Tag Archives: Jesus

Barriers to Church Growth. #5 (Honoring Self)

The following was published several years ago, but since my last post was a quote addressing the worship of Self, this is pretty applicable. 


A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a different barrier each week.

“People do works for their own honor and not the glory of God (Matthew 5:16).”

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16 KJV

Why do we do good works? Why do we feed the poor, shelter the homeless, tend to the elderly, etc. Do we do these things so that our Father will be glorified, or do we do them in order to get glory for ourselves?

To be Seen.

Some people do good works for the sole intention of being seen and considered especially spiritual. Jesus said that “Everything they do is for show” (Mt. 23:5 NLT). Jesus spoke of those who wanted to be seen as pious and holy by wearing boxes containing Scripture on their foreheads or arms. The bigger the box the better. All this was in an attempt to say, “I am keeping the law better than you!” (See Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Then there are other people who do plenty of good deeds without even acknowledging God. For example,  go to any charity ball held by your local “high society” club. There you will find plenty of people who willingly give thousands to worthy causes, but smile as big as they can when the magazine photographers come around.

They may even be members of local churches and give large offerings to the building fund (as long as it’s named after them); buy the pastor a new car; or pay for a youth mission trip. “And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the [congregation].” – Matthew 23:6 NLT

To be Accepted

Some people do good works in order to be accepted by God. They give away fortunes and spend their lives doing good deeds, but not to be seen of men. They want to be seen by God and thought of as worthy of His love. The only problem is that salvation is “not of works, lest any man should boast.” They work themselves to death in order prove their loyalty, thereby supposedly insuring a place in heaven. But the glory goes not to God, for attached to the works is an expectation of reward based on merit.

Soli Deo gloria

All glory should be to God alone. If our works are done in order to receive praise, then God is not getting the glory. If our works are meant to earn credit with God, then God is not getting the glory. If we work ourselves silly to meet the legalistic requirements placed on us by men, then God is not getting the glory. However, if out of a heart of love we do good works without expectation for reward, recognition, or acceptance, then God will receive the glory.

When all glory, honor, and praise is given to the Lord, He will draw all men unto Himself. Church growth will be unstoppable. Yet, if we expect credit for anything, then what should we expect but further decline? “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.” – Isaiah 48:11 KJV

We want others to see our good works, but not for our own glory. May they “glorify [our] Father which is in heaven.”

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If We Could Only Comprehend!

This morning, as I preach from the third chapter of Ephesians, my prayer for you (and myself) will be the same as what the apostle Paul prayed…

I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:16-19 CSB

Oh, that we might comprehend the the width, the length, the height, and the depth of God’s love through Jesus Christ! If we could only even slightly comprehend the vast, expansive spread before us, mercy and grace for every need; the never-ending, eternal, infinite promise of his love and care; the heights to which we are raised, far above the lowly, humble truth of our natural condition and state; and the the depths of Christ’s love – humble depths to which the love of God had to reach down in order to pluck us from the pit of sin… If we could only even slightly comprehend them!

Yet, through His strength (v. 16), and being rooted and grounded in His love (v. 17), it is possible! Hallelujah! Because He “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according the power that works in us! (v. 20 NKJV)

This morning, and every morning, to God the Father be all glory in the church by Christ Jesus, to all generations, wherever they may be, forever and ever, “world without end” (v. 20).

And all the people said… “AMEN!!” 

 

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Filed under Bible Study, Christianity, Church, Faith, God, Love of God, Preaching, worship

“Till the Storm Passes By”

A Word of Encouragement 

I was trying to think of something clever to write: either something funny or entertaining; something profound and theological; or just something encouraging as many Americans stare down the barrel of the strongest storm on record, Hurricane Irma.

That’s when the lyrics of a song came to mind, a song written many years ago by Mosie Lister entitled “Till the Storm Passes By.”

My mom and dad used to sing this song in church. I grew up singing it, especially one day when I was lying on the floor of my school bus as tornadic-like winds came through unexpectedly and trapped me inside, making me think the yellow box was going to flip.

In the words of this song there is clear sense of dread, but at the same time a sense of security and hope. Storms do come, whether they be literal meteorological events or spiritual/emotional battles; yet, there is One whom we know will hear our cries and keep us safe in the hollow of His hand.

