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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Plan to Put Him First

So... It's here!  Already! 2010 has passed like a lightning bolt, and 2011 is moving forward quickly and picking up steam.  Soon, we'll be saying the same thing about 2011 and 2012.
Since life moves by so rapidly, we can't afford to approach our Christian lives "shooting from the hip" (if nothing else, that sounds kind of dangerous).  We are told in Ephesians 5:16 to "redeem the time, because the days are evil." To make the most of the time God has given us, we need to plan and live on purpose. God wants us to live for Him, and that doesn't    
                                                                                                                                            happen by accident.
I'm not talking about packing a schedule so tightly that your relationships can't breathe.  In fact, I'm talking about purposefully planning so that you have time for God and your family. Men, jobs are vitally important to providing for our families, but they don't replace the necessity for time with God and meeting the relational needs of our families. Ladies, caring for your husband and children is a high calling, but cleaning the house and feeding the children cannot replace the value of calming your heart before God in His Word and giving your children an example of a woman who passionately loves God.
The reason I'm sharing this is because I'm there with you.  I'm looking at my year, and praying and planning for a successful year in my highest priorities, and I have found in the past year that the higher the priority, the more likely it is to be crowded out of the schedule.  In trying to put God first, I have found that there will always be something else to do. If you and I are not careful, we will pass through every day and lay our heads on our pillows having done much, but having not done the most important thing... walk with God in His Word and prayer.  We will have made our contribution to the world through a vocation, but we would have hardly spoken to those people whom God has entrusted to our care.
Imagine this: At the end of 2011, you are making plans for 2012, and you review the previous year. You see several accomplishments that God allowed you to achieve.  You remember some times of enjoying your hobbies.  You have some special memories with family and friends. You have had the opportunity to impact others for Christ.  And through all this, there is not regret, but a strain of satisfaction running through it all as you think about the fact that, as a result of God's graciousness to you, you walked with God.  You may have missed time with Him some days.  That's not the point.  The point is that you sought the Lord.  You spent time with Him, growing in your relationship with Him.  You walked with Him during your day as you prayed without ceasing. You grew in your knowledge of His Word.  You impacted those closest to you in your family and your church as a person who loved God.  You reached others who were not in the family of God as they saw in you a satisfaction in Christ that they desperately longed for. That, my friend, is a year well spent.
This kind of year doesn't happen accidentally.  Time has to be planned.  Time for priorities has to be protected. You will have to say, "No," to some worthy things, but by doing that you will be affording yourself the opportunity to say, "Yes," to the most important things.
And, in your ministry, let me say that ministry for God is vitally important.  Serving God is a calling that is both meaningful and rewarding.  Let's not forget that ministry for God flows from a life lived with God.  Walk with God so that your ministry for God is effective.  Love God, so that your service for Him teaches others to do the same.
What are some ways you guard your time with God?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lessons from 2010

As this year is coming to a close, I look back over the year and see some distinct lessons which God has taught me this year. I would like to share them with you.

1. The necessity of planning priorities.
Before the start of 2010, God used several different sources to encourage me to plan based on my priorities. 1) Podcasts by Pastor Paul Chappell 2) Blog posts by Pastor Cary Schmidt and 3) Gordon MacDonald's book Ordering Your Private World. As one who has historically been a last-minute "by-the-seat-of-the-pants" planner, I can say that I've learned a lot about the value of planning ahead (even though I have a long way to go yet). It has greatly reduced family stress, increased productivity and brought about growth in several areas of ministry. I can say that God has changed me drastically here. I pray that I will continue to improve in 2011.

2. The priority of my walk with God.
Through these sources and my own experience, I have learned that the most important things
are the easiest to neglect and the least noticeable when they're neglected. I have noticed that
living in a fallen world means that the more important the priority, the less time it tends to get.
The more important it is, the more I have to work to fit it into my schedule. This applies to
my walk with God. Think about your time with God. Is it or is it not the easiest thing to neglect?
Is it not often the hardest thing to fit into your schedule?

The converse is true: The more menial a task, the more it screams for your attention when
it doesn't get done (eg. checking your e-mail/fb...fill in the blank for what distracts you).
I have learned that at times I have to consciously ignore good things that aren't the best
(eg. momentarily ignoring the mess because I only have so much time to spend with God).

Along with learning this truth has been the realization that decisions to take on good, noble
goals or activities need to be weighed in light of whether it will overcrowd my schedule.

3. The priority of family responsibilities.
Just as time with God is the most important, my responsibility to my family comes next.
This is another one of those areas that is easy to ignore. I think Gordon MacDonald nails it when he points out in his book that the more public an activity is, the more we tend to give it attention. This fault especially gets those of us who are in ministry. We have many good pursuits that are God-ordained for our lives, but, if we are not careful, we ignore the pursuits that are more private in order to excel at what is more visible. We neglect time with our spouse and justify it by the need for "perfection" in our public ministry. If we continue down this path of family neglect, the more public ministry will end in ruin. The private life is definitely of more foundational value to our effectiveness as ministers.

