How to Tap Into God’s Secret Wisdom

October 12, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

By Dan Delzell | 

      Perhaps you consider yourself to be a wise person, and maybe your family and friends would agree with your assessment. But are you wise in the things of God? That is to say, have you tapped into God’s “secret wisdom”?
You see, the “wisdom of the world” (1 Cor. 1:20) operates on a different trajectory than the secret wisdom of God. The apostle Paul spoke of this heavenly wisdom when he wrote: “We speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” (1 Cor. 2:6,7)

God’s secret wisdom is given to those who are humble in heart, and willing to admit they need the Lord’s grace and guidance. God’s secret wisdom is not given to the proud. “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.” (1 Cor. 1:27-29)

So are you a boastful person? Do you tend to seek glory for yourself, or is your life devoted to bringing glory to God? “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:31) Man by nature is good at bragging about himself and his accomplishments. But this obsession with self gets replaced with God’s secret wisdom once a person bows the knee to the Lord and admits, “I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. Cleanse me Jesus of my sin.” Such a confession, when made sincerely, destroys pride and replaces it with humility before God and man. And it led Paul to honestly proclaim, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 6:14)

How can a person be emptied of pride and filled with the Holy Spirit? Such a drastic change requires the miracle of conversion. Through repentance and faith in Christ, spiritual conversion turns a person into “a new creation.” (Gal. 6:15) Saved people think differently than lost people. Prior to conversion, we lived according to our natural instincts. But the moment we received Christ as Savior, (John 1:12) we received a new nature. And this new nature contains the secret wisdom of God.

The apostle John described believers this way: “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.” (1 John 2:20) In other words, you now possess God’s secret wisdom, whereas prior to your conversion you only understood “the wisdom of the world.” (1 Cor. 1:20) But that old way of thinking and living is doomed to destruction. It cannot please God because it does not rely upon Jesus. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)

“So how do I get faith?” Well, don’t think of it merely as needing to “get faith.” Instead, consider your need for Christ. Consider your sin as well as the cross where Jesus died to pay for your transgressions. When you embrace the truth about your sin and your Savior, you enter the realm of God’s secret wisdom. It’s on a different wavelength than the wisdom of the world. And this is one reason “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) The cross doesn’t make sense until you receive Christ as Savior and believe the Gospel. (John 3:16)

There is a “portal” of sorts one must walk through in order to possess God’s secret wisdom. It brings your soul into vital contact with the living Lord of the universe. In The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis created a story involving four children walking through a wardrobe in an English country house. It serves as the portal into a mysterious and wonderful land called “Narnia.” In the real world, you enter a place of grace “in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6) the moment you walk by faith through the Gospel portal. “Faith comes from hearing the message.” (Rom. 10:17) And in this new realm, God’s secret wisdom is no longer a mystery to you.

Lord Jesus, I am a sinner and I cannot remove the stain of sin from my soul. But I believe you died on the cross to pay for my sins. Wash away my sins with the blood you shed for me. Be the Lord of my life and the Savior of my soul. Guide me, lead me, and fill me with the Holy Spirit. Empower me as your disciple until the day I enter paradise where I will live with you forever. Thank you Jesus for enduring the intense agony and suffering of crucifixion in order to redeem my soul for eternity. Amen.

One of the Most Destructive Statements a Church Member Can Make

October 12, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

By Thom S. Rainer | 

      If you have served in church leadership for several years, you have likely heard this statement:
“You know who pays the bills at the church.”

The statement is one of the most insidious, destructive, and ungodly statements a member can make. It says much about the attitude of the member and the group he or she represents. There is nothing good that can come from this statement. Just look at some of the implications of this attitude:

1. It is an attitude of selfishness. The giver with this attitude looks at his or her gifts to the church with a closed fist instead of an open hand. Money is given conditionally, not sacrificially or unconditionally: “It’s my money, not God’s money.”

2. It is an attitude of entitlement. Gifts to the church are more like country club dues. “Since I pay my money, I get my perks and benefits. I get things my way. And if I don’t get things my way, you just watch me stop paying my dues.”

3. It is an attitude of divisiveness. Those who express such statements are already creating schisms in the church. The big givers are in one group, and the lesser givers are in another. It’s us versus them. “Those other people don’t deserve an opinion, because we pay more than they do.”

