I wrote the following devotional for the C&MA 40 Days of Prayer Devotional to be published in January 2023. My passage was Ephesians 6. It asked for a short biography, a devotional thought, and a prayer.
BIO: Lead Pastor, Alliance Bible Church (Baytown, TX). CH (MAJ) in the USAR serving as chaplain for the 7th Psychological Operations Group (POG). Husband to Alanna since 2005. Father to 5 beautiful kids. Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. Passionate about equipping God's people to mobilize and training present and future Kingdom leaders.
DEVOTIONAL: You must remember that each day God permits you life on this planet, you are engaged in spiritual warfare. This is not simply a descriptive statement (acknowledging a truth). For the Christian, this is a prescriptive statement (a truth you must act on).
When Paul talks about putting on the armor of God to the Ephesian Christians (Ephesians 6:10-18), he makes it clear that it is a necessary first step for every Christian. It is the armor of God that gives you the strength to stand firm (v. 11), fight against the mighty powers of darkness who rule this world (v. 12), and be fully prepared for what He is calling you to (v. 15).
Are you feeling spiritually exhausted? Defeated? Overwhelmed? Unprepared? Are you ready to retreat? Circle the wagons? Wave the white flag of surrender to the world around you? Is the enemy too great and your own strength too small?
Your Father promises you His strength and victory when you lay down your armor and weapons and take up His. Don't be fooled into thinking that acknowledging this truth is the same as acting on it. Paul's final encouragement in this passage is to "pray at all times and on every occasion".
Make it a point today to spend time with Him in prayer. Confess your dependence on Him. Don't stop praying until you are encircled with His peace. Meditate on Scripture. Consider His truth and righteousness. His armor brings the victory today. Put it on, Christian!
PRAYER: Father, you have called me to spiritual warfare today. Without You, I cannot win. If I fight this battle on my own, defeat is certain.
Fill me with Your peace today. Remind me of who You are. You are the God of truth. You are the God of righteousness. You are the God of salvation.
I confess my dependence on Your Holy Spirit. Replace my exhaustion with Your joy and my fear with Your boldness. Fill me with Your strength that I may stand firm and fight faithfully today.
The following is the text of my 2020 annual report to my congregation.
Were we able to rewind the tape to our 2020 annual meeting one year ago, who among us would have guessed what 2020 would look like? I certainly couldn’t have guessed…and if you say you could, we all know you’re lying! To use an already overused word, 2020 was definitely unprecedented. It was unprecedented for many reasons, but its impact on church and ministry was significant for us.
If you remember, at last year’s annual meeting I announced our plan for March 2020: a series of services designed to focus specifically on the person of Jesus Christ and His mission for His church in sharing His Gospel with the world. I was hoping to facilitate more dialogue than a typical Sunday morning service, with a specific focus on Jesus’ heart for the lost around us. We (your elders) were praying for creativity and unity within our body, and to better discern your heart and understanding of God’s purpose for us here and now. Once those meetings were concluded, we (your elders) would synthesize your feedback and begin prayerfully putting together a corporate vision for ABC. Well, we got two weeks into the month and the bottom fell out of the planet. As the well-known saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. In fact, March would prove to be the last time we would physically see much of our church family for the rest of the year.
After that, everything was triage for a while. We needed video and audio capabilities that week to continue to “be together” and seek God together in some form. I scrambled to set up a make-shift studio in the Grace House. The help of the elders during this process was invaluable. God provided in so many ways, but the unique blessing of our relationship with Templo Emmanuel cannot be overstated. They loaned us (and are still loaning us) their expertise and equipment to broadcast our worship services every week without interruption. For this I am especially grateful. Before our first virtual service, I joked with the elders that I was nervous our broadcast would look like an Al-Qaeda hostage video! Thanks to Templo Emmanuel and their generosity, everything was first class. As your elders continued to serve week after week in their virtual capacity putting together worship services, we were also meeting each week to pray for you and seek God’s direction about how to minister in this new paradigm.
These prayers produced much fruit. As we talked to you, our church family, we were hearing and discerning some of your questions and concerns. With no way to discuss these issues together in person, we initiated our “Ask the Elders” segments. We also initiated a short corporate series called “Committed Christians, Current Events”. In the midst of all the political turmoil, domestic division, and divisive opinions, we wanted our church family to continue to hear from God – and each other – about what God would want us to gather from Him. During this time, we also began a weekly prayer meeting and a mid-week encouragement from me, your pastor. Both these ministries have continued since their inception. In May, we also held our first outdoor worship service. By the end of the year, we would host another outdoor service and an outdoor Christmas Eve service.
Over the summer, we began praying about resuming our physical gatherings on Sunday mornings. We had both buildings (the Grace House and the gym) cleaned thoroughly: floors, chairs, curtains, furniture, base boards, everything. We then resumed our corporate worship services in July while still livestreaming from our ABCBaytown youtube page. While 2020 presented many challenges for us – and what we faced was nothing like what we planned or were prepared for – I believe it was an incredibly fruitful year of ministry for us. There are a few important reasons why I can say can this honestly and without reservation. They were important enough that I wanted to highlight them for you in my annual report.
Four Reasons I’m Thankful for 2020
Firstly, it brought about a greater reliance on God’s spirit and a needed reminder us of His sovereignty and sufficiency. I have preached many-a-sermon (and you have heard as many) about God being in control. I have preached as many sermons (and you have heard as many) about God being all that we need in and for this life. While preaching and listening are good and needed disciplines, personal experience – especially that which is forced upon you and for which you could not be prepared – provides an indelible reminder of two marvelous biblical truths: our Father is most certainly in control and He is most certainly all we need. If 2020 brought nothing else of worth (which, I believe, is very far from the truth), this would be enough.
