Thursday, March 30, 2017, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
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It is amazing to think that there is an estimated 90% of Americans that have some sort of unclaimed money or assets. At any given time, the government is holding more than $35 billion in unclaimed money or other assets for over 100 million accounts. Wow! What this means is that there is incredible wealth awaiting those who just take possession of what they already have. This could certainly benefit the owners in powerful ways yet it is just sitting there unclaimed and unused.
I view this in light of our children’s ministry. Many families do not see the incredible benefit of taking full advantage of what is offered to them. Therefore they are missing out on a wealth of spiritual blessings when:
What is your family’s church attendance saying to your children? As parents, we set our family’s priorities, and inconsistent worship attendance can hinder your child’s spiritual formation. A research study by Barna Group, involving a random sample of 1,000 adults in 2009, found that those who attended Sunday School or other religious programs as children or as teens were much more likely than those without such experiences to attend church and have an active faith as adults. This study did not need to take place; it just makes sense.
What is it that comes between you, your family, and consistent, corporate worship with your church family? Is it sporting events, vacations, or apathy? Whatever the reason, be careful. Do not let this be one of the major things that you regret as a parent when you look back at your child’s formative years. There is no college sports scholarship or career pursuit or extended times of being absent from church for whatever reason that is worth jeopardizing your child’s faith development.
With this, I would like to challenge you to recommit to reclaiming the spiritual wealth that our church offers you and your child every Sunday. You cannot go wrong with your entire family being involved in a small group Bible study class, large group worship in Kids Church, or worshiping together in church as a family. Why not make Bible memorization a family affair? Your kids are more likely to memorize the Scriptures if you are committed to it as well. We all desperately need to “hide God’s word in our hearts.” Memorizing God’s word as a family provides built in accountability if everyone is committed to memorization. What about taking advantage of missions projects to do with your children through our children’s ministry? At times throughout the year we collect canned goods for East Cooper Community Outreach to assist hungry families in the East Cooper area or write notes of encouragement to those who are sick in our church family and deliver these with cookie baskets. We also challenge our kids at church to collect funds for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering by doing extra chores around the house or by considering giving a week's worth of allowance. What about involving your family in our Love On Charleston events? There is a powerful impact among families who serve together.
Finally, what about serving at church? Where are you giving back to your church family? How are you investing in the lives of others? For dads and moms who struggle having dedicated time to spiritually invest in your kids at home, teaching your child’s Bible study class is a built in way to do so. As parents, you have a wonderful opportunity to serve in our children’s ministry in many ways. Among those are:
The bottom line is that for the sake of your spiritual life and your family’s spiritual life, do not neglect Sunday worship. Reclaim the wealth of corporate worship and Bible study and the blessings of serving your church family. Put a stake in the ground and say with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
For the past few weeks I have been teaching through a series in the High School Ministry class on Sunday mornings called “The Gospel of Movies.” Basically what we do each week is look at a clip from a movie and discuss how it confirms or denies what we know about the gospel. We will then look at a passage of Scripture and compare the two. I have personally enjoyed this series because I really like movies, but I’ve also enjoyed teaching through this series because it helps to remind me how “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). You see, I believe that every story (and by story I mean every book, movie, poem, and play) contains echoes and indications of the true, ultimate, and greatest story of the gospel. Sometimes it happens with intention through people like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who use fiction and fantasy to articulate the message of redemption, but a lot of times we can read the book of a secular author or watch the movie of a director outside of the faith that portrays unconditional love so well or a character’s willingness to sacrifice themselves for the life of another in such a way that we have think: “There it is. That is the gospel.” But it’s not just stories that have the ability to point us to the gospel. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Creation itself speaks out to proclaim the reality of the Lord which means that every sunrise and every sunset and every tree or flower or body of water that makes us stop and say “Wow, that is beautiful and amazing” is the world’s way of praising God.
