Really Bad News And Really, Really Good News

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My cousin Dick Brogden wrote in his book Missionary God, Missionary Bible, “Since good news must often indeed rectify bad news, the gospel message is both warning and invitation.” This is so appropriate when reading the prophet Zephaniah: He wanted to share some really, really good news, but first, he must make us confront the really bad news. 

Zephaniah prophesied near the end of Judah’s decline toward exile. He saw the great revival in King Josiah’s day, and then watched his fellow Israelites once again turn their backs on God. If Jeremiah spoke to faithless Israelites, and Habakkuk spoke to faithful Israelites, then Zephaniah spoke to fake Israelites—those who appeared to be religious, but whose hearts were not actually devoted to God. 

This whole book looks backward in history and forward to soon-to-be-fulfilled prophecy. Most of the time when God speaks, He is asking us to look forward to what is unavoidably coming. Zephaniah then takes God’s words as a call for us to apply them to our lives today. 

In the first chapter, God’s forward-look is a warning of the judgment that most assuredly is coming. Built into His warning are two backward looks to the law of Deuteronomy (vv. 13 and 15 look back to Deuteronomy 28:29-30). 

Zephaniah uses this warning as a wake-up call for us, telling us to “seek the Lord” and “seek righteousness, seek humility” before the day of God’s judgment comes (2:1-3). 

The fact that God’s judgment would fall on godless people shouldn’t surprise anyone (2:4-15), but when Zephaniah says, “Woe to the city of oppressors” (3:1), he’s talking to the people of Judah! Zephaniah addresses his warning to the fake Israelites, the hypocritical people—those claiming God’s name but not God’s nature. 

The apostle Paul sounds a similar warning to New Testament Christians: 

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:6-14) 

The really bad news is ALL of us have sinned and we have ALL fallen short of God’s righteous standard. As a result, ALL of us would stand guilty before God on Judgment Day. 

But the really, really good news is that Jesus allowed our penalty to fall on Him instead! So if we put our faith in Jesus, God’s judgment will be appeased in Christ instead of on us! 

Christians, then, take the name of Jesus Christ, but we need to make sure we also take His nature.  Fake—hypocritical—Christians are those who are “Christian” in name only. 

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased part of the 1 Corinthians passage above—These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. (The Message) 

As we read those words, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” I’d like to suggest four action steps:

  1. Hear the Word of God to YOU—not your neighbor—but you personally. 
  2. After you hear the Word, examine yourself to see if you are truly living in God’s nature and not just using His name. 
  3. Respond like King Josiah did when he heard God’s Word: He made a public commitment “to follow the Lord and keep His commands, statutes and decrees with ALL his heart and ALL his soul” (2 Kings 23:3). 
  4. Stay diligent—Hebrews 2:1 tells us, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” 

Don’t delay—the Day of the Lord is closer today than it’s ever been before! Pay attention to the really bad news that Judgment Day is coming, but then make certain you are standing in the nature of Jesus Christ on that day so that God’s judgment will pass over you. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the major lessons in the minor prophets, you can find the full list of messages by clicking here. 

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Poetry Saturday—Will Ye Also Go Away?

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When any turn from Zion’s way,
(As numbers often do,)
Methinks I hear my Saviour say,
Wilt thou forsake Me too?”

Ah, Lord! with such a heart as mine,
Unless Thou hold me fast,
My faith will fail, I shall decline,
And prove like them at last.

‘Tis Thou alone hast power and grace,
To save a wretch like me;
To whom then shall I turn my face,
If I depart from Thee.

Beyond a doubt I rest assur’d
Thou art the Christ of God;
Who hast eternal life secur’d,
By promise and by blood.

The help of men and angels join’d,
Could never reach my case!
Nor can I hope relief to find,
But in Thy boundless grace.

No voice but Thine can give me rest,
And bid my fears depart;
No love but Thine can make me blest,
And satisfy my heart. —John Newton

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Secure Forever

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Secure Forever  

     Our first parent, Adam, lived in the midst of happiness and peace in the garden. Unlike ourselves he had no depravity, no bias toward evil. God made him upright. He was perfectly pure, and it was in his own will whether he should sin or not. The balance hung evenly in his hands. 

