Category Archives: Church Life

James 1:22 Steps On My Toes

james 1 22 toes

The half-brother of our Lord wrote what is often considered the most practical book of the New Testament. The five chapters of James are filled with teachings that are needed in the day-to-day walk of Christian living.

One of the more well-known passages in that book is James 1:22, where we are told in a straightforward manner:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (ESV)

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! (MSG)

I dare say that nearly 100% of those who would take the time to read this blog know that verse, and most of us have it committed to memory.

But James 1:22 steps on my toes far more often than I’d like to admit. Here’s why.

I like to learn. I read a lot, mostly books dealing with the Bible and Christian living. I listen to a number of podcasts, and most of them are educational. Many of them are religious in nature and help me understand and make application of God’s Word. I read Christian blogs and websites on a daily basis, gaining from the insights of others. Regularly, we attend some great lectureships and other programs that help us learn more about what God would have us to do.

While you may not do all of these, likely you do at least some of them. (After all, you are reading a Christian blog!)

But do we do what we learn?

It is one thing to quote the Great Commission, go to a Bible class on personal work, and even attend a seminar that encourages teaching others. It’s another thing to actually speak to someone about eternity and salvation.

It is one thing to know that “God loves a cheerful giver,” read books by V.P. Black and others, and put “giving” at the top of our budget. It is another thing to really be sacrificial and cheerful.

It is one thing to gain insight into being a godly spouse from podcasts, books, and seminars. It is quite another to actually treat my spouse the way I should.

It was a few years ago when I first heard my dad talk about this problem. We were talking about how many opportunities to learn and grow were popping up, seemingly constantly. We do not begrudge these things in the least. We learn and grow from them on a regular basis, and love the opportunity to do so.

However, dad said something along these lines: “The Church may be putting together so many programs to avoid actually doing the work.”

That’s insight, and it is James 1:22 applied in a modern setting.

You can attend all the “right” lectures and read all the right books. You can quote from wonderful leaders and even be in all the best Facebook groups. You are hearing the truth, no doubt.

But don’t fail to do what you have heard!

Today, what lesson that you’ve heard recently do you need to apply and actually do? Don’t let James 1:22 step on your toes; instead, let it motivate you to be that faithful doer of the work!

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Seeing, But Not Seeing

seeing not seeing

How often have you seen, but not seen? How often has somebody pointed out something to you that has been there all along, but which you have just never noticed?

Let me give you an example. Have you ever noticed the arrow in the Federal Express logo? It is supposed to indicate that this a company “on the move.”

I have no idea how many FedEx trucks, packages, commercials, etc, I’ve seen during my lifetime. I never “saw” the arrow in their logo until it was pointed out to me. Even then, I had some difficulty. For years, the significance of that part of the logo was lost on me. Until I really made it my mission to see it, it almost still was.

In case you are as “dense” as I am, let me help you. Here are a couple of versions of the logo. In the first one, the arrow is white.  In the second one, the arrow is highlighted in green.  (If you’re still having trouble, it is between the capital E and the x.)

Now that I’m aware that the arrow is there, it is difficult for me to not see it. In fact, I now look for it.

I’ve even become a sort of “arrow evangelist.” I’ve told others about my “discovery” and help them to “find” it.

It seems to me that I have the same responsibility in a much more important area of my life — and not just because I’m a preacher. I believe that, as a Christian, I have the responsibility to help people “see” something that is really important. In fact it is eternally important. It has been there all along, but many people have not really focused on it or fully appreciated it. I would hate for its significance to be lost on anybody.

I need to help people see, appreciate, and love “That Old Rugged Cross.” I’m not talking about a nice piece of jewelry or some religious icon. I have in mind that cruel instrument of death upon which our Lord died. I’m thinking of the price that had to be paid for my sins. The cross is not merely a part of a logo for some corporation. It is the very heart of what the gospel message is all about.

It is little wonder that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write these words:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:1-2, ESV, emphasis added)

Whether or not I saw or appreciated the significance of an arrow on the side of a truck will not matter when I draw my last breath. Whether or not I put the cross into proper focus will matter throughout all eternity.

Have you seen the cross?

Has anybody pointed it out to you?

Have you pointed it out to anybody else?