Both the Scriptural record and our own human experience teach us that we value control, or, at minimum, the sensation of it, more than almost anything else. Ironically, however, it is this desire to control which often sidelines the matchless Christian experience of complete surrender to the Holy Spirit. Our surrender to His sovereignty reminds us of His sufficiency; it is in those moments of feeling “tossed to and ‘fro” that we are reminded again that Christ is truly all we need. I thank Jesus Christ our Lord that the events of 2020 allowed us this invaluable Christian experience.
Secondly, 2020 brought about a level of intentional pastoral awareness and care from your elders that, I don’t think, would have existed otherwise. Over the past sixteen years, I have been blessed to serve in four different churches, in three different states, and in two different denominations. In all my experience, I can say truthfully that our elders at ABC are the healthiest and purest group of men I have served with. Each of us truly love shepherding the flock He has given us and feel the weight of that spiritual burden acutely. If ever there was a group of “under-shepherds” who genuinely cared for their folks and sought to lead them well, it is surely your elders.
However, the demands of ministry and the “tyranny of the urgent” can easily (and often do) push pastoral awareness and care to the fringes. Sermon preparation, meetings, e-mail correspondence, broken water heaters, job and family demands, workdays, denominational obligations, and praying and planning for the future regularly force themselves to the top of the priority list. What better to properly rearrange priorities than a yearlong global pandemic? I pray that each of you have personally witnessed and experienced the value and care of your elders this year. We spent much time in prayer, and each one of us personally reached out to the church to check on their needs. This fall, for example, Viandra and I completed “Operation Flower Power” and personally delivered flowers to each church family in our directory. I thank our Father for the opportunity to more intentionally and acutely minister to our church family in 2020.
Thirdly, routine-disrupting and life-altering events tend to increase individual and corporate focus on what really matters. As Thomas Paine famously stated in his pamphlet The American Crisis: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” One of the earliest prayers from your elders this year was that a corporate absence from one another would make our individual hearts grow fonder toward each other and more clearly recognize the “dearness” that is being part of God’s family. I know that prayer has been answered for me, and I hope it has been for you, too.
We can easily take for granted that which has been so accessible, predictably consistent, and ever-present, even (and sometimes especially) when it is the dearest of treasures. Those life-altering and routine-disrupting “wake up calls” often seem to be God’s method of getting us back to what really matters. In our case, that is treasuring, chiefly, Christ and His timeless Gospel. Secondly, it is treasuring His bride, the Church, and loving and serving those (and with those) who make up this Gospel family. Thirdly, it is treasuring His mission for us: reaching an ever-so-obvious searching, lost, hopeless, dying world with His Good News for them.
Lastly, it forced upon us a “clean slate” for ministry. Just as church leadership faces the “tyranny of the urgent” challenge, so churches face the “tyranny of the routine” challenge. When I accepted the call to come to Baytown 18 months ago, I certainly had no plans to bring big changes to ABC. In fact, my only plan was to spend a year loving you, living and serving with you, and earning your trust. I am grateful that God allowed me 8 months to do that before our personal interaction was significantly altered.
However, oftentimes changes to church ministries, formats, methods, and even paradigms are where the Holy Spirit leads His people in order to bring about greater Gospel-empowered effectiveness. But…you know as well as I that we are all too often creatures of deeply engrained habits, and change – even on the smallest of scales – is the last thing we want and the first thing we resist. For that reason, I am so grateful for 2020 because it forced us to rest from everything for a season and spend more time in prayer and consideration before the Father about what He desires for us now and how He wants us to accomplish His purposes.
Now, with all that being said about this past year, let me turn your attention to the year before us: 2021. I first want to address what I can foresee as our immediate challenges and then conclude my report with some exciting opportunities to draw close to our Savior, glorify Him together, and build His Kingdom here this year.
Challenges in 2021
Our foremost challenge this year, as I see it now, is simply resuming engagement and regaining momentum. As a kid, I was fascinated by the Strongman competitions. One of the events featured each man pulling an 18-wheeler. Once they got it moving, everything was smooth sailing; getting the truck moving from a standstill took all their energy. I think this is an appropriate analogy for us in 2021. Presently, many fears and anxieties persist about COVID, and worry surrounding the national and political climate has not subsided. For many of us, our own habits of adjusting to virtual worship services on Sunday with no physical gatherings during the week will be difficult to change. Once we can resume physical, corporate ministry (in whatever form that looks like), re-engaging in the mission together may be quite a substantial challenge. With that in mind, I would just ask you, as your pastor, to remember why we are here: to glorify God and build His Kingdom here on Earth.
It was in a world of much greater personal risk, uncertainty, turmoil, and fear than today that Jesus spoke His Great Commission to His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20. “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is why we are here! This is what God has placed us at this point in history to accomplish and the One with all authority is with us.
Consider that in addition to our mission is the urgency with which Scripture speaks of it. “The end of all things is near” Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:7. “Therefore, be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” Jesus’ brother, James, soberly reminds us of the painful brevity of life (James 4:13-17). “You don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For you are just a vapor that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away.” He even goes so far as to proclaim what you will do tomorrow as boasting in arrogance and evil. To assume that tomorrow is a given for us is to assume that we ourselves are sovereign and omniscient, a slight and affront from those who are not to Him who is.