Immediately I hear someone say, “But what about those Christians who die in storms? Did you God keep them safe?” First, what about the ones who didn’t die? Secondly, and most importantly, what about that “peace that passeth understanding”? True safety will be seen “when the long night has ended and the storms come no more,” and we stand in His presence on “that bright, peaceful shore.”

Regardless the size or consistency of the “storm,” knowing I am held fast in the hand of the One who will keep me eternally safe gives me peace. I pray that those stuck in this coming storm, and others to follow, will find that same peace in Jesus Christ.

“Till the Storm Passes By”

In the dark of the midnight,
Have I oft hid my face;
While the storm howls above me,
And there’s no hiding place;
‘Mid the crash of the thunder,
Precious Lord, hear my cry;
“Keep me safe ’til the storm passes by.”

‘Til the storm passes over,
‘Til the thunder sounds no more;
‘Til the clouds roll forever from the sky,
Hold me fast, let me stand,
In the hollow of Thy hand;
Keep me safe ’til the storm passes by.

Many times Satan whispers,
“There is no need to try;
For there’s no end of sorrow,
There’s no hope by and by”;
But I know Thou art with me,
And tomorrow I’ll rise;
Where the storms never darken the skies.

‘Til the storm passes over,
‘Til the thunder sounds no more;
‘Til the clouds roll forever from the sky,
Hold me fast, let me stand,
In the hollow of Thy hand;
Keep me safe ’til the storm passes by.

When the long night has ended,
And the storms come no more,
Let me stand in Thy presence.
On that bright, peaceful shore.
In that land where the tempest
Never comes, Lord may I
Dwell with Thee when the storm passes by.

‘Til the storm passes over,
‘Til the thunder sounds no more;
‘Til the clouds roll forever from the sky,
Hold me fast, let me stand,
In the hollow of Thy hand;
Keep me safe ’til the storm passes by.

– Mosie Lister

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Filed under America, Christianity, current events, Life/Death, Weather

“First” Conviction

Since I first – no pun intended – heard the song “First” by Lauren Daigle, I can’t open my eyes in the morning without the lyrics popping into my head.

Before I bring my need
I will bring my heart
Before I lift my cares
I will lift my arms
I wanna know You
I wanna find You
In every season
In every moment
Before I bring my need
I will bring my heart
And seek You

(chorus)
First
I want to seek You
I want to seek You
First
I want to keep You
I want to keep You
First
More than anything I want, I want You
First

Believe it or not, these very lyrics convict me like crazy. They have affected me so much I’ve even re-ordered the order of service on Sunday mornings at the church where I pastor. And speaking of pastoring, or preaching, read the words to the second verse…

Before I speak a word
Let me hear Your voice
And in the midst of pain
Let me feel Your joy
I wanna know You
I wanna find You
In every season
In every moment
Before I speak a word
I will bring my heart
And seek You

I wake up each morning, no joke, hearing Lauren Daigle’s powerful, Spirit-empowered voice exploding out the first word of the chorus… “First!”

This morning was no different, and that is why I am sharing this with you. Are you putting God first in your life? Are you putting Him first every day, every moment, before your own desires or needs? Are we not commanded by Him to “Seek ye first…?”

I don’t want to wake up each morning with guilt, but so often the first things on my mind are  coffee, checking my messages, going to the bathroom, letting the dog out, or hitting the snooze button one more time. I need to work a little more – as in working out my salvation – on growing my love for and dependence on the One who should take priority in every area of life.

It might be easier on a Sunday morning, but what about Monday? What about the next holiday morning? What about when you’re running late, or want to sleep in?

We talk about putting “first things first” all the time, but will you strive along with me to put the Lord first, before everything?

He is worthy. 

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A “Perfect” Role Model?

Sermon Prep

Not long ago I was doing some research for a sermon on Jonah. In the process I came across a Muslim website that made an interesting observation (and I will paraphrase):

“The Bible proves it is not true because God would not allow the prophets’ reputations to be smeared.”

The Muslim website went on to say (paraphrasing, again):

“What kind of role model would a prophet be if we read of him making mistakes?”

What kind of role model? That’s a good question! Was the Muslim author trying to say that role models had to be perfect in order to be real? Here’s a shocker – in one way or another, everybody is a role model.

If the defining characteristic of a role model is “perfection,” that would rule out King David, Solomon, Moses, Joshua, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Peter, Paul, Sarah, Mary (all of them), the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and many, many others…

…especially Jonah.