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The more I study the Bible, the more I am amazed at how plainly God repeatedly tries to get us to understand. Most people recognize the verse from Joshua 24:15: “Choose this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” However, many do not realize that this is a theme repeated all throughout scripture. Even more do not realize why God so often calls on us to choose. Look at two specific passages that both call on us to choose, but also explain why.

In Deuteronomy 30, Moses is saying goodbye to the children of Israel. He has loved and led these people for over 40 years. He has been frustrated by them, and yet, when God would have destroyed them for disbelief and disobedience, Moses has intervened on their behalf with God. As Moses is leaving them, he is reminding them of choices he can no longer make for them.

Focus in on Verses 15-19:

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.

God, through Moses, lays out the choices and asks the people to choose Him. Why? For their own good!

Now look to the New Testament, in Romans 8. Most of this great chapter shows the distinct difference between those who have chosen to live life in the Spirit with God and those who live according to the flesh. Perhaps the most stark difference is found in Verse 13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Again, why do we choose God? He offers life! He offers joy (Acts 13:52)! He offers peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7)!

So, by all means, choose. But while you are choosing, remember the blessings to be found in choosing God and His ways. If you understand that, there really is no other choice that makes sense.

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How Social Media Makes My Sundays Even Better

social media sunday

Sundays are just wonderful! While I get nervous about preaching, I always love the opportunity to gather with people who love the Lord and the honor of coming before Him to praise and glorify His name.

For most preachers, Sundays are a bit of an odd day. Besides preaching, there is usually study time, and often there are meetings or other services (nursing home, for example) to attend. This is not a complaint, because all these things are great. It is just to say that most preachers don’t get a consistent “down time” on Sunday like a lot of people do. All of these opportunities are wonderful, and they only make Sunday even better.

But there is something else that just adds icing to the cake of an already great day. And it involves social media, especially Facebook.

It is when I get to see notes and pictures of new Christians all over the world.

Each Sunday, I see a handful of updates praising God for someone coming to Christ in baptism. Often, these updates are accompanied by pictures, which may all look similar, but they never get old.

Of course, these updates come at other times, too (which is always exciting), but there is just something special about this constant reminder on the Lord’s Day of His great, saving power.

I am always touched by these updates, no matter what congregation, city, or even country they come from. It is also, as you can imagine, special when I get to update with this great news from Lebanon Road. But every update is a reminder of how wonderful our God is, and that someone else is now on his or her journey toward heaven.

In a world that wants to squelch religious talk, and in the social media world that is too-often filled with negative rants, I get such great encouragement each time I see these updates.

My prayer is that there are more and more every Lord’s Day…and every other day.

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How Not to Get Involved

not get involved

I recently visited a website that I’ve never visited before and don’t plan to visit again. It was the website for Planned Parenthood.

For those who may be uninformed, Planned Parenthood supports, performs, and receives generous financial support for aborting infants. According to Planned Parenthood’s annual report for the 2012-2013, they performed 327,166 abortions. Their total revenue for this period of time was a little over $1 billion (yes, that’s a “b”) including $540.6 million from “Government Health Services Grants and Reimbursements.”

As I looked at their website, I was especially interested in the tab that was labeled “Get Involved.”

Here are the ways they suggested a person could get involved —

  • Share Your Story
  • Donate
  • Take Action (under this heading were all sorts of suggestions about promoting the “pro-choice” agenda)
  • Jobs & Volunteering
  • Join Us on Facebook
  • Sign up for E-mail Alerts

Maybe it’s just me, but I found it interesting that they never suggested one way for people to get involved.  Many other organizations suggest this, but not Planned Parenthood.

There is never a suggestion that people could support them by praying for their cause!

Do you think that the reason for that may be because they know that one of their activities is listed by God in His Word as one of the things He hates?  Do you think they’ve read (or at least heard about) these words?

These six things the Lord hates,

Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

A proud look,

A lying tongue,

Hands that shed innocent blood,

A heart that devises wicked plans,

Feet that are swift in running to evil,

A false witness who speaks lies,

And one who sows discord among brethren.

(Prov 6:16-19, NKJV emphasis added)

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5 Ways to be Sure Your VBS is a Failure

5 VBS failure

So, you’ve been asked to head up Vacation Bible School. You didn’t really want the position, but you were the closest warm body when the elders decided to have VBS again this year, so you got put on the spot and asked to be in charge.

