I am thankful for the opportunity I have to share Christ through a recurring video series called Back to Basics. The Homepage Network has been wonderful to work with and I appreciate their willingness to broadcast this message. Here’s the most recent installment:
There are 4 words I don’t like to hear: I think we’re lost.
Those are never good words, but they were especially frightening to a family exploring the remote wilderness of West Virginia. Early one morning they left camp with some flashlights and a map they found online to explore a system of caves hidden deep in the hills.
The caverns were breathtaking. The flashlight beams illuminated intricate formations and their voices echoed in large chambers. Other areas were so tight the explorers had to lay on their backs to squeeze through. Tunnels veered off in every direction full of twists and turns to explore. Eventually the family became disoriented and even with a map could not figure out where they were — or how to get back out!
But, they weren’t worried. They had a backup plan! Throughout their journey they had had been dropping little pieces of reflective tape on the ground to mark their trail. Now all they had to do was find the last piece of tape and follow the trail to safety.
But, when they shined their flashlights on the ground, all they saw was mud. There wasn’t a piece of tape in sight.
An almost paralyzing fear took hold as the father wondered how long the batteries in their flashlights would last — and how they would ever find their way through the nooks and crannies of the cave without that trail of tape.
To make matters worse, nobody knew where they were. This cave was so remote it was unlikely anyone would look for them there. Things began to look bleak.
In a moment, this family trip turned from pleasure to panic — All because of those 4 little words: I think we’re lost.
Without clear direction the cave was too dark and dangerous to navigate.
I’ve never been lost in a cave, but I can relate to this family. Because life can feel a bit like their underground experience.
Sometimes life is filled with excitement and breathtaking views!
Other times it’s dark — and dirty — and uncomfortable.
I know what it’s like to think you’re headed in the right direction only to realize later that you’ve made a wrong turn and wound up somewhere you never meant to go. Without a good sense of direction life is disorienting and uncomfortable — at times it can even start to feel hopeless.
What do you do when the circumstances of life make you uncomfortable?
Would you be surprised to learn that that discomfort comes by design?
We were not designed to find meaning, comfort, or hope in our circumstances. Instead, we were made to find meaning, comfort, and hope in Christ! The troubles of life are a reminder that nothing in this world can satisfy as only Christ can.
The book of 1 Peter was written to reorient us. Peter teaches us that the troubles of this life are just temporary, but lasting hope is found in Christ. Listen to his words from 1 Peter 1:3-9:
Those who hope in Christ find comfort in His promise of salvation, an internal inheritance, and protection through this life. This hope is like a bright light when the circumstances seem dark.
You may be wondering what happened to the family who got lost in the cave. One of the children was convinced he knew the way to safety and the father reluctantly agreed to follow. Eventually the boy led the family out of the cave, saving their lives.
Are you feeling lost in the darkness? Has your search for a way out only left you feeling desperate? Your trials are meant to drive you to the only One who can satisfy your soul. Turn to Christ. Trust His promises. Follow Him by faith.
I don’t like to feel overwhelmed. Yet, my life is full of overwhelming responsibilities:
Raising a family
Caring for church members
Getting in shape (eventually…maybe…)
Planing for the future
The list could go on. Yours could too.
One of item that is likely to make your list involves your walk with Christ. You know you should read more, pray more, share the Gospel more, and generally live better. But, it’s hard to break the cycle of short bursts of growth followed by long periods of distraction, apathy, procrastination, and guilt.
You may be wondering if it’s really possible for you to lead a joy-filled, soul-satisfying, God honoring life. Even the thought of it might seem overwhelming. But, that kind of lifestyle is not only possible — it’s in reach!
Most often the feeling of being overwhelmed comes when something seems too big or too complicated. When I began remodeling our home I felt overwhelmed by the project. But, after a friend helped me break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks those feelings went away. This simplified view did not change the scope of the project, but it took the complexity out of it. I knew where to get started, what to do next, and how long the project would last.
We often view our relationship with Christ more like a remodeling project. After all, being holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16) will require some serious renovation. I’m convinced you’ll find it far less daunting if you take the complexity out by getting back to basics.
Here are some things I try to remember when I start to feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities as a Christian:
I don’t deserve this. I have been chosen by God and set apart for His glory. He loves me deeply, cares for me perfectly, and is powerfully working all things together for my good. When I die I will enter into His presence and receive the eternal inheritance He is keeping for me. This is the very opposite of what I deserve! I rebelled against God and did nothing to earn His mercy. Christ did this for me. He satisfied the wrath of God on my behalf. He took my sin and I was credited with His righteousness. I can rest knowing that I already belong. He purchased me through the blood of His own Son. He loves me and accepts me even though I don’t deserve it. Don’t be overwhelmed by God’s demands. Be overwhelmed by His mercy!
His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). I am not good at sticking with fitness routines because I have never experienced quick results. Despite my initial efforts and my genuine desire to be healthy I can easily get discouraged and give up. Sometimes we think the same pattern applies spiritually. We imagine it will take many weeks of disciplined study and prayer before we start getting more spiritually fit. Thankfully, our souls are not like our bodies! Stop what you are doing and reconnect with the Lord right now. Thank Him for the many blessings in your life. Confess any known sin (1 John 1:9). Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness (Psalm150:2)! Ask Him to restore the joy of your salvation and to keep your spirit fixed on Him (Psalm 51:12). Don’t be overwhelmed by what it takes to grow closer to God. Turn to Him now and experience His fresh mercy.
Eat something. When I was young I spent a lot of time in the home of my Italian friend, Anthony. Anthony’s mother had a wonderful solution for all my problems: eat something! Nobody functions well on an empty stomach. As Christians we require more nutrition than food alone can provide. We are nourished by the Word of God! I don’t want to overwhelm you with more responsibilities, but if you are not spending time in God’s Word you are starving! So, take the advice of Anthony’s mom: eat something! If you’re not sure where to start, read the book of Philippians. It will encourage your soul and you’ll be glad you did.
