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Category Archives: Personal growth

Why do I need to attend church?

I am puzzled by those who say they have no interest and desire to be part of a local church. I heard that sentiment again most recently from some students in one of the online classes I teach. To be honest, the statement and the attitude behind it bothers me.

I freely admit that I am biased when it comes to the topic. I grew up in the church. I am a pastor and have devoted my life and career to the ministry of the church. I have a personal stake and investment in this issue.

However, the value of the local church is not merely based on my personal opinion and feelings alone. You can trace the importance of the church throughout the pages of the New Testament.

  • Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
  • The book of Acts describes the beginnings of the church.
  • The book of Acts describes the pattern and practice of the church (Acts 2:42-47).
  • The church in Antioch led the way in reaching the world with the gospel (Acts 13:1-4).
  • The apostle Paul planted churches as part of his missionary strategy (Acts 13-14).
  • Paul wrote letters to churches to help strengthen and establish them.
  • Elders were given the task of leading and shepherding churches (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-3).
  • Jesus addressed the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.
  • The writer of Hebrews specifically warned his readers not to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Some might say that they only need a small group. After all, they reason, Jesus said that when two or three are gathered together, he is in their midst (Matthew 18:20). While that promise is true, the context of the passage (Matthew 18:15-20) is about church discipline and judgment, not about small group fellowship.

Don’t buy into the lie of the enemy that you can live the Christian life by yourself. Don’t move through life as an orphan cut off from the family of God. Find a local church where you can learn, grow, and serve. Ask God to change your perspective about the value and importance of being part of a local church.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2020 in Acts, Church, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Be mature

Back in the dark ages when I was a freshman at Biola College, Dr. Curtis Mitchell addressed his Old Testament Survey class. He encouraged us, “Be mature about the rules of Biola.” At that time, all the students had to subscribe to “The Pledge,” five things that Biola students could not participate in while a student at the school.

I would echo Dr. Mitchell’s words by saying, Be mature about the rules of COVID-19. If required, wear a facemask, and wear it properly over your nose and mouth, not just over your chin or only covering your mouth. Wait patiently outside a store until you can enter. Follow the directional arrows and go with the flow. Practice social distancing. Register for church attendance if you are allowed to attend.

Be mature by accepting the rules and guidelines with good grace. The apostle Paul wrote, “give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Stop complaining about wearing facemasks, school closures, directional arrows, and oft-repeated words that you have grown tired of. Model maturity, contentment, and peacefulness to those around you.

Be mature about what God is doing in your life. The apostle James wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Stop chafing against what you cannot control. Through your mindset, demonstrate that you have confidence in God’s plan and purpose.

Be mature about how God uses trials to help us grow up. John 15:1-11 describes how God uses pruning and shaping to move us from no fruit to fruit to more fruit to much fruit. James 1:2-12 and Romans 5:3-5 explain how God uses trials to produce proven, mature character in our lives. Give God permission to use this pandemic to help shape your character and make you more effective for his service.

Be mature.

 

Worshipping without Masks

Although First Central Bible Church has reopened, some people have not returned because they don’t want to wear a mask to church. Having twice worn a mask for eight hours during a recent flight from Boston to Los Angeles as well as on the return trip, I can understand and empathize with their reluctance.

Worship was never designed to be done while wearing a mask. Worship is best done when we are face to face with our Savior.

As the Bible opens, Adam and Eve were in perfect fellowship with their Creator. Genesis 2:25 says that Adam and Eve were “naked and unashamed.” While that certainly describes their physical relationship with each other, I think it aptly describes their relationship with God. It is especially true since Genesis 3:8 explains that they hid from God’s presence after they disobeyed his command and sin entered their lives.

The Bible closes with the statement in Revelation 22:4 that in heaven, our broken relationship with God will be restored. We will see his face, and his name will be on our foreheads.

While we may need to wear a mask to protect against COVID-19, we don’t have to wear a mask when we enter God’s presence. Like Moses, we can speak with God face to face (Exodus 33:11). Hebrews 4:16 tells us that because Jesus removed our sin and cleansed our hearts, we can come into God’s presence with confidence, knowing that we will receive the grace and help we need.

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Take off your mask and enter God’s presence to worship him today.

 
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Diligence

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2020 in Personal growth, Quotes, Tim Challies

 

Parse your words

It seems that our society has become overly sensitive. You have to think twice and parse your words three times before telling a joke, making a comment, tweeting a response, posting a blog, or wearing a T-Shirt. One false word can get you hauled into court, flamed on social media, or bring a firestorm of disapproval down on your head. You have to be oh so careful and cautious about what you say and what you put in print.

And yet, isn’t that what Scripture calls the Christ follower to be and to do. In Ephesians 4:25-32, the apostle Paul wrote about the nature of relationships. In verses 29-30 in particular, he addressed the subject of our words.

