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  1. Any view of Christian ministry that doesn’t take the opposition of Satan into account is a naive view. He is, after, all the primary enemy of every Christian leader (Ephesians 6:12). But Satan has many weapons in his arsenal, and he uses them with great subtlety. This is why Ephesians 6:11 warns us, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” So what are some of the weapons Satan aims at spiritual leaders? We could name many, including some of the more obvious ones such as financial or moral failure. But even those are usually not the beginning place of destruction. Below are seven pitfalls that all of us easily fall into and need to guard against: 1. Wrong Focus We know—and readily say—that there is only One who is worthy of our focus. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.—Hebrews 12:2 But we easily take our eyes off of Him, don’t we? We so easily shift our gaze to other people or even to the work of the ministry. I’ve been guilty of both…and I know that both are unsatisfying and unsustaining. In Jesus, we find our example (Hebrews 12:3, 1 Peter 2:21) and our acceptance (Ephesians 1:6). He is our life (Colossians 3:4). 2. Hurry I’m not speaking here of a fast-paced day, but of a disordered life. After all, there is a difference between scheduled tenacity and unplanned idiocy. When we get to the point where we are living from one cyclone to the next, we lose any sense of rhythm or rest in our spirits. We even lose the ability to plan well and get sucked into the tyranny of the urgent. Sheer hurry and busyness is not the sign of productivity and spiritual health, and it can be counter-productive to it. Sheer hurry and busyness is not the sign of productivity and spiritual health…and it can be counter-productive to it. Click To Tweet We rarely hear God’s voice in the rush of life; it takes time and intention to be still and listen to Him. Be still, and know that I am God:—Psalm 46:10 3. Worry Some of us are by nature “problem solvers”—which is another way of saying that we see details and can easily become distracted and burdened by what isn’t going right. Some of this is legitimate. I think of when Paul said, “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). But there is a fine line between care and worry. And we need to daily cast our cares upon the Lord. Always remember that God never called you to bear His responsibilities…and He offers to carry your burden. God never called you to bear His responsibilities…and He offers to carry your burdens. Click To Tweet A few years ago, my daughter gave me a small plaque that sits on my nightstand and reads, “Give it to the Lord and go to sleep.” It’s good advice. Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.—1 Peter 5:7 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:6–7 4. Comparison Comparison will kill you every time. Not only does it lead to pride or discouragement, but it is usually based on a false perception of other people’s reality. For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.—2 Corinthians 10:12 God gives each of us different responsibilities and opportunities. When we compare to others, we miss the joy in how God is using us. I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.—1 Corinthians 3:6 God gives each of us different responsibilities and opportunities. When we compare to others, we miss the joy in how God is using us. Click To Tweet 5. Skimming Spiritually As spiritual leaders, we are constantly exposed to the Bible, often through our own preaching, teaching, and counseling. Between this constant exposure and the hurry of life and ministry, it is easy to get to the place where our own devotional life is nonexistent or surface. But spiritual fruit and a walk with God are not sustained by skimming spiritually. God calls us to seek Him. This takes time and intention. It involves genuinely seeking His face through His Word and in prayer. O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.—Psalm 63:1–2 When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.—Psalm 27:8 Spiritual fruit and a walk with God are not sustained by skimming spiritually. God calls us to *seek* Him. Click To Tweet 6. Lack of Solitude Solitude is a chosen time of separation for the refining of your soul. And it is one of the best ways to combat the hurry addiction we so easily get caught up in. Even Jesus—in His busiest seasons of ministry—needed time alone with the Father and put a priority on carving out solitude. And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.—Mark 1:35 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.—Matthew 14:23 Wise spiritual leaders create rhythms of solitude—daily, weekly, and perhaps quarterly as well. Wise spiritual leaders create rhythms of solitude. Click To Tweet 7. A Critical Spirit Leaders who are out of sync spiritually—often due to one of the six areas listed above—will develop a critical spirit. It may be manifested internally toward one’s self, family, co-workers, or church; or it may be manifested externally toward the culture at large or random strangers. If we don’t have rest in our own spirit, we’ll simply be looking for something to criticize. Additionally, unguarded discernment can become a judgmental spirit. While we are called to be discerning (Philippians 1:9–11), we are also instructed to trust God to be the judge. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.—Romans 14:10 How Well Are You Fighting? What makes these enemies particularly insidious, is the way they encroach upon our lives without us even noticing. Take a moment then to look over this list again, and rate yourself on a scale of 1–10: Wrong focus Hurry Worry Comparison Skimming spiritually Lack of solitude A critical spirit Do you see any of these gaining ground in your life? If so, don’t be discouraged. But recognize the enemy, and fight it! View the full article
  2. One of the great joys of pastoring is officiating weddings for the members of our church. It’s a special blessing to me when two young people who grew up at Lancaster Baptist Church fall in love, desire to serve the Lord together, and ask me to perform their wedding. Another blessing is when I have the privilege of conducting the wedding for the son or daughter of those I united in marriage twenty or twenty-five years ago. But as special as a wedding day may be, it is not the marriage. It is only the beginning of a marriage. And whether or not that marriage will be healthy and growing over the years has much to do with the continuing practices in which the couple engages. Whether or not a marriage will be healthy and growing over the years has much to do with the continuing practices in which the couple engages. Click To Tweet As a pastor, another privilege I have is helping couples who are struggling in their relationship to find help in the pages of God’s Word. Marriage counseling is not as exciting or approached with the joyous anticipation of a wedding. And often (although not always), couples come to the point where their relationship is no longer healthy because they are neglecting the continuing practices that make a marriage strong. We could list many of these habits or practices, but the three below are core. As a husband, these three are ones I have to continually work at; they don’t come naturally. And as a pastor, these three are ones I have consistently seen as key to building or rebuilding a healthy marriage relationship. 