Guest Columns

What every church needs

May 27 2016 by Terry Dorsett

Many churches across America are in trouble. There are many reasons why churches are struggling, and ministry leaders are not in agreement about how to address the issue.
 
Some say we need more effective marketing. Some say we need to make our churches more culturally relevant. Some say we need more efficient methodology that utilizes technology in a visual age. There is probably some truth in all of those observations.
 
But I think what we need more than anything is Spirit-filled biblical preaching that reflects the counsel of the apostle Paul to Timothy: “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who does not need not to be ashamed, but rightly dividing (explaining) the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
 
Many contemporary sermons sound more like the advice one can get from a pop-psychologist on talk radio or a television show. What we need are biblically based sermons empowered by the Spirit and delivered with passion that comes from prayer, study and holiness.
 
Some time ago I visited what was once one of the larger evangelical churches in New England. Though it is still quite sizable, it is half of what it once was. I wanted to observe what they were doing and learn from their experience. The music was stirring but when it came time for the sermon, I quickly realized why attendance had declined. After a handful of poorly executed jokes, the speaker said, “I spent all week preparing to speak and had about seven hours of stuff to talk about in this sermon. Then I realized this morning at 3 a.m. that I hadn’t picked a Scripture yet.”
 
In those two sentences the health of that congregation became crystal clear. I am not sure what the man had spent all week studying, but by his own admission it had not been the Bible. I cannot imagine how he collected what he thought was enough material for a seven-hour sermon when he did not even know what Scripture text he was speaking from.
 
Life-changing sermons begin with the Scripture. As the Holy Spirit illuminates what that Scripture means, the pastor can make notes and study related passages and historical materials and find illustrations from modern culture that demonstrate the truth of those verses. Any sermon that begins with seven hours of random study and then looks for a Scripture to hang it all on is not a sermon at all. It is just a man’s opinions that he is trying to pass off as God’s Word. Such sermons are not life-changing.
 
To be fair, the speaker that I observed that day eventually got around to quoting a number of Bible verses. However, they were not related to his main text and were disconnected from each other. It sounded like he used a Bible concordance at the end of his preparation time to find verses that had certain phrases in them so he could prove a point instead of teaching points that had been drawn from the texts themselves. It left me feeling hollow and empty spiritually. I assume it left a lot of other people feeling that way as well.
 
Our churches might need more effective marketing. We might need to speak to the culture in more relevant ways. Churches might need efficient methodology that utilizes technology in a visual age. But what the church surely needs is Spirit-filled biblical preaching that communicates timeless truth to a culture adrift in the meaningless opinions of man.
 
Lord, help pastors begin their sermon preparation in the Word and help them draw the entire sermon from the Word. Help parishioners crave Bible-based Spirit-filled preaching instead of the pop-psychology of our postmodern era. Amen.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, is online at thoughtsfromdrt.blogspot.com.)

5/27/2016 1:10:11 PM by Terry Dorsett | with 0 comments



Loving the misfits

May 26 2016 by Jonathon Duke

The term “misfit” has always been close to my heart and perhaps that is because deep inside I know that I am a misfit. I am a misfit who is loved by God, but I am still a misfit.
 
If you are unclear as to what exactly a misfit is, think of the claymation TV movie “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” from a few decades ago. In the movie Rudolph spent some time on the Island of Misfit Toys. The fictional toys on the island all had some flaw or distinction that made them unfit as Christmas gifts. The island in the movie was a place where those toys found a home with other misfit toys.
 
The island presents a picture not too different from what the church is called to be. The church should be the place where any and all people are welcome. There must also be an understanding that in some way or other each person is a misfit. Our flaws, shortcomings and mistakes cause us to miss the mark of perfection, but God is still able to use us for His glory.
 
Student ministry can be a great example of this dynamic at work in God’s Kingdom. Our youth groups, just like our church congregations, are filled with all kinds of people. In the mixture of diverse personalities and life experiences that make up a student ministry, there are also some students who require an extra measure of attention.
 
It may be the student who tends to live on the fringe of what is accepted behavior or the student who struggles to connect socially, but they are the ones who can get lost in the crowd if youth leaders are not careful.
 
Over the past few years I went from being a minister who worked with a few dozen students on a regular basis to one who now has over a hundred students who are part of my current ministry. As the number of students in my care multiplied, I also realized that the number of students who struggle to connect has also increased.
 
A healthy student ministry must acknowledge the differences that make a student unique while also determining the best way to minister to that individual.
 
In addition to those students, I encountered others who are dealing with some physical, emotional or spiritual issue that can easily lead to them feeling like an outsider. These students have become a passion of mine, and therefore I think a greater amount of discussion needs to exist among student pastors to help us minister to those who feel like misfits.
 