4. It is an attitude of bullying. The statement is always a threat. It is usually directed at the pastor or some other leader in the church. “You do things my way or just watch what I’ll do to you.” It’s intimidation and bullying at its worst.

5. It is an attitude of superiority. The person who makes this statement is the Pharisee who lets the world know how “godly” he or she is. “Look at how much I give. I must be blessed by God. And this church is blessed by me. You wouldn’t want me to withhold my blessings, would you?”

6. It is an attitude of ungodliness. The Enemy loves to hear such statements. When he hears church members say they pay the bills, he knows they are focused on themselves and not Christ. He knows they are divisive instead of instruments of unity. The Enemy knows he’s winning when these contemptible words flow from the mouths of church members.

But there is absolutely no excuse for making threats with the money you and others have given to the church. Such an attitude gives no glory to God.

It is one of the most destructive statements a church member can make. It is spoken too often in too many churches. And, if the attitude is allowed to continue, it becomes a cancer that will kill and destroy.

 

6 Negative Consequences of Church Members With an Entitlement Mentality

October 3, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

Thom S. Rainer | 

“Once one realizes they are entitled to nothing, they become grateful for everything.”

Art Rainer

My premise was simple and basic. I went to Scripture to delineate the characteristics of a healthy church member. The responses to the book and the blog post gave me an acute awareness of the dearth of healthy church members in many churches. The opposite of a healthy church member is an entitled church member. He or she sees the church as an organization that doles out perks and benefits somewhat like a country club. The church, therefore, exists for the members rather than the members serving sacrificially as the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12).

  1. More conflicts and church fights. When church members have an entitlement mentality, they get angry when they don’t get their way. It thus leads to conflict and even church fights.
  2. Pastor and staff perceived to be hired hands. Forget the idea of the pastor/teacher equipping the saints to do the work of ministry. Entitled members view them to be workers paid to all or most of the ministry. “After all, that’s what we pay them for.”
  3. Keeps the focus off the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.Entitlement is self-focused. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment are other-focused.
  4. Creates unhealthy alliances. Entitled church members often form alliances with other church members of similar unhealthy mindsets. They are called cliques and power groups. They can be members of an extended family, or they can be a diverse group of members simply determined to get their own way.
  5. Turns giving into dues. The money given to the church is not done so with open hands. It has strings attached, and those strings will jerk the money back the moment entitled church members do not get their way. (See my earlier post on giving versus dues.)
  6. Turns the church facility into a shrine. When members insist on getting their way, the church facility becomes an object of their own desires. The fight could be over a color of paint or carpet, a parlor or bride’s room, chairs versus pews, or the pulpit itself. The sad possibilities are endless.

I have a burning passion to see churches revitalized. In many ways, it’s really about the revitalization of the hearts of church members. And those hearts must transform from me-centeredness and conditional to other-focused and unconditional.

Then, and only then, will our churches experience true revitalization.

Tips for More Regular Bible Reading

October 3, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

Chris Bolinger | 

 

My first article gave reasons why Christians should read the Bible at least four days each week. My second article explained why regular Bible reading is challenging for many. Here’s a summary:

  • We have become conditioned to read in bursts. The Bible was not written to be read that way.
  • The Bible can be challenging to read, even for avid readers who understand the times and cultures in which the Bible was written.
  • Parts of the Bible can be boring; many readers get bogged down in those parts.
  • The most popular version of the Bible, the King James Version, uses archaic terms that make some passages very difficult to understand.
  • Familiar parts of the Bible can get stale, leading us to zone out when we encounter them.

A few years ago, I was in the middle of Christian Leadership Concepts (CLC), a challenging, two-year program for small groups of men who want to go deeper in their faith. CLC stresses the importance of having a daily quiet time with God, which was something that I never had done. Here are three things that I learned that should help you in your quest for more regular time in God’s Word.

1. Don’t Go It Alone.

CLC wasn’t the first organization to challenge me to spend time in the Bible every day. Just about every church I had attended recommended a daily quiet time. I got the same recommendation at Christian conferences, at my kids’ youth events, and in many Christian books that I read. But I never stayed consistent until I was in a CLC group. That’s because CLC not only issued the challenge but surrounded me with a group of guys who helped me meet the challenge.