1. Surrendering to the Lord A union of two selfless people is made of two surrendered people. A union of two selfless people is made of two surrendered people. Click To Tweet Surrendering to the Lord is the beginning place of being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), and being filled with the Spirit is an absolute necessity for a Christ-centered, God-honoring marriage. A marriage where two people live by the dictates of their flesh is a selfish relationship, with each spouse demanding (vocally or in silent exception) their way, their rights, their gratification, regardless of what that means for the other. But a marriage where two people are surrendered to the Lord and walk in the Spirit is a Spirit-filled relationship, with each spouse ready to serve the other. This kind of surrender to the Lord is not just a one-time decision (although it starts there). It is the daily dying to self and yielding to the Holy Spirit. And the best part of it is that regardless of what your spouse does, you benefit when you surrender to the Lord. Not only will your marriage be stronger than it would be if neither of you were yielded to Christ, but your relationship with the Lord flourishes when you walk with Him in the practical, daily discipline of surrender. 2. Yielding to your spouse Because of the instruction directed to wives in Ephesians 5:22—“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”—some Christian husbands assume that yielding to the other is a one-way street. The verse prior, however, says, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Husbands are to provide leadership in the home, and in any healthy relationship, the person who is not the leader submits to the person who is. That is the context of verse 22. But in any healthy Christian relationship, marriage included, both parties delight to serve one another and to submit to the desires and needs of their spouse. That is the context of verse 21. In a healthy Christian marriage, both the husband and wife are making dozens of daily choices to yield to one another. To not have to win an argument, to not have to prove who is right, to serve the other before they serve themselves, to listen, to care, bear one another’s burdens…to yield. In a healthy Christian marriage, both the husband and wife are making dozens of daily choices to yield to one another. Click To Tweet 3. Forgiving one another A good marriage is made of good forgivers. A good marriage is made of good forgivers. Click To Tweet Too often, however, couples gunnysack offenses committed by the other. Then, when there is a repeat offense, the other spouse pulls out past offenses (verbally or internally) to emphasize why the offender is unworthy of forgiveness. Forgiveness, however, is not something we offer because the other person is worthy. It is because we have been forgiven. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). The potential for relationship-corroding bitterness is real. This is why God commanded, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them” (Colossians 3:19). Like surrender and yielding, forgiveness is not a one-time requirement for only the greatest of offenses. It is practiced in the daily decisions of a Spirit-filed Christian who chooses to forgive for Christ’s sake. And it’s one of the strongest elements of a great marriage. The healthiest marriages are not made in a moment. They are forged over years by couples who practice the daily disciplines of surrender to Christ, yielding to one another, and forgiving as Christ has forgiven them. The healthiest marriages are not made in a moment. They are forged over years by couples who practice the daily disciplines of surrender to Christ, yielding to one another, and forgiving each other. Click To Tweet View the full article
  3. My son—it is a phrase Paul used no less than eight times in his epistles, sometimes with an adjective inserted: “My dearly beloved son” or “Mine own son.” The expression gives us a glimpse into the closeness of relationship Paul shared with Timothy and Titus, in particular. He poured himself into their lives, and they received his mentoring and instruction. I’m thankful for the mentors the Lord has given me over the years, including men like Dr. Don Sisk, who continues to be a trusted source of counsel and spiritual help. Additionally, I’ve been thankful for the people the Lord has given me the privilege to invest in and mentor. Like any other relationship, a mentoring relationship can be something you take for granted, or it can be something you treasure and through which you learn and grow. So how do you get the most out of a mentoring relationship? 1. Realize you need a mentor. Everyone needs a mentor, but not everyone wants one. Many people want discussion, but not instruction; they want to push back, but they don’t want to be pushed. No one knows everything, and most of us know less than we think we know. Be humble enough to seek out those who are wiser and more experienced than you, and welcome their insight, instruction, challenge, and correction. 2. Choose a ministry mentor of like faith and practice. We all learn from a wide variety of people in a variety of venues (books, podcasts, etc.) and with varying levels of influence. But when it comes to someone you would think of as a mentor in ministry, you want to choose someone who is further along on the same road you want to go. 3. Allow your pastor to be a cherished mentor in your life. Even if you spend more time with others than you do with your pastor, give him the entrance into your life as a mentor. As a pastor, I can tell you that I have a care and burden no one else can have for those I am privileged to undershepherd. So, although there may be other mentors and will certainly be other influences in your life, remember that God has placed your pastor in your life, and value his perspective and influence. 4. Do not allow internet or social media influence to dominate your development process. Today, as never before, there are so many voices and sources of influence available to anyone anywhere. And most of them are as accessible as the phone in your hand. I’m thankful for the electronic tools we have at our disposal both to share and receive help. When it comes to mentoring, however, it is wise to have a small core of people who know you and whose input has the greatest weight to you. If you are simply using your mentor as one of many from whom you shop counsel, you are wasting his time. That is not to say you can’t learn and receive from others, but it is to say that the others should serve more of an auxiliary role. 5. Try to understand your mentor’s communication style. Most mentors will be older than you—sometimes significantly so. While they may use electronic-based communication, they may not use it the same way that a millennial does, and they may prefer voice-to-voice or face-to-face communication for weighty discussions or easily-misunderstood topics. 6. Question respectfully. Healthy relationships have room for disagreement or questions. But be careful not to take a defensive or condescending attitude in your questioning. Remember that you wanted that person’s influence because you saw something good in his life. So question respectfully. 