As many people I know enjoying a family holiday weekend, I realize that not everyone is working from the same understanding, that Christmas is a celebration of the coming of the Messiah, God’s one and only Son, and that His coming was the fulfillment of a promise that God made to save His people. The point, even more than the miraculous markers of Christ’s birth, is that God fulfilled a promise and that those who believe in that promise have come to possess an amazing hope.
Christmas is about far more than the miraculous birth of Jesus. It is about more than manger scenes or gifts delivered to this young boy from wise men who honored a small child as the king of the Jews.
Christmas is about a dark world that had not heard (prophetically) from God for centuries. It is about a people living in subjection to a government that was not oriented to God, but one that saw itself as a god or one of many gods. Christmas is about people living in darkness, starved for hope, doing the best they could…and God choosing to speak into that darkness with a message of hope. This hope is that you do not have to make up for all your errors. You do not have to correct every offense toward God. It is impossible to do so. But you do have to admit that you are in a mess that you cannot correct on your own.
Christmas is about God speaking hope into darkness. It is about God bringing life to the lifeless.
It is about God doing what no one else could and what He was never obligated to do except for, perhaps, His own self-obligation…His promise to save people from their sins. Christmas is about God’s fulfilled promise.
In a world given to protesting everything it doesn’t like about anything, I find it glorious that God did not protest mankind’s rebellion. He did not shut down the conversation, or ignore us. He did not yell at us or incessantly repeat the occasions of our failures. He came to save us. He loved us when, by all honest assessment, we were unlovely to Him. He did for us what we would never do for another. He did it with a magnified humility that should really give perspective on our boastfulness of life. He did so because, as His Word says, “He so loved us…the world…the people of His creative work.” (John 3:16).
So, Merry Christmas. Hope has come. Light shined into darkness and the darkness could not overwhelm the light.
That’s good news. That’s Christmas.
From Jodi and I, and on behalf of our entire family…Merry Christmas! Hope has come.
Are we there yet? The very question from the back seat brings a smile to a dad’s face. Some things are so difficult to wait for. If you’re in the car on your way to grandma’s house, you should be there like…yesterday.
Any child knows that!
We all hate to wait.
Because of that, there is an entire industry of “fast food.” Why else would you eat something that can be prepared in 4 minutes and has enough preservatives to keep it safe for hours without refrigeration! We have 10-minute oil changes, call-ahead orders at restaurants, and (my latest find) apps for my favorite gospel bird restaurant where I can send my order in and walk to the counter to pick it up when I arrive!
Waiting is part of life, but we hate to do it.
Yesterday, in the opening message to our new Christmas Series, “Miracles of Christmas,” I shared from Galatians 4 about the Miracle of the Moment. One of the references I made was that the people had come through 400 years of prophetic silence…waiting on the Lord’s deliverance through His Messiah. I am still “chewing on” prayer going unanswered for centuries. We struggle to hold it together if our doctor’s appointment is delayed 15 minutes!
“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son… Galatians 4:4.
Waiting is not always bad. (Ok, don’t stop reading because you saw that. Keep going…you’re almost there.)
Could you imagine asking for a piece of pie and then refusing to wait for it to fully cook? Tell the chef to bring it to me now in whatever condition it is in! Or, perhaps, a pregnant mom saying at the end of the first trimester, “I cannot wait six more months, give me my baby right now!” Or, opening a cocoon so you can see the butterfly today! These ridiculous examples are only ridiculous because we know that if you interfere with the process you don’t get what was designed.
If we trust the wisdom of design for a dessert recipe, or a pregnancy, or the metamorphosis of a butterfly, should we trust a Sovereign God less?
Don’t stop praying.
He hears, knows, and cares. (Exodus 3).
Don’t stop pressing forward.
That longing in your heart is by His design to keep you moving.
Don’t shortcut the process.
You ruin a pie when you don’t let it cook.
Don’t despise the process.
The Lord is working on a glorious plan if you’ll trust Him.
400 years was a long time to pray for deliverance to a seemingly silent God…but man…was Jesus worth the wait!
David had enough. “That’s the last straw! I am sick and tired of hearing sermons and lessons and illustrations about money! It seems like all the preacher ever does is talk about money!” This outburst came from David, a man with a job and a family and expenses that seemed endless. He walked a tightrope between satisfying the obligations of his lifestyle and financial disaster every month.
