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If I asked someone in your family or neighborhood or place of employment or school about your faith, what would they say? Would those who interact with you regularly know that you are a follower of Jesus? Do you stand out as a Christian or do you blend in with the values, attitudes and conduct of unbelievers? It appears to me that too many Christians live like everyone else and fail to distinguish themselves from the sinful values of our age. In contrast, the Bible offers us numerous examples of living distinctly. One of my favorite examples is Daniel who not only survived exile in Babylon, but thrived.

In chapter one of Daniel, he and his three friends were taken to Babylon to serve the king. They were likely Hebrew royalty. It is also possible they were made eunuchs when brought to Babylon. They had lost their home, very likely lost contact with their families, been separated from the location of their faith and possibly been maimed physically. If any group of people could have justified compromise and sinful behavior, it would have been Daniel and his friends. Yet, they refused to compromise. They stood out. Daniel 1 reveals four specific ways that Daniel and his friends were distinct from the pagan culture around them.

  • Daniel and his friends were distinct in name (v. 6). Daniel’s name means, “God is my judge.” Hananiah means “Yahweh is gracious.” Mishael means “what is what God is?” (the idea being that there is no god like the God of Israel). Azariah means “Yahweh has helped.” Even when given new Babylonian names, they referred to themselves by their given Hebrew names that referenced the one true God. When people hear your name, do they think of God? If your given name does not specifically mean something Christian, we must still remember that we’ve been given the name of saint, believer, Christian. Do our names reflect the salvation we’ve been given?
  • Daniel and his friends were distinct in conduct (vv. 8-16). Daniel and his friends were given the best food that the king of Babylon could offer. The food of the king would have included pork and horseflesh which were unclean for Hebrews. The meat and wine would also have been offered sacrificially to Babylonian gods connecting the foods to idolatry. These foods would have made Daniel and his friends unclean. Daniel resolved himself not to be defiled. Daniel suggested a diet of vegetables and water and wisely offered a timeframe for their looks to be tested. While I don’t necessarily think that what we eat should reflect that we are Christians, what we do should reflect our faith in Christ. Does your conduct (what you watch, listen to, how you spend your time, what you read) reflect the wickedness of the culture around us? Or does your conduct reflect Christ? Can those who know you best tell that you are a follower of Christ by your daily conduct?
  • Daniel and his friends were distinct in worldview (vv. 17-21). Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah had the opportunity to learn and study at the locus of world power at that point in human history. They had the foundation of their biblical, Hebrew culture, but were introduced to many new ideas. I imagine that much of what they learned in Babylon was benign, while much was not. They were likely confronted with religious and philosophical ideas that were contrary to their childhood education in Jerusalem. Sounds a lot like public school, college and university campuses, doesn’t it? I don’t believe that sheltering ourselves or our children from false ideas is the solution to the worldview conflict around us. But I do believe we need to subordinate false ideas appropriately underneath a biblical worldview. Don’t be afraid of reading things that are false or being exposed to untruths. But become an expert in what is genuine and true–God’s Word. One of the surest ways to develop a biblical worldview is to read, study, memorize and meditate on God’s Word. To parents and grandparents reading this, if your children and grandchildren are not taught biblical truth regularly, then they will not learn to think Christianly. It is our responsibility to embed biblical truth into their minds and hearts. Thank goodness Daniel and his friends had a solid biblical worldview in place before being taken to Babylon.
  • Daniel and his friends were distinct in God’s favor (vv. 9, 14, 17, 19-20). We are currently living in a post-Christian era. No longer does the expression of Western  Civilization reflect a biblical worldview. Media, politics and education reflect views on humanity, sexuality, philosophy, history and technology that are at best non-Christian and often anti-Christian. So how do we live distinct as Christians in a post-Christian world? We pursue the favor of God, not of man. Daniel and his friends experienced God’s blessing and favor even when their views contrasted greatly with the prevailing culture. Do you care what others think of your lifestyle and opinions or what God thinks? Being favored from God occurs when we receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and live underneath the truths of the gospel.

Living in these ways will lead us to live distinctly in our post-Christian age.

 

 

Each week I have the privilege of meeting with a discipleship group. We gather for breakfast at a local restaurant to share what we’ve been reading in the Bible and pray for one another. Our group provides accountability, support and encouragement. Currently, we have six in our group. As we read during the week, we prayerfully look for a Scripture verse that stands out to us. We make note of it, sometimes journaling about it and share it with one another. We are not on a common reading plan.