I love the story in Scripture of the blind beggar that Jesus healed (Luke 18:35-43). In the story there are a great crowd of people who were following Jesus, but there was one man left out of the experience because of his blindness. The crowd not only failed to see the opportunity to minister to the man, they rebuked him and asked him to not bother Jesus.
 
However, the Master acted differently. Jesus commanded that the man be brought to Him and then Jesus ministered personally to him. After his encounter with Jesus, the man followed Jesus with the rest of the crowd who praised God for what they witnessed.
 
This story offers the perfect picture of what our ministries should look like. We may have a dozen people or several hundred in our care, but we must not overlook the ones who need a personal touch. The students who need a personal touch from us will vary and change during the evolving seasons of ministry, but we must keep an eye out for them at all times. There will be students who struggle to participate, and others who are limited because of their own inadequacies or circumstances.
 
How can a youth leader get the student who is an introvert to connect with his or her small group in a way that facilitates the development of relationships? How can we make facilities and activities accessible to students who have some type of disability? How can we be sensitive to the emotionally complex feelings that many students experience during their adolescent years?
 
My prayer is that each minister, volunteer and group leader will have a heart for those students and make an extra effort to personally connect with them. There is no blanket approach that can cover all the specific issues our students are facing, and that is why encouragement among student leaders is needed. We should look for opportunities to dialog about our experiences of ministering to those who are loners, eccentrics – the misfits.
 
With more conversations about the students who feel like misfits, perhaps we can see more and more of them becoming the catalysts that cause the rest of the crowd to praise God for what He is doing.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jonathon Duke is the student minister at Ephesus Baptist Church in Villa Rica, Ga. This column first appeared in The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

5/26/2016 10:49:28 AM by Jonathon Duke | with 0 comments



Seasoned sermons

May 25 2016 by Jason K. Allen

My first sermon was nearly 20 years ago, and I now find myself at a different stage of life and ministry, with a different set of concerns and observations.
 
As a more veteran preacher, these practices are on my mind to suggest to those who are no longer in the early stages of ministry:
 

Vary your Bible reading plan

Your best preaching is always the natural overflow of your personal Bible study. Unfortunately, time constraints sometimes force you to study the Bible for sermons as opposed to developing your sermons organically from your Bible study.
 
While I commend reading through the Bible in a year, doing so in a formulaic, stale way can lead to stale results. To help avoid this, consider occasionally altering your Bible reading plan.
 
For example, over the past year, I have taken a few different approaches. I read through all of the Pauline letters, consecutively, on an international flight. I also spent a few weeks reading, rereading and reflecting on 1 Corinthians, and I am currently reading through the New Testament in a month. Each one of these approaches has invigorated my Bible study, prompted fresh looks at familiar passages and led to new sermons.
 

More study, less notes

In my early years of preaching I wrote out, in longhand, every aspect of the sermon – yes, everything! Every single word, including the introduction, logistical information, transitional phrases and even personal stories were all included in my word-for-word manuscript. These manuscripts usually totaled 12-15 pages.
 
Oddly, I actually spent so much time writing, and rewriting, the manuscript that it took time away from my study of the text. Additionally, the manuscript served as an unhelpful crutch. I leaned on it more than I should.
 
These days, I typically enter the pulpit with copious notes, but not a fully drafted manuscript. Doing so affords me more time to actually study the passage and liberates me from being overly dependent upon my sermon notes.
 

More preparation, less polish

Similarly, early in my ministry I anguished over the homiletical outline and the sermon title. I often spent hours brainstorming and then tweaking them both. Trust me, if you are committed to alliteration, it will be a tough taskmaster. What is more, too many preachers have pressed the meaning of a text to fit a cute outline.
 
I still spend similar time preparing sermons. I just devote less of it to the polish, and more of it to the substance of the sermon. If an alliterated outline or captivating title more naturally arises, I will employ them. But I no longer feel the pressure to manufacture them.
 

Re-preach passages, not sermons

Occasionally, I will be in a jam and have to re-preach an old sermon. I absolutely loathe doing that. For me, half the joy of preaching is studying the text. Reheating old sermons robs me of the full joy of preaching and makes me feel as though I am bringing leftovers to the table.
 
It is true: If a sermon is not good enough to preach a second time, it probably was not good enough to preach the first. But as you re-preach it, make sure you are re-preaching the passage – freshly working through the text and sermon, not just heating up leftovers.
 

Preach the hard texts

If veteran preachers do not preach the hard texts, who will? Just as it is unhealthy for beginning preachers to select the most challenging passages, it is cowardly for veteran preachers to avoid them.
 
