Take Heart…

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In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

  • John 16:33b (ESV)

In seasons of flourishing and unbridled joy, we tend toward forgetting God as if we didn’t need His sustaining grace and power every second that we take breath on His green earth.  But in seasons of pain and grief, the Christian is faced with the crushing reality that if our God is sovereign… Then He is sovereign over all the events and circumstances that have broken our hearts.  The God who we claim to have faith in has allowed and even ordained our suffering.  And that is where the wrestling match within our soul begins…

Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  And on and on it goes.  We cannot fathom why God would create a world with such evil and wickedness.  Why we should be assaulted by temptation after temptation.  Why our flesh should be so weak.  Why life should be so fleeting and fragile.  Why infants are slaughtered by the millions before seeing the light of day.  Why our loved ones are ripped from our lives in such horrific ways. Why we must helplessly watch so much suffering around us.  What is the point of it all?  How can all of that pain possibly bring glory to the Creator of all things?

When we find ourselves swept away by these torrents of doubts and despair, our only hope is to lay hold to firm foundations.  To cling to the rock of Ages that the waves have thrown us against.  To drop the anchor and ride out the storm.  And what is that foundation, that rock, and that anchor that steadies us in the midst of such tumult?  It is the most precious gift of all – the Word of the living God and the promises contained within.

And in that Word, Jesus said plainly to His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.”  If you have believed some “gospel” that told you that God would take away all your worries and your pain in this life and things will be all rainbows and butterflies for men of faith, then you have believed a “gospel” that the Bible knows nothing about.  You have believed in a false gospel and a false god.  For the God of the heavens and the earth declared that IN THIS LIFE YOU WILL HAVE TRIBULATION!  You will hurt!  You will be cast down!  You will be persecuted!  You will be tortured!  You will suffer in seemingly unbearable ways!  That is what the Son of God said.

That is a promise you can hang your hat on.  It is solid floor that you can drop to your knees on.  And it is an awful rock to be thrown against, but it is a firm one nonetheless.  It is real, it is true, and it is 100% verifiable in our lives.  In this world, we have had, are having, and will have tribulation.

But, that isn’t the whole of the statement, is it?  That isn’t the full story.  That is only the nighttime hours of the full day.  It is only the darkness before the sun rises.

For our Lord continued, “… But take heart.  I have overcome the world!”  I can’t imagine that sentence was uttered without some form of exclamation.  YOU WILL HURT.  YOU WILL SUFFER.  This life will be full of woes and sorrows.  BUT take heart, take courage, and be of good cheer!  For, I the Christ and Son of the living God have overcome the world.  To prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt, this same Son of Man would defeat death itself by suffering a crucifixion and burial before rising from his deathbed, casting aside his linen burial clothes, and folding the shroud that had covered his lifeless face.  The last great enemy of all of mankind – death – has been beaten by Jesus alone.  And so He says with all power and authority granted to Him by the Father, “I have overcome the world.”

So, as you wrestle with doubts and fears… As you question God and wallow in self-pity as we all do… As you wonder how it can possibly all be made right in the end… Hold tightly to the anchor that holds against the fiercest winds this world has to offer – the Word of God.  And that Word tells us that though it is nighttime now, morning is coming.  Though we have tribulations now, our redeemer lives and He has overcome the world and all those trials and sufferings.  Though we mourn, we will be comforted.  Though we cry, our tears will be wiped away by the hand of God.  Though we are cast down, we will never be destroyed.

Our anchor holds, it firmly holds, because Jesus of Nazareth has overcome the world.

 

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Give to Gain

Proverbs 3-9 10

 

The paradox of the tithe is that by giving, we might gain.  By losing, we might win.  And by humbling ourselves, we might be exalted.

The Lord promises that by returning the proper portion to Him first and foremost, we will never want.  It seems strange that by giving 10% or more of our total increase (or gross income) to the local church we will end up with more.  But that is the truth.  By giving cheerfully and unreservedly, our barns will always be filled with plenty and our vats bursting with wine.  The imagery could not be more clear.

Why then do SO many Christians fail to tithe or come anywhere close to giving the amount of 10% as prescribed in the Old Testament and reiterated by Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 23:23)?  The average household income in America is close to $60,000/year.  That should equate to hundreds of dollars given every month from most families in the church and thousands of dollars each year.  For some it will be less and for some it will be astronomically more.  And yet, that’s the model.  It’s basic, entry-level discipleship.  Just because there are far more important things in the Christian life, that doesn’t mean we should neglect the basics… Wasn’t that Jesus’ point?