Christ’s mission is the single most important purpose our lives serve each day, and we just don’t know when our time – or the time of those we are praying to reach – will reach its end. Moreover, Christ talks about the need for workers to bring in the harvest. In Matthew 9:37 He says that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Though re-engaging in the mission of the Church and the mission of Christ will be a challenge for us, it is one that we cannot afford to shrink from. We simply cannot let other things, either internally or externally, keep us from actively praying and striving to reach our hopelessly lost and dying neighbors with the best, most important News they could ever hear.
Opportunities & Goals for 2021
With His mission and urgency before you, let me with great joy and anticipation share with you some opportunities and goals for ABC that I am praying and working toward in 2021. These are goals I am setting for our family to help fulfill Christ’s mission and opportunities that you have to love and serve one another and reach the world.
Firstly, we are in the process of renovating the common areas of Grace House to become a “mobilization station” for our church. The Administrative Committee has approved using $6,000 from our Advance Vision Fund to remodel the living room and dining room areas of Grace House. Budget permitting, this remodel includes new furniture, new paint and flooring, and a more open-concept design to better utilize the space. Once completed, the space will be used to host comfortable, informal church groups where we will sharpen one another in evangelism. The goal is for our ABC family to become better equipped and comfortable with sharing our faith. This means considering together the truths of the Gospel, how we share His Good News with others, and how we can organize ourselves as a church to reach out.
Once completed, I would love to have two sessions each year: one in the Spring and one in the Fall using a combination of video-based curriculum and facilitated group discussion. If the project can be completed by summer 2021, my goal is to host our first group from roughly September – November 2021. Of course, this space could also be used for a number of other functions, but its principle purpose would be to train ourselves to better reach our neighbors with the Gospel.
Secondly, I would love for the new-and-improved Grace House to serve as an incubator for small groups specifically designed for outreach. If Grace House serves as our grounds for training, we still need a field in which we deploy ourselves. The mission of Christ is inseparable from action. 1 Corinthians 4:20 tells us plainly that “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” Likewise, the need for laborers mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 9 implies there is work, not talk, to be done. Consequently, our end goal cannot simply be gathering to talk about God, but to go and make disciples and actively demonstrate the power of God in saving and redeeming lost souls.
If Grace House serves as our “mobilization station”, then small groups would be our deployment. When people think of small groups, they often think of groups that meet to eat, talk, read, and pray together. However, the effort behind these small groups would be to reach out, and reach out specifically to non-Christians. What does this look like? It could be organizing a series of movie “Screen on the Green” nights on the church lawn. It could be a group getting involved in community events. It could be organizing a “mom’s morning out” or after school tutoring. It could be targeting a nearby nursing home. The possibilities are as limitless as the Spirit’s creativity at work within us, but the point is that we want to actually reach people, not simply talk about reaching people. Your elders will be praying (and I would ask that you pray with us) about how we can best reach the lost around us. As the time gets closer to launching this ministry, I look forward to having more details to share with you.
Thirdly, we are planning to more strategically use our front lawn to have a more visible presence in our community. This past year we hosted three outdoor services. Your feedback was positive, and we are planning to utilize this valuable space more often this year. My vision for this space goes far beyond simply moving a worship service outdoors from time-to-time. I would love to see our services accompanied by a shared meal afterwards, inflatables and games for children, and the foundation of the mini-gym used for sports and activities for youth. These could serve both for the enjoyment and edification of our own family as well as an outreach to others. One of our small groups could lead that outreach effort, inviting people and organizing events both in conjunction with church activities and stand-alone events held on the church grounds.
I plan to have banners made up which would invitingly advertise our outdoor worship services as well as any events held on the front lawn. With such a beautiful and strategically valuable space, I would love to see it used more effectively.
In His grace, our Father was good to ABCBaytown in 2020. We cannot ignore His gifts, nor can we be ungrateful. Both seeing and experiencing all that God has done for us, I pray to serve Him together with you more fully in 2021. Like every year, I lay out before you these goals and opportunities for 2021 understanding that everything happens according to God’s will and in His time. Thus, these plans may easily “go awry” this year. Even so, we rest assured that God will glorify Himself through His people. May we seek to glorify God and build His Kingdom here together in 2021.
yours in Christ,
This is a letter I wrote to our church at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our elders met last night to talk about what our church should do in response to the
coronavirus. Should we continue to meet as normal? Should we shut everything down for a while? These are questions that every church is wrestling with. This plan is our prayerful attempt at doing what is wise, while also striving to continually love and reach out to others.
Firstly, it’s important to understand that the church has always been, and always will be, made up of people. Similarly, our mission is to exist as a group of people to reach other people with the Gospel of Jesus. While circumstances around us change – like going from a seemingly normal, stable world to global hysteria over the coronavirus – our mission doesn’t. What’s fascinating to me is that, historically, it has been in times of chaos and distress that the church has thrived in fulfilling its mission of impacting people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Like those who have come before us, we now find ourselves faced with the God-given gift of chaotic times, and the question for us is: how do we respond?
We have to consider two important factors: our present conditions and our mentality. By now, you are, no doubt, familiar with our present conditions: restaurants are shutting down, the stock market is experiencing record lows, and health officials are recommending “social distancing” and not gathering in groups of more than ten people. Furthermore, older people and people with compromised immune systems and certain pre-existing conditions are at a greater risk of contracting the virus. These are all very important factors to consider.
