Monday, December 18, 2006

The Value of Suffering



I value suffering. I grow through suffering. I learn to love Christ in suffering.

Talking about suffering in that way may sound odd, but those are some lessons I learned about myself in a seminar a few weeks ago. It was a time for us to think through what we value and what has shaped us. I found that suffering has brought some of the greatest times of spiritual growth in my life. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Paul says in Romans 5 that those who suffer in Christ will ultimately end up with strong hope. So, how do we go from suffering to hope?

That is the topic I hope to work through in a set of three articles based on Romans 5:1-11. Lord willing, the first article will deal with preparing to suffer; the second will talk about the process of suffering; and the final article will help us understand hope in Christ.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.(ESV)

If we are going to suffer well, we must have a proper understanding of who Christ is and what He has done for those that follow Him. First, Paul says that we have peace with God when we place our faith in Christ. We trust that God will forgive us of our sins and credit Christ’s righteousness to our account because He has died for our sins and has been raised from the grave offering us peace with God. Jesus has broken the bindings that sin has on us both now and eternally. We can suffer well because we know that the long-term, final consequences of sin (i.e., Hell, separation from God, eternal hopelessness) have been defeated by Christ. We are confident that while suffering may hurt today, it will not last forever.

Second, Paul says that those who suffer in Christ have access to God’s grace. It is important to have peace with God, as noted in verse 1, because this gives us access to God’s grace which allows us: (1) the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to better understand and live out the Word of God, (2) to approach God with confidence through prayer, (3) to be a part of the family of God, the church. Let’s think through these for a moment to understand their significance in suffering. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “Comforter” in John 14. At times of great pain and suffering the Holy Spirit brings encouragement. (2 Corinthians 6:2-10) We may not be able to explain this strange peace at the most painful time in our life, but we know it is the Spirit of God at work in us. Next, Christians are also called to be people of prayer that pray boldly and cast their anxieties on God. (Hebrews 4:16, 1 Peter 5:7) This does not mean that we do nothing to prevent suffering or to improve conditions when suffering is going on, but it means that we continue on trusting that God works all things for our good to transform us into the likeness of Christ. (Romans 8:28-29) As God’s children, we have also been relieved of the burden of suffering alone. God has given us the church where we can join in the sharing of our burdens and the burdens of others. (Romans 12) The church is one of God’s great gifts to believers that allows us to live every aspect of life together with those that share our hope in Christ.

Paul says that our peace with God and our access to God should cause us to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. We rejoice when we are reminded that our hope finds its resting place in the majesty and power of the God that is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Can you really believe that? The God that holds countless planets, solar systems and universes in order joyfully helps with your suffering? Isn’t it encouraging that the God who knows the color of the fish in the darkest part of the ocean knows of your shattered heart and wants to refill it with His joy! Christians rejoice to know that one day God will right all wrongs and that the many pains believers face will be no more.

In the next article, Lord willing, we will talk about what God accomplishes through our suffering. For now, though, does peace with God and access to God bring you hope? If it does, why not praise God for His goodness to us even in times of suffering. If it does not bring you hope, perhaps you need to investigate who holds superiority in your life. Are your problems bigger than God? Rest assured there is nothing that is beyond the authority of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 10:28) He is surely able to work all things for His glory and our good.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Our Weekend in NYC


After an exciting and quick weekend, Monica and I are home from New York City safe and sound. We enjoyed the excitement of the city and the millions of people that shared the sidewalk with us. We made all of the tourist stops that our sore legs would allow us to make and we stopped in most of the major stores that were fully decorated for Christmas. The first night, Wednesday, was overwhelming. The speed of the city, the number of people and the brightness of the lights was a slight contrast to life following a tractor or Amish buggy here in Smiths Grove. However, by Saturday morning Monica had us hopping the subway and moving through crosswalks like true New Yorkers.

The picture above shows most of the artists that were in our concert, An Appalachian Christmas, at Carnegie Hall. It was a great joy to work with Sounds of Victory, Higher Vision, Tammy Norris, Charlene Helen Berry, Two or More, and Dr. Randall Bane and Roy Hayes from Christian Music Presenters in Nashville. There was a good crowd on hand for the concert and most of the attendees were true New Yorkers. It was fun to watch them light up during banjo, mandolin and fiddle solos and tap their feet during some of the faster songs in the program.
My highlight for the concert was the last line of the last full song we sang. It was from the song Christ Was Born in Bethlehem and we made a slight alteration to the lyric. Greg Lynch from Sounds of Victory sang, "Christ was born in Bethlehmen, Christ was born in Bethlehem to burst the bands of death." As he sang those words tears filled my eyes as I thought about how Christmas is about much more than just a baby in a manger. It is about God living up among us so that He could die for us to pay the price for sin that we owe. God sent the Christ child so that we may have life both now and forever. After walking around all of the department stores and seeing all of the beautiful lights at Rockefeller Center, I was leveled in realizing again that it was because of Christmas that I can know peace with God and find hope in Him. It was a powerful moment.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Busy Week...


Monica and I will be traveling to New York City on Wednesday where I will have the opportunity to sing in a program called An Appalachian Christmas on Friday night at Carnegie Hall. The program is a group of Christian artists from all over the country and we will be singing Christmas hymns and songs that were written by Appalachian songwriters. Even more than it being a great production, we're hoping it will be a true worship experience and that people will hear the Gospel through the Christmas songs we sing. Please pray that God would use our efforts for His glory! Hopefully, I'll be able to upload some pictures from NYC later this week. Check back to see what's here.

That means that I don't have much time to publish anything else here this week. However, I am working on a three part series on suffering based on Romans 5. I'm really excited about it and hope to post it over several days next week. So be looking for that and pray for us while we are traveling. Thanks!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Should Christians be Happy?


Christians say they have joy in their lives. Yet, they often differentiate happiness from joy. They define joy as a peaceful resolve that God is in control of all things. So, does this mean that when we become followers of Jesus we should say goodbye to our desire to be happy? Psalm 37 has an answer to this question.

Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight in God and He will give us the desires of our heart. Let’s think through this for a moment. I think delight means delight. It is not happiness-less-joy. Delighting in something is filled with happiness. Now, I know there are times when our joy does not overflow with the emotion of happiness. Yet, I believe that even in the hardest moments of life there will still be something that brings us happiness when the time is right. For example, when I preach a funeral, I always try to stir up the listeners to think of some experience in the life of the person that has died that brings a happy memory. I find people are extremely comforted when they find out they can actually smile at one of the most difficult times in their life.
The psalmist is directing us to realize where our happiness is to find its resting place. It is to rest in God. Where are some other places our happiness might rest? People, places, possessions, prestige, accomplishments (sorry I ran out of “P” words)…get the picture? There are times in all of our lives when we mistake a means for glorifying God as the end that brings us happiness. We must be careful that even things that are “spiritual” do not become idols. Let me give you an example.

When I preach a sermon or go to sing a song, there is real heart work that must be done. I need to clarify my motives as to why I am making this public presentation. If I am doing this with a desire for people to compliment me…and that will be the greatest source of my joy…then I am doing it for the wrong reasons. My ultimate motivation must be that I delight in God and I believe that others will find their greatest happiness in Him so my real desire is to point others to Him through preaching or singing.

Think through some “spiritual” things you do. Are you doing these things with the desire to find your delight in God or are you doing these things so that your delight can come from others taking notice of what you are doing?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Always On Duty

I’ve just finished working on an upcoming sermon from 1 Timothy 3 on the qualifications for serving as a deacon in the church. While I have never been a deacon, there are several overlapping characteristics for deacons and elders/pastors. One of those is being a Godly father. This means that I am to teach, lead and oversee my children. That is a challenge. It reminds of a recent event at the Porter house so I'll share this fun tale with you.

