27 Apr

Overcome Your Fears

Focal Passage:  Joshua 1:1-11,16-18

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at how we can grow as leaders.  Perhaps you don’t think of yourself as a leader, but undoubtedly everyone is a leader in some capacity.  However, godly leadership isn’t something you’re just born with.  Certainly, I was a leader in many ways before the Lord saved me, but because of the sin nature with which we’re born, my leadership wasn’t godly.  I did what natural-born leaders do—I didn’t lead people toward God.  But, when the Lord regenerates us, brings us to faith, and saves us, He begins to develop and fine-tune in us through the ministries of the Word and the Spirit godly, Christ-like leadership that leads others to God.  He desires for us to be His kind of leader.

Growing up in South Central Kentucky, I was always big for my age.  In fact, my daddy would often apply one of those good Southern idioms to me.  He’d say, “Boy, you’re big enough to go bear huntin’ with a switch.”  From the time I was in preschool up until I left home, that was usually his response when I’d tell him I was scared of something.  He still tells me that from time to time.

Although his response was an exaggeration (perhaps not much of one!), that was his way of getting me to laugh a little and help me see that I shouldn’t be afraid.  Not all fear is bad, but if it’s misplaced or overwrought, it will stifle you from being whom God desires you to be, especially in the area of leadership.  Leaders, due the very nature of their position, must express godly, righteous fear instead of misplaced, overwrought fear—which is nothing more than doubting God—because many eyes, hearts, and minds are following them.

In our text this week, the leadership of the nation of Israel was in transition.  Moses, the great man of God whom God had used to bring Israel out of slavery and into the Promised Land, had just died.  It was now time for Moses’ protégé Joshua to take over.  God had used Moses to bring Israel to the edge of the Promised Land, and God would use Joshua to take them into the Promised Land.  There was only one problem:  the Promised Land was inhabited by other peoples.  Therefore, Joshua would lead them through many battles against fierce foes.

Just looking at what lay ahead for Joshua, there would be plenty of opportunity for ungodly fear.  That’s why God spoke to Joshua time and again these words, “Be strong and courageous,” (Josh. 1:6,7,9,18).  This wasn’t the first time Joshua had heard these words from God.  Actually, these words were just reminders of what God had already spoken to Joshua through His prophet Moses (Deut. 31:7,23).

But, God didn’t just tell Joshua to be strong and courageous.  He gave him a reason.  God said, “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not leave your or forsake you,” (Josh. 1:5), and “Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go,” (Josh. 1:9).  In other words, Joshua’s strength and courage wasn’t to be derived from himself.  It was to be derived from God’s presence and activity.  God was the foundation of Joshua’s strength and courage!

Friend, as you lead in the various capacities that you find yourself in, God is not just saying to you, “Be strong and courageous.”  He’s saying, “Be strong and courageous BECAUSE I am with you and working to glorify Myself through you.”  Then ungodly fear should flee.  May your life and leadership reflect the reality that God is with you and working no matter where you go.

-This article first appeared in the April 27 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the May 1, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3805.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

25 Apr

Encounter the Risen Lord

I pray you had an amazing Easter weekend!  He’s alive!  Glory to God in Christ Jesus!  I don’t know about you, but I get utterly pumped up at Easter time.

We strive at West Main Baptist to help Easter surpass Christmas in the hearts of our people.  The Christmas season with its manger celebrating the incarnation of Jesus is undoubtedly special, but it’s eclipsed in the New Testament by the cross and empty tomb celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It’s at the cross of Calvary that Jesus paid for the sins of all who’ll believe on Him.  It’s through the empty tomb of Jesus’ resurrection that we have assurance His sacrifice was sufficient and see demonstrated what’s to come for us, namely victory over death and the grave unto life everlasting.  A lot of great people have died throughout history, but only one died vicariously and was raised to life again by the Father.  His name is Jesus!  May Easter be the climax of your holiday calendar!

Today we wind up our emphasis on building a toolbox against grief.  We’ve added to our toolbox the hope of resurrection, the comfort of God’s presence, and preparing to be God’s instrument of comfort.  Finally, we’ll add encountering the risen Jesus.