This week when we met, I just knew I needed to share from John 6. In the first few verses, Jesus fed 5,000 men (maybe 20,000 people with women and children) with five loaves of bread and 2 small fish. After that event, Jesus went to the mountain to pray and walked to his followers on the sea while they were traversing a storm. The verses I shared came from the conversation Jesus had with the crowds on the other side.

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:27-29

Jesus told the crowds to work for the food that leads to eternal life. You can anticipate the question of the crowds, “What must we do to work for eternal life?” I love Jesus’ response, “Believe on the One God sent!” Jesus does not tell us to work for eternal life. He tells us to believe for eternal life. The foundation of our Christian experience is belief in Jesus Christ. Belief is also the most important aspect of growing in Christian maturity. Anyway, I shared these verses during our meeting this week.

As soon as I finished, one of our group members, Lee Bentley, said, “You’re not going to believe this, but the verse I felt led to share is:

29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:29

It was as if God YELLED at us this morning. We need to believe in Christ and trust in his provision for our Christian walk. Not every group meeting results in such a providential development, but this morning was tremendously encouraging. It was also the first meeting for two new members so the experience was greatly encouraging.

The importance of reading God’s Word cannot be overstated. Here’s an excerpt from my new book Commissionedthat highlights the importance of reading God’s Word:

In his book The Shape of Faith to Come, Brad Waggoner reflected on the importance of Bible reading for Christian maturity,

Our study of churchgoers included the measurement of more than sixty factors characteristic of biblical spiritual development… Our statistician applied sophisticated procedures to our data to produce a rank-ordered list of correlations. The number one factor, or characteristic, most correlated to the highest maturity scores is the practice of “reading the Bible.” I almost had to laugh when I saw this. Sometimes we complicate things. The simple discipline of reading the Bible has a major impact on Christians.[1]

Essentially, consistent Bible intake leads to spiritual maturity. Nothing is more important to one’s spiritual development than the reading of God’s Word. The reading of the Bible is where group interaction is so vital to the follower of Jesus.

[1]Brad Waggoner, The Shape of Faith to Come (Nashville: B&H, 2008), 68.

Reading God’s Word and sharing it together is vital for our spiritual growth. Let me challenge you.

  • If you’re not reading God’s Word daily, start today. Begin in Genesis or Matthew. If you have a smartphone, you can download the ESV Bible app. The app contains regular reading plans that you can choose from.
  • If you’re not in a Sunday school class or Discipleship Group, find one. Gathering with other followers of Jesus around God’s Word to learn together is spiritually invigorating.
  • If you’re not memorizing God’s Word, then begin now. At Wilkesboro Baptist, we have monthly memory verses. For April, our verse is Isaiah 41:10. Or you can be like one of our most godly ladies and memorize Psalm 46.

By any means necessary, learn from God’s Word this week. Maybe God will use what he’s saying to you to encourage someone else!

 

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If you’ve paid any attention to the news lately, you’ve seen some terrible things. Muslims were slaughtered in Christchurch, Australia. Villages of predominately Christians in Nigeria have been targeted and persecuted in the ongoing regional conflicts. Even a glance at world news relates stories of suffering, death and sorrow.

Not many days pass in my ministry where I’m not ministering to a family that is facing death somehow. Death, suffering and, by extension, persecution, are a part of the human experience. These realities are tragic. God’s original design did not include death, suffering and persecution. But because we sinned and chose to reject God’s authority in the Garden of Eden, catastrophe occurred. Suffering, pain, persecution and death entered the world because of sin.

If you pay attention to the cacophony of voices around those who suffer you will often find a great distinction. It is not a left/right distinction. It is not a good/bad distinction. It is not an economic distinction. It is not a distinction of privilege. The distinction I speak of is the reaction of genuine followers of Jesus to suffering, tragedy and persecution with the rest of culture and society. Suffering is not to be sought after. Persecution and hate are to be called out. Murder and terrorism must always be prosecuted to the pursuit of justice.

But as followers of Jesus, our hope does not rest in the justice and fairness offered by governments and society. Our hope rests in the eternal. In my  quiet time, I’ve been reading through the book of John.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – John 10:10

Jesus came to bring life, not death. He came to forgive, not condemn. He came to bring hope not despair.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. -John 17:3

For the one who knows Jesus, there is hope that is beyond this life. We must pursue justice, righteousness and goodness in this life. But we must not despair when our efforts or the efforts of governments and organizations fail for our hope is eternal.

I talked with someone just this week who is saddened by the death of a family member. But they are not in despair because their family member is experiencing eternal life. No longer are they bound by pain, suffering and torment. They have eternal life.