Fortunately, David had a friend…someone who had walked in faith for a little longer season of life. His friend simply offered this thought:
“Perhaps it isn’t the preacher’s message but the Holy Spirit’s working in your life and conscience. It was that way for me…and I discovered that what I thought was a constant beating was actually God’s invitation for me to find victory over a stronghold of disobedience in my life.”
So, David decided to try it. Let me just see if I can be obedient. He looked at his bank statement, multiplied his payroll amount by 10% and made a payment to the church for the full tithe…right down to the decimals. $243.11. V.I.C.T.O.R.Y.!
Only what David found very soon is that obedience requires faith and faith is costly. All was good for a few weeks.
- Then it was the washing machine. $155.00 unexpected expense.
- Then the left rear tire of the car. $179.21.
- Then the water bill arrived and was doubled because the toilet in the hall bath was constantly running.
David’s obedience had not resulted in a sudden windfall of money appearing in his account. Instead, there was an almost audible “sucking sound” as the account drained off his reserves. Then the next payroll period arrived. What do you do now? Replace the reserves? Cut back on that “outlandish commitment” you made to the Lord? This is the place where faith is exhibited and developed. Obedience requires faith and faith is costly.
My faith journey is pretty similar to this. Getting me to trust God with “my money” has been a difficult (from my perspective) undertaking, but God has patiently persevered in His role of drawing me to trust Him. For me, I decided to make the “tithe” to the Lord through my church and trust God for Discover Card. As a friend of mine counseled me in those days… “If you are going to owe someone something…do you want it to be Discover Card or God?” That has been more than two decades ago and we have never missed our tithe. Not because man inspected it but because I recognized the NEED to obey and realized that obedience required faith and faith is costly. By the way, I’ve never missed a payment, or a meal, or sent my children to school without shoes. There were many times when we chose to forego what my neighbors were “into” in order to be faithful, but I never missed one essential thing. What I gained though was invaluable!
I could hear other things in sermons and lessons than “money.” I learned about forgiveness, hope, joy, and purpose. I learned to default to prayer. I learned (and am learning) to rest in the Lord’s promise even when it was unreasonable to expect. I learned some empathy…since I came to recognize in others the indicators of strongholds that were true in my life…and knowing how difficult it was for me, I could pray for them and counsel them in better ways. I learned that God is and always has been faithful to Himself and loving toward His people. He really will provide all of our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
What work is God doing in your life to draw you toward holiness?
What stronghold exists that is impeding your growth in faith?
What area of obedience is difficult but necessary?
How is your faith “costly”?
Perhaps, like David, you just need to draw the line and step across. Real joy and peace lies just beyond the line of faith.
Five years ago, October 17, 2012, to be exact, Jodi and I faced one of those milestone moments in our marriage that you’d never ask for, hardly plan for, but would take nothing for it. After a few tests related to some minor but nagging health questions, I found myself relying on a surgeon’s training while trusting in a sovereign God as I underwent open heart surgery.
Just hours before, Jodi and I sat in the “cath lab” and got the news that I had a 95% blockage in the lower anterior artery to my heart. My cardiologist was prepared to put in a stint but the artery would not allow it. So, a 42-year-old man would not leave the hospital until meeting the surgeon.
Crisis points give you an opportunity that you may not consider otherwise, an opportunity to examine your faith, assess your life, and choose to walk together into the unknown…which is what faith actually is.
James 1:2 tells us to not look at our difficulties as punitive or destructive, but to think of them as God’s work at perfecting us. We believe that. So, together, we prayed, talked, prepared, and walked forward. God helped us with peace. He helped us with friends and church family who served us and prayed for us. He helped us with families that cared and served us. Mostly, God helped us by forcing us to walk through the difficulties.
Today, we have a stronger and more dynamic relationship with each other and with the Lord than we could ever have had otherwise. This was not our first test and will not likely be the last time our faith is challenged. But our faith is stronger, our testimony is broader and our peace is deeper than we could ever imagine.
Why tell you all this…today? Simply stated, days after the 2012 surgery, we asked a friend, Janey Frost, to shoot some pics for us to remember the season by.
A couple of weeks ago, we asked Janey to update those…five years later.
