Thursday, May 4, 2017

How To Lose While Trying To Win

I enjoy winning. If I lose a game I feel deflated, as if I have wasted some of my time on actually playing the game. It’s not about having fun or spending time with friends and family, I want to win. Of course, I am partially joking, but we all would admit that winning is better than losing. That is why, as a Christian and as a pastor I want to win. Too often I see Christians who are trying hard to experience personal victories but never will because they are going about it the wrong way. I’ve listed three things here that will keep you from experiencing personal victories every single time.

James 1:20, “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
Nothing spiritual has ever been accomplished out of an angry heart. Yet I see pastors motivate out of anger and I see Christians who walk into church with anger in their hearts. Some Christians try to make their angry disposition sound spiritual by saying that they have righteous indignation, but they do not fool God and they mostly do not fool other people, they are just angry. God will not use an angry Christian. And if you think you will experience spiritual victories while harboring anger in your heart, you are in for a disappointment.

Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him…”
There is no room for doubt in the Christian life. God wants you to have faith in him. I think one of the biggest lies given to Christians today is that all you need is a little faith and God can do great things. That is not what Jesus was saying when he talked about the mustard seed. He said he can use a little faith, not that we can have just a little faith. What’s the difference? Let me ask you this: That mustard seed that produced a mighty tree, was it half a seed, a small part of a seed, or a full seed? Obviously, it had to be a full seed. I am not going to plant my garden and cut my seeds into tiny pieces before planting them, nothing would happen. The same is true with your faith, do not give a small chunk of your faith to God, completely trust Him. Yes, all of your faith is still very little faith (just a little faith…), but God does not want some of it, God wants all of it. Why are Christians not experiencing spiritual victories? Because they do not fully trust God. 

Distractions and Sin
Hebrews 12:1, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us”
It saddens me how many people try to live the successful Christian life while still holding on to sin. You cannot have it both ways, a college professor used to always say to my class, “There are only two choices on the shelf, pleasing God and pleasing self!” You cannot hold on to sin and be a victorious Christian. Along those lines, you cannot have distractions and be a victorious Christian. Notice that the verse differentiates between weights and sins. This is telling me that there are some things in life that are not necessarily sin but slow me down in my spiritual race. Let me ask you, what is slowing you down in your walk with God? What is decreasing your fervency? Get rid of it!

James 4:6, “…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”
Possibly the biggest problem that Christians face is pride. Pride comes naturally to us because we are naturally sinful people. But we see that God resists the proud. What does that mean? It actually means that he is actively opposing the proud, not passively, actively. To give you an idea of this, my son loves playing outside and he loves getting dirty while doing so. I have had trouble lately getting him inside to take a bath. He will kick and cry, he will fight me so that he can stay inside and play some more. What is he doing? He is resisting me. The big difference between my son and God though, is that God has the power to resist me. I can punish my son and put him in time out for his resistance, but I certainly cannot do that to God. Let me ask you, do you want God actively working on your behalf (he giveth grace to the humble) or do you want him actively working against you? The answer should be obvious. Yet many Christians find themselves trying to live the Christian life and constantly running into a brick wall because God is resisting their heart of pride.

Those are a few things that hinder our walk with God and stop us from being victorious. Can you think of any more? Tell me in the comments!

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why Christians Ought To Be The Most Loving People In The World

This month for Calvary Baptist Church is what we call Love Works Month. I will be encouraging the members of the church to perform individual acts of kindness and then use that kindness to then share the Gospel. The church will also be involved in several corporate activities including: making lunch for first responders, giving away cookies at our local 5k run, holding a special offering for Hart Life, and giving donuts to fast food workers all across town. I adopted the Love Works concept from several other churches, but as the years have gone by my own personal feelings toward it have grown and even changed. The purpose of Love Works, for us, used to be to give out the Gospel in a unique way; that is certainly still what it is all about, but over the last few years another purpose for Love Works has emerged in my heart and that is this: Christians ought to be loving people. It breaks my heart that when I look at the landscape of our solid independent, Baptist churches I see a few dots of loving, caring people in the midst of a sea of mean-spirited people. I understand that sometimes our stand for doctrine will make us seem mean-spirited, and that is not what I am talking about; instead, I am talking about the rude behavior, the grumpy attitudes, the “get off my lawn” mentality that so many have. But here is the things: Christians ought to be loving people, not just any kind of loving, but the most loving. To not be so is a poor representation of what we are and who we serve. Here are three reasons why Christians ought to be the most loving people in the world:

We Have Christ
There is no greater example of love than Jesus Christ. He lived 33 years on this planet, despised and rejected of man. But even through the mistreatment, the name calling, and the hatred, Jesus still went to that cross and died on it out of a love for me, out of a love for you, and out of a love for them. It is hard for us to fully grasp that when Jesus was on that cross, he was able to look down at the people who were cheering his death and were mocking but was able to truly say that he loved them. Jesus loved every Pharisee that was standing around the cross, he loved every Roman centurion, he loved Herod and Pilate, he loved Judas, and he loves us.
Sometimes we feel like we have just cause for hating someone because of a way they mistreated us, but we would be wise to remember that no one can do as bad to you as you have done to Jesus, yet he still loves you and he died on the cross for you. The love that Jesus displays for me motivates me to love others in a greater way.

