A Jesus Connection Produces Results

Why is your fruit shriveled? Why is your fruit only coming in every other season? Why aren’t you seeing any fruit at all? More importantly, why are you ok with that?

If you’re connected to Jesus, you have His power.
That means He’s producing what He wants to produce. And that should mean fruit–big, God-glorifying, faithful results. (see John 15:4-5). You think you want fruit? God’s word promises that the Father wants it even more for us! (John 15:8).

If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have His Holy Spirit and the Spirit should be telling you that Jesus has the power you need (John 15:26-27). Too many Christians simply aren’t listening to His testimony. And too many church members just don’t have the Holy Spirit … and they need to repent and believe on Jesus Christ.

Why are modern, American Christians often noted more for how they hurt people than for how they help people? Why do we spend so much time arguing over who’s in charge, who’s style we’ll follow? Why do we spend more energy debating whether we can drink alcohol, who’s going to bring food to the next potluck, and what our order of service should be than we do ensuring hurt and needy people can hear about Jesus?

If you’re connected to Jesus, you get His love.
In fact, love is actually commanded! (John 15:17). And it won’t just be ooey-gooey, warm and fuzzy “love,” but real, self-sacrificing, “lay-your-life-down” sort of love (John 15:13) if for no other reason than that we’re a friend of Christ (John 15:14).

If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have His Holy Spirit and the Spirit should be telling you that Jesus has given your the love you should be showing (John 15:26-27). Too many Christians aren’t listening to His testimony. And too many church members just don’t have the Holy Spirit … and they need to repent and believe on Jesus Christ.

Do people actually know that you serve a “higher power?” Are you actually being persecuted for your faith or is it because you’re just a jerk? Are you notable in your spheres of influence because of the sin you reject? Or do you blend in rather easily because you embrace sin like most folks do? 

If you’re connected to Jesus, you get His rejection.
After all, they rejected Jesus (John 15:18). Certainly, living the Jesus life is rewarding in so many ways. But it’s as much about what you reject (and therefore, what rejects you) as it is about what you embrace (John 15:20).

If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have His Holy Spirit and the Spirit should be telling you that on Jesus’ side, rejection is the order of the day (John 15:26-27). Too many Christians aren’t listening to His testimony. And too many church members just don’t have the Holy Spirit … and they need to repent and believe on Jesus Christ.

Lord … please give us fruit: men and women who come to know Jesus, personal spiritual growth, and wisdom to walk honoring to Christ.

Lord … please give us love: love for those people who look and believe differently than us, love for children that prompts us to protect them, and love for our friends and neighbors in need.

Lord … please give us rejection: rejection of materialism and greed, rejection of the sins that weigh us down and prevent us from serving, rejection of choices and lifestyles that cause our brothers and sisters to stumble and the world to balk.

Lord … please connect us to Jesus, the True Vine, and to be His thriving branches in the world.

 

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Should Christians Drink Alcohol?

While the Bible doesn’t explicitly say “don’t drink alcohol,” God clearly warns us that alcohol is dangerous and deceptive, telling us only foolish people think they can control it (Proverbs 20:1). In two of the earliest Biblical mentions of the use of alcoholic beverages (Noah in Genesis 9:21-24 and Lot in Genesis 19:32-35), drinkers are subjected to abuse, shame, contention, and a curse.

Of course, the Bible labels drunkenness as a sin: I Peter 4:2 calls “excess of wine” a sin; Galatians 5:21 calls it a “work of the flesh;” and Ephesians 5:18 directly contrasts being filled with the Spirit with being drunk with wine.

Some seem to think those facts leave a gray area where moderate alcohol drinking is acceptable. But that conclusion misses out on the overall testimony of Scripture and fails to fully appreciate what it means to follow Jesus.

Here are 10 Biblical principles for Christian living that make alcohol consumption difficult, doubtful, and detestable:

Christians are salt and light in the world.
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus tells us that we are to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). That doesn’t mean we’re here to spice things up or make the party hop. Instead, Christians are to have a transforming effect–like turning on a light transforms dark, dreary rooms and like fertilizer (salt is actually a fertilizer) transforms an barren field.

Christians may not stop bad behavior, but we should have a positive influence on the world, which won’t happen if we’re part of the problem or even promote the problem (Romans 2:32).

Christians care about people.
With alcohol being a major contributor to murders, car accidents, hospitalizations, incarcerations, domestic abuses, birth defects, and suicides, why wouldn’t good people in any society be against it? How much more, Christians who believe that God made mankind in His image (Genesis 1:26-27)?