You don’t need a big team. But, if you’re like me, then you need at least one other person to partner with you in the venture – and adventure – of reading God’s Word regularly. Having one or more partners gives you benefits such as these:

  • Interaction: Hearing ideas from others, and putting your thoughts into words, can help everyone in the group understand challenging passages and apply more of God’s Word to your daily lives.
  • Accountability: You and your teammates can help each other stay on track with regular time in the Bible.
  • Support: Good teammates care about more than just accomplishing a goal. They care about each member of the team and will commit to providing ongoing, prayerful support.

2. Try a Bible Reading Plan.

If you want to embark on the challenge of reading the New Testament or the entire Bible, then you should get a reading plan. There are plenty of free ones. Here are some examples from Ligonier Ministries:

  • 5-day Bible plan: Bible in a year, with readings five days a week
  • 52-week Bible plan: Bible in a year, with each day of the week focused on a different genre: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, and Gospels.
  • Four-a-day Bible plan: Bible in a year, with four readings a day, starting in Genesis, Psalms, Matthew, and Acts
  • Books-of-the-month Bible plan: Bible in a year, completing specified books each month
  • Chapter-a-day Bible plan: Bible in three years, one chapter per day
  • 5x5x5 NT plan: Read through the New Testament in a year, reading Monday to Friday.

A reading plan provides structure, goals, and milestones, which help you get on track and stay on track with reading the New Testament or the entire Bible. What a reading plan doesn’t provide, however, is insight into what you are reading. If you want such insight, then check out the Bible Project page on YouTube. For every book of the Bible, the page provides one or more Read Scripture videos. Each is a short animated film that provides an overview of the book (or a portion of it) with invaluable information on the author, the context in which he wrote, the structure of the book, and its theme(s), key elements, and highlights.

3. Find a Devotional That Works for You.

Some people prefer to contemplate Bible passages on their own, while others prefer to get insight from someone else. If you fall into the latter camp – and you don’t have a Bible reading team or don’t talk to your teammates very often – then a devotional may be a good option for you. Each entry in a typical devotional is a Bible verse or passage and the author’s thoughts on that verse or passage. Those thoughts are designed to help you understand the verse or passage and apply it to your life.

Most devotionals are available for purchase, but a growing number are free. A free devotional may be hosted on a website, distributed via email, or made available via a smartphone app.

I wanted a devotional that would help me get into a rhythm of drawing daily strength from the Bible. After searching in vain for months, I decided to write one. The result is Daily Strength for Men, which will be available in early November. Samples are available on DailyStrengthForMen.com.

My prayer is that, whatever resources you use, you’ll get deeper into God’s Word and grow closer to God, the source of our strength.

Christian Hoarding? Do We Own Stuff? Or Does Stuff Own Us?

September 27, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

By Op-Ed Contributors Eric Metaxas And Stan Guthrie | 

Hoarding isn’t just a grotesque curiosity for TV voyeurs. It’s a real and present danger for Christ’s Church.

C.S. Lewis once said, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” In today’s prosperous America, we’ve made hoarding just as easy, and the danger to our souls is just as real.

A new article in The Atlantic by Alana Semuels lays out the grim details. In 2017, Americans spent $240 billion on jewelry, watches, books, luggage, telephones, and related communication equipment—twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars as in 2002. During the same time, the population grew only 13 percent. Spending on personal care products also doubled.

To hold all this stuff, we’re supersizing our houses and storage facilities. Last year, the average size of a single family home in the U.S. was 2,426 square feet—a 23 percent increase from 20 years ago. Meanwhile, two decades ago there were 26,000 self-storage units around the country. Today there are 52,000 of them!

All this acquisitiveness, Semuels says, is because online retailers such as Amazon have made buying stuff so easy, and because the global economy has made stuff so cheap. I’m sure that’s partly true, but I think the cause is deeper.

And what about the harm of all this sludge to our souls? I’m uncomfortably reminded of Jesus’ parable of the rich fool in Luke 12. This man had received an abundant harvest, and what did he do? He built bigger barns to store it all and said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But what did God say to him? “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” The man couldn’t even enjoy all his earthly treasures.

And just so we wouldn’t miss the point, Jesus administered the sobering coup de grâce: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” The problem wasn’t that the man was rich—many of the Lord’s choicest saints have been abundantly blessed with the world’s goods. It wasn’t that he had stuff, but that his stuff had him, and that he wasn’t rich toward God.

