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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Three to Read For February 14, 2017

Happy Valentines Day!

If you just read that sentence and thought "Uh Oh!" then stop now and run to the nearest LifeWay store for a last minute card!

Otherwise I thought you might enjoy some of the best blogs I have read recently.  Let me know what you think, I might start doing this regularly.  I love sharing good content and giving everyone an opportunity to discover new writers and ideas.

#1: Raising Kids In Jesus Rather Than In Church

I have to be honest.  When I first read the headline I thought "Oh great, another person saying that you can have church at home and fellowship is overrated."  Thankfully I had a pleasant surprise.  This piece is written by a pastor's wife with a love for the church and the children who grow up within it. She speaks a much needed truth for both parents and church leaders (and those of us who are both).

Check it out here:

#2: 10 Myths About Africa Many Americans Believe

I have heard some of these spoken as truth in conversations before and just shook my head.  I have also believed a few of them myself.  How much do you know about one of the largest harvest fields in the world?  This piece reminds us of the importance of actually knowing the people and the area we want to reach and help, instead of just assuming we do.

Check it out here:

#3 Responding To A Friend Who Has Walked Away From God

We've all been there.  A dear friend has walked away from the faith - sometimes gradually, sometimes abruptly.  How do you respond?  Often because we love them we want to grab them by the lapels and drag them back to God but rarely does that approach work.  We're afraid sometimes of saying the wrong thing or at a loss for even where to begin.  This article reminds us that the best thing for us to do is just be there and be a friend.

Check it out here:

... and finally here's a funny tweet from the outstanding church curmudgeon.  Any of our homeschool parents try this one? :-)
Till next time!  God bless!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Is All Growth Good?

"Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude." Colossians 2:6-7 [HCSB]

Do you ever like to be stopped in your tracks?  I mean to have a surprise come out of something you think you know so well that it catches you off guard and makes you think.  Recently I was reading a sermon by Chris Talton and it made me stop, reread scripture and think about what it truly says and not just what I think it says.  In the sermon he said this:
Growing is not enough. Unproductive uncontrolled growth is cancer. Good growth is growth in the right direction. In order for that to happen, we have to be grounded in Jesus Christ, the only right foundation. [1]
In our culture we push growth for growth's sake.  Is our church growing? Am I growing? We worry about the rate of growth but do we ever stop and worry about the quality of growth?  That short paragraph made me stop and think about how I am growing… and is it healthy.  For example, I can fill my head with all the background facts of Bible passages and the context and cultural understanding  - that is growth.  But if along with that knowledge my heart doesn’t grow to show the love and compassion that lays at the heart of the Bible then my growth is unproductive, uncontrolled, and unspiritual.  Was my growth based on my simple desire to be more like Christ in how I live my life or was it pride in how much more I know today than yesterday?

Was my “growth” hurting my witness?

I went back to one of my favorite passages on growth, Colossians 2, to see what scripture actually said.  Here Paul is addressing false teachings that were becoming popular at Colossae.  He warns his readers to not be taken prisoner by earthly traditions and philosophies - in other words know the sound doctrine of the faith.  That is usually where I focus when I read this passage - knowing the sound doctrine of the faith.  However, before Paul even gets there he says, very simply, for us to be rooted in Christ Himself, to walk with Him… overflowing with gratitude.

That is when it hit me.  My growth should not only be measured by how much doctrine I know (though sound doctrine is important) but by how Christ like I live.  If my growth gets out of whack, if my head knowledge starts to exceed my heart knowledge, then my growth risks becoming dangerous, unspiritual.  I risk becoming someone who spouts out doctrinal truth at people without showing them first the love that is the true reflection of our faith.  

Doctrine without love or grace is a witness to a cold, dead faith built on traditions and rules.  How good is my witness then?  Likewise if I strive to show love to people but I am afraid or ignorant of true doctrine then my witness is merely one of temporary kindness without eternal truth.

My personal growth must be balanced in love and truth.  For our churches to grow, we must be balanced in love and truth.  How are you growing today?

[1] Chris Talton “I Don’t Want To Grow Up!”

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Who Is Your Barnabas?

1st Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.