Tackling the paradoxes of Scripture, the hard sayings of Christ, and the less inviting passages will be good for the church. And as you discipline yourself to study them, it will be good for you too.
 

Be aware of cultural concerns, but not driven by them

One of the benefits of expository preaching is that it anchors the sermon in the text of Scripture, not current events. The Word of God is perennial, never needing to be updated or improved upon. At the same time, faithful preaching brings the Word of God to bear, actually pressing it upon the lives of the hearers.
 
Work to maintain balance in application. Both bending texts to address current events or studiously avoiding them will leave the sermon lacking. Be aware of our cultural moment and, as the text speaks to such issues, do just that.
 

Preach to people, not at them

The sweetest preaching is not the mega-stage at a major conference, it is the faithful, week-by-week preaching by the under-shepherd to his sheep. This is one of the things I miss most about pastoring, getting to preach to God’s people, not at them. The latter views them not so much as people, but as an audience. Preaching at people leads to more clinical sermons, and, at times, a too prophetic tone.
 
Seeing the congregation as God’s gathered people, who have been entrusted to you, and reflecting on their struggles, their temptations and their trials will lead you to preach to them, and not simply at them. This subtle difference is one of the key distinctions between the beginner and the veteran preacher.
 

Be more and less confident

I once heard about a newly-minted seminary graduate who bounded into the pulpit to preach his first sermon. He crammed three years of Greek and systematic theology into his sermon notes. His outline was spit-shined, and his sermon title un-improvable. The young man could not have entered the pulpit more confidently.
 
But as soon as the sermon started, it went off the rails. He forgot his second point. He lost his place in his notes. He sensed he was about to crash and burn and did just that.
 
He entered the pulpit strutting but he exited it humbled before God and man. After the sermon, a wise, elderly deacon told him, “If you entered the pulpit like you left it, you would’ve left the pulpit like you entered it.”
 
Whether you are a beginner preacher or veteran one, cultivate a sense of dependence on Christ. Be confident in Him, in the power of His Word, in the certainty of His call, and in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. While these tips might be of help, only God can turn a message into a sermon.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, also wrote a column on tips for beginning preachers, posted at his website, jasonkallen.com.)

5/25/2016 1:38:44 PM by Jason K. Allen | with 0 comments



If I had more time

May 24 2016 by Ronnie Floyd

A reporter recently asked me a very thought provoking question: If you had two more years as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, what would you do? I was not intimidated by the question; in fact, I have thought about it since the beginning of the year.
 
Every president in the past and every president in the future must lead the convention in the direction he believes God has put on his heart. Yet, he must also ensure it coincides with what the Lord is doing among the people and is done in the Lord’s timing. Additionally, the president must be more than prepared because the Lord may open unique doors for him during his term.
 

A personal moment

I have no idea how past presidents felt as they concluded their journey in this leadership responsibility. I am sure the emotions are plentiful. I am often asked, “Won’t you be glad to see this conclude?” I can honestly say that while I am humbled deeply and grateful to God for it, I have loved it all and will miss it.
 
I entered this year with these emotions and the vision of the needs that are so great before us. Therefore, I want to speak to two of our major needs today.
 
Because these are such major needs in Southern Baptist life, I have already been addressing them both. Yet, as we draw closer to this journey’s end, I feel the need to continually speak to their importance.
 

Prioritizing evangelism again

I will speak to some of this in my presidential address at our upcoming Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. I have already been speaking about this subject in writing and in leadership. A couple of months after being elected in 2014, I began conducting conference calls with large groups of leaders, challenging ministers to lead the way in seeing a change in our present negative trajectory.
 
Prioritizing evangelism again in our lives and churches is imperative. We need to emphasize personal evangelism as well as church evangelism.
 
We must hold high the dynamic need of reaching our own town, community, or city for Jesus Christ. We need to recapture the vision that God has taken us into our specific towns or regions to invest our lives until every person hears the gospel and comes to Christ.
 
Our pastors and churches must not just be equipped with evangelistic tools, but must adjust their thinking about their region and strategy.
 
Pastors and church leaders must begin to see their community as lost and in dire need of Jesus Christ. We must know our area demographically. If we are called to reach the people of our communities, we must first know who is there so we can develop a strategy to reach them.
 
Therefore, we must see each church as being on mission with God to reach their community with the gospel, and the pastor must see himself as a missional strategist, thinking and mobilizing people on this grand mission. This will take a major transition in our thinking as leaders.
 
Until personal evangelism and evangelism through the church are our priority, we will continue to see what we have seen – mediocrity. Pastor and church, re-prioritize your life and church for evangelism: sharing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit with the sole intentionality of leading each person to Christ.
 

