Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ghost on 2nd

When I was a kid, we used to play "cup" ball while our parents watched or participated in church softball. We had a special place on a paved area that was unused and we would mark off the bases. Then we would find a paper drinking cup from the concession stand and wad it up really tight and use it as the ball in our make-shift game of baseball. We'd use our hands as bats and play as long as the real game was going on. We had a blast playing like that but sometimes we'd be short a player or two and need to improvise while batting. The last thing you'd want to do is give up a possible run just because you didn't have another player. So when we needed an extra base runner, say on 2nd base, we'd put the last real player on 1st and have them "advance" the ghost runner on 2nd as they ran. If the real runner made it to 2nd the ghost was on 3rd, and so on. We just didn't have enough players so we improvised with our ghost runners.

The sad thing is that we have to do the same thing in the church. Every church has positions that are required to make the church run effectively. Call them positions, committees or teams, you have to have people working together to make the church work. But many churches can't find enough people to serve in the work of the church. They have to rely on ghost workers to get the job done. These ghost workers are the ones who serve in multiple areas of service just to keep the church going. They may not be gifted in the area of service they are serving in, but they don't want the church to falter so they step in and serve diligently to help the church out. I spoke to a man just yesterday that serves on 5 committees in his church. There are capable and able bodied men and women in his church who could alleviate him of some of those responsibilities, but for reasons only known to them, they would rather sit in the pew than stand up and serve.

God didn't create different classes of Christians. He expects the same obedience, discipline and love from each of us. It doesn't matter if you are a pastor, deacon or pew sitter, you are expected to learn, serve, give and love the same as everyone else. If you aren't engaged in serving in your church, my encouragement to you is to find a place of service and start now. If you don't you are causing others to carry extra burdens while you sit around and enjoy the fruits of their labor. When you do get involved, you receive fulfillment knowing you are being used by God in just the way He designed you. So get started today!

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Amazing Race

There are a few television shows that Misty and I make sure we don't miss or make sure they are recorded on the DVR. Shows like 24, Survivor, Shark Tank, and a few more. One of those shows is The Amazing Race. Misty and I haven't missed an episode in years and enjoy watching it. The premise is that teams race around the world for one million dollars. Teams are eliminated when they come in last. Misty and I, at different times in the past, have seriously considered sending in an application for the show but work and family responsibilities bring us back to reality. When we watch the show we actually discuss which of us would perform a certain task or challenge. The show is an interesting one in the fact that many of them have limited experience in other countries. The race is long and grueling. We really enjoy the show and it is interesting how it parallels life.

In life we run this race for maybe 70 years or so. But that race is not a gentle stroll through the park with a smooth path. It has mountains the size of Everest to climb. There are places in life that seem as lifeless and dead as Death Valley. The path we follow in life may be more difficult than the person to our right but less difficult than the person to our left. We still have to endure and finish the race. The only way to run the race successfully is with faith. Without faith in God we are like a marathon runner just going through the motions. With faith in God and the relationship that we can develop with Him, we are able to run this race with purpose and focus. We are able to cross the finish line when He calls us home and say the same thing the Apostle Paul did in 2 Timothy 4:7. He said "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (NIV). Today you maybe struggling to keep your feet moving in the race. If so I encourage you to endure. The prize at the end is worth the effort. If you are coasting through this part of your race, reach out today and encourage someone you see that is struggling. It could make all the difference in how you both run the race.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Love is sacrifice.

So let my life be the proof, 
The proof of Your love
Let my love look like You and what You're made of
How You lived, how You died
Love is sacrifice
So let my life be the proof,
The proof of Your love.

"The Proof of Your Love"
by For King and Country

The song referenced above is a powerful song when we consider the message of the song. If you've never heard it I'd advise you to look it up and give it a listen. The line that always catches my attention when I hear this song is the line "Love is sacrifice." For me that always sends my mind wandering and I usually miss the rest of the song. When you think about love, sacrifice is not something that generally comes to mind. The more we dwell on it the more we realize that at the heart of love is sacrifice. When we pursue that relationship when dating or married we understand that love is sacrifice. We should, but many times we don't, make the necessary sacrifices that result in the best outcome for our better half. We sacrifice out of love for the betterment of our relationship and the one we love. We see this regularly with parents. They love their children and are willing to sacrifice their own pleasures, desires and wills for the benefit of the child or children they love. Love truly is sacrifice.

We see this ideal most clearly through the lens of faith when it comes to God's love for us. God loved us so much He was willing to sacrifice His own Son so we could have salvation. He sacrificed Jesus so that He could show us His love and His desire to be in a relationship with us. The Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is God's love note to mankind. In it He shows us how much He loves us and how much He wants a relationship with us. But what about us? What about our love for God? Do we sacrifice to show our love for God? I'd probably say most, if not all of us, fail to sacrifice to show our love for God. What's the most you've sacrificed to show your love for God lately? When you're honest with yourself has it been more of an inconvenience or has it truly been a sacrifice? My encouragement to you today is to find something in your life to sacrifice to show your love for God. It may be your pride. It may be more of your time. It may be something that only you realize the magnitude of the sacrifice. Then try daily to make a sacrifice to show your love for Him because relationships are a two-way street. It's important for both sides to remember and show that love is sacrifice.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How to define a cult.