     But have you forgotten how on that sad day he took of the forbidden fruit and ate and thereby cursed himself and all of us! … When you recollect the paradise he left, the happiness and peace that have forever passed away through his sin, do you not hear the voice that says to you, as a depraved and fallen creature, ‘Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Corinthians 10:12)? Conscious of your own weakness as compared with your parent Adam, you are ready to cry out, ‘O my God, how can I stand where Adam falls?’ 

     But here comes the joyous thought that Christ, who has begun with you, will never cease till He has perfected you! Can you help singing with Jude, ‘Now to Him who is able to keep us from stumbling’?”

From Christians Kept In Time And Glorified In Eternity

When the devil says, “Your most recent sin made your salvation iffy,” you remind him what God says: “The strong love of My Son will hold you secure forever!” 

To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)

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Rules Of Evidence

As I mentioned in my book review of David Limbaugh’s Jesus On Trial, he presents the evidence for the validity of the Bible and the historicity of Jesus Christ as if he were presenting a cae before the jury. As a trial begins, a judge will share with the jurors the rules for considering the evidence that is being presented. Here is a fantastic summary from Mr. Limbaugh—

“Applying the rules of evidence. … These rules are the ancient documents rules, the parole evidence rule, the hearsay rule, and the principle of cross-examination. 

“The common law ancient documents rule presumes a document is truthful unless it is self-contradictory, inaccurate, or there is internal evidence of text tampering. The one challenging the document generally shoulders the burden of proof. Unsolved problems or lack of clarity in the document don’t necessarily invalidate it as erroneous or unreliable. …

“The parole evidence rule provides that external, oral testimony or tradition will not be admitted into evidence to add to, subtract from, vary, or contradict an executed written instrument such as a will or a contract. This means the document, absent any applicable exceptions, will stand on its own. … 

“The hearsay rule precludes a witness from testifying as to what others may have said and, generally speaking, requires the witness to have firsthand knowledge of the matter to which he is testifying. As applied to the New Testament documents, this rule lends credence to New Testament authors who say they were eyewitnesses to the events they recorded. 

“The cross-examination principle holds that the more the testimony holds up once it is subjected to rigorous cross examination, the more credible we deem it to be, which, incidentally, is one reason for the hearsay rule, i.e., it excludes testimony from witnesses that can’t be subjected to cross-examination. … Law professor and historian John Warwick Montgomery, who rigorously applied all these evidentiary rules to an examination of the Bible, finds the witnesses who were challenged to confirm having witnessed Jesus’ resurrected body did so ‘in the very teeth of opposition, among hostile cross-examiners who would certainly have destroyed the case of Christianity’ had such accounts been contradicted by the facts. 

Josh McDowell summarizes Montgomery’s approach to New Testament examination as giving the document the benefit of the doubt, which is another way of saying the burden of proof is on the critic or challenger. So, Montgomery writes, ‘One must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradiction or known factual inaccuracies.’ Applying this approach and similar ones, McDowell argues that we can’t just assume that what appears to be a difficult passage constitutes a valid argument against it. We must be sure we correctly understand the passage using accepted rules of interpretation.”

I present some evidence for the inspiration and validty of the Bible in these two posts: The inspiration of Scripture and Can we really know if the Bible is God’s Word?

The Best Leadership Manual

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice… (Proverbs 29:2). 

I have read hundreds of leadership books and biographies of history’s most influential leaders. But no book even comes close to the leadership principles I discover on an almost daily basis in my Bible. Without a doubt, my Bible is my go-to leadership Book! 

A great place to start mining leadership principles is the book of Proverbs. Take time to study just one of the 31 chapters each day, and you will be astounded at the leadership insights you will have gleaned by the end of the month. 