Phone a friend. You were not made to carry your burdens alone. You are a member of the body of Christ; designed to depend on others! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or joyless, or stuck in a rut, share that with another Christian. Be willing to say embarrassing things about yourself, listen to wise counsel, and appreciate the powerful prayers of others on your behalf.
Nothing compares to the responsibility to bring glory to God (1 Cor. 10:31). But, don’t get so lost in the lifelong process that you become overwhelmed. Rest in His mercy as you take one step of faith at a time.
What resources have been helpful to you when you’ve felt spiritually overwhelmed?
There are countless reasons Christians are unsatisfied with their prayer life. There are at least as many blog posts highlighting the epidemic!
Maybe you are part of the many who have thought, "I wish my prayer life could be more..."
Many books and online resources offer practical solutions ranging from setting a daily reminder -- to journaling -- to questioning if you're really redeemed! You will certainly benefit from examining your soul -- as well as your schedule -- but there is one simple action that can dramatically improve your prayer life today.
Pray for your church.
I'm not talking about a general prayer for the health of the body, the encouragement of the pastor, or the expansion of the Kingdom. You should pray those things, but more specifically you should pray for the people listed in your membership directory.
The church where I serve as pastor practices covenant membership. Our membership directory contains a cherished list of names and photographs of brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I share a special association. Our commitment to one another includes coming alongside, caring for, teaching, exhorting, encouraging, bearing with -- and all the rest of the "one anothers" found in Scripture.
By signing our membership covenant I have entered into a formal agreement to care for the souls of these dear saints.
Not because I'm their pastor (though elders are charged to pray for the flock).
Because I'm a member.
My covenant responsibilities include the privilege of praying specifically for these Christians.
Not all churches practice covenant membership -- and not every church maintains an accurate membership roster. Still, the example of the New Testament is of Christian brothers and sisters praying for one another within the context of the local church. Even if you have to develop your own list, what matters most is that you take seriously this wonderful responsibility.
Aim to pray through a portion of your directory each day. Don't worry if you come across the name of someone you don't know. Christians share so much in common -- which means you already know how to pray meaningful prayers for other believers! Pray they will develop a greater love for God and a hunger for His Word. Pray God will give them opportunities to spread the Gospel. Pray they develop healthy relationships with other Christians. Pray for their joy -- and their satisfaction in Christ alone. Pray they fight temptation and persevere when trials come. Pray the kinds of prayers you would appreciate others praying for you.
Praying for church members is an act of obedience -- done in faith -- with a focus on others instead of yourself. This is a ministry any Christian can participate in that requires only a willing heart and a little time. Imagine the joy you'll experience seeing God at work in the lives of brothers and sisters you've been praying for! And how sweet to know that others are praying the same way for you.
So, what are you waiting for? Carve out some time today, jot down a few names, and pray!
Life can be demanding. We have responsibilities at work or school, finances to manage, relationships to nurture, and chores to keep up with. Add in a little exercise, some time on social media, and a few minutes of relaxation and your schedule is overloaded. Who has time to read these days?! You do! And here’s how…Read More
Freedom, family, and fireworks will once again unite the nation as we celebrate our independence this week. God has blessed us by placing us in a time and a place where we enjoy liberties and luxuries unknown by most. We are also blessed by the brave men and women who paid great sacrifice that we might be free. How privileged we are to live in this great nation!
The freedom we enjoy as citizens of the United States is a blessing worth celebrating, but it is only a shadow of a much greater freedom. Long ago, a powerful enemy declared war on mankind. When sin entered the world, freedom was shattered. All men are subjects of this tyrant called sin and forced to obey its cruel commands. The power of sin is distressing, but the penalty is worse. Obedience to sin means rebellion against God and eternal judgment. Dreadfully, there is no army powerful enough to stand against this enemy of the soul. Freedom from sin is a hopeless cause without cosmic intervention.
God sent His Son, Jesus, to crush the power of sin and cancel its penalty. Jesus came to purchase freedom by making the greatest sacrifice in history. He surrendered His life on the cross, but even greater — He bore the wrath of God in the stead of ruined sinners. Those who trust in Christ alone for salvation are free from sin and no longer subject to eternal suffering.
It is right for us to gather with other citizens of this nation to celebrate our independence on July 4th. Praise God and enjoy your freedom for His glory! In the same way, it is right for us to gather with other Christians each week to celebrate our freedom from sin and death. This freedom came at the greatest price of all and deserves the greatest devotion of all. How privileged we are to be citizens of Heaven!
Why do you go to church? To be fed? To see your Christian friends? To keep God off your back for another week?
There are many reasons people attend church, but unless you're in the choir or on the praise team, I'll bet you have not been thinking about your responsibility to minister to others through song.
Singing in church has evolved, on one end of the spectrum, into an intimate personal connection between the singer and Jesus. Churches turn the lights down and the music up. People close their eyes and imagine themselves alone with God. On the other side are those who sing without giving much thought to the words -- or who do not sing at all.
Scripture teaches not only that we should sing -- and not only that we should sing to God -- but also that we should sing to each other! There is an aspect of corporate singing that is meant to teach and encourage those around you.
In Ephesians 5 we find instructions for the church that include a command to address one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
Colossians 3:16 issues a similar mandate:
Something special happens when we sing to God and one another. The Gospel is declared with one voice. Good theology reverberates throughout the room and our hearts. We also see the work of God in the lives of His people as they declare His goodness, mercy, and grace despite their circumstances.
Several years ago I found myself complaining about the weather on Sunday morning. I don't like cold weather (and can't understand why anyone would!) and it was particularly frigid that day. The grumbling in my heart kept going even after the church service began. Little did I know it was about to be shattered!
