New Year, New You

Do you make resolutions at the beginning of a new year? If you do, then you are among close to 45% of American adults who want to be better in 2013.

Resolution making is the easy part. The tough stuff began at the stroke of midnight when we were supposed to make those resolutions our practice. According to an awesome infographic that I found, 75% of American adults who made resolutions will have kept those resolutions by the end of the first week in January (notice that 25% of us can’t even last one week). By the end of the year, however, only 1 in 10 people will have stuck to their resolutions.

In a blog post titled Making Resolutions Stick, Michael Hyatt offers the following four ways to help you and me be better at keeping our resolutions:

  1. Keep them few in number
  2. Make them “smart” (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound).
  3. Write them down.
  4. Go public (share them with others who will hold you accountable).

Remember to keep the mindset that your resolution is a commitment. It may be a commitment you’ve made to yourself, to your spouse, to your family, to your friends, or even to God. Do not discount the importance of keeping those commitments. Keep your word (cf. Mat. 5:37; James 5:12). Do not make excuses (cf. Acts 24:25). Do not become stagnant in your personal growth – especially not in your personal spiritual growth (cf. 2 Pet. 3:18). Finally, do not be content with the status quo (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). D not let society fool you into thinking that it is a good moral barometer. Do what is right because it is the right thing to do (cf. Eccl. 12:13).

May our main goal for 2013 (as much of it as God allows us to see, James 4:13-16) be to pursue spiritual growth and maturity so that we may become the people that God wants us to be.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).

You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created (Rev. 4:11).

A Call to Thanks-Living

Isn’t it ironic that Thanksgiving is followed by Black Friday? Please do not misunderstand, I am all for incredible sales and great deals – they certainly help this time of year. However, think about that for which Black Friday is known: great sales, long lines, insane hours, and rude (even violent) shoppers. Yes, just a mere few hours after they gave thanks for all that they already have, these shoppers were out fighting tooth and nail for that hot item that they simply cannot live without, daring someone to stand in their way. News reports are filled with stories of fights that broke out in the middle of the aisles, with hundreds of people around who could potentially be hurt, all because of something that certain shoppers wanted.

Consider whether you think the following Bible passage and observations are appropriate as we enter the gift-giving season.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6).

1. God desires holy hearts – not counterfeit Christianity. Your conduct, translated “conversation” (KJV), “life” (ESV), and “character” (NASB) is how you live. This is the deepest, most true part of yourself – who you really are. It is no surprise that God’s Word calls our attention to our true selves. The Bible is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). In fact, true Christianity starts in our hearts and manifests itself by our righteous actions and speech (cf. Phil. 1:27; Col. 3:1-2; Mat. 6:33; etc.). God does not want charades; He wants converted hearts, whole and living sacrifices (cf. Rom. 12:1-2). Which leads us to the particular point of character noted in this passage: covetousness.

2. A Christian’s conduct will be without covetousness. Covetousness is greed; a strong-willed determination to have what belongs to others. In his book Studies in Hebrews, Robert Taylor says that covetousness is “selfishness gone to seed” (p 236). Why are some Black Friday shoppers willing to inflict violence upon others in pursuit of their goods? Does it not stem from a covetous, greedy heart? Notice just two other passages dealing with covetousness:

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints … For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph. 5:3, 5).

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5).

Notice that, in these two passages, Paul says covetousness is idolatry. As much as many of us love this time of year – times with family, sharing meals together, decorations, and even giving gifts – we must all keep our hearts in check so that we do not bow before the god of materialism! In his commentary on Ephesians, Albert Barnes wrote the following about a man with a covetous heart:

[He is a] man who, in this insatiable pursuit, is regardless of justice, truth, charity, faith, prayer, peace, comfort, usefulness, conscience; and who shall say that there is any vice more debasing or degrading that this? (p 96)

Covetous thinking, though so much a part of our culture, has two major flaws. First, covetous people place entirely too much confidence in the power of the things in the world. The world, and all that is in it, will be burned up when the Lord comes again (2 Pet. 3:9-11). If we depart from this life in death before the second coming of Christ, then we must remember that we can take none of it with us (1 Tim. 6:7). Therefore, the Holy Spirit says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15-17).

The second flaw of covetous thought is that covetous people have a very low opinion of the willingness and ability of God to provide. When one finds security and happiness in things, then he or she is not looking to the One from Whom all blessings flow (cf. James 1:17). This promise follows the Hebrews writer’s exhortation: “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (Heb. 13:5). God promises to provide all of our needs, we must simply place our trust and our faith in Him (Mat. 6:25-34).

