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The Church Still Matters

I’ve never seen the idea of the church so marginalized in all my lifetime. The secular world mocks the church and the Christian world devalues the church. The local church is seen, even by believers, as unnecessary and antiquated and optional.

You can kind of understand the issues perhaps. After all, churches are filled with imperfect people. Churches often have a well earned reputation for being argumentative. They frequently get side tracked by secondary issues. They sometimes lose sight of their purpose. Critics can accurately point out all the problems, failures and imperfections of the church.

But, with all of that said, the church still matters. There is great inherent value in the work of the local church. There is value and purpose and potential in this institution. Here are three reasons why the church still matters.

1. God made the church. If the church was man’s idea, we might rightfully ignore it. But it isn’t. God formed the church and he did it for his own reasons. He knew that the church would be made up of imperfect people. He knew every pastor and every small group leader would be “frail as dust and feeble as frail”. But he formed it anyway. We ought not easily turn our backs on something God created.

And, I note that God’s word admonishes us that we ought not be in the habit of “neglecting to gather together”. (See Hebrews 10:24-25) This isn’t the word of your pastor or your grandmother. God is the one who calls us to gather. God’s command is reason enough to connect with an imperfect church filled with imperfect people.

We might not understand why God formed the church, but we can’t escape the fact that he did. We may not see the value of the local church, but God apparently can. We need to remember this important truth: the church is a God idea.

2. We need each other. I don’t think every Christian believes that. I think many believe they can be just fine on their own- no need for fellowship or accountability or encouragement from other believers. But the longer I live, the more I see the importance of other believers in my life.

Don’t underestimate the enemy. He loves to divide and conquer. He wants you to be spiritually isolated. He knows the Bible says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another”. (Prov. 27:17) He tells you that you don’t need anyone else because he wants you to be vulnerable and ineffective.

But, the Spirit of the Living God reminds you of the value of other believers. We disciple others and are discipled by others. We benefit from the wisdom and zeal and encouragement that comes from worshiping and learning with others. Never have believers needed each other as we do now!

3. We are stronger together. I had a friend who lost his little finger in an accident. He told me how amazed he was at how much grip strength he lost just from that tiny digit.

The church is described as the body of Christ. We all have different gifts and backgrounds and personalities and perspectives. But, we function best when we work together. We are stronger in missions, evangelism, discipleship and worship when we are connected.

The church separated is weak and ineffective. The church connected is powerful beyond the sum of her parts. The church can prevail against the very gates of hell. You will benefit from others and others will benefit from you. You need the church and the church needs you.

Don’t underestimate the importance of a healthy connection to a local church. God will use this institution made up of imperfect sinners who have found the perfect Savior to impact you and your world. Find a church, plug in fully and participate actively.

The church still matters.

Revival Still Matters

Perhaps the greatest need of our day is revival. I’m not talking about a series of revival meetings, though that might be needed as well. I’m talking about a genuine revival in the lives of Christians that brings spiritual renewal, vibrancy and power. What a difference it would make in our day if revival was stirring in individuals and churches and beyond!

I’ve experienced touches of revival in my own life and church and it whets my appetite for more. Christian, wouldn’t you like a fresh touch from God in your own life, your own church and your own ministry? Wouldn’t you like to see a move of God that changes the hearts of believers and impacts beyond to our culture?

Here are three reasons why revival still matters.

1. We tend to drift from God. I’m not much of a sailor, but I do know that drifting doesn’t take any special effort at all. It is easy to drift from the shore. And, it is easy to drift from God. We get busy, distracted or preoccupied and drift away. We get rebellious, sinful or selfish and move away from God. It is easy to do and can happen with us hardly noticing.

Note that we drift from God, not towards God. Getting closer to the Lord involves intentionality. Drifting away from God can happen without any recognition or premeditation at all.

In revival, believers come back into right relationship with the Lord. In revival, there is a recognition of our sloth or sin or self-centeredness. We need revival because we tend to forget about what matters most. We tend to lose sight of God’s perspective. We tend to grow stale in our religious activities. Revival draws us back to a close, intimate relationship with the Lord.

2. Revival brings new life, joy and effectiveness. Getting right with God is not to our detriment. Though there is sorrow in recognizing our sin, repentance doesn’t result in our loss. Revival involves the recognition of judgment but it leads us to restoration. Revival is in our best interest and leads us to the fruit of the Spirit and the joy and peace that comes with walking with the Lord. Though revival can start with pain, it leads to healing and purpose.