A couple of weeks ago, we were struggling to keep Isaac and Maddox in the bed at night. There were several nights in a row that we would sense a presence moving about the house long after they should have been asleep. For several nights we worked to help them understand that when we put them in the bed it is time for them to go to sleep and not wait up for the third shift to begin so they could clock in and go to work. I will have to admit that after the third night or so they wore me down. It was on a Saturday night that Monica kept saying she thought one of them was up…or at least she thought something was up. I did my best to reassure her that her children respected their parents and would not dare get up after several nights of correction. Keep in mind that the boys are four years old. (I’m sure they will disobey beyond their fifth birthday, but knowing their age will put the crime in perspective.)

Anyway, she was right. Indeed, they were up and very active to say the least. Maddox’s passion the week or so before this night had been creating water fountains in the bath tub. At some point past 11:30 on this Saturday night he decided it was time for a new challenge – building a fountain out of cars in the sink. He loaded as many cars as he could into the sink and turned the water on full force. His greatest mistake was that he didn’t realize fountains must have drains or they will overflow…and dozens of cars in the sink tend to clog the drain.

Somewhere around 5am we were awakened to the sound of running water. Monica, of course, is the first up. She first discovers most of the lights in the house are on then she discovers the Maddox-made lake that is freely flowing. I should add that it is flowing freely throughout their bathroom floor and out to the carpet in their bedroom.

Later on in the morning Maddox admitted that he made the mess and tries to explain by saying that he was “only trying to build a fountain”. The long story short is that he loses his cars until the carpets dry which takes about two days and I end up learning the most from this fountain of knowledge. There are times when leading my children is not convenient. There are times when leading my children hurts. Yes, it is painful to get up at midnight or 2am to go in and lead them to go to sleep and not attempt to build aquatic feats in the middle of the night. That night I dropped the ball. But I learned that I need to go the extra mile even when my desire to lead our children is not free flowing. Thank God for hard lessons and may we learn from them!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Making Preparations

On Thanksgiving Day, my Dad and I went by the cemetery to check on the grave of my son, Benjamin. We spent a few moments walking through the cemetery talking about life and the difficulties of this past year. As we walked, we looked at old tombstones. There were many from the mid to late 1800s and one particular family plot caught our eye. In 1887, this family experienced significant loss. In January they lost an 8 year old son, and in July they buried a still born baby girl. The pain of a still birth is certainly fresh on the heart of our family and we talked about how hard it would be to lose an 8 year old child, needless to say, how hard it would be to lose both children in the same year.

This week, one of our four year olds, Isaac, has been battling an infection and cold. One evening his fever grew to be fairly high. As I held him, his hot little body actually caused me to sweat. While I was holding him I began thinking about our walk through the cemetery and how I would respond if we were to lose him or his brother or sister. The conclusions I drew were that we would only persevere if we were prepared to handle such difficult heartbreak. Now, please know that I am not trying to wish for this to happen, but we would only deal with the situation in a God-honoring way if preparations had been made. The following are two preparations I think are important.

First, I must know and trust that God is sovereign. I must know there is nothing that happens today or tomorrow that will be a surprise to God. (Psalm 139:16) I must know that God never goes off-duty. (Psalm 121:3-4). I must know that because I am a child of God, He is working all things for my good and His glory. (Romans 8:28) I must know that God will protect and keep me through every situation in life. (2 Timothy 1:8-14) I must know that I am loved by a Savior that understands the joys and pains of my heart. (Hebrews 2:17-18) I must meditate on these truths every day of my life. (Psalm 77)

Second, I must work to teach my children about this Savior. As a father, my primary role must be to teach my children about God. (Deuteronomy 6:4-8) I must be intentional in building markers in my children’s lives that will point them to the goodness and faithfulness of God. (Joshua 4:1-7) I must pray that God will help my children see that He is to be their help and strength. (Lamentation 2:19) I must remember that Jesus does care deeply about children having a relationship with Him and so must I. (Matthew 19:14)

As much as I hope a dreadful day such as this does not come, even more, I pray that if it does, by God’s grace, I will be prepared.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Only God...

I was recently reading through the book of Ruth. While there are numerous worthwhile themes in the book, I ended up pondering how God used Ruth in a way that she could never have expected. God took a woman who was outside of Israel and through the deaths of her husband and father in law, through a famine, and through a time of needing a kinsman redeemer…He places her in to the lineage of Jesus Christ. How could Ruth have ever known that God would work through tragedy, pain and loss to bring her to a place that her name would be spoken of thousands of years later?

God does these sorts of things in the lives of His people.

It made me wonder how God will use hurt, loss, pain and tragedy in my life to move me to the place He would have me? Will I be prepared to be obedient and submissive to God even when it seems that all hope is lost? What I am doing today to be prepared to be obedient and submissive to God when that difficult day comes? Being faithful to God in the stormy days comes because we prepare for them during the calm days.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Working for The Kingdom

I heard a phrase the other day that has intrigued me, and I have been thinking about it ever since. It was used in a sentence about the church and it is a call for the church to reach its “redemptive potential”. There is the phrase to consider, “redemptive potential”. I had never heard it before and there was no clear definition offered so I have been thinking about its meaning. This will probably show how postmodernism has affected me as I try to attach a meaning to a phrase that is not mine, and I do not know the author’s clear intent in its meaning, but why should that stop me.

To reach our redemptive potential seems to mean that we as individual followers of Jesus and as the church should be joining with Christ to redeem the culture around us. This should flow out of the context of the local church, and affect our family life, our jobs, our community and, to the extent we have opportunity to reach out, the rest of the world. Does that make sense? Our redemptive potential is, then, our ability as followers of Jesus to redeem the world around us.

What does that mean?

In looking at Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6:7-15, we hear Him say, “Thy (God’s) kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.” We are to be praying that God’s kingdom will come to earth so that earth will look like Heaven. In addition, it seems implied that we are to be praying for the strength, desire and ability to work toward this goal. Now, this is not a works based faith. This only happens when Christ, first, redeems us and then through the power of Holy Spirit begins to work in our lives. As we are made alive to Christ then we are to long for Christ to be glorified in every corner of our heart, life…and in every corner of the world around us.

Think of it this way, as followers of Jesus our desire should be to pull Heaven down to earth. That is not to cheapen or lessen Heaven, but it is to have the earth flooded with Heavenly things. Those Heavenly things are what Paul has in mind over in the first part of Ephesians where he says that God has lavished on us every spiritual blessing through Christ. That is, we have access to every spiritual blessing, but it is only through Jesus. For overview sake, those spiritual blessings poured out through Christians to the world would resemble a life that reflects the fruit of the Spirit: love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) These qualities, then, are to be used to point people to the glory of God.

This seems to be the Kingdom that Jesus has in mind when He says in Mark 1 that we are to repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand. This means that we are to turn from the former way of life, which is rebellion against God, and to turn to a new way of life in Christ which leads us to living for the glory of God in every area of life.

The practical question is this – how are you, as a follower of Jesus Christ – living this out? How are working by God’s grace to bring the Kingdom of God to your workplace? How are you working by God’s grace to bring the Kingdom of God to your home? How are you working by God’s grace to bring the Kingdom of God to your church? Then, how are you working to help it flow out of all of those places? How is your outward focus? How are you joining with God in redeeming this culture? Will the Kingdom of God every fully come to earth? Not until God works completely to make a new Heaven and a new Earth, but in obedience to Christ let us spend every ounce of energy we have during this life working to reach our redemptive potential.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

We Must Be Served Before We Can Really Serve

Do you ever think that it takes humility to be served? I’m talking about a deeper level than just ignoring the full trash can. I’m talking about the times we put off going to the Doctor or a counselor because we don’t want to admit that something is wrong.

Just as much as we should serve others, we must also be served. There is a real give and take here.

Listen to Jesus in Matthew 20:25-28, “But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and who would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

You see, the truth is that we need to be served. In fact, our service will be of no glory to God if we are not served by God first. It is only when we admit that we have a problem – sin, and that we need His help in forgiving us, restoring us and redirecting us.

That is what we celebrate in the Lord’s Supper. It is through Jesus’ broken body and shed blood that we are served by God. It is there that our sins can be forgiven. As we receive the bread and the cup, let us praise God for serving us in our time of great need. And may that be our motivation for serving God and others.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Podcast and more...