7. Listen. And don’t listen just for what you want to hear. Be open to receive, and listen to learn. 8. Don’t assume you know what your mentor will think or what he is going to say. If you find yourself thinking, “Well, I’d ask about _________, but I already know what he’s going to say,” that’s a good indication that you are assuming. And it is a good reason to ask…and then listen to learn. Over the years, I have often been surprised by the counsel my mentors have given me, even in areas where I thought I knew what they would say. In fact, one of the very reasons we need mentors is because we don’t already know what they know. So ask and listen; don’t assume. 9. Value the relationship through humility. If something comes between you and your mentor, care enough about that relationship to fix it. If you have wrongly judged your mentor (or your mentee, for that matter), be willing to admit it. Pride severs relationships, but humility saves them. 10. Respect the experience of a mentor. Don’t ask questions if you’re not sincerely valuing your mentor’s answer. If he gives you time, respect that time; and if he gives you counsel, receive it. You won’t always do everything exactly like your mentor does, but weigh your mentor’s experience into your decision-making process. The mentoring relationship is one of God’s great gifts. Thank God for the people He has placed in your life with wisdom and insight, and treat that relationship with intention and gratitude. View the full article
  4. To listen to many American Christians, you would think the Constitutional rights which we hold dear are life, liberty, and the pursuit of complaining about the government. We are blessed to live in a country in which we as citizens are responsible for electing our leaders, and I believe it is the duty of Christians who live in such a country to not only pray for their leaders (1 Timothy 2:1–3), but to vote and stay engaged in issues that matter. But there is a danger that in our political engagement we forget two factors: 1. We are citizens of Heaven. Let’s not get so caught up in this world and this election cycle, in particular, that we forget we are only “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). Our primary citizenship “is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Thus, while we, as patriotic Americans, care about our nation and preserving liberty, our affections are above (Colossians 3:2), and our greatest energy on earth is invested in obeying the Great Commission of Christ (Matthew 28:19–20). There is a real danger in getting so wrapped up in politics that we fail to even share the gospel. 2. We are commanded to give thanks. Let’s not get so caught up in what is wrong with our nation that we fail to give thanks for the good—and to be people characterized by gratitude to God. God commands us, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (2 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul told the Philippian believers that murmuring and complaining would negate their Christian testimony: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14–15). Yet so often our voice is heard only in an outcry against what is wrong or negative. Some are so critical of our leaders, and our current president in particular, that they can’t be grateful even for the good things he does. For instance, in the past fourteen days, President Trump has Taken steps to safeguard students’ constitutionally-protected right to pray in public schools. Proposed rules to ensure all religious organizations are treated equally by the Federal government. Proclaimed a National Religious Freedom Day. Made the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision a National Sanctity of Human Life Day. Spoke at the March for Life rally (the president to have done so). Over the past three years, President Trump has championed religious freedom in numerous ways: During his first year in office, President Trump signed an Executive Order upholding religious liberty and the right to engage in religious speech. President Trump signed an Executive Order recognizing the essential contributions of faith-based organizations and establishing the Faith and Opportunity Initiative. The Administration continues to unequivocally stand up for religious liberty in the courts. President Trump reversed the Obama-era policy that prevented the government from providing disaster relief to religious organizations. Last year, President Trump hosted a Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom event at the United Nations and called on the international community and business leaders to work to protect religious freedom around the world. The Administration has stood up for religious liberty around the world, partnering with local and faith-based organizations to provide assistance to vulnerable religious minorities. Yet, to listen to the news, and even to the political conversations of many Christians, you would have no idea that the current President has done anything good! To be sure, there are many challenges facing our nation—including a disintegration of morals, the advancement of ungodly agendas, and a turning to paganism. My only hope for America’s continuance as a place of freedom is if God sends a revival, and I pray daily that He will. But meanwhile, let’s be people who see the good and give thanks for it. Let’s give thanks, first of all to God, for the blessings of freedom and the opportunity to openly proclaim the gospel. And let’s give thanks to our government officials too—local and national. Let’s make sure that the only time they hear from us isn’t when we are registering a complaint. Yes, we are pilgrims and strangers on this earth, but while we sojourn here, let’s be good and grateful representatives of our King. View the full article
  5. One of the things I love about the apostle Paul is his singular focus. Paul preached the gospel across the Roman empire, personally led many to Christ, planted and then gave continuing care to churches in multiple cities, discipled young converts, mentored future ministry leaders, and so much more. But he didn’t allow the greatness of his responsibilities keep him from the singularity of a focus on Christ. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 3:13–14 Our theme at Lancaster Baptist Church this year is two words from the verses above: “Reaching Forth.” To consistently reach forward, however, we must have clarity of focus. Notice that Paul didn’t say, “These many things I do,” but “This one thing I do.” He didn’t allow his activity for Christ to distract him from his focus on Christ. Don’t allow your activity for Christ to distract you from your focus on Christ. Click To Tweet How do we gain and maintain this kind of clarity of focus? Whether you are looking to strengthen your personal focus on Christ or your church-wide focus and ministry steps, Hebrews 12 shows us the way: Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.