But, it’s also important to consider our mentality. We can either adopt a fortress mentality – walling ourselves off from the world and being riddled with fear – or we can adopt a mission mentality – continually seeking to be used by the Holy Spirit to impact people with His message, even (and perhaps, especially) in adverse circumstances. The big question for us is: how can we have a mission mentality while still exercising good common sense and an abundance of caution in these present circumstances?
For now, this is our answer to that question.
For at least the next two Sunday’s we will not gather corporately and all activities will be cancelled. This timeline may get extended depending on changing conditions and recommendations. Instead, your elders will livestream a message from the Grace House. It’s important to us that we continue to offer a full liturgy to our family: Scripture reading, prayer, worship, a sermon, and questions to discuss and pray through together. This livestream will be at the same time as our usual service (10:30) and we will text and e-mail out a link on Sunday morning for everyone to log on.
However, we don’t want that to be the extent of our fellowship together. I believe that God wants to use this time to grow His church through His people and their passion for the Gospel. So, here’s what we are encouraging you to do: invite someone over to your house to join you! Think about a neighbor, co-worker, family or friend who would be blessed by a simple invitation. You could eat breakfast with them before our livestream, or share a lunch together afterwards. You could pray and take communion together. Invite other church families to come join you as well, from our church or another church. It’s entirely possible that we could impact more people during this time than we do in our usual gatherings.
In the next couple of days, I’ll send out a sermon outline and a few questions to discuss together. I’ll continue to encourage us to pray and talk through the questions in our home gatherings. Lunch together afterwards would be the perfect time to do this in your gathering. Also, please continue to talk with each other about what needs you or others have that we as a church family could meet. These needs can be as simple as bringing groceries to someone who would be at a greater risk if they went out.
This brings me to another way we are praying to be the hands and feet of Jesus during this time. I will be creating a form and e-mailing it out to everyone. This form is simply to be distributed in the communities where you live. It will have a place to either write your personal contact information or, if you are not comfortable with that, you can simply write the church’s information. But, it will offer your neighbors the opportunity to share their needs with you.
This will, we pray, not only afford you the opportunity to get to know them better, but it will also afford our church the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbors in need. All this requires of you is taking the initiative...which is exactly what we have been talking about in our recent sermon series together!
As the situation develops, I will keep you informed of what we plan to do. But, here’s the important thing to remember: it is possible (and, I believe, God-honoring) to continue to live sensibly and cautiously in our present circumstances while also maintaining a mission mindset, seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit to minister to and love those in need. We can heed the recommendations of officials while still reaching out to those around us. This plan is our attempt to do just that. Obviously, please take the necessary precautions to protect yourself, especially if you are more susceptible. But, may we not blindly adopt a fortress mentality and a fearful spirit! God is sovereign, still in control, and, in His grace, has given us this glorious opportunity to shine His light of hope in a dark, worried, fearful time. May we seek now, as always, to glorify Christ together. I’ll be in touch. In the meantime, remember: Christ has overcome the world. Be of good cheer!
with you for His glory,
I Corinthians 1:20 – “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”
Isaiah describes Christ as the Spirit of knowledge and wisdom. In other words, without the coming of Christ we would be left to our own devices and human reason, which Corinthians says is foolish at its best. Because of Jesus, we no longer have to rely on our own human reason and philosophy. Reflecting on this, consider these questions today:
How often do I rely on my own wisdom rather than talking to Jesus?
What keeps me from spending more time with Him? How can I surrender that to Jesus?
What can I do each day to spend time seeking His wisdom and knowledge?
My prayer for you today is that you go to Christ in those times of needing knowledge and wisdom. He promises to give it to you freely!
Isaiah 11:1 - “ A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit”
A major aspect of the hope we have in Jesus is that He redeems us from our own self-destructive sin, habits, and inclinations. Like the Israelites, Jesus brings life where there was once only death—and death which we brought upon ourselves. In meditating on Christ’s redemption in your own life, consider these questions:
Where might I be today if not for the redemption of Christ in my life?
Do I adore and worship Jesus for His redeeming work?
How can I use His redemption in my life to communicate Christ to those I know?
My prayer for you today is that you are filled with hope and joy because Christ loves you, redeems you, and gives you His life where sin and death once reigned.
During this Advent season, I wanted to send out several short thoughts each week for our church families to meditate on. These are intended to be a quick thought based on our sermon series which allows for deeper reflection and conversations during your week.
Romans 13:12 - “Put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Advent reminds us that Christ brings us hope not only in the sense that we are no longer slaves to sin. Christ also brings us hope that we can personally and passionately pursue the Kingdom of God and advance the Gospel on Earth. Since we have this freedom and holy mandate from our King, consider these questions today:
In what ways am I personally advancing the Gospel?
What are some avenues God has given me which He may be calling me to use to spread the Good News?
What fears, insecurities, anxieties, or faith struggles might God be calling me to surrender to Him in sharing and living out my faith?
My prayer for you today is that you are reminded of your purpose for living—to glorify God—and this hope would drive you to proactively spread the Good News of Christ to others.
During this Advent season, I wanted to send out several short thoughts each week for our church families to think about. These are intended to be a quick thought based on our sermon series which allows for deeper thought and conversations throughout your week.
Romans 13:11 – “Do not even think about gratifying the desires of the sinful nature.”