4. The value of the church
God has blessed me in incredible ways this year through His church. I am thankful to be a part of a good church as well as to know many believers in other churches who love God and His message. Thank God for the blessing of fellow believers!
God has given Candy and me blessed ministry working with the musicians of Eastside as well as the young single adult ministry. God tremendously blessed the music ministry this year, with the climax being His great work through the Christmas program Silent Wonder. How amazing to see so many people come together in order to "Make Much of Jesus."
We have grown in our love for Eastside's singles group and have also been blessed to meet with the singles groups of several other churches through Cross Connect. They are truly a blessing to spend time with and have taught us much. We look forward to what God will do in 2011!

5. The truth that everything in my life flows out of the Gospel of Christ.
As the year has progressed, I have been more and more convinced that everything in my Christian life should be motivated by a dependence on Christ's death, burial, resurrection and intercession at the Father's right hand. Anything less leads to pharisaical, self-righteous religious living. A gospel-dependent life is a thankful, humble, loving, fulfilled life. A self-dependent religious life is a proud, ungrateful, self-centered, empty life which is unattractive to God, believers and the unsaved world. The gospel needs to be embraced and accepted afresh and anew by Christians as the very source of life for every moment of the Christian life.

6. The need for compassion towards others' physical needs.
As with each of the preceding lessons, I am seeking to grow in grace in this area, yet in this one my selfishness is very persistent. Suffice it to say that I see in my own life a selfishness which tends to take care of my own, my family's needs, and the needs of the ministries I oversee, but doesn't like looking much further. I trust God's grace will continue to teach me in this area.

I praise God for teaching me. His work in my heart this year has been satisfying and refreshing. Truly "In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore." Ps. 16:11b

I could go on, and I may in another post. What about you? What has God taught you this year? I would love to hear!

Why Did Only Some People Notice?

Life in the 21st century is anything but quiet. We race from one activity to the next, barely stopping to catch our breath. Noise is constantly going on around us. From the noise of cars rushing down the highway, to the sound of the busy shoppers in the mall, to the constant hum of electronic devices, America is truly a noisy place.

This noise is nothing new. In Bible times, the sounds were different, but the presence of the noise was real just the same. When Jesus came to earth, every person in the Roman empire, including each person in the small country of Israel, was traveling to his place of origin to be counted as a member of the empire. Bethlehem was a noisy city, full of activity. When Mary and Joseph came to the busy town, they were turned away from an overcrowded inn. That time was a noisy time.

Why did some in that day notice the wonder of Christ's birth, and others did not? Why were the lives of some changed by the coming of the Messiah, while others were not? In our day, why do some love and adore Him during this season while others do not?

I encourage you this Christmas season to take the time to turn down the noise of this world, find a quiet spot, and lose yourself in a passage of scripture about the incarnation, the first coming of Jesus (eg. Matthew 2; Luke 2; Philippians 2) . Spend time allowing the truth that God became a man to sink down deep into your soul. It will radically change your view of Christmas. If you don't, you'll be taking down your Christmas tree wondering where the season went and where the joy of the season was. Silence the frenzy of the season; remember the wonder of His birth.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Private Worship

Grand Canyon

"But I will sing of thy power; yea I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble." Psalm 59:16

I am so thankful for the opportunity I have every week to join together with other believers to worship the Lord at His house. Each week I get to sing, give, and hear preaching because of and for my great God. When I come to public worship, I come to a gathering of believers whose lives have been changed by Jesus Christ, and I come for the purpose of joining them in pointing every thought to the One who alone is worthy of praise.

But, unfortunately, sometimes I can come to church empty. For one reason or another, when I sing, listen to the preaching, or give to the Lord, if I'm not careful, I do it out of a heart of duty or outward constraint, not from the overflow of a heart that is amazed by the greatness and goodness of my God.

When I do this, sometimes it is because of a lack of personal, private worship. This of course is not the only reason. Sometimes I am just plain distracted. But many times the problem in public worship is the absence of private worship. You or I come to a church service with hearts that are empty and haven't gazed upon our God through private devotions in a long time. We come to perform acts that are merely outward, not motivated by an inward desire to give honor to the One whose character has personally affected us.

Singing about God's greatness without having seen it personally is like me telling someone about how awesome the pyramids are to see in person, when I've never gone to Egypt to see them. I've seen pictures. I know that they are there, but I've never experienced their grandeur in person.

On the other hand, I've been to the grand canyon. I've seen its deep bottom, and driven along its expansive lengths. I've seen it's beautiful color. Let me tell you, pictures don't do it justice! You've never truly experienced the Grand Canyon until you've been there yourself!

