grandmother and her granddaughter Maggie invite someone poor and lonely over for Thanksgiving dinner. When one of their guests steals the receipt to Grandmother’s famous cranberry bread their meal takes a surprising turn. Share this book with your children or grandchildren as you prepare for your own Thanksgiving feast.

Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

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In this book, DeMoss challenges and equips readers to live intentionally based on the freedom that is found in Christ Jesus. My favorite quote in this book is, “Gratitude is a lifestyle. A hard-fought, grace-infused, biblical lifestyle. This is a guide for readers who want to push back against the bitterness and resentment that exists all around us and who want to choose joy. Gratitude and joy exist together in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with any one that you know who wants to grow their gratitude.

Three Books to Read Before You Go to Seminary

 

pawel-czerwinski-yqp59hghp8y-unsplash.jpgSeminary offers intense instruction and specialized training for those called into various leadership roles in the kingdom of God. Seminary exposes students to wide variety of Biblical, theological, and practical themes. It also inevitably involves a lot of reading. Here are three books a student should read before he or she goes to seminary.

1. How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

51crijZbWGL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_This suggestion is not a put down. Before I went to seminary, I didn’t realize how bad I was at reading, analyzing, and interacting with written text. Alder’s and Van Doren’s book on how to read gave me the tools I needed to become a better reader, which a must in seminary. This book is  especially for those who already think they are a good reader and those who would like help improving their skills in this area.

 

2. Who Needs Theology? by Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson

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In this book, Grenz and Olson describe why everyone is a theologian and why theology (especially good theology) matters. Then they explain how to “do” Christian theology well. The authors go into the tasks, traditions, and tools that are available to a theologian in order for him or her to do their work. This book is good for the student who may look past the reflective side of seminary in a rush to learn the more practical skills of ministry.

3. Why I Am Not An Arminian by Robert A.Peterson and Michael D. Williams and Why I Am Not A Calvinist by Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell

62469585The titles of these two books alone should be enough to explain why they are this list. Too many seminary students have emerged from there first semester of study thinking they have solved a debate that has been raging in the Church for generations. These books should be read together by the student who wants to get better, humbler handle on these popular approaches to salvation.

You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with any one that you know how is thinking about going to seminary.

 

 

 

Three Books to Read about Discipleship

florencia-viadana-DsqgRPnrfW0-unsplashChurches can be as creative as they want to be with their vision, strategy, and values, but  not when it comes to the mission of the church. In the Great Commission, Jesus tasked the church with making disciples in His name (Mathew 28:18-20). The mission of the church is and always has been to make disciples. Here are three books I would suggest about how that can be done in today.

  1. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman

9780800788087This book has evangelism in the title, but it’s really about discipleship. In it, Robert Coleman traces the eight guiding principles Jesus used to train His disciples and to send them out in His absence. Coleman cautions church leaders against prepackaged discipleship programs. Instead, he encourages a more relational approach. This book would be good for anyone who is thinking though the overall process of discipleship and leadership development.

2. Rediscovering Discipleship by Robby Gallaty

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Robby Gallaty builds his case for discipleship in the church on the ministry of Jesus and other discipleship leaders throughout church history. He goes on to suggest a model of progressive discipleship found in Charles Wesley’s ministry. Gallaty gains ground by including  spiritual disciplines like Bible memorization and journaling into his suggested model. This book is excellent for church leaders who want to refocus their churches on reproducible discipleship.

3. Disciple-shift by Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington

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Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington believe that discipleship should be the core focus of the church. To that end, they suggest five shifts to engage the “engine” of discipleship. The shift that is most meaningful for me as a pastor is to go from informing the church to equipping the church. This book is best for those who are already looking to ramp up the discipleship efforts in their churches. Readers will find value insights to help them troubleshoot their revitalization efforts.

You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with the people who know who care about discipleship in the church.

Three Books to Read Once You’re Saved

markus-spiske-wbqdgo6cxq-unsplash.jpgNew believers need lots of encouragement and instruction when the begin their walk with the Lord. Ideally, this should happen within the supportive community of a local church. In addition to the Bible, here are three books that I would suggest.