Bring laypeople back into Southern Baptist life

The conservative resurgence would have never happened without laypeople leading and participating. Judge Paul Pressler, a layman, and a tribe like him were side-by-side with our pastors in leading this needed return to the Bible. They were vigilant in the battle, which was so needed. They were only beholden to the Lord they served, the Word of God they loved, the church God used to bring them to Jesus Christ, and the convention they believed God had raised up to reach the world.
 
While pastors were always in leadership, these strong laypeople were holding up the arms of our leaders, praying and serving admirably and unselfishly. When the resurgence was completed, many of these laypeople eventually ceased coming to our convention.
 
While this was understandable, today I really believe it is important to our future to re-engage our laypeople. It would take us from where we are to where God wants to see us go. We cannot get there without them.
 
Being in northwest Arkansas at Cross Church, our region is flooded with the promise and hope of laypeople. As the global headquarters of Walmart, J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods, and the home of the University of Arkansas, business giants and leaders fill this region. With at least 1,200 to 1,400 national and global companies that have some level of presence here, laypeople are robust in our area. I thank God for the involvement of many laypeople in our fellowship and what they teach me continually.
 
Southern Baptist laypeople have so much to offer our convention. We need them more than they need us. Thank God for those who are still engaged with our meetings and for those who serve as trustees of our 11 national entities and Executive Committee.
 
Next year’s convention is in Phoenix, Ariz. Two summers from now, our convention will be in Dallas, Texas. Since thousands of churches are within driving distance of Dallas from surrounding states, if I had two more years to serve as president I would begin promoting this immediately. Unquestionably, I am convicted about it.
 

I will be handing the gavel to the next leader

When the gavel rings through St. Louis’ America Center at the close of our convention on Wednesday afternoon (June 15), I will no longer be serving as president. It is important for each of us now to pray diligently about the next leader God is raising up to serve.
 
I am praying with you for the Lord to raise up His next leader for us. I am overwhelmed with gratitude to God and to you for this generous privilege and responsibility extended to me.

5/24/2016 12:59:37 PM by Ronnie Floyd | with 0 comments



Never retire!

May 23 2016 by Joe McKeever

Never stop doing what God put you on earth to do. For the seniors among us, this is no time to slack off. It’s just getting good.
 
Congratulations on two of the biggest blessings in your life. One, if you are born again, your name is written in the book of life. You are going to heaven.
 
And two, you’re old.
 
You may not think of getting old as a blessing, but it is. We all have had friends who yearned to live as long as we have, to see their kids grow up and get married, to hold their grandbabies. Some of us have even had the privilege of watching our grandchildren grow into young adulthood.
 
I hear people say, “There’s no retirement in Scripture.” Actually, there is. Numbers 8:25 says the Jewish priests retired at the age of 50. Thereafter, they could volunteer to assist if they chose, but this was a young man’s profession, manhandling all those animals for sacrifice, that sort of thing.
 
Even so, there is no retirement from serving the Lord.
 
After all:

  • You may be doing your best work right now.
  • God may be using you in ways you cannot imagine. Whether you see what He is doing or not makes no difference. After all, you are not the judge of your own work. None of us is.
  • People coming behind you are watching to see how you handle the challenge of seniority in these last decades. Your influence is phenomenal.You’re almost home now. You can see the house from here. Just a little longer.

I’ve heard that tightrope walkers are at their most precarious in those final one or two steps. They’ve walked across the arena high above the crowd, they’ve risked their lives, and now they’re done. Almost. Just another step or two. What they must not do is let down their guard and relax too soon. To do that can be fatal.

 
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:1, “Therefore, since we have received this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart [and quit].” He looks back and sees two overwhelming reasons to stay faithful: mercy and ministry – God’s mercy upon us and His calling for us.
 
Then, in the same chapter, verses 16-17, the apostle writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart [and quit]. For even though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is working for us an exceeding weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” This time, Paul looks to the future and gives us two more great reasons for not quitting: growth and glory – God is making us into the image of Christ here in this life and His great rewards are just ahead.
 
When you get to heaven, you will find just how precious was your service for the Lord. You will see what you have achieved. And you will be so grateful you were faithful.
 
To seniors who are away from God, who have not yet given your hearts to Jesus and begun living for Him: What are you waiting for?
 
Some will say, “I’m too far gone; there’s no hope for me.” Others may say, “I’m going to do it ... one of these days.”
 
Let me tell you a story.
 
