A Prayer List for Leaders

Psalm 101 describes the king’s commitment to lead in a faithful and godly manner. It was probably used at coronations or other celebration of the king in ancient Israel. A quick reading reveals principles that can be applied to political, business, or even church leaders in any age.

Dr. Daniel Estes turns these principles into a verse-by-verse prayer list for leaders in his excellent New American Commentary on Psalm 73-150. This list can be a series of prompts for prayer or a template for evaluating current and potential leaders.

  • May they maintain a genuine, humble commitment to live by the values of God (v. 1).
  • May they demonstrate integrity in their personal lives (v. 2).
  • May they have discernment to see through issues and people (v. 3).
  • May they be committed to godly standards of right and wrong (v. 4).
  • May they exercise wisdom in their choice of associates (v. 5-6).
  • May they take a courageous stand against evil, even at personal cost (v. 7).
  • May they be just in exerting active moral influence in their sphere of responsibility (v. 8).

Be sure to pray for yourself as you pray for others. Faithful and godly leadership is meant to set an example we all can follow.

Dr. Daniel J. Estes serves as the Distinguished Professor of OT at Cedarville University. While I was a student at Cedarville he was my academic advisor. He is an expert in the poetic books of the Bible and his writing encourages and challenges my soul.

Why I Love VBS

Here’s why I love VBS…

The church where I serve is getting ready to put on VBS this next week (That’s Vacation Bible School for the uninformed). I’ve been participating in VBS since I was a child and I love it. Here are 5 reasons why.

  1. VBS brings the church together around something positive. Summers tend to be a down time in church life when people are pursing other interests. But the weeks leading up to VBS are full of energy and excitement. People come together to get the job done.
  2. VBS forces the church to focus on the next generation. There are all kinds of activities that can happen in church, but you can’t have VBS without children. Children and youth are the future and they need to be prioritized.
  3. VBS allows the church to look outward. VBS is a simple, nonthreatening introduction. It’s so easy to invite families from the community to participate, even a kid can do it.
  4. VBS encourages the church to think about the gospel. VBS is full of a lot of actives , but it’s always organized around a central message – the good news of Jesus Christ. VBS provides church leaders with an opportunity to think creatively and succinctly about the message they want to share.
  5. VBS requires a variety of volunteers. People who enjoy working with their hands and building can help. People that like to teach and organize can help. People that enjoy music and crafts can help. Even athletic types can help with VBS. Men, women, teenagers, and senior can all find their place volunteering at a Vacation Bible School.

These are my top 5 reasons why I love VBS. I know there are more reasons and I’m sure you have your own. Please feel free to share the reasons why you love VBS in the comment section below.

Stuck in a Rut?

I grew up in southwest Michigan where corn and soybean field were plentiful. Whenever a particular part of a field was used too much, especially after a rain, a large deep muddy rut would develop. These ruts were difficult to navigate, even for the best four-wheel drive vehicle.

The writer of Hebrews warns us about a spiritual rut that keep us from reaching our destination. In Hebrews 3:7-11, the writer quotes Psalm 95:7b-11, which itself is a reference to the rebellion of the Israelites when the demanded fresh waster in Meribah (Exodus 17:7). The first half of Psalm 95 is an invitation to worship God as the King and Creator of all there is. The second half of Psalm 95 is a warning about ignoring the invitation to worship in reverence and obedience.

The overlap of these timelines is instructive in itself. This a perpetual problem for God’s people – a rut if you will. The rut is formed when believers trust in God to rescue them from their sins, but fail to rest in the abundance of His grace. They embrace God’s activity in the past, but fail to see His activity in the present.

The writer of Hebrews offers three solutions for those stuck in this kind of rut.

1.Pay attention to the state of your heart. The human heart is prone to wander off course. It must be recalibrated regularly to the “true north” of God’s Word.

2. Push one another toward faithfulness. It’s easier to get out out a rut if you have help. The Christian life was never met to be lived alone.

3. Persist in your confession and convictions. This may seem blatantly obvious, but it’s a crucial addition. You can’t get out a rut unless you try. Those who give up will stay where they are.

The spiritual rut of separating faith from our obedience is nothing new. It has been tripping up believers for generations. But there is a solution for those who find it!

Why Small Groups?

The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to rethink a lot of things, including church. For the first time in our lifetimes, we were unable to gather in-person as a church for months as a time. When we did come back together, we had to alter some of our habits to accommodate increased health concerns.

Now that we are meeting together regularly, we are asking ourselves a whole new set of questions. What about bible study classes and small groups? How do these smaller assemblies relate to our worship services? What schedule and format would work best for our church? Are these ministries even necessary?

As our Sunday morning, Small Groups and through-the-week Life Groups resume in-person meetings, I wanted to address the question of groups. Here are 3 of the top reasons why small groups are important to the local church.