Many Christians have come to see the Christian life as drudgery. They see faith as good, but boring. They think of obedience as right, but tedious. Revival corrects that wrong thinking. It reminds us of the joy of our salvation. It gives us new meaning and purpose as we see God’s glory and goodness. Revival leads us to new effectiveness and enthusiasm. Revival is what our soul is longing for!

3. Revival impacts our churches, communities and culture. One of the reasons we need revival so much is because of the impact revived Christians have on those around them. When churches are revived, they are more effective and focused. The revived church is more committed to evangelism and discipleship and fellowship. But, revival has an impact beyond that.

We often decry the state of our culture, and rightly so. Our culture is increasingly coarse and crude and rebellious to the truth of God. But revival has an impact on the surrounding culture. Revived Christians and churches can be used by God to bring a spiritual awakening to the culture at large. It can open the eyes of the lost to the realities of sin and the priorities of faith. It can cause the lost world to see their need for the Lord. Often, revival has even resulted in large scale recognition of the need for biblical morality in the culture at large.

Perhaps you have recognized your own need for revival. Will you join me and others in praying for revival in our lives and churches in this generation? Ask the Lord to send revival to your own life and to change you where you need changing. Be willing to repent of any wrong activity, attitude or motive. Join with others in praying for a sweeping revival in our generation.

Revival still matters!

Holiness Still Matters

Every generation tends to fall off the horse on the opposite side. If the previous generation emphasized God’s holiness to the exclusion of God’s love, the next generation emphasizes God’s love to the exclusion of God’s holiness. Sitting straight in the saddle requires us to recognize both aspects of God’s nature.

Grace is an amazing gift from God. But it doesn’t negate God’s call to holiness. Freedom is a beautiful truth. But it doesn’t exempt us from the teaching of God’s word to live holy lives. Many Christians have acted as though holiness and obedience are out of date concepts and unnecessary encumbrances to the life of the believer. Holiness is mislabeled as legalism. Obedience is ignored as an unneeded vestige of the law. What a tragic misunderstanding of God’s word and way!

Holiness is spoken of often in scripture and not only in the Old Testament. Obedience is a common theme of God’s word for those who would follow Jesus. We ought not ignore this in a misguided attempt to improve God’s plan of grace or provision of freedom.

Let’s note three reasons why holiness still matters.

1. Holiness matters because sin harms us. Sin’s result is never to our benefit. It won’t give us more peace or joy or life. The goal of the enemy isn’t for our good or our gain. Ultimately, sin kills, steals and destroys. It is important for Christians to be aware of this truth.

While sin is packaged well, its substance is poison. God’s call to holiness is, therefore, to our benefit. It is in our best interest to obey the Lord and to our great detriment to disobey. The better you see God’s perspective instead of the world’s, the more you will see this truth that holiness keeps us from harm and blesses our lives. God calls you to obedience because it is in your best interest.

2. Holiness matters because discipleship demands it. Discipleship is all about following and obeying Jesus. It means we go where Jesus leads and do what Jesus wants. If we do what we want, we aren’t following Jesus. If we go the world’s way, we aren’t obeying Jesus. A way to think about the importance of holiness it to note this simple truth, “You can’t obey Jesus by disobeying Jesus”.

Jesus asked the question, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46) If we call him “Lord” we must obey him. If we don’t obey him, how can we call him “Lord”? At the heart of discipleship is our obedience to the Lord and there is no way around this simple truth. Obedience is the pathway to our spiritual growth and dynamic walk with God.

3. Holiness matters because love leads to it. There is a common view in our culture that says it is unloving to say anything is wrong or sinful. But is it unloving for a parent to keep their child from playing in the street? Is is unloving for someone to warn others of a defective bridge? Instead, aren’t these things a result of love itself?

The Bible tells us, “This is how we know that we love God’s children: when we love God and obey his commands. For this is what love for God is: to keep his commands.” (1 John 5:2-3) Love and obedience are deeply connected in scripture. God’s holiness and love cannot be separated. Love leads us to obedience and holiness, not to licentiousness and immorality. Living a holy life is the natural result of loving God.

Holiness should matter deeply to God’s followers because it matters deeply to God. Don’t miss this important truth and the blessings that come with it.

Holiness still matters.