A preacher told how when he was little, his mother taught him piano. Once in a recital, he was on stage playing his little piece when he froze up. His mind went blank and he could not recall a thing. He had to get up and walk off the stage in humiliation. Later, he said, his mother gave him some great advice.
 
“Honey, any time you mess up in the middle, always end with a flourish. If you end with a flourish, no one will remember what you did in the middle.”
 
Some of you may have messed up in the middle of your life. But my friend, it’s still possible to end with a flourish.
 
Will you do it? Will you invite Jesus Christ into your life today and let Him start a new thing in you?
 
Ponder these words from Scripture:
 
Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart” (Hebrews 3:15).
 
Now, is the accepted time. Today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
 
Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
 
You will never be any younger than you are. You will never be able to go back and start over, or undo what you have done. But you can begin today to get this right and end with a flourish.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe McKeever is the former director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association and former pastor of First Baptist Church in Kenner, La. He also is a cartoonist whose work is featured in Baptist Press and other media.)

5/23/2016 12:17:07 PM by Joe McKeever | with 0 comments



My idols vs. Jesus

May 20 2016 by Michael Kelley, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Deep within us all is a manufacturing process whether we know it or not: Slowly but steadily, we craft our idols, linking them together based on our own thoughts, desires and preferences until one day they take full residence in our hearts.
 
We should know these idols are just that – idols. They’re our own creations. They do not speak. They do not feel. They are mere fabrications to which we willingly bow down to instead of the living God.
 
If we’re truly honest, there are a few reasons why we are prone to treasure these idols – even more than Jesus.
 

They tell me what I want to hear.

Because idols are fashioned around our preferences and desires, we can rest assured that our idols are always going to tell us exactly what we like to hear. That we are right. That everyone else is wrong. That our sin is no big deal. That the best thing we can do in life is pursue that which will satisfy us at a given moment, no matter what it is.
 
But Jesus? Well, Jesus will tell us the truth. He loves us too much not to. Jesus, who knows our hearts more fully than we know ourselves, will cut through our web of self-deception, look us squarely in the soul, and tell us the uncomfortable, unvarnished truth about ourselves, Himself and the world.
 

They think I’m the most important thing in the universe.

Most of us still think, at some level and at some time, that we are truly the center of the universe. And our idols will agree. Our idols will affirm that because we are at the center, then anyone who doesn’t align with our desires or opinions is simply wrong or out of touch. Further, our idols will bolster our belief that, because we are central, it’s perfectly fine for us to see others as a means to our own ends. They will support our “use” of other people to gain whatever it is they can offer us.
 
But Jesus? Well, Jesus knows that God is the center of the universe. He makes decisions based not on what will make us the most comfortable, but instead on the glory of the Father. This puts us in an uncomfortable position because when we walk with Jesus, we must constantly remember that we are not the lead actor in this story; in fact, this is not our story at all. We are a subplot operating in a narrative thread with God at the center of all things.
 

They hate all the same things I do.

It is amazing how quickly we can move over the line of annoyance or even dislike into the realm of hatred. Most of the time the only thing we need to push us over the edge is someone else to agree with us – to affirm that, yes, that person or that thing or that group is indeed the worst. Armed with the confidence that can only come with agreement, we can easily talk ourselves into deeper and deeper levels of hatred, all the while with our idols cheering us on.
 
But Jesus? Well, Jesus is the friend of sinners. He’s the advocate for the outcast. He’s the one who constantly crosses lines of human division and brings together sinners, saved by grace, into often uncomfortable relationships. He’s the one who is building a people of incredible diversity who have nothing in common except the only thing that matters – the grace that has saved us in Him. Jesus is the one who builds bridges, not tears them down, and He expects us to follow Him across.
 
Yes, the heart is an idol factory. Today it’s busily working. Building. Manufacturing. And whatever comes out of that assembly line will tell you what you want to hear; they will think you’re the most important thing in the universe; and they will hate all the same things you do. In short, those idols will be another version of our worst selves.
 
Fight it today, Christian. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Shut down the factory, and then wake up tomorrow and shut it down again. Don’t abandon the true Jesus for an idol of your own making.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Kelley is director of groups ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of “Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God” and “Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life.” He is on Twitter at @michaelkelley and online at michaelkelley.co. This article has been adapted from the For the Church website (ftc.co) of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

5/20/2016 10:43:46 AM by Michael Kelley, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary | with 0 comments



Beware of fool’s gold

May 19 2016 by Ray Parascando, Crossroads Church

There is this common saying that all that glitters is not gold. In searching for gold, people usually come across its counterfeit, called pyrite.
 
Pyrite glitters like gold and is easier to find, usually in the same region where there are gold deposits. Its discovery can spark hope of becoming a millionaire, but it is short-lived. Sudden disillusionment will set in when a goldsmith reports that it is not gold that has been discovered, but fool’s gold.
 
