Tuesday, January 29, 2019

5 Ways to Get Better at Loving Others

The Puritan Thomas Watson said, “Love is the soul of religion, and that which constitutes a real Christian.  Love is the queen of graces.”

Christianity is all about love -- God's love for us as demonstrated through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and in response, our love for Him and for one another.  The greatest commandment, which is the sum of all the commandments in the Bible, is to love God, and to love others. 

The Bible says that our love can grow cold, and it can also increase (Mt 24:12; 1 Thess 1:3).  So what can we do to get better at loving others?

First, salvation.  You must be saved.  We don't love others to get saved; we can't love others until we are saved.  1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 

Second, learn how to love by studying God's word.  1 John 4:8 "God is love."  Study God’s character and commands.  How does God act?  How does God display love?  Henry Drummond, the author of the famous sermon "The Greatest Thing on Earth," suggests reading 1 Corinthians 13 (known as The Love Chapter) every day for a month.

Third, participate in church.  Hebrews 10:24-25 “24 And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, 25 not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”  In church you will be around people who are striving to grow in love.  And you will be around people who are encouraging you to live a life of love.  This is one of the purposes of the church.  To provoke love and good works.

Fourth, pray for the strength to love.  1 Thessalonians 3:12 “And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we do for you.”  A life of love is impossible without God’s power.  So pray.  Daily.  All day long.  “Lord, please help me to love.”

Fifth, reflect on God's love for you.  Luke 7:47 “Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.”  This is the story of a very sinful woman who experienced the love of Jesus.  When Jesus was dining at the home of a Pharisee, she entered and stood behind Jesus at his feet, weeping.  She washed His feet with her tears and her hair, and kissed His feet, and then she poured some very expensive perfume on his feet.  The other people at the table couldn’t understand her behavior.  And Jesus explained that her great display of love was in response to her experiencing God’s great love.  The more you understand God’s love for you, the more you will be empowered and inspired and compelled to love others. 

You have probably read the book Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.  It’s the story of Jean Val Jean, a man who had spent 19 years in an awful, torturous prison.  When he is released, he can’t find work, and he can’t find anything to eat, and so he eventually finds himself in the care of a priest for one night.  The priest is kind to him and gives him food.  Later that night, Jean Val Jean decides to steal the silverware and run off, only to be caught by the police.  When the police bring him back to the priest so that he could confirm that Val Jean had stolen his property, the priest said, “He didn’t steal the silverware, I gave it to him.  But you forgot something.”  And the priest also gave him the silver candlesticks.  Jean Val Jean was so impacted by the priest’s love that it changed him.  He deserved punishment, but he was lavished with kindness and generosity.  He spent the rest of his life trying to show that same kind of love to everyone he met.

God has loved you with a remarkable love.  You deserve punishment, but God has saved you, and given you everything.  Let God’s love transform you into a person of love. 

Bonus Resource:  Sermon Video.  If you want to learn more about loving others, then be sure to watch my sermon "Growing in Love."

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Take Comfort! God Will Use The Bad in Your Life for Good.

J.C. Ryle
If you are going through a hard time right now, then the story of JC Ryle should lift you up.  It is a story about how God uses the bad for good; how He uses the trials to train us, and direct us to the best path for our lives.

JC Ryle was a great preacher and writer in England in the nineteenth century.  He ministered at the same time as Charles Spurgeon, DL Moody, George Mueller, and Hudson Taylor.  He was born into a very wealthy family, and was the oldest child and heir to the estate.

He didn't follow Christ as a young man, but before college graduation he contracted a serious lung infection.  This trial pushed him to seek comfort in prayer and the Bible for the first time in fourteen years.  Not long after this, he went to church and heard someone reading Ephesians 2:8, and he was born again.

After finishing college, Ryle went to law school with plans for a career in politics.  But then tragedy struck.  His father's bank crashed, and with it Ryle's funding for a career in law and politics.  This changed the trajectory of Ryle's entire life.  He was set to inherit everything -- the family home and money; he was headed for a life of ease, luxury, and wealth.  But it was all gone.  His Oxford education qualified him for the ministry, and so he was ordained as a pastor.  This was all part of God's plan, leading Ryle to find his true calling.  He went on to become one of the most famous preachers of all time.  