Don’t assume I say this as if I am some sort of pious and accomplished giver who has always given my share to the church.  To my shame, I have failed miserably at it.  But I have found recently that by dedicating our family to giving at least the 10% tithe to the local church, we are gradually mortifying the greedy flesh that bubbles up within us so mightily.  The love of money will only swell within your heart the more you hoard and spend on yourself – I speak from experience.

Making a wonderful living is no sin.  Saving and spending is no sin.  But withholding the Lord’s portion is… It is not some display of New Covenant liberty.  It’s greed.  I’ve been there and I’m tempted everyday to go back.  Sure, I add up what that money could be spent on.  Sure I look at the new trucks and bigger houses and compound interest of the stock market and I realize how much faster I could reach certain financial goals if those tithe checks never left the checkbook.  But, the Lord has promised that if I am faithful to give to Him first, He will ensure that my barns are plenty full.  And I believe Him… Even when I don’t want to.

Perhaps our preachers and pastors are so largely silent on this issue because they don’t want to be seen as self-serving in teaching their congregations to give generously and having the discipline to give consistently.  But this lack of clarity is only harming the flock as people are misled into believing that their level of giving does not matter and that math and personal finance is somehow “un-spiritual”.  Let’s not dance around this issue any longer.  If you aren’t giving consistently and generously… You should be.  Remember it’s all His anyway.  We are just stewards of these material things for a little while.  Let’s be good and faithful ones.

It won’t pad my pockets if you do, and I won’t starve if you don’t.  But I know it will bless you immensely to obey the Biblical prescriptions of tithes and offerings.  So I hope that if you are giving – you keep it up (it matters)!  If you aren’t giving enough, it’s not too late to start!

If you are confused and concerned, check out some books by Randy Alcorn.  I’d start with “Managing God’s Money” for a short kick start.  God bless, friends!

Reflections on Loss and Truth

On February 23, 2017 we lost my mother. While the loss of a loved one is surely always difficult, the suddenness of Mama’s passing brought great grief upon my tight-knit family. One moment everything was fine and she was planning to go over to my house to help my wife with our newborn daughter, and the next my Dad was calling me to come to the hospital – unable to finish telling me what was wrong. The next four days brought suffering like I had never known before, the kind of pain and helplessness that no words can adequately describe. And then after days of fighting, praying, and waiting, they turned the machines off and Mama slipped away. Gone.

At least that’s the way it felt. She was gone. She is gone. And she is never coming back. It’s nearly impossible to type those words, let alone say them out loud. So we don’t talk much. Even when it’s just us men – her husband and three boys that share in that special grief – we don’t say much more than, “I miss her.” Not much more can be said… Can it? Those closest to us don’t ask, “How are you doing?” Because they know. Only strangers ask that – and so I lie and say “Ok” or “fine” or even “good.” But we aren’t good, fine, or even Ok. We are managing. We are doing what we know how to do – work, eat, sleep, repeat. We’ve all retreated into our domains so we can operate on autopilot. Sure, we smile and laugh. We even genuinely feel good for a moment here and a few minutes there. But then we remember – she’s gone. And the cloud returns.

But you know, even though that dark cloud hangs over our heads and the thick fog engulfs our lives, we do know the truth deep down. We know she isn’t gone forever. To be honest, that’s hard to believe and it only rarely makes us feel better. It still feels like she’s gone. But reality is not about feelings, it’s about the truth. And the truth is – even though we can’t fathom it – that Mama is very much alive. Her body is buried right behind her mother’s at Fellowship Church out in the country on Mud Road… But the truth is that her soul never died. Her very real spirit departed her body on February 23, 2017. She became “absent” from the body and “present” with the Lord in an instant on that day. It would be impossible to say exactly when it happened, but the truth tells us that it did indeed happen. She was gone – but she was not gone. She was dead – but she was alive.

But the devil creeps in and asks, “Did you really believe that?” Do you really believe that someone can be gone, but not gone forever? Do you really believe that your Mama is alive and well? Do you???