We now have a link up to the podcasts of our weekly broadcasts for you to listen to them any time you want! In addition, there are notes for this week's broadcast for you to follow along as you listen.

Distinctions Between Islam and Christianity

The following is a letter to the Editor that I sent to the Bowling Green Daily News:

While I am thankful that Imam Bilal Merdan of Bowling Green’s Islamic Center desires peace and harmony for the world, I disagree with some of his statements made in the Daily News article, “The Light of Heaven and Earth”, published on Friday, October 27, 2006. In Christianity, the New Testament of the Bible teaches Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy as he is both Savior and Lord. Jesus Christ claims that he and God the Father are one (John 14:9-11). The New Testament also claims that Jesus is more than a prophet, he is the only one to forgive the sins of the world (John 1:29) and the only way to be at peace with God (John 14:6).

Imam Merdan says, “We believe in the Torah, which was revealed to Moses, we believe in Psalms, which was revealed to David, and we believe in the Gospel, which was revealed to Jesus, and we believe in the Quran, which is the final message of God revealed to Muhammad.” This is in direct violation of the writings of the New Testament which teaches that the Bible alone is God’s Word to humanity (Romans 10:5-17, 2 Timothy 3:10-17). If Christianity and Islam were the same, how could the Qu’ran (written in the 7th Century) supersede the Bible which was completed centuries earlier?

Though there are some similarities, the biggest area of separation is the authority of Jesus. For Muslims, he was a mere human that served as a prophet and teacher. For Christians, he is God and the ruler of Heaven and earth. Again, while I am thankful that the Imam and many Muslims desire peace and harmony in the world, we must note that Christianity and Islam differ tremendously.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Depths of Pride

An argument broke out between Jesus’ disciples because of a request made by the mother of James and John. She asks that her sons be able to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus as He is ruling over His kingdom. This is a bold move as it is one of asking for her sons to be granted places of authority in the kingdom of God.

The other disciples were not pleased with her or with James and John. Yet, because of what is in me, I suspect their displeasure was not out of humility, but because this move conflicted with their own proud desires to sit in those places of honor beside Christ. Jesus’ response to them is staggering. Ultimately, He turns this discussion into a lesson on how His followers will become great as they serve others. Jesus Himself says in Matthew 20:28 that He has come not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. The very One that deserved to be served says His priority is to serve.

There are two lessons that followers of Jesus should learn here. First, the obvious lesson is that we are to be looking for ways to serve others. We should be striving to sacrifice and look for ways to place others and their needs before our own needs. That is a very introspective question. Examine your heart, do you think most often about yourself or do you think most of serving others…not for what you will gain from it…but out of a love for Christ and a desire to serve others around you.

The second perspective is a little different. Are you willing to allow others to serve you? Why would I ask this question? It’s because I believe our pride often keeps us from letting other people serve us. When someone else meets a need for us it shows that we are needy. I don’t like for people to think I am needy or have weaknesses. It takes humility and dependence to allow people to serve me. My pride calls me to do things my way and to take care of my own problems. It’s interesting that both wanting other people to serve me and letting people serve me reveals areas of pride in my life.

When we are humble and faithful to God, I believe He will direct our minds to places of serving others. At the same time, when we are humble and faithful to God, I believe He will teach us how to depend on Him as we learn to depend on others and let others serve us. No matter where you are today, are you learning to depend on this wonderful Savior that came to serve? Ask Him to show you areas of pride in your life and then help you put it to death.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Holy and Blameless Life

What is it that should make the Christian life distinct? Is it the fact that Christians claim to be the only people that will call Heaven home for eternity? Is it the fact that our Savior, Jesus Christ, claims to be the only way to have peace with God? The answer is yes, but there is more. A real distinction for the Christian life is that we have been called to be holy and blameless before God, the church and the world around us. God has called us to do more than just become Christians and wait for our entry to Heaven.

Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 1:3-4, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him." There is a purpose in our salvation. Before the foundation of the world, God desired to have a people that would be holy and blameless as they live their lives before Him. What a remarkable thought! Christians are fulfilling the desire of God as they grow in their love and obedience to Him.

Think for a moment about something that you really wanted. Think about that toy that you wanted all year as a child , and then think about how sweet the moment was when you unwrapped it on Christmas morning. Think about how long you wanted to marry that special someone, and then how wonderful it was to see her coming down the aisle or him waiting in the front of the chapel. Think about how wonderful it is to see a friend that you have been separated from for far too long. There is a joy that is stored up in us that just waits for these moments to be unleashed.

Christians have the wonderful opportunity of bringing that joy to the heart of God. He has given His Son to bring this about and He has given us His Spirit to live this way. That is what Paul means when he says that God has given us "every spiritual blessing". God has given us the ability to do what He desires for us to do. Yes, it requires hard work on our part to turn away from sin and to live for the glory of God, but we can find amazing encouragement and help from God who desires to see us succeed in living holy and blamelessly for His glory and our joy!

Turn from sin today to delight our great Gift-giver!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ending a Godless Life

I suppose that we are all filled with wonder as to what the last few moments of life will be like for us. When I hear the news that people were killed "instantly", I wonder what that was like. How could someone be living and breathing at one moment and entered into eternity in the next second. I also wonder if I'll have the chance to say anything memorable for my last words like movie actors do just before their dying breath.

A few years ago, I was gripped by the lines of the hymn, My Jesus, I Love Thee, that say, "I'll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death, and praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath, then say when the death dew lies cold on my brow, if ever I loved Thee my Jesus 'tis now." What a vivid image of loving and praising Christ in those last moments of life on the Earth.

The psalmist wrote in Psalm 116:15, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." What comfort and joy that brings to the heart of the believer as they find confidence and hope in this promise of God. When a saint, a follower of Jesus Christ, gets close to death...God is closer.

Yet, the other side of the coin is this -- if you live a Godless life, you will die a Godless death. What a pity and how sad it is for people to enter those final and uncertain moments of life apart from God's help and protection. How humbling that last breath on Earth and first breath in eternity must be for a person when they realize that the God they rejected and rebelled against is the One they needed most. I hope that will stir your heart and soul to go and join with God in helping people surrender their pride and arrogance so that they will see their greatest need is God.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for being nearest at all moments, especially, in those moments of greatest need. Help us to love you in life and in death.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Living in Turbulent Times

Some months ago I put together a list of sermons that we would work through this summer here at Smiths Grove Baptist Church. We've spent quite a while working through the Gospel of Mark. This week we are going to tackle Mark 13. This is a passage where Jesus talks to the Disciples about things to look for as this age comes to an end. It has been a bit overwhelming. I will admit that I have been a bit squeemish reading through this passage, then checking news-sites on the Internet and listening to news on the radio and TV. It's hard not to believe that we are living right in the middle of the time that Jesus is speaking of.

However, as I have studied, it occurs to me that there have been wars and rumors of wars since the time Jesus walked the Earth. It also seems that God's people have been targets of persecution in one way or another even before Jesus was crucified 2,000 years ago. So, I have been left to think of this passage from a different perspective. Instead of trying to think about this passage as being a "what are we supposed to be looking for" passage, I have approached it by thinking about how Christians should live when being a Christian is hard. Because of the battle against sin that rages within me, I find it is always hard to be a Christian. Yet, there are times when external pressures are greater than others. This passage is filled with encouraging words aimed at helping Christians with life and faith during turbulent times.

There are three things, that I would like to briefly note, that Christians should remember in Mark 13. First, for the sake of God's elect, He will cut short the days of suffering. The problems of the world all basically boil down to sin and its effects. Therefore, unless God puts an end to man's sin on Earth, this world will continue to spiral downward. Christians can find hope in the fact that God is not going to allow this behavior to continue forever. He will end it one day.

