The Jonah Effect – Contempt vs. Compassion & Evangelism

Many people today, both in and outside of Christianity, know about Jonah from the Bible. Mostly remembered for being inside of a great fish, Jonah’s tale teaches us much more than just the time he spent an aquatic creature’s stomach.

In fact, God’s speaks to us today just as clearly as those who would have read the part of the Old Testament so many years ago. At the heart of Jonah’s struggle resides the war between pride and compassion – self-righteousness versus evangelism.

The first three chapters of Jonah describe the process of God calling Jonah to bring a prophecy to the evil city Nineveh, Jonah running away via ship, God disturbing the sea, Jonah’s shipmates eventually casting him overboard (at his own request – which actually leads to their worship of the Lord), Jonah being swallowed by a great fish and his prayer of repentance, followed by his return to dry land and preaching to Nineveh. The entire city, upon hearing Jonah’s message from the Lord, repents of their sins and worships God.

The fourth chapter of Jonah gives us the real backstory behind Jonah’s foolish escape attempt from God’s calling. Many have tried to say Jonah was afraid of what might happen to him in Nineveh, but Jonah 4:1-3 tells us the truth:

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was yet in my country? That I is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah actually grew angry because the Ninevites repented and avoided the judgment of the Lord! Reading that makes me angry at Jonah’s pride and self-righteousness, but does my judgment of Jonah also apply to my own life?

Christ calls all of his disciples to share his gospel to the world, but many of us turn and run from that every day. Are we not in the same boat as Jonah? Why do we act this way?

Sure, some of us may claim that we are afraid to share our faith, but what is the real story behind our excuses? What Jonah lacked we also find ourselves deficient – compassion for those who did not or do not know the Lord. Notice the difference between that and how Matthew describes Jesus in Matthew 9:6:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

 Jesus had compassion for people – not just the poor and downtrodden. Jesus had compassion on the cities he looked out over, even those that would soon demand his crucifixion.

Paul paints a wonderful picture of Christ’s humility in Philippians 2:5-11, as he urged the Philippian church to imitate Christ’s humility:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Humility sets the stage for compassion. We lack compassion today because we lack humility and servant-hood. We let pride reign in us and fuel our self-righteousness. If this were not true, then the church would be sharing the good news of Christ with a lost world! Instead, the church spends too much time looking down on the lost with contempt like Jonah stared at Nineveh.

Let’s examine more of how pride fuels our self-righteousness and squelches our compassion. For Jonah, he was an Israelite, a member of the people of God. When God established Israel, he wanted his people to live in relationship with him and bear his name to the world. We see through the Scriptures that instead Israel mostly turned inward and developed pride for themselves instead of compassion for the world that did not know God.

When Jesus was on earth in the time of the Pharisees, this attitude had developed into a strong self-righteousness based on how well one would observe and keep the law. The “better” someone could keep all the laws, then the “better” that person was. The Pharisees for the most part believed they were better and treated others just like they were not. Jesus actually addressed this in a parable that would have seemed quite shocking to those who hear it (Luke 18:9-14):

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We fall into this same trap today. Those of us in the Church, the people of God, get so consumed with our own morality and self-righteousness that we, either blatantly or subtlety, look at the lost world with contempt. Instead of thinking, “They need to hear the good news of Christ from us,” we think, “They need to act more like us.”

Today as cultures and lifestyles that differ from us assert themselves in the world, the sharp division of contempt or compassion becomes more and more apparent. Our contempt grows in the face of the celebration of sin rather than compassion for the lostness of those who are deceived by such things.

How do we combat this battle that rages within us? It all begins when we remember what actually sets us apart is not our own doing. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 5:8:

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Even when we did not deserve it – Christ gave his life for us! How quickly we forget this! If we look back at Jonah, he forgot it too:

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Our pride lies to us. It tells us that we make ourselves good and what we do good makes us better than someone else. Then we don’t have any reason to share our faith when we are wrapped up in our own self-righteous bubble.