We Have The Capability
Because we have the example of Christ, we are capable of loving in a greater way than the rest of the world. The “acts of love” that a lot of people perform today are not completely sincere. A lot of people give time and/or money to feel good about themselves, sometimes they do these things because of a feeling of guilt. In both of those cases, the action is performed, not for the person that is the recipient of the action, but for the person doing the action. Now, I am not saying that every Christian is always completely sincere when they are loving, but I am saying that Christians have the distinct capability of being self-less in our love because of the purpose of our love: sharing Jesus Christ. When we give out 300 bags of cookies in a few weeks, we will not be doing it to feel good about ourselves, we will be doing it to get the Gospel into the hands of 300 people. It’s not about us, it is about those who are still lost and on their way to Hell, and an action of love by a Christian may very well push them over the edge and they might accept Christ.

We Have The Command
If the other two reasons were not a reality, this one stands by itself. Countless times in the Bible, we are shown that we ought to be kind, loving people:
Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love…”
John 13:34,35, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
Romans 12:10, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another”
Do I need any more than that? Because there are more! There is no legitimate excuse for a Christian to be a hateful person, to be so is to either be ignorant of what the Bible says or to resist what the Bible says. Let’s be loving people, because Christ commands us to be.

When we display the love of Christ, that is when we will make a difference in this world, Jude 22, “And of some have compassion, making a difference”. It does not say that our stand against wickedness will make a difference, or that our standards will make a difference, both are very important, but the passage tells us that compassion is what will  make a difference in our world. Could it be that Christians today are not seeing the world turn upside down for Jesus because they do not have compassion that makes a difference? Give me your thoughts in the comments!

Also, don’t forget to check out my newest book, Level Up!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What Is Church?

I believe that when we all get to Heaven, there will be many people shocked and bewildered that Jesus will not like the way that they did church while on earth. I see the church of the first century and compare it to the practices of a lot of churches today and amazed how far off the mark many have gone. I am not claiming that the first century church was perfect, just a casual study of Acts and several of the epistles proves for a fact that they were far from perfect. But there were quite a few things that they did get right. Today I want to point out three operations that the Bible says that the church ought to be involved in:

The Great Commission

Mark 16:15, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
The church exists to be a vehicle of the furtherance of the Gospel. This is the primary function of the church. I have been asked before, “Should the church focus on evangelism or should it focus on discipleship?” The answer is… “Yes.” I understand, some churches emphasize one over the other. Some churches focus on winning souls but they never do anything to help baby Christians to grow, whereas some churches get so wrapped up in searching out the depths of Scripture that they forget to look outward to a lost and dying world. A balanced church will reach out to a sinful world, and when those people get saved that church will bring them in, teach them the Word of God (discipleship) and then send them out to do the work of the ministry and reach more people for Jesus.
We are guilty of treating the church as more of a book club and less like an army. The point is to recruit more soldiers and then train them to go out and recruit more soldiers. The church does not continue without the Great Commission. By the way, I believe that is one of the reasons why we are seeing a decline in church attendance and in Christianity in our nation today, for more than a generation the church has been fixated on making the sinful world conform to its standards by using the government as its tool at the expense of spreading the Gospel, which will transform the sinful world, with the Bible as our tool. Satan does everything he can to stop us from spreading the truth of the Gospel, because it is the Gospel that has the power to save souls and change lives. Why has the church become satisfied with simple conformity to our way of life rather than yearning for the transformative work of the Gospel? Complacency. Laziness. Pride. The church is about spreading the Gospel.


Next time you go to a church service, I want you to intentionally think about how each aspect of the service is an act of worship. I look at Calvary Baptist Church’s particular schedule of events for our worship services and notice that each action done is for the purpose of worship (with the exception of Announcement time). The first thing that comes to mind is the singing of songs, we do not do that as a time filler so that we do not have to listen to the pastor preach an hour long sermon, we do it as an act of worship. Our tithes and offerings are an act of worship. It is saying, “Lord, you have been so good to me, I want to give you something in return.” Truly a time of worship. The preaching of God’s Word is worship, as it is approached in a desire to learn more about our God and his Word. Even the altar call at the end of the sermon is an act of worship, as it is kneeling down before God and saying, “Lord, I am convicted of my sin, please help me to please you with my life!”
The problem is, too often we approach Sunday morning as more of a routine than actual worship. “I sing because that is what we do every week”, “I give because I have to”, “Pastor preaches because he has to do something around here,” It all becomes a routine rather than an act of true worship. Let me challenge you, when you walk into your church on Sunday, have a worshipful attitude. Participate in the service as if God is standing in front of you and you are worshiping Him (because He is and you are!)

