Pray for empty pockets

If God always takes you into problems, then he must not know what he is doing. If God always brings you trials, he must not care about you. If God constantly brings you challenges, then he cannot be trusted. That is the typical response of most people.

But what if God brings problems into your life for a purpose? What if he uses trials as a teachable moment?

In Exodus 15:18-18:27, the nation of Israel faced trial after problem after challenge.  They encountered an oasis where the water was bitter. Then they had nothing to eat. Following that they were thirsty and had nothing to drink. Then they faced an enemy who wanted to destroy them. After that, Moses experienced fatigue and burnout.

In one sense, Israel was in God’s kindergarten where they were learning to depend on him. In the first situation, God healed the water and made it sweet. In the second trial, God provided manna from heaven. In the third challenge, God provided water from a rock. In the fourth situation, God delivered the people through prayer and battle. In the final trial, God provided sound advice from Moses’ father-in-law.

Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-12 both explain that God uses trials to shape our character and teach us to depend on him. If we have everything we need, we will never learn to trust God. If we never have trials, problems, needs, challenges, issues, questions … we will never learn to depend on God’s strength. We will never learn to trust God until he leads us into trouble.

If you want to grow spiritually, if you want a deeper faith, then pray for empty pockets. Pray that God will meet your needs and teach you to depend on him alone to provide what you lack. Pray for empty pockets so that your faith might grow.


Posted by on March 2, 2021 in Exodus, Moses, Personal growth, Prayer, Scripture, Videos


A teacher’s greatest achievement

“The glory of any teacher lies in his scholars and students; and should the day come when they have left him far behind the glory is still greater. A man’s greatest glory lies in those whom he has set or helped on the path to Christ.”

William Barclay

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Posted by on March 1, 2021 in Ministry, Quotes


A Pastor’s Heart

Parents and grandparents love to brag about their children and grandchildren. They will pull out pictures and tell stories about their exploits on the soccer field, awards and accomplishments, and milestones achieved. They will plaster their car with bumper stickers, “My child is an honor student at …” They cannot wait to tell you about the latest thing they did or said.

The apostle Paul expressed that same sense of pride when he spoke about the spiritual growth of the church in Thessalonica. He boasted that they would be his greatest accomplishment when he stood before Christ.

Because of his love for the believers, he was willing to go to great lengths to find out how they were doing and to encourage and strengthen them in their walk with God. In 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:10, Paul demonstrates that ministry is about relationships. We should care enough to help people grow to spiritual maturity.

Paul cared deeply about the Christ followers in Thessalonica (2:17-20). Because of persecution, Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica before he was ready. It was a difficult, sorrowful parting which left Paul feeling like he had been orphaned. Though he tried on several occasions to return, he felt that Satan stood in his way. Paul understood that anything the opposed the work of Christ was spiritual warfare. Paul cared so much about this young church that he took great pride in their spiritual health. He looked forward to the day when he could boast about them in God’s presence.

Paul sent Timothy to help strengthen the church (3:1-5). After leaving town, Paul, Silas, and Timothy journeyed to Berea. Leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea, Paul journeyed on to Athens by himself. Paul felt so strongly about the believers in Thessalonica that he instructed Timothy to return to check up on them. Paul was concerned that these young believers might give up and quit because of persecution. He wanted them to understand that trials, suffering, and affliction are a normal part of the Christian life.

Paul was encouraged that the Thessalonians were standing firm (3:6-10). When Timothy arrived and reported how well the Thessalonian believers were doing, Paul felt a great sense of relief. He rejoiced that they were standing firm in their faith. Rather than take credit for their stability, Paul gave thanks to God and continued to pray for the Christ followers in that city.

Application. I take five lessons away from studying this passage. (1) Build relationships with those you disciple. (2) All of life is spiritual warfare. (3) Display joyful hope in the midst of problems. (4) Suffering is an expected part of the Christian life. (5) Stand firm in the faith.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 28, 2021. It is part of a series of expository sermons on 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


Stuck in the doldrums

The comic strip Zits has captured what many experience during this last week of February.

Watch out who you spend time with as the doldrums and pessimism are extremely contagious.