Now, you know that VBS is important, but you aren’t all that thrilled about being in charge. So, you are looking for some ways to make sure that this year’s Vacation Bible School is the worst ever. You know that, should you make it a failure, you’ll never be asked to head it up again.

How can you be sure your VBS is a failure? Follow these 5 simple steps.

1. Don’t Worry about Creativity. If you have anyone with artistic, technical, or “craft” talent in the congregation, make sure you don’t ask them to help. They might make things look beautiful and colorful, and it might cause the children to want to come back. Be sure these people have nothing to do with designing flyers (see #4) or skits. Make everything predictable and stilted. The best thing you can do is make smudged Xerox copies of everything–flyers, handouts, craft sheets, etc., and use nothing but words on everything. No cute pictures allowed!

2. Just Have VBS because You’ve Always Had It. After all, isn’t that why you got asked to head it up? Do not worry about evaluation or improvement. Since Vacation Bible School has been on the church calendar for 48 years, we have to make it 49. Treat it that way, like it’s a “have to.” That attitude will permeate the whole place, and you’ll be sure to sour everyone’s mood about this event.

3. Wait Until the Last Minute to Plan. If you want a VBS that isn’t good, don’t spend a lot of time on planning. The more you plan, the better it will be, and that’s what we are trying to avoid. By planning less, you will squelch any time to think of creative things, and you will also be certain that lots of details are just overlooked and messed up. Perfect!

4. Assume People Know about It. If attendance is good, the congregation will want you to head up VBS again next year. The best way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to just act like everyone knows about VBS. If you must make advertisements, make them unclear. But speak about Vacation Bible School very little from the pulpit, and use as few methods of informing people as possible. After all, it’s been on the 2nd week of July for the last 26 years. Shouldn’t everyone just know that’s when it will be again? This is a great attitude for the leader to have!

5. Never Thank Anyone. Even though you may not want VBS to succeed, lots of people do work hard. They teach. They make cookies. They go against your wishes and make things cute and creative. Be sure to avoid thanking them. Your admiration might cause them to want to do this again. Instead, when VBS is over, just move on as if it never happened.

…after all, sometime around late May next year, you’ll be asked to throw this thing together again.

…because we’ve always had VBS, so we have to have it again.

[NOTE: If you don't catch the dripping sarcasm in this post, I'm sorry. I love VBS, and I am honored to serve as the "point guy" for our Vacation Bible School at Lebanon Road. This post is meant to be satirical in every way, and is designed to make us all think about events, like VBS, that we can hold just out of habit.]

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Winning by Losing

winning losing

Phil Wilson was a man of integrity. He was most of all kind and generous. He was soft-spoken and respectable. In business he was not only visionary, but he worked hard, always multitasked, and he treated his employees with respect and consideration. In fact, he treated them in such a way as to always tip the scales in their favor. If there was ever a need, he would go the extra mile. Phil Wilson graduated this past week from this earthly life into eternity. I will always have fond memories of his genuine compassion and sincerity as well as his kindness and friendship and support which he expressed to me directly.

Phil used to say that if he were to ever write a book about his life it would be entitled Winning by Losing. When those close to him were trying to understand why he sacrificed so much and often took losses to bless others, they were prone to wondering why Phil would be willing to go to such lengths. But Phil Wilson had discovered the key to living a life free from guilt and regret. He made sure to not leave any room for doubt concerning his love for the Lord and for people. He was the perfect example of what it meant to be an honorable businessman.

It occurs to me that when our Savior walked the earth he perfected the art of winning by losing. From His humble birth to His persecution and death, and every minute in between, His life was a constant series of losses. His family mocked Him and thought He was crazy when He began His ministry. He traveled long dusty roads and depended on others for His sustenance. He said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). He chose the prime years of His life to teach 12 men how to win by losing. He was ridiculed, reviled, and rebutted every day. Eventually He was friendless, rejected by His people, and hanging on the cross as the scourge of all humanity.