Growth in the Word

Acts 17:11, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
I was once told that doctrine and theology were for a pastor to know and not the laypeople. It is a shame that a lot of people feel this way. There are plenty of Christians who have been saved for decades but still only have a surface concept of their faith. As the average Christian how to prove from the Bible that Jesus is God and they may break out in hives out of fear. How many Christians know how to go through the Gospel and lead someone to Christ? Too few! How many Christians actually understand their salvation and all the beauty of it? Again, too few. We go to church so that we can grow in the Word of God. By the way, this does not contradict my first point at all. True growth in the Word of God will motivate me and equip me to be a better soul winner. A Christian who knows what the Bible says about eternal security can show that to another Christian who is wavering. A Christian that can show the deity of Christ in the Gospels is better equipped to show that Jesus indeed died on the cross and rose again for our sins. A Christian that dives deeper into learning everything that happened to them at the moment of their salvation will be amazed and more thankful and, in turn, motivated to reach more people with the Gospel. The Bible is an incredible book (quite the understatement!) we need to dig deep into it, and when we do, we will be motivated to serve more. That is why I suggest being in church every time the doors are open. The way I preach (and a lot of pastors do too), is on Sunday morning I preach in a series (right now in the ministry of Christ) Sunday night I typically do stand alone sermons as God leads me to preach, and then on Wednesday night we do a verse by verse study of a book of the Bible (right now we are in Revelations). That gives us a well-rounded schedule of Bible study not just in where in the Bible we are studying but even in how we are studying it. But the point is all the same- Growth.

I believe that in many churches today we have lost sight of these three things. We have become overly concerned with making the church our own little family group that gets together every week. We make it into a social club. We use the funds of the church to cater to the whims of our own rather than reaching a dying world with the Gospel. We have meals and potlucks just for the sake of having them, rather than using them to bring people in from the fields of sin. Do not forget Jesus’ purpose for the church, and do not forget to follow it. If we are to be Jesus’ church, we are to follow his rules. 

Check out my newest book- Level Up

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Two Times The Gospel Was Presented To Me (In My Adult Life)

All my life, I have grown up in churches that taught the importance of personal soul winning. I have been challenged to go out of the church building and tell as many people as I can about Jesus. Every Christian ought to be a witness for the Lord, Jesus has commanded that we “Go and Tell”. In my adult life, there have been two occasions in which someone confronted me with the Gospel. I want to tell you about both encounters:
The first encounter was when I was working at Panera Bread. I was in seminary in Florida. I had just gotten married and was earning my Masters Degree. I worked at Panera to pay my school bill and for us to survive. I often worked at the cash register and had the privilege of meeting a lot of people. One day, as I was taking a lady’s order, after she paid she handed me a piece of paper, she smiled, and simply said, “Read this paper when you have a chance, it will show you what the Bible says about going to Heaven!” And then left. Of course, this blessed my heart. I am already saved, but it is always nice to see other people spreading the Gospel. I looked at the  paper (we would call it a tract), the church named on it was a local non-denominational church. As I read what the tract said about the Gospel and the plan of salvation, I was pleased to see that it was doctrinally sound, a person could read it and be saved by believing!
My second encounter was actually yesterday. I was pumping gas, and a truck pulled up onto the other side of the pump. A man got out and started pumping gas. The man said hi to me, and I said hi back. I was wearing a suit coat and tie because I was about to go to a funeral, and maybe that was why he asked me, “Are you from Hartwell?” I then told him that I was actually the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church. He went on to talk to me about the Bible. He told me that he was a Mennonite and we talked a little about Biblical interpretation ( we were in agreement that the Bible ought to be taken literally). After that, he asked me about how I was certain about Heaven! I was shocked and pleased. Most people, after hearing that they were talking to a pastor, would not have the courage to ask that question. But this man was not afraid, and he asked me about my soul. I explained to him that I was saved by grace through faith, not by my own works but by the finished work of Christ on the cross. We shared a little bit of conversation about the Gospel and how sweet it is. After that he said to me, “A long time ago, I made a decision to tell as many people as I possibly could about the Gospel!” What a blessing!

