“My Church”


Make no mistake about it, the church is the Lord’s. Jesus promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18). We are his people and the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:3). And yet, there is a very real sense that the church is ours. “We are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).

Over the years of talking with people, I have always been attentive to the pronouns that people use in talking about the church where I pastor. Those on the outside of the church often talk about “your church.” Those on the inside often talk about “our church.” But there are exceptions.

I’m saddened when those attending the church talk about “your church.” It shows that they haven’t embraced the idea that they are a part of what God is doing in this local place. They may attend. They may have some friends at the church. Their names may be in the directory. But, ultimately, they haven’t become a part of the body. It’s still somebody else’s church.

But I love it when I hear people talk about “my church.” It shows that they have taken responsibility upon themselves for the well-being of the church. They have transitioned from being spectators to servants. Ultimately, as believers in Jesus Christ, this is what we are. We are servants of his church.

Heart Transplant


I have a friend who was born with a heart defect. His life has been filled with hospital visits and surgeries and medicine. In recent days, things have turned for the worst. He is now on the heart transplant list. In order to live, he needs a new heart. He is in the hospital now and won’t be coming home unless he receives a new heart.

It has been interesting to pray for my friend, because a new heart will only come through the death of another. He needs a new heart to live. But this heart can only come when another dies. So how do you pray? Do you pray for someone else to die so that my friend can live?

This is a great picture of the gospel. We all are born with bad hearts. We need new hearts. But a new heart can only come through the death of another. The good news is this: Jesus died to give us a new heart. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). The death of Jesus gave us a new heart with new desires.

This is what the prophesy of Ezekiel foretold. “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). We all need new hearts.


Backing In


I was recently listening to one of my favorite podcasts, “Planet Money.”  The show was entitled, “Tips from Spies.” The folks at Planet Money talked with a former spy, a former C. I. A. employee, and a journalist who isn’t a spy, but covers spy-related activities for the media.

One of the tips that the journalist gave is something that she has learned by talking with intelligence personnel: she always backs into parking spots. Her reasoning is simple: “So that you can get out of a bad situation fast.” In acknowledging her practice, she laughed when admitting that she “never once been called to make a running getaway. But I wait for the moment.”

This is a helpful illustration of how to be ready for temptations that come. Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). What a great promise! God tells us that no temptation comes our way without a provided way of escape.

That escape may be through the Scriptures (see Matthew 4:1-11). It may be through the warning of others. It may be through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.  But it is incumbent upon us to be ready and aware of the escape route. We may need “to get out of a bad situation fast.” It’s good to have a habit of “backing in.”

The Best Sermon


From time to time, people in the congregation will come up to me after a Sunday morning service, saying, “That was the best sermon you have ever preached!” I know that these words have been spoken as an encouragement of how the Lord is using me in their lives. However, it has often felt more discouraging than encouraging.

I have been discouraged because I think of what their statement implies about the many of other messages they have heard me preach. I think of how lousy those sermons must have been for this particular message to be categorized as “the best.” However, one verse in the Bible has helped me to receive these words as encouragement.

Paul wrote to Timothy, a young and often discouraged pastor, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:15). In the context, Paul was talking about Timothy’s public ministry. He was talking about the public reading of Scripture, his exhortations to the congregation, and his teaching of the church (1 Timothy 4:13).

Paul directed Timothy to aim for progress, not perfection. The goal is for those in the church to see Timothy’s growth in his shepherding of the flock. When I remember this, I’m not so discouraged whenever I preach a sermon that seemingly tops all of the rest. It shows my progress as a pastor.

Sadly, I don’t hear this every week. That’s because spiritual progress is often difficult and slow. But I’m encouraged whenever it is obvious to others.


The Success Sequence


There is a natural sequence in life that will help work toward your success. It is summed up with four words: School, Job, Marriage, and Children (in that order). In other words, if you finish your schooling (or at least high school), then secure a job, then get married, and then have children, your probability of economic success is high. But if you live “out of sequence” in any way (i.e. having children before marriage) financial hardship will be more likely.

I have observed this for many years. I have seen many of those who have lived their lives “out of sequence,” struggle greatly financially. Life is hard as a single mother. Life is hard when you return to school with a family. Life is hard when your education level limits your employment opportunities. Furthermore, such a sequence is fully consistent with biblical teaching.