—Hebrews 12:1–3 1. A Clear Focus To maintain a Christ-ward focus, we have to set aside specific distractions. Hebrews 12, using the analogy of a runner in a race, calls these distractions “every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” We cannot focus on Christ if we insist on carrying the baggage of unrepentant sin or anything that habitually turns our focus from Jesus onto ourselves. These weights may be our holding on to a wrong that was done to us, or they may be an activity or thought pattern that steals our Christ-ward momentum. Whether it is a sin or a weight, if the Holy Spirit has convicted you of it, lay it aside. It is the only way you will be able to focus on Christ. We cannot focus on Christ if we insist on carrying the baggage of anything that habitually turns our focus toward ourselves. Click To Tweet 2. A Personal Focus I love the phrase in Hebrews 12, “Looking unto Jesus.” Although there are others we look to for example or spiritual direction, there is only One who is worthy of our complete focus. Although there are others we look to for example or spiritual direction, there is only One who is worthy of our complete focus. Click To Tweet The word looking in this passage mans “to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something.” Do you “look to Jesus” as a sideward glance in your peripheral vision, or do you gaze upon Him? Do you glance occasionally, or do you fix your focus on Christ the way a runner looks to the finish line of his race? Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the one who purchased our redemption and made us His own. He intercedes for us at the right hand of the throne of God. He is our everything. If our focus is not on Christ, our forward spiritual momentum will be lacking. We’ll be spiritually distracted and easily dissatisfied even with things of God. But when our focus is on Christ, our spirits will be settled and our hearts satisfied. 3. A Contemplative Focus Hebrews 12 not only tells us where to look, but it tells us how to do it: “Consider Him.” Looking to Jesus is not done in the few moments of resolve while reading a blog post such as this one. It is done in the ongoing moments that fill our days as we meditate on Christ. It is done as we read God’s Word and discover Jesus throughout its pages. It is done, as is specifically mentioned in this passage, as we consider Christ’s suffering and learn from His endurance. This kind of contemplative focus, as we meditate on Christ, renews our minds and keeps all suffering in perspective. It is in this way that the gospel is our motivation. If our focus is on ourselves, everything else is out of focus. And this self-centered focus will eventually shrink our capacity for deeper relationships, gratitude, and a meaningful life. If our focus is on ourselves, everything else is out of focus. Click To Tweet But when our focus is on Christ, God renews our minds, refuels our hope, and satisfies us with Himself. View the full article
  6. There’s nothing quite like the clean slate of a new year. On January 1, we’re filled with optimistic passion for our newly-set goals, and we often have a renewed desire to be specifically used of God. But then January 13 rolls around. Or maybe for you it’s March 3. In any case, the passion of the new year doesn’t always last. We need something greater than new year energy to keep us consistently motivated in the areas of responsibility and opportunity that God has placed in front of us. Godly passion always begins with the Who, not the why. This is what Paul expressed as he said, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Godly passion always begins with the Who, not the why. Click To Tweet Thankfully, maintaining this passion isn’t beyond our reach and is actually the result of some basic spiritual disciplines. 1. Do all for the glory of God. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.—1 Corinthians 10:31 This is so basic, that we easily give it mental assent without actually practicing it. But when we purposefully do every action of our lives for God’s glory, it adds value and meaning to even the mundane or routine. Do you want to renew your passion for what is on your to-do list today? For the goals God laid on your heart at the beginning of the year? Purpose to do them—not for self-glory or the joy of accomplishment—but for the glory of God. 2. Give thanks for the gift of each day. This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.—Psalm 118:24 One of the best ways to refuel your energy is to pause and give thanks. And one of the best times to do it is right when you wake up in the morning. When you give God thanks for the gift of a new day, it clarifies your perspective and renews your desire to give that day back to Him in service. When you give God thanks for the gift of a new day, it clarifies your perspective and renews your desire to give that day back to Him in service. Click To Tweet 3. Remember to disengage. God made our minds and bodies to work in a twenty-four-hour, seven-day rhythm. If we never rest, we demand an energy of ourselves—physically, mentally, emotionally—that God never intended for us to exert without having replenishment. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.—Psalm 127:2 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:—Exodus 20:10 We’re not under the Sabbath law, and there are times in all of our lives and ministry responsibilities when we miss optimal times for rest. During those times, we rely on the extra measure of strength God gives. But if we proudly think we don’t need rest, we will eventually run out of passion. When we spend time waiting on God in His presence and replenishing our physical and mental needs for rest, God refills our passion. If we proudly think we don’t need rest, we will eventually run out of passion. When we spend time in God's presence, He refills our passion. Click To Tweet Even Jesus told His disciples they needed to come apart for rest: “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat” (Mark 6:31). In that particular instance, the crowd followed them, and they didn’t get the rest they planned. But the intention of Christ here is still instructive to us. The capacity for passion is a gift of God to us. It allows us to anticipate and enjoy what we do for Christ. But our passion doesn’t remain static. Like a gas tank, it must be filled in order to fuel our progress. Passion doesn’t remain static. Like a gas tank, it must be filled in order to fuel our progress. Click To Tweet Does your passion need to be refueled? Do all for the glory of God. Give thanks for the gift of each day. Remember to disengage. As you practice these disciplines, you will be able to re-engage in the work of the Lord with vision and passion. View the full article