Second, the turmoil of this world will come to an end when Christ returns in the clouds with great power and glory. (verse 26) Scholars believe that Jesus uses this phrase concerning power and glory to connect the Disciples thinking about Him with the thinking of the Israelites in the Old Testament. You might remember in the Old Testement that God is so glorious that no one can look upon Him and live. While Jesus is very humble, and seemingly approachable during his time on the Earth, He is telling them that when He returns things will be different. His radiance will be bright and He will come with power to crush sin and the enemies of God. This is another reason that Christians should not lose hope during turbulent times!

Finally, there is a call by Jesus to Christians to, "...be on guard," in verse 23, and, "Stay awake," in verse 37. It ocurred to me that I have a job to be doing this week...and it is not listening to news every day so I can worry about the turmoil in the world. Christians have been called to be preparing for the return of our King! To do so, we need to invite everyone we meet to prepare to celebrate His return and we need to be joining with Him in the purification of our own hearts so that we will be the radiant Bride He desires (Ephesians 5).

Christian, there is more to be doing that worrying or dreading what will happen next. We are to be looking forward to a glorious Savior who will return to rescue His own. Come, Lord Jesus! And let us prepare as we wait!

Friday, July 21, 2006

What Does Your Giving Prove?

This week I have been thinking through Mark 12:41-44. In this passage, we find Jesus sitting across from the place where the tithes and gifts are collected in the temple courts. It is Passover in Jerusalem and the place is really busy. It is a big week of collection for the Priests.

As He is sitting there, He is watching how much individual people give to the collection. This leads to the place where I've been dwelling this week. How would our giving be different if we knew that Jesus was sitting across from us in the pew this week and He saw how much we placed in the offering plate. Would our giving be more than what we typically give?

There's more to it than this, though. Would your motivation for giving change? Think about this...if Jesus knows everything, then He also knows how much is in your checking account, savings account, money market account, portfolio, retirement fund, etc. He even knows your net worth when you combine everything you own with everything you earn. Therefore, He knows the proportion in which you are giving. And, this is a clear indicator as to what you are treasuring in life.

When you give to the local church along with other charities that benefit those in need, do you use that as a time to examine your heart? Do you use that time of writing a check to examine what it is you really treasure in life? Perhaps we should take advantage of opportunities to recalculate our treasure more often?

Monday, July 03, 2006

James Sermon Series

Earlier in 2006, we worked our way through the entire book of James at Smiths Grove Baptist Church. The entire series of sermons are available here at covenantlifetoday.org. This is a wonderful book for spiritual growth and practical insight. May God increase your joy in Him through these messages!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lasting Treasure

The rich, young ruler in Mark 10 loved his wealth more than anything else in the world. He couldn’t possibly think of giving it up to follow Jesus Christ. It wasn’t that Jesus scolded him for having money; his problem was that he loved his money more than he loved God.

A few verses later, the Apostle Peter says, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Peter still didn’t understand that Jesus was after more than what is on the surface. Jesus wants to capture our hearts. He does speak of family, houses and lands as things that will have to be given up to follow Him, but, even more, from His dealing with this young man we see that He is after our motivation for why those things are so important to us. It is only there that we are able to see how much we love tangible things and intangible things.

Earlier in the Gospel of Mark, the disciples had one of many arguments as to who would ultimately be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. This discussion was rooted in pride and self-centeredness. Rather than cooperating with God to raise up Jesus as the greatest in the Kingdom, they were trying to figure out how they could find their way to that spot. My point is that we hold on to more than just stuff. We hold on to ideas, methods, desires, motivations, reputation, etc., which cannot be touched but can certainly be idols.

Won’t you ask God to help you see what you love more than Him? Why not ask Christ to help you love Him above everything else? Ask Him to show you the idols in your life and grant you the grace to surrender them to Him. Then act…turn over your temporary treasures to Christ…for One that will last forever and bring peace and joy to your heart!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Your Heart's Anchor

In preparation for a sermon this coming Sunday, I am studying Mark 10:17-31. I am struck by the question the disciples ask Jesus in the passage, "Who then can be saved?" When they listened to the interaction of Jesus and the rich, young ruler they were shocked to see the young man leave dejected over Jesus' statement. Then, they were even more shocked when Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.

Why is it so difficult for the rich man to enter the Kingdom? What if you don't have much money, is it still difficult for you?

The point of the interaction is not necessarily about money, but about what the young man loved. What is in your life that you love more than Christ? It might be people, a place or stuff, but it might be ideas, accolades or accomplishments as well. What is your heart anchored to that is keeping you from loving and following Christ supremely?

Think through this to begin, then, join me later this week as we think about the graciousness of God in saving us.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Gospel Influence

When we influence someone we are pushing them in a direction. Whether it’s a celebrity trying to use their sway to push someone toward a particular product or brand, or a spouse trying to influence their mate toward a particular decision – our influence is used to push another person in a specific direction. As Christians, then, we need to understand what our primary influence should be. It should be to direct people to the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has come to be the sacrifice for our offenses to God. Even more, the Gospel is the fact that God has called us and enables us to love Him more than we love our sin.

Mark 9:42-50 (ESV)
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Because of His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, God has made Jesus Christ the One that can offer forgiveness and life. Repentance of sin is our asking Jesus to forgive us of our sins, the acceptance of His substitutionary death for us, and the living of a new life in Him that is lived for His glory while we turn away from sin. When we trust Jesus, the punishment of death for our offensiveness toward God, that we rightly deserve, is fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Therefore, we have now been freed to live a new life that honors God and shows that our greatest delight is in Him.

This is where our influence comes into play. Our lives are to influence people so that they see our greatest hope, dependence and joy is in Jesus Christ. Since He has restored us, the Christian life is one of turning away from sin and turning to Him. This should be very influential as it should be reflected in anything and everything we do. Our turning away from sin and turning to Christ should be seen in the way we talk, how we work, in the way we treat people, how we plan for the future, how we spend our money, and on and on. Being a follower of Jesus soaks into every part of our life because we love Him and long to obey Him and honor Him.

The other component of this life and our influence in it is what we won’t do. We are called to hate our sin and to do everything within our power to resist it. That is new life! We don’t live this way because we are trying to jump-through-the-hoops and earn our salvation; we turn from our sin because we know there is something sweeter and better – Jesus.

Now, Christian, perhaps you should make some plans for today. How will you influence people with your life? The greatest way is to live in a way that proves you love Jesus Christ more than you love sin (or anything else for that matter).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Using Your Influence

Is someone watching you? Are people looking over your shoulder when you don’t know it? Most likely, they are. They probably aren’t watching you with bad intentions, but there is a great chance that people are taking notice of your words and actions today.

Jesus had this in mind in Mark 9:42-50,
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (ESV)

In this passage He is speaking to the disciples about some false teachers that are doing miracles, by using His name, for their own fame. The motivation of these false teachers is misguided as they are helping people for their own glory instead of working for the glory of God. While these false teachers doing miracles is an interesting issue, Jesus seems most concerned with the influence we have over other people.

From the context of Mark 9 we can see that Jesus had just been holding some small children as He spoke to the disciples. Most likely, then, He has them in view as those who are being influenced by the adults around them. However, we need to realize that we influence people of all ages every day by our words and actions.

Jesus offers a stiff penalty for those that would use their influence to encourage sin and ungodly behavior. I pray that you will take this warning seriously. I also pray that you would live your life with this warning and encouragement in view. Too often, we live as if what we say and do actually matter very little. This is not the way Jesus lived and it is not the way He expects His followers to act.

Today, you are influencing people. What are they learning from you?