Have you ever had someone come up to you at just the right time and say what you needed to hear to pick you up and get you going again? Someone who was there for you, encouraged you with word and deed, and helped you if even in a small way?

Who was it?

On the flip side have you ever had someone come up at exactly the wrong time and say something negative that pulls you down? Something that made you feel horrible and worthless?

Who was it?

Why is it usually easier to bring to mind the one who hurt us instead of the one who encouraged us? Why do we wake up at night gritting our teeth remembering the one who wronged us? Why do we fail to be thankful for the encourager even when we appreciate the results of the encouragement?

In the biblical book of Acts we meet a man named Barnabas who was known as the “Son of Encouragement”. Nearly everyone, Christian or not, has heard of the Apostle Paul but not even many Christians know all that Barnabas did. However if it weren't for this man then Paul would have never gotten his foot in the door, the term “Christian” would most likely not be known and the Gospel of Mark may have never been written. (1)

Barnabas stood up for Paul in the Jerusalem church, and discipled him in his ministry. He encouraged and supported the church at Antioch were the term “Christian” - meaning little Christ – was first used to describe believers. He took famine relief to the church in Jerusalem and he took a chance on a young somewhat skittish missionary named John Mark who would later pen the gospel that bears his name.

We remember the result of the encouragement even though we forget the encourager. However God never forgets when we take the time out to pour a little bit of ourselves – and Him – into the lives of others. God did not forget Barnabas and His word describes him as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” (Acts 11:24 – HCSB). What a wonderful, eternal testimony!

So my question to you today is who is your Barnabas? Who is your encourager? Do you remember them and if you do have you thanked them?

And if you ever feel like the encouragement you have shared with others is getting drowned out in the business of life, take heart. Even if everyone else has forgotten the kindness you have done, your Heavenly Father has not.

Discover more in this week's podcast "Choosing Love: Love Encourages"

Till next time,
God Bless!

(1) See Acts chapters 4, 9, 11 & 15 among others as well as this entry in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.

NOTE: This series was written to coincide with the Bible Studies For Life series "Like Glue" by Pastor Ben Mandrell available here.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Who Is Your Samaritan?

Luke 10: 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Who is the one type of person you could never show love to? Who is the one that you expect God to give you a pass on when it comes to showing love, forgiveness and grace to. We all have that person or group of people that we hold out of our heart and say surely God doesn't want me to love them!

For some of us it is a cultural bias. Maybe someone of a different race or with different political views. For others it may be more personal – a father who was abusive or a friend who betrayed you. Whatever the justification we all have the person or people who we will not show love to.

In the gospel of Luke chapter 10, Jesus was approached by a scribe who asked how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus pointed him back to the scriptures, emphasizing the need to love God above everything else and to love our neighbor as our self. Then the man asked a follow up question. “Who is my neighbor?”

This was more than an intellectual exercise. This man was looking for an excuse. Perhaps a more honest way to ask this question would be to say “If I have to love my neighbor then tell me who is not my neighbor so I know who I can freely hate.”

In response Jesus told a story – and not just because He is a masterful story teller, though He is. Jesus looked into the heart of this man and saw his prejudice. He picked the one group of people despised by the Jews above nearly all else – the Samaritans – and used them as the best example of loving your neighbor. The Jews of the first century hated the Samaritans. They would walk miles out of their way to avoid Samaritan villages. Anyone who had contact with a Samaritan was considered unclean. That is what made this story so shocking. A Samaritan saving a Jew. Imagine a member of ISIS saving the life of a Coptic Christian and you begin to understand the impact of Jesus' story.

The unasked question to the scribe is clear: “Would you show the same love to a Samaritan as the Samaritan showed in this parable?”

You see we all have Samaritans in our life, the ones we expect God to give us a pass on or an excuse to leave out. Yet God's answer is still the same. We are to love them just as God loves us. Fortunately God realizes that amount of unconditional love is impossible for us on our own, that is why He sent His Son to save us and His Spirit to empower us. It is through God that we can truly realize that everyone – regardless of our differences – is our neighbor and choose to show them love.

Discover more in this week's podcast "Choosing Love: Love Is An Action." 