That's how it is in the Christian life. Have you personally gazed upon God's holiness, His love, His grace, His justice, or His mercy today, this week, this month, or even this year? Is there a hollowness in your heart because you haven't personally spent time with Him? If we seek to do before men what we haven't done before God, we are like hollow robots trying to do something that doesn't truly flow from our hearts.

Do you hear about God and think it's boring? Do you hear the Word preached and wonder why the preacher is so excited about the truth he's preaching but don't understand how it applies to you? Do you struggle to praise Him? Do you simply endure church? Then the most important question you can ask yourself is, "Have I seen Him personally for myself?" Have you seen His majesty in your quiet time? Have you felt His voice calm your burdened heart with His loving Words? Have you privately stood in awe of this grace that would stoop down to redeem defiant sinners like you and me? Have you gazed at your God privately?

Sincere public worship always follows private worship. If you are struggling with just "doing church," spend some time looking at His character in the Psalms. Stand in awe of who He is. Take a truth that reveals His character and spend time thinking about that truth, and turn the truth into praise from your heart to Him. Allow God's character to change you. It will change your public worship.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Worship that Pleases God

Worship, in a general sense, is bringing attention and honor to someone greater than yourself. In its purest sense or the Christian sense, it is pointing everyone's attention to the only true God.

In actuality, worship can be expressed to God in every aspect of our lives. When we pray, we are bringing attention to the fact that God is able and is the provider of all of our needs. When we work, we can worship God by being diligent, excellent, and ethical. In our finances, we can worship God by giving and being wise stewards of God's resources. Every time that we do something because it reflects God's character, we are worshipping Him.

The question begs to be asked, "Are you and I living every moment for the purpose of reflecting God's great character?" Does every decision go through the filter of this question, "Is this like my God?"

If we want to be effective Christians, we must ask God for this kind of heart. We must have a heart that loves who He is and desires to imitate His character in all that we do.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Sense of Need

This morning, I read this quote in a book called Working with God through Prayer by D. Edmond Hiebert, speaking of the passage in I Timothy 2 about the importance of prayer, and it encouraged my heart. I thought I would pass it along:

"1. 'Supplications.' This is a general word for prayer and means a request or a petition. As such it is used of petitions directed both to God and to men. Coming from a verb meaning to want or to lack, the word 'signifies a prayer which springs from the feeling of want.' The basic thought thus conveyed by this term is that of prayer prompted by a conscious sense of need. It is prayer arising out of a sense of human inadequacy to meet the demand of life.

"Such a conscious sense of need, either our own or another's, is essential to all effective praying. Without such a sense of need, our prayers lack depth and sincerity. Our prayers become formal, often the mere uttering of words that have lost their meaning and value for us. What believer has not at times found himself saying certain words in prayer, only to realize that his mind was on something far removed from his uttered words? When there is a real prayer burden arising out of a specific sense of need, it is not hard to concentrate on one's prayer. Surely in these eventful days when the pressing needs of mankind come crashing in upon us from every side, it is inexcusable to lack a motive for prayer. Critical world needs, as well as local and personal needs, constitute a standing challenge to pray."

Friday, January 1, 2010

"On Behalf of a Grateful Nation"

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the military graveside funeral for a brother of one of our church members. This dear man had been taken by cancer, and his wife and siblings were grieving his departure. The color guard presented a 21-gun salute, played taps, and presented the American flag to the wife of the deceased soldier. My heart goes out to the family in the loss of their loved one.

It is always particularly moving to witness a military ceremony, as men pay tribute to a comrade who has gone on before them. I could not help but go back in my mind about 15 years to when I attended my Papaw's (as we affectionately called my mom's dad) funeral. He had served in the army during World War II, and he had also been taken by cancer. I can remember clearly, as I sat under the tent that day, the emotion as the soldiers folded the flag, went to my Mamaw, bent over towards her, held out the flag and said, "This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service." What a moving thought! "On Behalf of a Grateful Nation."

The patriot in me swells every time I see or hear a tribute to an American soldier. Tears come to my eyes many times as I sing the National Anthem. Tears are gathering in my eyes even now as I am thinking about it. This nation of ours is a blessing from God. It has truly been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout our brief history.

As our freedoms are slowly taken away, I wonder if we are not considering the men who have given of themselves to secure and protect our freedoms. I wonder if we are counting as nothing their great acts of bravery, their willing separation from family, and their constant encounter with danger. I thank the Lord for our military!

But beyond a gratitude for our military, I have a great gratitude and love for my Savior, Jesus Christ. When we speak of sacrifice and giving one's life, there is no greater example in all the world than Jesus. He came to earth and gave Himself as the sinless sacrifice to pay for my sins. I accepted that gift as a young boy, and I enjoy today the joy of forgiveness of sins and a close walk with my Lord. He offers that free gift to anyone who will simply trust Him for it.

I am grateful for the service our men render for our country. Thank you, soldiers, for your service! Thank you, Lord, for my country!

But most of all, thank you Jesus!