Have you personally come to know the resurrected Jesus?  I pray that you have.  You see, you and I and everybody else left to ourselves are in a serious situation.  We’ve sinned against the holy, sovereign God of the universe.  He requires obedience; we’ve given Him obstinance.  He deserves respect and honor; we’ve given Him rebellion and haughtiness.  We were born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and have actively stored up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath (Rom. 2:5).  We’re guilty and eternally damnable.  There’s no way we ourselves can quench God’s wrath toward us.  Nor can we repay God the debt our sin has incurred.  In and of ourselves, we are hopeless.

But, friend, God did not leave us to ourselves.  Easter is proof of this truth.  He sent His only-begotten Son to take on flesh to live the perfect, sinless life we cannot live and to die the death we so surely deserve.  He lived and died in our place so that we would be made righteous before God.  And three days after Jesus’ life expired, the Father raised Him from the grave, bringing life back to His dead flesh.  And here’s the Good News:  if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9).  God intervened in a major way so that all who believe on Christ will be saved, especially you, dear reader.

In our text, Mary Magdalene wasn’t looking for a resurrection.  She was grieved and then multiplied her grief by thinking the empty tomb was evidence that Jesus’ body had been stolen.  But then she encountered the risen Lord.  He wasn’t dead.  He wasn’t stolen.  HE WAS ALIVE AND STILL IS!  Suddenly her weeping and mourning turned into exceeding joy.  That’s the power of the risen Jesus! 

In the midst of your grief, I hope you encounter the sinless, crucified, resurrected Jesus.  More than you need that person or thing for which you are grieving, you need Jesus—His touch, His ministry.  Paul said, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).  He’s saved your soul.  He’ll certainly dry your tears, heal your heart, and exchange your mourning for the oil of gladness.  He’ll be a tender minister to you with resurrection power.

May you add encountering the risen Jesus to your toolbox against grief.

-This article first appeared in the April 20 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the April 24, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3793.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

14 Apr

Two Divergent Views from Young Pastors on Southern Baptist Life

 Over the past month or so, there has been has been quite a bit of discussion about the state and direction of the Southern Baptist Convention in Baptist newspapers and blogs.  The discussion was set off by South Carolina pastor Brad Whitt, and a few weeks later I had the privilege of offering a published response in our Tennessee Baptist newspaper.  Soon thereafter, Baptist Press of the Southern Baptist Convention approached Whitt and myself about running our articles as a point/counter-point.  Today they were published together at the Baptist Press website.

You can access the combined articles here.

14 Apr

Receive Comfort–Give Comfort

One of the questions that inevitably forms in our mind when tragedy strikes is, “Why did God allow this to happen to me?”  That’s a legitimate question with multiple layers of answers, some of which we probably will never know this side of glory, but this week’s text provides us with at least one of the answers to the “why” question:  God wants to use you as an instrument of comfort.

Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 1:1-11:  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

The word comfort is used in some form 10 times in 5 verses (v3-7).  Do you think that Paul is trying to make a point?  He begins by praising God.  Why?  It’s because God is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.  Friend, isn’t that the kind of God that you want to serve?  In times of trials and tribulations, He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.

It’s important to realize that mercy is getting what you do not deserve.  That’s just who God is.  We don’t deserve mercy and comfort, but God delights in giving it.  The psalmist begged God in Psalm 119:153-156, “Look upon my affliction and rescue me, for I do not forget Your law.  Plead my cause and redeem me; revive me according to Your word.  Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek Your statutes.  Great are Your mercies, O LORD; revive me according to Your ordinances.”  Later the psalmist said, “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.  The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works.  All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, and Your godly ones shall bless You,” (Psalm 145:8-10).

Friend, in the midst of your fiery trial and grief, God is full of mercy and comfort.  Even though it is He who has ultimately brought you through the fire, He desires to heal you and comfort you and does so gladly.  He comforts you because He loves you.