But God wanted Ryle to do more than preach.  On May 9, 1845, a large crowd assembled for the opening of the Great Yarmouth bridge, but it collapsed, causing the deaths of over one hundred people.  The entire country was disturbed.  Ryle then wrote his first tract about the uncertainties of life and the assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Thousands of copies were sold, launching his career as one of most beloved Christian authors of all time.  He wrote more than 300 pamphlets, tracts, and books.

Ryle faced many difficulties in life -- poor health, the loss of three wives, the loss of his inheritance -- but God used it all for his good and God's glory.  And God promises to do the same for you.  He won't keep you from trials, but He will use every trial for your good (Romans 8:28).  As you endure this present trial, "with all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment.  Always let him lead you, and he will clear the road for you to follow (Proverbs 3:5-6, CEV)."

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

5 Simple Decisions to Get Control of Your Finances This Year

Okay.  So I know that money is a huge source of stress for many of you.  It's probably your biggest source of stress.  It causes marital strife.  It keeps you up at night.  Money problems can keep you from enjoying your life.  It's like they say, "Money is not everything, but it is kind of like oxygen."  So in this short post I want to offer some help.

Below are five decisions that can revolutionize your finances -- and your life.  They are easy enough for a child to understand.  They can be practiced by both rich and poor.  And they are backed up by the best Christian financial experts -- Larry Burkett, Ron Blue, Dave Ramsey.

I can't force you to make these decisions.  But I can tell you from personal experience that they work.  Lydia and I have been living by these principles our entire adult lives.  So here they are:

  1. Don't pay interest on credit cards.  Either don't use them at all, or pay them off before the end of the month.
  2. Pay cash for cars.  Yes, people actually do this.  You have to stop using your car to impress people.  Dave Ramsey said, "Having been a millionaire gone broke, I dug my way out by making a decision about looking good versus being good.  Looking good is when your broke friends are impressed by what you drive, and being good is having more money than they have."
  3. The only debt you should have is a mortgage.  And if possible, pay cash for your home.  Larry Burkett said, "God doesn’t prohibit borrowing, but He certainly does discourage it.  In fact, every biblical reference to it is negative."
  4. Tithe to your church.  Remember, God doesn't need your tithe.  You need to acknowledge that your money comes from God and belongs to Him.  If you don't tithe, then your wealth will be the fast track to spiritual ruin rather than the blessing of a generous God (Richard Swenson).
  5. Give, save, and then live on the rest, and in that order.
There's a lot more to learn about money if you want to prosper financially.  And I often teach those principles and skills.  But if you will decide to start here, then the rest is easy.  These decisions don't take a lot of smarts, but they do take a lot of heart.  How much do you want financial freedom?  What are you willing to do to achieve financial security?  
"Winning at money is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent head knowledge.  What to do isn’t the problem; doing it is.  Most of us know what to do, but we just don’t do it.  If I can control the guy in the mirror, I can be skinny and rich." -- Dave Ramsey

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Don't Worry About A Thing

It is very tempting to jump into the waters of worry.  Sometimes we find ourselves drowning in worry and don't remembering choosing it.  It seems like worry just happens to us, like the weather, or an illness.

Worry is a miserable state.  It can be worse than an illness.  It is a mental illness.  But it affects more than the mind.  It causes suffering from head to toe.  It can lead to weight loss (no appetite).  If you're like me and wouldn't mind losing a few pounds, then worry probably has the opposite effect on you -- weight gain caused by overindulging on your comfort foods.  Worry can lead to substance abuse, or sexual immorality, or any number of sinful behaviors in our attempt to find relief from the misery of anxiety.  Worry can cause anxiety attacks -- shortness of breath, uncontrollable shaking, and sleeplessness.  Worry can actually drive you to the point where you need medication just to function.  Worry steals your joy.  It leads to depression -- chronic sadness and gloominess.  Worry is a form of soul self-mutilation that takes a terrible toll on your mind, body, and relationships. 