  7. Fulfilling. Consuming. Exciting. Challenging. Parenting is all of this, and more. And it is one of the greatest privileges of my life. The Lord gave Terrie and me four children who are now married and all serving the Lord with their spouses and are raising our eleven grandchildren for the Lord. As a parent, and now a grandparent, I know that there is an immense responsibly of training a young life to follow God. While raising children, there can be a pull to simply create a checklist and assume that if enough godly standards or Christian experiences are in place, a child will grow into a godly individual. Resist that pull. I believe in the importance of living a godly, holy life, and I’m all for surrounding children with church activities and the input of godly Sunday school teachers and youth leaders. But embracing these external factors is not the goal in raising children. Jesus is the goal. We want to raise children who first and foremost have a personal relationship with Christ and a life that is centered around Him. We want to raise children who first and foremost have a personal relationship with Christ and a life that is centered around Him. Click To Tweet How does that happen? There are many helpful resources in raising a family, including many good books. But what are the necessities? We see three in the life of one of the first-century church leaders, Timothy. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.—2 Timothy 3:14–17 What I love about Timothy is that his home situation was far from ideal. He apparently had a Christian mother but an unbelieving father. Yet God gave his godly mother (and grandmother) the wisdom to point Timothy to three necessary components of a Christ-centered life: Scripture Timothy didn’t begin learning the Bible from the apostle Paul. He began learning from his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois (2 Timothy 1:5). Children and teen programs at church are a help in the way they come alongside and help a Christian family. But church programs are not a replacement for godly parenting. Church programs are not a replacement for godly parenting. Click To Tweet Raising Christ-centered children requires Christ-centered parents who teach God’s Word in the home. Raising Christ-centered children requires Christ-centered parents who teach God’s Word in the home. Click To Tweet God uses and blesses written His Word in our lives to point us to the living Word, Jesus Christ. Salvation There is no greater way to influence a child than to help them to Jesus. “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16) There is no greater way to influence a child than to help them to Jesus. Click To Tweet One of the most important reasons for teaching the Bible in your home is that the Scriptures “are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The Bible reveals to us our sin and our inability to save ourselves. And best of all, it reveals the gospel. As we see in Timothy’s life, even a child can be saved. Salvation is not passed down from one generation to the next. Each person must make a personal decision of faith in Christ (Romans 10:13). So yes, have rules in your home to protect your children. And yes, make decisions for your family based on what you believe would please the Lord. But remember the power of the gospel in a heart. You cannot raise truly Christ-centered children without them having personally received Christ. Sanctification Once we trust Christ as our Saviour, God begins the ongoing process of sanctification in our hearts as He conforms us to the image of Christ. This is a life-long process, and it begins at the moment of salvation—even for a child. The primary tool God uses in this process is His Word. That’s why Paul told Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Once again, then, we see the importance of making God’s Word central in the Christian home. This happens as Mom and Dad make the Bible central in their own lives and as they diligently teach God’s Word to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7). The most practical way I know for a family to develop habits around the teaching of God’s Word is through daily family devotions and faithful attendance and involvement in the local church. (I wrote some tips on having family devotions here and compiled a resource available here.) The Goal Is Jesus If you are a parent, your child is a trust given to you by God to raise for Him. Success is not measured solely, or even primarily, by your child’s achievements. It is measured by your child’s heart for God and obedience to Him. Your success as a Christian parent is not measured by your child’s achievements, but by your child’s heart for God and obedience to Him. Click To Tweet May God give you grace to raise Christ-centered children who obey the admonition of 2 Timothy 3:14 to “continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” View the full article
  8. I’ve written in the past about setting goals for the new year and about vision casting for your church family. But sometimes people question setting ministry goals in particular out of a concern that they are presuming upon the power of God. Although the concern can be valid, I disagree that setting ministry goals is necessarily presumptive. If our goals are motivated by a love for Christ and based in an awareness of our need for His power, they can spur us to greater faith and greater efforts to obedience. Here are three reasons I encourage pastors and ministry leaders to set goals for the new year: 1. They can be an expression of faith in God. Setting goals shouldn’t be the same as writing out a to-do list. Setting goals shouldn’t be the same as writing out a to-do list. Click To Tweet In fact, whatever ministry goals you set, should require faith. Are you reaching into the new year with a heart of faith in God? Do you believe that if you challenge yourself (and if you are a pastor, your church family) in the areas of outreach, giving, and serving, that God would use your enlarged efforts to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)? Faith is not an abstract quality that if we sit and just “believe enough” changes the future. Faith is believing God enough to obey Him. When we look at the commands of Scripture and then plan for how we might obey these commands with more purpose and energy, that is faith. And that is also faith-filled goal setting. Faith is not an abstract quality that if we sit and just “believe enough” changes the future. Faith is believing God enough to obey Him. Click To Tweet When it comes to setting goals, we need to pray with the disciples, “Lord, Increase our faith” Luke 17:5). 2. The Holy Spirit still works through the local church. Our obedience is nothing without God’s power. So yes, I have a goal for how many times I want our church family to canvas our community this year. I have a goal for my personal giving in the new year. I have goals for practically every area of my spiritual walk and our church family’s ministry. But I am under no illusion that we can reach these goals in our own effort. We could saturate our community every month with the gospel…and see no fruit without the work of the Holy Spirit. Godly ministry goals require humility to depend on the power of God. We can (and I believe, we should) set goals for sharing the the gospel, following up on guests, leading new Christians through discipleship, involving our church family in the work of the ministry, and more. But without God’s power, it’s empty—perhaps even prideful—ideas on paper. Godly ministry goals require humility to depend on the power of God. Click To Tweet Only the Holy Spirit can convict a sinner of their need for Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can change a new Christian’s life. Only the Holy Spirit can sustain our church family in service. But the good news is, the Holy Sprit can and does work in those ways! As Paul testified in Acts 20:23, “The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city….” That means He witnesses in your city. There are people right now in your community on whose hearts