But, Paul points us to another reason here in our text.  He comforts us so that we can comfort others who are afflicted.  Notice the chain of events presented here:  we are afflicted → God comforts us → we comfort others with the comfort that God has given us.

You know, experience makes a big difference.  I could try to tell you all day long how work on a car, but it wouldn’t do much good.  You wouldn’t really want me to because I have basically zero experience in working on cars.  What you really need is a veteran mechanic to explain it all for you because experience makes a difference.

In the same way, a person is just better able to comfort another when they themselves have been through something similar.  Those of you who have lost a spouse are specially equipped to minister to those who will lose a spouse.  Those of you who have miscarried a child are specially equipped to minister to those who will miscarry a child.  Those of you who have gone through a divorce are specially equipped to minister to those who will go through a divorce.  Those of you who have endured some disease are specially equipped to minister to those who will face disease.

Amy Carmichael, one of the great missionaries in church history, said, “God never wastes His children’s pain.”  Paul basically says the same thing here in this passage when he says that if he is afflicted, it’s for somebody else’s comfort.  Friend, you have been fashioned through the fiery trial for many purposes, one of which is to be God’s instrument of comfort to others.

May you add preparing to be God’s instrument of comfort to your toolbox against grief.

-This article first appeared in the April 13 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the April 17, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3781.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

07 Apr

Recognize God’s Presence

My 5- and 2-year-old sons love to sing children’s Bible songs.  One of their favorites is “The Wise Man Built His House upon the Rock.”  Although they, along with the other kids at our church, like to make a fun lyrical change and sing “The rains came down, and the BUGS came up!”, that song helps us all remember a crucial biblical truth from Matthew 7:24-27:  if your life isn’t built upon the rock-solid foundation of God’s Word, then when the floods of life come, you will be devastated.

Loss and grief is one of those floods that’ll reveal your foundation.  It brings you to a crisis of decision.  You’ll have this monumental choice before you:  am I going to be a person of revelation and truth or of observation and feeling?  That’s the difference between rock and sand.  That’s the difference between standing and falling.  Observation and feeling will lead you to say that God’s abandoned you, but revelation and truth will lead you to say that God’ll never leave or forsake you (Heb 13:5).

Our focal text for this blog is Psalm 31:7-10,14-16,21-24:  I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul, and You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a large place. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing; my strength has failed because of my iniquity, and my body has wasted away… but as for me, I trust in You, O LORD, I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me. Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; save me in Your lovingkindness… Blessed be the LORD, for He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me in a besieged city. As for me, I said in my alarm, “I am cut off from before Your eyes”; nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried to You. O love the LORD, all you His godly ones! The LORD preserves the faithful and fully recompenses the proud doer. Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD.

In our text, King David faces this very crisis of decision.  He was in distress (Ps 31:7) to the point of grief.  In fact, it was prolonged misery, evidenced by the wasting away of his eye, soul, and body (Ps 31:9).  There’s certainly a profound connection between our spirit and body, such that the emotion of grief takes a serious physical toll on a person.  Nevertheless, David chose to be a person of revelation and truth.  The following truths that David poeticized during his grief helped him through that valley and will carry us through as well.

Rejoice in God’s awareness and benevolence in difficulties.  Friend, God’s neither ignorant of nor ambivalent to what you’re facing.  He’s the God who never slumbers.  He’s never out to lunch or unavailable.  If someone asked God, “Did You know about…”, He would never say, “No.”  Nothing escapes His extensive watchfulness.  He is the all-knowing God of the universe, and He especially knows what you are facing.  David rejoiced because God had seen his affliction and the troubles of his soul (Ps 31:7), and we should too, finding comfort in God’s awareness.  But even more, God doesn’t just know what we are facing, He’s actively showing us lovingkindness in trials of grief by not giving us over to the enemy.  He’ll establish and sustain you such that His benevolence will shine forth marvelously.

