Month: September 2015

Biblical Mandate VS Personal Preference

As Pastors we are pretty good at identifying when our people are putting personal preferences ahead of Biblical principles but we are less able to identify this trait in ourselves.  A couple of years ago I was teaching a Pastoral ministries class for a local Bible college and we were discussing the observance of the ordinances.  Most of the students came from a traditional southern baptist background and were used to observing the Lord’s supper in a fairly typical manner — i.e. the elements were served by the deacons and distributed to the congregation by passing the plates around.  But students from other backgrounds came with a variety of ways that the elements were distributed — some had the people come forward to receive the elements, others had stations where the people went to receive the elements.  In addition, there was a noticeable divide in the class over who could distribute the elements — some argued that only men could distribute, others argued that they must be ordained etc…  The interesting thing about this discussion to me was that nearly every student believed they were practicing the Lord’s Supper was not only right but that the other ways were wrong.

That debate went on for the better part of an hour and every student made passionate and theological arguments for their case about why their way was the right way.  Not one of them, however, could point to a clear passage of Scripture that gave support to their argument.  Every student in that class was serving as a Pastor in a local church but not one of them could separate their own personal/denominational preference from Biblical mandates.  In fact, the majority of them ended up arguing the case for their preference as if they were basing it on a Biblical mandate.

I am convinced that this is a problem in my own ministry and suspect that it is a problem in yours as well.  Over the years, I have counseled with a number of Pastors who were having various troubles in their churches.  The trend that I have noticed is that while we are very adept at seeing where I our people confuse their personal preferences with a Biblical mandate, we are blind to the problem in our own lives.  So let me give you a few key questions to ask yourself:

1.) Is this really important?  Adrian Rogers coined it this way many years ago, “Is this a hill on which I am willing to die?”  The sad truth is that often Pastors simply can’t decide what is important and what isn’t.  We are willing to die on every hill, no matter how insignificant the matter, that we fight worthless battles.  So the first question that I ask myself is “Is this really that important?”

2.) What does the Bible say?  When faced with a decision take the time to actually sit down and think through what the Bible has to say about the matter.  Notice that I said, “what the Bible has to say” not “what does your favorite preacher/author have to say about it.”  Frankly speaking, we need to stop resting the authority for matters of faith and practice in the hands of the experts and return it to where it belongs— the Bible.  We all have our favorite authors and Pastors but the truth is that they are not the authority for the church. You are not ready to make a decision until you have made an honest examination of what the Bible says about the matter.

3.) Is this the right time? When you are leading a church you need to make a set of clear priorities.  Sometimes Pastors fail simply because they try to make too much change too fast.  God has sent you to the church for the long haul, be patient and willing to set things of secondary important aside in order to get get the more important things done.


Tonight’s Republican Presidential Debate Will Be the High Water Mark for Donald Trump

Mark it on your calendar, I am predicting that tonight’s Republican will be the high water mark for Donald Trump’s campaign.  That doesn’t mean that I think he’s going away quietly tomorrow morning but he will begin to experience a drop in his popularity that will lead to his withdrawl from the field.  Here are a few reasons why I believe this will be the case.

1.) Tonight’s venue does not allow Trump to feed off the crowd.

Trump is a performer who loves to feed off the crown.  Back in August, during the first debate, he was able to feed off both the positive and negative energy in the crowd.  But tonight he is going to be in a much smaller venue and the candidates have each been able to invite just a handful of their supporters.  This means that Trump is going to face a much different crowd and won’t be able to feed off the emotion like he did back in August.

2.) The other candidates are going to be better prepared for him.

There is no doubt that Trump is a good counter-puncher.  Until now it hasn’t been a problem that most of his counter-arguments border on the ridiculous, but I predict that is going to change tonight.  Tonight he will face nine opponents, including Carly Fiorina, who have been preparing for him.  My prediction is that the sheer volume of the attack he will face will overwhelm him.

3.) The moderators for tonight’s debate are going to do a better job of exposing him.