Friday, June 16, 2006

God's Declaration of Glory

A solar flare erupts from the sun in this image taken by NASA's SOHO satellite Monday, July 1, 2002. The solar eruption is what astronomers call an eruptive prominence, a loop of magnetic fields that trap hot gas inside. Scientists note that the sun is experiencing ``solar max,'' a period of strong activity that happens about every 11 years and lasts for about three or four years. These disturbances on the sun blast radiation and particles out into space, some of which can affect Earth. The planet's magnetic field channels the radiation around the Earth, funneling some of it to the poles to produce the most commonly noticed effect, the glowing auroras. The powerful electromagnetic pulses also can affect satellites and communications and can even disrupt electrical service over long distances. (AP Photo/NASA)



Psalm 19:1-6
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
4 Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, 5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

Isn't God amazing?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Man of Sorrows

What if Jesus had never known sorrows? What if He never knew pain or grief; would He be a Savior that is really able to bring comfort? I sat through a funeral this week; and as I watched the family grieve, I prayed for them and also prayed a prayer of thanksgiving because Jesus does know the pain of our broken hearts.

But even more than knowing the pain of our hearts, He has suffered through that pain. Isaiah 53 calls Jesus a "man of sorrows" who is "acquainted with grief." The word acquainted is there to help us understand that Jesus knows grief well. It is an emotion He has experienced often and in great depth.

Jesus knows grief well because of His own life with us, as God takes on flesh and lives among His creation. He knows the pain of being separated from a close friend in his greatest time of need and, consequently, losing that friend, the pain of being doubted and misunderstood by his closest followers and of being betrayed into the hands of the chief priests by one He called His friend. He has seen hunger, frustration and broken hearts. He is very familiar with sorrow.

Yet, there's more to the story than this. He is familiar with sorrow because He knows the pain that only God knows. That is, He has felt the agony of facing an inevitable and overwhelming burden on behalf of not only those who love and serve with him, but also those who mock Him and deny His identity. Jesus willingly bore the pain and humiliation of our sin. God poured out His wrath and righteous anger on Jesus at the cross. The punishment for sin that will, ultimately without Jesus, cost us our life was absorbed by Him for all those that will place their trust in Him.

Jesus knows the pain of being a Creator that is rejected by His creation, and He knows the pain felt by the creation because of the consequence of rejecting their Messiah. Let us find great hope and rest in Him as we place our burdens in His strong but loving hands. His shoulders are broad, and His heart is tender. He is always ready to help us carry our load of sorrows, and as He tells us in Matt. 11:30 His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Leadership in the Church

Recently, the Kentucky Baptist newspaper, The Western Recorder, featured an article on leadership in the church. It dealt specifically with the issue of elder leadership in a church and how it affects the congregational polity that Baptist churches try to represent. I hope you'll go and read the article. Below is a Letter to the Editor that I sent them with some questions concerning the article.

Dear Editor,

Thank you for the article, “Who Rules?” by David Winfrey that was featured in the June 6, 2006 edition. As a Pastor in a church that has recently transitioned to being elder led, I would like to ask some questions of the article.

First, is being elder led and congregational mutually exclusive? If we study Scripture, don’t we see both of these ideas? We hear Paul call Titus to appoint Elders in every town (Titus 1:5) and we see Paul working with a group of Elders in Ephesus (20:17). At the same time, we hear the words of Christ calling for the church’s authority in Matthew 18:17 and Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. It seems that a church can be and should be elder led and congregational at the same time.

Second, is moving toward elder leadership really a step away from historical precedent as the article presented? While the article referenced the 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message stating that the word “elders” does not appear there, it did not point out that the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message says of “The Gospel Church”, “Its Scriptural officers are bishops, or elders, and deacons.” (
http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp) Therefore, it was less than 100 years ago that the SBC recognized elders as leaders in the local church. Perhaps some churches moving this way is not much of an historical shift after all.

Finally, shouldn’t we be concerned about what Scripture says rather than what we have done in the past or even what we are doing now? Before we start labeling ideas as Calvinist and Arminian, or conservative and liberal, for the glory of God and the building up of the church, let us seek to be Biblical above all.

Grace, Brandon Porter
Pastor, Smiths Grove Baptist Church

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Great Gift of Scripture

God has given us such a special gift in His Word. It is sad how often we take it for granted by neglecting the truths for life that God has given us there. This can happen when we do not read the Bible very often, when we read it too fast or when we do not thinking through a passage after getting up from our time of reading.

Whether we hear the words of Jesus, the wisdom of the Proverbs, the heart cries for God in the Psalms, the direction and theology of the New Testament letters or the many narrative lessons of the Old Testament there are thousands of places we can find insight for every day of our lives. What a treasure we overlook so often!

I would encourage you to read the Word of God now. Stop reading this blog and go pick up your Bible and get lost in it so that you might find the grace of God that leads to life abundant!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Our Relationship with God

I'm working on a project where I have to discuss the Christian's relationship with God. To do this, I've been thinking about John 17 where Jesus asks God to make His followers one with Him even as they (the Father and Son) are one. From this, then, if we are to be one with God just as Christ is one with God we should find some ways to model Christ's relationship with the Father. Make sense?

Here's what I've come up with so far in their relationship...
Jesus was --
-- Obedient and Submissive to the Will of God (Matt. 4:1)
-- Constant in Prayer (and Fasting) (Matt. 4:2)
-- Well Learned in Scripture (Matt. 4:4)
-- Aligned in the Understanding of Real Treasures (Matt. 6:19-21)
-- Concerned with Glorifying God (John 17:1)
-- Consistent with Serving Others (Matt. 20:28)
-- Passionate about the Salvation of People (Matt. 23:37-39)
-- Generous to People, Even His Enemies (Matt. 5:38-42)

That's my quick list. Think through these and compare your life to them.

Then, leave a comment and add to this list if you like.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Life In Christ

Imagine someone else's heart is in your chest. They still have the power to beat the heart, so you are totally dependent on them to keep you alive. At the same time, you still have natural abilities. The decision of what you will wear today or which route you will take to work...it's up to you. So, you bear some responsibilty, but you are totally dependent on this other person's heart for your life. It's like their heart is fueling their life and your life at the same time.

Listen to what Paul says in Roman 6:11, "So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ." The part I want you to think about is that phrase, "in Jesus Christ." The reason we are alive to God is because we are in Jesus Christ. The life with God comes from being totally dependent upon Christ.

But listen to Romans 6:13, "Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." When we are in Christ, we are called to do everything in our power to live for righteousness.

Christ follower, you are called to fight hard today for righteousness. But you are also called to remember that you are only able to accomplish this because you are in Christ. Let us work hard today to bring glory to the one that is responsible for the beating of our heart.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Who Do You Love?

In a recent discussion, I talked with some friends about how we are to serve one another. We all agreed that is was easier to serve people that had already done nice things for us. Sort of a, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours approach.

Our conversation turned, though, because Jesus calls us to do more than just repayment when we serve other people. Jesus says His followers should serve people that would consider them their enemies.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate
your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who
persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the
just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward
do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you
greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even
the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your
heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

This is not so easy. In fact, it is not something that I naturally do not want to do. In fact, it can only happen by the work of God the Holy Spirit in my life to help me to love this way.

How can you grow to love this way? Why not start here…identify your “enemies”. That probably won’t take very long. Now, pray for them. Ask God to help them. Ask God to cause them to grow in their faith and dependence upon Him. Ask God for opportunities to love them and encourage them in the truth.

You see, Jesus is after more than just our lip-service toward our enemies. He is calling His followers to actually care about those that would be called their enemies. He did this for us. Paul says in the book of Romans that before we became Christians, we were enemies of God. And, that while we were His enemies He loved us.

Ask God to help you be made more into the image of Christ by serving your friends…and your foes.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Crisis of Caring

At Smiths Grove Baptist Church we have been working hard over the last couple of years to create a covenant community of believers. One of our struggles is that we are not exactly sure what a group of truly committed believers looks like. We have all read the early chapters of Acts and seen what John says about the first church, but we distort that so often because we place modern meanings on what John is saying.

I have been reading The Crisis of Caring by Jerry Bridges for an upcoming seminary class and I think it is a wonderful resource in helping us rediscover the New Testament definition of fellowship, one of the aspects of that first church. I highly recommend it for your edification!