Not only do we believe that mankind has inherent value, worth, and dignity worth fighting for, we should appreciate and fight for it even more since we’ve experienced the redeeming grace of Jesus.

Christians are controlled by the Spirit.
In Ephesians 5:18, Paul writes that Christians are to be controlled by the Spirit of God, not by the chemicals in alcohol. That most certainly means that we should avoid being drunk. But it also means we should only be controlled by God.

If we aren’t to be “under the power of any” (I Corinthians 6:12), except the indwelling Holy Spirit, how can we justify needing alcohol for social settings or just to get through a day or weekend?

Christians are concerned about their brothers.
In Romans 14, Paul addresses a controversy in the early church where members had differences in their views of eating meat. In verse 21, he says “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” That’s after he says (verse 7), “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.”

While I can’t be saved or live right for my brother, I certainly do have some level of responsibility to encourage or “edify” my brother.

With 1 in 8 Americans suffering from some sort of real drinking problem, the chances are pretty good (assuming we’re doing our job of reaching the world) that at least a few of our brothers have a drinking problem. Even if you argue (as many do; but I do not) that Christian liberty allows you to drink alcohol, you run the risk of allowing “this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak” (I Corinthians 8:9).

Christians take drastic action as needed to do right.
In the context of discussing lust in the heart, Jesus recommends taking drastic action to prevent the damage of sin, including cutting off body parts (Matthew 5:27-30). With that in mind, it’s perfectly reasonable to cut off alcohol if it threatens harm to us, our family, our church, or a Christian brother or sister.

Christians are sober in all things, because we are at war.
When addressing persecuted churches, Peter told them that the “end of all things is at hand” (I Peter 4:7). He says that should spark prayer, love (verse 8) and sharing of all that God has given (verse 9-10). But he emphasizes that these acts are to be done with sobriety (verse 7).

Later on in the book (5:8), Peter also warns that the devil is a lion looking for the snoozing antelope. The best defense? Be on the alert and be sober!

Christians operate by faith, not feelings.
In Romans 12, Paul begins the practical application of the glorious doctrine of salvation unveiled in the earlier chapters. Key to this application is having a renewed mind (verse 2), one that is not tuned to the world, but tuned to the will of God (understood through the revealed Word of God, the Bible).

While the culture around us (particularly in the United States) suggests that alcohol is just part of everyday life, the Christian should be taking his cues from Scripture. In addition to warning about alcohol, the Scripture defines being drunk differently that the state Highway patrol. The Bible says drunkenness is when you drink to the point of being unsteady (Job 12:25), disoriented (Psalm 107:27), contentious, having slurred of speech, having bloodshot eyes, and having unexplained injuries (Proverbs 23:29-30).

Christians are clear-headed, avoiding impaired judgment.
Christian leaders–specifically pastors and deacons–have been given specific orders to stay away from alcoholic beverages (I Timothy 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7). And these people are supposed to be examples to the rest of the church about how to best practice orthodox doctrine (Titus 2:7).

But pastors and deacons aren’t the only leaders in the Christian family. We have all been made Kings and Priests by the blood of Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:10). As such, we all have been advised to abstain from mind- and judgment-altering substances (Proverbs 31:4-6, Leviticus 10:9).

Christians take care of their bodies.
The Christian’s body is no longer his own, it is the home of God Himself, the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19, John 14:16-17). This truth certainly has implications for other things that we eat and drink, what we wear, where we go, and the regularity of exercise and other self-care habits. But it clearly has implications for the consumption of alcohol, which causes heart and liver disease, certain cancers, and pancreatic issues.

Christians separate from sinful things.
The Christian is encouraged to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22) and to be as holy, or distinct, as God Himself (I Peter 1:16). We are to be different and live lives that put off the scent of the Gospel (II Corinthians 2:15-16).

Alcohol consumption is, arguably, associated with a litany of sinful activities within the larger culture, notably binge and underaged drinking. And the scent emitted–both literally and figuratively–usually doesn’t connote the Gospel.

Even if you can successfully navigate the pitfalls, why do you want to drink alcohol? How close to wrong are you trying to get? What is your intent for arguing and indulging in what you claim as “Christian liberty?”

Yes, it really means that

I recently wrote a post wrestling with the question of how Christians can and should live with authorities that are doing, promoting, and protecting wrong. This was primarily premised on a faithful and serious reading of Romans 13:1-7.