As I dwell on both of these encounters, I cannot help but be convicted by them. There are actually two things about these encounters that convict me:
First, why do I not witness like that? This may come as a surprise to you, but I am a relatively shy person. I am very introverted and it makes me nervous just talking to people that I do not know. As I think about my encounter from yesterday, I cannot see myself suddenly initiating conversation with a random stranger at the gas station. But I most certainly can do what that woman did when I was working at Panera. We are already forced to talk to people at fast food restaurants that we are ordering from, why can’t I take an extra 5 seconds (at the most) and say, “Hey, can you read this when you have a chance? It’s about how to know you will go to Heaven when you die!” It is not that hard. I am convicted by the fact that, yes, I am a soul winner. I try to get out every week to knock on doors and spread the Gospel and as pastor of Calvary I enjoy creating opportunities for our church to spread the Gospel even more through special days, Love Works, Neighborhood Bible Time, and others. But when I see someone taking relatively mundane experiences like ordering at fast food or getting gas and then turning them into soul winning opportunities, it shows me that these people are truly serious about the Gospel. I need to have a heart for lost souls like these two wonderful people have, not just at designated times of the week, but ALL THE TIME.
Second, those of you who come to Calvary or are familiar with me know that I am an independent Baptist. I am more than an independent Baptist: I am an independent, fundamental, Bible-believing Baptist. These two that witnessed to me were non-denominational and Mennonite. I will preface what I am about to say with this: I have very little issue with Mennonites and very little issue with (most) non-denominational churches. I have met many sincere and doctrinally sound people in both of those categories. But I am an independent Baptist, and I cannot ignore that. As I said, all of my life I have been brought up in independent Baptist churches that have told me that I need to make my Gospel witness personal. And to be honest, I do not think I have ever met an independent Baptist pastor who was not also passionate about personal soul winning in his preaching. But again, the two times I was witnessed to were when a non-denominational lady gave me a tract and when a Mennonite asked about my soul. I’ll take it further, the only time that someone has ever knocked on my door to ask me about my eternity was when the Mormon missionaries came by (I understand that they are in doctrinal error, but they did show concern for my soul). As independent Baptists, we claim that we have a fire and a passion to see people get saved, but from my personal experiences I have seen that this is mostly not true. Baptist friends, stop talking about soul winning and start actually soul winning. Nothing gets accomplished by talking about something you ought to do, things get accomplished when you actually do it.
Pretty negative post, so let me tell this story to balance things out a little bit. My family and I were traveling from Florida back home to Georgia a few weeks ago. We stopped at a Chick-fil-a to get some food before continuing our journey. At one point I went to the restroom. When I was at the sink washing my hands, there was a Gospel tract from a Baptist church sitting against the mirror. I examined the tract, the pastor of the church was listed, I saw that the pastor was a close friend of my dad’s. This church was all the way in North Carolina, and I was in a Chick-fil-a in Georgia. I realized that someone from that North Carolina church, in their travels, left a Gospel tract in the restroom to try to be a witness to whoever was coming next. What a blessing!
Being a witness of the Gospel can truly be simply, but we MUST determine to actually do it. In closing, here are a few simply ways you can share the Gospel in your day to day activity:
  • Give a tract to the fast food worker that you give your money to
  • Leave a tract (and a good tip) for your waiter/waitress at a sit down restaurant
  • Leave a tract in a public place where someone will easily find it (a restroom, a condiment stand, an ATM, or at the laundromat)
  • Take opportunities to talk to people (gas station, in lines, in commute)
Soul winning is more than a weekly church activity or something we do on Sunday, it should be a part of our daily lives, bleeding into our most basic of interactions. The Gospel message is deserving of it. Be a messenger of the Gospel.

Question for the comment section: How are you being a witness in your day-to-day activity?

Don’t forget to check out my new book- Level Up!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Three Favorite Verses About Doing Right

I want to be honest with you, dear reader, about something. This week I got discouraged. I have said in church before that the biggest difficulty for me when it comes to pastoring is my desire to make people happy and for people to like me. It is a weakness of mine. I understand that making people happy is not a bad thing, but at the same time we must have an understanding that when you do the right thing and you stand up for it there are going to be times, plenty of times, when you will not be liked for it. My family was at Disney World a few weeks ago, as we were walking to an attraction we came across a cast member who had a big grin on her face, she was holding a bubble wand that blew bubbles all over the place. Children and parents alike were giggling and playing with the bubbles and having a good time. I thought to myself, “Man, that sure is the life! Your job is simply to make people happy!” But the truth is, and this is nothing against this girl or any of those cast members for that matter, a smile is short-lived doing right has eternal rewards. I say all of that to say this: My desire to make people happy is strong, but I have to constantly keep that in check with God’s calling on my life, and that calling is to do right. As Ron Hamilton wrote in song, “Do right til the stars fall, Do right till the last call, Do right when there’s no one else to stand by you. Do right when you're all alone, do right though it’s never known, Do right since you love the Lord. Do right, DO RIGHT!”
It is times when I am discouraged in doing right that I am reminded of these verses, I want to share them with you today.

