Category Archives: Articles

A Son, Reading, and Encouragement

This morning I had one of those moments that makes me love being a dad. Our middle son is smart, intelligent, goofy, and loud; but he has trouble getting things to stick in his mind. It is not that he refuses to pay attention, he tries very hard. It simply takes more time for his brain to accept new information than it takes some people.

As this school year starts, he has been working very hard on learning to read, but keeping everything straight in his head has been an effort. So this morning, when he came running into my office with his book in his hand, a smile from ear to ear, and his mother struggling to keep up, I immediately stopped what I was doing to listen.

When he read those 5 words to me, he could hardly get them out for all of his excitement. Shea told me afterward that when he read them out loud in the schoolroom this morning, the rest of the boys jumped up and down with excitement, congratulating their brother for his hard work and accomplishment.

As I think about those moments in their aftermath, I am reminded of an important spiritual point. When we have a brother or sister who has struggled with confidence in their Christian life, or dealt with great difficulty in trying to remove a sin from their life, or has faced great hardship and made it through to the other side, how do we respond? Do we think to ourselves: “it’s about time,” or, “I wonder what took them so long?” Do we half-heartedly acknowledge their efforts, but think to ourselves how much easier it should have been? It should not be this way.

Each of us have our mountains to climb that for another is but a small hill. When it comes to the Christian life, the important matter is not how quickly you reach the top, but that you continue to strive to reach it. As Christians, we should always be joyful and excited when that struggling Christian finds the confidence to re-dedicate their life. When the soul that has struggled with addiction has finally made progress in kicking the habit. Or when the one who has struggled to understand God’s Word finally has the light bulb moment.

Everyone does not reach the same plateaus at the same time, and we should always be grateful that God does not expect us to. Let us always encourage our friends, loved ones, and brethren. Let us be those that others can look to knowing that we will build them up, not tear them down. Because the goal of Christianity is to reach the finish line, not to get there first.

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How to Make God Weary

It is often believed that there is nothing that can wear God out. He is always there, always watching, never in need of sleep or rest – how can he become weary? Yet, consider what God said through Isaiah to Israel in Isaiah 1:10-15: “Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations– I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”

If man wants to weary God, all that has to be done is what Israel did.

They believed that keeping the sacrifices were all that was necessary (Vs. 11). As long as the “worship services” were accomplished, Israel felt they had everything in order and nothing more was needed. God says that those empty sacrifices accomplished nothing. Unfortunately, Christians can carry the same mentality today – believing that as long as they show up for worship every Sunday, that is all God desires. They come into the assembly but do not sing, pray, participate in heart, or listen with ears; then leave believing that being present where sacrifices were offered is sufficient. God tells Israel that he has had enough of all of the sacrifices that are offered with no meaning before him. Acting in the same measure of emptiness today will make God equally frustrated.

By their lifestyle they turned the solemn meetings (assemblies) into iniquity (Vs. 13). All it takes to destroy the usefulness and acceptability of the assembly in the eyes of God is for people to live for themselves outside of the assembly and then enter carrying the airs of righteousness before him. Doing such turns the assembly into a place of wickedness, not purity. It is unfortunate that some Christians do the same thing by filling their lives with their own desires, pleasures, and entertainment, then enter the worship assembly as though they put God first in their lives. God despises such hypocrisy and there can be no place for it in our lives.

The only way Israel could return to a right relationship with God is if they made the changes God commanded when he said, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:16-17).  It is the same for us today. If we do not wish to make God weary and cause him to despise our very presence before him when we assemble, we must ensure that our lives are dedicated to seeking him and serving him always and in all things, not just when it comes to assembling on Sunday.

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Sin is a Leech

Whether you have experienced them personally, seen them in the movies, or studied them in school, most people are familiar with leeches: those blood-sucking worms that seem to make their way into every jungle river movie ever made. There are many different kinds of leeches, but their general nature is the same: they survive by sucking the blood out of their hosts. I know, for most people it is gross and starts giving some the willies just thinking about it.
 