Before the sermon the congregation sang one of our favorite hymns, How Great Thou Art. The first time we sang the refrain, "Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee, how great Thou art..." I noticed one of the members singing with great passion while tears streamed down her face. Suddenly my cold heart began to melt.
Less that 24 hours earlier, this same sweet woman buried her husband. He died young and unexpectedly and left behind a wife who already missed him dearly. Yet, despite the pain she felt, she was able to sing -- with great conviction -- in front of everyone -- about the goodness of God.
How could I whine about something as insignificant as cold weather while this woman was praising God through genuine suffering? Her faithful singing brought much needed conviction and encouraged me more than she will ever know. I will never forget the lesson I learned that day.
While I may not have a takeaway that significant every week I am deeply encouraged by the singing at my church each Sunday. It is a joy to sing with these brothers and sisters in Christ and our time in song is a treasure I am thankful to God for.
Are you a Christian? You are called by God to go to church and faithfully sing that you might provide the same encouragement to others. This Sunday sing for the glory of God and for those around you.
Do you sing in church? I never used to. I wasn't good at it and I didn't understand the reason for it. Looking back, I had no idea what I was missing! This post is the first in a series I hope will help you sing with joy and sincerity.
God made us to sing.
How do I know? Because the command to sing is woven throughout Scripture.
The Scriptures are also filled with examples of singing.
We are called, by instruction and by example, to sing!
There are many reasons, but for this post I'll give only one:
We sing for the glory of God!
God is glorified when we join together as a congregation of diverse personalities to proclaim His excellencies with one voice. Your voice, blended with the voices of dear brothers and sisters in Christ, produces a God-exalting chorus that is pleasing to the One who saved your soul. God is worthy of this kind of worship and it is our honor and joy to praise His name in our congregations.
Meditate on the passages above and consider your role in singing for the glory of God. Pray that God will give the courage, boldness, and conviction to sing loudly as you honor Him in church this Sunday.
Vacations are great!
Whether you're seeing the sites, relaxing poolside, or casting a line -- a break from the demands of daily life is refreshing. Yet, while on vacation, many of us skip out on the most refreshing opportunities of all -- attending a local church.
I get it. Vacations are a SHORT break from reality. You only have a few days to enjoy and there is only so much you can fit in. And since most people work on Monday, Sunday is usually the best day to travel. Church does not fit well into most vacations. Besides, attending a strange church is risky. It's hard enough to find a good church at home!
But there is something bigger going on...
Our tendency to skip church reveals something about our hearts. Sometimes we see church as what we DO rather than who we ARE. Instead of understanding church as a God given responsibility to gather with other believers to celebrate the reality that Christ is risen, we see it as an optional event.
Does church belong in this category, or is it less optional than we realize? There are other responsibilities we continue on vacation. I don't see vacations as an opportunity to stop being a dad. I still care for my children. I must! I don't see vacations as a chance to take a break from being a husband. I still honor the vows I made to my wife. Why, then would I think it's ok to press pause on the responsibilities I have as a member in the body of Christ?
More than that, taking a vacation from church means missing opportunities to grow in grace. That's what almost happened to me on a recent vacation...
This spring I had an opportunity to visit family in Florida. Before returning home I planned to attend Cross Creek Church with my cousins. This church has made a big impact on people I love, so I was especially excited to see it.
The plan was to attend church, then pile into the car for the long ride back to Pennsylvania. It seemed like a great plan until I read the weather forecast...
Severe thunderstorms and deadly tornadoes were bearing down on the I95 corridor. Travel alerts were issued and motorists were encouraged to stay off the highways. If I left right away I could stay ahead of the storms, but if I stuck around for church it would be too late. I reluctantly decided to stay.
When I got to church I was greeted by joyful brothers and sisters in Christ who, although I had never met, welcomed me as family. When the service began my voice joined with the voices of other saints to declare the glory of God and the sweetness of our redemption. My fearful and conflicted heart began to melt. As we sang -- and prayed -- and heard the Scripture read and taught, God used His people to remind me that I am part of something bigger than myself. I am part of the body of Christ! We are the Gospel made visible! I don't exist for my own agenda, but to declare God's glory along with the rest of His chosen saints. My heart was thrilled and I was set free.
The drive home was awful. Driving rain and constant lightning were our constant companion. Tornado warnings flashed up on our phones. It was not fun, but, it was SO worth it! If I would have left a few hours earlier I might have enjoyed a peaceful ride, but I would have missed out on something greater -- a peaceful heart.
Next time you take a vacation make church a priority. You never know how you might encourage or be encouraged by your brothers and sisters you worship alongside.
Here are 3 considerations that might be helpful:
1. Do your research. Use resources like the 9 Marks or Gospel Coalition church searches to find like minded churches. This may require some additional travel, but consider church as important as any other destination on your trip and make it happen.
2. Add a stop. If you must travel on Sunday, find a church along your route and add a stop to your GPS. Alternatively, plan to travel a few hours later so you can attend church before leaving your destination (or leave the night before and make it back to your home church).
3. Hold a service. To be clear this should NOT become your regular practice. But, if you're vacationing in a remote location and cannot attend church, spend some time singing, praying, and reading Scripture with your group. With a little planning this can the sweetest part of your trip.
I have been busy this week preparing for my family’s quarterly business meeting. The metal chairs and folding tables are all set up in the basement and I’m hoping my wife and children are all planning to attend the meeting. I have a full agenda planned. First, there’s the approval of the family budget. Then, we’ll spend some time going over the family expense reports. After that, we have the big vote on whether to stick with corn flakes or switch to rice crispies. I just hope we don’t have a family split over the issue! After each child gives a productivity report, we’ll open the floor for new business. That’s always tense because you never know what to expect. I’ve heard rumors that some of the kids have been complaining about how long my bedtime prayers have been and I hope that doesn’t come up!