I recently counseled with a person, we'll call her Mary, who was seeing someone, we'll call him John, and found out he held completely different spiritual views. Mary professes to follow Christ while John finally shared that he is a Jehovah's Witness. This came as quite a shock to Mary and it caused a divide in the relationship that caused it to end. John told Mary that if they were to continue seeing each other and eventually get married then she would have to convert to being a Jehovah's Witness. Before the relationship ended Mary attended a service at the Kingdom Hall while she tried to sort everything out. She shared with me that it was an unusual experience for her and shared how unnerved she was by the comments made to her. She had already counseled with me once before this experience and I had shared with her my views that Jehovah's Witnesses were a cult. But does an unusual experience or uneasy feeling when entering a place of worship constitute a cult? If someone says they believe basically the same thing you do but just a little differently, does that make them part of a cult?

There are many cults alive and well in the world today. But how do we define a cult? What guidelines do we follow to evaluate a belief system and call it a cult, false religion or the truth? False Religions are easy to identify in the fact that they worship a god or have a set of beliefs that are different from those followed by Christians. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Animism are just a few of the false religions around the world. But what sets a cult apart from false religions is that a cult simply perverts the true message of the Bible. Dr. Walter Martin, considered by many to be the expert on cults, defines a cult as this: "By cultism we mean the adherence to doctrines which are pointedly contradictory to orthodox Christianity and which yet claim the distinction of either tracing their origin to orthodox sources or of being in essential harmony with those sources. Cultism, in short, is any major deviation from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith." In layman's terms if a group follows a particular man or beliefs that contradict the doctrines of the Christian faith then it is a cult. Regardless of whether they say they are Christian. Regardless of whether they say they follow Christ. Regardless of what they say about you believing in the same god they do, it's still a cult. It means they aren't teaching the truths of God's Word and we need to lovingly lead them to the truth. The cultist you are most likely to come into contact with in your daily life are most likely going to be a Jehovah's Witness, Mormon, or 7th Day Adventist. There are plenty of others but these are the ones you come into contact with most. What believers need to do is what we read in 1 Peter 3:15. It says “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”  (NIV). If you aren't prepared to share the hope you have, then you won't. Be prepared to share your faith on a daily basis and when the time comes you will be able to share the truth with those that need it most.

Tonight at our church, North Catawba Baptist Church, we start a new series as we look at the cults and how to reach out with the Gospel to them. We hope you'll join us for this series if you want to learn more about cults and how to engage them with the truth. Directions to our church can be found here. We hope you'll join us.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Time to slow down.

I love baseball season. It reminds me of when I was younger and would run around the outfield chasing down fly balls. I enjoy watching my boys play and helping coach Cooper's team. One downside to the months of April, May and the first week of June is that we spend so many nights during the week running from field to field that I don't have a chance to watch the Red Sox or Braves on TV. It's such a travesty! But probably the more pressing downside is that the hectic schedule makes it difficult to accomplish the things that are more important than playing children's games, like baseball. Parents find it difficult to help their kids stay up on their homework when the schedule is so busy. Nightly devotions are pushed to the side and will wait for another night when the ball game ends after bedtime. Time around the dinner table is sacrificed for fast food in the car so showers can be taken as soon as the family arrives home. And Wednesday nights are often seen as the "only night" we have free and our personal attendance suffers at midweek church services. I get it. I understand it. I've been there and seem to live there regularly. Sports, dance and other extracurricular activities in the spring, summer, fall and winter make life a crazy, frantic pace we can hardly keep up with. So what do we do about it? We intentionally take time to slow down.

One verse in the Bible that I think speaks to this issue is Psalm 46:10. It says "Be still, and know that I am God." I remember my mom giving me a card when I felt God calling me into ministry and this verse was the focus of the card. She wrote in it for me to be still and listen to God. I think she had a real idea of the frantic pace of ministry and that I needed to start off slow and listen for God's voice. That is what we need to do when we find ourselves in a frantic pace that threatens to leave us drained physically and spiritually. We need to slow the pace and listen more intently for God's voice. He is constantly speaking we just have to set aside the distractions. But what we find in our frantic pace is that listening for God to speak is like trying to listen to someone while riding a roller coaster. It won't work. 