The time has come to burst that bubble and remember that our good is not really that good. Jesus died to set us free from the burden of self-righteousness, but we still struggle with it daily. We will never take the gospel to the world if we continue seeing it with contempt instead of compassion.

May our hearts be broken so that we will honor Christ as Lord and see the world as he sees! Christ, the only one ever without sin, saw the world with compassion and love. As Christ-followers, we are called to do the very same!

Here are some steps to take if you are struggling with a compassionate heart for the lost:

  1. Ask for forgiveness – Ask God to forgive you for holding on to your pride and self-righteousness
  2. Remember – Remember back when you gave your life to Christ. What led you to that?
  3. Humbly serve – Start small and serve others. Have the same mind that Christ did like Paul wrote in Phil. 2
  4. Read the Bible – this may sound like a no-brainer, but the best way to combat the lies of pride is with the Word of Truth
  5. Be accountable – Be a part of group of believers that will help keep your heart in check

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday School Leadership June 2018 – Being Spiritually Prepared

I shared the following with our Sunday School leadership this past month at FBC Chickasha, and I also wanted to share it here on my blog. Anyone who serves in ministry must recognize essential nature of not only being prepared logistically but also spiritually.

As a Sunday School leader, what does it mean to be prepared every week? Everyone who leads in Sunday School has something to prepare, whether it be a Bible study, group fellowship, prayer time, working on outreach, ministry needs, outreach projects, or anything else! All of these roles are extremely important, but we must not forget the most important aspect of preparation for our ministry.

Above anything else we must prepare as leaders in Christian ministry, we must be spiritually prepared. The work we do stands empty and hollow without the Holy Spirit empowering us.

Remember carefully what Jesus said to his disciples as he was preparing to go to the cross. He gave a powerful reminder of the true foundation of the work to come:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1-5

Notice that Jesus instructs to be spiritually connected to him before we are to engage in ministry, seeking to lead others to follow Jesus more.

We cannot lead people where we have not gone ourselves!

Does this mean that study and preparation for a Bible study or a fellowship is not important? By no means! Even with this admonition that Jesus gave to his disciples, we still see them focusing on study of the Word throughout the rest of the New Testament. The challenge we see before us calls us to spend time with Jesus before we begin preparing for Sunday morning.

As we consider our Discipleship DNA for Sunday School, studying the Scripture stands at the forefront, but our goal focuses on more than learning about the Bible. Sunday School exists not to simply convey information or teach knowledge but to transform people through encountering the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

Preparing week-in and week-out can lead to a rhythm of work, which can be very healthy but also lead to a lack of dependence on the Holy Spirit if we do not keep our humility and motivation in check. Pastors and other ministers know this well too.

May this challenge be a reminder to all of us who lead. Am I abiding in the One who I serve and teach about to others? Am I trying to produce fruit apart of the vine of Christ?

Here are some steps to consider in spiritual preparation for Sunday morning:

  1. Begin with prayer – before opening a lesson or reading a Bible passage, ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate your heart and mind. Be bold and ask him for passion for His Word and His people.
  2. Read the passage devotionally first – Don’t read a passage with a teacher guide or consider how it can be broken down into teaching points. Let the Word speak to you first. This challenge is not just for teachers but all leaders in the class/group.
  3. Meditate on the Scripture – This is not eastern mediation, emptying the mind of thought. Christian mediation involves filling the mind with Scripture and its truths. Let the Word early in the week be in your mind and consider it throughout each day.
  4. Prayers from the Scripture – after reading a passage, pray it! Martin Luther always asserted this type of prayer.
  5. Christian fellowship around the Word – speak with other teachers or members of your class and encourage one other with what’s coming.

These are only a few in many different possible ways to spiritually prepare for a Sunday morning Bible study. Abide in Christ! Abide in His Word! Pray for the power of God to work in your class each week and see what He will do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Deuteronomy 17:14-20 Tells Us About the Perfect King & Living Differently As God’s People

Who would you consider to be a great leader today? What qualities make up a great leader?

This question has surrounded great historical figures, drives our news media today, and comprises the content of many books and courses aimed at developing leaders.