We can avoid this agony by learning how to test whether what glitters is real gold or pyrite. One method is to rub your discovery on the rough side of a ceramic tile. If the glittering remains, then you have discovered real gold. But if it leaves a black streak, you have fool’s gold.
 
This same process should be applied to our beliefs about God, particularly when it comes to seeking prosperity. Some preachers have become New York Times best-selling authors with books assuring that financial and medical blessing is God’s will for every Christian. This reality is possible, they say, for those who speak it into existence and believe.
 
Be careful not to fall for the glitter that it projects.
 
As you rub the principles of the prosperity gospel against God’s Word, it quickly becomes black. God never promised that every person who claims to be a Christian would be financially independent if they just adopt prosperity gospel teachings.
 
When Jesus spoke of “asking, seeking and knocking,” it was in the context of His Kingdom message of trusting God, not the system that the religious leaders were profiting from. Whenever Jesus discussed riches, it carried an eternal perspective. Taking a holistic view of the scriptures, discussing financial blessing without connecting it to God’s greater Kingdom plan is to teach outside the will of God.
 
Seek what God is interested in doing in your life. As we get closer to God, we will realize that His desire is to bless according to His purposes and in His time. The focus is God, not cars, promotions, boats or other non-essentials.
 
God wants to bless your humble prayers. Instead of yearning for earthly riches, ask for heavenly blessings such as wisdom. This is the type of prayer that God honors. It is how King Solomon prayed in 1 Kings 3:9: “So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?
 
God had given Solomon a blank check for his prayers. He could have asked for more power, more possessions and more pleasure. Instead, Solomon asked for wisdom, which became the noble hallmark of his life.
 
Praying for wisdom is your best prayer for raising your family, advancing in your career goals, dealing with relationship drama, finding ways to pay the bills, investing your money, getting out of debt or even buying something new like a car. Asking God for wisdom will also serve as that necessary “selfish filter” which we all need.
 
Focusing on God prospering your soul doesn’t mean you can’t ask Him for needs and even some righteous wants. He desires to provide for His people. The apostle Paul, after encouraging the church at Philippi on contentment, reminded them in their time of poverty to trust and wait on God’s provisions. “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” Paul wrote in Philippians 4:19.
 
If you’re asking with the right heart and the right focus, the Spirit will filter out the nonsense. Pray expecting God to provide but do so without trusting in your own power to “make” or “cause” God to answer. Pray with confidence balanced with humility. This will help you know the difference between false gold and God’s gold for your life.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ray Parascando is pastor of Crossroads Church in Staten Island, N.Y.)

5/19/2016 10:44:27 AM by Ray Parascando, Crossroads Church | with 0 comments



Be a faith-walker

May 18 2016 by David Jeremiah

Truth and action are the two components to walking by faith. Truth is made impotent by fear, but it springs to life through the hands and feet of the faithful who act. Truth not acted upon by faith produces the same result as error acted upon by faith.
 
At the heart of Christianity is faith. Most believers understand that the Christian life is conceived by grace through faith (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). But what too many fail to understand is that the Christian life is continued and completed by faith as well. It’s all by faith!
 
In fact, if we are not walking by faith on a moment-by-moment basis, the life we are living is not the Christian life at all – it’s only a going-through-the-motions effort to live like we think Christians are supposed to live. But that is not pleasing to God, as Hebrews 11:6 says: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him ....”
 
The saddest part of seeing Christians walk by sight instead of by faith is knowing they haven’t experienced the miracle-working power of God. Vance Havner, the eminent Southern Baptist evangelist, used to say about those in the Bible who walked by faith, “They saw the invisible, they chose the imperishable, and they did the impossible!”
 
How often do you and I witness God doing something impossible in our lives? It ought to be as often as we have needs we cannot meet, goals we cannot achieve, relationships we cannot mend, or dreams we cannot fill in our own strength.
 

The heart of walking by faith

The key verse in the New Testament on walking by faith is 2 Corinthians 5:7: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
 
The verse’s meaning and import is revealed by noting its context. In the previous chapter, the apostle Paul talked about being an “earthen vessel” in which God had deposited His glorious Gospel. He described the numerous sufferings and hardships his apostolic band had experienced from those who do not believe. In spite of his travails, he lived by faith: “We also believe and therefore speak ... [meaning] we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (verses 13,18).
 
In that context, Paul then said in chapter 5 that, while he would prefer to be in heaven with Christ (who could blame him?), he was able to continue his walk on earth in spite of hardships because “we walk by faith, not by sight” (5:7).
 