  1. Joshua 24:15, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua was giving the children of Israel his final address. He knew that the children of Israel were prone to wander and to rebel against God. It was in light of this that Joshua stood and made an example of himself and of his family. He told them that they needed to choose who they would serve (something they would truly struggle with for generations to come) the Canaanite gods or the Lord. But then he says this, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” What was he saying? Basically, “If you all choose to worship the false gods of the Canaanites, me and my family are still going to serve the true and living God!” Joshua was committed to serving the Lord, even if it meant doing it alone. I’ll be honest with you today, the path of doing right is a lonely path. There are many who will oppose you, there are many who will walk with you for a little while and then turn back, unsaved people will mock you, many in the church will scorn you, even hate you. But you must determine to do right. Remember the song, “I have decided to follow Jesus”? One of the most touching verses to that song, yet one of the most difficult to sing is, “Though none go with me, still I will follow, no turning back.” Determine this, “Even though I stand alone, I will do what’s right!”
  1. 1st Peter 1:16, “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”
Some Christians get saved and then after that go about living their own way. Time does not permit me to delve into the churches that propagate this false teaching, but suffice it to say that these people believe they can do whatever they want because, “Jesus died on the cross for all my sin, therefore all of my sins are forgiven, I can do whatever I want because my sins are forgiven already.” What a carnal way to look at salvation and the Christian life! But this is part of the mindset behind Christians being involved in much of the wickedness that the unsaved world is involved in. Name any sin that an unsaved person regularly commits and you will not struggle to find a saved person who has, is, and relishes in doing the same. The reason I point out this verse is because it is a direct command of God. It is not a suggestion, it is not a good idea, it is a command. And it is a command to be HOLY. Holy means to be set apart. What basically God is saying is that we ought to be set apart from the world, we ought to be different from them. We ought to look different, act different, talk different, and be different. Why? Because we ARE different thanks to the blood of Jesus Christ! When I am tempted to hang in the towel on doing right, maybe just ease up a little, I am reminded that God has called me to be this way. To not do right is to go against the command of God and why would I want to disobey the one who has given everything for my salvation?
I don’t want to misrepresent myself here, I do fail sometimes often. I am by no means perfect, some of you who are reading this know me pretty well and you can attest to that, I am a sinful person. But I still strive to do right, and it is this command that helps me continue on.
  1. Daniel 3:17-18, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
We know the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (their real names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and I am sure they would be offended by us calling them by Babylonian names, but that is a different post for a different day) they did not bow down to the idol and so they were thrown into the fiery furnace, and, as we know, God spared them from the flame. Before they were thrown into the furnace, they testified to Nebuchadnezzar the verses that I posted up above. What are they saying? Basically, “We know that our God can deliver us from the flame of the fiery furnace, but even if he does not WE WILL NOT BOW!” They believed in the power of God, which we all should, but they determined that even if it was not within the will of God to protect them from the flame, they would do what is right. The truth is, doing right sometimes hurts. You will sometimes face real troubles for doing right. The eternal rewards are wonderful, but let’s be honest, it is difficult to think about the eternal rewards for doing right when you are hurting right now for doing right! The three Hebrew boys said, “Do whatever you want to do, you can kill us, you can throw us into the fire, but we will not disobey our God!” What steely determination! It makes me think of the martyrs who burned at the stake for standing up for the Word of God and their beliefs. They would not recant for anyone, even if it meant burning at the stake, being drowned in the lake, or being cut with the sword. And when I think of the testimonies of these brave Christians it breaks my heart that so many times I am so quick to give up on doing right over the smallest of oppositions! We must be like these three boys and determine to do right, no matter what difficulties may come our way for doing so.

Do right! We see that we ought to do right even when we must stand alone, we see that we ought to do right because it is commanded by God, and we see that we ought to do right although we may face hardships for doing so.

Don’t forget to check out my new book here!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Why Are Young People Leaving the Church (And What Can We Do About It)?

I am a young pastor. I pastor an “older” church. I am one of the youngest adult members of the church that I pastor but it is my desire to change that. In these past three years I have been introduced to countless people my age and almost every time I ask them about church they will say, “Oh, I went to church as a kid, but I don’t anymore,” or worse, “Oh yeah! I used to go to Calvary Baptist Church (which is the church that I pastor)!” This sentiment is not just in Hartwell, GA, but it is everywhere. Plenty of my friends on Facebook grew up in Bible-preaching churches, but are now no longer active, turned off by the church and its people. What happened? I know that some have written long articles about this very subject, but I hope to offer some insight from the perspective of being both a young man (at this point, 27 years old) and a senior pastor. Here are a few reasons, why I have seen, young people are leaving the church and what we, as the church, can do about it.