Are we, who have been blessed far more abundantly than most of God’s servants around the world, as rich toward God as we need to be? I cannot tell you an amount that you must share if you don’t want to be a Christian hoarder—that’s between you, the Lord, and perhaps a wise Christian friend or financial adviser. What I can tell you is that, if our giving doesn’t hurt at least a little bit, if it doesn’t curb our seemingly insatiable urge to hoard, then it probably isn’t enough.

And in this time of material abundance, a lot of worthy churches and ministries face a chronic shortage of funds. Why is that? According to nonprofitsource.com, Christians today give only 2.5 percent of their income; during the Great Depression, it was 3.3 percent. The average giving by adults who attend Protestant churches in America is about $17 a week, and 37 percent of regular church attendees and evangelicals don’t give any money to church.

There are all kinds of Christians in this world, but the category “Christian hoarders” doesn’t exist in God’s economy. Let’s check our hearts, and our wallets, and set aside more treasure in heaven.

When Things Seem Impossible, Remember His Faithfulness

September 27, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

By Jentezen Franklin | 

 

And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who spoke to David, saying, “You shall not come in here; but the blind and the lame will repel you,” thinking, “David cannot come in here.” - 2 Samuel 5:6

Isn’t it amazing that God can move on our behalf, and in a moment of crisis, come through with just the right answer or provision for that hour? And then, isn’t it even more amazing when He does it again, and again, and again? But as remarkable as this is, I find it even more amazing that when we go through the next major crisis we suffer from amnesia and immediately forget all the times He has come through for us.

In this passage of scripture, we come across David, a man with inner conflict. He knew that he and his men were supposed to take the city of Jerusalem. It was not only their right; it was an order straight from the throne of God. The problem was, to any trained or untrained eye, it was impenetrable. It looked impossible. Ever been there?

Satan is the great deceiver, and if he can create just enough doubt, then he can set up a stronghold that keeps us from the high place that God has called us to. So when David’s men were divided in their mind, they could not conquer the city.

And so it is with us. We can know that we know that God is calling us to the next place, the next step in our journey. Yet, rather then remembering God’s legacy of faithfulness in our past, we choose to see our physical limitations and surface circumstances through human eyes using human logic. We turn back in discouragement, because we know that we know we are settling for less than God’s best.

When David and his men came together, they realized they had a right to that city. David could have said, “I’ve come so far; I ought to be happy, I ought to be satisfied, I ought to stay in this comfort zone. I don’t have to fight anymore battles.” But something in him moved, because he knew there was a place greater than where he was. There was to be a city of David.

David remembered when he went out and slew Goliath and cut his head off with his own sword. He remembered picking up the head of that giant, dripping with blood, and he taking it not just back to his tent, but back to the city of Jerusalem (1 Samuel 17). Remembering this caused him to consider who He was and to remember that God would always be with him.

You have a legacy—the DNA of tried and tested faith. And God is calling you to do even greater things than you did before, maybe in a different field, in a different way, or a different place, but you’re going higher not lower. You need to believe that as you go up, the strongholds are coming down in Jesus’ name. Never trust your eyes in matters of faith. And rather than count the cost, instead remember and consider the many times God has come through, even when it seemed impossible.

 

Pastor Jentezen Franklin is the Senior Pastor of Free Chapel, a multi campus church. Each week his television program Kingdom Connection is broadcast on major networks all over the world. A New York Times best-selling author, Jentezen has written eight books including his latest, Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt.

What Kids Need Most From Their Parents

September 15, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

By Greg Laurie | 

(PHOTO: UNSPLASH/STEVEN VAN LOY)

Over the years as a pastor, I’ve talked with people on their deathbeds and have often heard the same thing from parents: If they had it to do all over again, they would spend more time with their children and their spouse. And of course they always add, “I would have been closer to God.”

You don’t have to wait until your deathbed to realize how important your family is. One father whose children were grown and out of the house looked back and made this statement:

My family’s all grown, and the kids are all gone. But, if I had it to do all over again, this is what I’d do: I would love my wife more in front of my children. I would laugh with my children more – at our mistakes and our joys. I would listen more, even to the littlest child. I would be more honest about my own weaknesses, never pretending perfection. I would pray differently for my family – instead of focusing on them, I’d focus on me. I would do more things together with my children. I would encourage them more and bestow more praise. I would pay more attention to the little things like deeds, and words of thoughtfulness.

He concludes, “If I had to do it all over again, I would share God more intimately with my family; every ordinary thing that happened in every ordinary day I would use to direct them to God.”