Follower of Jesus, it is our privilege to live out the hope of eternal life with distinction. It is through our confidence in the eternal life of Jesus Christ that we might bring hope to those in despair.

‘Tis close to Spring. Aren’t you glad winter with all its germs is close to an end? I am. Spring is right around the corner and many homeowners in my neighborhood are already putting down new mulch. When we put down new mulch, it looks good for a while–great actually! But by the time next year rolls around, it looks drab and dead. That’s because it is. Mulch is not alive. Weatherbeaten and sun-bleached, it loses its color.

I think there’s a spiritual lesson here. The sin that dwells in our lives is drab, rotting and disgusting. But instead of removing it, we often cover it over with something that looks a little better. We replace lust with pride. We replace pride with self-righteousness. You get the idea. Sometimes, we do better than that. We replace a sin with something good. We look better for a time. But then the goodness fades, and we return to old habits and behaviors. In reality we are just covering up something dead with something else that is dead—painted, colorful today, but not alive.

What we need is to repent. To overcome sin, we don’t need to do better, be cleaner, or act nicer. Rather, we need our sin to be cleansed and removed. You and I are not spiritually capable of doing this. We need Someone else–the only One who can–Jesus. As believers, we know that we needed Jesus to forgive us of our sin when we came to faith. But did you also know that you need Jesus for your sanctification today? Our part in dealing with sin is to repent and pursue the righteousness of Christ. It is Christ’s job to cleanse, to cover and to replace the old with the new, the dead with the alive, the unholy with the holy.

Believers, we need the gospel and its activity in our lives today as much as we did when we came to faith in Christ. If you have a sin, don’t try to cover it. Expose it to God in repentance and confession. Let him cleanse and cover it with the gospel. The gospel is good news for a reason. It is the good news that Jesus can forgive, cleanse and make new. That’s a promise for you today, just like it was the day you came to faith in Jesus.

For a biblical framework on this thought, read Paul’s explanations on sin, forgiveness and cleansing in Romans chapters 6-8.

Recently, I preached a sermon addressing the subject of Lust and Pornography that so pervades our culture. I’ve heard lust described as seeking to fulfill a God-given desire in a godless way. No doubt in our sex-fueled society, the sin of lust is prevalent.

George Barna research provides details regarding the prevailing challenges of pornographyand sexting.

I’ve counseled couples where a spouse has been controlled by lust which has decimated the intimacy and honesty in their marriage. I’ve spoken with a wife whose husband has been viewing pornography for the nearly 30 years of their marriage. And I’ve experienced the conviction and sorrow at having to confess the lust in my own life. Lust is not an isolated issue. It is a pervasive poison that is never satiated. If left alone, lust leads to perversion, infidelity, brokenness and even abuse. But there is hope. You do not have to remain bound or controlled. I’m not naïve enough to think that a single blogpost will solve your sins (or my own). But we all have to start somewhere. Following are three antidotes to the poison of lust in our lives.

Receive and apply the gospel. You cannot tame lust. You cannot overcome it by being better. Covenants, promises, deals and commitments will not tame lust. You will not overcome it by “doing better, being better, getting stronger, etc.” Lust is an internal, spiritual enemy that is stronger than you are. You need Someonestronger than lust. You need Jesus and his gospel. You need to know that Jesus came, suffered, bled and died for your pornography addiction, your masturbation, your innuendos, your crossing the line with a girlfriend or boyfriend, your fantasies, your graphic romance novels, your incessant desires for sexual thoughts, etc. Jesus died on the cross for all of these sins, all of your sins and all of my sins. To receive and apply the gospel, we must confess (agree with God about our sin) and repent (turn from our sin to Christ).

“Sexual sin is predatory. It won’t be ‘healed’ by redeeming the context or the genders. Sexual sin must simply be killed. What is left of your sexuality after this annihilation is up to God. But healing, to the sexual sinner, is death; nothing more and nothing less. …I think too many young Christian fornicators plan that marriage will redeem their sin. Too many young Christian masturbators plan that marriage will redeem their patterns. Too many young Christian internet pornographers thing that having legitimate sex will take away the desire to have illicit sex. They’re wrong. And the marriages that result from this line of thinking are dangerous places. I know, I told my audience, why over 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce: because Christians act as though marriage redeems sin. Marriage does not redeem sin. Only Jesus himself can do that.” – Rosaria Butterfield, whose book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert,

