The Key to a Powerful Prayer Life

Image result for prayer

I believe in the power of prayer.  I believe that you believe in the power of prayer, or you probably wouldn’t invest the time to go to a prayer meeting, or to spend personal time in prayer.  I imagine that you could tell stories of answered prayers in your life, and you can probably quote some verses that refer to the power of prayer.  But let me challenge you to dig into a verse that gives one of the keys to a powerful prayer life.

In the last chapter of his epistle in the New Testament, James pens an entire passage that illustrates the power of prayer, when we are going through trials, when we are sick, or when we have sinned.  He even gives an example of a powerful prayer warrior named Elijah.  But all of these thoughts culminate in the phrase at the end of vs 16: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  Let’s dig into those words, and try to discover the key to a powerful prayer life.

Digging Into The Text

An important part of studying a text is to define the words, not so much in the secondary language (English), but in the words originally used by the author, and inspired by God Himself.

  • Effectual fervent – In English these are two words, but they are translated for a single word in Greek.  These two words appear in the KJV in other places, but are not always the same original word. James uses the word energeo, which means to work, function, produce, be in action.  In other parts of the KJV New Testament energeo has been translated “accomplish,” “brought about,” “effective,” ” effectually worked,” “performs … work,” and “works.”  The idea is pretty clear.  James is referring to prayer that actually accomplishes things, that gets things done in the spiritual realm.
  • Availeth – The word James used is ischyo, which means to be strong, powerful, mighty; to be capable of, to be healthy.  In other New Testament places it is translated into English as “able,” “strong enough,” can do,” “healthy,” “overpowered.”  That power and potential is intensified by the word “much,” (Gk poly: many, much).  In other words, prayer can reach a place of great power, tremendous might, incredible strength.
  • Righteous man – These two words also come from a single Greek word: dikaios.  It speaks of a person who is righteous, just, and upright before God.  It speaks of someone’s personal relationship with God.  The other phrases in this verse revolve around this one, point back to this one.

So, as we bring these words and definitions together, we see that prayer has unbelievable power and potential to accomplish great things, to perform unbelievable works, to be incredibly effective in someone’s life and in the Kingdom of God.  But here is the key: it all revolves around a person’s relationship and standing with God.  They key to a powerful prayer life is your own walk with God.

God Promises to Bless the Righteous

All throughout the Scriptures you read of promise after promise, blessing after blessing, that are directed at the righteous, the just, those who are upright before God.

  • Psalm 5:12 For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.
  • Psalm 34:15, 17, 19 The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. …The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. … Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.
  • Psalm 37:25 I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
  • Proverbs 11:28, 30 He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch. …The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.
  • Proverbs 15:6, 29 In the house of the righteous is much treasure: but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble. …The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
  • Proverbs 21:21 He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour.

There are so many more passages we could read, but you get the point.  There is a direct link between the righteous (those who pursue righteousness and godliness in their life) and the promises and blessings from God.  And those promises include your prayer life.

The term righteous does not speak of people who are perfect or sinless, but of those who have humbled themselves before God in repentance, and have been clothed by the righteousness of Jesus.  Righteousness always comes through repentance and faith, not just to be saved, but also to walk uprightly as a Christian.  These promises are for believers who walk in submission, obedience, and humility before the Lord Jesus Christ.

You want to have a powerful prayer life like Elijah?  A prayer life that gets amazing things done?  The most important thing you can do is examine your heart before God (Psalm 139:23-24).  So, how is your walk with God?  Perhaps before asking God to do anything for you, the best place to begin is by asking God to look inside you.  “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

A Message for America

A Message for America - Independence Day 2016 - title

Every Fourth of July, as we celebrate our Independence Day, we sing songs that celebrate the blessings of God upon America.

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

God Bless America

God bless America, land that I love, Stand beside her and guide her

Through the night with a light from above.

From the mountains, to the prairies,

To the oceans white with foam,

God bless America, My home sweet home.

Star Spangled Banner

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Even though I am an American, and can be biased, I believe it is safe to say that no nation in history has been blessed by God in the unique way that the United States of America has been.  This does not mean that we are God’s chosen nation (that title belongs only to the nation of Israel), nor that we are superior or of greater value than anyone else, but we have undoubtedly been one of God’s blessed nations.

God has blessed the USA, and has brought us through tragedy, conflict, war, and countless other challenges. But we make a serious mistake if we presume that God’s blessings on America will always be there, that He will bless us no matter what.  Nor can we go to the other extreme and begin to preach doom and gloom on America because we have drifted so incredibly far from God and the Bible.

I want to share with you a message that was first delivered to the nation of Israel, but that was also directed at any and all nations, including the USA. It is A Message for America.  It reminds us that the future of our nation, the future of God’s blessings, rests at the heart of our country.  And the key to turning our heart back to God is not found in politicians, lawmakers, and courtrooms.  It is found in the local church.  It is found in the Gospel (Jeremiah 18:1-10).