Take Proverbs 29 as an example. Reading through this chapter, I’m reminded that:

  • righteous leadership causes people to rejoice 
  • a leader builds stability through consistent justice, but bribes or showing favoritism undermines a leader’s foundation 
  • leaders who speak up for those without a voice of their own will continue to exert influence long after their tenure is over 
  • wise leaders energize people when they share a compelling vision 
  • justice comes through a righteous leader, but ultimate justice come from God

I even read an important warning for leaders who make it their goal to lead righteously: Bloodthirsty men hate a man of integrity and seek to kill the upright (v. 10). 

But even on the heels of that warning I read this assurance to continue to lead righteously: Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe (v. 25). 

A mark of a godly leader is one who is continually finding new leadership principles in the Bible. 

Try it for yourself and see how applying God’s wisdom will increase your influence as a leader. 

This is part 58 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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Healthy Leaders = Healthy Teammates

“Only healthy shepherds can lead a flock of sheep to places where they too can be at their optimal health.” —excerpt from Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter

I have five chapters in my book to help ministry leaders get mentally, physically, spiritually, and relationally healthy. In this short clip, from “The Craig And Greg Show” leadership podcast, Greg Heeres and I talk about how important it is for leaders to self-care. To see the full episode, please click here. 

Do Our Ministries Need “Glittering Tinsel”?

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Former Assembly of God General Superintendent W.T. Gaston wrote an article of warning in 1953 that pastors and ministry leaders would do well to heed again today. This part especially caught my attention—

Gaston suggested, “If we are to have a future that is better or even comparable and worthy of our past, we will need to learn over again some of the lessons of yesterday.” One of the important lessons to rediscover, he wrote, was the importance of promoting “pure, undefiled” religion. 

He recalled that many early 20th-century Pentecostal pioneers were bivocational ministers, that often met in homes or rented buildings, and that most were not very impressive by the standards of the surrounding culture. However, they did not need worldly goods and accolades in order for the Holy Spirit to accomplish great things through their lives and ministries.

Gaston wrote that he witnessed an “utter disregard for poverty or wealth or station in life” in the early Pentecostal movement. Yet “those rugged pioneers,” he noted, “had something that made them attractive and convincing.” The contrast between the attitudes of the world and the early Pentecostals was striking. According to Gaston, early believers were “completely satisfied without the world’s glittering tinsel, and content to be the objects of its scornful hatred.”

In the Preface to my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, I sound a similar note of warning and encouragement: 

My larger concern is that churches, parachurch organizations, and nonprofit ministries that are largely founded to fulfill a biblical mandate are straying from the simple, freeing truths found in the Bible. Or maybe I should say that they are adding things to their ministries that aren’t in the pages of Scripture. Whichever way you want to say it, the result is the same: We are using the wrong metrics to define “success” for our ministries. I fear that in our focus on unbiblical practices, we are missing the joy of really doing ministry. 

All of these titles, flowcharts, and non-essential things that we are discussing, revamping, implementing, and measuring aren’t doing anything to liberate us, but they are keeping us focused on checking off meaningless boxes. We’re spending far too much valuable time and resources on keeping the machinery running, but we’re not correctly evaluating the outputs. We need to recalibrate our understanding of leadership: God’s leaders are servants. … 

I believe that leaders of churches and nonprofit ministries will find the greatest freedom and enjoyment—and ultimately experience the full blessing of God—when they learn to view themselves as shepherd leaders. Jesus is our ultimate example: Our Good Shepherd showed us how to live out the lifestyle that pleases Him and glorifies our Heavenly Father. 

I hope you will buy a copy of this book. And I invite you to also check out this video where I explain a little more what I hope this book will accomplish in all of our ministries. 

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Complaining To God

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

One of the things I love about the minor prophets is the reminder of the historicity of the Bible. Habakkuk, and the other prophets, lived in an actual moment of history. Check out some of the key dates during the ministry of Habakkuk: 

  • 605 BC—Nebuchadnezzar invades Judah and carries off Daniel and his friends 
  • 597 BC—the Babylonians attack Judah again and take 10,000 exiles back to Babylon, including the prophet Ezekiel 
  • 586 BC—Judah is besieged and defeated, and all remaining residents are exiled to Babylon 

Jeremiah, a contemporary of Habakkuk, preached to faithless Israelites, imploring them to return to God, while Habakkuk attempted to encourage faithful Israelites to continue to trust Jehovah. 