In the ancient world, a leader was defined by his power, influence, wealth, and image. However, we see from the Bible, God’s perspective, that a true leader does not follow these same standards.

In fact, Jesus turned the turned the world around when it came to leadership. He embodied a new ideal of humility and servanthood in leadership, radically different from prior paradigms. In fact, author John Dickson describes this at length in his book Humilitas. He contrasts Christ’s attitude with those of the Caesars and the like who would place their faces on the currency or build monuments to themselves.

Interestingly, what Christ embodied in his leadership through his incarnation and time on earth actually reflects the mandate for the kings of Israel that God prescribed in the covenant of Deuteronomy.

Let’s look at what God told his people through Moses regarding the kings they would have in Deuteronomy 17:14-20:

14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. 18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Notice some of the defining characteristics of king laid out in this passage:

1. Not acquiring of many horses – focus on the might of one’s military, a temptation to rely less on God and on the strength of oneself or potential allies (vs. 16)
2. Not acquiring many wives – one of the biblical passages that speaks against polygamy, warning of the dangers of the practice, turning one’s heart away from the Lord (vs. 17a)
3. Not acquiring excessive wealth – resisting the temptations of greed and exploitation of others to gain status; a wealthy king would mean poor people (vs. 17b)

Instead of a king focusing on these things, God instructs that a king should instead focus on the law and following the Lord, so that his heart will be right. Notice in verse 20 the emphasis placed on “his heart not be lifted up above his brothers.” God’s true desire for a king over his people was someone who would serve the people and use his position for the good of others – not to build himself up.

We know that all the kings of Israel fell short of this standard, even David, the “golden king” of Israel. Christ, the King of kings, accomplished this standard and demonstrated it in his life.

What does this mean for us today as God’s people? Deuteronomy contains many powerful themes, but possibly the most important lesson it can teach us is that God desired for his people to be set apart from the world around them to display his character through them.

A king, like one described in Deut. 17, would accomplish this, especially in contrast to the other kings and leaders of the world. Can you imagine how incredible life would be like with leaders living out the greatest commandments to love God and love others, leading people to do the same? We might describe it as “Heaven on earth,” because we look forward to that one day.

Instead, so many kings and leaders, now and even today, fall to the temptations of selfness and greed. We may hold up Christ as the example of a true leader but few come close to the standard. Even those who do not follow Christ exemplify humility but rarely call for it when it counts.

Any leader today, especially ones that claim to follow Christ, should first and foremost study the call of leadership from God’s perspective: serving others, not serving self.

Many lessons can be learned from Deut. 17:14-20, but not just for leaders. We can all see the call of God to his people to be holy, set apart – different in a desirable way – to display his character to the world.

Are we living this out as God’s people? Are you living this out as a Christ-follower, living in the kingdom of God? We should examine ourselves and our actions when it comes to issues today like taking care of widows and the poor, treating others with respect who live different lifestyles, how people are treated at our borders, and so much more.

Too often standards derived from culture or political parties influence us, not God or His Word. We must ask ourselves in response to all of this, “Who do I really follow?”

Jesus Christ reigns as the Perfect King. The One who became man to serve and save us (Phil. 2:5-11) and who calls us to deny ourselves daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Who are you following?

We’ve Broken the First Commandment: Discipleship Starts with Surrender

Our pastor at FBC Chickasha, Michael Butler, began a new sermon series this morning over the Ten Commandments. His first sermon covered the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3). He challenged us to consider if we really put God first in our hearts and not merely pass over this commandment, thinking it only applies to non-believers.

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I wanted to share some thoughts regarding the First Commandment that Pastor Butler’s sermon inspired, from the context of discipleship and spiritual formation. For the Christ-follower today, the First Commandment is not only the beginning one’s relationship with Christ but also paramount to one’s spiritual formation and growing as a real disciple of him.

Pastor Butler mentioned some of the recent attention the Ten Commandments have received in Oklahoma over the past few years. Most of the commotion came from the removal of a monument of the Ten Commandments on state property near the capitol building. People were very emphatic about each side of the issue, but Pastor Butler made a bold and challenging assertion regarding the removal of the Ten Commandments from any such place.