I love it when God uses object lessons to get His point across.  In these verses we find that God sent the prophet Jeremiah on a field trip.  He sent him down to the potter’s house, to watch this craftsman do his work (vs 1-2).  When Jeremiah got down there, he began watching the potter mold and shape a vessel out of clay.  At one point, the potter saw something he didn’t like in that vessel, so he lumped it together and started over.  Here was the key: the potter did whatever he wanted to do with the clay (vs 3-4).  That is when God began to make his point (vs 5-6). 

The LORD stated emphatically that He is the Potter, and the nation of Israel is the clay, and the LORD has every right to do as He pleases with this nation.  The clay has no rights to demand, or explanations to demand.

Romans 9:20–21 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

The LORD then makes a couple of statements that we, as Americans, but more importantly, as Christians, need to take to heart:

 

No matter how blessed a nation has been, it can forfeit God’s blessings (vs 9-10).

God says that even if a nation is on a positive trajectory, even if it has a positive track record, and is experiencing the blessings of God, it cannot presume or assume that those blessings will always be there no matter what.  God is not under any obligation to bless them, especially when they begin making choices against Him.  That is exactly what had happened to the nation of Israel.  King David had been graciously given amazing promises by God, promises of an eternal kingdom, and those blessings were experienced for generations.  But even Solomon, the wisest and most blessed man in human history, began to make choices and to walk a path that was contrary to the Word and will of God, and it was his son who would experience a civil war and the dividing of the nation.

There are those who presume that God is somehow on the hook to bless us, simply because we wave the “Red, White, and Blue,” or we travel with an American passport.  It is undeniable that God has blessed us indescribably as a nation, but we are foolish to presume or assume that those blessings will continue just because we are Americans, regardless of the paths that we choose.

As a church, we must also be careful not to presume that God’s blessings will always be upon us, no matter what we choose, how we walk or behave.  God has blessed Vandalia Baptist Temple in unbelievable ways over the past 60 years, but just because God has blessed, and is currently blessing, we can make choices that forfeit the blessings of God.  We can lose focus on what truly matters to God, and why we exist as a church, and God is not on the hook to continue blessing.  In fact, when we begin to focus more on ourselves, on our preferences, on our comforts, on our traditions, on “holding the fort,” and not on doing whatever it takes to reach our community, to make and multiply disciples, to plant multiplying churches, God can pull His hand of blessing back at any time.

The same is true of your life individually.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you have walked with God, pleased God, and served God in the past, and God has blessed you and your family for it, that God is somehow on the hook to continue to bless you for the rest of your life, regardless of the choices you are making today.  God does not owe you and me anything!  He is the Potter, we are nothing but clay.  When your life, heart, and attitude no longer are pleasing to God, you too can forfeit God’s blessings.  It is true of our nation, of our church, of our families, and of our own heart.  But the opposite is true as well:

 

No matter how evil a nation has been, it can obtain God’s blessings (vs 7-8).

There is never a shortage of doom-and-gloom prophets.  Of course, many people thought that that was what Jeremiah was in his day!  But the truth is, God is always a God of grace, and God is always willing to receive those who turn to Him, no matter how far they have strayed.  That was the situation in Israel.  God’s people had turned their back on God for generations, and were now experiencing the heavy hand of God’s judgment.  But God’s message was clear: any nation, even if it is on the path to destruction, even if it appears that all hope is lost, can once again obtain God’s blessings.  It was true of Israel.  It was true of Ninevah in Jonah’s day.  It is also true of America.

Yes, our nation has not just drifted away from God, it seems that we are on a sprint to run as far away from His Word, His values, and His principles as we possibly can.  We are calling right wrong, and wrong right; we are calling good evil, and evil good. 

Isaiah 5:20  Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

We are not just defying God’s Word, but we are celebrating it, and encouraging others who are doing so.  Christians get slaughtered around the country or around the world, and virtually nothing is said from our nation’s capital, but homosexuals are allowed to be recognized as “husband and wife,” and our White House gets decorated with the colors of the rainbow.  God-fearing Christians are called bigots, and Christian-hating liberals are called open-minded and tolerant.  Everything seems backwards, or upside down!  It’s like we are Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Cheshire Cat: “I’m not crazy. My reality is just different than yours.”

Sounds like America, doesn’t it?

That is why some Christians have virtually written America off when it comes to God’s blessings.  We are headed for condemnation and there’s no turning back.  Even extremist groups are pointing to every act of violence, every murder, every act of terrorism as the final judgment of God upon America.

But remember what God says here in Jeremiah.  Even if God has already set in motion a plan to pluck up, pull down, and destroy a nation, He is still willing to reverse course, hold back the judgment and extend grace, mercy, and blessings.  There is still hope!

That can also be said of a church.  Just like the churches in Revelation, even when a church has lost its first love for God and for lost souls, even when a church is experiencing tribulation and hardship, even when a church has compromised doctrinally, even when a church has not confronted sin in its midst, even when a church is dying and on its last legs, even when a church is spiritually lukewarm, there is still hope!  There is still a God-given opportunity to experience God’s blessings again, to experience revival, renewal, and rebirth.