The fact of the matter is that God’s expectation for your sexuality and mine is unalterably clear—He expects holiness. We need the gospel. The gospel teaches us that while we cannot be holy, God sent Jesus to be holy on our behalf. Jesus succeeded where we failed. Jesus was pure where we were impure. Jesus was clean where we were soiled. Jesus was impeccable where we were ruined. Jesus, in his glorious, pure and holy state became sin for you and for me. He paid for lust, pornography, adultery, fornication, and all other sexual sins on the cross. And the gospel teaches that when we repent and turn to Jesus in belief, he forgives our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Not only did we need the gospel, but we still need the gospel. The gospel is the primary means for addressing lust in our lives. The gospel teaches us to humbly ask forgiveness. It teaches us to believe in Jesus Christ to forgive, redeem and free. It teaches us that we must be willing to give all of ourselves over to Christ.

Pursue accountability. The sin of lust dominates society today because it stays hidden. Satan will tell you that you have to keep it hidden, you can deal with it on your own, you can face it privately, you can keep it in the dark. Trust me, things hidden in the dark will one day come into the light. You cannot keep it hidden forever. Your spouse will find out. Your parent will find out. The only way to address the sins in the dark is to expose them to the light. It is a lie of the enemy that you are by yourself in this fight. You have help. You have people who love you and support you and care about you. You need to bring your sin into the light, find an accountability partner, confess, repent and shine a light on the sin. Remember this, you cannot bring into the light what God does not already know. Do you realize that if you confess your darkness, Jesus already knew it—already died for it—already provided your forgiveness? Don’t be afraid of admitting your sin. Pursue accountability. Find help.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” James 5:16

Do Whatever it takes! Identify triggers and replace habits. To overcome your lust, it is wise to put action steps into place. You need the gospel and you need accountability, but you also need to change habits.

  • What are the triggers that incite lust in your life?
  • Is it late nights surfing the web?
  • Is it streaming mature content on your television?
  • Is it going to bed at a different time and in a different place than your spouse?
  • Is it reading erotic literature on your e-reader?
  • Is it fantasizing about that work colleague or old flame who appears to be everything you wish your spouse was?

Identify your lust triggers. By the help of the Holy Spirit, change your habits. Maybe you will need to let your spouse control the code to the internet at your home. Maybe you need to cancel television altogether. Maybe you need to install covenant eyeson your tablets, computers and smartphones. 

“Keep as far as you can from those temptations that feed and strengthen the sins which you would overcome. Lay siege to your sins, and starve them out, by keeping away the food and fuel which is their maintenance and life.” – Richard Baxter

Parents, you are responsible to your children for the opportunities you give them or things you protect them from. If you have a child/teenager with access to a computer, tablet or phone, take time to create accountability measures for them. Many in-home routers have built-in security and password measures. These can be used to shut off the wi-fi at a certain time or after a certain time. You should know what your children are doing/looking at on their phones. While they’re in your home, their purity is your responsibility. Have candid, age appropriate conversations with your children about sex and lust. Above all pray for them.

 

This article originally appeared here at LifeWay Facts and Trends.

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“We’d like you to be superman.” That was the answer a search committee member gave me to the question, “What are your expectations of a pastor?” He qualified the answer by saying how the previous pastor had done so much for the church and for the community. He admitted he was being a little tongue-in-cheek. Nevertheless, his statement was telling, and I did not become their pastor. I’ve thought about that conversation several times since then. It’s probably true that some church members have unrealistic expectations for their pastor. But it’s also true that sometimes we have unrealistic expectations for ourselves. We try to do too much or carry too much. 

Oftentimes ministry is non-eventful, but sometimes it is overwhelming. A recent day in my ministry looked like this. 

4:40 AM alarm went off. 

5:15 AM left the house. 

6:00 AM visited a church member before a rather serious intestinal surgery. 

6:45 AM visited another church member at another hospital. 

9:00 AM arrived at the other end of the state for a denominational meeting. 

10:30 AM received a phone call about the sudden death of a church member. 

1:00 PM expedited the meeting and left for home with plans to visit with the family of the member who died. 

3:00 PM received a call from my dad’s neighbor that he had fallen and she was going to call the ambulance. 

4:00 PM met my dad and the ambulance at the hospital. 

11:30 PM arrived at home after my dad was given a hospital room for extra tests. 

This day was not typical, but I’m sure you’ve had similar days. I never made it to visit the family who had a sudden death. I don’t relate this for your pity or for your praise. My motivation is simply this—I am not superman. I cannot possibly wear all the hats and do all the ministry that my church needs. I need others and so do you. Here are several realizations about pastoral ministry.   