The biggest story coming out of last month’s debate was Trump’s comments about Megyn Kelly both during and after the debate.  Tonight, however, the debate will be moderated by Jake Tapper with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt and CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash asking the questions.  The presence of Hugh Hewitt who recently exposed Trump’s lack of foreign policy knowledge on his radio program and who Trump recently referred to a a “third rate journalist” should be interesting.  Hewitt is a well known among Republicans and I predict he is going to expose Trump on a number of issues over the course of the debate.

4.) Carly Fiorina, John Kasich and Ben Carson are poised to make a move.

While a great deal said about Ben Carson pulling almost even with Trump in Iowa, little has been said about the fact that John Kasich is in second place and rising in New Hampshire.  FYI- According to his campaign Kasich is right on track with where they want him to be and is looking to expand his campaign outside of New Hampshire.  I have no doubt that he will be looking to make a big impact on voters in tonight’s debate and since he has more experience than anyone in the field he can be a force.  (Personally, he has my vote and I think that the entire Republican part would do well to get behind him)  Carly Fiorina made a huge impact during the JV debate back in August and she will show herself to be more than up to the task of taking Trump during the debate, in fact, I think she will be one of the biggest factors in his decline.  Look for him to attack her and then be cut into shreds as she responds.

5.) The Legacy of Ronald Reagan will Expose Trump’s True Nature

I think it has become evident to everyone that Trump is no more Republican than the Pope is agnostic.  Tonight’s debate will be held at the Reagan Library, in fact that backdrop, will be overlooking the Air Force One that flew Reagan across the country and the world.  Hopefully, the visual reminders of Reagan’s legacy will wake up Republicans and expose Trump’s empty positions on nearly every subject.

What kind of faith are we passing on to your children?

According to Pew Research, the fastest growing segment of religion in America are those who report having no religious affiliation.  Referred to as the “nones” this group includes your standard run of the mill atheists and agnostics but more surprisingly represents a growing number of young adults who simply do not want to identify with any one religious group.  In his book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, James Emery White reports that 1 in 5 Americans claim no religious affiliation.  In 1940 this number was only 5% and by 1990 had grown to only 8%.  But over the past two decades the percentage of religiously unaffiliated has shown massive growth.  In fact, the “nones” are now the third largest religious group in America. What is less surprising is that the majority of the “nones” are young — 1/3 of those under 30 reported being in this category. What’s most alarming is that many of the “nones” are bucking the traditional convention of returning to church as they get older.   So that begs the question, why are so many young people losing their religion. 

According to Kenda Creasy Dean, author of “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” the problem may lie with parents.  She writes, “the religiosity of American teenagers must be read primarily as a reflection of their parents religious devotion (or lack thereof) and, by extension, that of their congregations.”  (p.3)  As evidence for this conclusion, she points to interviews with young people who call themselves Christians but are unable to articulate even the most basic distinctives of the Christian faith.  Rather than passing down a Biblical faith to their children, American Christian have largely passed down the acceptable civil religion referred to a Moral Therapeutic Deism.  Dean point out that it is not that young people don’t see value in religion but that they haven’t been given a religion worth holding onto.

If the American church is ever going to experience revival we must take a long, hard look at what we are passing down to the next generation.  Dean notes that the group that demonstrated the highest level of religious understanding and vitality in the survey were those who came from Mormon families.  This should be an alarm bell for every Bible-believing Christian.  We must take a hard look at what we are passing down to our children.  Is it the robust, historic faith of the Bible or a watered-down version of the truth.

We need to give our children a faith that is worth living and passing down to the next generation.