The pictures show the joy that we experience as a couple together…but they represent more than that for us. To Jodi and I, these pictures are like memorial stones erected beyond our Jordan to remind us of the unmerited faithfulness and goodness of God.
Thanks Janey for helping us stack stones.
Thank you @jodiaiken for walking through the fire with me. You make me better. You make me happy. You make me smile. I love you.
At the risk of missing someone else’s favorite quote, let me say that I did not write down everything. In fact, I was in such awe at Dr. Robert Smith (for instance) that I don’t remember one single note I wrote down.
Still, these quotes resonated with me…in no particular order of importance:
- “Don’t try to run someone else’s race.” Rocky Purvis
- When things are tough for a prolonged time…”Sometimes you want to quit or coast…but it’s not how you begin the race or even where you are at the halfway point. It’s how you finish.” Rocky Purvis
- “Prayer moves the hand of God.” Dr. Steve Gaines
- The heavens aren’t opened until someone prays.” Dr. Steve Gaines
- “Faithfulness will always lead to fruitfulness.” Dr. Stephen Rummage
- “A servant who never serves is by definition, not a servant.” Dr. Stephen Rummage
- The gospel must first change us before it can change the world- H.B. Charles Jr.
- “The gospel is for those who believe, not those who behave.” -H.B. Charles Jr.
- “If your hope is tied to things you can lose, you will eventually lose hope.” Dr. Rick Blackwood
- Georgia will probably still be #1, since they beat Notre Dame.” (What time does Georgia play?) Tim Coleman.
The Armistice, or cease-fire, of World War I was initiated on November 11, 1918. The “war to end all wars” had taken a heavy toll on America. “In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: ‘To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…’ .” (va.gov).
So, Veteran’s day exists to recognize the bravery and selfless service of servicemembers that risked life and sacrificed freedom, comfort, and security in pursuit of a higher ideal.
I see the day as a remembrance of something else as well…the beauty of peace and the high cost paid to secure it. The early celebrations of this day evoked pride from a nation. It was a pride in our strength but also pride in our ideals. In a real and tangible way, whether through observing a parade (which was the common observance in the early years) or listening to the stories of those who grew to love peace more while risking their lives to secure it, our nation came to believe the best of itself.
Today, parades are sparsely attended, even in military communities like mine. The celebration of freedom and honoring of sacrifice are often subordinated behind politicized agendas. Some even use the day to lecture those who’ve served on the dangers of military might to a peaceful world. Still others offer respectful greetings and kind words to those who have worn the uniform of our nation.
I hope that the day perpetually reminds us of a couple of valuable lessons, that if forgotten, may do great damage to the heart and soul of a nation. Remember that those we honor are worthy of honor…not because they gave their lives in battle, but because they committed their lives to the protection of liberty. Veteran’s day provides a necessary pause for a nation to simply say thank you as it enjoys the freedom that endures, not secured by the politician’s promise, or the press’s pen, but from the soldier’s service. I hope the day reminds us to prioritize gratitude and to weigh the worth of a free society. Finally, I hope the day serves as an example…as soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen demonstrate a unity of purpose that transcends, branch of service, race, creed, religion, and socio-economic realities. Our nation is not perfect, but on this day we encounter a glimmer of hope of what is possible.
I am honored to be part of a line of men (my father and grandfather before me, a younger brother with me, as well as a son after me) who have strapped up through more than four generations of national service. Furthermore, I consider it a high privilege to call my fellow servicemembers across the branches my brothers and sisters. May we continue to live the example of the ideal that challenges the status quo and promotes pursuit of a higher calling. Freedom depends upon it. To all my brothers and sisters, Happy Veteran’s Day 2018.
In the last post, I observed that many in the local church have lost the sense of what it means to be a member of a church. Partial responsibility rests on leaders who have failed to teach on this in an understandable way. To some degree, we may cast blame toward the culture which helps establish the norms of our lives. Still, some responsibility must rest on an audience that “tunes out” uncomfortable or contrary information…regardless of its source. Today I want to expand on the idea that having the different “classes/types” of people (Examiners, Consumers, Participants, and Partners) in the assembly of saints (the church) is actually helpful.
Perhaps you’re asking, “How can unbelievers amid the church be helpful?”