As usual, the Scripture has context and, in this case, the relevant context extends forward into verse 8. And there, it offers a solution that forms the political platform for for the Christ-honoring Christian to follow: seeking, self-sacrificing, and sincere love.

Below is a video of me explaining this text and applying it to how Christians must stand against evil.

Does it really mean that?

Often the Bible tells us to do hard things–hard because they go against our grain.

And it’s no wonder, sin does that to you. As the prophet recorded our Lord saying, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). It’s actually a bit of a wonder (Amazing Grace, to be precise) that any of it gets through!

But sometimes, your culture and upbringing develop this sort of insidious worldview that makes you look at certain commands and it’s almost like your mind wants to literally re-write the words as you read them.

For example, when the Apostle Paul writes this to the Roman Christians:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

-Romans 13:1

Straightforward and simple, right?

What orthodox, conservative, Bible-believing Christian would deny that? Or who would dare to re-interpret Scripture to suit us?

After all, Revelation 22:18-19 is still on the books!

God is in charge of everything! God’s the Sovereign Creator! God has it all under control!

Yet, it wasn’t that long ago, that I posted this quote on my social media timeline:

One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Now I posted that quote on my timeline because it squares with my culture and worldview. The quote raises some sort of hackles within me and gets my blood moving. It makes me want to take action for truth and right.

But, how does it square with a faithful reading and application of Romans 13:1-7?

I suppose you could throw an Acts 5:29 (“we ought to obey God rather than man”) defense in there.

And you’d be right.

Even Romans 13:1-7 indicates that the ultimate authority is God. And we know that God doesn’t contradict Himself. And we know that human authority–ordained (under and appointed by) God as it may be–is sinful, flawed, and faulty.

So when any authority demands we disobey God, the response needs to be a hard no.

But what Dr. King–and my own libertarian mind–is advocating isn’t just disobedience when government demands we go against God’s clear commands. What I liked about his quote is that it suggests fighting city hall, slapping the hand of government overreach, pushing back and speaking out against what is immoral and unjust in the halls of power.

There’s a proactive nature to his sentiment, and to the way many like-minded Christians would practically interpret Romans 13:1-7.

Said another way, we’re not just saying that we have to obey God rather than man, but that we actually have the right and responsibility to force government to obey God rather than man. And if the government won’t comply, we need to fight back (albeit nonviolently, if we’re listening to Dr. King).

My heart swells at this thought in light of the genocide of abortion, the abomination of racism, the unjust treatment of the poor, the broken judicial system, the polluted politicians, the twisted logic of sexual deviance that’s fast becoming codified into law and judicial precedence, the systematic abuse of women by men (and women) of power, and so much more.

But is that really what Romans 13:1-7 is saying?

Is it suggesting or even leaving the door open for us to resist the power, especially when Romans 13:2 explicitly connects resisting authority with resisting God’s appointment?

Or is it much more difficult, painful, and even subversive than that?

Could it be that faithful, God-honoring Christians don’t have the luxury of taking the fight to Washington (or any center of power) because they live lives so diametrically opposed to unjust government that the fight actually comes looking for them?

Could it be that the reason we get to debate this sort of thing at all is because we’ve coalesced with the whole system so much that we can’t tell where we end and “it” begins?

Could it be that if we will conscientiously obey all authority up to the point that it comes in conflict with God–and not just picking and choosing what offends us, takes our money, hurts our feelings, or demeans us–that we will find ourselves fighting a real battle, not a theoretical, rhetorical one about “unjust laws,” but one for our own lives and one that has eternal meaning?

How do you think that those folks mentioned in Hebrews 11:32-39 earn their spot on that list? Those were people who–by the writer of Hebrews’ own admission–hadn’t even yet seen the promised coming Messiah. But they had faith in God’s ultimate authority, trusting Him fully, without looking for loopholes.

Of course, while Romans 13:1-7 does command obedience to authority, it doesn’t necessarily require passivity or silence. In fact, didn’t John the Baptist lose his head over speaking truth to power? And Jesus Himself was notable for pushing back on the religious leaders of the day (of course, as the King of Kings, He does hold a bit of a different position in all this, now doesn’t He?).

Do you have a perspective on a faithful reading and application of Romans 13:1-7?

And now I’m the pastor …

In 2005, I had as clear a direction from God as I’ve ever had on anything.

“A call to preach,” “a call to the ministry,” “a call on my life.”

