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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Three Growing Trends In World Missions

It is fascinating to observe the changes that are occurring in world missions, both in the United States and around the world. The ever-changing realities of the world we are seeking to reach with the Gospel are forcing pastors and churches to have to re-think their strategies to accomplish our God-given mission. As fundamental Baptists, our core principles remain the same when it comes to world missions: indigenous church planting. Our objective within the United States, and as we send missionaries internationally, is to plant churches that are self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating (reproducing).

The challenge is: How do we do it effectively? The models and systems that proven successful in times past are not necessarily as effective today. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am intrigued to see a few growing trends in world missions, even among independent Baptists. I share these, not as an endorsement, but to challenge our thinking as pastors, missionaries, and missions-minded believers. Here are three growing trends I am seeing:

Church-based ministry training

I believe that there will always be a place for traditional academic institutions to provide quality education, both in ministry and in other vocational fields. However, the biblical reality is that the primary responsibility of equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry falls upon the local church (Ephesians 4). Those of us in the pastorate have a responsibility, especially toward those who feel called to ministry, to equip them doctrinally and ministerially, to provide both education and experience. That is why we are seeing more and more church planters and foreign missionaries who are being trained “in house” through local-church Bible institutes and structured internship programs. The challenge of this approach may include a lack of an accredited, academic degree when seeking a religious visa by a foreign government. The benefits include far less time and resources spent in getting missionaries and church planters to their place of service, and more effective hands-on church experience.

Smaller, specialized sending agencies

I believe that there is still tremendous benefit for churches to work together in supporting mission agencies that reflect our values and priorities, that interview and vet potential candidates regarding their beliefs and principles, and that defend the authority of local churches. However, in recent years there has been an unmistakable trend in smaller agencies being formed to reach a targeted need. Some of these sending agencies focus on a particular people group or region of the world. Others focus on a particular strategy in world missions. These sending agencies seem to be very small and streamlined, often led by a pastor or small group of individuals, and do not seek to exclude larger mission agencies. The challenge is that these agencies (and their leaders) are not always known and trusted on a broader scale, therefore the endorsement of the church planter carries less weight than a larger, more recognized agency. The benefits are that they do not require much financial overhead or operating costs, and they can focus their attention and resources more effectively.

Emphasis on trade skills

In the United States we call it “bi-vocational” church planting. In foreign missions it is referred to as “tent-making” missions. Those who are called to preach the Gospel and plant churches in a particular area are seeing the benefits of having certified training in specific trades and practical skills. Some have formal training in education, business or engineering, while others have certifications in construction, graphic design, or technology. On the home front, it allows church planters to support themselves financially, while building relationships and credibility within the community they are seeking to reach. On a global setting, it opens doors for missionaries to get into particular fields on non-religious visas, or to powerfully serve some of the serious social and cultural needs of a people group whom they are called to reach. The challenge is that the implementation of these skill sets can end up consuming valuable time that cannot be given toward structured evangelism and discipleship efforts. The benefits (ironically) are that they can create greater opportunities for evangelism and discipleship, and can create access where traditional religious training cannot.

Whether we like these trends or not, they are clearly taking place. I see them through the many missionaries and church planters that contact me for support. I see them through the testimonies of pastors and missionaries who are thinking “out of the box” and making some great strides in world missions. Our objective must be clear and unchanging: planting indigenous churches. Our methods, models, and strategies, however, require wisdom, constant evaluation, and direction from the Lord. What trends are you seeing in world missions?