Four Ways to Choose Faith Over Fear

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 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

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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

 

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.

 

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

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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.”

Three Lessons I’ve Learned from Putting on This Year’s Living Christmas Tree

79194436_2826686150717048_7076236130881896448_oThe church that I serve has been putting on a Living Christmas Tree program for 35 years. Even though some people feel like Christmas pageants and church-sponsored light shows are thing of the past, our program is still very vital. We have tweaked and changed it over the years for sure, but it still draws a large crowd in our community and gives us the chance to present the real Christ-centered meaning of Christmas.

This year’s Living Christmas Tree program wasn’t without its challenges, but it taught me three valuable lessons. The first lesson is that Christmas provides a great opportunity for the church to reach out to the community. People seem more open to new ideas and new opportunities during the holidays. It may just be sentimentality or loneliness, but it’s a door that’s open for the gospel.

The second lesson is that personal invitations are powerful. We purchase advertising and put up signs telling people about our program, but it’s the personal invitations that make a difference. I met many people this year who came because they were invited by friend, family member, or an acquaintance.

The third lesson is the power of collaboration and teamwork. It takes a lot of people to pull off a program like the Living Christmas Tree – from those who sign in the tree to those who help park cars – everyone is important. When people serve together, they grow together and develop a closer bond, which a great benefit to the health of our church.

In the end, the Living Christmas Tree is just a tool to help us share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our local community. It may not last forever in this form, but it’s still effective and I’m thankful for it.

Three Books to Read on Revivals and Spiritual Awakening

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I’ve met a lot of believers who are eager for revival and spiritual awakening to come to our nation or their community, but few who know what it takes to experience such things. Revival and spiritual awakening are a gift that only God can give, you and I can prepare ourselves to receive that gift. Here are three books you should read about the mighty movements of God.

1. Miracle in the Mountains by Lonnie and Belinda Riley

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Lonnie Riley and his wife, Belinda, left a pastorate in a well-established church in Mississipi for an opportunity to serve God in Lynch, KY – with no official position and no salary. This book is about all the ways God took care of the Rileys and how He brought spiritual awakening to the town of Lynch and the surrounding area. Check out what God is doing today through the network of ministries that have grown up through their faith at www.meridzo.org.

2. Fresh Encounter by Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby

51e8Fyf2twL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Henry and Richard Blackaby are most well know for their Experiencing God study. In this book, the Blackabys explore the factors involved in having a face-to-face encounter with God. They discuss the difference between revival and spiritual awakening then outline the seven phases of revival through Bible study and examples from history. This book would be great for those who want to teach and lead others to have a life-changing encounter with God.

3. Firefall by Malcolm McDow and Alvin Reid

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In this book, McDow and Reid describe the revivals that have shaped the world from the first awakenings in the Old Testament to the movements of the twenty-first century. Even though this book focuses on the history of revivals and spiritual awakenings, it’s aim is contemporary. When I read this book, it makes me think more and pray harder bout what it would take to experience one more mighty move of God in my generation.

You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with the people who are eager for revival and spiritual awakening in our neighborhoods and our nation.

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.