He emphatically spoke of how long before the Ten Commandments were taken out of classrooms or courtrooms, they were taken out of our hearts.

I absolutely agree. For too long Christians and churches in our culture have abdicated the responsibility of putting God first in our lives and instead have looked for prominent symbols like Ten Commandments statues or In God We Trust on currency to demonstrate the reality of God in America. Any failure of influence of the Church on culture has not come because these symbols have been taken away – they have been removed because the Church has failed to influence! We’ve broken the first commandment.

At the core of this issue resides the truth that following Christ and growing as a disciple of him begins with surrender to God and his authority in our lives. Many in the church today consider being a Christian someone who belongs to a church or serves in Christian activities, but few actually practice submission as a spiritual discipline: praying to God daily, “not my will but Your will be done.”

Christian spiritual formation also involves being connected to a church and discipleship groups within it (like Sunday School at FBC Chickasha), surrendering to God’s call to growth and accountability in community with other believers.

See how Jesus demonstrated submission to the will of God in Luke 22:42 right before his arrest, “saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done,’” or in John 12:49-50 while speaking about God’s authority, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

Discipleship does not mean following Christ on our own terms or with what we have leftover. Discipleship begins with surrender. Christ’s desire for us to follow him and change the world starts with asking ourselves, “Have we have really surrendered to Jesus?”

Perhaps you committed your life to Christ before, but right now you are not fully surrendered to his will in your life. Consider what Christ said in Luke 9:23, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

As Christ-followers and as the church, we must keep the First Commandment and submit to God every day. Doing this not only moves us forward in our walk with Christ but also helps to share the gospel with the world.

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”Mark 12:29-31

 

 

 

The Right Tools for the Job – Growing in Christ

A few weeks ago, a strong May storm suddenly popped up in the middle of the day here in Oklahoma, which usually means lots of rain and wind. On this particular Tuesday, the storm that moved into town so quickly dropped about three inches of rain in 20 minutes, with winds blowing straight over 70 miles per hour!

All over town streets were flooding and lights were flashing, but in my area of town quite a few of us had wind damage. Tree limbs were strewn about yards and streets, trash cans were blown over, and a church even lost part of its roof and steeple!

In my own yard, three of my wooden fence posts snapped at the ground, causing part of my fence to fall and my side gate to be undone. We still had a roof and had not lost a steeple, but we still had plenty of repairs to do.

Thanks to friends and family, I have learned over time how to repair and replace fence posts, so I decided to undertake this project – with the help of an invaluable friend (practically family) who often helps me with these types of projects (you know who you are).

To prepare for setting the posts with my friend, I knew I needed to get the old parts of the post still in the ground surrounded by concrete. Again, this was something I had done before and did not think would be a very big project.

You can probably see where this story is headed, and believe me, I was sorely (emphasis on the sore part) mistaken.

I began at 10am on Friday morning digging out the first of three fence posts. I dug. And dug. Annnnnd dug. Then I found this particular piece, the gate section, was stuck to the actual foundation of my house. So, I then started chipping away with a pickaxe, then a hammer, then a shovel.

Two hours later, I had freed the concrete from my foundation, but it was still in the ground. I keep digging and prying and trying to get the chunk of rocks and sand out of that hole.

By 2:00pm that afternoon, the concrete was still in the ground and I was now laying in the ground. With exhausting and absolutely no pride left, I called in the big guns. A friend from church I knew had the right tool for the job, and he came over to assist me. This short video below demonstrates just what it took to get that chunk of what I know realize was pure evil out of the ground.

Keep in mind, this was hole 1 of 3 I was going to dig. Thankfully, my gracious friend took his excavator and within 10 minutes was able to do what I could not in four hours.

My problem did not reside in not having the will or determination to accomplish the task. I simply did not have the right tools necessary. Have you ever been in a situation like that where you are trying to get something done without the right tools? It either takes everything out of you or the job gets done the wrong way.