Fundamentally worry is a distraction.  And that's the biggest reason it is a vice.  Worry is a hyper-focus on the negative that might occur that distracts you from today -- today's responsibilities; today's choices; today's opportunities; today's joys.  In essence, worry stops you from living -- truly living.  You become a spiritual zombie.  On the outside you appear to be alive, but on the inside you are dead.  Your mind is not there.  It is somewhere else.  It is in the future.  It is stuck on "what if?"  Worry is a sin because if you are distracted by what might happen tomorrow, then you cannot focus on being the person God wants you to be today.

Worry is a choice.  That's the good news.  As Christians the Lord commands us not to worry (Matthew 6:25, 31; Philippians 4:6).  That means we don't have to worry.  We don't have to be spiritual zombies.  We don't have to live in misery.

Why don't we we have to worry?  Because God cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).  He promises to provide for us (Philippians 4:19).  He promises to work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). 

So how do we repent of worry?  If you've every tried to stop worrying, then you know it is not easy.  In fact, you may even think it is impossible.  But I assure you it is not.  If the Bible is God's word (and it is!), then we can choose not to worry.  How?

First, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).  Immerse yourself in God -- Bible study, prayer, other spiritual disciplines, serving God, reaching the lost, building your church, serving people in need, repenting of sin, cultivating the virtues.  Rather than trying to stop worrying, shift your focus to actually doing something.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  Stop worrying and start working -- for God.  Get so busy doing the Lord's work that you don't have time to worry!  God promises that if you will seek Him first, "all these things will be provided for you."  “The result of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quiet confidence forever. Then my people will dwell in a peaceful place, in safe and secure dwellings (Isaiah 32:17-18).”

Second, give your worries to God in prayer (4:6-7).  If you are worried, stop obsessing and start conversing -- with your Heavenly Father.  Tell Him your fears.  Tell Him your worries.  Tell Him what you need.  Get alone for an extended time with God.  Go for a drive by yourself and cry out to God.  And don't just do this once; do it every time you are tempted to worry. 

Third, give thanks (Philippians 4:6-7).  Rather than just focusing on the negative that might happen, focus on all the good that has happened and is happening.  In prayer, count your blessings.  Compare yourself to those who are much worse off than you.  Tell the truth -- it could be worse.  The promise for those who pray and give thanks is amazing:  "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

Fourth, immerse yourself in God's word.  Stop stressing and start studying.  Stop worrying and start meditating -- on Scripture.  When you are tempted to worry, get out your Bible, and start reading.  I especially enjoy the Psalms and the New Testament epistles.  Feast on the Bible.  Go deep.  Do a word study.  Pick a topic, perhaps related to what you are worried about, and look up every verse in the Bible on it.  Write down what you learn.  And then share it with the rest of us.  "Abundant PEACE belongs to those who love your instruction; nothing makes them stumble (Psalm 119:165)."

God loves you.  He's got you.  He's going to take care of you.  He's going to work it all together for your good.  So don't worry.  Seek first.  Pray.  Give thanks.  Study.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Are You Prepared For Your Own Financial Shutdown

Everyone is talking about the government shutdown.  This is the longest shutdown in history.  I've lost count.  This is day 25, or is it 26?  The main reason I'm unsure is because I don't work for the federal government.  But for many who do, the story is one of panic.  The government shutdown has exposed a bigger problem in America -- financial foolishness.  The reason many government employees are in a state of panic about the government shutdown is because they are not handling their finances wisely.  They have no margin.  They are living paycheck to paycheck.  They are not financially prepared for contingencies and emergencies.  And of all people, you'd think that government employees would be prepared, because there seems to be a shutdown every year. 