1. New Christian’s Handbook: Everything Believers Need to Know by Max Anders

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Max Anders does a wonderful job of summarizing all of the introductory issues of Christianity in one relatively small and approachable volume. He focuses on what Christians believe, why they believe it, and how they should live in response. Each chapter is organized around a different question like, “Who is God?” and “How Did We Get the Bible?” making it easy to digest. This is a great place to start for new believer.

2. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

51W5H+JR4DL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgC. S. Lewis is a literary legend. In this book, Lewis helps believers (and unbelievers as well) come to grips with a Christian view of the world. He unpacks a Biblical view of morality and explains how it applies to difficult issues of like human sexuality and personal forgiveness. He cautions against “the greatest sin” of pride and encourages the virtues of faith, hope, and charity (love). This book would especially helpful for new believers who are wrestling with big questions in their life.

3. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney

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Donald Whitney recognizes one of the greatest needs of a new believer is growth. In this book, he describes ten personal and corporate habits (spiritual disciplines) that promote spiritual growth. Each chapter has application questions to urge the reader towards action. Whitney has written some related resources, but they point back to this volume. This book is great for new believers who are ready to grow in their faith.

 

You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with the new believers that you know.

Preach the Gospel to Yourself and Others

nycholas-benaia-2wGjjX8Qb-g-unsplashYesterday I preached a sermon on the glorious future of the Church from 2 Timothy 3:1-9. In my experience, this passage has been used to inspire negativity and defensiveness in the church. I’ve heard people say things like, “We are in the last days and things will go ‘from bad to worse,” or, “We just need to keep our distance and pray for the rapture.” But when I read this passage, I don’t see reasons for despair, I see reasons to have great confidence in the future of the church. Sure, it says “difficult times will come,” but I’d rather know that ahead of time than be surprised by it. And the fact that it’s predicted ahead of time proves that comes from a God who has everything under control.

One of the reasons for confidence in the future of the church that is found in this passage is the transforming power of the gospel. The last days will be a time when the “cult of self” will grow out of control. People will love themselves more than they love God and all kinds of selfish behavior will flow out of that misplaced love. There is nothing that can be done about this apart from the self-less message of the gospel. God sacrificed His Son, Jesus Christ on our behalf so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to Him. That is the most perfect picture of selfless love you can ever imagine.

In the closing, I challenged the congregation to preach the gospel to themselves and to others. Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to my own words. After the service was done my family went home to have lunch with two families who were visiting from a nearby Christian camp (Scioto Hills is a great camp, you should check it out!) They left, we cleaned up, and I was looking forward to some downtime before our evening activities at church. That’s when our dog decided she needed some extra attention and I blew up at her, yelling at the top of my lungs right in front of my kids. I’m ashamed of my horrible display of selfishness. I wanted what I wanted and I didn’t want anyone (or any dog) to get in my way. As I apologized to family afterwards I was quickly remembered my challenge to the congregation earlier that morning.

I’m very enthusiastic about the future of the Church. Not because I think we will have “smooth sailing” or – heaven forbid – I have anything special to offer. I am confident in the future of the Church because the Church belongs to God and He purchased her future and freedom at great cost to Himself.

Photo by Nycholas Benaia on Unsplash

Seven Ways to Prepare for Worship This Weekend

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I have the privilege worshiping with my church family every Sunday at Unity Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. I may be a pastor, but I’m a worshipper at heart. My primary responsibility in life is to glorify God and worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

Worship is one of the spiritual activities (a.k.a spiritual disciplines) that gives focus and provides growth spiritual for those who want to live as Christians. I enjoy worshipping God on my own, but I also enjoy worshipping God with my church family as part of our formal church gatherings.

I rediscovered a fantastic book recently on the spiritual disciplines: Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. In it, Foster outlines the path to spiritual growth through thirteen different spiritual disciplines. Personal and public worship are one of those activities. I was so encouraged by his seven ways to prepare for worship (he calls them “Steps  into Worship”) that I wanted to share them with you here.