And the answer is simply – “Yes.” Yes, I believe that God created the universe from nothing. How else can you explain this incredible world we live in and marvel at? I believe that God breathed life into man in the very beginning. I believe that this was just the first physical manifestation of a plan devised in the mysteries of eternity past between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I believe that God chose a people before the foundation of the world to be HIS people. Why? Because He wanted to and it would bring Him even greater glory to do so. And that in this select group of very blessed individuals there was a very special name (at least to me) written in that book – Devra Proctor Walker (you see, God already knew that though she would be born a Proctor, she would marry Lindsay and take his name). Before He said, “Let there be light,” He said, “I choose her… I will shed my own blood for her. I will pour out my grace on her. Though she will be born into sin and iniquity, I will wash her as white as snow. I will replace her heart of stone with a heart of flesh. I will reveal myself to her in ordinary and extraordinary ways throughout her life. I will mold her continually into the image of my Son. I will bless her. And then on February 23, 2017 I will take her. I will bring her home to the place that I have prepared for her. And I will embrace her at last.”

Isn’t that just a religious crutch? Aren’t those just platitudes that I use to make myself feel better? Well, no… Seeing as how I still miss her terribly. You see, I’m still here. I’m not in Heaven with the Lord. I’m here with you, in this dark and sin cursed world. To be honest, most of the time I don’t feel that much better knowing all those wonderful things. But it doesn’t matter what I feel. It matters what’s true. And Jesus is true. He is the way, the truth, and the life. And He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” That’s true. How do I know that it’s true? Because the very same man that said that was hung a Roman cross. He was tortured and killed. He was buried in a tomb. And then, just as He had lain down His life, He took it up again. He rose from the dead – that’s resurrection. And then people saw Him. Not just one person, but hundreds of people saw the man who had died on the cross. They saw the holes in His hands, and some even felt the gash in His side. He even ate fish with them. So, no it isn’t just something I tell myself to feel better. It’s something I tell myself again and again because it’s true.

My Mama is with Jesus. And though I don’t understand all the nuts and bolts of it, I do know that even her body will be raised up one day to rejoin her soul. And we will all be called up together – those alive and those already ‘dead’ – with the Lord in the air. And on the day that trumpet sounds, I plan to find my Mama and embrace her new body with my new body. I can’t wait to meet her Mama Uldine, so I’ll probably hug her too. What a day that will be.

But for today, I’ll just hurt a little while longer. I’ll keep working tomorrow. I’ll try my best to be the man she raised me to be. I’ll love my wife. I’ll love my wild daughter and unborn son. I’ll the love my father and my brothers. I’ll love my family and my friends. I’ll love and serve the Lord’s church here on Earth. I’ll love the business my parents built and the customers who keep us going. But most of all, I’ll love the Lord who gave me my Mama and then took her from us. Blessed be His name.

 


 

This article is not intended to be an in-depth look at any particular theological topic or Scriptural text.  Rather, it is simply the ramblings and musings of heart and mind that is hurting.  One of the things that has helped me most over the past year has been reading about others who have suffered loss.  What they thought, what they felt, what they did.  All of it helped as I grappled and continue to grapple with my own ups and downs and all arounds.  That is why I am willing to publish something here that is less structured and planned – and more conversational and scattered.  The above post is just an example of how I wrestle with the loss of my Mother internally from day to day.  Unfortunately, there is still a dark cloud that seems to follow my family around even when other things seem to be going so well.  Our smiles fade a little faster and even the best feelings are mingled with tears.  I guess I just wanted to share my experience that the Gospel truths and promises of God can be held to fiercely without the benefit of lifted sorrows.  It is possible to grieve and continue to grieve even though you believe what God has said.  Sometimes, we have to just hurt for awhile.  It doesn’t mean that God is any less good, or that we don’t trust Him.  It simply means that we are hurting.  It’s Ok to hurt.  The truth helps, and oftentimes it is the only firm thing that we can stand on.  I can’t imagine life without the Word of God.

Church Calendar: Burden or Blessing?

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Am I the only person who gets cold sweats during the announcement portion of worship services?  Here we are, finally gathered together on the wonderful day of rest in the Lord’s house after scrambling around all week trying to get everything done… And the first thing we see in the bulletin is the 47 things that are happening at the church the upcoming week.  Oh boy….

Evening worship later that day.

Choir Practice on Monday night

Men’s Brotherhood on Tuesday night

Midweek Bible Study on Wednesday evening

Ladies Circle on Thursday night

Youth games on Friday night

Oh look… nothing on Saturday this time…

And back to Worship on Sunday

It’s exhausting just thinking about all the “opportunities” for church involvement and Christian service.  We barely feel like we have seen our families all together at all this past week, and now we are already fretting because next week isn’t looking too good either.  So what do we do?  We decide that we simply cannot make it to everything, and so we say that we will come to what we can when we can.  As the week goes by, we are always busy and so most of us end up not making it to much of anything.  Overtime, everything on the church calendar begins to blur together and we start to look at all of it as optional.  “We will make it whenever we can” becomes our motto.  The faithful attenders of everything begin to resent the those who don’t or can’t come to much, and the church begins to feel quite fragmented and cliquish.