Spiritually, the same principle exists. Many spend their whole lives trying to “be good” or “live a good life” to hopefully get to heaven one day or earn God’s favor. However, we do not possess the right tools for that job – only Christ’s work through the cross and his resurrection was able to make us right with God. Romans 6:23 describes this in such a profound way, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” All our working does is earn us death, but eternal life is a free gift through Christ!

Those who have committed their lives to following Christ also get stuck using the wrong tools when it comes to growing in their relationship with Jesus. Especially in our culture today, many who follow Christ try to grow in their faith by being good or just working hard at doing “Christian” things. But are those the right tools?

When I think of the right tools and Christians growing in the faith, I am reminded of the early church in Acts 2:42-47:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Where did these Christians focus? Simply put, they focused on spiritual disciplines not just individually but also in community. Today we often see these in disciplines like Bible study and prayer, not just on your own but also in a Sunday School group and in Worship as a church.

Trying to grow as a Christian without spiritual disciplines is like trying to do a job without the right tools – it just will not work.

This is just a brief blog post to encourage you to get the right tools in your belt. Entire books and studies have been written to teach and guide Christians to the practice of spiritual disciplines in their lives. Getting started on the right track is a journey that has a great support of resources available – including the church!

Far too many Christians try to live and grow in faith apart of the power of the Holy Spirit or the guidance that spiritual disciplines provides. I encourage you – connect with a pastor or staff member of your church (or get connected in a church)! If you are at my church, I would love to speak with you! Don’t be like me and trying to accomplish something that just will not happen without the right tools.

Growing to be like Christ and set apart for him, also known as sanctification, is an incredible journey of the Holy Spirit working in our lives as we pursue the Lord in knowledge and faith. Do not miss what God has in store for you!

 

What Do My Kids Really Care About?

Parenthood brings so many unique challenges. Not only do the doctors and nurses send you home with a tiny little human without any instruction manual, but now you are to care and provide for this tiny baby! No matter how many children you have, there is certain weight on your soul that comes with leading a family. fullsizeoutput_5655

For me, I know that I am responsible for caring for my family, providing for them, and leading them in many ways, most importantly spiritually. Each of these responsibilities hold their own set of challenges as well.

Keep in mind: I’m not complaining. Being a husband and father, as well as having a vocation that provides for my family, blesses me continually. My description of this feeling merely serves to provide some background for where the balance between all of these can become shifted.

I am a minister, and too often my calling consumes me. The pressure that comes with any job, including the pressure I put on myself, squeezes tight on my soul. This pressure comes in many forms, but most times it comes from wanting to excel, making the Lord and my family proud.

This pressure affects my patience, personality, focus, time, and so many other aspects of me that I do not even realize most times. Where does this come from? Why is it so easily consuming? Many who work struggle with this, especially when working hard to provide for a family.

During the 2018 Winter Olympics, one of the USA athletes stood out to me. David Wise competed in the Ski Half-Pipe, and he won the gold medal in the 2014 Winter games in Sochi. During the competition, NBC showed an interview giving a glimpse into Wise’s life behind the skis. He spoke of how he realized what was really important – his faith and his family knowing they were loved by him – and how to his young children it didn’t really matter if he was the greatest skier in the world. He spoke these words right before winning his gold medal, defending his gold from the previous games.

Considering all of this, the story of Paul and Silas with the Philippian jailer comes to mind, from Acts 16:25-40. In verses 33-34, after Paul and Silas share the gospel with the jailor:

33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

IMG_8874My role as a husband and a father is to take care of my family, provide for them, and lead them to know Jesus. But while my kids are young, as they are now, what do they really care about? Do they care that I work hard to be a faithful minister? Do they care about anything I accomplish or any accolade I receive?

What my kids really care about is daddy playing a board game with them or listening to them play piano or having a dance party. They just want to be loved.

Hard work and excellence are great pursuits, but leading a family requires no less hard work and excellence. However, the type of work my family needs just may look different than what I had expected. The balance and the expectations change over time as well, as the seasons of life ebb and flow.

All parents feel pressure – but we do have some control of where that pressure is applied. May the goals I have in life be that I provide first and foremost the love of God to my family so that they know the Lord and seek to know Him. May I keep in balance being a great husband and father along with being great in my vocation.