The Secret to the Christian Life

The Secret to the Christian Life“As you therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:6-7
The secret to the Christian life is that there is no secret. The Colossians, like many people today, thought that if they could just find the one missing piece to their spirituality everything would fall into place. The Colossians tried legalism, mysticism, and human philosophy all in an attempt to find the secret to being complete in Christ. They bounced from one idea to another always looking, always hungry, always thirsty, but never finding the sustenance that was right their before their eyes. Does that sound familiar? It should because we fall prey to these same traps all of the time. We believe that something is missing in our spiritual lives and that all we need is to find that one missing piece that will finally make it all right.
Real spiritual growth, however, can only take place when we realize that the secret to the Christian life is that there is no secret. Paul admonishes us in these verse to walk in Christ in the same way that received Him in the first place. In other words, the Christian life is simply a matter of continually turning from our sinful, selfish way of living and trusting in Jesus. Now right away I can hear people saying, “wait a minute preacher, that’s too simple.” My response is, “do you really want it to be any harder?” This principle may be real simple, but it’s real true. Until we learn that everything we need is in Jesus and has already been provided in salvation, we will never be able to grow. Listen to what Paul says just two verses later, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily’ and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Col 2:9-10)
What these verse teach us is that real spiritual growth does not come by trying to find what is missing but rather in becoming grounded and rooted in what has already been provided. The cross of Jesus is an inexhaustible storehouse of spiritual blessing. The more we come to understand, appreciate, and glory in the work of Christ upon the cross the deeper, richer and fuller our Christian experience becomes. Troubles can assail us from every side but they cannot move the Christian who revels in the love of Christ displayed on the cross. Satan can hurl fiery darts of temptation at us, accuse of us of every type of sin, condemn us, and remind us of every past failure but he can never defeat the Christian who basks in the knowledge that all of his sin was placed upon Jesus and completely paid for at the cross. Other people can mistreat us, misunderstand us, and even misrepresent us, but the grace of Jesus displayed on the cross still covers our life.
Brothers and Sisters the key to the Christian life is that there is no key, there is just Jesus and He is all we need.

Seven Reasons Why John Kasich Should Be the Next President of the United States

I generally do not say much about politics but after looking into all of the Republican candidates running for President, I believe that Gov. John Kasich of Ohio should be the next President of the United States.  Here are seven reasons why I think he is the best candidate:

1.) He has experience in both the legislative and executive branches of government: US Congress 1983-2001, Governor of Ohio 2010-present)
2.) He is a fiscal conservative with record of cutting government waste while at the same time creating new jobs: In congress he was the chief architect of the 1997 balanced budget act. As governor of Ohio he cut taxes while at the same time creating a $15 billion budget surplus and over 300,000 new jobs for Ohioans. His opponents for the Republican nomination cannot match this record: Scott Walker’s from Wisconsin has created a massive budget deficit and the state suffers from lagging job growth. In Lousiana, Bobby Jindal has helped to create a $1.6 billion budget deficiit.  Meanwhile, Chris Christie has seen New Jersey’s credit downgraded 9 times while he has been governor.

3.) He is pro-life: As Governor he has led Ohio to provide additional prenatal and maternal assistance for pregnant mothers and fathers. Ohio now has 18 pregnancy centers for every 1 abortion clinic (national average is 6 to 1).

4.) He has a track-record of working with people from both parties: we do not need another President who cannot work with members of the other party. 

5.) He’s not Donald Trump- This guy is a joke.

6.) He once jumped on stage a Grateful Dead Concert- not sure how this qualifies him to be the leader of the free world but it doesn’t hurt.

7.) He’s from Ohio and has a 70% approval rating there- No republican has ever one the Presidential election without carrying Ohio.

Check out the facts and decide for yourself but I am going to cast my vote for John Kasich. The bottom line is that Republicans need to get behind a candidate that can win the election but also has the ability to govern.

Seven Characteristics of True Worship

A.W. Tozer once referred to worship as the “missing jewel of the evangelical church.”  In spite of all the attention that worship gets, I fear that most Christians today do not understand what true, Biblical worship entails.  Everyone worships, but not all worship truly.  Some people worship falsely because they worship a false god.  Others worship falsely because they worship the true God falsely.  So that brings us to the question, what is Biblical worship?  Below is a list of seven characteristics of Biblical worship that I adapted from Daniel Block’s book entitled For the Glory of God: Recovering A Biblical Theology of Worship.