Problem:

So what is the big problem with this?  Well, the problem is that gathering together with our church family for mutual encouragement and corporate worship is NOT optional (Hebrews 10:24,25).  It is a clear imperative in the Scriptures – we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.  However, that doesn’t mean that everything the church puts on the calendar is mandatory.  Some things are and some things are not essential for each and every church member.  But when that is not clearly communicated to everyone, then we naturally begin to assume one of two things:

  • Either we think everything is mandatory which burdens us greatly,
  • Or we begin to lump all the services and events together as being optional which will gradually kill church attendance.

This is a subtle problem that creates long term issues in our local congregations.  Instead of being the wonderful drink of fresh water that our gatherings together are meant to be, we begin to feel burdened by the calendar, guilty all the times we aren’t present, and over time we grow apathetic toward the local church.  Important spiritual things are relegated to the backseats of our busy lives.

Solution:

What can we do about it?  What is the solution?  I believe it is fairly simple – we must be very clear on our church calendars about what is “mandatory” and what is “optional”.  We must define those things that are simply opportunities that anyone can join in on, but everyone is not expected to be present for.  And then we must identify those things that are absolutely mandatory for all members to attend.

Really, it’s that easy.  Dave Ramsey says that for leaders and managers “to be unclear is to be unkind.”  That means that from a business standpoint it is absolutely imperative that employee’s understand what is expected of them.  If I don’t let my pharmacy technicians know up front  and in no uncertain terms that being at least 5 minutes early and abiding by the dress code is mandatory, then I am to blame when they show up late and look sloppy.

This is equally true in the church.  Members of the flock need to be clear on what is expected of them – crystal clear.  (This will make church discipline SO much more feasible).  To make this happen the expectations of membership must be impressed upon our minds through clear teaching and communication from the Elders of the church.  Optional opportunities should be presented as such so that the congregation does not feel overly burdened as those pile up on the calendar, BUT the absolutely vital church gatherings should also be presented as mandatory so that everyone knows that they are expected to present at those times.  Clarity and Biblical teaching on these things will go a long way toward solving the problem of burdensome church calendars and should free up our congregations to enjoy the great blessing of the church family with consistency and liberty.

Practical Considerations and Recommendations:

  • The Church Bulletin is a wonderful tool, as is technology (email, website, social media, etc.).  We just need to use those responsibly so that people have the clarity that they need about what is expected of them and what opportunities are available.  Perhaps use red lettering for mandatory church gatherings, and blue for optional.  Don’t be afraid to state plainly when members attendance is expected.
  • Printed instruction is not enough.  We all need training in how to read and use the Bulletin and the Calendar.  This must be taught by the leadership of the church.  Without leadership, the flock will wander and scatter and the church will be rendered ineffective.
  • Some of you may be wandering what is optional and what is mandatory.  Each church will have to decide this for themselves.  It is important to gather regularly for worship and to support one another, however it is also important to allow enough free time for our people to be out in the world as salt and light!  We need to be together regularly as a church family, but we also need to have ample time to tend to our own individual families and to be in the work place working hard – all of that is noble and is true spiritual worship according to the Bible.  However, I can certainly give you my thoughts on what should be mandatory and optional:
    • Absolutely MANDATORY (every member is to be present if at all possible – you skip other things in your life to come to these gatherings): Corporate Worship (including evening services if your church has those), Communion/Lord’s Supper, Church Conferences or important meetings where voting occurs.
    • Optional but strongly encouraged: Prayer Meetings, Church sanctioned small group Bible Studies (with Elder approved curriculum), Special events for fellowship (dinner on the grounds, fall festival, etc.)
    • Optional:  Support groups, choir, women’s activity groups, men’s activity groups, service organizations, etc.

May God bless our churches!