Britain's Youngest Mother

This is a very interesting story about an 11-year-old girl that is expected to give birth next month in Great Britain. That's right, give birth next month.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Patience, Pain and Grace

It has been two weeks now since our infant son, Benjamin’s, birth and passing. The pain is different now. The edge that was present the first few days is not quite as sharp anymore. The pain is still there. It rises at different times of the day and night. It is triggered by unpredictable thoughts and happenings. It is an elusive pain. I find myself thinking most about Benjamin when I’m playing with our other kids. I think about how I will never play catch with him on this side of eternity. I do hope we can get out in Heaven’s open fields and throw a baseball around. I think about how I will have to wait to hear his voice or his little laugh and see his smile. There is pain in waiting.

But, it’s teaching me to be more dependent upon God.

This past week, I was praying with the Deacons of our church during a meeting. The deacon that prayed for me said something to the effect, “God, You knew this was the way it was going to be from the beginning.” That really struck me. In my head, I knew that to be true but when he prayed it out loud, there was a real weight to the statement that struck my heart.

In the following days, it caused me to think about John the Baptist leaping for joy inside his mother’s womb in Luke 1:44. I have thought about the prophet, Jeremiah, being called by God to be a prophet to the nations even while he was still in the womb in Jeremiah 1:5. I spent some time thinking about the Psalmists words in 139:16 that God has recorded all of the events of our days in His book before they even took place.

God has a plan for our lives even before the first sign of life in our mother’s womb.

Of losing an infant, some may say, “Well, at least you didn’t have time with him because that would make the loss even harder.” I don’t if that is true or not. Benjamin is as a real to God as our four year old boys and two year old girl. And, because he is real to God, he is very real to us also. So, in that same breath, then, I must acknowledge God has a plan for this baby that is now gone from us but with the Lord. I’m sad that I wasn’t more of a part of that plan in this world. But, I look forward to my part with him in the next.

May God grant us the grace to be patient and wait on the working out of His plan.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Gift of God

Somewhere between Mark 2:14 and Mark 3:18, Jesus changes the name of Levi the tax collector to Matthew. Why would this be of interest to you? Well, as they say, it’s all in the name.

A news flash has just arrived and it appears that no one in the history of the world has ever enjoyed paying their taxes! In Jesus’ day, most tax collectors were known to be scoundrels. The taxation system in Rome was fairly loose, so as long as the tax collector could keep Caesar happy, he could get as much as he could from the citizens under his authority. Even the hypocritical Pharisees labeled tax collectors as sinners and would not allow them to enter the temple courts.

Jesus approached these sinners, though. Not only did He approach them, but He called one of them, Levi, to be one of His closest followers. And, even more than this He changed his name from Levi to Matthew, which means “a gift of God”, using this former tax collector to write the Gospel we read first in the New Testament.

What a change in direction!

We should learn that the message of Christ is for sinners. That is you and me…and even the person around you that is most despised by co-workers or other family members. Jesus saw potential in this sinner. Do you see potential in the sinners around you? You should. That sight should even motivate you to share Jesus’ call of following Him to them.

Maybe Jesus could relate to Matthew’s rejection. Not in relation to Matthew’s sin, but in the sense that Jesus was also considered an outcast by society around him. After all, Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would have, “…no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)

I know my heart. I am amazed that God sees potential in me. I am so thankful that He moved someone into place to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with me. I am so humbled that God saved me. What about you? Shouldn’t our thankfulness, then, drive us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with someone that is considered unsightly by the world and the “religious”? Seems to me that your conversation would bring much glory to a gracious Savior!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Weak, Foolish and Lowly

What makes you wise? What makes you strong? What makes you secure?

Those questions are part of the aim of 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. The Apostle Paul's argument there is that Jesus Christ is what brings worth and security to His followers. It is not their own wisdom, but His. It is not their own strength, but His. It is not their own honor, but His.

Perhaps you're sitting at work while you're reading this...or, maybe you've just finished working with your financial software...no matter where you are, you are at just the right place to begin to think about what makes for a successful life. After all, dont' we all want to feel joy, love and contentment?

God's purpose in this world is for our contentment is for us to rest in Jesus Christ so that we will love and treasure Him. Listen to a few lines from the passage in 1 Corinthians...
  • God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;
  • God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
  • God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are;

What was considered foolish? Who was considered weak? Who was low and despised? Jesus Christ.

What happens to us when we begin to believe that we are wise, strong or high and mighty? For me, my pride puffs up and I begin to think much more of myself than I should. Even more than that, I begin to get a distorted picture of myself and Christ. I begin to believe, "God is sure fortunate to have me playing on His team!!" What a distortion!

In the very next verse, Paul says that God chose the foolish, weak, low and despised so that we would treasure Christ and realize His great worth. And, attached to this He chooses these people so that we will realize that our only boast is Christ. Our only boast is Christ. One more time, our only boast is Christ.

Now, take a moment to think through your goals, ambitions and ideas of what brings your greatest worth. If it is not Christ, and you consider yourself a follower of Christ, then pray and ask God to help you rightly prioritize your thinking and boasting.

What makes you wise? What makes you strong? What makes you secure?

Those questions are part of the aim of 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. The Apostle Paul's argument there is that Jesus Christ is what brings worth and security to His followers. It is not their own wisdom, but His. It is not their own strength, but His. It is not their own honor, but His.

Perhaps you're sitting at work while you're reading this...or, maybe you've just finished working with your financial software...no matter where you are, you are at just the right place to begin to think about what makes for a successful life. After all, dont' we all want to feel joy, love and contentment?

God's purpose in this world is for our contentment is for us to rest in Jesus Christ so that we will love and treasure Him. Listen to a few lines from the passage in 1 Corinthians...
  • God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;
  • God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
  • God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are;

What was considered foolish? Who was considered weak? Who was low and despised? Jesus Christ.

What happens to us when we begin to believe that we are wise, strong or high and mighty? For me, my pride puffs up and I begin to think much more of myself than I should. Even more than that, I begin to get a distorted picture of myself and Christ. I begin to believe, "God is sure fortunate to have me playing on His team!!" What a distortion!

In the very next verse, Paul says that God chose the foolish, weak, low and despised so that we would treasure Christ and realize His great worth. And, attached to this He chooses these people so that we will realize that our only boast is Christ. Our only boast is Christ. One more time, our only boast is Christ.

Now, take a moment to think through your goals, ambitions and ideas of what brings your greatest worth. If it is not Christ, and you consider yourself a follower of Christ, then pray and ask God to help you rightly prioritize your thinking and boasting.

Monday, May 01, 2006

New Life in Christ

Yesterday at Smiths Grove Baptist Church we talked about what it really means to be a Christian. The key idea was that being a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus Christ every day in every way of life.

Here's the text from my final point about the new direction of life that comes from our repentance and Christ's forgiveness...

Being a follower of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean that you are just standing still until you go to Heaven one day. The life of a follower of Jesus Christ is a life of motion and action. You never stand still in life. You are either moving toward Jesus Christ or you are moving away from Him.

Those that are real followers of Jesus Christ are moving toward Him and they see their lives changed and affected by Him every day.

There are two specific examples we see in the first chapter of Mark –
Jesus immediately calls these four fishermen to follow Him in Mark 1:16-20.
-- He gives them a new role in life.
-- They leave their old life behind.
Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law in Mark 1:29-31.
-- She leaves her old life behind.
-- She gets up and begins to literally serve Jesus.

You need to see and understand that entering the Kingdom of God…being a part of the church… being a member of the family of God is not some cosmic experience that will only happen when you get the mantra correct or reach a certain level of enlightenment. It is not some secret knowledge that is contained in a mysterious group or a hidden document.

Being a part of the Kingdom of God is receiving forgiveness for your sins from Jesus Christ, turning away from your sinful lifestyle and following Jesus Christ. There are real, practical implications to this new way of life!

This means that music in your iPod should change.
This means that your definition of success and achievement in life should change.
This means that what you say to help or encourage people should change.
This means how you spend or save your money should change.
This means how you talk to your parents, your family, your husband, your wife, etc. should change.
This means how you play the game or work at the office should change.