the Holy Spirit is working, preparing to hear the gospel. So if you believe that the Holy Spirit still works today through the local church, set faith-filled ministry goals in dependance on Him. If you believe that the Holy Spirit still works today through the local church, set faith-filled ministry goals in dependance on Him. Click To Tweet 3. God is worthy of glory. If you are setting goals to look like a better leader or to convince your mentors or peers or church family that you are capable and your ministry is successful, skip it. Skip the entire process. If you are setting goals to look like a better leader or to convince your mentors or peers that your ministry is successful, skip the entire process. Click To Tweet Why? Because God resists the proud. But if you are setting goals for the glory of God, not the glory of self, then you can count on the grace of God in your efforts. “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). I believe a grace-filled Christian leader will yearn to do more for the cause of Christ and will hunger to declare His gospel and make a difference for Him. So, – if you are praying for increased faith, – if you believe the Holy Spirit stills works today, – if you long to lift up the name of Jesus, I encourage you to set aside some time this week to prayerfully set faith-filled goals for the new year. View the full article
  9. Of the 5.11 billion people who live in the 10/40 window, fewer than 5 percent have reason to celebrate Christmas this year, because they do not know Christ. In fact, at least 60 percent have never so much as heard the gospel message.¹ It’s unlikely that any of these unreached people will come to the Spiritual Leadership Conference Asia we are hosting in Manila, March 10–12, 2020. But I can say with confidence that, by God’s grace and through His power, many of these people will be impacted by the conference. How? Each time we have hosted this conference, the Lord has used it to powerfully affect the furtherance of the gospel in this needy region of the world. To date, we have seen over 250 surrender their lives to the ministry and follow God’s call to serve Him anywhere in the 10/40 region, and just in the past week, we heard of two more who have begun deputation to go out as missionaries to restricted access nations in the region. Additionally, current pastors and missionaries already laboring in the 10/40 window have been encouraged personally and equipped to help their congregations share the gospel. That is why I’d like to invite you to help sponsor an Asian national pastor with limited resources to attend the 2020 Spiritual Leadership Asia Conference. Many are willing but do not have the financial means necessary to go. Here are three ways you can help: Registration Sponsor: The cost of providing the conference is roughly $80 per delegate. However, these national pastors from the Philippines and South Asia are not in a position to afford the full registration fee. Your $50 partial sponsorship allows us to provide conference registration to these pastors for $30 each. Domestic Travel Sponsor: A sponsorship of $100 per person will be used towards subsidizing travel cost of national pastors from provençal areas of the Philippines. Meal Sponsor: National pastors from provençal areas of the Philippines will be housed in local churches. Your sponsorship of $100 will be used to cover the costs incurred by these churches. Would you consider giving this Christmas season toward sending the gospel to the 10/40 window? You can visit slconferenceasia.com for more information on the conference and for the opportunity to sponsor a national pastor. As we celebrate Christmas this year and rejoice in the great grace of God, let us not forget that there are billions of people still waiting for us to bring them the glad tidings of great joy for all people. As we rejoice in the great grace of God at Christmastime, let us not forget that there are billions of people still waiting for us to bring the glad tidings of great joy for all people. Click To Tweet Send the gospel to the 10/40 window this Christmas Click To Tweet 1. These statistics are of the expanded 10/40 window upon which we are focusing and are provided by the Joshua Project at https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/10_40_window. View the full article
  10. Isn’t it a bit of an inconsistency that in the season we most emphasize the reality of Emmanuel—God with us—we spend so little time with Him? To be sure, the Christmas season is full. And it is often full of good activities—even special opportunities for outreach. The busyness of the season, however, means that without intention otherwise, our month can become a whirlwind of movement with little worship. It means our schedules can be full, our hearts distracted, and our joy empty. So what is the answer? It’s more simple than you might believe. And it is more available than you might think. It is to be still. Be still. When we believe the lie that we must remain in a perpetual state of motion to accomplish spiritual fruit this month, we forget the truth that Christ is the source of all of our fruit. He is the vine, and we are but the branches (John 15:4). When we believe the lie that we must remain in a perpetual state of motion to accomplish spiritual fruit this month, we forget the truth that Christ is the source of all of our fruit. Click To Tweet This month, as I preached the great truth of God with us from Matthew 1, I was reminded of how little we ponder its reality. God stepped into our world. Yes, we should tell others this glad news. Yes, we should create special family moments to celebrate Christ. Yes, we should participate in special outreach opportunities to share Christ with others. And yes, we should take time to linger in His presence. After all, if Jesus came down to us, should not we draw near to Him? If Jesus came down to us, should not we draw near to Him? Click To Tweet We so often hurry through this season when we need to settle down and consider Christ. There is a reason that Psalm 46:10 links being still with knowing God: we cannot know God on the fly. Be still, and know that I am God:—Psalm 46:10 Mary understood something of both the hurry of Christmas and the importance of pondering. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.—Luke 2:19 In all the pressures and uncertainties of the season, Mary found time to ponder. We all have a tendency to experience “hurry sickness” in busy seasons. And the cure for it is simply to be still. Are you doing that this Christmas? Are you keeping a daily time of meeting with God through His Word? Are you making time to meditate on the greatness of God with us? Are you finding time to worship Christ? View the full article