Part of the hope we celebrate during the season of Advent is the hope Jesus brings in setting us free from being slaves to sin. Because of Jesus’ coming, we know not just cognitively of righteousness and holiness, but we can also experience it through Him. Since we are called to be holy as Christ is holy, consider these questions today:
Is it evident to others that I am a follower of Jesus because of what I don’t do?
What are some areas of my life, perhaps known only to me and Jesus, which need to be surrendered to Him?
What can I do each day to give those areas to Jesus?
My prayer for you today is that you are strengthened by the freedom found only in Jesus, and the hope He brings compels you to surrender yourself to Him.
During this Advent season, I wanted to send out several short thoughts each week for our church families to think about. These are intended to be a quick thought based on our sermon series which allows for deeper thought and conversations throughout your week.
Romans 13:11 – “Wake up from your slumber since the day is near.”
Advent is a season where we reflect on the hope that the coming of Jesus brings into our life. As we live our lives, we need periodic reminders of the hope that we have and how that hope shapes our lives. Paul gives one such reminder that we need to wake up and live each day knowing that Jesus is alive and coming back. Since Jesus’ second coming is just as certain as His first coming, consider these questions:
Am I living like Jesus is coming back – or am I slumbering?
In what specific areas might Christ be calling me to WAKE UP?
What might God have me do each day to help me WAKE UP?
My prayer for you today is that you are renewed and refreshed by the hope Jesus brings and every area of your life reflects His hope.
This morning we turn the page into Romans 15, the penultimate chapter in this amazing and revolutionary book. The title for this morning is “Grace & Space”, though it could easily be simply Part IV of our “WAKE UP!” series through Romans 13-14 because it is the same thought.
In the first part of this chapter, Paul is still pleading with the Roman church to WAKE UP and live with one another in love. In fact, in just these fifteen verses we find three “one another” commands that we must not overlook. Let’s read the text together and see what they are.
Did you catch them? Verse 5 – “be like-minded toward one another”; Verse 7 – “receive one another”; Verse 14 – “admonish one another”. The crux of this passage is the same as have been the last couple of chapter’s: for the sake of the Kingdom, LOVE ONE ANOTHER! And this is what love is and this is how it is lived out with one another.
At the very center of this passage is the theme of GRACE. In the same way that Christ extends grace to you, and gives space for the Holy Spirit to work in your life, so you must do in loving and honoring one another above yourselves. Here are four truths that I believe the Holy Spirit would speak to you this morning:
The reason you have hope is because of the GRACE & SPACE of Jesus
Look again at verses 2-3 with me. “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
Now, there is so much here, and we don’t have time to get into all the implications of this statement this morning. But, we can look at the what Paul says here in verse 3: “even Christ”. Even Christ did what you are now being instructed to do: walk with one another in patience, and in hope, and full of grace. Think about those words for a minute: even Christ. When we begin to whine and complain about people, or our circumstances, or the lack of a particular outcome we are hoping for…even Christ did not please Himself.
God clothed Himself with human flesh and came to serve those He created and brought hope into the world by extending His grace to, literally, everyone. In His grace, He allowed people space to respond to Him in such a way that they failed repeatedly and were never cut off! This is our blessed hope as His children and as His ambassadors into the world.
And yet, despite knowing personally of His grace, how do often treat one another? All too often, we are like the two men lost in the woods and trying to find their way back to camp.
The story goes that two men were in the woods when a giant, angry grizzly jumped out of the bushes. Immediately one of the men reached in his backpack and pulled out his running shoes. His companion said, "You're not going to try and outrun that grizzly, are you? Full grown grizzly bears can run 30-35 mph?" While tying his shoes, his buddy answered, "Don't worry, I know I can't outrun a grizzly bear, but I don't have to! All I have to do is outrun you!”
Sadly, this is the attitude of many Christians. Rather than "bear with" a weaker Christian we run out ahead and leave them behind to get eaten by the spiritual grizzlies. Our goal is to love others, not just save our own skin!
Sadly, this is exactly the way so many of us view the Christian life! What we often fail to wrestle with and grasp is the fact that such a life is completely void of hope. It is, at best, a self-centered Christianity which is not actually biblical at all. If we would remember that whatever hope we have is because of the grace of Jesus, and that He has called us to bring His hope into the world, we would love one another much differently than we do; so differently, in fact, that what we now understand to be love would not be able to be called love at all.
Charles Spurgeon, in talking about how Christ received us and gave us hope, said: “Christ did not receive us because we were perfect, because He could see no fault in us, or because He hoped to gain somewhat at our hands. Ah, no! But, in loving condescension covering our faults, and seeking our good, He welcomed us to His heart; so, in the same way, and with the same purpose, let us receive one another.”
Notice two things here: how Jesus loves you and how you are to love others. Do you cover their faults? Do you seek their good without considering what would be good for you? Do you welcome them into your heart?
It is imperative that we remember that the hope which we have is a direct result of the grace of Jesus and the space He grants you to grow into a mature and loving Christian. It is impossible to be a person of eternal, unwavering hope without being a regular visitor to the pages of Scripture. This brings us to our next point, which is that:
Scripture is your source of renewed hope by revisiting the GRACE & SPACE of Jesus in your own life and those who came before you
Look at verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Not only do we have this hope because of the person of Jesus, but we have this hope recorded for us to revisit at any time. We just looked at Jesus and how He willingly gave up everything for the glory of God. He served others and sought to fulfill the will of the Father in every area of life.
But, not only did God send us His son to give us hope, but He also gave us dozens, even hundreds, of stories from saints who have gone before us. We read their stories and it further strengthens our hope and assurance in Christ.