Till next time,
God Bless

NOTE: This series was written to coincide with the Bible Studies For Life series "Like Glue" by Pastor Ben Mandrell available here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Walking In the Light and Seeing The Truth

This past Sunday I shared the following story: 
While finishing his studies in medical school a young intern was tasked to go each Monday to a state run psychiatric institution and make his rounds so that he could better grasp the range of mental illness. Each Monday he would show up, be given a list of patients to visit and then an orderly would unlock the door to the ward and quickly lock it back after he walked through. One Monday while walking through the ward a doctor called over to him and offered to accompany him as he visited the patients. The doctor gave him detailed information on each patient and the treatment they were being given. He used terminology in a polished, professional way that would have made the intern's professors proud. He greatly helped the young intern better understand the scope mental illness and the way to treat it. As they walked back to the locked door with the orderly standing guard, the intern turned and shook the doctors hand, thanking him for his invaluable information and signaled for the orderly to unlock the door. The orderly then told him that he could freely leave – but the patient he was speaking to would have to stay behind. (1)
I used this story to illustrate how so very often sickness doesn't look like sickness, and the sin in our life doesn't always look like sin.  It is easy for us to look around and even at ourselves and not see
the sickness that is everywhere. The biggest challenge to our walk with Christ is sometimes knowing where the darkness is – especially the darkness within ourselves. That is one of the key points from the book of 1st John in the New Testament.
9  The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.11  But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. [1 John 2:9-11 HCSB]  Read more at

However even though the young intern in the story was fooled and led astray at least he was LOOKING.  He was earnestly trying to understand and help the patients at the hospital.  Far too often those of us who know what to look for don't bother even looking in the first place - it's as if our eyes are blinded.  But I have a shocking truth for you, Jesus wants us to look and to see the hurting people around us.

The Apostle John describes the Christian faith as walking in the light, and if we truly walk the way Jesus walked then that light in our life should be used to see the truth of those around us.  We are surrounded by people who are hurting, in need, and lost in this world.  There are three ways we can respond.  We can close our eyes and refuse to see, we can let the world lead us astray into thinking there is nothing wrong, or we can follow the example of Christ and not only see the people in need around us but move to help them with the same compassion God has shown to us.  To walk in the light we must love our brother.

Join us this Sunday, January 18 at Oak Grove Baptist as we start a new study in our morning small groups called "Ready: Ministering to Those in Crisis" by Chip Ingram and I start preaching a companion series I have written called Christ in the Crisis looking at the traits Christ exhibited when encountering people in trouble.

(1) I found this story in my files but unfortunately I do not have a source listed with it and I had no luck in tracking one down on Google.  If anyone knows the source of this illustration, please share it with me in the comments. Thank you.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Hammers, Focus, and Impact

What sort of impact are you making?

Have you ever used a hammer? I mean a big, heavy, power driving hammer? The first home my wife and I owned was a seventy year old fixer upper – also known as a money pit. To a bright eyed young couple, though, it looked like a dream. We even romanticized working on it, picturing everyday of labor as being a work montage straight out of an eighties movie. You know the ones, where the plucky youths fix up the community center over the course of a three an half minute up beat song.

Yeah, real life doesn't work like that.

One of the valuable lessons I learned from this experience had to do with impact. I had done my fair share of “handy man” work over the years and was comfortable with various tools. I knew this house had to be stripped down to the studs and the joists and built back up. I knew that I would need a big, heavy hammer to do the job. So I went to the hardware store and bought a nice, new Craftsman three pound hammer with a rubberized grip.

It felt great in my hands. I could pull the hammer back and as it fell forwards I could feel the extra “umph” of gravity added to my meager strength. It made a nice thud when it hit the nail and made quick work of even the most stubborn projects. It made a wonderful impact.

… until it hit my thumb.

The impact it made then was equally as powerful as when it hit the nail but it made more of a squish sound that was quickly drowned out by my yelps of pain. I looked at the hammer in anger and felt almost a sense of betrayal. “After all we've been through together, how could you hit my thumb instead of the nail?” The problem was the hammer only did what I had directed it to do. The problem wasn't with the hammer – it was with me. Specifically it was with my focus. I had lost focus on what I was doing. I still made an impact but it wasn't the one I had intended.