When the dust settles and all is said and done, when you look back on your accomplishments in life, your family will be one of the most important things you had a part in. Sure, you can look at a successful career. Sure, you can look at other accomplishments. But your children who carry on your name and your family legacy into the next generation – and into the next one – will be some of the greatest accomplishments of your life.

How important it is for parents to realize their children are a gift to them from God. Psalm 127 says, “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates” (verses 3–5 NLT).

During the social experimentation of the 1960s, we did away with the so-called nuclear family, laughing at such a concept and finding new ways to express it in the name of being progressive. And now we’re reaping the inevitable results. We’re seeing the folly of it.

Studies have shown how wrong this approach has been. Harvard University sociologists Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck developed a test to determine whether 5- or 6-year-olds would become delinquent. Their test, which proved to be 90 percent accurate, found there were four primary factors necessary to prevent juvenile delinquency: 1) the father’s firm, fair and consistent discipline; 2) the mother’s supervision and companionship during the day; 3) the parents demonstrating affection for each other and for their children; and 4) the family spending time together in activities where all participate.

Your kids need you – not just in the early years but throughout their years at home. You’re impacting them. They need an on-hand mom and the active involvement of a father.

When my wife and I had our first son, Christopher, we were very young. Cathe was 19, and I was 22. We didn’t live in a nice home. We didn’t have nice things. In fact, our furniture had the stuffing coming out of it. One person would give us one thing, and we’d find another thing at the Salvation Army. We tried to fix things up and make them look as nice as we could. We didn’t have much food in our refrigerator. We actually had to finance a television set – a miniature black-and-white TV that cost $105. We financed it for $6 a month. But my wife was there at home for our son for those very important years of his life.

The concept of quality time is nothing more than a myth. Children need quantity time. They need hands-on involvement from both parents.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Don’t lay a guilt trip on me. I’m busy.” We’re all busy. Are you saying that you could not make more time to be with your children? You might find that if you simply eliminated a couple of things, a lot of time would open up.

I wonder how much time parents waste watching television or checking their social media when they could sit down with their children and play a board game or simply talk. It’s all a matter of priorities.

Once it’s over, it’s over. We can’t regain that time again. We can’t go back and fix things. That is why parents should take the time now to do everything they can to impact their children. Establish parameters for them. Give them discipline. They need parental leadership. They may resist it at the time, but they will be grateful for it later.

It isn’t teaching children through rigid, unbending dogmatism but through explanation and example. That starts in a parent’s own relationship with God.

Are you setting an example? Do you need to make some changes in your life so you can be an effective example and leader?

Andrew Murray wrote, “The secret of home rule is self-rule, first being ourselves what we want our children to be.”

It shouldn’t be our goal, however, to mold our children into our image. Our goal instead should be to mold them into God’s image.

They are not ours to keep; they are ours to nurture. We are not to teach them to be dependent on us for the rest of their lives. Rather, we’re to teach them to be independent – and more importantly, dependent on God.

 

Leave Your Grave Clothes Alone

September 9, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

By Dan Delzell | 

After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:44)

Imagine how ludicrous it would have been for Lazarus to have taken a few steps and then said, “You know, I think I prefer being wrapped in linen. Put my grave clothes back on me and place that cloth back around my face.”

As ridiculous as that may sound, there are plenty of people today who do something similar. And the folks who just can’t seem to leave their grave clothes alone fall into one of two groups.

The first group involves those who start out wanting to be clothed with Christ, but then quickly go back to wearing their dirty old rags of works righteousness. They relapse into their grave clothes by attempting to earn salvation through their works, even though the prophet Isaiah made it abundantly clear that our good works can never take away our sins: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteousness is like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) Nevertheless, the grave clothes of works righteousness definitely appeal to some people who initially appeared to be on the road to redemption.

We see a prime example of this in the book of Galatians. Paul addressed the “foolish Galatians” (3:1) who “after beginning with the Spirit” began “trying to attain their goal by human effort.” (3:3) (See the article I wrote last week entitled: “Galatians for Catholics, Protestants and Every Christian“)

It is utter foolishness to revert back to your grave clothes once you have experienced new life in Christ. You will never be grounded in the Christian faith if you are determined to keep going back to those death rags. To put it simply, you will need to leave your grave clothes alone if you want to be forgiven of your sins. So go ahead and place complete confidence for salvation in the cross where Christ made the full payment for your sin. After all, your grave clothes cannot take away even one of your sins.