Ephesians 4:29–30 – 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Rather than speaking thoughtlessly and flippantly, we are to consider how our words will impact those who listen to and/or read what we say. We are to make sure we don’t offer worthless, unwholesome, or speech that corrupts people. Instead, we are to speak words that build up and encourage. We are to speak words of grace.

We might rationalize and say, “It’s no big deal. I was only joking.” However, Paul goes on to say that what we say and how we say it can bring grief to the Holy Spirit. Our words matter because they can displease God.

Rather than speak flippantly, rather than talk off the top of our heads or the tip of our tongue, we should follow the advice of the psalmist and post a guard in front of our lips to ensure that no offending word or speech escapes our mouth.

Psalm 39:1 – I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.”

Psalm 141:3 – Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

When I worked in a steel fabricating shop during college, the dictum was drilled into my head, “Measure twice, cut once.” Perhaps we need the same advice about our words. “Think twice, speak once.” Make sure your words, posts, blogs, tweets, and T-Shirts are filled with grace.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2020 in Culture, Personal growth, Psalms, Scripture

 

Making decisions about gray areas

This post was originally published in 2009. I was reminded of it during a Bible study I participated in two weeks ago. I hope you find it helpful.

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During my days at Biola University (1973-77), one of my professors was Dr. Curtis Mitchell of the Bible Department. Loved his classes, hated his tests.

One of the more helpful lectures I remember from Dr. Mitchell was on how to deal with gray areas. He gave us a list of six questions to ask ourselves:

  • Does the Bible speak to the issue? If so, follow the instructions. If it is a black and white issue and Scripture is clear about what to do or not to do, then obey the commands of Scriptures.

However, life is not always black and white. Scripture does not always speak to every issue. Where Scripture seems to be silent about a seemingly gray area, ask the following questions:

  • Will it help me? 1 Corinthians 6:12a – “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful.”
  • Will it build up the body of Christ? 1 Corinthians 10:23b – “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
  • Is it addicting? 1 Corinthians 6:12b – “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.
  • Will it cause others to stumble? 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 – “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
  • Does it glorify God? 1 Corinthians 10:31 – “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

I developed my own flow chart to use as a grid when dealing with issues of this nature. Here it is as both a jpeg and pdf file.

 

Of Racism, Reconciliation, and Repentance

In the opening chapters of the Bible, we read that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created in the image of God. Even after sin entered the world and God judged the wickedness of humanity through the flood, humankind still bore the image of God.

In the closing chapters of the Bible, we read that heaven will be populated with people from every tribe, tongue, language, and nation. Every race, social class, gender, and nationality will gather to give praise and glory to God the Father.

In between the opening and closing chapters of the Bible, we read that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Jesus came to give life and to give it abundantly. Christ followers are given the command to go into all the world to preach the gospel. We are to make disciples of every nation.

If God’s plan includes people from every race, language, and people group, then racism, injustice, rioting, looting, murder, greed, and inequality are evils designed by our enemy to devalue and destroy human life. These sins are evils that rob individuals and societies of hope. They divide cultures and races and set them against each other and their creator.

Like the prophets Daniel and Nehemiah, Christ followers should confess the sins of our nation. We should mourn injustice and the loss of human dignity. We should grieve for the loss of hope, peace, and purpose. We should repent of our pride, arrogance, and indifference.

As Christ followers, we should pray for peace. We should work for justice. We should strive for reconciliation. But we cannot stop there. At the same time, we must boldly proclaim the gospel. It is only through salvation in Jesus Christ that our world can change. It is only through a personal relationship with Jesus that lost people will regain hope and peace. The Great Commission calls us to make disciples. We can change the world one heart at a time.

Pray for peace and reconciliation. Share the message of hope and grace.

 

It’s just not the same!

I remember back in the day when worship was so much better. We could sing and praise as we felt led. Everyone was welcome at church. We could enjoy rich, close fellowship. We could share coffee and donuts and talk about our lives around the table. We expressed our compassion by putting an arm around someone’s shoulder as they poured out their heart. Our children loved going to Sunday School and learning Bible stories from their teachers. We still have the crafts and lesson papers they brought home. Those were the good old days, B.C. (Before Coronavirus).

Now, we have to wear a mask when we go to church and we are required to sit six feet away from the next person. We have to plan ahead and register our attendance and hope there is still room for us. We have to rely on Zoom conversations instead of being close and present. We cannot share food and conversation before or after the worship service. There are no children’s programs because of all the restrictions and guidelines. Worship was so much better when we could pass the offering plate instead of putting it in a box by the door.

It’s just not the same. Worship was so much better before all this happened!

The complaints we feel today and the longing for yesterday is not new to this generation. Almost 2,500 years ago, a group of people expressed a similar anguish and longing for the past. The Jewish people built the first temple and dedicated it under the leadership of King Solomon. 400+ years later, the nation was carried off into exile and the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. After 70 years of exile, God allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. When the foundation was laid for the second temple, many of those who had worshipped in the first temple wept (Ezra 3:12).