Jonah

Now, Jonah wasn’t exactly the type of person after which I would want to pattern my life, but he was a prophet of God. He had some serious character flaws, though. He was angry, disobedient, and was a racist who constantly talked suicide. He even spouted off to the Lord for being too forgiving!

No, Jonah’s not the type of person I would want to emulate. But hold the whale puke! I am more like him than I thought!

  • I have run from God.
  • I have harbored racist feelings in the past, I’m ashamed to admit.
  • I have been angry and disobedient.
  • I have wondered if life was worth living.
  • I have even wanted to see whole cities destroyed, innocent people and all, after September 11, 2001.

I have been more like Jonah more than I care to admit.

The Encouraging Part

The fact is that the Bible is not only full of role models, but models of the people we already are: flawed, broken, and human. But here’s the encouraging part: even when we are not perfect, God can still use us – and change us.

  • Jonah ran from God, but God pursued.
  • Jonah disobeyed God, but it didn’t derail God’s plan.
  • Jonah got angry with God, but God responded to him with the understanding kindness of a wise Father.
  • Jonah even wanted to die, but God never belittled him. He only focused Jonah’s attention on the bigger picture: 120,000 souls, not to mention animals, whose lives were spared (Jonah 4).

I thank God that the Bible doesn’t white-wash humanity. There are so many examples of how people, just like me, can find hope, even when we’re not perfect.

The Perfect One

It is not hard to come to the conclusion that there were some really dysfunctional people in the Bible. But you know what? That’s what adds to the authenticity of Scripture. There are no “perfect” role models in the Bible, except for one – Jesus.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” – 1 Peter 2:21-22 ESV

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV

I want to be more like HIM!

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Filed under Christian Living, General Observations, God, Life Lessons, Preaching, Struggles and Trials

Focusing On Jesus, and the Art of Throwing Kicks and Punches

Physical Therapy

About a week and a half ago I hurt my foot – my Achilles tendon, to be precise. I was mowing grass with a push mower on this deity-forsaken hill (the front part of the same yard where I fell three years ago and tore my right rotator cuff) when I strained the tendon where it inserts into the right part of my right heel. The pain woke me up from my sleep.

And this is what the front yard looked like until someone else came and mowed it for me. Did you know the grass in Tennessee could grow to 30 feet?

Because I could barely walk, even with crutches, I had to go to the orthopedic doc to find out how bad I was hurt. Long story short, I ended up going to physical therapy to strengthen my ankle and receive treatment for the tendon. As of today, praise God, everything is going well and I’m back on my feet with little or no pain.

But I’m NEVER mowing that yard again! I’ll make my daughters do it!

Physical Observation

Well, as I was sitting with an ice pack on my foot, there was a woman across the room throwing a weighted ball onto a slanted trampoline. The object of this exercise was to strengthen her ankle and increase her balance.

Earlier, not long after I got to physical therapy, I, too, was doing something to strengthen my ankle and help with my balance. So, as I was waiting for the timer to go off so they could remove the ice pack, I had time to ponder something.

Martial Arts

I began a conversation with one of the physical therapists standing close by and asked a few questions similar to the following:

“Are you familiar with martial arts? Have you ever noticed how martial artists have great balance? Have you ever considered teaching people how to balance the way I learned?”

The physical therapist was not too familiar with what I was talking about, so I explained.

Amateur artist’s rendering of actual martial artist named Anthony.

“When I learned how to fight, I learned to keep my eyes focused on my opponent. I never looked down, or around, only at the person I was fighting, usually in his eyes. As long as I kept my eyes on the one I was fighting, straight ahead, I could kick, punch, do whatever, all the while keeping my balance.”

“That’s interesting,” the therapist replied.

And here’s the thing. In my therapy I had to stand on a soft cushion, putting all my weight on the heel of my right foot. As long as I focused on an object in front of me, I could stand there with no support on that one foot and never fall. As soon as I looked around or looked down at my foot, I would lose my balance.

And when I eat at Chinese restaurants I catch all the stray flies with my chopsticks.

Focusing On Jesus

If you are already a believer, and if you’re familiar with Peter and his stroll across the water, then you’ve probably already figured out most of what I’m about to say: When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we are less likely to fall.

However, I never thought about Peter when my foot was being iced; I just thought about Jesus. You see, I don’t get to ride in too many boats, and I’m not likely to get out of one once I’m in it. On the other hand, this old flesh gets distracted and falls every chance it gets, even when the ground is solid and flat.