But you should be prepared too.  Even if you don't work for the federal government, your own financial shutdown is coming.  They always do.  You might get laid off.  Your income might drop drastically for some reason.  Your car might break down.  Your air conditioner may finally kick the bucket.  Your roof might finally give up the ghost.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your financial winter is coming.  Are you ready?

Proverbs 22:3 "A sensible person sees danger and takes cover, but the inexperienced keep going and are punished."

Financial experts advise that if you want to "take cover" and be prepared for those inevitable, yet unpredictable financial shutdowns in life, then you need to have an emergency savings account at your disposal.  This emergency account is not for Christmas shopping or vacations.  It is not to be used to upgrade to the latest smartphone.  It is for emergencies.

How much money should you have saved up in your emergency fund?  Three to six months of living expenses.  Notice the term "living expenses."  That will probably be less than your monthly income, unless you spend every single dollar that you bring in.  Figure out how much it takes for your family to live in a month.  Just include the bare essentials.  If you had to, you could get rid of the kids' smartphones, cable TV, the gym membership, you could stop going to Starbucks every morning before work, and you could stop eating out several times a week.  Once you figure out what it would take to live in a month, then you need to save up three months of living expenses if you are a two-income family, and six months if you are a single-income family (like mine).

If you don't have your own emergency savings fund in place, then it needs to be your financial priority.  I can't tell you how much weight it will take off your back to know that you are prepared for something to go wrong.  With an emergency savings account in place, financial emergencies are no longer emergencies, they are just setbacks.

The past few weeks were a little crazy for us.  First the dishwasher broke.  And then the fridge broke.  And then the dryer broke.  And then the car broke.  It wasn't fun dishing out all that cash in such a short amount of time, but because we had an emergency savings fund, we were fine.  It wasn't an emergency, it was just an annoyance.

I want you to be prepared for your next financial shutdown.  So put all your other financial goals on hold, and get crazy-serious about building up your emergency savings fund.

By the way, I have a friend who works for the federal government, and he is loving the shutdown.  Why?  It's extra time off, and he has plenty of money saved up for emergencies.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Why I am Against Diversity

I am a bi-vocational pastor, which means being a pastor is not my only job.  I also work part-time for a large, Fortune 500 corporation.  And in corporate America we hear a lot about the importance of diversity.  Once I had to sit through a 4-hour HR training course on the reasons that it made sense for my company to give hiring preferences to blacks and women.  The prevailing wisdom is that a diverse church/company/organization is better off.  I don't buy it.  Here are four quick reasons why Christians should not buy into the goal of diversity as a moral good.

First, the goal of diversity is racist/sexist.  In the name of diversity, organizations specifically hire people because of the color of their skin or because of their sex.  We're told that it is not racist, because the end goal is not an all-white or an all-black company, but a diverse company.  In other words, we're told that the end goal is not racist, and therefore the means is not racist.  But the end does not justify the means in this case, because the means is the textbook definition of racism.  Hiring people b/c of their race is racism, regardless of the ultimate goal.

Second, the goal of diversity decreases quality.  Diversity does not accomplish what it promises, and proponents of diversity know it.  The idea that diversity makes us stronger is only a lie used to convince people that it is okay to give special advantages to one race over another.  It is a lie that enables people to be racist.  Think about it.  Are we really supposed to believe that an organization will be better off simply because it is racially or sexually diverse?  Let's take an obvious example -- professional sports.  Do you think an NBA basketball team will better off if it decides to add an equal number of women as men, and an equal number of whites as blacks?  That example is silly only because it is makes my point so obvious.  Or take the Navy Seals.  Do you honestly want the Seals to focus on racial and gender diversity, or on selecting the most qualified warriors they can find?  The best workforce is created not through the arbitrary goal of diversity, but by ignoring race and sex and hiring people based on their character, intellect, skills, and abilities.