Pursue Peace with Everyone

“Pursue peace with everyone.” Hebrews 12:14

God just wrecks our thinking sometimes! I was reading along in my devotional time, minding my own business, and these words came out of nowhere to knock me over. Pursue peace with everyone? Really?

This does not seem to be the way to do things. Everything in our culture seems to cry out for us to be at war with others. Battle them, conquer them, hammer them into submission! Isn’t that how it’s done? Has not social media taught us that this is the way? Do our cultural, political and media leaders not demonstrate this to us each day?

And yet, I read God’s word, doing what Christians are supposed to do, only to stumble onto this truth that seems so counter cultural. I am confronted again with the fact that God’s way is often different than our way. I’m reminded that God has some hard tasks and big expectations for those who would follow him.

Three things about this command call for our close attention.

1. Our goal is peace. We are tempted to think our goal towards others is conquest. We are tempted to think we are to defeat them, subdue them and crush them. But the goal God gives us in our relationships with others is peace. We are reminded that our enemy is not our brother or sister. Our adversary is not the lost and confused of this world. Our true opponent is not the one who mocks or even persecutes us, but the evil one who has enslaved him and his thinking.

We should never compromise truth for peace. Peace isn’t found in error. We should never mistake the approval of this fallen world for peace. Darkness never approves of light. We can’t ultimately even ensure peace as it involves someone more than just ourselves. But peace is the goal. Winning the argument, talking the loudest or being the angriest are poor substitutes for what God wants from us in our relationships with others. God calls us to peace.

2. We are to pursue this goal of peace. We like the idea of others pursuing peace with us more than of us pursuing peace with others. But there it is, right there in the text. That stubborn, difficult, challenging word- pursue. We are told to make the pursuit of peace with others.

Pursuit means taking the initiative and being proactive. It means the goal of peace isn’t just a wish, but a calling. It means we do something about peace, just as we might do something about war. Battles happen because we engage in them. Peace can happen when we engage in it, when we seek it, when we do something to bring it about. While we can’t change the hearts of others, we can do our part by making the pursuit.

3. We are to pursue this goal of peace with everyone. This might be the most challenging part of the entire command. We are told to pursue peace and we might be willing to do that- with some. But with everyone? With the guy who is wrong? With the fellow who is combative? With people who are hard to like?

Pursuing peace with everyone means we will have to think about others as the Lord thinks about them. We will have to see the value of others even when we don’t agree with their values. We will have to choose to love even those not so lovable. This part of the verse is what knocks us over and wrecks our thinking. Everyone is a big, big word.

This command from Hebrews is going to take some work, some prayer and some attitude adjustments. But it is right there in God’s word. So, let’s think about relationships more as the Lord does than as does the world. Let’s put this one into practice, difficult as it may be. This command is desperately needed in our lives, churches and world. This age needs this word and this spirit more than ever. Never have we had a greater opportunity to shine in our dark world than this verse provides the opportunity for us to do.

Pursue peace with everyone.

The Woman In The Garden

Good word from my sweet wife!

The beauty of all things created is not lost on the woman whose eyes light up with pleasure

at the colors so brilliant, the uniqueness of every plant, every bloom.

Creator God has not disappointed.

What she sees as she walks through the spectacular display

is but a reflection of the One who delights in His creation.

Her countenance displays peace.

Contentment.

Pure joy.

Seeing the fruit of the vine and the fruit on the tree,

her hand reaches out to enjoy the bountiful pleasure.

Though her senses are satisfied, her heart is not.

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The Benefits of the Long Term Pastorate

This month marks 25 years since I came to FBC O’Fallon, IL as pastor. I do note that I don’t get called “the young pastor” as much as I did then. I wonder why that is? Hmmm….

While 25 years isn’t nearly as long as some (I have two pastor friends who have been at their churches for more than 50 years), it does cause me to consider some benefits to staying at the same place. I’m not suggesting that all pastors should stay at their churches forever. But I am suggesting that pastors go to a church with the willingness to stay there for the rest of their pastoral ministry should the Lord will.

Here are 5 benefits to a long term pastorate.

1. You can influence your community. Staying a longer times means you have an opportunity to make an impact that couldn’t happen otherwise. You get to know people in your area even outside of your church family. By staying a long time, I’ve had the opportunity to know and have some influence among regional officials, business leaders, fellow pastors and others. I know them and they know me just by virtue of me being around for a while.