They Clung to People Rather than God
Everybody wants a hero. We all long for someone to look up to in life. A lot of teenagers are pressured by the church and Christian leaders to not make heroes out of sports figures, movie stars, or similar types of people. This is wise advise. It is foolish to make heroes or role models out of people who often life worldly, sinful lives. But what ended up happening for some of these teens is that in order to fill the void of needing a hero or role model, they went to their parents, youth pastor, senior pastor, coach at their Christian school, etc. You may say, “That is a good thing!” But I would suggest that it is not! I love my parents, they are wonderful people, but I am not fooled by something, my parents are sinners. My parents are capable of doing things that break the heart of God. So is your pastor, so is your youth pastor, or whoever else. This does not mean that they are not worthy of our admiration and respect, but it does mean that they are not perfect. When teens are inevitably presented with the harsh truth that their parents or their pastors are not perfect people they are quick to call out the word “hypocrite!” What they fail to understand is that, in many cases, their spiritual leaders are not hypocrites, they are simply sinners on the same spiritual journey that they are on, maybe a little further along, but on the same journey nonetheless. 
What Can We Do About It? The answer is simple. Make Jesus the hero. The moment that teens start clinging onto God instead of onto the adults in their life is when they begin to develop a truly deep relationship with God. Something that I strive to do as I preach is to often remind my congregation that I am a sinner. I worry, I have pride, I sometimes act carnally. Their relationship with the Lord is not based on my spirituality, it is based on the goodness of God. Preacher, Sunday school teacher, parent, make JESUS the hero, don’t make yourself the hero. Making Jesus look good and lifting up his name will cause the young people of the church to be less disillusioned with the sinners surrounding them in church.

They Learned the Rules of Our Faith but not the Relationship
If a teenager is active in your church’s youth group and goes to your Christian school, they are aware of the rules of our faith. Their are quite a lot of rules too! As adults, we understand that there is a need for rules. Rules provide structure and organization. Also, rules keep sinful activity from being present in our youth groups and in our classrooms. Rules are good. The problem though, is that little children will follow a rule just because it is a rule and an adult says to follow it, a teenager will not. A teen wants to know why the rule is in place. Some adults may see such questioning as rebellion, but it certainly is not. Some adults do their best to silence such questioning, and they do themselves great harm in doing so. Teens question things, and that is what begins them on their personal journey of belief and knowledge. In other words, the teenage years are the prime years for a teen to practice their faith because THEY believe it rather than because their parents believe it. That is why the questioning of rules comes in, “Why don’t we say those words? Why don’t we watch that type of movie? Why don’t we have sex before marriage? Why are we supposed to behave this way?” When those questions go unanswered, it turns teens and young adults skeptical toward what we believe. A lot of spiritual leaders want their teens to simply fall in line and obey, but that is not what our ultimate goal ought to be. I was once told this, “Subdued and spiritual are not the same thing.” You may be doing well at getting your teen to obey, but that may very well end when they are out from under your roof if do not move them to being spiritual.
What Can We Do About It? Again, The answer is simple. Don’t just teach these young adults to adhere to rules, help them build a relationship with God. I once heard a good phrase, “Rules without relationship breed contempt”. Teach your teens why we have the rules we have, show them the Scripture that supports your rules (if you know the Scripture. if you don’t, it is time to start figuring it out!) But then teach them how to have a relationship with God- teach them to pray, teach them to read (no, study!) their Bibles. Take your teens from an area of doing to an area of being. Answer the “why” questions that they have and then show them the “how” about our faith. May I make an observation? I believe the BIG reason this goes undone is because many adults, who have been in the faith for decades, do not have a walk with God themselves. These young adults are not buying into all these rules without knowing why we have them, and you cannot expect them to.

They Did Not Learn Sound Doctrine
I have sat where many of our church teens are sitting. I have been to youth conferences that give emotional pleas the make decisions for the Lord. I have seen hundred of teens flood the aisles at camp meetings and youth conferences surrendering their hearts to Jesus. I have seen the tears of teens flow down their faces as they get things right with their peers and determine to live for Jesus. I have also seen less than 48 hours later, nearly every teen went back to living the same way and acting the same way they did before. What happened? Emotion driven decisions. Please do not misunderstand me, there is certainly a place for emotion when it comes to making decisions for Christ, and I believe that we ought to pull at these teens heartstrings, but THAT IS THE EASY PART. The hard part is moving passed the emotion and making them grounded. The only way to do that is with doctrine. Young adults can not survive in their faith through emotion alone, actually, emotion can only work so much by itself. If you are pulling at teens emotions without teaching them doctrine, over time they will grow to resent your use of emotion driven sermons and teaching to get them to make decisions for Christ. We need to use emotion in tandem with teaching the doctrinal truth, because ultimately it is doctrine that will keep our young adults in church and will make them grounded in our faith.
What Can We Do About It? Stop preaching “teen sermons” in youth group. What I mean is, a lot of youth pastors will preach sermons that they believe will appeal to their young audience. They preach a lot of sermons on faith, facing giants, God taking care of them, which are good subjects but do not make up much of what the Bible says at all, but do teach on the deity of Christ, the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the great depths of our salvation and how we can thoroughly enjoy it, the attributes of God, and what the church is in God’s eyes. Those may seem like topics that you do not think teens will listen to, but those are topics that they will need if they are going to stick around in the long run. I was once told that it is the pastor’s job to know doctrine and that it is the church members role to simply listen to sermons. Not many people are bold enough to voice that opinion, but I believe that is a sentiment shared by many. The problem with that thinking is that doctrine is and what should be the thing that strengthens us and keeps us in the church. Teach them Biblical truth.