When others would have taken vengeance, He forgave. When others would have accepted praise, He retreated to seclusion. When others would have used such power to become famous, He said, “Tell no one.” When others would have used such wisdom to promote their greatness, He simply responded with questions to cause people to grow. The little that He had in the physical realm He shared or gave away. He was even willing to remain on the cross when those who were killing Him challenged Him to prove Himself by coming down.

If we are truly disciples of Christ, our lives will be models of how we can win by losing. We will think of the needs of others above our own. We will love people according to their best interest. We will deny ourselves to supply others. We will take pleasure in our losses when it results in somebody else’s gain.

Phil’s son-in-law remarked about this book that never had been put to paper, that had it been written it would have been a best seller. He is probably correct. But in a sense it has been written. It was actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But it was not about the life of Phil Wilson. It was about the physical life of the one and only Son of God. Jesus gave it all. All to Him I owe. He won by losing. So will I.

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” ~ Matthew 16:25

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It’s Just Not the Same

just not same

Recently, my wife and I were away from our church family for two consecutive Sundays.  In fact, we were unable be with any other people “…who have obtained like precious faith with us…” (2 Peter 1:1).

We were sure that this would be the case on the first Sunday and thought that it might be the case on the second Sunday.  For that reason, we had prepared for that eventuality.

At least we thought we had prepared.

We had made arrangements to do all that we normally do on the Lord’s day.  We took with us what was needed to remember His death as we ate the unleavened bread and thought of His body that hung on the cross.  We also took with us the fruit of the vine that reminded us of His precious blood that was shed for us.

We had made arrangements for our contribution to be included in the collection “back home.”  Since the Lord blesses us each week, we give to His cause each week whether we are “at home” or not.  Our understanding of 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 motivates us to do that.

We sang, from memory, hymns of praise.  Since we were in an environment that demonstrated some God’s wonderful creation, some of those songs focused on that.

Of course, we offered prayer to our Father just as we do every Lord’s day — and every other day for that matter.

Thanks to modern technology, we even heard wonderful lessons from God’s Word.  I had downloaded to my smartphone some sermons that had been preached by our son.  It shouldn’t surprise anybody that we appreciated listening to them.  I think it did surprise him to learn that he had preached in both Tennessee and Alaska one week and Tennessee and Canada the next.

However, even with all of that preparation, something was missing.  Even though we did everything we normally do on Sunday, it was just not the same.

I’ve already mentioned what was different.

We were not with our church family.

Have you ever noticed how many of the epistles in the New Testament were written to individual congregations of God’s people? Do you think there might be a reason for that?  Doesn’t it seem to you that the Lord never intended for individual Christians to live in isolation?

Have you ever noticed how many times you read the phrase “one another” as it applies to Christians?  Just a small sampling would indicate that we are to:

  • …love one another (John 13:34; 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8, et al.)
  • …serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
  • …comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
  • …bear with one another (cf. Colossians 3:13)
  • …forgive one another (cf. Colossians 3:13)

People who are not already actively and regularly involved in a good, sound, loving, serving congregation of God’s people have no idea what they are missing.  To those who believe they can “do their own thing” and have a rich, deep, meaningful worship experience, I would say that it’s just not the same as being with your brothers and sisters and worshiping God together.

Hebrews 10:25 may be seen by some as an isolated piece of legislation.  The interpretation that some seem to have of this verse is, “I’ve got to go to church to stay out of trouble with God.”

While we should, in fact, want to do all we can to live up to His expectations, I believe that a second look at this verse might be appropriate.  If we couple it with the preceding verse (which is another one of those “one another” passages), we might gain a little more insight.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near

(Heb. 10:24-25, ESV).

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Dirty Laundry, Social Media, and Evangelism

dirty laundry

Social media can be a wonderful gift. It provides us with ways to connect with friends, share great ideas, encourage people around the world, and get information out to a wide range of people in a short amount of time.

On the other hand…

Social media can be a horrible curse. It provides us with ways to disparage the character of others, spread falsehood and rumors, further the growth of smut and filth, and damage our own reputation in a matter of moments.

Over the years, I have tried to use the social media world for good. Especially through Facebook and Twitter, I have been honored to connect with lots of folks, and have been greatly encouraged many times, often by people I rarely get to see in person.