  11. Servant leadership is often discussed today, but it is not natural to any of us. In fact, this topic is one that I have had to learn over the years and still find myself needing to grow in. Yet, this is the model that Jesus gave us and wants for His church. As leaders, our mission is not to draw followers to build ourselves or our positon; it is to use our position and give of ourselves to serve others. Because servant leadership is biblical, it can (and should) be practiced in many settings—not just in church. On this episode of the Spiritual Leadership Podcast, we get to hear insights on servant leadershp from the unique perspective of a military general. In this interview with General John Teichert, we discuss how he applies biblical principles of servant leadership in his current role of Base Commander at Edwards Air Force Base. We discuss leadership styles and principles as we talk about mission-frst or people-first leadership. I enjoyed hearing General Teichert’s view of mission sustainability through building and investing into the leaders around you. I pray this podcast will be a blessing and an encouragement to you. If you cannot see view this video in your email or RSS reader, click here.) You can subscribe to the Spiritual Leadership Podcast via iTunes, Stitcher, or YouTube. View the full article
  12. One of the first discoveries I made as a pastor is that Sunday’s always coming. If you’re a pastor, you know exactly what I mean. In one sense, Sunday is a repeated deadline—for sermon preparation, ministry details, and administrative obligations. And as soon as you pass the deadline, Monday morning rolls around, and the clock resets. Of course, that’s not all that Sunday is—a deadline. Ideally, our focus as pastors on Sunday is primarily a day for corporate worship of God and preaching His Word to needy, hungry hearts. So what can a pastor do to balance the tension between the reality of the Sunday deadline with the desire for a prepared heart and spirit to worship with God’s people? Here are several suggestions: 1. Study throughout the week. Your primary ministry as a pastor is “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). If you wait until Friday night or Saturday morning to begin your sermon preparation, you will not only feel stressed, but your sermons may be biblically anemic, filled with surface applications. Beginning your sermon preparation early in the week, however, allows you to saturate your mind in the passage you will be preaching, provides time for thorough study, and allows the Holy Spirit to guide you in biblically-grounded applications for those in your congregation. Beginning your sermon preparation early in the week allows you to saturate your mind in the passage, provides time for thorough study, and allows the Holy Spirit to guide you in biblically-grounded applications for those in your… Click To Tweet 2. Pray for your church family during the week. The prayer closet is where a pastor’s heart is formed. As you pray for your church family by name, your role as a pastor becomes something far more than an job with duties of preaching, counseling, and administrating. It becomes an opportunity to serve people you love. Additionally, I find that as I pray for our church family, the Lord lays specific people on my heart to reach out to throughout the week. As I obey these promptings, I often discover needs or burdens I’m able to help carry. The prayer closet is where a pastor’s heart is formed. Click To Tweet 3. Take a weekday off. Sunday is not a true day off for pastors. So take a weekday off to spend time refueling not only spiritually, but also physically, relationally, and emotionally. Get exercise. Spend time with your family. Replenish. 4. Finish office details by Saturday afternoon. For many years, it has been the practice of our family to keep Saturday evening free as much as possible. I find that if I’m working late on administrative details into Saturday night or scrambling to put together meetings for upcoming events, my mind is not clear heading into Sunday. 5. Follow up on your outreach list and contacts. Whether it is a visit, text, or call, Saturday afternoon is a great time to reach out to prospects who earlier in the week committed to attend this Sunday. 6. Review order of service and announcements. Our songs for Sunday are chosen early in the week, and the order of service is usually settled by Thursday or Friday. But I review these Saturday afternoon, especially in light of my now-finished sermon. Occasionally, I’ll make a change. But either way, it helps me to look them over again ahead of Sunday. 7. Reconcile any issue with God or others. If the Holy Spirit has been convicting you of sin, if there is unresolved conflict between you and your family or anyone else, reconcile those issues before Sunday. Don’t go into the pulpit Sunday morning with unconfessed sin or ongoing relational conflicts and expect to preach God’s Word in the power of His Spirit. Humble yourself before God and others to make things right, and expect to preach with an outpouring of His grace (1 Peter 5:4–6). Don’t go into the pulpit Sunday morning with unconfessed sin or ongoing relational conflicts and expect to preach God’s Word in the power of His Spirit. Click To Tweet 8. Review messages. In my Saturday night message review, I’m not racing to find new cross references or add in illustrations. I’ve done that throughout the week. I’m just prayerfully going over the message, allowing the Holy Spirit to preach it to me and to cement the progression of thoughts in my mind and heart. 9. Quiet your mind. I’m a Type A person with my mind constantly spinning, often in several directions. There are times and places when this can be a strength. But there are also times and places when it can be a liability. I have found that if I will obey the admonition of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God,” on Saturday evening, I enter Sunday with a renewed awe of God. And that is the perspective I want to bring into Sunday morning’s worship. I have found that if I will obey the admonition of Psalm 46:10 on Saturday evening, I enter Sunday with a renewed awe of God. Click To Tweet 10. Rest Saturday night. No pastor can predict Saturday night emergencies. But we can all do our best to plan a Saturday evening that includes getting to bed early enough for several hours of sleep. Without a doubt, I have a sharper mind after it has been reset with a good night’s sleep. Sunday is a gift for every child of God, including pastors. It is a gift of corporate worship, fellowship, and the preaching of God’s Word. Yes, Sunday does have some unique pressures for pastors. But when you approach the day with a prepared heart, life, and messages, it is a day to rejoice in God’s greatness and His willingness to use you as an undershepherd for His flock. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.—1 Peter 5:2–4 Sunday is a gift for every child of God, including pastors. Ten ways to be ready to receive that gift as a pastor... Click To Tweet View the full article