  1. The biblical reason: Jesus used groups. Not only did Jesus mandate that we make disciples in His name, but He also modeled disciple-making. In Rediscovering Discipleship, Robby Gallaty points out five different types of groups that Jesus used in His earthly ministry. Jesus ministered to crowds numbering in the thousand, but He also focused on a “congregation” of 70 to 150 self-identified followers. Beyond that, He spent significant time with a small community of 12 men. Three of those men were singled out for additional interaction and training. The point is that if Jesus utilized small groups, so should we.
  • The personal reason: groups are an avenue for care and shepherding. Small groups can provide a level of personal interaction that is not possible in a worship service. Prayer requests and concerns can be shared in more detail. Questions can be asked and answered. Group members can be encouraged and cared for. Unbelievers can be led to faith in the context of a group and believers can be equipped for spiritual growth in a group. Small groups invite people of all ages to get more personally involved in the life of the church.
  • The practical reason: groups encourage people to stay. Thom Rainer has quoted multiple studies that indicate that people who attend groups are five times more likely to stay connected to the church than those who only attend the worship service. People stay in a church because of relationships and involvement. Small groups are an excellent place to develop both. 

If someone were to ask me why we should restart our small groups ministry in-person or why they should be personally involved, I would start with these 3 top reasons. Small groups allow us to make disciples for Christ in ways that other types of gatherings cannot and that should be enough to move us to action.

Four Ways to Choose Faith Over Fear

little-boy-1635065_640

 There’s a new virus spreading across America and its effects are much more deadly than COVID-19. The new sickness that’s spreading is fear. People are afraid to leave their homes because they might catch the COVID-19 virus and die. In some communities, they are afraid to leave their homes because they might get caught up in a violent protest.  Friends and neighbors are hesitant to look at each other in the eye at the grocery store for fear of being judged for not taking enough precautions or for taking too many precautions. Unfortunately, the nation’s politicians and news outlets are fanning the flames of fear to grab headlines and boost their ratings. Make no mistake about it, COVID-19 and racial injustice are serious threats – but fear is the greatest threat in our country right now.

Those who are familiar with the Old Testament will remember another time when fear was a great threat to God’s people. Joshua stepped up to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land in the first chapter of the book that bears his name, and he was afraid. The Israelites had already failed once to enter the Promised Land and the people there were fierce and powerful. Even though Joshua had some good reason to be afraid, he chose faith over fear. As we follow his example in this chapter, we find four ways to choose faith over fear in our present situation.

  1. Experience God’s Presence (vv. 1-6).

God wanted Joshua to know that He was the one leading Joshua before He called Joshua to lead His people. In other words, God promised that He would always be with Joshua. The newly-appointed leader’s success didn’t rest on his performance, but on God’s sovereign presence and power

The same is true today. God takes care of His people like a loving Heavenly Father. There is nothing that happens to us that does not pass through His sovereign hedge of protection. Even when we can’t understand why He allows something painful to happen, we can trust that He has a plan.

  1. Establish God’s Word as a Priority (vv. 7-9)

God promised Joshua success if he obeyed The Law – God’s Written Word. He was to be so focused on it that he would not deviate from it to the right or the left. Even though Joshua was involved in a military and political operation, God wanted Joshua to know His heart.

I am not trying to minimize the dangers we are facing right now. I am saying that it is much easier to walk by faith in God when we read and study His Word regularly. Political crises, healthcare emergencies, and natural disasters will come and go, but God’s Word remains forever (1 Peter 1:25).

  1. Embrace Biblical Community (vv. 10-15).

Once God prepared Joshua, he shared his plans with the rest of the Israelite people, even the Reubenites, Gadites, and part of the tribe of Manasseh. These three tribes had made special arrangements to settle on the east side of the Jordan River. But Joshua knew that if they were to be successful, they would need everybody to be involved.

The greatest source of community and encouragement in the New Testament world is the Church. The COVID-19 crisis has made it difficult to meet face-to-face the way we always have, but that doesn’t mean we should give up the practice altogether. Faith is encouraged and fear is kept at a distance when we know we are not alone.

  1. Energize Yourself and Others to Move Forward (vv. 16-18).

The Israelites responded positively to Joshua’s instructions. But Joshua knew they needed more than good intentions to conquer Promised Land. He reminded them of God’s promises and pushed them to move forward.

Fear tends to paralyze us. We can fight that tendency by moving closer to our goals, even if it is only one small step at a time. Giving up and giving in to fear is not an option if you know that God has a great plan for your life.

Joshua’s courageous example inspires us to choose faith over fear. As we read in the 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (HCSB). We must use the power, love, and common sense that God has given us to vaccinate ourselves from the virus of fear that has infected so many in these times.

The Blessings of Weddings and Funerals

caroline-veronez-DKvEEokVhWg-unsplash

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

 

Why We Need Revitalized Churches More Than Ever

s__4220051

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

ben-white-9emAQvCJQ4c-unsplash

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.

 

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 Books to Read about Preaching

jorge-salvador-Ar0KbnOHhik-unsplash

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.”