Instead of glancing around at what’s going on in the world; instead of looking down and wincing at what causes me pain; instead of looking at the clock and wondering when it’s all going to end; maybe I should keep my eyes focused on my Heavenly Sensei (Jesus), bring this body under control, keep it in balance, and train it for the fight.

After all, I’d like to land a few more good ones on the Devil, wouldn’t you?

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Filed under Christian Maturity, fitness, General Observations

Jesus Paid It All and His Blood Is the Only Payment Accepted

A guest post by Wally Fry

jesus saves

I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

That, of course, is John 14:6.  Those were the words of Jesus Himself and sum up His thoughts about how a person comes to a relationship with God.  It seems like a fairly straight forward statement, really. Jesus did not say He was one of the ways, or one truth, or that there was any life other than Him.  He stated unequivocally that the only access to God the Father was through Him, God the Son.  Nonetheless, we live in a time where truth is considered relative, any belief is okay as long as it is sincere; to say there is only one way is considered hateful and exclusionary.

Most people with any spiritual inclination whatsoever would tend to put some credence to words spoken by Jesus. Of course, an atheist would not, but this article is not really for them. This is really to address those who hold the idea that many paths lead to God. We can’t really say that Jesus was just a good man, good teacher, and one of many ways to Heaven. If He was outright lying in that Scripture and knew He was not the only way to God, then we should never follow a man such as that. If He genuinely believed what He said, but was just monumentally wrong, then we should never follow a man such as that. In either of those two cases, Jesus was certainly not a good man, or good teacher or any path to Heaven whatsoever. The only real alternatives are to totally disbelieve or completely believe the words He said in that verse. That is simply C.S Lewis’ famous Liar, Lunatic or Lord argument and it remains a valid one.

We hopefully agree at this point that payment is due. See this article for discussion on that subject:

Jesus Paid it All- Part 1- Your Really DON’T Want To Pay Your Own Way

I hope we also agree that we have no ability to do anything whatsoever to pay the price for our sin, other than the Biblically prescribed one of death. A review of that subject can be found here:

Jesus Paid it All – Part 2 – Your Payment’s No Good Here

Belief in God, sincerely held, is also not enough. After all, James taught us that even the demons believe. (James 2:19). Not only do they believe, but they tremble in fear! Sincerity does not accomplish a thing. Jesus said in our verse above, that He is the Truth.  Sincerely held belief in an untruth does not make it true, no matter how sincere the belief.  Some examples follow.  One can sincerely disbelieve in the Law of Gravity, but if that person steps off a building, he or she will soon discover they were wrong.  The laws of physics trump sincerely held belief. One can sincerely believe auto theft is okay, but a Judge will quickly show that person the error of their ways. The laws of the land trump sincerely held belief.  We could follow examples until the end of time.  The bottom line is, law trumps sincerely help belief every time.

God is the Supreme lawgiver. His law is just and perfect. We fail to meet His standard, making us law breakers. The penalty for transgressions of God’s law is death. Death is both physical and spiritual. Spiritual death is separation from God eternally in a place of torment called Hell.

The reason Jesus is the only way to God is because only Jesus could pay the needed price. He was able to pay it because He was fully human. Humans broke the law and a human had to pay. He was able to pay it because He was sinless and perfect; Jesus never transgressed The Law. Only because He had nto penalty of His own to pay could He pay mine. He was able to pay it because He is God. Only God could pay the infinite penalty required on behalf of every person who had lived, was living in His day, is living now and will live into the future.

Just a quick counter to those who claim that Christianity’s statement that Jesus is the only way is exclusionary follows next. Jesus payment on the Cross for sin is not exclusionary; it is available to anybody. No one is denied access to it. Read the following for an explanation:

Jesus Paid It All – Part 3 – The Payment Was Enough For Everyone

The payment Jesus made for us is not exclusionary, but it is extremely exclusive. Matthew 7:13,14 teaches us that the path to destruction is wide but the path to salvation is narrow. No one is excluded, but many will decline the offer.

How does one accept? Understand how you have failed before a Holy God. Agree with Him that your sin is wrong and and an offense to Him and deserving of punishment. Believe that Jesus paid the price you could never pay and accept Him as your Savior and Lord.  Repentance toward God and belief in Jesus Christ, it’s that simple.

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Filed under Christianity, God, Guest Posts, Jesus, salvation