Have you ever thought about the fact that sin is very much like a leech? It lives through making you bleed both physically and spiritually. Sin will bleed your health, your financial resources, your influence, it will bleed away your friends and family, but most important of all, it will kill your relationship with God.
 
However, there are some ways in which leeches and sin are quite different. You see, the leech will suck on its prey until it is full, then it will detach itself and leave. Sin does not work that way. It will not voluntarily disappear or just walk out of your life, it has to be forced to leave. Sin will hang on as long as you will allow, until you forcibly remove it and cast it from you.
 
Once a leech has been removed the wound needs to be cleansed in order to heal. Likewise, once sin has been removed (through repentance – 2 Corinthians 7:10), the wound that has been left behind to the soul must be cleansed. This can only be done with one salve: the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7) received through obedience (Hebrews 5:9).
 
Have you checked yourself for leeches lately?

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“Just One of Them Things”

     In two days I have the honor of speaking at the funeral of a kind-hearted and generous sister in Christ who passed on to her reward Sunday night. Nothing came easy for Sister Norma in her life. She worked hard through many situations that would have brought down other people. She raised six children and two of her grandsons after they lost their parents. She was humble and generous, sometimes to a fault, but her love for her family and her fellow Christians was never questioned.

     In the time that I knew her, Sister Norma had a phrase that she used regularly that truly embodied her approach to life. “It’s just one of them things,” she would often say. However, that phrase would be uttered both in good times and bad. When encouraging someone else, or lying in the hospital dealing with her own problems. Whether talking to me about a lesson I had just presented, or dealing with some problem she couldn’t control, she approached them all with the mentality that life is “just one of them things.

     You see, Sister Norma understood that life is not about fair and unfair, nor does it set upon the point of only having good things happen in life. She understood that sunshine and rain come upon both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), and that there are many things that are part of life that are outside of the control of we mere mortals.

     Among the things that she discussed with me as “just one of them things” was death. She knew that it was one of those things that comes to all men. While concerned for the welfare of her family, she did not fear death, for she knew she was ready to face that which comes to all of us. She understood the principle of Revelation 14:13, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth… that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” She had done everything necessary to prepare for the day that came on Sunday and could approach it with the same attitude as she had everything else in life.

     I will miss Sister Norma. The conversations we had, the encouragement she gave, the calls to check on someone sick in my family when she was worse off than we were. But before I conclude, there is one more thing Sister Norma would want me to say. As I was preparing to speak at the funeral of her son a few years ago, I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to say. Her response was, “Tell it like it is, because some there might not get to hear it again and they need to hear it now.”

     With that in mind, I must ask: are you ready for death? Do you know what God expects of you to be acceptable in his sight, and have you done it? Are you sure that what you currently believe is the truth, or are there questions in your mind? Have you repented (turned away) of the sin in your life (2 Peter 3:9), and been immersed in water for the remission of your sins (Acts 22:16)? Are you living your life by walking in the light of Christ and letting him guide your steps (1 John 1:7; Galatians 2:20), or are you trying to walk your own path hoping that God will accept it because he loves you?

     The Bible is clear about what God commands man to do in obedience to him; but they must be done while opportunity exists today. Remember, tomorrow is not guaranteed and death is “just one of them things.”

     Are you ready? Are you sure?

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The Reason I Never Throw Away My Sermons

I have often heard of preachers who, it was said, never kept their sermons. They would throw them out after each presentation for the purpose of then being forced to put new material together on a given topic or text each time they spoke. While there can be value in such an approach, and there is certainly value in the reason behind it, allow me to give the reason why I have never thrown away my sermons.

I began preaching full-time at the age of 21. Even though I had been speaking for a number of years already and spent 3 years in preaching school, I was by no means polished and complete as a preacher (as a side note, I’m still not). As a general rule, I have always tried to write my own sermons. While I will on occasion take titles, ideas, and such from other sources, I work hard to ensure that the style and presentation of the substance is my own.