They Are Turned Off By Traditionalism
We have done ourselves great harm in focusing on our traditions rather than on the good news of the Bible. I remember one time me and a few of my friends came up with a way to get more children to ride into church on our church buses. We were so excited about this program we had made and were prayerful about getting these young children in church. On the day that I was setting up for our special day, a lady came up to me with a sour look on her face and she said, “We’ve never done things this way before!” Honestly, hearing her say that, hearing her tone of voice, and seeing the anger on her face quenched my spirit. But looking back, I would have asked “young me” these questions: Does this idea go against the teachings of the Bible? The answer to that was no. Does this idea compromise anyones standards? Again, the answer was no. Does this idea have the potential to bring children into the church so they can hear the Gospel? The answer was ABSOLUTELY. So then, why should I give it a second thought whether or not the church had “never done this before”. Listen, just because your church has done something the same way for 3 decades does not mean that it is the right way to do things. I see where this attitude is coming from too, many older adults do not see the church as Jesus’ church but as their church. They feel as if everything should be centered around their comfort and that no changes ever ought to be made. They have “their” pew, and “their” parking spot, and they believe they are entitled to the church being exactly the way they want because they financially support the church. Here is the problem with that, the church does not belong to you, it belongs to Jesus, the church does not bow down to your whims and desires, it bows down to the command of Christ, that command includes reaching and even keeping young adults. These teens have creativity flowing through their minds, and when they start wanting to serve Jesus, those creative ideas are going to start coming up. Instead of squelching the creativity and zeal out of them, encourage it. It is ok to do a few new things, it is ok to have a different approach, and it is ok to follow the creative lead of a teen.
What Can We Do About It? I have challenged my congregation that they ought to never argue that we should not do something simply because we have never done it before. If they have a problem with a new program, new ministry, or new idea they ought to come to me with Scripture in hand or with a reasonable, well-thought out reason why it won’t work rather than say, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it and we don’t want it to change.” Be open to listen to your young adults. I know that many older adults believe themselves to be the “fount of all wisdom” and that their voices should be the only ones heard in the church. I respect the opinions of older adults, and appreciate their decades of labor and service for the Lord, but their opinion is not the only one in the room, and sometimes their opinion is not the right one in the room. Do not turn a deaf ear to these younger Christians.

I believe that these 4 points all boil down to one main theme: Authenticity. What is missing in many churches today is a real walk with the Lord and our young adults can see right through it. From my experience with young adults, they do not necessarily want the things that everyone says they want in a church. A lot of pastors think they can attract young adults by having concerts, by building coffee shops in their churches, and by using slang while they preach. Young adults are not looking for that, they are looking for an authentic experience. They are looking for a place where the Bible is preached unapologetically, by a man of God who admits that he is not perfect but on the same spiritual journey as they are, surrounded by people who sincerely strive to follow Jesus and want to help others on their journey. Boy, that is a tall order, but that is what the church is supposed to be and what we are supposed to do.

By the way, Our church is beginning to turn the corner with young adults. We now have several young couples who are involved in the church, they are excited, they are growing, they are writing notes during sermons, and soaking it all in. In our country, most churches are losing young adults by large numbers, but at Calvary Baptist Church we are gaining young adults slowly but surely. I believe that has to do with understanding these 4 points and what we ought to do about them.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Christian Rules for Handling Bullies