The second group of people who can’t seem to leave their grave clothes alone are those believers who continue to deliberately dabble with sin even though they have been clothed with Christ through faith in the Savior. Christians are not to “put on” the old clothes of disobedience, but are “to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.” (Titus 2:12)

Paul reminded “the saints in Ephesus:” (Eph. 1:1) “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:22-24) In other words, leave your grave clothes alone. Those deeds of darkness do nothing to promote your new life in Christ. They only hold you down and keep you from doing God’s will. And if you are not sure how you should be living, then it is time to “find out what pleases the Lord.” (Eph. 5:10) (See the article I wrote last month entitled: “Ephesians for Catholics, Protestants and Every Christian“)

Another lesson in leaving grave clothes behind is found in Paul’s instruction to “the holy and faithful brothers in Colosse:” (Col. 1:2) “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (3:5-10)

Paul was constantly instructing believers to leave their grave clothes alone. And his message was explicit: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” (Eph. 5:11,12)

So there you have it: two types of people who refuse to leave their grave clothes alone. But you don’t have to walk on either one of those deadly paths. By God’s grace, you can trust Christ completely for your salvation; and you can “walk in the light.” (1 John 1:7) But you will need to “be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Peter 4:7)

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:15-18)

And so if you find yourself being drawn back to your grave clothes, it is time to move on. The old way of thinking and living won’t cut it any longer. Peter wrote, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:14,15)

If you have become sidetracked in your life of discipleship, Christ will forgive you as you turn to Him now in repentance and faith. And the Holy Spirit will empower you to live for the Lord as one “clothed with Christ” (Gal. 3:27) through faith in Jesus.

When Lazarus came out of the tomb, his grave clothes were completely removed. Likewise, God’s message to every believer is full of victory and power: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and have now been “made alive with Christ….it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph. 2:5) “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (Eph. 5:8)

Your grave clothes have been taken off!

So why in the world would you ever want to become entangled again in those old death rags?

7 Reasons Churches Aren’t Reaching the Lost in Their Own Backyards

September 9, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

By Greg Stier | 

      For a decade of my life I was privileged to lead a church that was very effective at reaching the lost. Through prayer, hard work and a relentless Gospel focus we experienced strong growth primarily due to new believers being added to our church roles. During that time God taught me many hard and valuable lessons that have stuck with me to this day.
In the nineteen years since being a pastor I’ve been blessed to lead a ministry called Dare 2 Share, a ministry that focuses on equipping teenagers to share the Gospel with their peers. In this time I’ve talked to thousands of youth leaders and preached at many churches, both big and small, across the nation. And I’ve noticed a pattern in these churches…most of them are not effectively reaching the lost with the Gospel in their own communities.

Sure, many of them are effective at other things…teaching God’s Word, taking care of the poor, supporting overseas mission work, creating opportunities for believers to use their spiritual gifts, etc. But most are not truly effective at reaching the lost in their own backyards.

After countless conversations with church leaders and first hand observations of innumerable Sunday morning services I’m convinced there are 7 reasons why this is the case …

1. They’ve lost their “Gospel urgency.”

In the average church there is not a “whatever it takes” mentality when it comes to reaching the lost with the hope of Jesus Christ. There is not a sense of urgency that flows from the reality of hell for those who don’t hear and believe the message of the Gospel.

Sometimes this lack of urgency flows out of a theological construct that causes some church goers to conclude that “it’s all up to God anyway.” Sometimes it flows out of a lack of understanding of the mission and mandate Jesus left for us all in Matthew 28:19 when he commissioned his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

Whatever the reason for this lack of urgency church leaders need to help their congregations hear the call from above (the Great Commission), the whisper from within (compassion) and the scream from beneath (reality of hell) so that the Holy Spirit can re-ignite their peoples’ passion to reach the lost.

2. The leadership doesn’t model it.

As someone once said, “No tears in the eyes of the writer, no tears in the eyes of the reader.” What’s true of writing is true of evangelism in the local church. If the pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor and the rest of the church leadership don’t have broken hearts for the lost and aren’t engaging in Gospel conversations with family, friends, neighbors, baristas, etc. then neither will their congregations.

Jesus said in Luke 6:40, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Bible studying pastors have Bible studying congregations. Program driven pastors have program driven congregations. Evangelizing pastors have evangelizing congregations.