Thankfully that story is not true and my family doesn't operate like a business. But, sadly many church families do! Many churches meet regularly to discuss business. These meetings have a reputation of being cold, sterile, and uncomfortable. Some are contentious. Others are boring. And in most, little is Kingdom work is accomplished. No wonder attendance at these meetings is usually low.
Loving families do not hold meetings like the one described above and loving church families shouldn’t either. But, in both cases, coming together regularly to discuss family matters is essential. Families must gather to celebrate wins, discuss opportunities, evaluate needs, prioritize spending, pray together, and encourage one another.
If you are a covenant member in a local church you are part of a family! You have formally committed to take responsibility for the Christian brothers and sisters in your church and they have committed to do the same for you. Most of that care happens as you gather Sunday morning, attend a small group, engage in discipling relationships, and spend time together informally. Still, some of that responsibility takes place more formally at a members meeting.
Members meetings are an opportunity for each member of the body to focus his attention on the care of the church and it’s impact locally and abroad. A healthy member in a healthy church understands the importance of this responsibility and joyfully serves the body through active participation in members meetings.
The church I serve in has been working hard to establish a culture of meaningful membership in which the members meeting is a sweet opportunity for ministry rather than a dry business meeting. The following principles have been helpful:
- Membership is Ministry — By joining the church a member formally agrees to engage in personal and corporate ministry in the body. This ministry includes active participation in Sunday services, involvement in a small group, giving, praying for other members, and attending members meetings. Participation in members meetings is vital and therefore expected.
- Membership is Serious — Church membership is not (as I once thought) easy come, easy go. It is not like joining the gym or AAA. Joining the church means committing to service in the body of Christ and that is not to be taken lightly. The church is the bride of Christ and serves to declare the glory of God in a unique and significant way. Membership in the local church means active participation in something bigger than yourself. Members meetings are an important part of that commitment and should not be skipped for fear they might be boring, contentious, or conflict with a better opportunity.
- Membership is to a Family, not a Business — Members meetings should not be called business meetings. This is not primarily a discussion about dollars, cents, and bottom lines. While, as good stewards, we must address these issues they are not the main focus. Instead we gather to celebrate, to pray, to consider opportunities to impact our area, nation, and word with the gospel, and to encourage one another in Christ. Members meetings should be sweet and worshipful, not dry and contentious.
In our members meetings we often pray for our members, especially those who have taken advantage of evangelistic opportunities. We also pray for ministries, upcoming events, missionaries, and the lost. We typically do not pray for health issues during a members meeting, but encourage our small groups to minister in that way. We also sing together, read Scripture, and pray for discipline relationships within the body. Another critical responsibility includes voting to include new members or exclude members who no longer maintain a credible profession of faith. Other time is spent reviewing our financial stewardship, giving updates, and responding to significant issues in the life of the body. Members meetings are warm, friendly, worshipful, and encouraging and we look forward to them.
Are you a member in a local church? Perhaps your meetings are not as sweet. Take heart, pray for change, and do your best to be and example of a member who humbly and joyfully serves the body by attending members meetings. This family responsibility is vital to the health of your church and your active participation brings glory to God.
Not all fears are created equal and they certainly don’t play fair! Whether you’re deathly afraid of mice, terrified of public speaking, or just worried about the future, fear can have a powerful effect.
I was a 19 year old education major when I took my first missions trip. It was a wonderful experience, but something unexpected happened on the way home. The weather took a bad turn just in time for our team to fly home. As our plane climbed out of Mexico City and into a thunderstorm, a loud pop and a bright flash stunned everyone onboard. Screams and gasps, then silence filled the cabin as the nose of the plane suddenly dropped.
Thankfully nothing was wrong with the aircraft. We had been struck by lightning and the flash and boom were all part of the plane's static discharge system. After the flight the pilot explained that he intentionally dropped the nose in order to evaluate his gauges.
I didn’t realize how much that incident bothered me until years later when I scanned my boarding pass for another flight. As I made my way down the jetway my heart began to race. My palms beaded with sweat. I wanted nothing more than to turn around and run away. Fear had gripped my heart and wasn’t letting go.
In the years that followed I tried to avoid flying. After all, driving is much safer! Ok, so maybe fear and logic don’t mix well…
Sometimes flight was unavoidable. The days leading up to a trip were miserable because I had a difficult time keeping my mind from dwelling on the fear. The day of the flight was worse. I hoped in vain that my flight would be canceled, or I wouldn’t make it through security, or Jesus would return! The anticipation of waiting to board was almost more than I could handle. I had to force myself to get on the plane. Once I found my seat I did everything I could to forget about what I was doing. If I could keep my hood up, ear phones in, and volume loud enough I could at least keep from losing total control. Worst of all, I had a hard time enjoying myself on vacation because I knew in a few days I would have to repeat it all again.
Although I was convicted my fear was irrational and wrong I felt helpless to fight it. I prayed. I memorized and repeated Scripture. I rehearsed statistics in my mind. Nothing seemed to help.
Then, it hit me. I only have two choices. I can choose to believe Scripture, or I can choose to believe my heart.
God has promised to work all things together for my good (Romans 8:28). He said He will never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5-6). He will not allow me to be tempted/tried beyond what I can bear, but will with the temptation provide the way of escape that I can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Worrying is sinful and can’t prolong my life (Matthew 6:25-34). God is sovereign and works all things according to His will (Ephesians 1:11).
The truth is — if God wants to preserve my life He will — and if He wants to take it He can…any way He wants. Yes, even in an airplane crash. But, that’s not a cold truth. God is good! He loves me. He’s going to do what is best for me 100% of the time.
The real question is -- will I believe the truth, or will I continue to believe my heart?