I recently read a book that talked a lot about this. It was called Awe and the author, Paul David Tripp, talked about the way we as human beings see and experience the world and want nothing more than to be awed. And it’s true. We like being awed and amazed. We want to see cool, funny, awesome, emotion-stirring things. That’s why any time I see a video on YouTube that I really like, I send it out to about 5-10 people. We share these things with people because we want them to share in the awe we’ve experienced. Same goes for a movie or TV show or a restaurant. If we liked it, we want to tell others so they can witness and participate in the same things we did. Similarly, if we did not enjoy something we will be quick to communicate that as well. Don’t watch this movie. Don’t eat at that place. It is not awesome. It is awful. We pursue things that instill awe and we run from things that lack it. Awe has a lot of great stuff on this subject, but here are three of my favorite points:
Tripp says “[People] get up every morning, and without ever being aware of it, they search constantly for awe. They have dissatisfaction in their souls, an emptiness they long to fill, and they are attracted to awesome things. That’s why they go to great museums, stadium concerts, expensive restaurants, and playoff games.”1 Recently, the Clemson Tigers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide in an exciting National Championship game. I had a friend get half a dozen tickets for about $700 each a few days before the game. On January 11th (the day of the actual game) he had people willing to pay him $1500 per ticket. But he didn’t sell them. He loves Clemson and wanted to be physically present to experience the event. He wanted the potential awe that accompanied the game.
This could be a relationship with a special someone, playing a sport, working towards a goal (like going to a good college) or getting a high-paying job. A good way to figure out where you look for awe is to finish the sentence… “If I just had this_______________ I would be completely happy and my life would be perfect.” On February 5th Tom Brady appeared in his 7th Super Bowl. He is without question one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Personally, he’s at the top of my list. But a few years ago Tom Brady was being interviewed on 60 Minutes and said this: “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, "Hey man, this is what is." I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think: God, it's gotta be more than this. I mean this can't be what it's all cracked up to be. I mean I've done it. I'm 27. And what else is there for me?” The interviewer followed up by asking Brady what he thought the answer was. Brady’s response was simply “I wish I knew.” C.S. Lewis has a great answer. He said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
The two houses I lived in while growing up both had the good fortune to be in cul-de-sacs. I say this was a good thing because it meant I could play outside in the “road” without my parents worrying about cars or anything else potentially hitting us. The cul-de-sac was a dead end. It didn’t lead anywhere. A lot of times that is how we treat awe-inspiring people and things. We delight in the thing or the person or the event without going any further. Instead, these created things are meant to lead us to be in awe of the One who created them. They are supposed to be avenues, not cul-de-sacs. Tripp aptly states, “As it is true of a street sign, so it is true of every jaw-dropping, knee-weakening, silence-producing, wonder-inspiring thing in the universe. The sign is not the thing you are looking for. No, the sign points you to what you are looking for. So you can’t stop at the sign, for it will never deliver what the thing it is pointing to will deliver.”2
My hope in talking about Awe and avenues is to encourage you and strengthen you in your faith. God is infinite, eternal, and unchanging and He created the heavens and the earth and He is bigger and grander and more delightful than we can ever imagine. But, He desires a relationship with each of you. He cares for you on an individual person basis and wants to know you and for you to know Him. And the way the divide between us as sinful, finite, creatures and Him as loving and just and infinite Creator is reconciled, is through the perfect life and sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. God has revealed Himself to us through His Word and His world. I believe that to grow in your relationship with God you have to be in the Word. It is our primary and best way of, as 2 Peter 3:18 describes, “…growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ.” But I also believe we have the opportunity to experience and witness the goodness and majesty of God every day through the world that He has made. So follow the avenues, experience the awe, and take great delight in the One who is before all things and in whom all things hold together.
1Paul David Tripp, Awe (16)
2Paul David Tripp, Awe (21)
I was looking at my retirement account the other night and wondering how to get the greatest return in 2017. I was thinking…“Hmmm. The stock market is at an all-time high. Interest rates are projected to go up. Gold is down and oil is going up. And Trump is shaking things up. So what should I do?” I will admit right now that I didn’t have a clue and I was not even sure who to listen to.
But it did cause me to reflect on the investment advice Jesus gives in Luke 16. (And you can count on his guidance being 100% on the mark!)
In this parable, Jesus tells of a manager who was about to be fired. Worried that he would not be able to provide for himself, the dishonest manager ingratiates himself to those who are indebted to his master so they’ll take care of him when he loses his job. Jesus then tells his disciples what they are to learn from his parable.
“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings…. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?”
(Luke 16:9, 11-12)
Here is my paraphrase. Use worldly wealth to make friends who will greet you when you enter heaven. If you are not faithful in the use of your money, don’t expect heavenly rewards. After all, your money is not really yours. It belongs to God. And if you don’t use his money for his purposes, what makes you think he will reward you?
For years I just paid lip service to these verses. And that’s because I did not truly grasp this foundational truth.