In spite of that fact, I can honestly say that it is rare for me to preach the same sermon more than once. I will, from time to time, take a sermon I have prepared for an event elsewhere and preach it here at my home congregation. I will also occasionally take an old sermon, repurpose and retool it, and preach it again a few years after the first occasion. However, by the time I am done with it you would hardly recognize it side-by-side with the original.

So, why keep all of my sermons and articles? One main reason: evidence of growth.

For a preacher, sometimes the evidence for whether we are growing the way we should is hard to come by (at least for me). We see the growth in our families, fellow preachers, and brethren in our congregations. However, even though we study constantly, it is sometimes very difficult to measure our own personal growth in areas like preparation, presentation, style, and use of substance. Brethren can see, to some degree, the growth of the preacher in his grasp of the Scriptures. However, there are not many who will approach you at the back of the building and state, “I just want you to know that your ability to exegete and communicate the Scriptures has improved exponentially over the last _____ years!”

That is why I keep my sermons. There are many of my sermons from years gone by that I would not preach today. It is not because there is anything doctrinally amiss in them, but because I would approach those same topics/passages very differently today than I did then. Understanding in various aspects of Scripture has grown, and the style with which those things are presented has evolved over time.

Sometimes there are sermons I pull out and cringe over the approach that was taken, or the argument that was made from a passage that really did not support it. But that is actually a positive, not a negative. It shows that over time the efforts to continue to grow and develop have been fruitful.

It is for this reason that I would encourage you to keep your work. Whether you are a preacher, Bible class teacher, or just a student of the Bible who writes notes, articles, and food for thought from the Scriptures. As time goes by you have something tangible to which you can turn to see where you have been and how far you have come.

Are we growing as we should? Have we taken the time to check?

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Lessons from Lydia

“And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to myhouse and stay.” So she persuaded us.” (Acts 16:13-15)

This short account of the conversion of a businesswoman in Philippi holds a number of points of interest that we need to remember. As Paul came to Philippi, he went down to the riverside where people in the town went to pray to God. It was there that he found this woman named Lydia.

It is interesting to note that Lydia was already worshiping God. She was not an idolater or unbeliever, but believed in the God of Heaven and worshiped him. However, just because she believed in God did not mean she knew the truth and was fulfilling God’s expectations. Nor can we assume, contrary to popular opinion, that just because someone believes in God and worships him today that they are where God wants them to be.

The Lord knew the heart of Lydia. She wanted to do what was right and wanted to serve God acceptably. So, through the words of Paul, her heart was opened and she obeyed the Gospel, being baptized into Christ. Many Jews worshiped God in those days, but their hearts were closed to the truth of Christ. Likewise today, many worship the God of the Bible, yet close their hearts to the truths that book proclaims.

Do you, like Lydia, want to serve God enough to allow your heart to be opened to its truth, or even while you worship God will you refuse to acknowledge what is found in his word?

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The Christian in the Workplace

“Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ;not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is slave or free.
And you masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9)

In this passage, the apostle Paul emphasizes Christian character toward our jobs. Christ has expectations of every follower, no matter which rung of the ladder they hold. Whether the master or the slave, the employer or the employee, the boss or the one being bossed.

He tells the servants they are to work with sincerity of heart, not with eye-service as men-pleasers. This phrase talks of one who works hard when the boss is around, but is lazy and a slacker when nobody is watching. Such an individual is only worried about not getting in trouble and will do exactly the amount of work necessary, no more, no less. This worker is only interested in self, and everyone around knows it.

Paul writes that the character of a Christian is seen when he does everything to the best of his ability, no matter who is watching. The Christian recognizes he/she is in the service of God and therefore will do the work of God from the heart at all times.

However, the Master is also told to do the same thing. Just because you are the boss does not mean you get to do whatever you want without consideration of Christ. For there is no partiality with God. He will treat the master the same as the slave, the boss the same as the employee. Therefore, the heart of the master must also be focused on service to Christ, and it must show in the way others are treated.

So, does your Christian character show in the workplace?

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