The last time I flew my heart still raced and my palms were still sweaty I felt fear creeping in. But, I refused to give in to the lies of my heart. I engaged in conversation with people around me. I kept my hood down, headphones out, and eyes open the entire flight. I did not tune out the sound of the engines or the turbulent bumps. I looked out the window. I took it all in. The entire flight was a battle for my heart, but I did my best to obediently walk through my feelings of fear by practicing what I know to be true instead of giving into what I felt was true.
As I took these steps of obedience, the Holy Spirit gave me the grace to get through it, just as He promised.
What do you do when fear grips you?
Realize you stand at a crossroads with just two options — following God, or following self. Choosing to obey Scripture won’t be comfortable. It won’t be easy. But, it is best. This is the essence of who we are in Christ!
The Apostle Paul reminds us of this reality in Ephesians 4:17-24. When fear (or any sin) grips your heart, you must actively choose to renew your mind and live by what is true instead of the lie. By God’s grace you can do it!
Annie was born in New Jersey on Christmas Eve 1866 to parents who adored her -- or at least that's what she was told. Tragically her mother died giving birth to her younger sister and her father was unable to take care of the girls.
The sisters were eventually adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Flint — both of whom died before Annie reached adulthood.
Annie her sister were twice orphaned.
Still, Annie persevered, finished school, and became a teacher. She taught for 3 years, but developed a crippling form of arthritis that confined her to a wheelchair and eventually an institution.
Annie’s years — from birth to death — were filled with a degree of emotional and physical pain that most of us will never know.
Pain and sorrow were her constant companion.
And still, she somehow maintained a heart of devotion to and joy in Christ.
Her love for Him and the comfort she received from Him are seen in a series of poems and hymns she published. Perhaps one of the sweetest of these hymns she entitled, "What God has promised."
Annie's life was remarkably difficult. Her response to such trouble is a wonderful example of how Biblical thinking changes everything about a person. What thinking do you need to replace with Biblical thinking today? Consider the words of Paul in Colossians 3:
Remember, what God has promised and find your comfort in Him!
A TRUE STORY OF DEEP PAIN
Anna Spafford was not conscious when she was found clinging to a small plank in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in November 1873.
Just 15 minutes earlier she and her 4 daughters had been fast asleep aboard the SS Ville Du Havre en route from New York to Paris. But, the sleep of all the passengers was interrupted when the ship violently smashed into a much larger Scottish clipper, the Loch Earn.
As passengers scrambled to disembark they discovered a tragic oversight. Days earlier the lifeboats had been painted in place and were now stuck fast to the deck. Before they could be loosed the ship broke in two, causing 226 passengers and crew to perish.
Anna’s husband, Horatio intended to be with his family on this transpacific trip, but a last minute business deal delayed him in Chicago. 9 days after the sinking of the Ville Du Havre, Horatio received the first communication from his wife since she left home weeks before. The words on the telegram were not what he expected:
“Saved alone. What shall I do?” Anna.
Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship for Paris to be with his wife. Late one evening the captain of the ship called Horatio to his cabin. He told him they were passing over the spot where the Ville Du Havre sunk just a few days before.
Filled with grief, Horatio comforted himself by writing these words:
When peace like a river attendeth my way...
When sorrows like sea billows roll…
Whatever my lot though has taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.
THE PAIN IS REAL
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced circumstances as painful as Horatio and Anna Spafford, but I am certain that you’ve felt deep pain in your lifetime.
And I’m certain there is more to come.
The reality of pain is inescapable and no one is exempt. Still, it is not the pain that matters, but your response to it.
Joy is possible, even in the midst of deep pain, but not if you keep doing what you've always done.
You can try to ignore it. You can distract yourself with entertainment, or technology, or a vacation. But even the most thrilling distractions eventually wear off.
You can try to medicate it. Drugs and alcohol provide the illusion of escape. But they can't produce joy. Dulling the symptoms never cures the disease.
You can complain about it. But, that only makes you feel more like a victim. Complaining about your pain will not make it go away.
THE JOY IS REAL
What drove Horatio Spafford — a man filled with intense grief -- to say no matter how bad it gets… it is well with my soul? How did he find joy in the midst of deep pain?
He turned to Scripture.
Instead of allowing his circumstances to control his emotions, Horatio relied on the promises of God. His feelings of sorrow and grief were replaced by the joy that comes when you are convinced that God is actively working all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). More than that, God uses trials to shape His people into His image, which is the very reason we are alive!
Horatio Spafford was comforted by the character of God. If you develop a conviction that God is as good and as capable as He said He is you will discover the kind of joy that moves you to declare:
"What ever my lot, though has taught me to say, IT IS WELL with my soul."
So, what's keeping you from true joy? If you could use some encouragement, consider reading the book of Romans today. You'll find great joy as your consider how gracious and merciful God has been. The pain of this world will never disappear, but the joy of Christ outweighs it all!
Last Sunday night our church joined together for a service called "Refresh" and I've been hearing about it since! Each church member I bump into mentions how deeply they were impacted by the event.
What is "Refresh?" It's a celebration of the goodness of God especially as it relates to the salvation of sinners! I'm still talking about it too.
Much of our time was spent in song. Our church has a bent toward congregational singing, which greatly contributes to the atmosphere in the room. Although we value the use of instruments and use them dynamically, the primary instrument is the unified voice of the people. What encourages the body most is to see and hear brothers and sisters in Christ, who understand what it's like to live in a fallen world, joining together to praise God. When we sing we communicate in a way that mere speech cannot achieve. Most of our songs point us to the nature and character of God and remind us of His abiding mercy and grace. Our hearts are stirred both by the lyrics and the people singing them and our souls are renewed.
We typically do not include much personal testimony during our Sunday morning services. Opportunities to share how God is working in our lives abound in places like small groups and one on one discipleship. During our Refresh services we have an opportunity to hear testimonies of God's grace in a corporate setting. This week we heard from and prayed for a group of men and women from our congregation who will be traveling to Guatemala for a missions trip.