Each family and each life is different. What works for one family or person to slow their pace may not work for another. Find what works for you and your family. If it means taking a walk, sitting on the porch, or some other way of slowing your pace so you can listen for God, then do it. You won't regret listening more to God's voice than you do to the drone of a fast paced life.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

3 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor

One of the more encouraging things that a pastor can hear from a member of their congregation are the words "Pastor, I'm praying for you." When a pastor hears from someone that they have taken the time to lift them up in prayer it is a great boost of morale for the pastor. Many times pastors can feel lonely and isolated. Depending on the direction the church is headed they may feel like their congregation isn't listening to their sermons, much less following their leadership. At times they will feel like they are going it alone. This is why letting your pastor know that you are praying for them can be such a morale booster. So what do we pray for our pastors when we pray. What do we ask God to do besides "Bless him Lord." Here are 3 things that you can pray for your pastor that will mean the world to him.

1.  Pray for his family.
A pastor's family are the real unsung heroes of the church. They are the soldiers on the front lines that give everything they have to make sure the church is cared for and ministered to. They miss out on evenings at home when someone is rushed to the ER. They are the ones who live in a glass house as long as their husband and father is leading the church. They have less freedom and more eyes watching them than any other family in the church. Pray that God will strengthen your pastor's wife for the job she has of caring for the home while he is gone doing ministry. Pray God will bless your pastor's marriage in a way that makes it a shining example for all in the church to follow. Pray for your pastor's wife to be spiritually strong because her position in the church is as lonely at times as your pastor's because she has no pastor. Pray for your pastor's kids and ask God to raise them up to be godly men and women. Pray that your church will remember that they are kids and that the church will treat them like every other kid in the church.

2. Pray for his ministry.
Ask God to reach into every aspect of his ministry and work through each part. Pastors are expected to be jacks of all trades and masters of them too. Pastors spend their weeks studying, praying, counseling, visiting, teaching, leading meetings, leading staff, and putting out all sorts of fires. And that's just what they do for the church. Ask God to breath new life into each area of your pastor's ministry. Pray specifically that God will use each area to bless the church and the community. Go so far as to ask your pastor if there is a specific area of their ministry that needs focused prayer and then make it a matter of prayer in your personal prayer time.

3. Pray for his health.
Pastors are usually on call 24/7/365. Most pastors would agree that they feel like they are not just on call but ministering 24/7/365. The long, stressful hours of ministry can take a toll on your pastor's health. Because of the frantic schedule a pastor keeps up, many times they don't eat as healthy as they should. That coupled with little exercise and the stress can lead to multiple health issues. Pray that God would bless your pastor's physical, mental and spiritual health. Pray that he would rely on God rather than carrying the burden of stress. Pray he would daily be spiritually refreshed. Pray that he would avoid the physical illnesses that could easily sideline him. Pray that he would find time to exercise and relieve stress while staying healthy.

There are many things we could add to this list of ways you could pray for your pastor. These are just a few to get you started. Let us hear below in the comments section other ways we should pray for our pastors. Remember to pray for your pastor and then encourage him by letting him know you've been praying for him.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Live til it hurts.

This morning, while checking my phone, I received a notification on one of my social media pages. The notification was from a couple serving God in Asia that Misty and I are close to. The notification was from a picture of their beautiful daughter lying in a hospital bed. Her platelets had dropped extremely low and the doctors were unsure why. They need her platelet levels to come up to where they could test her for some very serious diseases. After calling Misty to tell her, I immediately started praying. Now I'm not an overly emotional guy, it's just not in my DNA. But I felt my self becoming choked up at the thought of this family that we love so much going through a serious situation like this. I was a little surprised by it but then I thought that it made complete sense for me to feel that way. Our family and this family have "done life together." We've celebrated weddings, mourned deaths, and rejoiced at the births of children together. We view their kids as our niece and nephew. We love this little girl and her brother as much as we do our own biological nieces. We have no physical blood relations yet our hearts hurt when theirs do. The reason our hearts hurt is because of our love for them that is rooted in our common relationship with Christ. So technically we are related by blood, the blood of Christ.

This mornings events caused me to reflect on why I responded the way I did. It was because Misty and I had poured ourselves into this family and they had done the same. One hope that we have for enduring the difficulties of this life is to rely on those people around us that we are "doing life" with. They are the ones that we can call and will stop what they're doing to help us. They are the ones who have celebrated with us and cried with us. We need to be pouring ourselves into the lives of the people we worship with. We need to have a group to fellowship with. This group can draw strength from each other. They can support each other in the difficult times and rejoice together in the great times. Church is the best place to find a network of support. But just sitting in the pews on a Sunday won't give you the connection you need. I encourage you to get involved in a small group, life group or Sunday School class where you can grow as a believer, develop your faith and build relationships for life. Then you need to live until it hurts. That means getting involved in the lives of each other in a way that when they hurt, you hurt. When they celebrate, you celebrate. God built man for community not solitude. We thrive physically and spiritually in community. So get in there and start to live until it hurts.

Please be in prayer for this missionary family that we know. At this time they don't know what has caused the drop in platelets but our friends are asking for the doctors to have wisdom to figure it out. Thank you for your prayers.

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