Friend, the same is even true in your life.  I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, “I’m just too far gone.  I’ve done way too much.  You just don’t know or understand my past.  God would never accept me.  God would never forgive me.  God doesn’t want me.  I might as well just do whatever I want, because there’s no hope for me anyway.”  Friend, that may be how you honestly feel, but that doesn’t make it true.

The Bible says that even “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).  The Apostle Paul was the chief of sinners, a die-hard enemy of Jesus and enemy of Christians, and yet he experienced the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.  Even the thief on the Cross had his sins forgiven moments before he died, and personally met Jesus in paradise that very afternoon!  If you are alive, now matter how sinful you may be, Jesus stands ready to receive you, forgive you, and make you new, if you come to Him on His terms.

 

God’s blessings upon any nation are tied to its repentance.

What is it that makes such a difference in these nations?  What is it that turns a nation’s destruction and condemnation into blessing and restoration?  What is the key?  The turnaround happens when that nation “turns from their evil” (vs 8a), when they have a change of heart, a spiritual change of direction.

The Bible calls that “repentance.”  It involves a 180* turn, from following sin to following God, from choosing our way to choosing God’s way.  And when God sees that in the heart of a nation, He turns a curse into a blessing, condemnation into salvation.  It happened in Israel, it happened in Nineveh, and it has even been true in the United States.

Throughout our nation’s history, there have been key, pivotal moments that turned the tide, that changed everything, that brought the blessings of God upon our nation again and again.  Forty years before the Declaration of Independence, local churches, influenced by the powerful preaching of evangelists like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, were spreading the Gospel in towns and cities across the colonies and the frontier lands, from Philadelphia, to New York, to the southern cities.  Thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children were repenting of their sin, and turning to Jesus Christ for salvation, in a revival wave known as the Great Awakening.  These individuals understood the grace of God, the freedom found in the Gospel and in Jesus Christ, and the need for humility and brokenness before God.  It was that generation out of whom our Founding Fathers would emerge, leaving the imprint of Jehovah God in our founding documents, on our currency, and on our buildings and monuments.

Twenty-five years after the Declaration of Independence, a Second Great Awakening began to spread across the northeast and the Midwest, as local churches were impacting their communities and our nation was being changed from the bottom up, from the inside out.  This wave of spiritual repentance ushered in a movement that tackled social reforms, like the dangers of alcohol, the first seeds of the abolition of slavery, and women’s rights.  It wasn’t the result of reforms in Washington.  It was a nation being changed through the influence of the Gospel and local churches carrying out the Great Commission.

During the years before and after the Civil War, there was a Third Great Awakening, and this wave of spiritual repentance across our land led to denominational networks carrying out the work of God, and the growth of missionary work around the country and the world, including through the leadership of pastors like Dwight L. Moody in Chicago.

Then in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, following World War II, America experienced another explosion in evangelism and church planting across our country.  As our country was experiencing a cultural revolution, Gospel-preaching churches were growing by leaps and bounds, Bible colleges were in their hay-day, preachers were going out to plant churches, and missionaries were being sent all over the world, especially by fundamental Baptist churches.  It was during this wave that Vandalia Baptist Temple was planted by a preacher named Herman Bond.

Every wave of spiritual repentance in our country brought the blessings of God over and over.  You see, that is what God is looking for – even today!  The blessings of God upon our nation will not come as the result of the perfect bill or law in Washington.  We cannot hang our hopes and dreams on a politician or political party.  What God is looking for is repentance, in America, in the state of Ohio, in the greater Dayton area, and even at Vandalia Baptist Temple.  And when God sees people repent, and have broken hearts before God (even as Christians and churches), He sends His blessings.

Luke 5:32  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Acts 3:19  Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord

Acts 17:30  And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

Acts 20:21  Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Revelation 2:5  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

But you see, repentance is a response to hearing and understanding the Gospel.  And the spreading of the Gospel lies in the hands of the local church.  It is the local church that is the hope of America and the hope of the world.

That is why the ministry of the local church is so important.  That is why the mission is so urgent.  That is why we are passionately committed to building bridges to every generation, culture, and community with the Gospel.  That is why we are asking you to continually invite your friends, neighbors, and community to come to church and hear the Word of God.  That is why we are asking you to help us go into other communities, as our church is about to do in Old North Dayton, to love and serve people, to shine for Jesus, and one day, maybe even plant a new church there.  That is why we are taking our kids VBS outreach, not just to the walls of our own facilities, but also over to a local apartment complex, and then over to a local city park.  We are going where people are who need to hear and understand the Gospel.  Church, it’s on us!

As Christians in America we have got to stop blaming unbelievers for the condition of our country.  We have got to stop blaming “sinners” for acting like “sinners.”  We have got to stop thinking that if we yell loud enough, or argue strongly enough, or post enough rants on social media, that people who are “dead in their trespasses and their sins” are somehow going to get their act together and begin acting like the salt and light that our world needs.