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus Said:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” [HCSB]

We all want to live a life that makes an impact, in fact we are designed to make an impact. An impact on our family, our friends and the world at large. All of us will have an impact on this world – good or bad - whether we realize it or not. The thing that determines the impact we make is our focus. In this crazy world if we are only focused on our own needs, on getting ahead, on being popular then that will effect our impact.

If we are focused on Jesus and His commands (love God, love your neighbor) then we will make a positive impact on this world. If not? Well, let's just say we will end up with some sore thumbs.

Till next time,
God Bless

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Baptism As a Lifelong Commitment

I always enjoy the preparation that goes into corporate worship, but I especially love preparing for a baptism service. While some view baptism as a meaningless ritual – some atheist groups even hold a de-baptism where they “dry” you with hair dryers – I view it as a both a wonderful symbol and a sacred command from Christ Himself.

It is a symbol of cleansing and of joining Christ in His death, burial and resurrection as well as a public confession of our faith and new life. As Lee Scarborough wrote, “[The believer] publicly puts a grave between himself and his former life of sin.” (1)

When I prepare for a baptism I am always reminded of a sermon by Andy Cook. In it he draws our attention to a little side trip in the Gospels that Jesus and His disciples take. A trip where Jesus drove home the reality of baptism as a lifelong commitment in a place called Caesarea Philippi.

Caesarea was known as a center of pagan worship and was one of the most evil and immoral places in all of Israel. Various cults had made it a sensual, wicked, and even murderous place. Here, the waters of the Jordan river flowed out of huge, dark cave on the side of a rocky cliff. Legends and teachings of the Baal and Asherah cults taught that the two gods went underground to Hades through the cave, giving it the name, "The Gates of Hades." In the thoughts of the religious cult that worshiped him, Baal had control over water, and the mysterious cave was a natural place for him to descend into Hades. Greek and Roman invaders liked the spirituality of the place so much, they added monuments to numerous other gods to the area. By the time Jesus arrived at Caesarea Philippi with His disciples, the beginning of the river was a veritable cafeteria of religion. In the midst of all the choices, Jesus walked 40 miles up a mountain to ask His followers a simple question. "Who am I?"

Matthew 16:13-18 [HCSB]
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.

And with that, the disciples walked back down the mountain, where they would soon hear Jesus ask His followers to be baptized as a sign of their commitment to Him. His followers would build the church in the place where Satan least expected it – right at the very Gates of Hell!

Because of the centuries-old stories coming from the mysterious cave in Caesarea Philippi, those men knew that being lowered under the water was far more than a simple sign of cleansing. Baptism would be a frightening descent into "Baal territory," and a commitment to carry the fight to the enemy. Though times had changed, the fears of Baal's hellish existence in the underground cave of the
Jordan's beginnings still caused fear in the minds of the people. If a person had the misfortune of drowning, for instance, the grief of a family was compounded by a frightening thought. Had their loved one been captured by demonic forces, and taken to Hades for eternity?

Through baptism, Jesus asked His followers to be willingly lowered into enemy territory, only to be
immediately raised to new life. With one act of trust, the reality of hell would be no more of a danger to
Christians than being briefly lowered in water. For believers in Jesus, death would one day be a momentary transfer from this life to the next. Baptism was a very visible statement of faith, of choosing Jesus as the way to safely make the transfer from this life to eternity. Almost immediately, baptism became a tremendous statement of commitment, too. During times of persecution, to be identified with Christ was a life- threatening confession. In the worst of times, a person willing to be baptized was taking the risk of his lifetime. (2)

As we baptize this Sunday morning we will risk little more than a chill from cold water. Yet the call of our Lord to a lifetime of commitment to Him has not changed. When we are called to baptism we are called to truly follow Him through anything – even against Hades itself. If you have been baptized, are you living your baptism today? Are you carrying through on your commitment to Him?

Till next time,
God Bless

1. Lee Scarborough, as quoted in the Baptist Faith & Message

2. “What's Water Got To Do With It” by Andy Cook