  1. Don’t try to be superman. You can’t do it all and you shouldn’t try. When I try to do everything, I usually mess things up and create tensions. Discover your ministry strengths and weaknesses. Share ministry with others especially in your weak areas. Shared ministry may not be good for your ego (we like to think we can do more than we can), but it is very good for your church and for the kingdom.  
  2. Rely on others. Two staff members and at least two other church members visited with the family who had a sudden death. I couldn’t be present, but our church was present. Reactive ministry is necessary and important. But so is proactive ministry (making disciples, reading, studying, leading, evangelizing and planning ministry). If you’re going to do significant proactive ministry, you’re going to have to rely on others for both proactive and reactive ministry. 
  3. Make time to rest and recharge. A pastor friend of mine told to me recently that he struggled to admit that he needed rest and time away. Even Jesus took time away to rest and recharge. If Jesus rested, we need to rest. Don’t be ashamed of taking a day off, taking a holiday or going to be early enough to get a good night’s rest. We are better off and our ministries are better off when we are rested and recharged. 
  4. Be human. Admit your weaknesses and struggles. I know that we have to be careful how open we are, but we should be vulnerable. Most of those in our congregations see us from a distance in the pulpit. That means they often see the best of us—sometimes not the real us. So, it’s not surprising that sometimes church members expect us to be better than we are. Wisely sharing your weaknesses will help your congregation take you off the pedestal and remind them of your need for others.  
  5. Be honest. You need to tell your church leaders when you need help. Paul declared that a primary role of the pastor is to equip others for ministry. It is not my job or your job to do everything in ministry. Be honest by building adequate margin into your ministry and share responsibility for ministering to others. 

2019 is here. If you’re like me, you have ideas for what you’d like to accomplish in the coming year. You have dreams, desires and plans. Did you know that God has grander plans for you than you have for yourself? Let me encourage you with a word from Psalm 37 about trusting in the Lord for the coming year.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

Delight in the Lord. When you delight in the Lord, your trust becomes worship. According to the Westminster catechism, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God created us to delight in him. You delight in the Lord by learning to reflect on his grace in your life and worshiping him for his glory. When you delight in the Lord, he promises to give you the desires of your heart. This promise does not somehow mean that if we delight correctly, we’ll get what we want. You should not think of it like a Christmas list. I’m going to figure out what delighting in God looks like so I can get what I want. Rather, when we really delight in the Lord, we’ll begin to realize that he is all we need. Those desires that remain when we are truly delighting in the Lord are desires that God intends to fulfill.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Psalm 37:5

Commit your way to the Lord. When you commit your way to the Lord, trust becomes surrender. In the original language, committing your way to the Lord is more than just praying about something. The idea is that we “roll” our concerns onto the Lord. Literally, when we commit our way to the Lord, we roll our burdens, anxieties and decisions onto him. In short, too many of us are carrying pressures we were not meant to carry. The stress is palpable. We remain burdened because we continue trying to carry our situations and concerns on our own shoulders. If we want the Lord to act, if we want the Lord to guide and direct our steps, then we must commit our way to him. We need to trust him by rolling our concerns and worries onto him. We need to surrender our need to be in control, and trust the Lord to be in control.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7

Wait on the Lord. When you are still and wait on the Lord, your trust becomes as patient, but active anticipation. Notice first that David tells us to be still which literally means to be silent. Some of us talk too much, and I don’t mean to other people. I mean that we talk too much to God. Our prayers are not offered in surrender and trust. Rather, we give God advice and suggestions. For example we say, “God, here’s my situation. I’m going to try to trust you with it. Here’s how you can fix it. Give me this. Solve this issue. Deal with this person.” Now, while we might not be quite so bold, our prayers too often follow a pattern like this. Instead, we are to roll our concerns to the Lord and leave them there. We are to be still and wait on the Lord. Don’t mistake waiting for being passive. In the original language, to wait had the idea of being in labor. For a mother to be in labor and to give birth is an act of waiting. But it is definitely not passive; it is active and often difficult. But it is worth it. I’ve yet to meet the mom (no matter how difficult the labor) who said that it wasn’t worth it. Maybe you’re in a period of waiting. Maybe it’s difficult or even painful. Get spiritually active. Lead others to follow Jesus. Worship the Lord. Learn to follow Jesus. Serve others. Replicate the life of Jesus in others.

Work while you wait. It is a glorious expression of trust in the Lord. Ask yourself as you move into 2019. Am I delighting in the Lord? Am I committing my way to him? Am I waiting on the Lord? If you want him to act, then trust. Let Psalm 37 guide your expression of trust in the New Year.