Money, jobs, and awards all fade away. Focus on the things that last forever.

Chord Charts for Psalm 23, No Other, Nothing Here or Yet To Come

IMG_5198Wow what a week! Last week we led worship for Falls Creek Week 1 and had a blast. Such a wonderful experience getting to worship with so many.

Many are asking about the chord charts to our original songs, so I thought I’d post them here.

Psalm 23: Psalm 23 (D)

Nothing Here or Yet to Come: Nothing Here or Yet To Come

No Other: No Other (Bb)

You can listen to all these at http://soundcloud.com/doug-matlock or look them up on iTunes.

Blessings!

-Douglas

God’s Plan to Bring the Hope of Christ to the Earth Has Always Been the Church: Redeemed With a Purpose // Ephesians 1 – Acts 19:1-10

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First Baptist Church – Chickasha, OK – June 2015

All to often, when we speak of the salvation & the redemption of our souls through Christ’s blood on the cross, the conversation remains centered on us. Even when we discuss discipleship, the focus can be far too inward, striving towards our growth through the Holy Spirit individually and not giving time to the purpose for which God has called and redeemed us.

God has not only called us individually to a purpose, but He has also called us at the body of Christ, the Church, to a purpose: to bring the hope of Christ to the earth.

The Church is not just a gathering of believers to be like-minded – it is so much more. We gather to bring glory to God through our praise but also though the mission of being Jesus to the world.

Paul emphasizes this in his Letter to the Ephesians. Chapter 1 reminds the Ephesians that Christ has redeemed them but also that God has always had the plan to use His Church to share Jesus with the world.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory – Eph. 1:11-14 (ESV)

We get hung up on words like “predestined” and think Paul is only talking about doctrines of salvation. I’m not going into a theological debate here, but a main point that we miss is that Paul is emphasizing the purpose of the Church that God has always known, even from before the world was made.

The purpose that God gives us as the Church is incredible, and even Paul understood that we can miss the brilliance of it at times. In Ephesians 1:16-23, he prays that the church would have their eyes open to see the fullness of what God wanted to do in them and through them!

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Eph. 1:16-23 (ESV)

As a ministry leader, I have to ask myself, “Do we realize that mission? Are we leading people to realize the purpose that they have been called to, as well as the purpose of our church?”

Acts 19:1-10 tells the story of the beginnings of the church at Ephesus. Paul left the large crowds behind to spend daily time with 12 men for two years. During the time, the church in Ephesus began and their ministry helped the Gospel go out into all of Asia! That’s incredible!

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Paul’s introductory section to the letter sent later to that same church reminds them of what God has called them to do, and he continues to focus on the church being a unified body to change the world through the Gospel.

For us today, that purpose and mission is ours as well! For a Christ-follower, being a part of a church is not just important – it’s essential. Jesus, the New Testament Authors, and God’s divine plan from before creation was always for the people of God to live as the body of Christ.

Churches are not perfect, neither are the people who are in them, but God’s plan is perfect. He has chosen us to be a part of changing the world! Isn’t that incredible? May we, as Paul prayed, have eyes and hearts that see the hope that God has called us to and the glory of what He is doing through and is us.

Demas: 3 Short Verses That Tell Us a Big and Important Story

For some time now I have been meeting weekly with a few guys to study through 1 & 2 Timothy. Just this week, we came to the final chapter of what many consider to be Paul’s final letter, 2 Timothy. In these final words, Paul distinguishes by name some people for Timothy to seek help from and to watch out for. One very interesting name appears in verse 10 of chapter 4: IMG_5904

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. – 2 Timothy 4:10

Here, Paul makes a very powerful statement about this man named Demas. As it is with many of the names Paul includes in his letters, not much is known about Demas, but this is not the only place that Demas is mentioned in the New Testament. Earlier in the chronology of Paul’s letters, Demas is mentioned twice:

Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. – Colossians 4:14

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. – Philemon 1:23-24

Demas was a missionary companion and fellow worker of Paul in spreading the Gospel. He was considered a leader in the eyes of the Colossians, so much so that Paul used his name – a name those in the Colossian churches would recognize. But by the time Paul was imprisoned, Demas had left Paul to live his own life and do he wanted to do.

