Reflect and Refocus

Well, I slept through yet another New Year.

Hit the sack about 11 p.m.  TV off.  Spent the last hours of 2019 reading the last few chapters of Revelation with my family.  Answered questions as best I could regarding all the wild symbolism of that Blessed Book of the Bible.  Reminded ourselves of the main thing – Jesus wins!  He reigns forever and ever and those who have been saved by His grace will reign with Him and enjoy Him forever.  And His enemies will be judged forever.

So we must soldier on.  So we must carry His name to neighbors and nations.  So we must not lose heart.

New Year’s is a time for Resolutions.  At least in our culture.  But it’s also a time for Reflection and Refocusing.

I have reflected this week on 2019.  Although the Lord gave me so many unmerited blessings, the big theme of this past year for me has been pain.

Debbie Downer.  I know.  That’s me!  But stick with me.

Pain is real.  Hurt hurts.  Sin has wrecked this world and trashed our hearts.  I attended 6 funerals in 2019.  Preached four of them.  Stood over the dead bodies of three beloved saints whom I had the immense privilege to pastor.  I loved them fiercely, and wish I could have, would have, shepherded them more faithfully and more effectively.  But by God’s grace I did my best, and now I miss them horribly.  The congregation of CBC misses Daryl, Jay, and Martha.  Holes in our hearts now.

I also preached the funeral for my wife’s step mom.  We miss her sorely.

Members in our church have had to bury their grandchildren and young siblings this year.  So much pain.

Hurts and breaks in relationships have also marked my 2019.  Friends lost.  Sometimes despite efforts at restoration.  My own sins and shortcomings highlighted.  Reasons for the losses, however, ultimately not known.  Perhaps never will be understood.  At least not in this life.  My family and I have hurt deeply, and we know our former friends have also hurt.  We are sorry for it all.  We minimize none of this pain.  We grieve not just for ourselves, but for others too.

Preaching through Hosea this past Fall has been just what Doctor Jesus ordered.  I cannot begin to tell you the impact Hosea 6:1 has had upon me as I reflect on 2019.

Come let us return to the Lord!  For He has torn us, that He might heal us; He has wounded us, and He will bind up our wounds.

Truth is, 2019 has simply made me long ever-more deeply for the return of Christ Jesus.  God has refocused me on eternity.  Given a gospel-driven ache to my soul for all things to be made new.  Fixed my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith.  Reminded me of the light momentary afflictions that will, some grand day, produce an eternal weight of glory!

While I aim by God’s sanctifying Spirit to strive for more holiness, more peace, more restoration in 2020, the pain of 2019 prods me not to live for this world.  Not to expect my best life now.  To know sin is not yet eradicated in my heart, nor in the hearts of those around me.

Pain is merited by me.  By you.  By everyone.  Except Jesus.

Unspeakably, Christ came as “a man of sorrows acquainted with grief” and was “pierced for our transgressions.” And in Christ Jesus our Lord, all things are reconciled and restored (Col 1:20).  Jesus even redeems our pain.  “By His wounds we are healed.”  And yes, He even redeems it sometimes in the here and now, but one day perfectly in the new heaven and earth.  Singer / songwriter Laura Story has so aptly called us to account in this matter:

 ‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life-
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

Well, amen!  “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 123).  Pain will not get the final word.  Jesus is too great a Savior to allow it.  And Jesus is so great He turns hurt into healing, gangrene into glory.  O, that in 2020 I might have the vision to see it.

As I refocus now for the New Year ahead, I pray with Susanna Wesley:

Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such wise that they may unite my heart more closely with Thee.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigour in the pursuit of true happiness.

Amen.  Happy New Year!

P.S.  As I write this, I battle the pain of shingles.  “Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

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The Christian Chicken is . . . Chicken?