Despite being familiar with these truths for many years, I must admit to failing miserably at living them out. Being more concerned about accumulating wealth than honoring God, I was quick to keep and reluctant to give. Naturally, I earned a well-deserved reputation for being cheap.
But in 2012, Congress passed a law that was going to dramatically increase the cost of flood insurance on our Isle of Palms home. To escape this impact, Ceil and I decided to elevate our house by about eight feet. In making this decision, I had to fight a battle in my heart and mind about spending a lot of money. During this struggle, God impressed this truth on me: My house is not mine and my money is not mine. It belongs to God. So quit worrying about God’s stuff. He will do what’s best with his resources.
This was a truly liberating moment. It freed me from anxiousness over “my stuff” and worrying about tomorrow. For instance, now when I am faced with an unexpected expense like a car repair, I just say to myself, “If this is how God wants to use his money, then so be it.”
Having our grip on money loosened by understanding who it really belongs to allows us to begin living out this next truth.
Most people want to please their boss. When I was in the Navy, I was entrusted with significant resources. And my commanding officer made it very clear that I was to use those resources to accomplish the Navy’s mission. And, if I did it well, I would be rewarded.
Likewise, God gives us his resources which we, his managers, are to invest wisely. This parable teaches that wise and faithful investing of God’s money will yield a specific return: people greeting us when we arrive in heaven. This should not be a surprise to us, for God sent his Son “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And God has left us on earth to help other people get to heaven, to make disciples of all nations for his glory, honor and praise. Knowing this, it only makes sense that we should use our resources towards that end.
So, the question we should ask ourselves is, “Am I at least as concerned with growing my eternal reward as I am with my growing my bank account?” What is the focus of my investing? Is it primarily focused on increasing my pleasure and security or is it on extending the kingdom of God? As Randy Alcorn says in his book, The Treasure Principle, “You can’t take it with you but you can send it on ahead.”
You love your husband. That is why you married him. However, you have come to realize that you are unequally yoked. Regardless of how you find yourself in this place, at some point, the load can become rather heavy to bear.
One of two things will happen when you are unequally yoked. Either you will be drawn away from the Lord and His people and begin to drift spiritually, or you will live with a constant tension between all that you hold most dear and the man you hold most dear. If you are reading this, I am assuming that you are in the latter place. Where do you go from here?
This is a spiritual battle, fought in the spiritual realm. We must put on the full armor of God Eph 6:9 and stay in prayer every day. Do not give up! Even if you have been praying for years, do not grow weary of doing good! Gal 6:9 Your prayers are effecting things in the heavenly realm in God’s perfect time. Nothing will happen of your own power. Ask your husband how you can pray for him. If he is willing, ask him to pray for specific requests for you.
You must continue to abide in the vine. Your strength is in the Lord alone. Even if you are married to a believer, your strength must never come from your spouse. It must always be rooted in Christ. Look to the cross. Stay in the Word. Continue to do all those things that you would do if you were married to a believing spouse! Enjoy your quiet time! Talk about the Lord and all you are learning about Him. Go to worship, Bible study, community group, prayer and other fellowship opportunities with the saints. Continue to grow and learn.
Obviously, you want to nurture your relationship. You are still called to respect your husband as the leader of your home. Be careful not to overstep in the area of leadership. Your husband cannot lead if you do not let him. You must encourage him in this role. Thank him for the good things he does as a leader. Let him see you appreciate him. You might ask him to say the blessing before meals if he is willing. Affirm him in this.
1 Peter 3:1-2 reminds us: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” Don’t focus on the things you wish were true of your husband, but rather on the good things about him and the reasons that you fell in love in the first place.
Think back to what drew you to Jesus. It was His love and grace, right? His kindness draws us to repentance. Romans 2:4 Not only that, but think again about the believers you knew before you were a believer. Remember seeing their joy and peace? Do you remember wondering what made them tick and wanting that for yourself? Be salt and light in your own home. Right now, your husband is your first mission field!
If your husband is resistant to going to church on Sunday (or for other activities,) don’t argue with him about this. Gently and kindly let him know this is important to you and that you will need to go to church on Sunday. Do not neglect him or other home responsibilities in favor of church instead. When you get home, be especially kind to him and do not show any resentment that he was not there. Remember “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph 6:12
If your husband is taking part in sinful activities, I encourage you to do four things:
Such a situation can be complex and painful, so don’t try to face it without the Body to walk with you.