What our nation needs, in order to restore and preserve God’s amazing blessings, comes back to our very existence as a local church.  It doesn’t matter how blessed we have been in the past, if we aren’t walking in repentance and humility today, we can forfeit God’s blessings.  It doesn’t matter how far we may have drifted from God, individually, as a church, or as a nation, there is still hope to experience the blessings of God.  But it all comes back to that one word: repentance.

If you, as a Christian and church member, are not currently engaged in the cause of the Kingdom, in reaching lost souls with the Gospel, then what God is looking for from you today is genuine, humble brokenness and repentance.  Our community and nation needs a change of heart, and you have the answer.  Nothing in your life is more important than the eternal souls of people – in your family, in your community, in our region, in our country, and around the world.  Maybe God is calling you to get re-engaged in ministry.  Maybe God is calling some of you to be preachers and church planters (around the region, country, or world).  God entrusted the Gospel to the local church, to you and me.

But perhaps you have an even greater need today.  You aren’t experiencing God’s blessing upon your life, because there has never been a point in your life in which you genuinely repented of your sins and turned in faith to follow Jesus.  Maybe you look the part on the outside, but there’s never been a change of heart.  Until that happens, nothing you try and do or change is going to work.  You will still remain broken and lost before God.  What you need is to respond to the Gospel, to God’s invitation, and come to Him for forgiveness of sin and eternal life in Heaven.

God’s message to Israel in Jeremiah’s day, is God’s message to America today.  But more importantly, it is God’s message to you and me.  Will you respond to God’s voice and calling today?

WBF President’s Post: A New Beginning

I feel deeply humbled and honored to have been asked to serve the World Baptist Fellowship as your President.  Even though it was something that was never in my mind and heart, I am willing to serve our pastors and churches in seeking God’s vision for the coming years of our Fellowship.

I love the World Baptist Fellowship!  I understand that it is not the only family of fundamental Baptist churches and pastors, but it is my family, and for many of you, it is your family.  It was always an honor to represent the WBF as a missionary around the country and overseas, and it is still an honor to now be involved as the pastor of a stateside church.

From our roots as the World Fundamental Baptist Missionary Fellowship, we have stood for the fundamental doctrines of Scripture, such as the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, and the imminent, bodily return of Jesus.  We have also been a Fellowship that is passionate about world missions and church planting.  As you find within many of our local churches, we are a very diverse network of churches and pastors, with varied views and convictions on certain matters, and yet united around the greatest purposes in the Kingdom of God.  I tell our congregation all the time:  Our differences are not liabilities to get rid of; they are assets, blessings and benefits that we need to celebrate.  In fact, the entire message of the Gospel is about all different genders, nationalities, ethnic groups, cultures, languages and generations brought together by the Cross of Jesus.  Our unity, despite our diversity, is what displays the power of the Gospel to the world.

As President, I want to hear from you.  I am praying for God to give us a clear vision and some God-sized initiatives that we can rally around and partner together on to make an eternal difference.  Some of these initiatives include:

  • Restoring the function and leadership of the Fellowship Board
  • Creating a WBF website and social media presence
  • Opening an account to fund our Fellowship projects
  • Launching a Top O’ Hill Restoration Fund
  • Seeking sponsorships for pastors of church plants and struggling churches to attend our national meetings
  • Developing our church planting network to give church planters far greater access to resources and assistance

I am forever grateful for our past and heritage as the World Baptist Fellowship.  We truly stand on the shoulders of giants.  However, I have no desire to relive or recreate the past.  I want to faithfully and passionately serve the Lord and His Kingdom in my generation, and intentionally serve the generation to come.  Will you join me in seeking God’s vision for the World Baptist Fellowship?  I can’t wait to see what God has in store!

How Much Is Too Much?

Indigenous missions – the ultimate goal of the church-planting missionary.  Every missionary-in-training has learned to describe an indigenous church as self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting.  The question is not so much, “What is our goal?”  The question is, “How do we reach it?”  There are about as many answers to that question as there are missionaries.  In fact, how we answer that question will describe our philosophy of ministry.

If one of our primary goals is to establish a church that is self-supporting, how much resources should the foreign missionary provide?  There are missionaries who advocate no financial involvement whatsoever – the nationals should do it all.  The idea is that the nationals should learn to support the work and carry the full responsibility from the very beginning.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are missionaries who build an enormous enterprise of churches and/or national pastors, which relies almost exclusively on foreign funds (primarily from the United States).

Surely the answer lies, as in all areas of life and ministry, in a balance of both extremes.  Missionaries at times have misspent valuable years of ministry waiting for nationals to “learn” something they have been taught in principle (generosity, sacrifice, giving, faith), but have never seen or witnessed in their “pastor.”  At the same time, there have been large ministries that crumble when the foreign missionary and his funds are no longer present.