Trust in the sovereign goodness of God.  David said, “I trust in You… my times are in Your hand,” (Ps 31:14-15).  What faith!  Did you know that God is completely in control of history?  Nothing happens that God has not actively brought about or passively allowed to happen, and if He allows it to happen, He has a purpose for that.  Did you also know that God always does what’s most-wise, most-loving, and most-just?  His ways aren’t our ways (Rom 11:33-36), but His ways are ultimately best.  Therefore, we can trust in God’s sovereign goodness as He brings about the details of our lives.  He will do nothing but bring about ultimate good (Rom 8:28).

Remember the past grace God has shown you.  One of the beauties of a life-long journey with the Lord is that you have past experiences where God has been a faithful deliverer.  This past grace encourages us that the Lord will certainly deliver future grace too.  David spoke of a time he was in a besieged city (Ps 31:21), but God protected and delivered him.  With that in mind, David was confident that God would do it again.  If you’re wondering if God’s going to grant future grace, just look backwards to past grace.  He’ll never leave you or forsake you.

May you add the comfort of God’s presence to your toolbox against grief.

-This article first appeared in the April 6 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the April 10, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3773.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

03 Apr

Balance Grief with Hope

Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that in this lifetime we will have trouble, and in the wake of trouble comes grief.  Grief is a common human experience.  We all know what it is because we’ve all been through it or are in it now.  So, the real question is not “Will I experience grief?”  Live long enough, and you surely will.  The real question is “Will I handle my grief biblically?”

That question is massively important.  As you well know, grief is a heavy burden and can crush you if not handled rightly.  It can lead to depression, despair, and making a shipwreck of your faith.  I pray these four lessons will help you become equipped to handle grief biblically and battle for joy.

This week’s tool for handling grief biblically is the hope of resurrection.  Lazarus got sick and died, and I assume from the context of John 11 that his death was way before folks normally died in those days.  Surely, Jesus could have healed Lazarus’ sickness.  Even if He couldn’t have travelled in time to Bethany from where He was, He certainly could have healed Lazarus from afar like He did the centurion’s servant (Mt 8:5-13).  But Jesus didn’t.  When Jesus arrived, He found Mary and Martha grieving deeply and rightly so.  They loved their brother.  Grief is a natural and good response to loss.  However, they and the townspeople were all saying the same thing to Jesus, “If you’d been here, he wouldn’t have died,” (Jn 11:21,32,37).  But, Jesus had a greater purpose:  to demonstrate the hope of resurrection.  And resurrect Lazarus He did!

Let me point you to four truths from our text that will help us grieve biblically.  First, death is not final.  Notice that Jesus likens it to sleep in John 11:11, and that’s a very fitting metaphor.  Sleep is just for a little while, and then you awake.  It’s the same way with death.  For believers in Christ, after the soul separates from the body and goes to be with the Lord, that body lies in repose for a relatively short time but will be reunited with the soul and resurrected when Christ returns (1 Thes 4:14-16).  Undoubtedly, you miss those whom you love, but death is not final.  There’s life after death and eventually a resurrection of the body.

Second, God weeps when you weep.  I find great comfort in John 11:35.  Here’s Jesus with all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily, and He’s weeping because His heart is broken for Mary and Martha.  Friend, I don’t believe that was just a one-time event.  The heart of God is moved when you face loss and grief.  You have a God who loves you and desires to comfort you.  I pray that you’ll turn to Him and let Him whisper into your heart, “Resurrection is coming.”

Third, there will be a reuniting of loved ones.  The text doesn’t tell us, but I bet there was tons of hugging and rejoicing at Lazarus’ resurrection.  I believe the same will be true at our resurrection. I pray that we’ll fight to desire to see our Savior first and foremost, but one of the gifts and joys of Heaven is reuniting with our believing loved ones.

Fourth, God is glorified through the resurrection.  Notice what Jesus says there in John 11:4.  God will be glorified by the resurrection.  This truth should cause us to be inwardly, joyfully expectant when our believing loved one dies.  God is going to glorify Himself and do something awesome in the resurrection, namely triumph completely over sin and death.  It’ll be a glorious day, and death is a whetstone, sharpening our expectation and hope.

May you add the hope of resurrection to your toolbox against grief.

-This article first appeared in the March 30 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the April 3, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3766.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.