By now the dust is somewhat settling on Chick-Fil-A’s decision to stop donating to the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  This was, apparently, due to certain corporate leaders’ desire to pander more to the PC demographic regarding so-called Gay Marriage.  This is no longer Truett Cathy’s Chick-Fil-A.

But I assure every Christian in America, this “dust” simply is not going to ever really settle.  Not until Jesus returns and makes His enemies His footstool and renews His creation.

It is intriguing to me as a pastor of a local church to watch prominent Christian leaders all start picking sides, drawing lines, making conclusions, and bickering back-and-forth when a large corporation makes a very public decision that is obviously slanted towards the secular / cultural morality and away from biblical morality.  To read up on just such a debate, check out this blog:

Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver Responds To Franklin Graham: Chick-fil-A Betrayed Us “To Save Its Own Corporate Skin”

Now, to be sure, I was very disappointed by Chick-Fil-A’s decision.  Disappointed because of who they claimed to be.  Because of the values they purported to hold.

Disappointed.  But not surprised.

This issue, what has been called the “gay agenda” or the LGBTQ agenda, is a machine that will come knocking on the door of every single organization in North America that claims to be Christian in any sort of way.  Dr. Albert Mohler has been warning the evangelical world of this for a decade plus.  There simply is no place to hide.  A decision will have to be made by every Christian leader, by every church.  Will we say what God has said about marriage, about sexual sin, about redemption for sinners who by grace repent and trust Christ alone?  Or will we accommodate to the growing power of the LGBTQ lobby.  Will we cave to so-called “hate speech” legislation, being too blind to see beyond its cloak of deception?  Ask churches in Canada about the real impact of “hate speech” laws.  These laws are, ironically, a product of hatred for Jesus Christ and His Holy Word.

Regardless of our decision, it will not come without a cost.

I suspect Chick-Fil-A counted the cost before announcing their shift.  Now we wait.  We watch.  For consequences.  Surely some believers will boycott.  Some will simply not frequent the Christian chicken as often as before.  Some won’t change anything.  And others in our society will applaud this newly “enlightened” stance and will go eat a sandwich with waffle fries to salute what they perceive as “courage.”

For me, the verdict is still out.  I probably will just stop going to Chick-Fil-A for a while.  That chicken may put a bad taste in my mouth, at least until the dust settles.  It is almost to the point now where a Christian cannot live in our society without violating his or her conscience at some level.  Nearly every single company donates to organizations committed to promoting evil, like Planned Parenthood.  We pay taxes.  And our government uses our money to do evil, and to export evil around the globe.  Corruption has waxed so deep and strong that is can really depress a follower of Christ who is determined not to ever give money to sinful causes.  Don’t take my word for it.  Let 2nd Vote do the work for you:

Home

O, but don’t despair too long, dear saints.  Let’s not hang our heads in defeat.  The Christian worldview and the true church of Christ may have lost the “culture war” in America, as Dr. Russell Moore claims in his book Onward.  But Jesus wins in the end.

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever (Rev 11:15).

Amen, Come Lord Jesus!  (Rev 22:20)

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Pastor Appreciation Month is Not Working!

Yes, it feels really weird to be writing this blog post.

After all, I am a pastor.

But I am convinced this post, and others like it, are critically important for churches today.  Rather than try and say all I want to say, I think I will simply let well-known pastor, Thabiti Anyabwile, say it for me (Don’t Make Your Pastor a Statistic).

And my conclusion is that for all the hub-bub about Pastor Appreciation Month, it isn’t working.  O sure, it might be raking in thousands of dollars for Christian bookstores / retailers, but it is doing nothing to actually solve the crisis (and yes, it’s a crisis, read the post below please), happening among pastors and churches today.

Two of my close pastor friends, both faithful preachers of the Word who loved Christ and people, have recently been ousted (fired, in business language) by ungodly, unbiblical processes (a coup, in political language).  Behind the back meetings.  Behind the back gossip and false accusations.  Behind the back coalition building and grumbling.  It makes me sick.  And if my Bible is true, it makes God sick too.