- First, we must recognize that Paul observed the presence of unbelievers in the church and even argued that some consideration should be given to their presence (1 Corinthians 14). You don’t include such considerations unless their presence is a reality and somehow consistent with godly design. Part of the “helpfulness” is mission. When missionaries engage new people groups, they first seek to learn culture and then establish bridges between the gospel and the new culture so that the gospel can be communicated contextually. If unbelievers are present among the assembled church, a bridge has been identified that facilitates gospel communication.
- Second, the presence of unbelievers serves to sharpen and equip believers in their missional skillset. Again, a bridge exists and if it is appropriately used, believers gain valuable insight and even empathy toward those who are far from God.
- Third, the presence of unbelievers makes for a more natural engagement with a gospel witness. If an unbeliever is at a church service, it is not unusual to ask (or be asked) about spiritual condition. In fact, it is expected.
As for believers, having participants in the church is part of the discipleship process. There will be believers who grow in relationship and growth is a process, not an event. One doesn’t become a Christian and suddenly become a “Paul” or “Peter” type instantly. There must be “room” in the church for spiritual immaturity to grow toward maturity. As church planters, Jodi and I recognized years ago that we should engage new people quickly in the life of the church. Some were spiritually immature and others weren’t disciples, but how much spiritual growth is required to open a door, hand out a worship program, adjust sound levels, or set up chairs? Often, the “thin threads” of relationship were strengthened through service, paving the way for more depth of discipleship to occur. This last statement must be an intentional pursuit. It is wrong to reinforce that “you’re ok” to an immature believer or a lost person by giving them a place of service without challenging them to grow as disciples. How tragic it would be for a man to have confidence in his unchallenged spiritual condition simply because he fulfills a role in church life and assumes that since no one has challenged him to grow, he must be “ok.”
There are more “comfortable” scenarios than worshipping in a mixed-company room with unbelievers, the spiritually immature, and those who are growing in faith. What the church is called to though, is not comfort but a mission of making disciples. This is our ONE JOB.
November 5, 1995.
22 years ago yesterday. One of the significant milestone days in my life. I was working as a Deputy Sheriff on second shift when I was instructed to serve a warrant. I contacted backup, per department procedure, and proceeded to “set up” on the house where the man would be.
He was early.
Backup was delayed.
The situation unfolded rapidly, and I ended up in the fight of my life. There is little more arresting in life than hearing the “Officer Down” tones and knowing that you are the officer in peril. It was a life-changing day.
I learned through the experience how very little control I have in life. I learned that even if you do everything correctly, you still cannot control all the variables. I learned that even if you do everything correctly, someone will still question and critique what you did. I learned that even if you do everything correctly, you are still mortal.
I saw the face of evil. I saw the sacrifice of brothers and sisters in uniform that placed themselves in jeopardy for a fellow officer. I saw the need to take inventory of my life and examine priorities. What was it that I truly valued? How did I want my life story recorded? What did I need for my children and wife to know that only I could help them understand?
The events of that fateful day resulted in a suspect’s death. A parent lost a son. Siblings lost a brother. That day brought lawsuits and mandatory counseling, review boards and state police investigations, all of which cleared me and the other deputies involved of any wrongdoing, but it brought something else…
God used that day to cause a self-assured and self-sufficient young man to ask some important questions about faith. Within months, Jodi and I returned to church (from which I had complacently allowed…or maybe caused…our family to drift). I had a pastor teach me to read the Bible for myself. I had strong men invest in my life to disciple me…some formally and even more informally through their example and gracious truth-speaking into my life. Men like Sam League, Shane Alexander, Terry Wedgewood, George Wyatt, Greg Dixon, Steve Ellis, Johnny Condrey, Jack Givens, Michael Cloer, Don Dunavant, and countless other influences.
The results of that day, looking back on 22 years…is that I have two sons that love and serve God. I have a precious wife whom God uses to equip and encourage women in the faith. I have a ministry of shepherding people, some of whom I have seen God do amazing things in and through. I have an appreciation for life, faith, and God’s sovereign care for rebellious young men that I don’t think would be true apart from the drama of that fateful day. I have a passion for men who “strap up” every day and stand a post between evil and its potential victims.
Today I am grateful for God who gloriously works to recall rebels and restores them to service for His glory.
Don’t despise what you do not fully understand. Put your faith in God who never is caught off-guard and never is found lacking in ability or compassionate concern. The moment you question that…return to the cross and see how far He has gone to rescue you and choose to trust Him.
