Stop Trying to Earn God’s Approval

saving-the-savedBook Review: Saving the Saved: How Jesus saves us from try-harder Christianity into performance-free love, by Bryan Loritts

Moralism is the pervading belief that if we do enough good things, we will arrive and receive God’s approval. “Be true to yourself and don’t harm others, and the meaning, value, and significance are at your fingertips—or so we think.” Once you adopt that approach, it naturally leads to meritocracy, the idea that the world should be led by those who rise highest on the merit scale. We esteem

those who have earned the most and performed the best. We are enamored with people’s educational resumes, athletic prowess, and trophy cases. We measure people’s worthy by the size of their churches, number of championships won, and albums sold. And in a social media age, I can actually quantify my performance based on how many followers I have and likes I get.

While we expect this attitude in the world, we are surprised to discover it has crept into the church as well.

Pastor and author Bryan Loritts has written Saving the Saved: How Jesus saves us from try-harder Christianity into performance-free love in an attempt to free people from the repeated attempt to earn God’s love and approval through performance. Tracing the message of grace through the gospel of Matthew, he shows how Jesus releases us from the pressure of performance and encourages us to abide.

The gospel of Matthew is the good news written to good people like us to whom Jesus says tenderly, “You can stop your trying now. You can drop the performance. Put it all aside—do you feel that burden lifting?—and come, abide in me.

The author blends biblical exposition with life related illustrations from sports, movies, books, political figures, and real life. The book is well-written, thought provoking, and encouraging. It is well worth reading.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 21, 2016 in Books, Personal growth, Scripture


The benefits of fundraising

Last night, I had the opportunity to speak to a church about my upcoming ministry trip to Russia in March 2017. I was able to talk with them about short-term ministry trips in general and my trip to Russia in particular. I asked the individuals to pray about the needs of the trip, including the $5300 I need to raise for the airfare, visa, lodging, meals, and helping underwrite the costs of the students who will attend.

On the one hand, fundraising is not my favorite thing to do. I always feel a sense of tension every time I write and mail out a fundraising letter.

I don’t like

I like

Asking for money

Sharing a vision for what God wants to do
Asking for help

Seeing God answer prayer

Depending on others

Being surprised by who God raises up to partner with me

Admitting my needs

Seeing how God provides

Not being able to do it myself

Having to trust God

Not remaining independent

Being part of a team

Feeling as if I am prying $$ out of unwilling hands

Giving people permission to be generous with God’s resources
Not being in control

Seeing God provide the exact amount at just the right moment

When I am honest with myself, I resist fundraising because of my pride. After all, I am a good American, of Scandinavian descent, who lives in the Northeast. I should be able to stand on my own two feet and take care of my problems and needs, thank you very much. I would rather go without than appear needy.

However, when I take that approach, I rob people of ministry because I don’t allow them to use their gifts in service. I rob them of the opportunity to partner with me in a cause that is bigger than both of us. I hinder the body of Christ from functioning as a body. I miss out on God’s blessings because I don’t allow him to answer my prayers and meet my needs. I miss seeing God remove barriers and solve problems.

When I use my own resources and pay my own way, I come away impoverished. When I act humbly and ask for help and then depend on God in prayer, I am enriched and blessed.

I have to remind myself that fundraising is not about asking for money. It is about sharing what God wants to do in my life and in the world. Fundraising is about asking people to join forces in meeting a need and reaching a world with the message of the gospel. It is ministry to and with people for the cause of Christ.

Rather than call it fundraising, perhaps we should adopt the approach of one mission agency and call it “friend-raising.” Ultimately, we are broadening our network of contacts, supporters, and friends. As a result of last night’s gathering, I now have one more church and a larger group of friends who are helping me expand God’s kingdom and equip his servants.

While it may not be my favorite thing to do, fundraising/friend-raising is a unique opportunity to trust God and minister to others. Which, ultimately, is why I like fundraising.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 21, 2016 in Finances, Ministry, Missions, Russia


Western Night at Awana

Tonight was Western Night at First Central Bible Church‘s Awana program, the first of our monthly theme nights. Children and Leaders came dressed in their western gear. It was another fun night of Bible stories, games, memory verses, and fun.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 19, 2016 in Awana, First Central Bible Church, Photos


Free Range Christians

chickenrun042lz_3737In the 2000 movie, Chicken Run, Rocky (voiced by Mel Gibson) takes pride in being a “free range chicken” who’s “not the type to settle down.” While comical in an animated movie, it is an accurate description of people in today’s culture, even among those who claim to be committed Christians.