There are few moments sweeter than the baptism of a believer. God's unfailing love is put on grand display as each person shares the story of God's grace in their salvation. There were few dry eyes around the room as we listened to each person share about the moment God opened their eyes to their sin and guilt. In each case, that guilt was fully extinguished when they placed their faith in Christ for salvation and were pardoned for their sin. Now, despite the natural fear of public speaking, they are proud to stand before the church to publicly declare their allegiance to Christ. Baptism is a wonderful picture of the Gospel and it is deeply encouraging to celebrate God's grace through this public display.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of active membership in a local church. The kind of encouragement that comes through a covenant relationship with other Christians is vital to the life of every Christian. Our songs and celebrations are just one way God renews our souls, shapes us into His image, and keeps our focus on Christ.
I read a trending Christian article this week. With over 60,000 views and 10,000 shares in just 3 days, The Radical Faith of Lady Gaga. Her Priest. Her Instagram. Her Jesus., has made a splash on social media. Written by Carlos A. Rodriguez, a “born-again Spirit-filled Christian pastor,” the article aims to confirm the authenticity of Lady Gaga’s Christian faith and challenge anyone who might question it.
I don’t often respond to articles like this, but since it has impacted the hearts of people in the church I pastor, I’d like to offer some considerations.
An article like Rodriguez’s resonates well with anyone who has been hurt or offended by the church. The argument is that Christians have a tendency to treat others in a way that is hateful, judgmental, and condemning — which is odd because that kind of behavior clearly contradicts the message of love and acceptance that Jesus preached. That is certainly a fair criticism and I am disturbed by the lack of love displayed by many professing Christians. Most of us can think of at least one example of Christianity gone wrong, so it’s no wonder that an article calling for reform would be widely celebrated. Yet, in arguing for change many have brought confusion rather than clarity to the issue. Since this article presents a challenge to Christians it is important for Christians to understand how to respond — not only to this article, but articles like it. (The following is not an exhaustive review of Rodriguez’s article)
When approaching any trending Christian article, there are two important questions to ask:
- Does the author present an argument that agrees with Scripture?
Carlos Rodriguez states his argument this way: Lady Gaga is a Christian and I recommend you not question her faith because 1) Jesus said to focus on the log in our own eye and not the splinter in Gaga’s — and 2) Her response to spiritual criticism authenticates her faith.
In this case, the author refers directly to a couple passages of Scripture. Before you like or share an article it is important to read the passages of Scripture for yourself. It is irresponsible to spread a Biblical argument without actually interacting with the Biblical text.
Rodriguez bases his argument on Matthew chapter 7, in which Jesus commands Christians to “take the log out of your own eye” before focusing on the speck in another’s. Here is a quote taken directly from the article:
“Jesus said to focus on the log in our eye and not the splinter in Gaga’s.”
The problem with this statement is that Jesus never said to focus on the log in our own eye to the exclusion of the splinter in someone else’s. Here’s a quote taken from Matthew 7:
“3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”
Since Rodriguez has misquoted Jesus, any argument that follows is faulty and should be rejected. It is true that Christians are called to be more introspective, but it is not true that Jesus said to ignore the speck in someone else’s eye. In order to make a convincing argument, Rodriguez twisted Scripture to say something it doesn’t actually say. In doing so he denies the reality that there is a place in Christianity for judgment, reproof, and correction. Matthew 7, read in context, demonstrates the importance of evaluating the evidence of one’s profession of faith. 2 Timothy 3, Galatians 6, and Matthew 18, and Titus 1 also point to the necessity of evaluation and confrontation.
Perhaps the biggest error in Rodriguez’s theology is that he expresses an improper view of sin. Jesus did not die just to free us from the penalty of sin, but from sin itself! He uses His Spirit, His Word, and His church to keep His people from living a destructive lifestyle of sin. Just as it is wrong to bring unloving judgment or condemnation, it is wrong to ignore sin in favor of unrestricted tolerance and acceptance. It is never loving to dismiss sin where there is no repentance. Read the article again and you’ll notice that he is quick to dismiss sin because we are all sinners. While this is true, it is no excuse to live in unrepentant sin. Sin is a ruthless enemy and, as John Owen said, if we are not killing sin it is killing us! We love one another well when we point out sin in each other’s lives.
The second argument Rodriguez made is that Lady Gaga’s response to spiritual criticism supports the authenticity of her faith. He does not provide a lot of detail, but cites an Instagram post in which Gaga referred to an encounter between Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Martha. Rodriguez contends that since Lady Gaga quoted Scripture about serving Christ she must be a Christian. But, what does the Bible have to say? In Matthew 7, Jesus explains that true Christians are known not by what they say, but how they live. Although nobody is sinless, the general trajectory of a Christian’s life will include an observable movement away from worldliness in favor of holiness.
There are more examples of unbiblical reasoning in this article. His attempts to minimize the church and the use of the label, “Christian,” are surprisingly uninformed, historically inaccurate, and illogical. Still, my goal is not to consider each of his arguments, but to help give you some tools to think Biblically about articles like this. If an article presents an anti-Biblical argument is should not be liked, shared, or repeated by anyone who believes in the authority of Scripture.
2. Is the Author a Credible Source?
Before liking, sharing, or repeating an article it is important to consider the source. Is the author an authority? Is he someone with an axe to grind? Is he just someone with an opinion? While the credibility of the author does not necessarily lend to or detract from the credibility of the argument, it often gives some important insight. This is especially true when dealing with spiritual authority. So, what about Mr. Rodriguez?
Carlos A. Rodriguez is a pastor, blogger, and consultant. He has a very active online presence and offers his services in the areas of writing influence, public speaking, social media, idea development, and developing teams. He presents himself as a spiritual authority, but something he said in his Lady Gaga article merits some concern.