Remember that you are not the Holy Spirit and that salvation belongs to our God. Rev 7:10 Trust that He knows what He is doing. While individual situations can be complex and may require some counsel, remember what your role is: pray, model Christ, love your husband well, share what God is doing in your life and heart, and live out your faith with joy. As John Piper is known to say, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” Love for the Lord is contagious! In short, pray that the Lord will make you the sweet aroma of Christ in your home. That is your role. It is up to God to make Himself known and to draw your husband to Himself. You can be sure that God loves him even more than you do.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is Hebrews 11:6. It says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” This verse has been a powerful word for me in seasons of doubt and unbelief. Our Father knows faith isn’t always easy and graciously reminds us of what happens when we earnestly seek him; he rewards us. It’s important for us to see here that the scripture isn’t just reminding us about the treat we will get if we believe in and seek God; instead, it is revealing to us something about God’s character. God is a rewarder.
Have you ever wondered why God placed a tree in the garden that Adam and Eve couldn’t eat from. I have. On the surface, it seems so arbitrary to give them a choice to obey or disobey such a simple command. Couldn’t they just live blissfully in God’s presence for all eternity? But that understanding misses the point entirely. If God is by nature a rewarder, then it was necessary for Adam and Eve to be given a choice to obey or disobey. You see this theme over and over again in the Old Testament between God and Israel. The whole narrative of Israel is based on blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Even though Israel ultimately failed to live out God’s commands, like Adam and Eve, you can see the heart of the Father was a desire to bless and bless abundantly: to make them a great nation, give them a land rich with beauty and natural resources, and establish in them an everlasting kingdom. One of the most well-known verses in all of scripture says it outright, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” That is the Father’s heart. God always wanted to bless his people, even if they couldn’t walk in the necessary obedience to receive his blessing. But God would do something about this as well.
So what is this reward and why am I writing about it leading up to a conference dealing with sexuality and identity? I’ll answer the second half of that question first. I’m writing about the rewarding nature of God because I think it is important for us to see that the purpose of walking in obedience isn’t to see how hard we can try and how painful it can get without us giving in to temptation. I’m not someone that struggles or has struggled with same-sex attraction or gender confusion, but I do know that obedience to Christ is costly and painful if you are someone who does. But obedience isn’t meant to be some kind of self-destroying, endurance sport. It’s actually meant to be pleasure-seeking. If God didn’t want us to see obedience in terms of reward, he would have never mentioned the idea. But the opposite is true: he does wants us to see obedience in terms of reward.
But mostly importantly, what is this reward? I believe the reward is two-fold. First, the reward of obedience is complete fulfillment. You see, God made us. He knows us. He knows what we are made for. He knows how we can thrive, and he knows what will destroy us. If we walk in obedience, we will be living the exact way we were created to live. For example, Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount not to worry. Why? Because worry is bad? Well yes. It doubts God’s goodness. But he tells us not to worry mainly because we weren’t made for it! God didn’t make us with the capacity to worry. He made us with the capacity to trust him. The same logic applies with our sexuality and gender identity. If we want to be living a life of complete fulfillment, we have to be walking in obedience earnestly seeking the Lord.
Finally, we get to my main point. The ultimate reward of obedience is God. This is what I realized in my own seasons of doubt and unbelief. If we believe he exists and earnestly seek him, he will reward us with his presence. This was the reward for Adam and Eve in the garden. When they sinned, they were sent out from the presence of God. The reward has always been his presence. What I am not saying is if you are a Christian and you sin, God will remove his presence from you. We have the Holy Spirit and are part of the new covenant in Jesus' blood. But I do strongly believe that in our sin, we miss out on fully experiencing God’s manifest presence in our lives. Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Who wouldn’t want that?
My hope for you in writing this post is not that you would be burdened by the need to do more and try harder. That is the opposite of our gospel. We live knowing that Jesus has done it all on our behalf. He was obedient where Adam, Israel, and we were not. I’m writing this post because I want you to remember your reward. We’re not a people that keep a bunch of rules, so we can feel good about ourselves or use them to judge others. We are a people that have a heart for God and have been transformed by his Spirit to desire him above all things. There is no greater reward than the presence of God in your life. That’s what heaven is about: being in his presence and worshipping him. So be encouraged. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. He’s an inexhaustible resource of goodness for you and is ready to give you a greater measure of himself right now.
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