Two weeks ago, I taught our church’s membership class. I explained that membership is like being part of a family and that a Christian without a church home is like an orphan. Becoming a member of a church tells the leadership that “you can count on me” and that “I am willing to place myself under your authority” because greater accountability leads to greater spiritual growth. Becoming a member helps us build a biblical community and practice the “one another” commands of the New Testament.

no-commitmentAfter attending the class, each person is interviewed by one of our elders or deacons so that we can hear their testimony and get to know them better. One individual did not show up for the interview, so I inquired as to whether something came up or if they changed their mind. The person responded, “I don’t feel being a member will really benefit me in any way. I would like to be free to visit where I choose and not have to be stuck in one location.”

Wow! Sounds like I met a real life “Rocky.” One more “free range Christian.”


Rediscover the One who first loved you

remember-returnBook Review: Remember & Return: Rekindling Your Love for the Savior, by John MacArthur

Let’s face it. Life gets so busy and we get easily distracted by problems, trials, and the mundane things of life. It is easy to drift away from Jesus. Even going to church and reading the Bible can morph into activities where we simply go through the motions. When that happens, we need to make a conscious effort to rediscover and rekindle our love for Jesus Christ.

Pastor and author John MacArthur has written a 31-day devotional designed to help the reader rediscover who Jesus is, what he has done for us, and how we should respond to him. Each devotional is 6-7 pages long and can be easily read and digested in a few minutes. The devotionals begin by describing the person of Christ—who he is. They move into an examination of the work of Christ—what he did for us in salvation. The devotionals then describe what Jesus is doing now as King, High Priest, and Advocate. The book closes with how we should respond to Jesus.

As the author explains in the introduction, “Love for the Lord is the defining reality in the life of every true Christian. But the fire of the first love for the Lord can grow cold and diminish the believer’s power and blessing. This thirty-one-day journey is designed to keep your love for Christ increasing for your joy and His glory.”

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 18, 2016 in Books, Passion, Personal growth, Scripture


Growing like a tree

dsc_0054-croppedOn Saturday, Carol and I took a drive a view the fall colors in New England. We made a stop at Kent Falls State Park in Connecticut. We saw a tree that was a fitting illustration of life.

The tree appears to have a good start and a solid base. At first, it grew straight and true. But then, whether because of a knot that developed, a storm with strong winds that pushed on the tree, or difficult seasons, the tree began to grow in a crooked path. Perhaps a few branches broke off as it continued upwards. Regardless of the factors, the tree kept its focus on the sun and grew upwards producing beauty and leaves.

As Christ followers, we have to make sure we are planted by streams of living water (Psalm 1). We submit to the master grower and allow him to prune unnecessary branches from our lives and correct crooked limbs so we can grow upwards and become fruitful (John 15:1-11). As we keep our focus upwards towards the Son and gain nourishment from his Word, we too can become strong, fruitful, and produce beauty in our world.

Psalm 1:1–6 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

John 15:1–8 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 17, 2016 in Connecticut, Fall, Personal growth, Scripture


Calling Heaven for Earth

During our sermon series on prayer, we’ve studied the examples of Abraham, Jacob, Elijah, and Daniel. Today, we turn our attention to Jesus’ high priestly prayer (John 17:1-26). By listening to his prayer, we learn how to intercede for others. Jesus prayed for himself, his disciples, and for us.

Jesus prayed for himself (1-5). Jesus recognized that his time on earth was coming to a close. Rather than praying for strength, endurance, or an escape plan, Jesus prayed that his life would accomplish God’s purpose and bring him glory. He glorified God with his life, now he asks that he is able to glorify God with his death as well.

Jesus prayed for his disciples (6-19). Knowing that his departure is imminent, Jesus is concerned about his disciples (6-11a). He prays that God will keep them in his name (11b). Jesus is praying that they will remain loyal to God. He also prays that they will experience unity (11b), have joy (13), and that they will be protected while they live in enemy territory (14-16). Jesus doesn’t ask God to remove them from the world. Rather, he prays that they will live distinctly in the world.

Jesus also prays that his disciples will live holy lives (17-19). His statement reveals that God’s Word is central to growth in holiness (17). He emphasizes that holiness is needed for the mission of reaching the world with the message of the gospel (18).

Jesus prayed for us (20-26). Jesus prayed that his future disciples, the ones who would believe in the message. That includes us today. He prays that we will experience unity (21-23). It doesn’t mean we always have to agree, but it does mean we have the same focus and purpose. This is important because it demonstrates to the world that Jesus was sent by God. Jesus closes his prayer by asking that we would desire heaven so that we would see his glory (24-26).

As we consider how to pray for other people, Jesus’ example gives us five specific things to pray for. We should pray that other believers will:

  • Accomplish God’s purpose and bring him glory
  • Remain loyal to Christ
  • Exhibit holiness
  • Demonstrate unity
  • Look forward to receiving glory in heaven

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 16, 2016. It is part of a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.