Youth Group – Not in the Bible

I normally like to focus on what is in the Bible.  I love to look at a passage of Scripture and dig in – striving to understand it better.  But after last night, I feel a burden to write on something that is not in Bible.  Let me explain…

Last night, my wife, daughter, and I attended the evening worship service at our church.  Even with little Emerson squirming, it was a blessing to be there to pray, sing, and listen to the preaching of God’s Word.  But something was missing.  I didn’t notice until after we left, but I am almost positive that we were the only people in the congregation under the age of 50.  Why?  Because our church has adopted a “division of worship” plan similar to so many of the churches in our day.  We have a separate service for the young people.  We segregate our congregation on Sunday evenings by age.  The adults gather in the sanctuary for prayer, hymns, and a sermon, and the young people gather in the fellowship hall to sing more contemporary songs and have various lessons taught by some of the younger adults who are involved with the youth program.  In affect we have two churches on Sunday nights.  We don’t speak, we don’t see each other, and the only way I know that the youth are in the building is because I see more vehicles parked in front of the fellowship hall.

Perhaps something similar goes on in your church.  I simply want to make the observation that I have found absolutely no mention of such segregation in the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ.  We could turn to Scriptures dealing with youth groups and youth worship services for guidance in this area… Except there is a problem – The Bible has NOTHING to say about young people worshiping apart from the adult congregation.  There is no doubt that the people who have devised these youth focused services and ministry efforts have the best of intentions the majority of the time… But that doesn’t change the fact that the dissection of the church on the basis of age is unbiblical.  That ought to alarm us when we consider so much of what we are doing in our churches today is based upon this type of model.

Titus chapter 2 offers us some very helpful guidance as to how the older and the younger are to interact with one another within the church.

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.  Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

  • Titus 2:2-5 (ESV)

Basically, Paul is clear that the older folks in our families and churches are to serve as godly examples to our young people.  And nowhere is this more important than in the context of our local congregations and especially our corporate worship services.  Children, teenagers, and even young adults need to see their faithful parents and other adults engaged in reverent worship before God.  They need to have that parental presence that is able to explain the things that they do not understand in the service and the sermon.  They need to be “in church” with everyone else.

On the other hand, the older generation of Christians needs the presence of the young people.  They need those vessels to pour into and to support.  They need the energy and vibrancy of youth to strengthen and encourage their own souls.  The need the strength and stamina of those younger than they are to carry on the more physical works of ministry within the church and community.  How beautiful is the body of Christ when it is gathered together in all its diversity to worship God and exercise its varied gifts to His glory.  There are rich differences between young and old, and those differences are a part of what help the body to function most effectively (I Corinthians 12).  When young and old are separated for worship and for ministry, everyone suffers for it.  The body is divided, disjointed, and uncoordinated.

The simple fact is that “Youth Worship” is a well-meaning scheme of man, not a design of God.  When we pursue efforts like this, we just reveal that we do not truly trust the prescriptions of God in His Word.  We show that we think we have a better way.  I will close with my favorite exhortation to the local church regarding our responsibilities one to another (which I had the pleasure of preaching on not long ago):

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

  • Hebrews 10:24,25

May the Lord help us to help each other through counter-cultural and inter-generational unity and selflessness in our churches!


 

Voddie Baucham speaks with extreme candor and clarity on this problem in our churches today.  Here is an interview with Pastor Baucham where he poses some difficult questions and points out the inconsistencies with current models of youth ministry.

 

As a postscript, I would like to add that I do not believe that I “have it all figured out” or that I know the absolute best way to go about ministering to all the different people in our local churches.  My wife was able to point out inconsistencies in my own words and actions regarding this issue and many others with relative ease.  My desire is only that we would take a step back and think… That we would ultimately trace our steps back all the way until we get to the explicit teachings of the Bible regarding worship, church life, and organization and then rebuild our own church systems from there.  We have to constantly combat our preconceived notions and prejudices and have an open mind when we come to the Word of God.

By all means comment and share your thoughts with me!  I am certain that I can learn much from all of you.

Sermon: “Marvelous Faith”

This past Sunday, we had the opportunity to worship with the folks down at Lanes PBC in Stilson, Georgia.  It is always a joy to visit and fellowship with these gracious people.

For the sermon I tried to deal with the story of Jesus healing the Centurion’s servant from Luke chapter 7.  The thing that originally grabbed my attention was that this man’s faith amazed the Lord, and the second thing that captivated me was that the Centurion’s faith was in the WORD of the Lord.  Then, the more I re-read and studied this narrative, the more I noticed the undeniable fruits of faith born out in his life.  It is a beautiful picture of the fullness of true and active belief.

May God add His blessing and continue to use the preaching of His Word to accomplish His purposes of redemption in this world.