3. We must learn the Christian virtue of contentment. It is not sinful to wish for things that we would like to have. Goals are healthy in our lives and meeting our goals enriches our lives. However, there is a difference in wanting and coveting, in desire and materialism. God’s Book tells us that we must “be content with such things as you have” (Heb. 13:6). Contentment is not necessarily something with which we are born. In fact, contentment must be learned, developed, and maintained. Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Phil. 4:11). Elsewhere, he stated, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6), and “having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6:8).

If we will train our hearts to learn and to practice contentment, then we will find ourselves relying more on God (cf. Phil. 4:11-13). Because he learned contentment, the Hebrews writer was able to trust in God’s promises and to boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:6).

It is not in titles, nor in rank;It is not in wealth like London Bank,To purchase peace and rest;If happiness have not her seatAnd center in the breast,We may be wise, or rich, or great,But never can be blest. (Author unknown)

May God help us – in this season and in every season – to be entirely holy and peacefully content.

Preacher, Are You Growing?

Preachers are people, too. They are susceptible to temptation, to depression, to spiritual backsliding, and much more – just like everyone else is. But preachers are also different from everyone else. The congregation looks to the preacher to be the source of spiritual power. He is the one to whom they come when they need counseling from God’s Word. He still has to preach the sermon or teach the class regardless of the week that he has had or the depression that his heart feels.
Preacher, what are you doing for yourself to ensure your spiritual growth and continued faithfulness? In one of my classes at FHU, the professor offered these suggestions for a preacher’s spiritual growth:
  • Plan daily personal devotional time. Read the Bible for your benefit.
  • Make a list of people and causes for which to pray.
  • Make time to be alone with God.
  • Be the spiritual leader in your family.
  • Be in the homes of those who are sorrowful and suffering. Visiting those who are suffering will lift your spirits as well as their’s.
  • Attend meetings of spiritual growth and development. Go to Polishing the Pulpit, area gospel meetings, special rallies, and lectureships. Also, listen to podcasts, online sermons, WVBS videos, the Gospel Broadcasting Network, and more.
  • Spend time with people of great faith. This can be another preacher, but it could also be one of your elders, or any faithful member of the church. We’re bettered by being together.
  • Share your faith.

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Tim. 4:16).

Picture Monday: Worth A Thousand Words

You’re looking at the reach of The Light Network in just five days (Nov. 6-11, 2012).

Every one of those red ballon looking things represents a place in which someone has visited the TLN website. Since last Monday, we have reached 29 states in the USA and five foreign countries. We will launch Saturday, January 5, 2013, Lord willing. Pilot episodes of all of the podcasts are being recorded this week, which we will release periodically between now and launch time. 
So, here’s a challenge to all of the TLN family: help us reach all 50 states in the United States! Encourage others to like us on facebook, follow us on twitter, subscribe to our weekly newsletter, and visit the TLN website.
Thank you for your support of The Light Network. To God be the glory!

Election Reflections

Today’s post finalizes the Election Weekend series.

Like many across the country, I was disappointed Tuesday night. I wanted a change. The reason why I wanted change was based on moral grounds.

While I know that no candidate is perfect, I hoped that America would select a candidate who chooses life over abortion, God-ordained marriage instead of same-sex marriage, work instead of misuse of welfare, and many other issues. The results of the election speak volumes for the state of the union. Has our country drifted away from God to the point of no return? Will God give our nation more time to repent, or has He delivered America to her inevitable doom? As I have considered these questions over the last few days, one realization continues to rise to the top: the answers to these questions are solely God’s business and not my business. God is responsible for the judgment of the nations. He is in control – both of my country and of my life. That being the case, it is beneficial to remember what are our responsibilities. What does God want Christians to do?

1. Remember that God still rules in the kingdoms of men (cf. Dan. 5:21). The sun rose Wednesday morning, and life resumed as we all began our day. That is not said to downplay the election or its impact on our nation; rather, it is said to emphasize the fact that God is in control. He causes the sun to rise, and He causes it to rise on the just and the unjust (Mat. 5:45). Because God is in control, His people should take comfort and rejoice (Phil. 4:4)!