While I have known this for many years, I have recently heard of some studies that have confirmed this through research. For instance, in a recent report by the American Enterprise Institute (http://aei.org) and the Institute for Family Studies (https://ifstudies.org/), Wendy Wang and W. Bradford Wilcox summarize their findings:

Finally, 97% of Millennials who follow what has been called the “success sequence”—that is, who get at least a high school degree, work, and then marry before having any children, in that order—are not poor by the time they reach their prime young adult years (ages 28-34). … In contrast, 53% of young adults who did not follow this sequence at all are in poverty” (https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/IFS-MillennialSuccessSequence-Final.pdf).

Opponents of these studies have rightly pointed out that the above study has demonstrated correlation, rather than causation. In other words, just because the vast majority of those who followed this sequence escape poverty, it doesn’t follow that this sequence caused the economic prosperity. They are quick to point out that there are other factors at work, such as family support and economic status of parents, which make it is easier for young people to follow this sequence. It may be, they argue, that the other factors are stronger correlations to financial success.

Whatever the cause, it would be foolish to ignore the correlation. So I encourage you to teach your children these four words: School, Job, Marriage and Children. Ingrain the success sequence into their hearts. If they follow your counsel, they will be on the path to prosperity.


Perry’s Eclipse


As a little boy, I remember visiting my uncle Perry (or more properly, my father’s cousin). We loved to visit him because he had a swimming pool poured right into the foundation of his house! That means that we got to swim in his basement! He was a very successful and forward-thinking man, always full of stories.

There was one story that captured my attention more than all of the others. It was a story that I heard every time that I visited him. It was the story of his plans for his hundredth birthday. He said that there was going to be a solar eclipse on that day and that he was inviting the entire family to come and watch it with him.

He had the party all planned out. All from the family who wanted to come were welcome. He was planning to reserve some rooms for all who showed up. He was also planning to rent an airplane just in case it was overcast on that day. He wanted to take every precaution possible to see the eclipse. He delighted in telling that story. Perhaps that’s why he told it so often.

Perry was born on August 21, 1917. The solar eclipse that he was telling us about all those years will take place this Monday, on August 21, 2017. I have known about this eclipse for more than forty years! To me and my family, this is “Perry’s Eclipse.”

Sadly, Perry’s life came up short. He passed away when he was 93 years-old. So he won’t be able to see his eclipse. But I will remember him on that day. I will also tell the story to my children of how Perry was longing to see what we see on that day.

There is a future event that is far more spectacular than any solar eclipse. It is the longing and hope of all Christians. It is the appearing of Jesus our Lord. Now, unlike the solar eclipses, we don’t know when he will return. But we know that it will be glorious. Jesus told us that his coming would be like lightning across the entire sky (Matthew 24:27). He said that he would come “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).

Those who are his children will see that day and rejoice in that day. The apostle John wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Those who are his children will prepare for that day. “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). What a day that will be!



Worship and Community


On vacation this summer, we had the opportunity to attend a few churches. The music was nice. The preaching was good. The Bible was prominent. God was central. But something was missing. Community was missing. Not their community, but our membership within that community.

We noticed visible signs of strong and active communities. Before and after the services, people were talking and expressing their care for one another. But we weren’t a part of their community. We aren’t together all year long with them. We aren’t involved in their lives. We are like distant cousins, not close brothers and sisters.

Without the blessing of the depth of relationship with those around us, the church services were mostly about us and God. Now, certainly, this isn’t bad, but it felt shallow. It felt like a mere ceremony, devoid of accountability and mutual encouragement.

This is not our regular experience at church. Usually, we worship the Lord in the presence of those we know and love. The experience is entirely different. It is deeper. It is more profound. It feels like family.

The writer to the Hebrews connects worship with community. He connects ceremony with life in the body. He writes, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). Certainly, this can (and must) be done through a ceremony of singing and Scripture reading and praying and preaching. There must be reverence and awe, for worship deals with the gravest realities of life: apart from Christ, we are consumed in the fiery wrath of God. But this cannot be void of community.

The author continues in the very next verse with this exhortation: “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1). This is what was missing from the churches we visited on vacation. It’s not at all to say that those at the churches weren’t loving. They were loving. We felt their love through their kindness and grace. Nor is it to say that they were uncommitted to serving Christ. They were committed. Our conversations were centered on Christ and ministry. But it is to say that we weren’t a member of their family. We weren’t engaged in brotherly love with them like we are at our home church. We felt the void. We are looking forward to worshiping with our church community this Sunday.