Category Archives: Uncategorized

You Have A Gift

That’s right. You have a gift. Tell your mom I said so!

The Bible tells us that all believers are given spiritual gifts. These are more than our talents, more than our blessings and more than our opportunities. God has given you, if you know Jesus as Savior, abilities and perspectives that you can use to make an impact in the church and beyond.

There are three primary passages that list spiritual gifts– Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. These gifts show us ways God can use us, how God has saved us to be a blessing to others and how we fit into God’s family which the Bible calls “the body of Christ”.

Let me suggest two things we ought to do about these gifts from God. Continue reading

The Chaos of Christmas

Good thoughts from my sweet wife!

wateringcanblog

“…it’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

In many ways, Christmas in America begins the day after Thanksgiving.

We have barely put away the leftover turkey before our thoughts turn to shopping, Christmas trees and party planning. What should be a time of reflection and continued thanksgiving, turns to hurried accomplishments to be checked off a list.

While some people thrive in the bustling atmosphere of Christmas preparation, many feel overwhelmed and even frustrated by it.  We try not to go overboard, and yet in the pressure to find the perfect tree, the perfect gift, or to have a perfectly decorated home, we cave into the chaos.

“They carry out a plan, but not mine…”  Isaiah 30:1

I have been camping out in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, looking at the prophet’s perspective on the coming Messiah.  Knowing that this prophet’s message was fulfilled hundreds of years later…

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4 Lessons I Learned from a Dead Guy

Have you ever heard of a dead guy named John Mason Peck? He is largely forgotten now, but, as one our nation’s first Baptist church planters, “home” missionaries and the founder of one of the earliest colleges west of the Alleghenies (Rock Springs Seminary, 1827), he used to be famous.

I recently wrote a chapter on Peck (1789-1858) for a larger book on the History of North American Evangelism which will come out next year. I was reminded of Peck’s life and legacy. He came to St. Louis in 1817 where he started the wild frontier town’s first Baptist church and baptized new believers in the Mississippi River. Within a few year, Peck moved the center of his operations 18 miles to his farm in Rock Springs, IL where he lived until the end of his life. (Rock Springs is today part of O’Fallon, IL and Peck’s homesite is less than a mile from where I write this in my office at FBC, O’Fallon.)

In his forty years of ministry, Peck participated in the starting of 900 churches, helped to ordain 600 pastors, printed bibles by the score, wrote histories of the region and biographies of people like Daniel Boone and helped keep Illinois from changing its constitution to allow slavery. Oh, and he found time, when he wasn’t farming in order to feed his family, to start the aformentioned Rock Springs Seminary to train pastors and teachers.

Here are 4 lessons I learned from John Mason Peck.

1. A life of obedience leaves a lasting impact. The sheer number of churches Peck helped start seems overwhelming. His impact on so many churches and so many pastors and other believers is incredible. But any life, fully devoted to the Lord, can make a lasting difference in ways not always noticed at the time. Peck just obeyed the Lord for a long time and God used that obedience to impact the region and beyond.

2. God uses people we might not have picked. Peck had very limited education in his early years. He did not come from a wealthy family. He did not come to know the Lord as Savior until almost a grown man. He didn’t become a Baptist until after the birth of his first child. He did not verbalize a call to ministry and further his education until after that. In fact, almost nothing in his early years suggested he would become what he became–except his ever growing confidence in God.

3. Opposition comes but can be overcome. Peck was opposed by gamblers, thieves and infidels when he came to the West. But he was also opposed by other ministers, including fellow Baptists. Some distrusted those from the East or anyone with education. Some believed that missions was an attack on the sovereignty of God and they responded by personal attacks on Peck. The response of Peck was to stay faithful, keep preaching, print more bibles, start more churches and Sunday Schools and to disagree agreeably. Through much travail, Peck would see the kingdom of God expand.

4. God honors faith. Peck never had much money. There were chronic shortages in the churches he served. Problems of every sort abounded. But, through it all, Peck believed God was able to accomplish great things because he is a great God. He lived by faith and he found God to be faithful. God honored Peck’s faith by providing just what was needed, just when it was needed. Trusting God counts and God blesses faith.