There are definitely no “pat answers” or rules that apply to every ministry, culture or circumstance regarding this issue.  So what do we do?  How should we approach our ministry?  When should we “pay the bill” and when should we abstain?  Here are some questions to consider as you seek to answer these questions in your ministry context:

  • What example am I setting to my church members (I Peter 5:3)?  King David sacrificed greatly and personally to build the Temple before asking the Israelites to take part and follow his example (I Chronicles 29:2-5).

  • What example am I setting to future national pastors?  The missionary is often the only example they have of personal sacrifice and commitment.

  • Does my involvement lead my church members to look to me or to God when they face a financial challenge (I Corinthians 2:3-5; II Corinthians 4:7)?

  • Am I just teaching about faith or am I demonstrating it (I Corinthians 11:1)?  Our greatest influence will be through what we model, not what we teach.

  • What would the long-term repercussions be if my financial support were no longer available?  The adjustment will always be difficult, but it should not cripple the work.

Only the LORD can help us answer these questions in our particular circumstance and ministry.  May He give each of His servants wisdom and discernment.  The indigenous work depends on it.

How have you faced these challenges?  What have you found to be a healthy balance?  Take a moment and share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Preacher, Be Relevant!

The pulpits in so many churches are out of touch.  Preachers are spending time and energy preparing and delivering sermons that answer questions that nobody is asking!  It has nothing to do with theology or hermeneutical accuracy.  It has to do with people hearing a sermon and wondering, “So what?  What does that have to do with what I am going through?”

The tragedy is that it leads people to think that the Bible is not relevant to their lives.  That church is not relevant to their lives.  Preacher, as you prepare to deliver God’s Word this Sunday, remember a few things:

It’s not about:

  • Displaying your theological education
  • Giving biblical head knowledge
  • Showing impressive oratory skills
  • Getting as many “amens” as possible
Preacher, you need to seek God’s face, dig into God’s Word, plead for God’s power, so you can:
  • Address the actual fears, hurts, and struggles that the people are facing
  • Show how Jesus is the true answer to each of those
  • Give people specific ways to respond to God and His Word
I have heard that preachers should prepare their sermons in order to answer three questions:
  1. “What?” What is the biblical text actually saying?
  2. “So what?” How is it important and relevant to my life today?
  3. “Now what?” What am I supposed to do now?
Preacher, be relevant!  Those who come to God’s House are hungry to hear from Him.  They are needy, broken and hurting.  They need to hear from Jesus.  Will you point them to Him?
What steps do you take to try and stay relevant as a preacher?  What are some things you try to avoid?  I would love to hear you thoughts in the comment section below.

 

Advice for New Preachers

I thank God for new preachers! They are our hope for ongoing, next generation Gospel ministry. Those of us experienced in ministry have a responsibility to pour into the next generation, and create avenues for them to develop and use their spiritual gift and calling.
I remember what it was like when I first began preaching, about 25 years ago (I was 15; do the math!).  When you are just starting out as a preacher, you often face (or at least, feel) certain pressures:
  1. Challenging and educating those who are mostly older than you
  2. Establishing your credibility as a preacher
  3. Having several good and memorable points to make
  4. Being taken seriously….
  5. Not making a fool of yourself!
I could list many more.  But the reality is, you don’t need to worry about accomplishing those things. If I could give you a few things to focus on, it would be these:
  1. Be humble and respectful.  Avoid coming across like an arrogant know-it-all.  Respect the fact that most of those you are speaking to have years (or decades) more experience in life and in the Christian walk.
  2. Stick to a single, main point.  It is far better to communicate, illustrate and drive home one powerful point, than to try and elaborate effectively on several.  Chances are, they will only remember one thing anyway!
  3. Focus on encouraging, not educating.  Even though it feels intimidating to address your elders or peers, just remember that virtually everyone listening to you is facing hurt, discouragement and fear.  We are all broken, and just need some encouragement from God’s Word.  Don’t try to come up with some original, memorable content that nobody has ever heard of before.  Just remind us of the simple, eternal truths that we need to hear over and over again.
  4. Look presentable. If you want to be taken seriously, show that you take your appearance seriously.  If you don’t take the time for acceptable grooming, hygiene, and clothing (in whatever context you are preaching), why should we take seriously the spiritual truths you want to share?
I am assuming you are already praying and seeking God’s direction and strength for your message.  I am assuming you understand that it’s not about you, but about God and His Word.  If not, please don’t go any further!  But if God has called you to preach, and you have been given an opportunity to do so, then just open your heart, open God’s Word, and be God’s messenger to a world that needs to hear from Him.
What other pressures do you feel as a new preacher?  What advice would you share with those in their early years? Leave a comment in the section below!

Help! I Need A Furlough

There is no feeling like feeling helpless. You are in a situation that must change, but you are powerless to do anything about it. If the situation becomes prolonged, the feeling of helplessness can turn into stress, desperation, and even resentment. Something must be done.

Missionaries around the world have approached their time for furlough, after spending three or four years on their present term, but they cannot leave the field. Their families need furlough. Their emotional strength is draining. Their supporting churches need visiting, but there is no one to take the work while they are gone. The work is not ready to become indigenous. Some missionaries have left their work for a year, only to return to a work that has fallen apart. They must begin all over again. To avoid this, some missionaries have gone six or seven years (or more) without a furlough.  What can be done?  What are some options that missionaries can consider?