I have observed for some time now that many believers, even many of those close to me as part of the church I serve, have misunderstood or are ignoring the fundamental nature of the church. Sure…the discussion of “going to church,” “being” the church, or “joining” the church has caused many tempers to flare…but what is the church?
Theologically (and therefore practically) the church is AT LEAST the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and the image of Christ. This means that the church was sought and purchased by our gracious Lord (Acts 20:28) and that it functions as the physical instrument for fulfilling the mission/mandate of Christ. As we do that, we manifest in a measurable way how the Kingdom of Christ works.
Stated a little differently, the church is the place where people become like Christ through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as the Word and the Body/community work together to fulfill a specific mission. Therefore, there should be observable change, growth, and glory among the saints.
What I have observed is that many don’t “get” the fundamental nature of the church, so they fail to find and fulfill their role in it. Many of these people have bought into the line that the church is an organization or a service provider…a commodity for consideration and consumption. This view has led to an individualistic perspective on church and sometimes…individualism within the scope of the larger Body itself.
It seems to me (while others may use different designations for the classes I am identifying here) that there are four groups/classes of people participating in a local church setting on any given Sunday:
- Examiners. These people are not part of the church and are “examining” the claims of Christ as they measure them against what they observe as the outworking of those claims through the local expression of Christianity through the church. Some call these seekers.
- Consumers. These folks evaluate church based on a narrow definition of individualistic intent and primarily choose participation if there is a real or anticipated benefit to themselves. They may or may not be believers. For these folks, the first and primary concern is “what does this experience do for me?”
- Participants. These are people who are part of the church (so they must be believers) and choose to serve in elements of church but have not embraced the church’s mission as their own. They are not evil or against the mission; but, they are also not owners. They are at different stages of Christian development and are growing as they serve (which is the distinction between participants and consumers).
- Partners. These people get it. They are believers who are growing in grace and sanctification in Christ and understand the mission of the church. Further, they embrace it. It is their mission.
In part 2, I will unpack some of the implications of these classifications and examine them for biblical warrant…but based on what you see:
Where would you fit?
Do you know your church’s mission?
Do you see yourself as somewhat responsible for that mission?
If the church failed to fulfill that mission, would you feel as if you personally failed as well?
There have been several key figures in my life and development as a man and as a follower of Christ. Each one has his own story, but this is the story of a man named George Wyatt.
He stepped across the aisle. Back in that day, we were a church of hundreds. I was a 20-something cop. He was an engineer. I was a high school graduate. He wore a ring from Clemson. Jodi and I were new in the church with a small kid. He had been in the church for a while and was connected, serving, and demonstrating a genuine, fruitful existence. And, he stepped across the aisle.
My new friend, George, invited Jodi and me to join him and his wife, as well as some friends for a new bible study at his house. It was a study on parenting. It was a good study by the way, but the real value of the invite in my life was leadership and love. George and I became friends. His family became special to us. Perhaps most significant…because George took the initiative, I BECAME a better man. He invested in me. Told me tough things while we stood shoulder to shoulder working on a project. He invited me into his world and gave me the “Barnabas gift,” meaning that he affirmed me to his sphere of influence so that I could join in.
George believed in me when I was still trying to figure out who I was. He helped me get into politics. He invited me to join the school board with him for the Christian school our kids attended. He talked about his own life struggles in a transparent manner so I would know that he wasn’t perfect. He made me part of his life. When I sensed the calling to plant a church, he helped us. When I was discouraged, he spoke tough encouragement.
Why do I tell you this? Because there was no manual. No training program. No curriculum. But there was discipleship. George helped me become a disciple, by stepping across the aisle. He made me better by stepping across the aisle. He made me better by inviting me into his world.
As I read the Scriptures and grow in my understanding of the purpose Christ has for his people…this is a big part of what making disciples is all about.
So, look around…
Who is across the aisle from you?
Who is on the outside of your circle of healthy Christian relationships that you can bring in?
Who has God placed in your path to love and lead…to invest in and serve…to speak to and speak for?
Thanks, George. Jodi and I love you, Karen, and your precious girls. Most significantly…I love Jesus more because of you stepping across the aisle.
If you are a George to someone…keep going. Obedience to Christ’s command pays off. If there’s a kid across the aisle…don’t just be available…be intentional. It matters.