The Hall of Fame of faith

If ever there was a biblical account to be studied on how to walk by faith, it is the record in Hebrews 11 of those in the Old Testament who lived and died by faith.
 
There was Abel, who made a presentation to God by faith, and Enoch who demonstrated the possibilities of walking by faith. Noah’s walk was the performance of faith, and Abraham’s long walk with God revealed the progress of faith. Sarah waited on a child and demonstrated the patience of faith, and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph clung to the promise of faith in the future. Moses is our model of the persuasion of faith, and Joshua and Rahab the perils of faith. Many others too numerous to name are said to have paid the ultimate price for faith.
 
These saints were risk-takers, mold-breakers and system-shakers but, most of all, they were faith-walkers – and we need to be just like them.
 
If you find yourself frozen with fear, stuck in the valley of despair, immobilized by indecision, just sitting in the boat doing nothing, “cast all your anxiety on Him [God] because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7) and step out! Don’t look at what your eyes see (or don’t see), look at what your heart knows to be true about God.
 
It only takes two seconds to make that choice to be a faith-walker, but you’ll live with the benefits for a lifetime.

5/18/2016 10:47:15 AM by David Jeremiah | with 0 comments



Lessons from a farmer

May 16 2016 by Christine Hoover

My brother-in-law Travis, a farmer, daily dips his hands in the fertile south Texas soil that is his family’s very provision.
 
He and his farmer-father and farmer-uncles have turned, tilled and molded the soil into neat rows, with acres and acres now fertilized and implanted with various species of seeds: sorghum, sugar cane, cotton, sesame or cabbage.
 
After planting, they scrupulously monitor the soil, coax it with aeration, search it for even the smallest of weeds or pests. And then they will wait for the sun and the rain and the miraculous work of seeds becoming sprouts becoming stalks.

 
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A farmer, perhaps more than most, knows something about faith.

 
It’s no wonder that Scripture encourages us to look to the farmer as an example. When the apostle Paul tells Timothy to be strong in the grace of Christ, he points to the hard-working farmer (2 Timothy 2:6). When he exhorts the Galatian churches toward endurance, he speaks of perennial planting and patient waiting for an inevitable harvest (Galatians 6:9).
 
In my own life, I recognize my need to look to the farmer. My husband and I have been married and in ministry for 16 years. We have parented for 13; we’re completing our eighth year of planting and growing a church; and I’m staring ahead at years of more cultivating, weeding and watering.
 
At times, I feel trapped by the everydayness of life and how much work there is yet to do. I stand with the soil cupped in my hands, wondering if my labor will amount to anything in the end. How do I continue in all God has called me to do without growing weary, especially when the work is demanding and the harvest appears so far into the future?
 
I look to the farmer for answers:
 

A farmer has an unwavering commitment to the harvest.

 
Travis tells me farming is not a typical job where you can give your two-week notice and walk away. When you farm, you’re connected to a specific land and you’ve invested in expensive equipment, a community and oftentimes previous generations of your family who have farmed. In other words, the farmer is covenanted to his work for a lifetime, working his land with the yearly harvest ever before him. Every investment in equipment, every decision regarding the precise planting time, every weed uprooted – all of it is done with the harvest in mind.
 
This reminds me that I too am called to a lifelong commitment to the harvest, one that is played out in everyday acts of devotion. At its very center is a commitment to self-death – to a deep-root, big picture where instant growth, instant fruit, instant reward can never be the goal but rather a steady pace over the long haul.
 

A farmer lives and works by faith.

 
Farming is backbreaking work – dirty, detailed and, most of all, risky. A few years ago, Travis reminds me, when the crop stood bountiful in the fields, ready for harvest, a hurricane blew through the Rio Grande Valley and wiped it away. All that labor, all that waiting, for nothing.
 
We might ask, “Why would we invest everything in a risky venture?” The farmer, however, looks at his failed crop as a tangible reminder that the harvest inevitably belongs to the Lord. The farmer must be faithful to lay the groundwork for the harvest, but the harvest cannot be forced; it can only happen through the Lord’s providence.
 

A farmer enjoys a unique reward.

 
I ask Travis if he thinks about the harvest every day. He says most days he does. On the days when you’re knee-deep in manure? “Yes.” When the irrigation line bursts? “Yes.” When you’re working sun-up to sun-down in the summer? “Yes, especially then. It’s the time of the year that we work the hardest, but it’s the most satisfying. You’ve made it another year, you’ve grown another crop. It’s financially rewarding, but it’s also the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve put it into the ground and you’ve harvested it.”
 