  • Turn the work over to a national pastor – This is what every missionary wants to do before he leaves for furlough, but this is often not possible, because there is no one qualified or reliable.

  • Turn the work over to a fellow missionary – This is a great option, but is only possible if there are other missionaries, and if they are available to leave their present work or carry the load of both works.

  • Request assistance from a retired pastor – We have seen this work in fields that are English-speaking. However, with a qualified translator on hand, perhaps it could be an option in other countries as well.

  • Arrange monthly visits from another missionary or national pastor – If the work is far enough along that a lay leader can conduct Bible studies or even preach, this can be a workable alternative. The church can carry on temporarily and still receive spiritual guidance on a regular basis from a more mature and experienced pastor.

  • Take shorter terms and shorter furloughs – This is an option that has becoming more and more popular in recent years. For example, instead of four-year terms and one-year furloughs, some are taking two-year terms and four- to six-month furloughs. It has many advantages: the work is not left for such long time, the missionary family can see relatives on a more frequent basis, furloughs are not so draining on the family, and other missionaries can commit to helping for a shorter time.

There are no “pat answers” or perfect ways to take a furlough. Every term is different; every mission field is different. However, if one can plan ahead, there are often more options than one realizes. But that is key: plan ahead.

There are no convenient times to take a furlough. There will always be things to be done. There will often be a price that is paid in the work. However, we must remember that it is the Lord’s work and He will care for His people – even in our absence. We must be diligent in preparing ahead for when furlough time comes, then trust the work to His care. Whatever your situation, the Lord will work it out in His time.

What furlough options have you found to be helpful? Share them in the comments below.

Defeating Discouragement As A Missionary

Weeks have passed. Sometimes months. It seems like an eternity since you’ve seen someone saved in your ministry. You’ve been faithful to preach, teach, hold activities and witness. Yet “nothing” is happening.

Then the questions come: What am I doing wrong? Why isn’t anyone responding? What am I going to report to my supporters? Will anyone drop us? Why am I not having the same results as that other missionary? The questions can be haunting.

John Maxwell, respectfully called the Leader’s Leader, writes that discouragement comes when we:

  • Feel that opportunity for success is gone

  • Become selfish

  • Are not immediately successful in our attempts to do something

  • Lack purpose and a plan

(The Winning Attitude, 1993)

No matter what may be the source of your discouragement, the effects are the same. You feel powerless and lack motivation. These are the times when our beliefs are put to the test. These are the times when we must insist on acting as we should and thinking as we should. These are the times when we must be driven by our faith that God only blesses obedience and is always in control. When you are plagued by discouragement:

  1. Stay active – Standing still only postpones victory and makes us vulnerable. The rewards only come “if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

  2. Guard your thoughts – Don’t let yourself think things that are clearly unbiblical (Philippians 4:8). Submit “every thought” to Christ’s approval (II Corinthians 10:5). This is where the battle is won or lost.

  3. Don’t compare – If you are tempted to compare, or fear others comparing you, remember that God says that those who do so “are not wise” (II Corinthians 10:12).

  4. Keep learning – Don’t get stuck in a rut and cling to failing ideas. Learn from others. Find positive examples to model. “Prove [examine] all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21).

What have you found that has been helpful in defeating discouragement? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

What Easter Says To You

What Easter Says To You - Easter 2016

Have you ever gone somewhere, or maybe watched an event or a show on TV, that everybody is going nuts over, and you’re there thinking, “I don’t get it”? “Other people are so excited about it, but what’s the big deal?” That’s how I feel when I watch NASCAR. That’s how some people feel when they watched the movie Napoleon Dynamite. It’s the feeling I get when my kids ask me to play Mancala.

Now be honest: Have you ever felt that way after going to church? You see people sing the songs, you hear the preacher preach, people get excited, some even cry, and hey, it’s fine for them, but you just don’t get it. It’s not your “cup of tea.” Maybe for you, when it comes to the whole church thing, even the Easter thing, you can take it or leave it. You would just as soon sleep in, or go fishing, or clean your house.

I don’t want this Easter to be one of those times that you go to church, hear some Bible verses, but not really grasp how Easter impacts your life every day, your family, your relationships, your work. As you open the Bible and read some of the accounts of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, which was a historical event that took place 2000 years ago outside Jerusalem in Israel, I want to share with you four statements that summarize what Easter says to you. These four statements can radically change your life. The first thing that Easter says to you is:

God loves you (Luke 22:63-65; 23:1-47)

You may have seen movies, documentaries, theater productions, or even works of art that try to depict the physical and emotional pain and agony that Jesus endured when He was tortured, beaten, whipped, and mutilated, and then nailed to a Roman cross of crucifixion – the most brutal form of execution that the Roman Empire could devise. The sole purpose of of crucifixion was to send a message to the masses: “Don’t mess with Rome.”