Whatever you call it, the message was clear: God wanted me to be a minister of the Gospel and He wanted me to live that calling out as a pastor of a local church.

After a few years of itinerant preaching, I was able to fulfill that call on my life at Crestview Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, from 2009 to 2012, as a bi-vocational pastor. I’m not 100% sure I was as prepared to pastor as I should have been. But I loved the people and the work. I think the people appreciated me, my preaching, and my ministry. In any event, it was definitely a wonderful training ground.

I resigned that position to better and more fully prepare myself for serving in ministry full time. When I did, I don’t think I realized how long it would be until I had the opportunity to serve as pastor. Nor do I think I fully appreciated how quickly that next opportunity would actually come.

Now, I’m less than 48 hours away from officially taking the reigns as pastor of McConnell Road Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC. And I still don’t know that I’m 100% prepared as I’d like to be in order to be an effective pastor.

After all, it is the church of Jesus Christ we’re talking about. And she is a pretty big deal to Him.

 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of the water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27

But by God’s own words (spoken through the writing of the apostle Paul), my being “less than” in some ways actually qualifies me even more.

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence.” I Corinthians 1:25-29

Either way, it’s happening.

The church voted heavily in favor of calling me as their next pastor. I’ve accepted the call. I’ve been preaching for them for over a month now. My family and I have joined the church. All that remains is making it official with an “installation” service on Sunday morning, December 31, 2017.

No, it’s not a requirement or even our tradition. But it does allow me and the church to mark an official “passing of the baton” from the man who faithfully served as an interim for over a year after the passing of the beloved former pastor to the man who we all believe God has called to be the next pastor.

So it’s a big deal to me. And it hits especially hard if I think about it for any length of time. And the feeling that comes is a mix of panic and excitement, worry and delight, stress and peace.

I have a ton of ideas. I have a million thoughts. I have all sorts of plans.

And, Lord willing, I’ll have an opportunity to play some of those out, working alongside of the godly, Christ-loving men and women of McConnell Road Baptist. And I’m sure even more ideas will come–from me and from them–over time.

But now really isn’t the time for any of that. For over a decade now, I’ve been preaching one basic message. It’s a shaded, nuanced message that deserves to be examined from all sorts of angles; but it’s just one message just the same.

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” I Corinthians 2:1-2

That message: Jesus is everything that we need.

And I pray that God will keep me focused on sharing, showing, and explaining that message to the folks at McConnell Road Baptist and the surrounding community. Because that’s the message that will actually make a difference for real people with real needs.

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” I Corinthians 1:18

So, now that I’m the pastor, I still have just the one message: Christ in the Scriptures.

Another year of preaching

This is probably more of a journal entry for my own enjoyment and memories than any sort of “deep thought” on Christian living or ministry. It’s sort of introspective, but it’s no less important.

That’s because I really enjoy preaching and I see the opportunity to do it a precious gift from God. No matter the setting, the size of the crowd or even my own emotional state (from burdened to joyful), preaching God’s word, pointing to Christ and spending time explaining the glories of God is just flat out great. And I have to thank God for the opportunities to preach and for trusting me with the responsibility.

In 2015 specifically, I got to that weighty, but joyful task over 20 times for at least 9 congregations (at least as noted by my itinerary page … I may have missed one or two?). Now that’s hardly the workload of a pastor (fulltime or bi-vocational). I know because I remember (fondly, I should add) when I was pastoring Crestview Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC, I would speak around 3 times each week about 51 weeks a year. So speaking 20 times in the course of a year isn’t a lot in the scheme of things … but each opportunity represented a God-given gift to speak to His people about His glorious message and a Divinely appointed mission to warn sinners of His coming wrath.

I have to admit that I didn’t realize the glory and the grace of what I had when I had it (though the enjoyment was still definitely there). But now the joy of preaching remains while the appreciation of the gift is clearer than ever.

I pray that God will continue to use me in 2016 to encourage, the exhort, to correct and to warn. You can keep watching my itinerary page to see exactly how God will do that. I hope you’ll pray for me to be a useful servant to our great God and King.

Spiritual Formation in a Revivalist Culture

Tomorrow is Sunday.

While a lot of folks in the modern era see it simply as the last day of the weekend (“Sunday Funday” as it is often called), Christians for centuries have honored it as a day of worship and a time to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And as one who has grown up in church, such that Sunday (morning and evening, by the way, right along with Wednesday night prayer meeting) church is part of the rhythm of a standard week, I always have a faint longing for those exciting services when there’s an apparent “moving of God” in the service. And I’m always wondering if the next Sunday will bring one of those.