Third, diversity as a goal is unbiblical.  Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to aim for a racially diverse church, or for a racially diverse company.  We should not make it our goal to exclude certain races.  That is racism.  That does not glorify God.  Our goal should be to treat men and women, whites and blacks with equal dignity and respect.  But if our church is mostly white or mostly black, that doesn't mean we are racist.  It does not mean that something is wrong with us.  It could have something to do with the community we are in -- if it is mostly white or mostly black.  Or it could have something to do with our culture -- white culture and black culture are significantly different in America.  We dress differently, talk differently, listen to different types of music, eat different foods, etc.  And birds of a feather flock together.  There's nothing wrong with that as long as we love each other and can work together for the Gospel.  The Bible teaches us to judge people according to their character and beliefs, not according to their race or gender. 

In summary, diversity is merely a lie told to deceive people into tolerating racist and sexist behavior.  It is a form of virtue signaling.  It is using people of color for your own vanity -- to make you look like you are not a racist so that you can get a pat on the back from the diversity pushers.  If I have to hire a black man or have a certain number of black people in my church or company to prove to you that I'm not racist, then you have a problem, not me.

Note:  This post was originally published on February 4, 2017.

Monday, January 14, 2019

How to Raise Successful Kids

We all want our kids to be successful.  So we push our kids to excel in school, and in sports, and in their walk with God.  But there is one ingredient to success that most parents neglect to emphasize.  And it is powerful.  The Bible promises special blessings for people who honor their parents.  Check it out.
Deuteronomy 5:16 (CEV) “Respect your father and mother, and you will live a long and successful life in the land I am giving you.”  
This passage contains two rewards, and one requirement.  What are the rewards?  First, children will have a long life.  How many people's lives have been cut short because they didn't listen to their parents?  No parents are perfect, but parents are always smarter and wiser than their kids.  Except for extremely rare circumstances, parents want what is best for their kids.  So it is only natural that children will be healthier and live longer if they honor their parents.  But there is also a supernatural element to this reward.  God gives a special blessing of health and longevity to people who honor their parents.  The second reward is that children will be successful.  This too is both natural and supernatural.  Because parents are smarter and wiser, it is a natural consequence that kids who honor their parents will be more successful than kids who don't.  But this is also a supernatural promise of God's special favor for those who honor their parents.

And now to the requirement.  Honor your parents.  Your kids must understand two omissions from this command.  First, that it is unconditional.  This command is not merely for children with godly parents, or nice parents, or permissive parents, or respectable parents, or cool parents.  It applies to children of good and bad parents.  There is an obvious application for parents.  If you want your children to reap the rewards of this verse, then you should make it as easy as possible to honor you.  But that's another lesson for another day.  The second omission in this command is that it has no age limit.  You won't always be a child, but you will always be someone's child.  You will eventually grow up, but you will never outgrow the command to honor your parents.  You will not always have to obey your parents, but you will always have to honor them.  Most people would agree that children are obligated to obey their parents until they move out on their own.  But honoring your parents is something you do for the rest of your life.

If you are serious about your kids being successful, then you need to teach them how to honor their parents.  Here's an easy-to-remember acronym to help you.

  • H -- Help them as they get older.  As your parents get older and can no longer do for themselves, or provide for their own needs, it falls on you to care for them.  Two things to consider:  One, most people don't want to end up in a retirement home.  Two, it is hard to take good care of your elderly parents if you live far away.
  • O -- Obey them right away with a good attitude.  True obedience is both immediate and respectful.
  • N -- Never hold a grudge against them.  Your parents will sin against you; they will disappoint you; they will frustrate you.  But God requires that you forgive them.  
  • O -- Open up your life to them.  Visit and call them often.  Include them in get-togethers, holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations.  Let them visit as often as they wish.  And above all, let them enjoy their grandchildren.  
  • R -- Respect them with your words and actions.  In their presence and in their absence, you must only say and do what is respectful to them.  
In his book on the Ten Commandments, Philip Ryken described how to honor your parents like this.  "To honor one’s parents is to give due weight to their position.  It is to give them the recognition they deserve for their God-given authority.  To honor is to respect, esteem, value, and prize fathers and mothers as gifts from God.”  

Have you taught your kids the connection between success and honoring their parents?  And have you taught them how to honor their parents?