A survey of the Old Testament provides numerous instances where people were willing to forego their own freedom and comfort for the sake of others. Noah... Joseph... Moses... Daniel... all bypassed the easy road and chose to live their lives as an influence for God, and for the good of other people. And their impact was worth their sacrifice. They stand out as models for us.
Why do we, in our pompous arrogance, feel that we deserve something easier, cushier, or softer than Noah, Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Paul, and Jesus Himself?
One of the major contributing factors to such an attitude is simply a neglect of Scripture. There is no one on planet Earth who can approach the Bible with a willing Spirit and an open heart who can maintain their arrogance.
If you often find yourself in a place of being downcast, or feeling without hope, or just beat down and discouraged, the medicine you need is Scripture. I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be amazed at how many supposed Christ-followers never talk with Him. Why would we expect to be anything more than discouraged or hopeless when we neglect the words of hope and life?
One of my favorite quotes from Spurgeon in regard to people simply not reading their Bibles is: “Some of you have so much dust on the covers of your Bibles, that you could spell out the word ‘damnation’ with your fingertips.”
This hope is not only necessary for us personally, but it is also necessary to walk with in redemptive relationship with others. If we find ourselves failing in this area, we must turn to Scripture to get the hope and encouragement we need to do what Jesus has called us to do and be who He has called us to be.
When we read Scripture, we are also reminded of another great truth and Christ and His grace:
The greatest example of GRACE & SPACE is found in Jesus and His love for both Jews and Gentiles. THIS IS YOUR CALLING.
This is the greatest message of this text and all of the Bible. I won’t read them with you again, but verses 5-12 show us that throughout Scripture this is the theme: God is the God of the Jew and the Gentile. This was one of the messages that the religious leaders could not stand and one which they never could get past.
It has been said that the Christian church is the only place where the requirement for membership is that members understand that they could never be worthy of membership! What a statement! When we have that level of humility – again, as Christ embodied and modeled for us – then we begin to be transformed. We ourselves begin to look like Jesus and our relationships begin to look more like the relationships we are called to have.
Leon Morris, an Australian New Testament scholar, poignantly noted what a genuine biblical concern for others looks like in relationship with one another. And, again, this is nested within what Christ’s concern for you and everyone else looks like.
“A genuine concern for the weak will mean an attempt to make them strong by leading them out of their irrational scruples so that they, too, can be strong.”
This concern is to continually extend grace toward those weaker in the faith for the purpose of making them strong. And, like Jesus, this concern leads our relationships with others to have no parameters on them; not cultural, political, racial, economical, or any other thing that separates people into groups. Like Christ commands of us, our relationships are centered on grace and space to allow others to grow strong in the Lord.
Think, for example, of raising children. How much grace is required to make them strong? BOUNDLESS GRACE! It requires staying up late with them at night, and cleaning their bottoms, and feeding them. As they grow older, it requires grace to teach them basic manners. As they grow older still, it requires a transition from the imparting of specific rules to instilling principles by which they are to live and modeling for them what that looks like. As they grow stronger still, it is being there unwaveringly and unconditionally to continue to guide them until they reach the point at which they can succeed with you entirely, but still desire a relationship with you. This is, in a small way, the “grace and space” of Jesus that we are all familiar with, either as parents or as children.
If you think about your own life, you will no doubt recall the grace of Christ and the space He allowed (and still allows) for such growth to occur in your own life. Failure after miserable failure in your life, and still He walks with you with grace and helps transform you. And, boy do we appreciate God’s patience with us! But, oh how hard it is for us to have patience (grace & space) with others and help them grow to be strong. Yet, when we look again to Jesus, we are humbled by His example and patience to Jew and Gentile, easy people and difficult people and everyone in between. We can do no less and we must do no less.
Finally, we must understand of grace and space that:
One of the greatest exchanges Jesus offers us is that as we pour out GRACE & SPACE on others, we are more than replenished by the Holy Spirit.
Remember the old song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart...” Then we’d sing the second stanza, “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart...” But there were other verses, like... “I’ve got the happy hope that heckles heathens down in my heart...” I love “the happy hope that heckles heathens...” This is what the world today lacks most. Our problems seem insurmountable. Folks have no hope. In contrast, we serve “the God of hope,” thus our situation is never hopeless!
The great irony of the Christian life is that we find our rest in our work. While the world views rest as necessary because of the demands of work, the Christian understands that true rest in found in serving. It is so important that we remember this as those who serve in the kingdom of light, because the world has trained us and programmed us to view work as exhausting and as something which we must do only as a necessary evil. I have been amazed at the number of supposed mature Christians who view Christian service as being akin to mixing and pouring concrete! When you talk about mobilizing for service either locally or in the form of a missions trip, the reaction is as though you are asking people to give birth while running a triathlon while carrying cinderblocks and solving trigonometry problems all at the same time!
But, just how are we to serve others? Oftentimes, when I am preparing for a physical fitness test, I will look only at the minimum requirements. What the fewest number of push-ups and sit-ups I need to do to pass? What’s the slowest amount of time I can run two miles in and still pass? Similarly, it is tragic how many of us think of Christian service in this way? What’s the least amount of service I can do so as to be pleasing to the Lord? What’s the slowest I can run this Christian race and still get my name on the board? However, when we look to Christ as our standard, which He is, we discover again that we can, should, and must serve Christ and the world more.
