Tuesday, August 30, 2016

5 Ways to Pray for Your Church Family

The following is a great, simple guide by Erik Raymond.  Written for 2014, it applies just as much today!

"As we turn our calendars to a new year, we instinctively make plans to give attention to what matters. As Christians, we know that when we think about our priorities, prayer is right at the top of the list. I was reading through Nick Batzig’s helpful post on how to pray for our pastors and thought about how we could pray for our churches. Here are 5 ways that we can be praying for our own church family and other churches as well.

1. Pray for a Hunger for the Bible.

If the goal of the church is Christlikeness, then the diet for the church must be the Bible. After all, it is the Bible that God uses to make the child of God more like the Son of God (John 17:17). 

Therefore, we can pray that the church would be filled with people who hunger for hearing from God in their private devotions, public gatherings, and conversations with other believers. Imagine the impact of a church full of people who wake up eager to come and hear the Word preached on Sunday morning. Imagine a church that longs to open the Bible each morning to discover anew the truth of God’s character and conquests. Imagine hearts so overflowing with the Bible that their text messages, conversations, and meditations just drip with the Scriptures. Everything pivots on what we do with the Bible."

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Church Membership and Costly Discipleship, Part One

Pastor Jim Cymbala describes church membership:

When you are a member of a local assembly, you have to ask yourself, “Why did he send me here?” It’s not about sitting in a pew once or twice a week. The American concept of just “go to church on Sunday and be a spectator” is erroneous. The Bible teaches that every Christian is a part of the body of Christ. Just as the different parts of an athlete’s body are coordinated to bring about strength and fruit when the athlete competes in some event such the Olympic Games, we are all members of one body: the body of Christ, which is the Church. Because of that, we all have to work together.

God sent you to a particular church because your gifts, talents, prayers, and support are needed in that local assembly. There are ministries in which you need to get involved. Do you have a gift of teaching children? Do you love to sing? Are you a people person who loves to greet people? All those are gifts that are needed in any local church. You should serve somewhere and in some capacity; you don’t want to just put in time at church on Sunday.

Many pastors and church-health authors have written in recent years about the modern phenomenon in our church culture of Christians shying away from costly discipleship.  

Today America and the church are deeply affected by a consumer-oriented mentality.  We make decisions based on our happiness and preferences.  We want to be served rather than make the sacrifices to serve others.  We want to go to the church buffet line and be fed rather than ask, “How can we feed others?”
We have probably rarely heard a family say, “We are choosing a church based on how we can best use our lives to glorify God, serve others, and benefit the kingdom.”

Thom Rainer writes that "churches largely catered to the needs of church members in the 1980s. We thus created a culture of membership that is me-driven. Many church members do not want to make the sacrifices necessary to reach our communities and culture today. They are demanding their own needs and preferences to be the priority of their churches."

When my wife and I made the decision to be a part of starting a church a few years ago, we knew that there would be sacrifices.  We knew our children would not have the bells and whistles, the ease and thrills, and the hand-it-on-a silver platter ministry of a large church.

However, we knew that our goal for our three children was that when they were forty or fifty-year old adults they would be fruit-bearing disciples of Jesus Christ.  And there are really only a few ingredients necessary for that outcome - things like prayer, the Word of God, fellowship with godly people, and discipleship.

We considered that if God had sent us to a remote location as missionaries, our kids would not have the bells and whistles of many white, middle-to-upper class, suburban churches anyway.  We would have to dig in, trust God, make sacrifices, and rely on the things of the early church: they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers (Acts 2:42).

An older pastor I deeply respect who has pastored the same congregation for 30+ years told me several years ago,  

You know, Rhett, when we came to our church, there were about twenty people.  Our children were the only children.  Anything we did at church, my children had to be a part of making happen.  They served right alongside of us.  Now as I look back decades later, they did not miss a thing that was important.  Today they are all leaders, they are all walking with God, they are all servants, and they can all stand up and speak in front of a group.  I believe they developed into servant-leaders because they did not have everything catered to them.  They had to learn to serve.

For my wife, she knew that part of the sacrifice would involve making things happen.  She would not have the luxury of looking around and thinking, "Oh, someone else will do that."  So, she has faithfully made things happen, including teaching children Bible classes and directing Vacation Bible School.  

She hasn't done that because she was the pastor's wife.  She did it because she has children, she believes Jesus wants her to serve through her local church, she wants to reach people beyond our family, and she knows the only way for a church to work is if people serve.