But I have also noticed a trend among some Christians that really bothers me. Oh, there are many negative ways in which Facebook and other sites are used. One, though, has really been getting to me lately.

It is when Christians air the dirty laundry from church through social media.

“Our preacher made everyone mad this morning when he said…”

“Sure wish our song leaders wouldn’t think they were the center of attention…”

“The elders obviously just don’t get it…”

“What some people wear to worship…”

“Everyone at church is upset about…”

And on and on it goes. I wish I was making these quotations up. Admittedly, I have not done exact quotes for the purposes of this article (for obvious reasons), but these are all based upon things I have seen over the years on Facebook.

Even more tragically, some of the posts name names of the “guilty” (notice the quotation marks!).

Why would we do that? Why would Christians think it is a good idea to talk about the negative things at their local congregation via Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites?

Are there times when we must address negative things in our local congregations? Of course. So long as there are people in a local congregation, that congregation will have struggles. People make mistakes. They aren’t always as kind as they should be. They will sin. They will be unwise.

And, yes, we must deal with those things.

But to just put those issues out for the world to see on Facebook is unwise. It hurts the reputation of the local congregation, and harms our ability to evangelize our local community (let alone the world).

So, before you hit “enter” and post your latest rant, why not re-read the post three times.

  1. Reread it as if you were seeking the Lord. Likely, you have friends on Facebook or Twitter who are seeking answers to life’s deepest questions. Will your little rant help draw them nearer to a community of believers, or push them away from wanting to be part of a congregation?
  2. Reread it with Colossians 4:6 nearby. Paul wrote that our words are always to be “gracious.” Is your latest airing of dirty laundry really “gracious” to that person, the elders, the congregation as a whole, or even to the Lord Himself?
  3. Reread it as one who can’t stand the church. There are plenty of people out there who do not like Christianity or who do not like the local church. Why would we give them more “ammo” for their arguments?

Let’s make sure we use social media as a way to teach, encourage, and lift others to a higher place. There is a place to handle issues that arise in our local congregations, but the social media world just isn’t it!

Instead of airing dirty laundry, let’s put on the Christian armor and get to the work of evangelizing the world.

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Three Reasons to Trust the Bible

three reasons bible

The wise man of old was certainly correct when he wrote, “…of the making of many books there is no end…” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). As I am writing this, I have just looked at a website that purports to keep “up to the minute” figures on how many books have been published. According to it, somewhere in the world, there have been five books published in the last minute — or over 971,000 so far this year.
It is interesting to me that one book stands alone — in so many ways. It has long been said that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. According to the latest figures of which I am aware, it still is.
I would like to suggest three reasons to trust this “tried and true” volume. The first reason is one that you would expect a preacher to mention.

#1 The Bible is inspired by God.
While I will not spend much time defending that statement, I will point out that no other volume both claims inspiration and has all of those claims validated in so many ways.

#2 The Bible is practical.

I would challenge anybody to find a subject that is not, in some way, dealt with in the Bible. There are subjects that cause the greatest minds of the ages to marvel. Subjects such as the origin of the universe and life, the intricacies of the human body and all of matter, and the meaning and purpose of life would be examples of this.

At the same time, there are subjects that are very practical for every person in every situation. Is it not true that following the teachings found in the Bible would make me a better neighbor, friend, husband, father, sibling, employer, employee, etc.? The list is almost endless, isn’t it?
For our purpose here, I would confine this discussion to interpersonal and/or family relationships. Can you think of anything that would fit under this umbrella which is not dealt with in the Bible?

#3 The Bible is durable.

Here is just one of many examples of what I mean by that. Among the many books that Dr. James Dobson has written, you’ll find what I think are some interesting titles. You’ll find Dare to Discipline and (a few years later) The New Dare to Discipline. You’ll also find The Strong-Willed Child and (again a few years later) The New Strong- Willed Child.

None of this should be taken as a criticism of Dr. Dobson. It is meant only as an illustration that materials produced by mere men (even very smart men) need updating as new and/or more pertinent information is discovered.

I wouldn’t want to trust my physical health to a doctor who is getting his information from a medical book that was written by some man, is no longer practical, and is two hundred years old. I will, however, trust the information I get about my eternal destiny from a book that is divinely inspired, is always practical, and is about two thousand years old.

How about you?

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