In response to Lady Gaga’s statement that she is confused about religion, Pastor Rodriguez says this:
“I’m a born-again Spirit-filled Christian pastor, and I have been confused about religion myself. Especially Christianity itself.”
He goes on to prove his confusion by making a strange argument about a false distinction between the Gospel and Christianity.
It may seem endearing for a pastor to admit that he is imperfect, but it is not acceptable for pastor to be confused about the Gospel! In Titus 1, we learn that a pastor is to hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. While there is room for confusion about some doctrine, there is no room for confusion about the Gospel. An author who claims to be a religious authority, but does not qualify as one should not be treated as one. His writings should not be applauded or perpetuated by the Christian community. Further study of Carlos Rodriguez’s writings confirm that he does not rightly handle the Word of God and is teaching false doctrine.
The Internet is full of competing voices and sometimes it is difficult to know who to listen to. My hope in writing this article is not to discredit a trending Christian article, but to help you think Biblically as you sort through all the noise. Most of all, I hope it drives you to God’s Word as the only reliable source of information.
If you'd like to read more about Jesus and religion, consider the following article: Does Jesus Hate Religion? by Kevin DeYoung.
Grace and Peace,
I've never met Paul David Tripp, but he has had a profound influence on my life. I first discovered him when I was assigned the book, Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, during an internship. I've since profited greatly from his books, sermons, lectures, and blog. Paul has a unique ability to gently grab hold of the human heart and firmly redirect it to Christ.
I recently read an article on Paul's blog that helped me reconsider my priorities. You might find it helpful to consider your own life in light of what he suggests are "9 Things You Won't be Celebrating in Eternity."
- SELF - This life is not about you. You were brought into a world that is, by definition, a celebration of the beauty and intelligence of God.
- MARRIAGE - No human being can satisfy your soul; only God can. If you place your identity in your spouse - or any other person, for that matter - you'll always be disappointed.
- KIDS - Your children are not actually your children; you gave birth to them, but they don’t belong to you. Your kids are from God, they exist through God, and the glory of their lives points to God.
- SUCCESS - God calls you to be fruitful and productive, but the moment you take on your success as an identity, you'll become a slave to a never-ending stream of potential opportunities.
- RENOWN - Again, this life is not about you. Your primary job description is to be an ambassador for and herald of the glory and renown of your Heavenly King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
- COMFORT - Comfort is not sinful, but you'll never find paradise in a fallen world. Also, the work of the gospel will often call you to uncomfortable people in uncomfortable places.
- EXCITEMENT - Go ahead and buy season tickets for your favorite football team, but if a touchdown excites you more than the life-transforming ministry of the local church, you need to re-evaluate your eternal priorities.
- LEISURE - Again, this world will never be a paradise. It's not sinful to enjoy a vacation, but remember that this life is a preparation for your final destination.
- PLEASURE - Pleasure was created by God for you, but the created pleasures of this world are meant to be a finger pointing to the ultimate pleasure - an intimate relationship with the Creator.
Might we all be encouraged to find our identity in Christ instead of the temporary treasures of this life.
Each month I have the opportunity to address my community in a broadcast called Back to Basics. This segment airs on Wellsboro Homepage with a goal of encouraging the saints and pointing the lost to Christ. More information can be found by visiting http://www.wellsborohomepage.com/back-to-basics/. Here's a peak at this month's manuscript:
An Underdog Story
Frank and Fradyl Lifshitz left for the hospital on a fall day in 1939. Anticipation grew as the moment drew near when Fradyl would give birth to their fourth child. Upon his arrival they named him Ralph and prepared to take him back to their home in the Bronx.
Frank provided for his family by working as a house painter. His dream, however was to be an artist — and he spent much of his free time working on paintings he signed using the pseudonym, Frank Lauren.
His youngest son shared his passion for the arts, but instead of taking up the paintbrush, young Ralph chose to express his artistic interests using needle and thread. While in high school Ralph began to make some of his own clothing and sold neckties of his own design to his classmates. His flare for fashion even led to a legal name change when he dropped the last name Lifshitz in favor of something more refined.
Following high school, Ralph attended college, but never graduated. After a brief stint in the military, he found work as a salesman for a necktie company. It was there that he was given an opportunity he’d been dreaming of — a chance to pitch his own tie designs to the owners of the company. Much to his dismay, they were not impressed with his work and rejected him, stating that the world was not ready for his ties.
Determined to succeed, Ralph took to the streets, peddling his work at small clothing shops throughout New York City. In 1967 he opened his own shop where he sold many of his own creations. Ralph’s ties quickly became popular and he spent the next several years expanding his business. By the mid 80’s Ralph’s fame had spread and he owned clothing stores in several cities. By the 1990s Ralph’s company was producing clothing, furniture, fragrances, and even paint. In 1997 the company went public and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange using Ralph’s own initials. RL…
If you haven’t figured it out, Ralph Lifshitz is the man we know today as Ralph Lauren. He is worth an estimated $7 billion dollars and his impact on the world of fashion is nearly unmatched.
A story like this leaves us wondering…
What was it that motivated a college dropout whose work in the fashion industry was initially rejected — to persevere to the point of such great success?
I think the answer can be summed up in a word: Passion.
Ralph Lauren was driven by a passion that set him apart from his high school friends...
a passion the left him dissatisfied holding a “normal job”...
a passion that overpowered the feelings of discouragement that followed his rejection...
a passion that led him to become a household name today.
A Personal Passion
After hearing an inspirational story, like Ralph Lauren’s, we are often prompted to consider our own passion.
What are you passionate about?
What do you dream about?
What thoughts keep you up at night or get you out of bed in the morning?
What is the gasoline that fuels your engine?
The truth is, few people develop the kind of passion that has lasting impact.
Sadly, many men and women look back on their lives with regret when they realize they were more focused on lesser things than pursuing their passion.