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Posted by on February 27, 2021 in Zits


A Pastor’s Heart – video preview

Like a caring parent, the apostle Paul was deeply concerned about the spiritual health of the church in Thessalonica. He was willing to go to great lengths to find out how they were doing and to encourage and strengthen them in their faith. Join us this Sunday at First Central Bible Church as we unpack 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:10 to discover that ministry is all about relationships. We should care enough to help people grow to spiritual maturity. Here’s a video preview of the message.


Slow down the dumbness

I can identify with Peppermint Patty. The older I get, the more questions I have and the less I seem to know. Can I just slow down my dumbness?


Posted by on February 25, 2021 in Peanuts


Are you teachable?

In one of his sermons, Dr. Howard Hendricks recalled a lesson he learned from his father. Prof Hendricks was visiting his military father while he was on maneuvers. His father had given a command to a junior officer who questioned his decision. Afterwards, Dr. Hendricks told his father he thought he was too hard on the officer. Prof’s father said, “You will never be a good leader until you learn how to follow.”

Periodically I have students in my classes who question the layout of the syllabus, the course requirements, the grading rubrics, the schedule, and much more. When I offer comments on their discussion posts and they bristle at my corrections, or when they make the same mistake on several assignments, I begin to wonder whether or not they are teachable.

If they are unwilling to follow the instructions of a professor or a course requirement, what kind of leader will they be in their chosen career? If they bristle at instructions and think they could teach the course better, I wonder how they will treat those who disagree with their instructions? Can you be a good leader if you are unwilling to follow those who lead you?

As I pondered these questions, I came across a summary of 10 questions about teachability from Psalm 119. I think they are a good self-test. The overarching question is, “Am I ready to learn from the Lord?”

  1. Does God’s Word motivate me to worship? (Psalm 119:7)
  2. Do I admit when I am wrong? (Psalm 119:29)
  3. Do I know my limitations? (Psalm 119:73)
  4. Do I believe God can change me? (Psalm 119:33)
  5. Do I know the love of my instructor? (Psalm 119:64)
  6. Do I trust the goodness of my instructor? (Psalm 119:68)
  7. Do I value the word of God as the ultimate source of wisdom? (Psalm 119:99)
  8. Do I ask God questions? (Psalm 119:82)
  9. What have I learned from my previous lessons? (Psalm 119:71)
  10. Am I a servant? (Psalm 119:24)

If we want to grow, we must be willing to learn. If we want to be used by God, we must maintain a teachable spirit. May that be true of my heart, my attitude, and my life.

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Posted by on February 24, 2021 in Personal growth, Psalms


When God says, “No”

Have you ever prayed for something and God said, “No”? Have you ever prayed in desperation and heaven was silent? Instead of God granting your request, things got progressively worse. And you found yourself murmuring, “If only …”

That was the situation Mary and Martha found themselves in. John 11 opens with the statement that Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus, was ill. His sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus. But instead of dropping what he is doing and coming to heal his friend, Jesus doesn’t do anything. From a human standpoint, his lack of response seems to say, “It’s not that serious.”

By the time Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead and buried for several days. Both Mary and Martha express the same sentiment to Jesus on separate occasions, “If you really cared, you would have come, and Lazarus would still be alive.”

Jesus did care deeply and wept for the death of his friend. Jesus reveals something new about himself in his statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26). Jesus demonstrates both his care and his power when he calls Lazarus from the tomb.

If Jesus had done as Mary and Martha asked and healed their brother, they never would have known that Jesus could raise the dead. They would not have known he had the power over sin and death.

There are times when God might say “No” to one of our prayers, not because he doesn’t care, but because he wants to us to discover something new about his character. He wants us to learn to trust him and to believe that whatever he does “is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

The next time you find yourself in a desperate situation, pray for God to work on your behalf. But also ask God to reveal himself to you so that you might know him better. Ask God to glorify himself whatever the outcome.

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Posted by on February 23, 2021 in Gospel of John, Jesus, Prayer, Videos


The danger of achievement

I am working my way through Paul David Tripp’s book, LEAD: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church. In the first chapter, “Achievement,” he addresses “Principle 1: A ministry community whose time is controlled by doing the business of the church tends to be spiritually unhealthy.”

I was struck by his section on how “Achievement becomes dangerous when it forms our view of success and failure.” I found his thoughts resonated with my own because I have had people try to evaluate my “success” or “failure” based on numbers—attendance, budget, reaching goals, etc.