2. Now, more than ever, Christians must rise to action (cf. Rom. 13:11; 2 Cor. 6:2). Noah’s world was morally decayed, but Noah kept preaching and obeying God. Jeremiah wept for his nation, but preached and warned them to return to God. Our first century brethren refused to give up – even when the government of their day attempted to silence their message (cf. Acts 4:19-20). God’s people today must rise to action! Let us be involved in right living, not laziness (1 Pet. 2:13-15). Let us be involved in right teaching, not tolerance (2 Tim. 4:2). Let us have the right hearts, not hearts of hatred (John 13:34-35). Let us pray the right prayers (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Remember that Jonah’s message moved a nation! We must “strengthen the hands which hang down” and “pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:12-14).

3. Remember that righteousness is required of all people in all nations. There is no land – regardless of the primary religious beliefs in that land – that is exempt. Righteousness means obeying the commandments of Jehovah God (Psa. 119:172).

4. America must remember God’s blessings. The Israelites became too prideful, forgot the great blessings with which God had blessed them, and drifted from God. This cycle repeatedly runs its course in the Old Testament. There was a time (perhaps even a long period of time) when America flourished and prospered by God’s hand. During that time, many of her citizens attributed their successes to God and praised Him for the great things He had done in their lives. America must continue to attribute her successes to the One, True God. “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2).

5. Christians must remember God’s promises. The Word of God is replete with promises to the faithful. We must remember that, regardless of world conditions, these promises hold true. The Lord said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20). The Lord said that those who will seek first the kingdom of God will be blessed with everything they need (Mat. 6:33). God, the Father, has made this promise to His people all through the ages: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Our response to that should be, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:6).

6. Remember your dual citizenship as a Christian. We can sing that old song with confidence: “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” The Scriptural validity to that sentiment is found in Philippians 3:20-21. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”

May God’s people increase their faith, increase their trust, and lean on the everlasting arms (cf. Deut. 33:27)!

Church and State

Today begins an Election Weekend series. Just two parts, the first of which you are about to read, and the second of which you will read tomorrow, the Lord willing.

What responsibilities do Christians have to governing bodies with whom they disagree? Did your candidate lose Tuesday night? Do you have an obligation to follow a government for which you did not vote? Must you submit to the government even though your ethics are drastically different from theirs?
I think Romans 13 has some important words for us to consider. Remember that, when Paul penned these words, the great Roman Emperor, Nero, was in power. The government under which our first century brethren lived was a heathen government that promoted heathen values. In fact, the government not only promoted those values but attempted to strongly enforce those heathen values to the point of silencing Christians – through threats, imprisonments, beatings, and even death. And yet inspiration guided Paul to write Romans 13.
I strongly encourage you to read Romans 13:1-7 in light of our recent election. Below are a few observations I’ve noticed from reading and studying this great chapter. I see a natural division in these seven verses: first, the responsibilities of the government as commanded by God, and, second, the responsibilities of Christians to the government as commanded by God.
I. The Responsibilities of the Government as Commanded by God:

1. Governmental power is ordained by God (13:1). God has appointed these authorities for the purpose of accomplishing His will. The word translated “appointed” (NKJV) or “ordained” (KJV) was written in a Greek tense which indicates that these authorities were appointed and stand appointed by God. God allows for men and women in positions of governmental authority to possess that authority. As a result, leaders in our government should seek God’s Will first rather than the will of their constituents. 
2. Governmental power is given by God (13:2). No power exists apart from God. Note this discourse between Jesus and Pilate during Jesus’ mockery of a trial: 

Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” Jesus answered, You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (John 19:10-11, emphasis added).

The government exists to fulfill the Will of God. That was the case under Pilate’s rule, and it is the case today. “The Most High rules in the kingdom of men” (Dan. 4:17)! During the time of the Israelite kings and, later, during the time of the captivity, God’s Almighty power was clearly exercised over the governmental authorities. In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar learned this lesson the hard way.