John Schultz, a former Alliance missionary, says this of the depth of our service to one another: “We may conclude that if Jesus took our failures upon Himself in such an extreme manner, the least we can do with other people’s weaknesses is to endure them [alongside them]. To the Galatians, Paul wrote: ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
How are you doing in your relationships with others? Do you endure with them? Do you carry their burdens the way Christ calls you to? Are you personally filled with the hope of Jesus that comes from spending time with Him in His word? If we are not, this morning is the time for repentance and forgiveness. As we pray and take communion this morning, beg Jesus to change you and fill you with hope. Be reminded of His grace, and be encouraged to have a gracious spirit and, like Jesus, extend that grace to others and give the Holy Spirit space to fill them with hope as they experience God’s grace as well.
Let’s pray and then we will take communion together and go before the Lord in repentance.
This morning, we wrap up this important chapter of Romans 14. For the past two weeks, we have talked about why this chapter is particularly applicable to us today: we live in a culture largely influenced by religious legalism and the potential for both positive and negative impact in the community and the world is limitless. Our surrender to Christ and His ability to love through us brings life through redemptive, discipling relationships and our neglect or abuse of such love can lead others to walk away from Christ permanently.
This week, we finish our series on calling the church to “WAKE UP!” and love one another in the way Scripture prescribes. Let’s read verses 16-22 together.
Now, since this is part three of a series, these points today are not in isolation, but are given in conjunction with the past two weeks. Each of these describes behavior that we exhibit toward one another when we love in the way Christ has called us to. They are:
When we love one another: we journey with those stronger and weaker than us
When we love one another: we stop majoring on the minors
When we love one another: we recognize that we are a servant of all and a master of none
When we love one another: we reflect the truth that we will be judged not for someone else’s actions, but for our attitude
When we love one another: we reflect the truth that sin dwells in a person and not in any material things
When we love one another: we don’t destroy each other
This morning, we add the final three characteristics to this transformative list. This first is:
When we love one another: we don’t initiate or seek out controversy over minor issues
Look at verse 22 with me. “Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God”
What things is Paul talking about? He is talking about disputable issues like meat, veggies, days of the week, and drinking. He mentions each of these here in this one chapter. Essentially, Paul says, “if it’s not clearly spelled out in Scripture, then keep your mouth shut! If it’s not prescribed in the Bible, then keep your opinion – no matter strongly you hold to it personally – between you and God.
What are the consequences when we spark controversy over minor issues with others without having a relationship with them? As we discussed last week, we run the risk of destroying them, of “giving them over to eternal misery in hell”. Not only does the Holy Spirit give us a direct order here to hush¸ but the risk of not keeping our mouth shut far outweighs whatever twisted benefit we feel like we are receiving from opening our mouth.
Just think about how often Jesus talks about being peacemakers. In His Sermon on the Mount, He says that those who are peacemakers will be happy and blessed and will be called the children of God. This is exactly what the Spirit pens through Paul here in verse 18: “Anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.” We’ll come back to that thought, though, because it is more directly tied to another point.
Think, for example, of the great peace-makers of our time. One recent example is Billy Graham, who just passed away last week. Here was a man who was not only revered by the church, as one might expect, but he was also adored by the world. He was the first religious leader to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol. Think about how crazy that is! The headquarters of our secular government so honored and revered this man of God that they bestowed upon him an honor never before given to any religious leader. The entire country paused to honor him and his memorial service was broadcast live on secular news networks. What caused him to receive both God’s approval and the approval of man?
He was an extraordinary peacemaker. His platform was not politics, though he influenced politics. His platform was not social work, though he and his organizations do such work all over the world. His platform was not denominational, though he served under the Baptist name. His banner was JESUS and the forgiveness of sin and the hope of redemption. He was as much a friend to George W. Bush as he was to Richard Nixon. There photos of him with his arm around Richard Nixon and holding hands with George Bush. The man a peacemaker and both God and man honored him because of his message.
Are you a peacemaker in this way? Or, are you one to initiate controversy over silly, insignificant things? Are you quick to voice your opinion even when no one asks for it? Is the driving force in your life the need to “be heard” or is it to be satisfied in Christ and being an ambassador for Him? When we love another, we are peacemakers and controversy creators and agitators. Love one another and be a peacemaker and Scripture says that you will be pleasing both to God and man.
Following that point, this passage gives us what being a peacemaker looks like. This is how we all should love.
When we love one another: we infuse righteousness, joy, and peace into the world by the Holy Spirit in us
Look at verse 17 with me. “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
If your life does not bring the righteousness of Christ into the world, and the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit into people’s lives, then something is wrong! Something is broken, and we must go before Christ and ask Him to “restore unto me the joy of His salvation and renew a right Spirit within me” as David did in Psalm 51 after being confronted about his own sin and brokenness.
If we were to take a poll, would other people say that you are a person who brings joy and peace into situations? Or, would they say the opposite – that you are a person of doom and gloom who focuses on all the wrong things? What an indictment upon us if this is our testimony.
To go back to being peacemakers, this is the section where, in verse 18, Paul writes that “Anyone who serves Christ in this way [a life of righteousness, peace, and joy] is pleasing to God and receives human approval.” Do you want to influence people for the Kingdom? The Bible tells us that the way to do just that is to be a person of relationship who brings the righteousness of God and the peace of joy of the Holy Spirit into the lives and situations of others. How do we become a disciple who makes disciples and thereby fulfill the will of God and be pleasing to Him? We are a people of righteousness, joy, and peace. When we do this, our lives point others to the source of our righteousness, joy, and peace – Jesus Christ.