The only solution is humble submission to the inerrant Word of God by those in churches claiming to be followers of Jesus.  A return of Holy Spirit-empowered obedient faith is the answer.  Churches must once again have the spiritual spine to structure themselves and order themselves and relate to one another according to the New Testament.  Period.  By this, Christ is highly exalted, and pastors and members flourish under the Spirit-filled good reign of God the Father.

 

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I Knew a Preacher Once

I knew a Preacher once

Who was called of the Lord

To stand in a pulpit

And open up the Word

 

I knew a Preacher once

Who said, “Thus says the Lord.”

His passion was singular

And his allegiance to only One

 

I knew a Preacher once

Who studied relentlessly the Book

Holy Spirit fire in his eyes

When to the Sacred Task he took

 

I knew a Preacher once

Who taught his children at home

To cast all hope upon Christ

And from His pierced side never to roam

 

I knew a Preacher once

Who never coddled sin

But preached Christ crucified

The only hope of men

 

I knew a Preacher once

Betrayed by so-called friends

Because to Scripture alone

His heart and life would bend

 

I knew a Preacher once

Whose anointing grew with age

No jokes or worldly eloquence

Just simple speech of God’s sage

 

I knew a Preacher once

Who sought no fortune or fame

If only I could hear him again

Herald Jesus’ holy name

 

I knew a Preacher once

But O, I dare not be sad

For the blessing was all mine

To call the Preacher, Dad.

 

When my day finally comes

To fly to my heavenly home

The Preacher and I will sing praise

To our God, the Three-in-One!

 

And may those I leave behind say

I knew a Preacher

Once . . .

 

*Dedicated to my hero and still my favorite Preacher:

Don Wilson McWhorter

June 16, 1946 – September 13, 2017

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Comparison – The Root of Many Sins

By Lori Beard

Recently, I was standing in the check out line at Walmart on a Sunday right after church (I know, I know….really). But here I was. And in front of me were two ladies practicing great patience and kindness with the cashier who was not really happy to be there. They had clearly just left church too. They were dressed in flowered skirts to their knees and their hair was neat as a pin. I immediately thought of a much younger; much more arrogant me.

I remembered seeing sweet ladies like this when I was in my twenties and feeling like I was so much more able to love and connect with broken people around me than these pious stick-in-the-mud ladies (as I walk into church in my shorts and tank top). I remember believing that, because I dressed less stylish and less “obviously Christian,” lost people could surely connect to me better. I was so sure of that. So arrogant. On this day, standing in Walmart I remembered how broken my own soul was that I would even have those thoughts. Years later, my life was significantly changed for the better by two ladies who wore dresses to their knees and never considered less than that when attending church. What a lesson for me.

This walk down memory lane led me to think on what divides Christian women the worst. What causes us to rise up against each other. What causes us to tear each other down.

It is comparison. 

We compare ourselves to other women in connection to, well, everything. And the result of comparing is always a couple of things; jealousy and envy or arrogance and pride. If we compare and find ourselves wanting then we experience horrible jealousy. If we compare and find ourselves better, we are eaten up in arrogance and pride. And the result of both of those is division.

It makes me sad. 

Christian women need one another desperately. We are aliens in a foreign land. We are not designed for the place we are living in. We are set apart. Weird. Out of place. If ever anybody needed anybody, it is other aliens. We need each other to get through this alien world until we reach home. But we are so busy comparing, cutting, finding fault.  We walk alone often because either the other women are not in our caliber OR the other women are so much better than us (in our mind) that our envy keeps us from loving or being loved by them.

Stop it.
Just stop it. 

I don’t know how biblical sounding that counsel is but God gave the same counsel when He wrote proverbs. If you are doing something foolish – stop it! He told the woman being stoned: who condemns you? Neither do I: now go and sin no more.

So just stop it. 