  13. As we celebrated Thanksgiving last week, I thought often of West Coast Baptist College alumni serving in gospel ministry around the world. Indeed, it’s humbling to think about all that God has done through the graduates of West Coast Baptist College in these past twenty-five years. Since WCBC opened its doors in the fall of 1995, the Lord has allowed our family of alumni to grow to over 2,800 servants of Christ. I think of how the Lord has used so many of them to make an eternal difference for His glory, and I’m thankful to have the opportunity to invest in their lives. Alumni, of course, begin as students. Every one of our alumni who are today faithfully preaching the gospel, loving souls, and committed to standing for truth was once a student…and most likely a student working and praying month-to-month to see their school bill met. This year, for Giving Tuesday, we would like to invite you to help relieve the burden and build the faith of a student at West Coast Baptist College by contributing monthly to either the needy student fund or to the college general expenses. What Is Giving Tuesday? Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and is a day when people around the world take the opportunity to give to charitable causes. What Is The Goal? Our 2019 Giving Tuesday is an effort to sustain the college and needy students through our monthly giving program. Our goal is simple: we’re asking everyone to commit $5 or $10 as a monthly gift to help enable WCBC to continue to provide outstanding education for Christian servants. You can give to one of two funds: College expenses: Tuition alone does not cover every expense. In fact, it covers only 80 percent of general expenses. Your participation will directly influence the work graduates will accomplish throughout a lifetime. Needy students: Because West Coast Baptist College does not accept government funds, many students struggle to finish due to financial needs. Your gift along with many others will literally be God’s answer to the prayers of a diligent student, and together we will have an impact on the world for the cause of Christ. How Can You Have an Impact? There are multiple ways in which you can participate and join this effort: Give. This goal will take the combined resources of many likeminded individuals. You can give your one time or monthly gift directly through our website at wcbc.edu/givingtuesday. Share the need. Consider sharing this post or the college’s page (wcbc.edu/givingtuesday) on your social media channels or with a friend. By doing so, you are helping this effort move forward and assisting students to succeed. Pray. We covet the prayers of God’s people for His continued hand of blessing on our ministry as we endeavor to raise a generation who will make a difference for Christ. God has truly been good to us as we have seen many laborers go into His harvest. I believe your investment in the lives of these students will have an eternal impact. Will you partner with us? View the full article
  14. One of the great desires of my life is to finish well. At the end of my race, I want to be able to say with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). There are many aspects to lifelong faithfulness, but I think one of the most overlooked is thankfulness. When I’m consistently thankful for what God has done in my life and His calling me into the ministry, there’s a much better chance for me to be faithful. Conversely, when I’m constantly weighed down by the challenges of ministry and focused on the negative aspects of either my past or present, I am less likely to continue my race with joy and consistency. If anyone had reason to complain about the burdens of ministry, it was the apostle Paul. Beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, often in danger…yet, Paul gave thanks for the privilege of being in ministry. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;—1 Timothy 1:12 As you give thanks this week, don’t forget to give thanks to God for His calling on your life. As you give thanks this week, don’t forget to give thanks to God for His calling on your life. Click To Tweet Give thanks for the teaching and mentoring others have invested in your life. Give thanks for the experiences and opportunities God has given you. Give thanks for the truths entrusted to you to share with others. I know that sometimes we look back at our early years in ministry and we think we need to unlearn idiosyncrasies of our mentors or misapplied truths. But when I look back at my heritage, for the most part, I don’t find myself unlearning but being grateful for what I learned. If gratitude relates to thankfulness in ministry, it does in parenting as well. If I cease to be thankful, my children and grandchildren will assume that what I was previously grateful for is no long important. And their faithfulness may falter as well. If I cease to be thankful, my children and grandchildren will assume that what I was previously grateful for is no long important. Click To Tweet Every reader of the this blog has seen good churches and good families that have lost passion and biblical convictions. I would suggest that it often began with an unthankful heart. When a pastor or parent ceases to be thankful for what they have been taught or those who have invested in their life, when they change their directional course in their family or ministry philosophy, you will notice the generational impact for years to come. Family values can change, educational choices can change. Passion for good and godly things can change. On the other hand, all of us have seen people in their later years (Dr. Sisk and my mother are two who come to mind) still faithful in the things of God and in reaching others with the gospel. Without exception, the men and women like this I have known are grateful people. Without exception, the men and women I have known who were faithful people were also grateful people. Click To Tweet Thankfulness strengthens faithfulness. Give thanks. Thankfulness strengthens faithfulness. Give thanks. Click To Tweet View the full article
  15. It is an interesting fact that the people we give thanks for today were often hated in their own lifetimes. More interesting still, is that they are often forgotten in our lifetime. For instance, what do you know about Peter Waldo? Felix Manz? Patrick Hamilton? William Carey? The fact that many of us know little about those who profoundly altered the world with the gospel is why I wrote the book Outsiders. It provides biographical sketches of fifteen leaders who, as the subtitle says, “followed Christ and changed the world.” It was an amazing book to research and write. The faith and faithfulness of these leaders stirred and challenged me. Around every bend of research and with each new discovery of their lives, I found myself both convicted and challenged, strengthened and stirred, and, above all, more passionate to reach the world for Christ. It was difficult to decide who to include in the book, but the fifteen who made it between the covers are these: Peter Waldo John Wycliffe John Huss Felix Manz William Tyndale Latimer and Ridley Patrick Hamilton John Bunyan John Newton William Carey George Müller Horatius Bonar David Livingstone Charles Spurgeon Later this week, Striving Together Publications will be making Outsiders available with a 50 percent off discount, as part of a Black Friday sale. But for readers of this blog, the sale price is available all of this week, November 25–30. (The discount will display after the book is in your cart.) Additionally, the kindle version is also available at 50 percent off from November 25–30. To take advantage of either offer, simply click the link below: Print – $8.47 Kindle – $4.99 I hope this discount is a blessing to you for your own reading, and perhaps for Christmas gifts as well. As we serve the Lord today, we truly stand on the shoulders of giants. I am grateful for their sacrifices and for how God has used their faithfulness to honor Christ and challenge our faith. View the full article

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