But the reality is, you and I can’t even begin to comprehend the suffering of Jesus. It went far beyond physical and emotional pain. The Bible says that when Jesus, with His mutilated body, was hanging on that cross, He took upon His innocent, holy, pure soul the sins of all mankind, of all humanity, past, present, and future. “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21). Every sin you have ever committed, every lie you have told, every lustful thought that has been in your mind, every sexually vile thing you have done with your body, every harmful substance you have put into your body, every hateful, unkind, rude word that your tongue has spoken, every act of violence and anger that you have committed – every single, filthy thing you have done or thought – was all placed upon Jesus that day.

In fact, Jesus became those things in the eyes of God the Father, the Judge of all the Universe, and God the Father couldn’t take it any longer, couldn’t watch and see such disgusting things on that Cross, so for the first and only time in all eternity, God the Father turned His eyes away from His precious Son. It was at that moment that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, what hast thou forsaken me?” And for three long hours, the sun was covered over and there was absolute darkness all over the earth in the middle of the day. The innocent Lamb of God had just taken upon Himself the sin of the world.

There is only one motivating force that drove Jesus to do such a thing: HE LOVES YOU.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Hebrews 12:2a Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.

You may think that nobody loves you. You may feel like your Dad or Mom doesn’t love you. Your husband or wife may not love you anymore. You may feel like you have no friends who love you any more – but listen: God loves you! And God’s love is not based upon your performance, or living up to somebody’s expectations – it is absolutely unconditional. He loves you for you. He created you! You can’ t ever mess up so badly that God won’t forgive you, receive you, and accept you – as long as you come to Him on His terms.

If you ever doubt God’s love – just look back at the Cross (John 15:13)! Long before you ever sinned, and messed up your life so badly, and did whatever it is you think is unforgiveable, God knew about it, He saw it, and yet He died for you anyway. Friend, if Easter says anything to you, please listen to me: GOD LOVES YOU!

He created you to be with Him forever. Yes, your sin will keep you away from God, and it will condemn you to Hell if it’s not handled God’s way – but God knew what it would cost Him, and He paid the price anyway. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. But Easter has so much more to say to you. Easter also tells you that:

Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 24:1-12, 36-40)

Oh, how I wish I could have been there! These men and women saw Jesus’ dead body. They saw Him placed in that borrowed tomb. They saw that empty tomb three days later. And then, they met the living Jesus face to face! They embraced Jesus, ate with Jesus, even doubting Thomas was asked to touch Jesus’ hands, feet, and side. The Bible later says that Jesus physically, personally appeared to over 500 people at one time – during the 40 days that Jesus walked the earth after coming back from the dead.

Jesus faced the most impossible of all situations – He experienced death itself. He died – it was physically and scientifically unmistakable and undeniable! But then, of His own power, Jesus did exactly what He predicted He would do. Three days later He rose again! Jesus, of His own power, came back to life. His sin-cursed body was miraculously transformed into a glorified Body (like we will have in Heaven), and walked right out of that tomb! His burial clothes were left laying there in that stone cave, with his head covering neatly folded off to the side. It was amazing! And then an angel from Heaven came down and powerfully rolled the stone away from the cave entrance – not to let Jesus out, but to let all those witnesses in! Listen, friend, Jesus is alive today!

Jesus faced the most impossible situation and overcame it. That should send you a clear message this morning: NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD. The resurrection of Jesus offers you hope and victory, no matter how impossible the situation is that you are facing. Whether it involves finances, relationships, employment, personal failure, disease, even death, the resurrection of Jesus proves that you will never face anything that God can’t handle, that God can’t get you through, that God can’t overcome. If you ever begin to doubt it, just look at the empty tomb!

Sure, you can’t handle it on your own – but you’re not supposed to! God invites you to cast “all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Jesus also said,: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (Jn 11:25). Listen: if you will turn to Jesus today in repentance of your sin, and in faith in Him – no matter how messed up your life is, no matter how bad you think you’ve blown it, no matter how impossible you think it is for God to forgive you and take you to Heaven when you die – if you will just come to God on His terms, Jesus will come into your life, He will forgive you of all your sin, and give you all the power, strength, and provision you need to face and overcome even the most impossible of situations. With Jesus in your life, you are never alone. With Jesus in your life, you are never powerless. With Jesus in your life, nothing is impossible. Turn to Him, call out to Him, trust in Him, turn that burden over to Him today!

Easter also tells us a third thing:

The Bible can be trusted (Luke 24:41-46)

The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate proof that the Bible is the Word of God, and can be trusted with your life, your soul, and your eternity. Jesus Himself predicted that this would happen.

Matthew 16:21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.

Nothing that happened on Easter was a coincidence. Every detail had been spelled out by Jesus and throughout the Old Testament for hundreds of years. The prophet Isaiah wrote in detail about it 700 years before it happened. King David wrote psalms about it 1000 years before it happened. But you can go back to the very beginning of human history, 4000 years before Jesus, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve first fell into sin and brought a spiritual curse on all humanity. In that Garden God promised that a Savior would be sent to conquer the evil schemes of Satan.