1.) True worship is reserved for God alone (Ex 20:3-6)

2.) True worship involves reverent awe (Heb 12:28-29)

3.) True Worship involves action (Deut 10:12)

4.) True worship expresses submission to God (Rom 12:1)

5.) True worship aligns with the will of God rather than the sinful nature of human imagination. (Ps 15)

6.) True worship encompasses all of life (John 4:19-23)

7.) True worship is both individual and corporate (Heb 10:24-25)

If you would like to learn more about these seven characteristics of worship, I invite you to listen to the following two messages that I preached at Metropolis First Baptist Church:

Click on the title to watch the message:

Spiritual Habits: Worship Part 1

Spiritual Habits: Worship Part 2

Why every believer should question God?

Is it right to question God?  For most of my life I have heard well-meaning, good-hearted Christians answer this question with an emphatic No!  But in actual experience we all know that there are moments in lives when circumstances cause us to question what God is doing.  Habakkuk is a biblical example of the benefit that questioning God has for our spiritual life.  Rather than settling for trite, simplistic theological answers, Habakkuk dares to ask God some hard questions and in the process develops a far more glorious vision of what God is like.  I would like to suggest that hard questions can serve the same function in the life of every believer.

Habakkuk wrote during a time when the nation of Judah was experiencing a time of great economic prosperity but was spiritually bankrupt.  As he looked at the injustice and wickedness rampant in the nation, his heart became incensed at God’s apparent lack of interest.  Habakkuk decides to take the issue to God and to find out some answers, so in 1:1-2 he asks, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?  Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?”  This is an honest question and one that every generation of believers is forced to ask as we look at the violence, unrighteousness, and injustice that goes on all around us.

God’s answer in 1:5—11 came as a complete surprise to Habakkuk.  Essentially, God announced that he was raising up the Babylonians to serve as his instrument of punishment against Judah.  This was not at all good news to Habakkuk and causes him to ask another question in 1:12—13.  In these verses, Habakkuk raises the question of God’s justice, “How can you use the unrighteous to judge the righteous?”  He then goes on throughout the remainder of chapter 2 describing the violence of the Babylonians.  What we have here is the classic case of asking a question and then being disturbed by the answer.  Habakkuk wants God to deal with the sins of Judah but never imagined that it would involve being conquered by the Babylonians.  So in 2:1 the prophets says, “I will take my stand at my watch post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.”

In chapter 2 we have one of the most important statements made in all the Bible, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (2:4)  This verse would be used later by the Apostle Paul to describe the essence of our response to the gospel.  In Habakkuk’s day God was reminding the prophet and the people to keep on trusting that He was in control, even when some would question whether He was.

This brings me to the point that I want to make.  Some of the people in Judah questioned God out of unbelief while others were driven by their faith to question God.  That might seem like a play on words but in reality it is a difference of eternal significance.  Those who question God out of unbelief only deepen their situation and harden their hearts even further.  But when genuine believers question God out of a deep, abiding faith, they experience spiritual growth.  The difference is in the starting point.

Habakkuk never questions whether God exists or whether He is good.  Habakkuk starts off with a firm belief in God and a basic understanding of His nature.  But in his humanity, Habakkuk recognized that he struggled with understanding the ways of God.  He needs to grow, so he humbly asks God for a deeper revelation of His nature.  In other words, Habakkuk began his questions from a point of faith and as a result received a further revelation of God’s nature.

As believers, we can grow in our understanding of God by faithfully taking our questions to Him in prayer and submitting ourselves to the authority of God’s Word.  As we read, study and meditate upon the Word of God, He will provide us with a deeper understanding of His nature, character and ways.So if you are a believer, I want to encourage you to question God.  Some of our questions He will answer, some He will not, but either way we will grow.  But the starting point always must be faith.