Ultimately, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, everything you do should be done for the glory of God.

The way you argue with your wife should be done for the glory of God.
The way you discipline your children should be done for the glory of God.
The way you work in school or at our job should be done for the glory of God.
The way you goof off should be done for the glory of God.
The way you choose what to read or to watch on TV should be done for the glory of God.
The way you mourn should be done for the glory of God.
The way you hope should be done for the glory of God.

From these examples in Mark, we see the lives of the first disciples and the life of this ill woman drastically changed.

Jesus’ call is for you to come and follow Him in all of your life.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Importance of Christ and the Cross

Dr. Mark Dever, Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., has written a great article on the importance of Jesus' death on the cross in the month's Christianity Today. I hope you'll take time to read it and really think about it!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Encourage One Another

As a pastor, when I walk up on conversations, they often stop. It leads me to wonder if someone was sharing a dirty joke or if the conversation was just not "spiritual" enough for me to hear. Now, as we work through this week of sorrow I find people struggling, even more, with how to deal with me. Several times I've walked up on people that were laughing and when they caught sight of me they stopped. When our eyes locked it was as if they were saying, "I'm sorry that I was laughing." I know they are trying to be kind. And I know that this is an awkward time in some respects, but it saddens me because the last thing I want to do is to steal someone else's joy.

Really, their joy actually helps me and brings me encouragement. Even if I don't know why someone is laughing, it helps to hear that joy. This week, Monica and I have tickled Maddox, Isaac and Eliza until we thought they were going to explode just because we needed to hear those sweet, little voices laughing.

Paul thought it was important to encourage people that were grieving and hurting. He thought it was important to the point that he offered some suggestions as to what Christians should say to one another. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, he says that we ought to encourage one another with the knowledge and hope that one day there will be a real, bodily resurrection of the dead because of the power of Jesus Christ. Christ has so much power. That's one thing I have thought about at least a thousand times this week. I'm so glad I know the One with ALL authority. I trust Him and I love Him with all of my heart. I hope you know Him and love Him as well.

So, when you see me...don't stop laughing...even if you're laughing at me. And, don't just say, "It will be okay," instead, say, "It will be okay because one day Jesus will raise His children!" Let us long for that day when our faith will be sight!! Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Hope for a Broken Heart

We buried our 25 week old son today. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But we did it. My wife, our families and our church family leaned on each other and cried our way through the graveside service to close the longest weekend of my life.

How did we do it? Where did we go for strength?

One place we went was Romans 12. There Paul says, among other things, "Let love be genuine...rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation and constant in prayer...weep with those who weep." The weeping was the key that led to hope. The tears helped us to know that the love was genuine. This may seem odd, but there was great encouragement for me in the tears of others. I knew they were feeling this pain with us and for us. I knew they were crying out for God's help for us and for themselves because of their tears.

More than that though, I know they are rejoicing in hope. Let's think about real hope for a moment. You see, even non-Christians can weep with one another, but rejoicing in real hope is reserved for Christians only. I don't rejoice only in the fact that the pain will get better over time. I don't rejoice only in the belief that I'll see my son again some day. No, I rejoice in the hope that is rooted in Jesus Christ. It's not even the "faith" that I trust. It is a person, Jesus Christ, that I trust. Because He has made a way for me to have a relationship with God, I can find hope in knowing that God will pour out grace upon our broken hearts.

Don't get me wrong, there is still much pain and sorrow in my heart. I fear it will be here for some time so please do not think I'm talking about a quick fix. That is not what Christ has promised us. He has, though, promised that He will not leave us. And, He has called us to love one another. So, I will rest in His faithfulness and in the trust that His people, the church, will be obedient to Him in being patient with me while in tribulation.

He is, after all, a God that keeps His promises to His people.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Prayer Request

Please pray for my family as we mourn the loss of an infant son, Benjamin Wood Porter. He passed on Saturday morning after 25 weeks. You can read his obituary here in our local paper. We thank God for his short life and the grace that He has poured out on us in these difficult days. We are especially thankful for our parents and immediate families and the church family of Smiths Grove Baptist Church. I hope to write more about the lessons I've learned and blessings I've received over the next few days.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cleaning Up the Church

There was a time when I thought that churches were "cool" if they had leaders who looked a certain way or if the congregation was made up of pretty people. I thought churches that were successful would use the greatest technology and the latest, cutting edge songs that sound like something you would hear on the radio.

Don't get me wrong, I think technology is great. And, I love music. But over the years, I've changed. I've thought many times about buying several of the same black suit so I would fade into the background when I was preaching. I don't judge music by the cool riffs anymore, but by the content of the lyric and whether it is centered on Scripture.

I've come to the realization that those things I mentioned above are what the world finds attractive at the rock concert, ballpark, designer runway, and it's what they are looking for in the church. Unfortunately, the church has been sucked into culture, largely, instead of making a dent in it. Don't believe me? Look at how LIFE magazine defines coolness when it comes to church.

Now, before we being throwing stones at the churches in that article, let's look around our own city and county. Most likely, there are churches that would fit perfectly into that magazine article that are in our own zip code. And, before we start throwing stones at other churches in our zip code, let's start thinking through our lives together in the local church we attend. We will probably find some pretty convicting evidence there. You see, there's a lot of cleaning to do within the church we attend to begin so that we will look like the disciples in Mark 1:14-20 who left everything to follow Jesus. This means there is some reorganization that we need to allow the Holy Spirit to do within each and everyone of us to make us into the radiant bride of Christ.

This Lord's Day, when you are joining with other believers to worship, ask yourself, "Why am I here?" If the top-of-your-list answer is anything other than to glorify, enjoy, love and grow in my Savior, then you need to ask God to reprioritize your reasons for attending.

Also this Lord's Day, listen carefully to what your Pastor says. Listen to hear how he is calling you, as Jesus does, to belief, repentance and the new life in Christ. Even if you are a Christian, you need to hear week in and week out...I know I do!

Then, why not compare notes with a friend that goes to another church next Monday?

A Christian's Response to Immigration Crisis

Everyday it seems there are stories about new demostrations, threats, arrests and calls to action concerning the influx of illegal aliens in the United States. How should a Christian respond? Joel Belz of WORLD Magazine offers a suggested response in this article.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Caring for the Body

I am struggling to get a practical grasp on a passage that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians. The passage is found 1 Corinthians 12. It is there that he talks about the church as a body. He says everyone in the body of Christ is needed so the church may work together in a productive and coordinated way as we bring glory to Christ in this world. I understand that part. I don't always do a good job at it, but I understand it.

I'm having a hard time in verses 22-26. Here's what they say...
22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

I'm working on those phrases that I underlined. That is very contrary to the way an organization works in the world. For the most part, in the corporate world, if an employee is slowing down the company or hurting the image...they are let go. As for the church, though, Paul is saying just the opposite. The folks that are struggling should receive greater attention than the ones that are average or above.

I asked someone yesterday that does not attend Smiths Grove Baptist Church, "What does that look like in your church?" This is a very real issue that we need to get right. Paul has people in mind here, not just parts of a body that make up a nice analogy.

How many times have I given someone a smile as passed on Sunday, but in my mind I wasn't really valuing them. I was pitying them, but I wasn't interested in showing them "greater honor" and I certainly did not believe they were "indispensable".

Who are those people in your church that you would put on a list of being dispensable? Are they the weak? Are they the aged? Are they the physically handicapped or disabled? Are they people who have falled into public sin? Who? Who? Who?
If they are truly part of the body, we are called to cover them in love and "greater modesty". I hope you think about this the next time you take your seat in the place you gather to worship with fellow church members or pass some of these unsightly people in the hall. I wonder if you'll go out of your way to speak to them and get to know them? I wonder if I will?

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, we all rejoice together.