Many of us have good intentions, but with so many distractions fighting for our attention, our passions take a backseat. Before we realize it, months turn to years, years turn to decades, and a lifetimes passes us by.
Is it really possible to live for our passions, or are we doomed to a life of regret?
There are plenty of motivational speakers that encourage others to find their passion by looking within themselves.
That kind of advice is well meaning, but fails to recognize a major flaw: our passions are corrupt!
Jesus had a brother called James who spoke about this very thing. In a letter to the early church, James compared our passions to a battle, noting that they war within us.
Not long before James wrote his letter, Jesus taught publicly on passion. In Matthew 6 He instructed his followers not to become focused on temporal needs, but to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Years later, the Apostle Paul wrote about passion, calling men and women to have a passion for God that is so powerful that even an activity as basic as eating and drinking would be done for His glory.
Scripture says much about passion, but it can all be summarized this way: the primary passion of every human being should be for the glory of God.
All of our other passions should be secondary — they should be an outflow of our one true passion — passion for the glory of the One who made us.
Whether your greatest passion is your family, your job, world peace, or saving the whales — if it supersedes your passion for God’s glory it is misguided.
In the end, God doesn’t want you to pursue your passion in order to have a fulfilling life, make a difference, or change the world. He wants your passion for Him to be so great that His glory, His name, and His fame are seen through you no matter what how menial or significant it seems.
That’s the kind of passion that leads to a life with no regrets.
Each Sunday I stand with a congregation of dear friends and join in song. I actually look forward to it all week. I've experienced few occasions as powerful as those moments when we sing with unity and boldness such phrases as, "Hallelujah, all I have is Christ," or " My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul!" I am deeply encouraged as I sing on Sunday morning, but that hasn't always been the case.
Corporate worship takes on many forms, and my understanding has been mostly based on my own experience. Childhood hymn singing left me desiring more. The format was stale and predictable. The singing felt wooden and contrived. I became convinced that hymns were little more than a ritualistic burden. That's when I discovered contemporary christian music.
Contemporary worship seemed to be the antidote for the stuffy hymns I was used to. Words like "relevant" and "authentic" were used to describe this new worship experience. I appreciated churches who turned down the lights because it gave me a sense of being alone with God. I was also thankful when the music was loud since I felt more comfortable singing when I wasn't worried about being heard by others. I thought I had discovered true worship. But in the darkness and the noise I was missing out on a wonderful blessing -- other Christians!
The New Testament does not say much about corporate singing, but there are some helpful passages to consider.
These passages highlight an important reason for corporate singing: the encouragement of the saints. When we join together to sing songs rooted in God's Word we have an opportunity to encourage one another in a way we could not otherwise achieve. Corporate worship, it seems, is meant to be directed both to God and one another. When a congregation understands this responsibility the singing takes on a deeper meaning.
I'm fortunate to be part of a congregation that has kept the lights on. Rather than going dark in favor of an individual worship experience, we encourage one another by singing with eyes wide open. Some of the most worshipful moments I've experienced have resulted from observing my brothers and sisters in Christ in song. I have been encouraged and convicted by looking into the eyes of recent widows, abandoned spouses, former addicts, and others who passionately sing because they are convinced that God is worthy of praise no matter their circumstances.
In addition to keeping the lights on, here are three opportunities to consider as you approach corporate worship:
1. Consider decreasing the volume of the accompaniment. Corporate singing is most effective when the voices of the congregation function as the primary instrument.
2. Consider singing a variety of old and new songs. There is great value in singing hymns that have withstood the test of time. It's a privilege to sing the same phrases echoed by christians who came before us. There are also many wonderful songs being produced by this generation. There is much to gain from the doctrinally rich lyrics and melodies of contemporary christians.
3. Consider learning harmony. Corporate singing becomes even more symbolic when various vocal parts combine to form one unified sound. We serve one another well by singing in such a way that we produce acoustic richness and vibrance.
I trust that God will use corporate worship to encourage your soul this Sunday. Remember that the brothers and sisters standing around you are depending on you to encourage them as well. Praise God for the gift of corporate worship!
One of the great criticisms of the church is that it is inherently condemning. Many people avoid church because they do not want to subject themselves to the hypocritical accusations of the "holier than thou." To be fair, many professing christians have perverted the gospel by focusing on the law and neglecting grace. History is full of stories of churches and individuals who committed terrible acts in the name of holiness. Many are left wondering, "how can an institution meant to show the love of Christ be so condemning and hurtful?"
Several years ago I went to the doctor for a routine physical. Everything checked out during my office visit, but my blood test came back showing some abnormalities. I immediately scheduled a follow up appointment because I wanted to know exactly what was wrong with me. Why? Because without an accurate understanding of what was wrong I had no hope of being healed. Thankfully I did not have any serious health issues and required no further treatment, but if I hadn't subjected myself to the doctors testing I would not have known the true condition of my health.
So, what do the doctors office and the church have in common? They each have your health in mind. But, unlike a medical doctor, the church is interested in spiritual health. And I've got some bad news... the test results are in and there are some abnormalities you should be concerned with. Like all men, you were you born into sin. More than that, you've chosen to sin thousands of times since birth. In a sense, the church exists to point that out. Her charter includes a call to make disciples of Christ by teaching others to obey Him. In other words, it is an essential responsibility of the church to point out sin. But, don't misunderstand what's happening. The church is not condemning you. It is merely pointing to the reality that you are already condemned! You should feel the weight of that condemnation when you learn that you don't measure up to God's standard. It is only when you see your sin that you see your need for a Savior. The good news is that we have a Savior! Jesus lived, died, was buried, and rose again to save you from sin and condemnation.
I recently had the opportunity to share this truth with my community by appearing on Wellsboro Homepage. Perhaps this video will encourage you as you consider your your life, Jesus Christ, and the church.