This article continues in Church Membership and Costly Discipleship, Part Two.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Quote of the Day

If you long for more of the blessing of God upon the preaching of the Scriptures and the ministry of your church, and for more of God’s grace upon your life, then meet with your fellow believers and pray for it. In the midst of the contemporary church’s search for increasingly sophisticated methods, let’s not forget the pleasure God takes in the confluence of His children’s voices. 

 - Donald Whitney

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Inconvenience of Serving God

Henry and Melvin Blackaby discuss the inconvenience of serving God in the local church in their workbook study Your Church Experiencing God Together.

"Jesus never hid the cost of being His disciple.  He made it clear that His disciple would have to deny self, take up his cross, and follow Him.

All God's people would share in the cost when any part of the body was suffering.  The cost of following Jesus would be real, personal, and at times deadly.  The cost could only be endured faithfully in the context of God's people corporately.  Unfortunately, I have found that today we intentionally avoid the cost of discipleship.

Members deliberately abandon the people of God during times of cost in order to go to another church where they can find times of blessing instead.  What a tragic misunderstanding of discipleship!  What an affront to God's great salvation that our generation can be so self-centered, forsaking God's will when the cost of discipleship gets hard.  Church hopping usually arises out of a selfish desire to be happy, when the Lord desires that His disciples be holy.  He desires for them to make a difference where He has put them and not simply go to the place where their needs are better met.

Too many people today look for shortcuts in their Christian life or substitutes for the hard, painful, and weary work of a disciple.  They want instant gratification but no cross.  They look for ease and comfort in life, but they're unwilling to count the cost of following Jesus.  If they don't receive honor, position, and recognition, they search out other churches that will grant them recognition so they can be satisfied in their Christian lives.  The thoughts of scars or wounds, like their Master's, doesn't enter their heads.

This comfort-zone mentality too often characterizes individual believers, but more tragically it reflects the same mentality in the churches.  

'Make us successful so my family and I can be happy!'

'Don't ask me to help start a mission church; it would cost our family too much!'

We can't remain comfortable and go with Christ at the same time.  There will be a cost when He leads us.

For those thinking, I need to go find a church that is enjoying true fellowship, you may need to stay where you are and be the one to open the door for your church.  God may have put you in your church so that HE could work through you to express His love to the rest of the church.  If one person recognizes it is Jesus who is knocking, and that one person opens the door, He will come in.  Don’t leave the church; the church needs you.  If you are walking with God, that love will begin to touch everyone in the life of your church.  I have watched that happen.  I have watched God do it.  Could you be that one?  Are you willing to be that one?"

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Quote of the Day

Charles Spurgeon said, "Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians."

Monday, August 22, 2016

Quote of the Day

“Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British pulpiteer, had said in a sermon almost exactly a hundred years before: The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.” 

Jim Cymbala,
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Many sensational gifts and talents don't mean much over the long haul. The longer I live, the more I treasure people who just keep walking with God. They aren't up or down, left or right; they're always steady on the course, praising God and believing His Word." 

- Jim Cymbala

Biblical Guide to 2016 Election

I so appreciate how Franklin Graham has emerged as a Christian statesman, unafraid to speak into our society from a framework of biblical values. He has done much the past year to rally people to pray for our nation, vote for biblical values, and encourage Christ-followers to run for public office. 

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is making their current edition of DECISION magazine available for free. The topic is a 2016 Electoral Guide.

Click here to order if for free.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Only God Can Help America

I have great respect for Gov. (and former Baptist pastor) Mike Huckabee.  He was, in fact, my first choice for Republican candidate for President.  Take 6 minutes to watch him interview Rev. Franklin Graham, David Lane, and Dr. Robert Jeffress below.  

David Lane is behind the American Renewal Project, a movement trying to get pastors to mobilize their people to vote faith and values.  I have been a part of a couple of his meetings in South Carolina this past year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Soul of the West

"The West has lost its soul. It is no longer distinguished and admired for its ideals it once had, for these have either vanished or are viewed only as the spurious claims of a hypocrite. Increasingly now, if the West is admired, it is only for it technological prowess, its economic prosperity and its military power, all of which will soon fade too. Yet while the West is no longer Christian in its foundations, it is not yet fully non-Christian (secularist or pagan) either, though post-Christian phase may soon reach the point of no return.   

But we can say with an organic certainty, which is as sure as any mathematical certainty, that the growth and the flowers that they produced [benefits from a Biblical-based culture] will eventually die.