Habakkuk recognized that he was delivering a heavy word. When he opens this book by saying this is “the oracle” that he received from God, that word is better translated “burden.” Part of this burden may have been due to the fact that Habakkuk had something on his heart that we often have: a complaint. 

Can we complain to God? 

Habakkuk complained to God—twice!—and God doesn’t reprimand him, so there must be a right way to vent about our frustrations and confusions. Here’s what we can learn from Habakkuk’s two complaints: 

  1. Instead of making accusations, ask questions. Habakkuk asks God eight questions in his two complaints. I think this is an attitude issue. Complaints are saying, “God I disagree with what You’re doing,” while questions seem to be more like, “God, I don’t understand what You’re doing.” 
  2. Desire God’s glory to be seen. At the conclusion of both of Habakkuk’s complaints he uses the word “therefore” (1:4, 16). His conclusion is something along the lines of, “God, if You let this continue, it appears that Your glory is being obscured by the activities of wicked people.” 
  3. After your complaint, close your mouth and open your eyes and ears. After Habakkuk’s first complaint, God tells him to “look” at all He is going to do. And after the second complaint, God tells him to “write down the revelation” God gives him and then “wait for it” to be fulfilled” (2:2, 3). 

Then Habakkuk does something that isn’t seen anywhere else in the Bible outside of the book of Psalms: he calls for us to Selah pause three times! 

Habakkuk shows us that our best response to what God reveals to us should be worship: 

  • Selah (3:3)—pause to consider what God has done 
  • Selah (3:9)—pause to stand in awe of His very present glory 
  • Selah (3:13)—pause in anticipation of His righteous justice and awesome glory that will be revealed 

Key phrases from Habakkuk are quoted in the New Testament, and at least three of them are directly tied to these Selah pauses:

  • The earth WILL be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (2:14), is echoed in the way all of humanity will see the glory of the risen Jesus.  
  • The righteous WILL live by his faith” (2:4), is quoted as a Christian’s ongoing interaction with the indwelling Holy Spirit. 
  • I WILL rejoice in the Lord my God … I WILL be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17-18) figures prominently in Mary’s song after she realizes that she is pregnant with the soon-to-be-born Savior. 

(Check out all of the above biblical references: Habakkuk 2:14, 2:4, 3:17-18; Revelation 1:5-8; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:37-39; Luke 1:46-47, 54-55) 

Can you air your complaints to God? Yes, but do it the right way. Then silently listen, patiently wait, and then eagerly tell others about the coming judgment that they can avoid by having their sins forgiven through faith in Jesus our Savior. Only then can we also echo the “I will” statements of Habakkuk that are echoed in the New Testament—I will live by faith, I will look forward to the glory of God being fully revealed, I will continue to rejoice in God my Savior every day, and I will tell others how they, too, can live this way themselves! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the major lessons we find in the minor prophets, you can find the complete list by clicking here. 

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Poetry Saturday—In The Crucible

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Out from the mine and the darkness,
Out from the damp and the mold,
Out from the fiery furnace,
Cometh each grain of gold.
Crushed into atoms and leveled
Down to the humblest dust
With never a heart to pity,
With never a hand to trust.
Molten and hammered and beaten
Seemeth it ne’er to be done.
Oh, for such fiery trial,
What hath the poor gold done?
Oh, ‘twere a mercy to leave it
Down in the damp and the mold.
If this is the glory of living,
Then better to be dross than gold.
Under the press and the roller,
Into the jaws of the mint,
Stamped with the emblem of freedom,
With never a flaw or a dint.
Oh, what a joy, the refining,
Out of the damp and the mold.
And stamped with the glorious image,
Oh beautiful coin of gold! —Anonymous

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Avoiding Leadership Warts

My book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter releases September 28, 2021. This is just one of the topic I address…

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