1. Learn to practice the presence of God daily (1 Thess. 5:17). Public worship is really just an extension of private worship. Try to cultivate a sense of appreciation and awe throughout the week. When you get to church on Sunday you will eager to share your worship with others.

2. Have many different experiences in worship. Foster suggests worshipping with others in smaller settings throughout the week in addition to worshipping on your own. These sessions can provide the encouragement and accountably you need to express your praise to God.

3. Find ways to really prepare for the gathered experience of worship. Sundays can be busy days. Sometimes we are grateful just to make it to our pew on time. You can improve your experience in the worship service, however, by getting adequate rest the night before or by reviewing the songs or Scripture passages that will be used in the service that day.

4. Have a willingness to be gathered in the power of the Lord. Foster suggests that the language of gathered fellowship (worship) is not “I,” but “we.” We should be more concerned with God’s presence and work in the church as a whole than if our own individual needs have been met.

5. Cultivate holy dependency. The danger of “preparing” for worship is that we think that worship depends on us. God is the one who took the initiative in revealing Himself and His Word to us. Our worship is really just a response to Him and His gracious work.

6. Absorb distractions with gratitude. Distractions are unavoidable in public worship. Foster suggests thanking God for the life and energy of a little children who may be making noice rather than being annoyed by them.

7. Learn to offer a sacrifice of worship. Worship is rarely convenient. It takes time, energy, and other resources to praise God like He deserves. It takes commitment to gather with God’s people every week to worship God. When we learn to see these “difficulties” as a sacrifice in themselves, we will be more inclined to overcome them.

In the end, we are all worshippers at heart. We can either worship the One True and Living God revealed to us in the Scriptures, or we can worship something or someone less than God. If you are drawn to worship God, then I hope this helps you prepare well for worship with your church family this weekend.

 

My Experience in a Discipleship Group

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I made a startling discovery earlier this year. I did some research on the baptism, membership, and attendance trends in the church I serve as pastor and I realized that as a church, we have lost 500 people in the last 10 years! We have welcomed an entire sanctuary full of people (our sanctuary seats about 500) into our membership through baptism and transfer of letter, but our Morning Worship and Sunday School attendance have stayed about the same. Even though some of those people have passed away, moved out of the area, or stepping into places of ministry, you would think that we would be able to retain at least some of our newest members.

One of the reasons we have not retained our members, new and well-established, is because we have not done a good enough job collectively of discipling them. We have allowed baptism and new membership to become the finish line of faith instead of the starting line. We have welcomed people of all ages into our church and given them a variety of ministry opportunities without a clear plan for spiritual development.

This discovery led me to a new type of ministry that isn’t new at all. When Jesus Christ was on earth, he ministered to thousands of people yet focused the majority of his time on 12 ordinary men. Jesus narrowed his focus even further by investing in Peter, James, and John more than the rest of this disciples. Jesus made disciples in small groups. The Apostle Paul followed Christ’s example by teaching and training a select group of men out of the hundreds, maybe thousands, that he had contact with. Timothy, Titus, and Luke are familiar names to us today because Paul worked so closely with them during his time on earth.

The new type of ministry that I discovered is a Discipleship Group. A Discipleship Group is an intentionally small group (3 to 6 people) that meets for spiritual development and replication. Unlike Sunday School classes, these groups are gender-specific and closed to outsiders to facilitate deep relationships, open communication, and accountability. After twelve months, group members are prayerfully challenged to turn around and start their own group for the next year.

I have been involved in 2 exploratory Discipleship Groups in the last 2 years and experienced great benefits. As a believer, I have been prompted to spend regular time in Bible study and prayer, to invest in meaning relationships with other believers, and to live out the gospel daily. As a pastor, I have seen men in our church hear from God through His Word and look for ways to share it with others. I have only been involved with these particular kinds of Discipleship Groups for a short time, but I can see and anticipate the benefit they would bring to the church that I serve and the greater Kingdom of God – especially those who join in the next 10 years.

What experience do you have with small group discipleship, if any?