I am persuaded that when an achievement focus dominates a leadership community, it tends to have an erroneous definition of failure. Failure is not the inability to produce desired results. There are so many things in ministry in this fallen world, over which we will never have control, that influence outcomes. If hard, disciplined, faithful, well-planned, appropriately execute, and joyful ministry work does not guarantee results, then the lack of desired results should not define leadership failure. Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:7: “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

True failure is always a character issue. It is rooted in laziness, pride, lack of discipline, self-excusing, failure to plan well, lack of joy in labor, and failure to persevere during hardship. Failure is not first a matter or results: failure I always first a matter of the heart. It’s failure when I have not invested my God-given time, energy, and gifts in the work God has called me to do. Ministry laziness and unfaithfulness are failure.

If, however, a leadership community is too result- or achievement-focused, it will tend to disrespect a leader who hasn’t achieved desired outcomes even though he has been a faithful steward of the gifts and opportunities God has given him. Rather than reminding themselves once again that they are utterly dependent on God to grow the seeds that they have planted and watered, that leadership community will tend to think that they have put the wrong person in the job, will set that leader aside, and will look for someone else to do the task. I can’t tell you how many faithful pastors and leaders I have counseled who have come to think of themselves as failures because their work didn’t achieve what they and the community around them hoped it would achieve. In ministry, success and failure are not a matter of results but are defined by faithfulness. Faithfulness is what God asks of us; the rest is entirely up to his sovereignty and the power of his grace.

May I resist the temptation to perform. May I avoid the peril of evaluating my ministry on numbers alone. May I be found faithful.


Posted by on February 22, 2021 in Books, Church, Leadership, Ministry, Quotes


Thank God for the Gospel

We are daily inundated by bad news. Politics. Stock market. Pandemic. School closings. Weather. And then you add personal issues such as jobs, health, family crises, … It’s no wonder that we become increasingly negative, cynical, and critical.

Along comes a well-meaning person who throws a Bible verse at us like 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Perhaps your first response is, Why? What do I have to be thankful for.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16, the apostle Paul gives thanks for the power of the gospel. He lays out five reasons why we should be thankful for the gospel. This is the second of three times in the letter that he gives thanks for the church in Thessalonica (1:2; 2:13; 3:9).

Paul gives thanks that the gospel is a divine message from God (13). When Paul speaks of the word of God, he is not referring to the Bible. Instead, he is talking about the message of the gospel which he preached to the people in the city of Thessalonica (1:5; 2:2, 13). The believers viewed the message not as the words of men but as a divine message of God. Not only did they receive the message, they welcomed it into their lives.

Paul gives thanks that the gospel is at work in our lives (13). In chapter 1, Paul gave thanks for how the believers in this church demonstrated faith, love, and hope. In chapter 2, he gave thanks for how they welcomed the gospel and their willingness to suffer for it. Those qualities are not standard equipment for anyone born into the human race. Instead, they are supernatural and evidence of growth.

Paul gives thanks that the gospel creates a sense of community (14). Earlier, Paul spoke of his perspective as the church’s spiritual mother and father. Now, he addresses them as brothers. He mentioned that they heard about the churches in Judea and wanted to be like them, most likely in their devotion to teaching, fellowship, prayer, the Lord’s table, and outreach. Paul said that they were in Christ and that they shared a sense of comradery with those who suffer persecution.

Paul gives thanks that the gospel helps us endure persecution and suffering (14-16). The fact these Christ followers were willing to suffer for their faith was proof positive that their faith was real.

Paul gives thanks that the gospel spares believers from judgment (16). Paul states that the Jewish people had piled up a mountain of sins. They killed the prophets, they killed Jesus, the opposed Paul’s ministry, they were antagonistic toward everyone, and they hindered the gospel from going forward. In a sense, God said, “Enough is enough!” and pronounced judgment on them. We can have confidence that God is a just judge who will punish those who reject him and deliver those who receive him.

Give thanks for the gospel! Give thanks that God has spoken; your sins are forgiven; you have been spared from punishment; you are part of a community of faith; your life is being transformed; and you have a message of hope to share with a lost world. Thank God for the power of the gospel.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 21, 2021. It is part of a series of expository sermons on 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.