If you’ve been going to church regular enough for long enough, you’ve experienced these services: there’s a different atmosphere, there’s something very personal about the singing and the preaching, there’s simply something “special” that’s happening. Often, these services are marked by “decisions”–maybe public or personal, depending on the service and the tradition. In any case, these services stand out precisely because they aren’t what you experience every Sunday. In fact, you might have one of these every couple of months, at best.

Every church culture has their way of dealing with this longing. Some just go about their business, almost drone-like simply waiting for the day when one of these services happen. Others work hard with lighting, music, angel-voiced singers and special sermonic modes (from specific topics to stylistic flairs) to create the right mood. And still others will go as far as to schedule services with names like “revival services” and bring in special preachers.

You’ll notice I”m not saying these sorts of church services are bad. In fact, inasmuch as the palpable presence of God is real and not mere manufactured emotionalism, these transcendent moments are wonderful. Of course, each gathering of the church ought to be transcendent in its own right–they are, after all, attempting to exalt the God of the Universe and to edify the saints that Christ bought with His blood. But there’s something very right about one’s religion doing something to his heart, mind and body.

The problem is that too many churches and individual Christians can get so wrapped up in the ecstasy of so-called revival as to miss the real elixir of Christ for their souls. That is to say that we often seek revival (an inadequate, but close enough term to describe these moments where God “shows up” in church services) when God, through His infinite wisdom, is often speaking through the still small voice of His word and His people to provide us with real and lasting spiritual formation.

In other words, we’re quick to quote John 5:9 where it is reported that when Jesus healed someone, “immediately the man was made whole,” and apply it to our Christian walk. However, I think we miss the long, slow, quiet and very real transformation of Simon Peter from a brash racist and brawling fisherman to a pillar of the church of God who writes the encouraging letters we call first and second Peter. In Peter’s case, through a series of tests and trials, many of which are never read about and most of which aren’t really that dramatic, God forms his inner man to be something much more akin to the image of Christ.

Even the Apostle Paul, who did have his share of dramatic defining moments, owed a good deal of who he was as a preacher, a leader, a Christian and a man to the everyday working of God–from the years he spent in the desert (Galatians 1:17-18) being taught of God to the investment of Priscilla and Aquila into his life and ministry (Romans 16:3-4).

While the “revival” services get all of the press, it’s actually the week-by-week, “run of the mill” Sunday services that really contribute so much to our spiritual lives. What’s more, I think this is the real value of the church for believers: spiritual formation.

In fact, the next time you start to wonder what the point of church really is, think about the fact that for over 2,000 years Christians all over the world have been gathering together on Sunday mornings (and occasionally at other times). While certainly there were some special services in the mix, the weight of the glory that is “the church” is the fact that there have been literally millions of Sunday gatherings over the years, happening every week, year after year.

Which will do you the most good for your health and muscle strength in the long run? Going to the gym 3-4 times every week for 30-45 minutes over the next 20 years or spending 3-4 hours every day for a week and then quitting the practice altogether? Even if you could maintain the motivation through the pain, the limits of the human body would require you to slow things down if you ever hope to get any value out of the exercise. The real value comes through regular and appropriate doses.

That’s the power of going to church every week–no matter if the preacher’s sermon doesn’t quite hit all of the right notes, no matter if you’re not a fan of that particular song, no matter if you don’t quite feel “spiritual enough,” no matter if your church isn’t the most exciting or all that big.

No matter what. Just go. Just worship God in spirit and in truth.

Yes, you should seek to see Christ high and lifted up. Yes, there should be transcendence in the experience. Yes, you should absolutely enjoy the service when those revival moments happen. But you should also know that there’s value to your spirit by you just being there on that pew or chair or bench or whatever, holding your Bible, trying to focus on the preaching, exposing your ears (and those of your family) to the sounds of hymns and spiritual songs sung by regular folks trying to worship God too.

You likely won’t see instant results: you won’t suddenly kill all of your sins, love everyone as you should and surrender to a lifetime of sacrificial work for your community and the lost. The truth is that it will likely take a lifetime of God’s working on your heart to get you there. But that’s exactly what spiritual formation is. And you’re a sinful lump of clay that God loves enough to keep working on you … every day, slowly, steadily, simply … molding you into someone that looks a lot more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).