We also discover that the greatest fulfillment comes from living such a life. Ask the Lord to help you discover anew his righteousness, peace, and joy and let Him change your spirit and your countenance in order to be a vessel of life and love.
Finally, when we become someone who is deeply in love with Christ, we find our entire lives being reoriented around building His Kingdom and not focused on our own. The final point from this passage is this:
When we love one another: we center our lives on building God’s Kingdom and not our own
Verse 19 reads like this: “Let us, therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.”
Think of the words of Christ to His disciples about the impossibility of divided interests when He said that “man cannot serve two masters; either he will hate the one and love the other or love the one and hate the other.” This is exactly how Paul wraps up this thought: you are either serving the Kingdom of God or you are working to destroy it by serving yourself and your own interests.
The greatest and sneakiest risk in serving our own Kingdom is that we can slap a label on top of what we do and call it “serving God” when, in actuality, we are working to destroy the Kingdom of God and truthfully just serving ourselves. Jeff Christopherson wrote a book called “Kingdom Matrix” and he wrote of churches and people who do this as “a congregation of flabby spiritual consumers.” In other words, he says that we become spiritually obese by consuming the fruit of teaching and teaching, fellowship, and prayer without ever actually exercising our faith in service to the Kingdom of God. Of those tendencies, he says that,
“Inherent, it would seem, is the innate compulsion to believe in the deepest part of our hearts that God is on our side. We ask for God’s blessing on our plans and then we proceed without Him. We open our church’s business meetings in prayer and then with all the rights of democracy begin to establish our will over someone else’s and say that in the process, God has spoken. For some reason, we think we should be able to declare to all that God is indeed on our side.”
It always helps to see some practical ways in which we may be guilty of focusing on and building our own Kingdom while rationalizing why what we are doing as being a necessary part of serving the Kingdom of Christ. I came across an article this week by Paul Tripp, who spoke at our men’s conference a couple of weeks ago. He talked about four ways in which we can be guilty of building our own Kingdom without even realizing it. He asks and answers the question: Where are we at risk of building our kingdoms in the situations, locations, and relationships of everyday life? He gives four ways in which we do this.
Pleasure and Comfort: In Numbers, the Israelites were willing to sacrifice their freedom for slavery, because in Egypt, they at least had “meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” (11:5). I love how much of the glory of God in creation is edible, and it’s not sinful to enjoy comfort. But beware. Chasing momentary, physical pleasure in an attempt to build our own kingdom will always lead to slavery and bondage.
Schedule and Organization: In Exodus, the Israelites built a golden calf in an act of heinous idolatry. Why? One of the reasons was because “Moses delayed to come down from the mountain” (32:1).
I’m a very task-oriented person, and organization and time management is important in God’s Kingdom. But beware. Allowing the schedule of our lives to become a dominating idol can lead to foolish acts of worship.
Position and Power: In Luke, Jesus is sitting with his disciples and instituting the New Covenant. What could be more significant than this moment? Yet “a dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (22:24).
God wisely created structures of leadership and has gifted people in different ways. But beware. Our status can rise to such a level of selfish significance that we’re blind to beautiful Kingdom of God moments.
Affirmation and Approval: In Galatians, Paul recounts the story of when Peter allowed his fear of man (2:12) to alter the message of gospel, which he was called to be a spokesperson for.
So, let’s each be on the lookout for these ways and others in which we build up our own Kingdom. May we repent of those areas and serve to advance the Kingdom of God in every area of our lives.
I’d like to wrap up our time together this morning by pointing to you one incredibly practical way in which our love for one another can be turned to service and fruitfulness toward Christ and His Kingdom.
Earlier this week, Scott Crabtree gave me some data about Columbus County that I found not only shocking but terribly convicting. This data from two years ago reveal something astounding about our community; not Africa, not Asia, not New York City or Los Angeles, but little old Columbus County. There are as many people (almost 25,000) in our immediate community who openly profess to be lost as there are who profess to be Christians. This doesn’t even take into consideration those who claim an affiliation with a particular church but who, in no discernable way, reflect a life that has been truly changed by Jesus.
How are you loving them? What are you doing to reach them? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we cannot be content and satisfied with simply inviting them to our church grounds, if we even make it that far. Studies have shown that most believers don’t even extend an invitation anymore.
Are we reaching them? Are we loving them? Do we walk with them? Do we trust the Holy Spirit of God to convict them of sin, and righteousness, and judgment, or do we assume that role ourselves? Are we a people who consistently major on the minors?
Please be challenged by the Holy Spirit this morning to not be satisfied until you personally have made every effort to reach out to these “nones” with the love of Christ. While I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, if the community of Christ does nothing to address this issue the number of “nones” will continue to grow while the number of those who openly profess to know and follow Jesus will shrink. And what will one of the major causes? It will be a failure on the part of the church to love and to reach out with a sense of urgency. It our job to love, and our job to be Christ in our relationships. So, let each one of commit ourselves to Christ to love one another by:
Journeying with those stronger and weaker than us
Not majoring on the minors
Recognizing that we are a servant of all and a master of none
Reflecting the truth that we will be judged not for someone else’s actions, but for our attitude
Reflecting the truth that sin dwells in a person and not in any material things
Not destroying each other
Not initiating or seeking out controversy with others over minor issues
Infusing righteousness, joy, and peace into the world by the Holy Spirit in us
Centering our lives on building God’s Kingdom and not our own
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.