There is joy in the harvest, and the greatest satisfaction belongs to the one who carefully cultivated it all along the way. The hard-working farmer, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:6, is the one “who ought to have the first share of the crops.” I’ve taken that to mean that the farmer eats of his labor, but, in talking to Travis, I see that it means so much more.
 
Joy results from his long-term faithfulness. He is content in his work and in seeing what it’s produced over the years. He has learned the secret joy of trusting in God’s providence. But there is also joy for Travis in what he cannot see. He explains how one tiny seed becomes a huge plant that produces seeds a thousand fold. The harvest multiplies itself and goes out into the world in a way that he will never see with his own eyes.
 
In our work and in our weariness, let us look to the farmer. Let us keep the big picture in mind. If we don’t give up, one day we will enjoy the final harvest and its bountiful rewards.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Christine Hoover is a pastor's wife, stay-at-home mom and author of “From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel” and “The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart.” This article is adapted from her website, gracecoversme.com. She and her husband Kyle serve at Charlottesville Community Church in Charlottesville, Va.)

5/16/2016 12:57:40 PM by Christine Hoover | with 0 comments



What to do when new transgender guidelines affect your child’s school

May 13 2016 by Evan Lenow, ERLC

Cowtown, Texas (a.k.a., Fort Worth) is generally a fairly quiet place to live. For nearly a decade, I have called this place home. Three of my four children are native-born Texans. While every city has its warts, I have thoroughly enjoyed the slow-paced, down-to-earth culture of the place where the West begins.
 
However, in recent days there have been developments within our little slice of Texan paradise that have made me wonder if I am living in New York, Los Angeles or (gasp) Dallas. Just last week, news headlines started appearing that the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) had enacted new guidelines regarding transgender students and bathroom/locker room use. Such guidelines never appeared on a FWISD meeting agenda, nor did the school board seek public comment. The new guidelines seem to be the work of Superintendent Kent Scribner. Earlier this week Lt. Governor Dan Patrick called on Superintendent Scribner to resign.
 
The gist of the guidelines follow the same pattern that Target has recently touted in its bathroom policies. There are also provisions related to private bathroom facilities, athletic teams and school counselors. In essence, FWISD schools are now to allow students to use whichever restroom matches the gender with which they currently identify. Students may play on athletic teams of the gender with which they identify unless that sport is regulated by the University Interscholastic League (UIL), which states that student athletes can only play on gender-specific teams according to the gender listed on the student’s birth certificate.
 
There is also a significant statement in the section entitled “Privacy and Confidentiality.” In this section, the guidelines read:
 
All students have a right to privacy. This includes keeping a student’s actual or perceived gender identity and expression private. School personnel may only share this information on a need-to-know basis or as the student directs. This includes sharing information with the student’s parent or guardian. When contacting the parent or guardian of a transgender student, school personnel must use the student’s legal name and the pronoun corresponding to the student’s gender assigned at birth unless the student, parent or guardian has specified otherwise.
 
I sent the following letter to my specific FWISD board representative, as well as the board president, first vice president and second vice president. Even though there are many different approaches for addressing an issue like this, I have focused on the parental rights angle. I hope you find this letter helpful.
 
Dear School Board Member (specific names used in actual letters):
 
As a resident in FWISD District 6 and a parent of 4 children, I am greatly troubled by the new transgender student guidelines. Without any opportunity for public comment nor any opportunity for constituents to contact their school board members, FWISD has enacted politically-motivated, controversial, and potentially damaging policies. Of particular concern is the section of the guidelines that notes the following:
 
“All students have a right to privacy. This includes keeping a student’s actual or perceived gender identity and expression private. School personnel may only share this information on a need-to-know basis or as the student directs. This includes sharing information with the student’s parent or guardian.”
 
I have four school-age children. Their well-being and livelihood is the responsibility of my wife and myself. No government agency, school employee, or educator has the right to usurp my authority as a parent. Parents should always be informed of issues that happen at school. The school should never intentionally withhold information from parents. This is government overreach at a most egregious level.
 
For this reason, I respectfully ask you to call for the school board to rescind these new guidelines immediately. At the very least, the entire school board should suspend the guidelines, take up this issue with great caution, and receive input from the constituents whom they represent. Action like this on the part of the school board contributes to a culture of distrust for the school board on the part of Fort Worth’s residents.
 
Evan Lenow, Ph.D.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evan Lenow is assistant professor of ethics, Bobby L. and Janis Eklund Chair of Stewardship, director of the Center for Biblical Stewardship, director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement and chair of the ethics department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. This post first appeared at evanlenow.com and erlc.com.)

5/13/2016 12:09:29 PM by Evan Lenow, ERLC | with 0 comments



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