The blunt truth is that secularism and other alternative philosophies that claim to replace the Jewish and Christian roots have no adequate root system of their own with which to nourish the ideals. Witness, for example, the inability of the new atheists to provide for an adequate foundation for such notions as the sanctity of life, the dignity of the individual person, the responsibility of freedom, justice, equality and universality--let alone the antidote to the mounting inequalities and polarizations in society. Once rooted in the belief that every last human is precious and has an inalienable dignity because he or she is made in the image of God, and that freedom is the gift through which humans most resemble their Creator, such biblical roots have been cut and their fruits are withering."

- Os Guinness in his newest book, Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization

Thursday, August 11, 2016

God's Assurance

God said, "I will be with you. I will not leave you" (Joshua 1:5). He commanded Joshua to study and practice everything written in His Word (1:7-8), and He promised to be with Joshua wherever he went. Joshua responded with complete devotion and surrender to his amazing Guide, and "not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken" (21:45). 

We too can abandon ourselves to our Director and rest in His faithfulness. 

Faith never knows where it is being led; it knows and loves the One who is leading. 

- from Our Daily Bread

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Time for a Laugh

The following is my article from my column today in The Clinton Chronicle:

The news has been so serious lately.  We all need a good laugh or two.  

Charles Dickens wrote, “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

My grandfather, an old-school Baptist preacher, told the story of two old men at the assisted-living facility.  Fred and Elmer sat in chairs in the hallway for most of the afternoon.  They watched and occasionally talked as people walked back and forth.  One elderly lady slowly walked past them on her walker, wearing only a hospital gown, which was untied in the back.  As she rambled past them, they stared.  Momentarily, Fred asked, “What was that?

Elmer casually replied, “I don’t know, but it sure did need ironing.”

In this political season with such strong opinions and convictions bellowing, maybe we need to remember this word from Robert Frost: “If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane.”

Gary and Clovis grew up together in the country.  Gary grew up to become a farmer, and Clovis got some education and began teaching at a local college.  One day these old friends were walking down a country road together.  They passed a field of cowboys and horses.  Clovis stated, “Look, Gary, those men are bow-legged!”

Embarrassed, Gary decided to help his friend.  “Clovis, you shouldn’t talk like that.  You need to learn to talk in a more sophisticated manner.  I tell you what.  For the next month, I am going to help you improve your vocabulary.”  

Clovis submitted, and for the next month he endured Gary’s assignments.  The two friends read several of Shakespeare’s plays together. Dr. Henry Higgins would have been proud.

One month later, after much study of the finer words in the English language, the two friends walked down the same country road together.  When they approached the field of cowboys that began all of this schooling, Clovis thought, “I’m going to impress Gary with all of this learning.

Clovis suddenly exclaimed, “Behold, Marn!  What manner of men are these, that walk with their legs in parentheses?”

One of my favorite preachers of the 20th century was Adrian Rogers, who was known for his one-liners.  Here are just a few:

“Do you know where Greece came from?  It oozed out of Turkey.”

“To pastors who borrow from my sermons: If what I preach fits your gun, then shoot it.  But use your own powder.”

“It’s a terrible thing for a man to think he has the gift of preaching when nobody has the gift of listening!”

And, “Some say it is a sin for a woman to wear makeup.  I say it’s a sin for some women to not wear makeup!”

The Bible says that three things happen when we lose our sense of humor: a  broken spirit, a lack of inner healing, and dried-up bones (Prov. 15:13,15; 17:22).

Charles Swindoll says, “When we lose our ability to laugh – I mean really laugh – life’s oppressive assaults confine us to the dark dungeon of defeat.”

In order to retain our laughter we have to not take ourselves, the world, and other people too seriously.  I remember hearing a seminary professor tell me, “Rhett, I take God very seriously, and I take His Word very seriously.  But I have learned to not take myself or other people too seriously.”

God is on His throne.  The One who cares for the birds and the flowers is able to see to the details of our lives.  He can still be trusted.  And that frees us to keep laughing even when life doesn’t go our way.

Quote of the Day

Monday, August 8, 2016

God's Stress-Reliever

Here is a great message from Charles Stanley on dealing with stress God's way:

Friday, August 5, 2016

Barnabus the Encourager

Pastor Matt Williams preached a tremendous sermon last week at Grace Church in Greenville, SC.  In their series on New Testament characters, he shared insights into the life of Barnabus.

Williams' message reminds listeners of the following . . .

- the massive kingdom influence that one person can have,
- the reality that many people used of God live most of their lives in obscurity,
- the fact that ministry, most of the time, is raw and difficult,
- that even the best of believers experience conflict,
- and, the great value in perseverance, sticking it out with Jesus.

If you are in the ministry somewhere, this will encourage you.  If you are a part of a ministry somewhere, this will help you.  Listen to the message here.