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

10 Things I’m Thankful For Today

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Yesterday we talked about the danger of spiritual pride from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.  In my message I said that gratitude is the only way to defeat spiritual pride in your life.  Then, I challenged everyone to find time to count their spiritual blessings.  Since I issued the challenge, I thought I would share my list with everyone today.

  1. I am thankful that my sins are not counted against me.  I’m forgiven.
  2. I am thankful God chose to love me before I love Him.  He took the initiative.
  3. I am thankful God has called me to be one of His “saints,” and to be a pastor.
  4. I am thankful to be counted with and connected to Jesus Christ. He’s not just an abstract concept or a historical, He’s my friend.
  5. I am thankful the members of my  family are also growing in their relationship s with Jesus Christ.
  6. I am thankful that God has declared me holy and is helping me become holier day by day (some days more than others).
  7. I am thankful I can talk with God anytime through prayer.  Even though I don’t take advantage of this access like I should, I am grateful for it.
  8. I am thankful that I know where I am going when I die.  I will be in heaven with Jesus Christ for eternity.
  9. I am thankful God is building His church right here in Ashland and that I get a front row seat to what He is doing.
  10. I am thankful God is faithful and He will complete the work that He has started in my life (Philippians 1:6).

What spiritual blessings are you thankful for today?  You can add your list as a comment at the end of this post.  You can also read an introduction to my sermon series on 1 Corinthians here.  Hope to see you again next Sunday!

Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: Running and Coaching Well

Feet-Running2In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, the Apostle Paul compares the Christian life to a foot race.  He encourages us to “run in such a way that you may win” (v. 24b).

The writer of Hebrews also makes the same comparison urging believers to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrew 12:1-2).  Christians who are also leaders must read this passage from two perspectives.  First, they must read it as a “runner” striving to live their own life well.   But Christian leaders should also read these verses as a “coach” who is responsible to help others run their race well.

Recently, I set down with the staff that I am privileged to work with and looked at Hebrews 12:1-2 from the perspective of coach.  Here are the “coaching tips” that we gleaned from the passage.

  1. Remember, you are not alone.  One of the best parts about running in a road race is the camaraderie and the people who cheer you on.  The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone.  We all need to belong to a local congregation to encouragement and support.
  2. Even if you are slow, just keep going.  The Christian life is a more like a marathon than a sprint; it requires endurance.  Distractions and stumbling blocks are unavoidable, but just keep moving.
  3. Stay focused on Jesus.  Focus in key because it determines your motivation and direction.  For the Christian, the focus should always be in Jesus Christ, “the author and perfecter of faith.”

What other coaching tip would you add to our list to help others “run” well?

Devotional Thought for Leaders: The Cult of Personality

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1 Corinthians 1:10-17, 3:4-9

One of the issues the ancient church at Corinth struggled with was division.  In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to that church he wasted no time in identifying one of the main sources of their conflict.  Apparently, the church had been influenced by a cult, the cult of personality.  The people in the church had divided their loyalty among several key church leaders.  Some people had aligned themselves with either Paul or Apollos, while others claim exclusive allegiance to Peter or Jesus Christ.  It would seem that the last group had the right idea, but lived it out in a divisive way.

 Paul goes on to remind the Corinthians that every human leader in the church is just that – a human leader.  Compared to God the Father, or His Son, Jesus Christ. we are all just “workers” in God’s field.  Some may plant and some may water, but it is “God who cause the growth” (3:7).

Unfortunately, the cult of personality didn’t end with the first century church.  Power, fame, and influence are big values in our culture today, and they slip easy into the church.  Sometimes it’s a pastor who is secretly (or not so secretly) set on becoming more popular than Jesus.  Sometimes it’s an up-in-coming staff member or lay leader who wants to make a name for him or her self.  Sometimes it’s a long-time member who enjoys exerting their influence and control.  Whatever form it takes, this passage warns us that the end result of the cult of personality is division, and ultimately distraction.

Here are some questions to help you stamp this cult out in your church or organization:

Is the conflict in your church or organization issue based or personality based?  If it is personality based, what are people doing to create the problem?  Are you part of the problem?

How can you humbly engage with the divided parties and turn their attention back to God and His mission?

Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: Leading By Example

004-jesus-washes-feetJohn  13:1-20
Jesus knew that his time was short when he gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Feast of Passover.  So he got up from the meal and surprised them by setting aside his outer garment and wrapped a towel around his waist like a lowly servant.  Then, he proceeded to wash the disciples’ dusty, dirty feet.  When Peter objected, Jesus told Peter that he must be washed if he was to have anything to do with Jesus.
When Jesus finished, he returned to the table and questioned the disciples about what had just happened.  Jesus told them that they were right to revere him as their Rabbi and Lord, but he went on to explain that leaders in God’s kingdom, must be servants as well as leaders.  Then, he commanded them to follow the example he just given them of washing on another’s feet.
The thing that stands out about this passage is not just what Jesus said, but how he said it.  In the closing days of Jesus’ earthy ministry, he taught his disciples about the important of humility in leadership.  But he did much more than teach them or instruct them to serve others; he modeled it for them.  He led by example.
Today’s Christian leaders would do well to support their directives, teaching, or instructions with a consistent example.  Leadership is not just what you say, but how you act.  It is as true in the conference room as it is in the pulpit – “Practice what you preach.”
Here are some questions to help you lead by example:
Are you sending any mixed messages in your leadership?  Are you telling people to do one thing, but then doing another thing yourself?  What can you do that fix that?
How can you adjust your leadership style to “show” as much as you “tell?”  Are their lessons or principles that you are trying to communicate right now that need to be experience as well as explained?

Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: Ministry Transitions

Paul's mapActs 13 is the transition point between the Apostle Peter’s ministry “in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria” in the first half of the book and the soon to be Apostle Paul’s ministry “to the ends of the earth” in the second half.  The church at Antioch was the first major church planted in those “ends” and things were going well.  The church was growing fast and being discipled.  Their leadership team, which included Barnabas and Saul, grew too, from 2 to 5 in just a few years.

But one day everything changed.  While the church was “ministering to the Lord and fasting” the Holy Spirit sent orders for Barnabas and Saul to leave and set out for a new work.  The leadership dream team was broken up and the church at Antioch had to adjust.

As the rest of the Barnabas and Paul’s ministry played out in the book of Acts, it’s important to realize God removed them from a good situation and placed them in a better one.  God led both men, especially Paul, into an unprecedented mission ministry throughout the known world.  Not only did Paul plant church all over the known world, he wrote half the New Testament.  But none of that would have happened if they hadn’t left Antioch.

Changing your ministry responsiblity or location can be hard, but it helps to remember that when God removes us from a good situation, He places us in an even better one.  And sometimes that situation is even better than we can imagine.

Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: Are You Carrying a Bronze Shield?

bronze sheildAre you carrying a bronze shield?

Revitalization is tough.  When difficult times come into an organization, there is a temptation to ignore reality and pretend things are just fine.  That’s what Judah’s king, Rehoboam, did. When his nation fell on hard times, Rehoboam went into denial and built a set of bronze shields.

To understand the significance of this, we need to rehearse a little Old Testament history.  In 1 Kings 14:21, we learn that Rehoboam was the son of Solomon.  Because Rehoboam acted foolishly during his coronation, God split the nation of Israel and only allowed Rehoboam to rule over the much smaller nation of Judah. As king, Rehoboam took evil to a whole new level, leading his people to do everything that the Canaanites had done that had gotten them kicked out of the Promised Land (v. 22-24).

When Solomon was king, he had so much gold, that silver was worthless.  Solomon lined his palace with 200 large and 300 small golden shields that eventually became a symbol of Israel’s prosperity and security.  These shields were passed down to Rehoboam, but not for long.  In Rehoboam’s 5th year as king, God allowed Egypt to defeated Judah and take away all their treasure, include the golden shields.  This loss signaled the end of an era and the loss of God’s blessing and protection (v. 25-26).

Instead of facing reality and admitting his sin, Rehoboam had a set of bronze shields made to replace the golden shields that were lost.  In order to show that things were just as spectacular as they were in his father’s day, Rehoboam had his palace guards carry the bronze shields out in public whenever he went to the temple.  But when they returned to the palace, they put the “show” shields away (v. 26-28).

Rehoboam will forever be remembered as the king who spilt the nation of Israel and lost Solomon’s treasure.  His legacy should be an eternal warning to Christian leaders and even churches today who construct and carry a “bronze shield.”  Instead of being open and honest about their present difficulties – and changing – some people would rather recreate things that were successful in the past so they can preserve their reputation.  Ministries, programs, or emphases can all become “bronze shields” when they become excuses for going through the motions.

Here are 3 warning signs you or your church is carrying a “bronze shield.”

  1. Consequences, conclusions, and change are avoided.
  2. Energy is expending to recreate the past.
  3. Things that are done in public are not repeated in private.

Does that describe you or your church?  If so, are you willing to put down your “bronze shields” for a chance to be restored?