This begs the question that if someone does not lead people to Christ should they be a church leader at all? To follow Jesus, according to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 4:19 will inevitably result in “fishing for people” (aka “evangelism“). So if we are not fishing for people through evangelism are we really following Jesus? Hmmm…

3. Intercessory prayer is not a true value.

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4

The very first order of business in conducting a church service (according to Paul’s instruction to Timothy anyway) is intercessory prayer for the lost. Why? Because God desires “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Sadly, the average church spends more time in church announcements than intercessory prayer. In some churches the high task of intercessory prayer is relegated to a small group of prayer warriors. In this sense pastors delegate the duty of prayer so they can devote themselves to preaching. But when the church came together in Acts 2:42 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” And in Acts 6:4 the apostles delegated other duties so that they could devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the Word.”

Do you pray for the lost in church staff meetings, corporate meetings and small groups? If you want to increase your gospel urgency then crank up the intercession frequency on your prayer dial.

Most churches don’t have a consistent way for church members to be equipped in effectively engaging Gospel conversations. Or better yet why not do an annual sermon series on how to share your faith? Why not make it part of the fabric of growing in one’s faith just like giving, praying and Bible study? Or why not have ALL your small groups go through a series on evangelism?

5. The Gospel is not relentlessly given.

After visiting a church in our community a few years ago, the pastor of the church (whom I have known for awhile) texted me after the service and asked me to give him an honest evaluation of the church. My text response was this, “Great service! Friendly people. Good sermon. Great worship. The only thing I’d say is that if I was lost when I came in I’d still be lost when I left (because the gospel was not clearly given).”

When you give the gospel consistently in your church meetings then the church members know that any time they bring an unreached person they will hear the gospel. As a pastor I gave the gospel at the end of every sermon and we saw people come to faith weekly. Why? Because people invited friends, family and neighbors to church because they knew that the gospel would be given clearly and consistently.

This can also happen in small groups. As a matter of fact there are specific small group strategies like Alpha and Seeker Small Groups that have resources for churches to start small groups that reach out to the lost.

6. The people in our churches don’t know their neighbors.

I’ve heard the average home in America described as a castle. The driveway is the moat. The garage door is the drawbridge. And most “kings and queens” of their castles come home every night and, when they pull into their garages, close the drawbridge.

What if we really equipped the people of our churches to reach out to the neighbors in their own backyards (literally!)…and next door and across the street! That’s why I love what my buddy Dave Runyan is doing with The Art of Neighboring. He asks the hard-because-its-so-obvious question, “What if Jesus meant that we should love our actual neighbors?” This website has tools for your whole church to start getting to know their neighbors.

From neighborhood block parties to sponsored movie nights in our side yard my family have used some of The Art of Neighboring strategies to get to know our neighbors better. And it all has led to tons of very natural Gospel conversations.

If you want your church to reach the people in your own backyard then unleash the people of your church to get to know their neighbors first!

7. Evangelistic storytelling is not a part of the culture.

In churches that are effective at evangelism stories of changed lives and saved souls are told consistently. These stories inject Gospel urgency into the congregation. And it gives church members a sense that reaching the lost with the hope of Jesus Christ can truly change their church and their community. True stories of disciple multiplication help believers move all this talk about evangelism from the “fiction” shelf of their mental library to the “non fiction” section.

Think about why we love the book of Acts. It’s the stories of changed lives! When we carry on the mission of the early church and share stories along the way then more and more believers get fired up about engaging co-workers, family and friends with the good news of Jesus. What about having a “Missions Moment” in the church service where a story of impact can be told about lives “across the street and around the world” are being changed through the Gospel?

My prayer for every church leader reading this is that he/she can glean some insights to practically apply right away. I’d strongly encourage you to start with prayer. As you pray for the lost in your community God will give you the urgency and strategy you need to make evangelism a true value in your life personally and in your ministry publicly.

To help you along the way download a digital version of my book, Gospelize your Youth Ministry, for free. Although it is written to youth leaders it could have just as easily been written to church leaders. The values and principles in it will help you “gospelize” your entire congregation based on seven powerful values from the book of Acts.

Also, go to Gospeladvancing.org and take a 12 question diagnostic to see what stage of gospelization you are in as a church. Then make use of the tools and training to help you accelerate to the next stage.