Listen, this thing we do; this comparing…
It is not humble.
It is not right.
It is not good.
It is evil.
Evil.

It is a tool of Satan to kill, steal, and destroy. I have seen it destroy friendships between sisters who are grown up in Jesus. I have seen it destroy the friendship between sisters who truly love others. It is wicked. If you are practicing it: just stop it.

Beg God to help you. Talk to other women who are not struggling in this. Talk to your pastor.

This sin is insidious. It will keep you isolated and alone and afraid for your whole life. 

Hiding behind fake smiles. And fake great marriage stories. And fake great kid stories. And fakehomemaking stories. Get it? Comparing ourselves leads to fake because we can never tell the lady who seems to be perfect what is hurting us. That we are not all together. That we are wearing capris to church but all broken at home. Our sorrows never get shared enough to find out the lady in the dress hurts too. She hurts just like you. Oh, this breaks my heart. I beg God to break this ugly sin from the church who loves Jesus. Break it! 

Some common areas of comparison that should bind us together but tears us apart:

  • Schooling. Oh, a big one. Homeschool. Public school. Private school. Charter schools. Online school. The absolute craziness over these camps makes my heart sick.
  • Breastfeed or bottle-feed. New mommas are struggling to sleep; struggling to get through colic; struggling to learn how to cope. And we draw up sides on how we feed our kids instead of crying together over exhaustion, fear and being crazy busy.
  • C section or natural birth. One of the most beautiful experiences of womanhood to be shared and we draw camps over it. We insist it matters. It does not. Stop it.
  • Skirts or pants. Truly. Who cares. Who cares!
  • Gifts & Talents. Instead of celebrating our different gifts and thanking God he blessed us by gifting a sister who can help us in our weakness, we secretly find ways to tear down those gifted differently than us so we feel better about our own. So then we never get to be helped by those with different gifts. We are too busy being jealous while hiding behind our smiles.
  • Married or unmarried. Well, of course married women are better. God loves them more. (Camp #1). Well, unmarried are more holy because Paul said, “Hey, wish you could be me!” (Camp #2) So never the two shall meet. So incredibly sad.
  • Mommas or not.  Women who want babies are so sad and broken that often they compare the way they would mother with the way Christian sisters do mother. They lose out on the chance to support sisters who need them. Who desperately need them. Women who are mommas only do playdates with other mommas. It never crosses their minds to share their beautiful family with the lady with no kids.

Unbelievable division that God never intended. 

Stories of women who hated other women abound in the Bible but the one that breaks my heart the most is Rebecca and Leah. Years of comparison. Years of envy. Years of jealously. What did it lead to? Generations of jealously. Envy. Hatred. Thousands of years. Read the story. God did not intend this sweet sisters.

Stop it.
Just stop it. 

Beg God to help you see women as the gifted amazing people he made them. Stop being afraid you cannot measure up. Stop posturing because you are infinitely better. Just love one another. We have so much to offer one another.

Stop comparing.
Start loving.
The two are not coexistent. 

Here is the verse that blows comparison up and stops it on its tracks: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

My motive should never be sizing up the competition to be better or to be good as. My motive should always be the glory of God alone. Now apply that to the list above. What does that look like in your life?  Your circumstances??

Do what brings glory to God. Only that. 

God bless our sweet sisters to seek Gods glory and be FREE to love one another without this yoke of comparison.

PASTOR’S NOTE: We are blessed to learn from Lori’s godly wisdom.  As Christians we all need to learn to discuss the various issues she mentions above without allowing our hearts to become judgmental or to fall into the comparison trap.  May the Lord give us grace to know how to agreeably disagree when the gospel and the primary truths of God’s character are not at stake.  Far too often in our culture, Christians either choose churches or leave churches over tertiary matters that fall more under Christian freedom or mere preferences.  We need to seek God’s grace to unite around those first-tier doctrines that matter most!

 

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