And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation.  All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Dan. 4:34-35)

The power is God’s. Political leaders on any level (federal, state, or even community leaders) are merely exercising God’s power as they govern (cf. Dan. 2:21; Psa. 75:7).
3. Governmental power is regulated by God (13:4). Note that Romans 13:4 states that the civil government is “God’s minister to you for good” (emphasis added). Governmental authority is appointed by God for the purpose of serving Him and His people. Governments must maintain order and discipline by reprimanding evildoers. Isn’t it interesting that, just a few verses back, Paul instructed Christians, saying, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19)? Now, in 13:4, Paul specifies that the governmental leader is “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” There seems to be a natural connection between 12:19 and 13:4. One of the ways that God renders vengeance is through the authority that He gives to the government. Therefore, when our law enforcement groups exercise their authority on the evil, they are doing the Lord’s work. When our law makers sign bills into laws for our protection and wellbeing (so long as they are in accordance with the Will of God), they are doing the Lord’s work. This task should not be taken lightly – either by our elected officials or by those of us who are electing them to serve in our behalf.
II. The responsibilities of Christians to the government as commanded by God
1. Christians must submit to the government because of judicial wrath (13:5). Those who disobey the law of the land disobey God, with one exception (see point 5).
2. Christians must submit to the government in order to stand before God with a clean conscience (13:5). Gareth L. Reese points out in his commentary that the word translated conscience can have basically two meanings in New Testament usages. First, it can refer to the innate faculty within us that prompts us to do what we believe is right and that criticizes us when we do what we believe to be wrong. Second, the word can refer to an awareness of something to be true. The use of this word conscience in Romans 13:5 creates an incredible truth! As God’s people, we must submit to our governmental leaders because, first, we are aware that God commands it, and, second, our moral compass, trained by a study of God’s Word, demands that we do (cf. Rom. 14:23).

3. Christians must submit to the government to continue to enjoy protection and safety from evildoers (13:6). Our tax money helps to continue the work that the government is commanded by God to do.
4. Christians must submit to the government because they have a respect for those in authority (13:7). Paul says that we should render to all what is due to them. Compare these thoughts with Peter’s inspired writings: “Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).
5. Christians must submit to the government only inasmuch as the government’s laws do not contradict God’s law. If you have been reading the aforementioned points and thinking, “But America’s government is hardly like this!” then you have observed the corruption that exists in our governmental bodies. Paul’s purpose in this chapter is not to condemn governmental wickedness, but rather to encourage Christians to submit to civil authority. However, Paul implied that God’s power trumps the power of the government in what he already stated. He said that the government’s power comes from God. Therefore, God is Supreme. Peter and John put it this way: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Coming tomorrow: “Election Reflections”

25 Reasons My Wife is Awesome

I’m surrounded by great writers. My lovely wife is one of the best writers I have ever met. My good friends Chris & Melissa Clevenger are great writers with awesome insights. Chris’s blog is called “My Desk, His Glory.” Melissa’s is “We Play Cottage.” All of these are absolute must-reads. Great writers are literally all around me. These people (among others) encourage me to try to improve my writing skills and to improve my creativity. So here I am, beginning a brand new blog that (might) help me to reach these goals. This is a historic day.

For my first post, I want to acknowledge yet another reason (a much more important reason) why today is a historic day: today is my wife’s birthday!! It isn’t just any birthday; it’s her quarter century celebration! I cannot begin to communicate the profound influence she is in my life. This post will be an understatement to say the very least. I could go on and on about Emily and everything that she means to me. However, for the sake of her birthday, I’ll limit my list to just twenty-five items.

And now, without further adieu, here are twenty-five reasons why my wife is awesome.

1. She is a serious Christian. What I have found in my wife is something that is truly difficult to find these days. Her number 1 priority is going to heaven to be with her heavenly Father. Consequently, she helps me to draw closer to my heavenly Father. We’re going to heaven together. Her faith is real. She isn’t a Sunday- or Wednesday-only Christian. She’s not even a public-only Christian. She’s a Christian all of the time. I think that is true Christianity.

2. She uses her many talents to God’s glory. I could go on and on discussing Emily’s talents. I’ll mention some of her talents in the next points. For now, I simply want to mention one of her talents and illustrate how she’s using that to do good. Emily loves travel. She’s a talented photographer and a great writer. Soon, she’s going to combine all three of those passions into a podcast for women called Navigating the New Testament, which will air on The Light Network (launching January 5, 2013). I know she’s going to do an incredible job.

3. She is my greatest supporter. Emily makes it a priority to travel with me everywhere she possibly can when I speak. I bet I can count on one hand the number of services she has missed where I’ve been preaching since we’ve been married. She builds me up and makes me feel good about the work I do. I am truly blessed.

4. She is my greatest, most honest, critic. Notice that I did not say that she is critical. Her criticism is constructive and always much-needed. She understands that I want to improve and mature into the person that I want to be for Him, so she helps me in an honest, but loving way to become that person.