2. You can experience real love. It is one thing to be loved for your role; it is another to be loved for being you. I appreciate those who honor the office of the pastor. That is a good thing and I am thankful for those who love and appreciate me for being in that position. But, I am very thankful for people who love me just as me. They love and appreciate me as a person and not just because I fill this position. That is special.

3. You can build trust. The best way to build trust is to be trustworthy. And being trustworthy for a long time builds a lot of trust capital. Building trust means people assume the best in you and not the worst. It means they will listen to your thoughts even when they might not agree. It means they value your opinion because they know you are trying to do the right thing for the sake of the kingdom. They know you aren’t infallible, but they trust that you are trying to point them in the right direction.

4. You can see the long term results of your work. It is a lot of fun to baptize the children of people you baptized years before. It is rewarding to see people you knew as young people in your church now serving as teachers of small groups and deacons and pastors and missionaries. Long term ministry means you get a long term perspective. Staying allows you to see some of the fruit of the trees you planted years before.

5. You can bring stability to your life, family and church. While there are dangers that come with stability, there are benefits as well. I know the patterns that work best for a sustainable ministry in my context. My family got to have some stability in their personal relationships because we stayed. And, our church got the continuity that comes with having the same pastor. In our context (suburbia, a transient military community), that matters a great deal.

Staying at a church a long time doesn’t mean there are never any problems or that ministry is easy. But it does have some advantages that come no other way.

Ministry friends, maybe the Lord will have you move every 2 or 3 years for the rest of your life. But, consider the possibility that he will have you put down some deeper roots and stay in one place for a long time.

Excuse me now as I begin to make some contingency plans for what I will say at my 50th anniversary!

Why Revival?

Like many, I’m praying for revival in our day. By revival I mean Christians returning to a deep intimacy with the Lord. Revival is the condition of believers being right with God and living in close fellowship with him. When revival comes, it certainly makes an impact on the world. Revival, however, is for believers who know the Lord but have drifted from full surrender to his will and his ways.

So why should we want revival? Why should we care? Here are some reasons to desire revival in the life of our churches and in our personal lives.

Why revival?

1. Because God has something better for us than casual Christianity. What God wants for you is better than what the world wants for you. Casual faith tries to live like the world and look like the world. “Don’t be too radical with your Christian faith,” it warns.

But God’s way is so much better. I didn’t say Continue reading

There is Hope

Hope is a powerful thing.

Without it, we sink into a chasm of despair and depression. But with it, we can overcome the most difficult and challenging circumstances of life.

And Christians have hope. Not wishful thinking hope. Not blind optimism hope. Not ignoring reality hope. Christians have genuine, God-given, obstacle-overcoming hope that comes from the throne room of heaven itself.

To the believers in Rome facing threats and problems, Paul spoke of hope. Though he himself dealt with persecution, trials and poverty, Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write words of hope.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Powerful words!

There is hope in this fallen world. There is hope for your life and future. There is hope for our churches in these uncertain times.

Here are three reasons Continue reading

Baptizing in Rusty Water

What an exciting day! I was a new pastor and I was going to baptize a young adult lady who had recently trusted Christ as Savior. This was to be my very first baptism. And, to make it even more exciting, this would be the first baptism for our small congregation in two years. I couldn’t wait for Sunday!

But, I had a big problem. Though the church had not baptized anyone in a couple of years, water had steadily dripped from the faucet which filled the baptistry. And, the baptistry was made out of sheet metal. Who makes a baptistry out of sheet metal? Sheet metal rusts! This had to be the work of a committee! The dripping faucet left the drain completely clogged and several inches of rusty water stagnating at the bottom.

I had to face this dilemma head on. On Saturday morning, Continue reading

Grow Up

Toddlers are cute when they are silly and immature. It is okay to be a baby– when you are a baby. But, when you act childishly as an adult, people want you to grow up! Certainly, God wants his children to grow up spiritually.

The Bible tells us frequently of our need to grow deeper in our faith. Hebrews 5:12 says, “Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles…” Hebrews 6:1 urges us to “go on to maturity”. You are a spiritual newborn when you trust Christ for salvation. But you are to learn, mature and deepen. You are to grow up.

Note a couple of keys to growing deeper in your faith and maturing in your spiritual life.

1. Growing up takes effort. Effort is involved in Continue reading