It is very easy to fall into the comparison trap and give into the idolatry of nostalgia. On the one hand, we should grieve for what we have lost. On the other hand, we should give thanks that God is still in control. On the one hand, we should acknowledge that church and worship have to be done in a different manner than before. On the other hand, we can rejoice that God’s mercy is new every morning. On the one hand, we should mourn that life has changed and things are different. On the other hand, we can give thanks that we have a message of hope that we can share with the world. On the one hand, we can complain that we have to make one more change. On the other hand, we can rejoice that God is still in the business of changing hearts and lives.

Yes, the Coronavirus has changed how we do church and how we worship. But we still have much to praise God for.

We can weep or we can rejoice. Which will you do today?

 
 

Developing a Heart for God

If you were the General Manager for your favorite professional sports team, how would you choose whom to draft or sign as a free agent to fill out your roster? In this election season, how do you determine whom to vote for? If you were going to hire someone for your company, what criteria would you use to identify the right person?

In each of these areas, do you rely on the person’s resume? Do you focus on their track record of past achievements? Or do you go below the surface in order to look deeper?

When God looks for a man or woman to use in his plan, he looks at their heart. 2 Chronicles 16:9 states, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely his.”

We are beginning a new sermon series studying the life of David, the man who was known for having a whole heart for God.

In 1 Samuel 8:1-9, we discover the historical setting of what David stepped in to. Samuel was old and his sons whom he had appointed as judges did not follow God. As a result, the nation of Israel wanted a king so they could be like the surrounding nations. Not only did they reject Samuel’s leadership, but the nation of Israel rejected God’s leadership.

In the first go round of choosing a king, the people chose Saul based on his outward characteristics (1 Samuel 9-10). When that didn’t turn out well, God chose the second king based on the character of his heart (1 Samuel 13:14). In the contrast between Saul and David, we learn that God chooses nobodies and turns them into somebodies.

Many times, we dismiss David and say we could never be like him. After all, we surmise, David had a low-pressure job as a shepherd. He had time to meditate. And he was able to express himself in music and poetry. If I had David’s time and gifts, I could have a heart for God, we exclaim.

However, we lose sight of the fact that David came from a dysfunctional family and worked for an angry, crazy, murderous employer. He spent a great deal of time on the run as a fugitive, surrounded by vengeful people who were the dregs of society.

The point is, if we want to have a heart for God, we must make some intentional choices. First off, we cannot hold anything back. Remember that God seeks people whose heart is “completely his” (2 Chronicles 16:9). We cannot have any locked closets or keep secrets from God. Secondly, we must confess our sins as soon as we become aware of them (2 Samuel 12:13).

Thirdly, we must make friends with solitude. We need to get up early, turn off the radio, TV, computer, internet, cell phone, and remove all the distractions. We need to make time to not only read the Bible, but also to reflect on what it is saying to us and write our thoughts down in a journal. We must make the time to pray and listen for God.

Fourthly, we need to open our eyes and see where God is at work around us. David provides an excellent model of this practice. He praises God for creation (Psalm 8, 19, 29, 65), his provision and care (Psalm 23), his protection and shelter (Psalm 62), and his amazing creation of human life (Psalm 139).

Lastly, we need to surround ourselves with the right kind of people who will influence us in the right direction. We need a Jonathan, a friend to encourage us (1 Samuel 23:16). We need some mighty men who will help us accomplish our goals (2 Samuel 23:8-39). We need someone like Hushai the Archite who will watch our back and protect us from attack (2 Samuel 15:32-37; 17:1-23). We need an Abigail who will prevent us from doing something rash or foolish that we will regret (1 Samuel 25:18-31). We need a Nathan who will speak the truth to us (2 Samuel 12:1-15).

God is looking for men and women who have a heart that is solely devoted to him. May we make the choice to become that kind of person.

This is the synopsis of a message preached to First Central Bible Church on May 24, 2020. It is the opening sermon in a series on the life of David. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Stuck in a season of advent

We generally associate the term, advent, with the month between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas. During the season of Advent, we anticipate the arrival of Christ and we prepare our hearts and lives to celebrate his birth. Our sense of joy increases and builds to a climax as we get closer to Christmas Day.

There is a sense in which the church is stuck in a season of advent right now. During the COVID-19 crisis, churches are not allowed to meet or gather together. The longer the mandate for social distancing lingers, the greater the sense of anticipation builds for when we can come back together. We long for the day of deliverance and a time of corporate celebration.

As we wait for the day of our release, we should take the opportunity to prepare our hearts and lives. We should search the Scriptures to learn more about Jesus. We should reexamine our priorities and schedules to make room for him. We should search our hearts and confess our sins so we can have a closer relationship with him. We should look forward to the day when we can celebrate Christ with other believers and Christ followers.