In fact, Demas did more than leave Paul, he “deserted” him. This word deserted falls short of the full meaning, which can be translated “left in the lurch.” Today we might use the phrase, “left me in a ditch to die.”

What was the motivation for Demas’ departure? Paul describes it as “being in love with this present world.” The present world, to Paul, was everything outside of the Kingdom of God. Being in love with the present world meant not being in love with Jesus, the One who had given His life to save us. Being in love with the world is really about following oneself and not Christ. Paul writes in Colossians 3:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-4

If we think of Demas in the context of today, he would be a respected deacon or elder in a church, maybe even a church staff member – someone who has served the church and the Lord. However, the story of Demas is all about one who serves the Lord for a time, but then decides to shift his priorities. We might even think of it as a sort of retirement from serving the Lord. “I’ve done my time. It’s time for someone else to do the work.”

The Holy Spirit worked through Paul to show us in the three short verses that this is not at all what the Lord desires for our life. There is no retiring from following Christ or serving the Lord and His church! All of Scripture teaches us that the world and its selfish desires leave us empty, but serving the Lord fills us and leaves an eternal legacy.

May our love be for the Lord and His Kingdom, not for this present world. May we set our minds on things above – on Christ – the One who gave His life so that we could live.

What Makes a Church “Attractive?”

What really makes a church attractive? Stained Glass6

In our western culture, much of how churches reach out to prospective members is through marketing. Some churches even begin with a budget that devotes half of its assets to marketing!  Many of today’s worship services are driven by thousands up to millions of dollars in audio & visual production costs.

Buildings are also an “attractive” emphasis for some churches. Style and function are the focus on building programs that also require incredible amounts of money. Often churches seem to take on a “if you build it, they will come” approach to being attractive.

There are many other factors that can go into the conversation: worship style, preaching style, clothing style, service times, ministry programs, Sunday School or small groups, and so on and so on.

The truth is, many people in our culture are drawn to these things – what they find to be attractive. Our church culture has become consumer-driven, and the church members have morphed into consumers. As ministers we see people come and go, many times based on the factors discussed above. People want to go to a church that has the things they like and where they can feel comfortable.

Are we getting it right? What really makes a church attractive? 

Looking back at the first churches in the New Testament, what did they have? There were no multi-million dollar budgets, no buildings, no lights, no sound, and no marketing budget. They couldn’t advertise – they would get arrested! Still, they saw transformation, growth, missions, community change, and movements of the Holy Spirit that would shock the world today.

Acts 2:42-47: 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

For the early church, they were “attractive” because of the transformational community of the believers. People saw the change that Christ can make in a life, and they saw the true love of God between the believers. That’s what makes a church attractive – real change & real love.

Not only did the early church demonstrate this, but the New Testament writers continually wrote about it and instructed the believers to practice it. Here are just a few of many examples:

  • Acts 11:19-26: The church at Antioch demonstrated their transformation in such a way that those outside the church gave them the title “Christian,” identifying them with Christ
  • Galatians 6:10: Do good to all, especially the household of faith
  • Ephesians 4:26-32: Build up the community of faith, not tear it down
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11: Encourage and build up one another
  • 1 Peter 4:7-11: Our love for one another glorifies God
  • James 2:14-17: How we take care of each other’s needs in our church demonstrates God’s love to others

Why is the transformation of the Holy Spirit and the love of God so attractive? Because everyone is created in the image of God, and deep inside of all of us we long to be a part of the way things God intended them to be. That is what changes people. Impressive marketing, grandiose worship production, and beautiful buildings do not transform lives.

I’m not saying that buildings, sound systems, lights, even advertising is a bad thing. Using these things to glorify God is smart and effective. They are great tools in leading people to follow Christ and be like Him. We must always remember, however, that what really makes a church attractive has not changed in 2000 years, nor will it ever be different.