I was bullied when I was in high school. I was not physically beaten up but I was mistreated quite a bit which did bring me quite a bit of emotional grief and tears. I am quick to admit that some of the mistreatment that I got was self-inflicted (I was a little bit of a “know-it-all” stinker), but for the most part, I did not deserve the way that I was treated (neither do 99.99999999999% of people that are bullied). That is why I sympathize with people who struggle with being bullied. Although I sympathize, I do not agree with a lot of the methods being taught today about handling bullies. To me, it seems as if this generation is not being taught how to handle bullies, but that they have the right to not be around bullies. There is a problem with that thinking and let me give you an illustration: When I was a teen there was one person, above all others, that was really cruel to me (let’s call him Bill). One day I was so fed up that I told my dad about how upset I was that Bill was picking on me. Dad told me this piece of truth “Curt, there is going to be a “Bill” everywhere you go for the rest of your life.” Do you know what? He was right! I went off to Bible college and there was a guy just like Bill, I went to work at Panera Bread and at each store I ended up working at I worked with a Bill, even now that I am in the ministry I have to deal with “Bills” every Sunday. The point I am trying to make is this: No matter how far you run, there will always be a bully. That does not make it right, it does not make it fair; but it does mean that we need to learn how to handle them instead of running away from them. Fortunately, Jesus does not leave us without answers when it comes to dealing with bullies. Here are some rules to abide by if you are a Christian.

Be kind

Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

I feel like I mention kindness almost every blog post that I write. The reason for that is because of the fact that as Christians WE OUGHT TO BE KIND. Let me ask you, does a bully deserve your kindness? Absolutely not! To be honest, it can be hard enough to be kind to your friends, let alone your enemies. But there are a few reasons why this is a good practice. First, it will burn the bully with conviction (Romans 12:20, “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.) Second, you will be blameless and on the high ground. And third, and most important, it is what Jesus did for you. Let me elaborate on this one, you were the enemy of God (Romans 5:10) before you were saved. You did not deserve a single good thing from God, all you deserved was eternity in Hell, but Jesus came and died on a cross for your sins as undeserving as you are. That is called grace. That same grace that Jesus gave to us, we ought to give to other people as well. Does that bully deserve your kindness? No! Give it to him anyway. Aren’t you glad that Jesus didn’t just save those who “deserved” to be saved! Let’s be like Jesus and show grace to everyone.

Be prayerful

Matthew 5:44, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”

I heard a sermon when I was a teen, it was about loving your enemies. The preacher said something that stuck to my mind, he said, “It is impossible to not love someone that you pray for every day.” I heard what he said, I thought about the bullies in my life, and I took him to task on that statement. I singled out the top 5 people who were particularly cruel to me and every night before I went to bed I would pray for them, calling them the Fantastic Five (I was, and still am, a nerd). I didn’t pray anything dumb like, “I pray they will have a ton of bricks fall on them”, instead I prayed three things, first, that God would give them a good day the next day, and second, that I would be granted the opportunity to show at least one of them kindness. And third, that God would help me to love them. Do you know what happened? They never changed. Those five kept being bullies, they never stopped mistreating me. But there was a change inside of me. I can honestly say that I love those 5 now and if I were to see any one of them today I would have nothing but kind things to say to them. God put a piece in my heart that could only be gotten by praying for my enemies. If you have a bully who is ruining your life, pray for them.

Choose to be happy

Acts 16:25, “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.”
Paul and Silas were in a difficult situation, they were in prison. They had been beaten and now their feet were in stocks, rodents and vermin were likely crawling all over them. In the middle of this awful circumstance, Paul and Silas praised God. Their actions show us that happiness is not based on circumstances. By the way, even if it was based on circumstances you should still be happy, here are your circumstances: you are on your way to Heaven instead of Hell, you are no longer seen by God as a sinner but a saint, you are a child of God rather then a child of sin. Be happy. No matter what life throughs your way, be happy. In fact, God does not say to just be happy in convenient times, but to “rejoice in the Lord ALWAY” (Philippians 4:4). What does being happy have to do with bullies? The reason that bullies will bully people you is because they do not want you to be happy, they want to see you miserable. I’ve had to learn this the tough way, the bully is happy when you cry, the bully is giddy and feels like he has won when you lash out in anger, but the bully has lost when you do not let him get to you and you keep that smile on your face. In high school, I would get weepy and sad over people that were unkind to me, but now I have learned that in order to win against a bully you need to smile in their face, say hello to them whenever you see them with a little bit of a spring in your voice as if nothing they do or say can get you down. Everyone, even a bully, ought to see that you have the joy of Jesus in your heart.
By the way, bullies are often miserable themselves, that is why they are a bully (miserable people make more miserable people and then they are happy!) maybe you can help the bully by spreading that joy a little: invite them to church, witness to them, again, be kind. Show them the reason why you are happy.

I want to send out a disclaimer before this post is finished: I am not trying to victim shame. I know what being a victim of bullying is like, it is not fun. I wish that no one would have to go through bullying. I am not trying to victim shame, instead, I am trying to keep you from being a victim. I would rather be a victor than be a victim, and I believe that when it comes to bullies we can be victors. I believe that when we follow these truths found in the Word of God we can be victorious over bullies.