Friday, April 14, 2006

How Jesus Is Mocked

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, preach the word, be ready in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)

Throughout the Gospels, the call of Jesus Christ is, “Follow me.” It is not, “Get saved and I’ll see you in Heaven.” Often we live that way. It’s as if Heaven will be about Jesus and this life is about us. That is not the way God calls us to live. He calls us to live our lives with Christ in full view every day. Jesus died on the cross so that we might live this way. He came and gave His life so that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit and include Him in every thought, decision and activity in life. When we exclude Him, we mock Him. When we replace Him, we mock Him. When we don’t hold Him as our supreme treasure, we mock Him.

Paul tells Timothy, that by the power of Christ:
-- Because He is the judge
-- Because He has come
-- Because He has established a kingdom
that we should constantly be proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. We should have a constant knowledge of what is true and what is consistent when it comes to the Christian faith. We should find our joy in turning to the real, authentic Jesus Christ, Savior of the World.

How then will we know Christ? Through teaching. Whether that comes in the form of hearing God’s Word preached in a local church through a teacher, studying the Bible with a small group, studying God’s Word with your family, or simply studying God’s Word on your own – we have been called to value Christ by learning. When we do not value Jesus enough to learn about Him and His ways – we mock Him.

Paul says a day is coming when man will turn to whatever they want to hear – that is, their itching ears will exchange the real truth for one that is comfortable for them. We live in a day like that. From:
-- The DaVinci Code
-- The Gospel of Judas
-- The Story of Jesus walking on ice
-- Churches that would close on Christmas Day
-- Preachers teaching from a man-centered view of the life instead of a God-centered view of life.
We live in a day when there are ample supplies of teachers that will give you what you WANT to hear instead of what you NEED to hear. Jesus Christ came with hard sayings:
If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back if fit for the kingdom of God. Luke 9:62

There is a quote in the Chronicles of Narnia that refers to Christ...one of the characters asks, “Is he safe?” and another character responds, “No, but he is good.”

When we try to take the edge off of Christ, we do mock Christ.

When we try to sanitize Him, we mock Him.

When we try make Him comfortably fit in the box of our life, we mock Him.

When we try to shape Him into the image we desire, instead of asking Him to shape our lives, we mock Him.

Are you mocking Christ today? Just as the soldiers tried to command Him, “Prophecy and tell us who hit you!”, are you mocking Christ by trying to make Him conform to your will instead of submitting your life to Him and His kingdom?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hey kids, what does watching too much TV do?

Check this story out! This is what happens when you spend way too much time in front of the television set.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Living In the Light

The Puritans of the 18th Century had a wonderful saying, "Love the Lord and use the world." Think for a moment about how that works out. It really should affect your life. Too often we find ourselves "loving the world and using the Lord", don't we? This short phrase seems to be the essence of 1 John 2:1-17.

In 1 John 2, we are told that Christians are passing out of the darkness and the light is already shining within us. That means our sinful desires should be less and less and the light of Christ should be brighter within us each day. Practically, we should be more forgiving and less bitter. We should be more encouraging and gossiping less (if at all). We should be more giving and wanting less and less based on selfish desires. (ex: "I just gotta have it!") We should love God more and love the things of the world less. We should love God more and hate our sin.

How do you know if you are a Christian? This would be a great test. What is fueling that fire in your life? What drives your desire to get up in the morning? What do you find yourself thinking about when your mind slips into neutral? Love the Lord and use the world.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Preparing for the Day of the Lord

My life revolves around Sunday. It seems that everything happens in preparation and reflection for the Lord's Day. I like that. I hope that if I am ever in a position where I am not preaching every Sunday my life will still revolve around Sunday. It is the day to gather with God's people to worship the One we all commonly love. What a joy!

Today is Friday, though. Fridays are spent in intense preparation for Sunday. This is the day where I try to put the meat on the skeleton of the sermon. It is also a day I try to spend praying often for the preparation of my own heart for corporate worship. And, I try to pray deeply for those that will join me on Sunday to worship our King.

How much time and thought do you spend in preparation for Sunday?

There are two ways to think about Sunday and they are related.

One is from Psalm 29. In this psalm we hear the psalmist talk about the fact that God is worthy of our worship. He is sovereign and holy. He is in control of the heavens and the earth. There is nothing that happens that He is not aware of and there are no surprises to Him. He is the Lord of the sunshine and the Lord of the storm. We are limited, but He is unlimited.

Because He is so worthy, we should realize how desperately we need Him. Psalm 84 teaches us this. There the psalmist says, "My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord..." When was the last time you felt faint because you longed so deeply and urgently to be in the very presence of God? Oh, may we not be distracted away from seeing and longing for our sweet God.

I will glory in my Redeemer,
Who carries me on eagle's wings,
He crowns my life with lovingkindness,
His triumph song I'll ever sing...

Wherever you worship this Sunday, I pray that it will drip with the glory and joy of God!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Is Prayer Effective?

You may have heard about a recent study on prayer that was featured on major TV networks and some major newspapers. In essence, the study says the "experts" have found and can prove that prayer is ineffective. How should a Christian respond? Read this article from Dr. Donald Whitney for some ideas.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Dying American Church

There is an interesting article from Dr. Thom Rainer, the President of Lifeway Christian Resources, concerning the current condition of the American church. May God help me to not fall into this condition and may He lead Smiths Grove Baptist Church in a different direction than this trend!

Intense Patience

It seems too often that I hear people waiting on God in the wrong way. First, when many people wait on God, it seems that they are only doing it because they have been forced to wait. There are circumstances beyond their control that have forced them to the side of the road for a while. Waiting on God was not their first reaction, but, instead, their last resort. Then, when they do wait on God they do not do it well and it ususally leads to worry and anxiety. This type of waiting leads to behavior that is contrary to the behavior Jesus calls His people to live in Matthew 6 so it must not be right.

How then should we wait?

Read Psalm 130.

There are, at least, three key ways to wait in this passage.
1. We wait by crying out to God. That is, our waiting should drive us to deep and constant prayer. (Ps 130:1-2)
2. We wait by confessing our sins and asking God to search our hearts for impurity. (Ps 130:3-4)
3. We wait by hoping deeply in the Lord. (Ps 130:5-8)

What tremendous power in eight quick verses!

Times of waiting are times for purification. In these times we can more clearly see who or what we are depending on and where we have placed our trust. The writer says we should place our hope in God, watching as the watchman waits for the first light of morning. In the day this was written, the night watchman was very important. He was responsible for making sure that no enemies were able to pull off a surprise attack. There is little doubt that he took his job seriously and did it intently. In the same way, we are to be waiting and watching for the deliverance of the Lord in our lives.

Sometimes God waits to deliver us so that we will have time to look deeply in our hearts to see the sin that is there. Praise God that He does not work on the merits of our righteousness, but He is still concerned about the purity of our hearts. If you are in a time of waiting in your life, why not spend some time asking God to show you wrongs that need to be made right in your life?

Oh, that we would constantly live this way! We would know greater joy!

What are you hoping in today? Only God can deliver you from the pit!

Shouldn't you be waiting intensely on Him?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Where does Covenant Life Today fit?

In Ephesians 5, we learn that we are all to under the authority of someone. Ultimately, we are to be under the authority of God, but in that chapter we see other very real and physical people that we are to answer to. I believe God does that to care for us. When we are under the authority of other strong Christians, we have a much less chance of straying away from the Truth. Think about that for your own life, who's authority are you under and are you living that way?

As for CLT, this passage says that even this organization must be under that authority of someone. Throughout the New Testament, the apostles, pastors, evangelists, etc. were always under someone's authority. There were no lone rangers. Today, when you flip on the television or listen to the radio, you will probably hear Christian ministries that are not really accountable to anyone. They are individuals or small groups of people that are working together in "their" ministry. Even more, there are individuals who go out and sing and go preach week in and week out and they are not really under anyone's authority. They get their own bookings and aren't really tied to a local church.

Read through Ephesians 3 keeping in mind that Paul seems to direct the proclamation of the Gospel and the glorifying of God through the church.

Go ahead, read it now.

Over the next few posts, I would like to think through this question: What is the church? And, if it is that important, what are the implications of a Christian's life in being a part of a church every single day.