When the resurrected Jesus met with those disciples, He pointed back to the Bible and showed them that all of this was prophesied in the Law of Moses, in the psalms, and in the prophets – and it all pointed to Jesus. Then He opened their understanding so they could understand the Scriptures, that they it all pointed to the Gospel, that they all pointed to Jesus.

My friend, the Bible can be trusted. The Bible is not just a historical piece of literature, as the secularists of today want to fool you into thinking. The Bible is not some irrelevant work of mythology that just happens to be our preferred choice of entertainment. The Bible has stood the test of time. The Bible has survived every attempt throughout history to destroy its existence. It continues to be proven and verified over and over by science, archeology, technology, biology, astronomy, sociology, and history. But the greatest proof that Jesus is who He said He is, that what the Bible says is true, is the indisputable fact of the resurrection, of Easter.

When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me,” He can be trusted. When the Bible says that it is appointed unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment, it can be trusted. When the Bible says, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” it can be trusted. When the Bible says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” it can be trusted!

The Bible can be trusted! Therefore, it must be the road map for our life, our marriage, our relationships, our financial decisions, and our spiritual, moral, and ethical values and priorities. The Bible must not be a paperweight on your coffee table, or a dust collector on your book shelf and night stand. The Bible ought to be the most often used item in your home and in your life. Christian, if you can claim to believe the Bible, to believe the Gospel, and to know Jesus – if you aren’t faithfully and regularly reading your Bible, there is something wrong. Your actions are telling you that your trust is somewhere else. But Easter reminds us, among many other things, that the Bible can be trusted. Do you trust it – for real? Finally, Easter also tells us that:

The world needs to hear this (Luke 24:46-48)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the message of Easter, was never intended to be just for a privileged few. It was never intended for the Elite 12, or the hundreds of first-hand eyewitnesses. The purpose of the Gospel is not complete until the message is taken to the world.

Jesus had to suffer and die. Jesus had to rise from the dead the third day. Why? So that the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins through a relationship with Jesus could be preached literally to “all nations.” Literally, to every ethnic group, culture, and people of all the world. Yes, it was start in Jerusalem, but was to extend to the ends of the earth. And it is born-again followers of Jesus that are responsible for witnessing and sharing this message with others (Acts 1:8).

Easter reminds us that the world needs to hear this! There are over 7.2 billion people on planet earth right now, most of which have never heard, or truly received, the Gospel, the Good News of forgiveness and salvation that Jesus is offering to anyone who will repent and believe. These people are literally one heartbeat away from dying in their sins, condemned to spend eternity without Jesus, in the Hell that God created for Satan and his demons.

Over 150,000 people die each and every day, and most will not have heard the true message of Jesus. It is very likely that there are people in this room who have never truly repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. It is on us as born-again followers of Jesus to share that message.

Easter is not just about singing, clapping, and saying “amen” to a familiar message. It’s about remembering that the world desperately needs to hear this message so they can be saved (Rom 10:13-15). Our family needs to hear. Our friends need to hear. Our neighbors need to hear. There is way too much at stake.

You may have someone in your life that is driving you crazy talking about Jesus, inviting you to church, bringing up spiritual topics. Maybe it’s your husband, wife, Dad, Mom, kids, friends, neighbor. If you’re honest, you just wish they would back off! Let me be honest with you. The next time you start getting frustrated with them, you need to understand why they are doing it. The reason is that they love you, and can’t bear the thought of being in Heaven without you. They know they aren’t any better than you. But they also know that Jesus is your only hope.

If you’re a Christian, you have a responsibility to share the message of Easter, to share the Gospel. If you aren’t a Christian yet, then today you need to get things right with God. Confess your sin to God in prayer and invite Jesus into your life. Receive His gift of salvation, which is free to you, but that cost Him His life. But it was a price He was glad to pay because He loves you, and created you to be with Him forever.

I hope you don’t finish reading this and walk away saying, “I don’t get it.” “What’s the big deal?” My prayer is that right now you would make a choice, a specific, personal decision. My prayer is that you would listen to God’s voice and not tune Him out. My prayer is that you will push past your pride and fear, and give your life to Jesus. If there has a been a time and a place that you already repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus for salvation, then maybe today you need to bow your knee, and turn some of your burdens over to Jesus. Maybe you need to commit to reading God’s Word regularly again. Maybe you need to commit to being baptized, or taking the steps necessary to join a local, Bible-based church. Maybe you need to spend some time praying for that unsaved loved one in your life.

But if there has never been a specific time and place in which you prayed, confessed your sin to God, and trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then I plead with you, make that decision today. Whatever you do, don’t turn your back on the One who loves you and died for you.

Easter says “God loves you.” “Nothing is impossible with God.” “The Bible can be trusted.” “The world needs to hear this.” This Easter, what is God saying to you? And what are you going to do about it?

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