I think about old John Mason Peck once in a while. After all, he spent most of his ministry in the same area where I’ve spent most of mine. And, I’m thankful that his life can still teach us today though his body was placed in a grave long ago.

Maybe God will teach you something today from a dead guy. I sure hope so!

7 Implications of Grace

Grace is God’s love given to us though we don’t deserve it. It means we are loved by God though we haven’t earned- and can’t earn- that love. Though we are sinners and don’t deserve God’s love, he sent his son, Jesus, into the world to live the perfect life we couldn’t live, to die the death that we deserved and to overcome sin and death on our behalf in the resurrection. Instead of giving us hell as we deserve, he gave us the opportunity to know his grace and forgiveness and life.

One way to think of grace is to use the acronym of GRACE. It is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. We get the riches of God- forgiveness, heaven, adoption into God’s family- because Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross.

But what does it mean for us in the here and now? What are the results of this evidence of God’s love we call grace?

Note these 7 implications of grace

1. Holiness matters to God. If sin doesn’t really matter, neither does grace. We don’t need grace if sin doesn’t damage. But sin always damages. It kills, steals and destroys. We need to be saved from the death sin brings. But even after salvation, grace is our reminder of how damaging sin is. Holiness will always matter to God and should, therefore, always matter to those of us who follow him. Grace should lead us to holy living as we see the cost of sin.

2. God’s love is deeper than man’s. Our love tends to run shallow. We love when it convenient or when it matches our feelings or when it is returned in the manner we wish. But God loves perfectly. He loves, period. It isn’t based on a whim or because we can give him so much in return or due to our great goodness. Understanding grace can lead us to have the kind of love that lasts through good and bad; thick and thin.

3. We obey God out of grace, not for grace. If we don’t get grace because we are good, why be good at all? There is a stronger motivation for believers to obey God than earning God’s love. God’s love given to us freely becomes that greater motivation. We want to obey the Lord because we know how much he loves us. Knowing this love motivates us to obedience. Our motivation is not fear of not being loved, but a desire to please the one who has already proven the greatness of love for us.

4. We can love people who are hard to love. How in the world can we love cranky co-workers and grumpy relatives? Even more, how do we love those who have wronged us or hurt us or wounded us? God’s grace, given undeservedly to us, is the only means I know by which we can love and forgive those who don’t deserve it from us. And, when we do, it speaks volumes to this world which so seldom sees love like that.

5. We matter deeply to God. Grace is the evidence of our value to God. We have inherent value because we are created in God’s image. But that image is marred by our sin and disobedience. Yet God has given a demonstration that he loves us still. The cross is that demonstration. Calvary is that evidence. Never doubt that you matter to the Lord. Remember the proof of that love shown in spilled blood and a broken body.

6. We need to be saved, not just reformed. You will never be able to reform your way to perfection. Grace reminds us that we have no way to reach perfection because we are already broken sinners. But, grace teaches us that we can be reborn into a new life. Jesus paid our debt and we can be saved from the power of sin and hell. Jesus already did the work. Our response is to repent of our sins, place our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection and receive him as our personal Savior and Lord. Have you truly done that?

7. God doesn’t give up on us. God doesn’t love you because you deserve it and he doesn’t stop loving you because you don’t deserve it. He doesn’t give up on you because of your missteps anymore than a mother gives up on her child after their first failing steps. No one wants you to succeed in life more than the Lord. No one wants you to grow into the person he intends you to be more than your Savior. Don’t give up on your future because God hasn’t.

Grace is an incredible truth. It is a supernatural truth. Learn from it and live it and grow in it.

Remember, God loves you!

Asking People to Do the Hard Things

One of the most important jobs of Christian leaders is to ask people to do the hard things they don’t want to do. We ask people to take the narrow, uphill road when it is easier to go down. We ask them to die to self when it is easier to live for self. We ask them to give, serve and sacrifice though none of those things come easily.

Following Jesus is not about taking the easy road. It is about doing the right thing even though that is often the more difficult thing. If we are asking people to follow Jesus, we are asking them to take the harder path.