It’s time for your church to reach out to the people in your own backyard. It’s time to get fully gospelized. It’s time for you to lead the way.

The Conditions of Unconditional Love

August 23, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

By Nolan Harkness | 

 

Recently while exchanging texts with another Christian the subject came up of those times when it’s difficult to communicate with someone else. I texted back that I felt the solution was to just invite Jesus into every conversation. It was at that very moment that the most wonderful thing happened.

All of a sudden I felt an overwhelming sense of the Spirit of God and His love. From my perspective at that moment this love I was feeling was certainly undeserved. I felt this overwhelming love for everyone I knew and everyone I was around for the rest of that day. It was a Wednesday night and I went into our pastor’s office before church and excitedly told him about what I was feeling. He smiled because he too had experienced that level of supernatural love from God. I just went about saying to the Lord over and over again; “Lord I am a very wealthy man. Lord, please, how do I walk in this and how can I keep it forever?”

However, it was not the Lord’s will for me to live on that mountaintop; reality eventually set in and my normal day-to-day emotions returned. I share that experience to illustrate that I do understand the love that Paul described when he said; “And to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” Ephesians 3:19a (KJV)

One of my most used sermons as a revivalist is from 2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV); “If my people which are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Because of the sermon I did some research on the phrase “If you, then I.” As it turns out, it is a grammatical term. It’s called, believe it or not, a “conditional sentence.” Actually, God’s word is full of conditional sentences. As a matter of fact, there is a condition to every promise in God’s Word! I challenge a reader to show me a promise in the entire Bible without one! Even if a promise only requires faith it is still a conditional promise!

For us to experience God’s unconditional love, we must meet the first condition of being “born again.” Jesus said in John 3:3b (KJV): “Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven.” From the very beginning, we are confronted with the choice of whether or not to be saved. We are rightly taught that in order to become a member of the family of God, we must be “born again.” We do this by sincerely asking forgiveness of all our sins and asking Jesus by His Spirit to come and live in our heart.

The second condition we are faced with is what we must learn to do, is to be able to communicate with our Heavenly Father after conversion. That condition is the one of learning to pray. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:33(KJV); “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” Oops! There’s the third one right away. Not only must we seek the Kingdom in learning to pray, we must seek the Kingdom of God’s righteousness too! Wow, the conditions are piling up quick here folks!

The truth is that the list just goes on and on. We soon realize that embedded in God’s instructions there are many many conditional promises in the Word to the new believer. There are also many more to believers as they mature in the faith.

You might ask why the term “unconditional love” is used so often in the church to describe the love of God. Here is how that all came about. The term “unconditional love” migrated from psychological circles into the church sometime in the 1970s. Someone decided that it was the best translation for the Greek word “agape” which is the word for the type of love God gives. The term took off like a brush fire on a hot windy day. People everywhere began to use the term in their teaching and preaching because it sounded so right and it sounded so good! The term took off like a brush fire on a hot windy day. People everywhere began to use the term in their teaching and preaching because it sounded so right and it sounded so good! However, according to Vine’s Bible Dictionary, the word “agape”, interpreted by so many to mean “unconditional love” means “undeserved love.” Undeserved love is something quite different; it means “merciful love.” Vine explains that most perfect expression of agape love found in scripture is when God gave His only begotten Son for the sins of the world.

In serving our Lord, I have come in contact with believers who have been steeped in the “unconditional love” teachings. I have observed that they often exhibit an attitude, an attitude that corresponds greatly with the narcissism of our self-focused society. The attitude of self-entitlement! This attitude runs directly contrary to the preaching of the cross and of the crucified life. It is my belief that this is the reason why churches who choose to preach a lot of messages using unconditional love as their foundation of truth also tend to eliminate the cross message. To them Jesus is like a gold card with an unlimited spending limit. These followers tend to be lax in their serving and in their morals. Why? It is because they have taken the semantics of the phrase “unconditional love” to the furthest degree and like spoiled children believe they can do whatever they want.

In contrast many of your older Christians have been raised on sound doctrine and still believe in God’s gift of “agape” love, as an undeserved love, a love, which is humbling. They believe that they deserve nothing but hell and got heaven instead. It humbles them to a life of service to the King of Kings. They tend to make very few demands of Him for the here and now. May God likewise open our eyes to solid doctrine and an appreciation for His unfathomable gift of salvation!

Next Page »