5. She invests time in other people. She genuinely cares about people and about their souls. When someone is hurting, she hurts.

6. She is an incredible Bible class teacher. Obviously, I have never attended her teen girls Bible class, but one of my favorite parts about Sunday nights is hearing her tell me about her class. She is a biblical, practical, effective teacher, and I can’t help but believe that she’s changing lives by pointing them to the Christ.

7. She is an encourager. In point #3 I mentioned that she is a great supporter and encourager to me, but this point is about the way she encourages other people. She encourages them with her words, her cards and letters, through gifts of kindness that she gives, through food that she cooks and takes to others, through her blog posts, and through many other means. It is quite possible that someone who is reading this has received encouragement from her at one point or another.

8. She has a great cackle  — I mean — laugh. When Emily really starts laughing, you can’t help but laugh, too. I love that we laugh together often.

9. She works hard. She’s not one to miss deadlines, hold up production, or to be late. She does her work and she does it well.

10. She is precise. Emily is about the details. With her, it’s not just about getting things done, but about doing things right. As someone who appreciates little things being right and in place, this makes me happy.

11. She is a scheduler. I try to stay organized, but I’m nowhere near the organizational level of my lovely wife. While I usually plan by the day, Emily plans by the hour. She’s great at scheduling life for (and around) a preacher’s schedule, which can be a very difficult task.

12. She fills our home with warmth and love. Our home definitely has her touch throughout. The result is a warm, welcoming, friendly environment. I love to be at home with her.

13. She improves my sermons. Members at East Hill have commented that they think my sermons are better now than they used to be. While it didn’t take much to improve my sermons, I definitely attribute those improvements to Emily. I can’t really explain how she does it, but she definitely makes my sermons better! It probably has something to do with our regular conversations about things we’ve been studying from the Bible, the great example that she is to me, and the overall pressure of knowing that I’m her preacher.

14. She’s ok with living in a glass house. She realizes that our lives are always going to be on display before the public. That is just the nature of my – and, really, our – job. But we have nothing to hide. That is certainly not to say that we’re perfect.

15. She’s selfless with her time. We are blessed to be involved in a lot of great works. This results in a lot of demands on our time. We try hard to take time just for us because sometimes we just need to break (for sanity’s sake!). Emily realizes how great these works are; she believes in them. So, she sacrifices. She sacrifices time at home. She sacrifices our time together. Sometimes, she even sacrifices rest! Why? Because she is glad to spend and be spent in service to God (2 Cor. 12:15).

16. She’s a fast learner. I’m amazed at how quickly she is able to pick up new things. From video editing to cooking to podcasting to you name it, she’s willing to learn and is excited to explore new things.

17. She’s a good cook. She admits that she is relatively new to the cooking scene, but every recipe that she learns is great! You may notice that I’m growing (not in the good way). I blame her for that. Ha!

18. She’s a quick, thorough thinker. Emily has this amazing ability to think through things. She can quickly weigh the pros and cons and come up with the best decision. It’s incredible.

19. She’s wants to grow. I’m not talking about height (I think she’s at peace with that). She’s constantly trying to improve herself. She’s humble, and she realizes that she hasn’t reached where she wants to be yet. I don’t think it’s a knock at someone to note that they want to improve themselves. Being teachable is a great quality.

20. She’s frugal. Emily only buys clothes when they’re on sale and she can find at least two things that she likes. She watches newspapers and online deals to know where is the best place to get certain groceries. Because of these and other illustrations of her frugality (that’s a great word!), we are able to do more with what we have.

21. Her Bible is filled with notes. Emily found the perfect Bible two years ago at PTP. Since then, she has proceeded to fill it up (to maximum capacity on many pages) with great notes and insights that she’s read, heard in sermons, and thought of as she meditates on God’s word. I believe you can tell a lot about a person by looking at his or her Bible.

22. Her blog is great! You will be blessed by if it you head over there and read. She write quality, pertinent posts most every day.

23. She is my best friend. From the beginning, Emily and I have built our relationship upon mutual respect and best friendship. Because of that, we share everything – laughs and hurts. We truly enjoy each other’s company, and that makes life great.

24. She loves me unconditionally. Enough said.

25. Today is her birthday! And not just her birthday, but her quarter century celebration!

As you can tell, I am an extremely blessed guy. I’m so thankful for my wife, and for my heavenly Father Who put her in my life.