There is a reason we ask people to do the hard things. Not only do we ask them to do it because it is right. But we also know it is in their best interest to do so. Continue reading

10 Suggestions for Young Preachers

Here are 10 suggestions I have for all young preachers. Some I learned from others (they are the good ones) and some I learned on my own or from the school of hard knocks.

1. Prioritize your devotional life. You ignore this one at your peril. You can get by for a while, I’m afraid, just on some ability and talent. But in the long run, preaching comes out of who you are and your own walk with Jesus. Read the Bible for yourself and not just for preaching. Spend time with Jesus in prayer, worship and his word. God wants you and not just your preaching.

2. Read the Bible through every year. Read for breadth and for depth. Get to know the Bible well. Study the details of a text for your sermon but don’t neglect to get to know the overall message of God’s word. Over time, reading the Bible annually allows you to see major themes, understand the relationship of the Old and New Testaments and know the Bible story in a way that nothing else can provide. It will provide clarity to your understanding, richness to your theological insights and familiarity with truth.

3. Watch some video of yourself preaching. It can be brutal to watch replays of your messages. We see quirky gestures, bobbled words and botched stories. But we must, if we are to improve, be honest about our sermons. Preaching is about communicating the truth. Are we failing to communicate well by distracting hand waves,  repeated usage of crutch words or never making eye contact with our audience? Learn to evaluate yourself rather than depending on spouse, friends or critics.

4. Preach out of love for God and people. Please remind yourself to preach for God’s pleasure rather than man’s. Remember to love those people in the congregation even though they are imperfect people just like the preacher. Beware angry preaching or reactionary preaching or depressed preaching. Be sure love is the motivation to do what you do. Love lost people, saved people, sweet people, sour people, people who love you back and those who don’t. Love God above all else.

5. Start your sermon preparation on Monday. Saturday night is a bad time to start the sermon and Sunday morning is even worse. Where possible, do at least a little sermon thinking on Monday and each day. Turning in my sermon notes by Thursday noon has been so good for me. Planning sermon texts and titles in advance is especially wise. (Though God can interrupt if he wants.)

6. Pray and get others to pray. Preaching matters so we should pray like it does. Ask God for direction in your planning. Ask him for clarity in your preparation. Ask for his power in your delivery. Prayer partners are wonderful. Ask some people to pray for you every day and especially before you preach.

7. Be the best version of you. Don’t be Billy Graham or any other preacher. Be you. Be the best version of you, but be you. God called you to preach your sermon. Learn from other preachers, of course, but be cautious about imitating them. Never plagiarize sermons. God wants this sermon to come out of your heart, mind and soul. God knows your weaknesses and abilities so be the best “you” you can be.

8. Learn to connect. Learn how to connect with people while preaching. Make eye contact rather than always looking down or over their heads. Tell some stories that grab their attention. Jesus told lots of stories. Connect with them before and after the message. Look them in the eye, shake their hand and laugh at their jokes. Listen to each but connect with as many as you can in those few moments before and after the sermon.

9. Preach with faith. God is big so preach like he is. He can do great things through you. That reality is more about God than about you. Believe he can use you. Believe he can use the sermon to changes lives. Trust him with everything and ask your hearers to trust him with everything.

10. Be passionate about preaching. Preaching is a God chosen method. Preaching isn’t your idea, but God’s. So bring some passion and some energy to this important task. Show some enthusiasm in your voice, mannerisms and words. Have more passion for preaching the eternal word of God than for hobbies, activities or politics. Preaching matters deeply so be passionate about doing it and, if God has called you to do it, pour yourself into it.

Preaching is a high and holy calling. Learn, study and improve. Preach with compassion, boldness and humility. But preach God’s word knowing that the One who called you did that for a reason. So preach it, preacher!

 

Kindness Doesn’t Sell

“Be kind and compassionate to one another.” Ephesians 4:32

If you want more hits on your social media site, kindness won’t work. If you want to get attention in modern society, kindness isn’t the way to go. Let’s face it, in our modern world, kindness just doesn’t sell very well.

Kindness may not be our culture’s way, but it certainly is God’s way. Here are reasons to choose to be kind in a world that doesn’t value it.

1. God tells us to be kind. Want to obey the Lord? You will have to be Continue reading