Links & Quotes

I came across a passage from a blog post I wrote 10 years ago, but it is still so timely for today: “Pastors, we can become so focused on the next sermon, the next appointment, the next Board meeting, the next outreach that we are actually worshiping the ministry instead of worshiping God through our ministry. When we are more focused on the work than on God, we can easily begin to feel over-worked and under-appreciated.”

“Stay with your Lord, however long the night, for only in Him have you hope of the morning!” —Charles Spurgeon

“I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.” —Clyde Kilby

Sean McDowell has an informative conversation with Titus Kennedy on the archeological evidence for the people and places in the Bible.

Jonathan Edwards wrote words that resonate with my message about pastors following the example of the Great Shepherd Jesus. “The ministers of Christ should be persons of the same spirit that their Lord was of: the same spirit of humility and lowliness of heart; for the servant is not greater than his Lord. They should be of the same spirit of heavenly-mindedness and contempt of the glory, wealth, and pleasures of this world: they should be of the same spirit of devotion and fervent love to God: they should follow the example of His prayerfulness; of whom we read from time to time of His retiring from the world, away from the noise and applauses of the multitudes, into mountains and solitary places, for secret prayer, and holy converse with his Father….” —Jonathan Edwards

“Wonderful things are told in this book [Daniel]. To those who find it difficult to believe these things, we say: let us remember that for one thousand years God had been nurturing the Hebrew nation for the purpose of establishing, through that nation, in a world of idol-worshiping nations, the idea that God is God. Now God’s nation had been destroyed by a nation that worshiped idols. That was plain evidence to all the world that the gods of Babylon were more powerful than the God of the Jews. It was a crisis in God’s struggle with idolatry. If ever there was a time when God needed to do something to show who He is, it was during the Babylonian exile. Strange indeed it would have been if nothing unusual had happened. Hard as it may be to believe these miracles, it would be harder to believe the rest of the story without them.

“At least the Jews, who from the very beginning had always been falling into idolatry, were now at last, in the Babylonian exile, convinced that their own God was the true God. These miracles also had a powerful influence on both Nebuchadnezzar and Darius (3:29; 6:26).” —Halley’s Study Bible

Fear Vs. Hope

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

How many times has fear constricted your world? 

When I look back on some of my past decisions, I can see that often my procrastination in making that decision was from a fear-based, worst-case scenario. I held back because I was afraid of the outcome from my decision. 

Also when I look back I see that even the things that didn’t go perfectly never turned out to be devastatingly bad, but something from which I could recover and learn valuable lessons. 

Now, I’m not talking about shoot-from-the-hip, never-thought-it-through actions. Those things have frequently gotten me in hot water! What I’m talking about is thinking it through, getting good counsel, praying about it, and then still holding back from making a decision. 

Fear would cause us to procrastinate, only see the negative possibilities, and maybe even become disobedient to God because we think we have to rely on our resources. On the other hand, hope wants us to see the possibilities, hear God’s voice, and then step out in confident faith. 

My friend Greg and I discussed this fear versus hope topic on an episode of our leadership podcast called The Craig And Greg Show.  

The next time you find yourself procrastinating about a decision that you have thought about, prayed about, and sought wisdom for, ask yourself: “What fear is holding me back?” Then find God’s Word of hope. God’s hope will be the just thing you need to defeat your limiting fears. 

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3 Paradigm Shifts For Leaders

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

Why is it that so many people have a worst-case mindset as their guiding factor? 

As a leader responsible for programs, and large groups of people, and the financial well-being of organizations, I know that I frequently fell into this trap. When we began making plans for the future, I wanted to keep a “fallback plan” in place. I frequently found myself saying to our leadership team, “Even in the worst case scenario we can….” 

But then I realized how much vitality this was sapping from our team. 

If we as leaders want to infuse more energy and excitement in our teams it may take some paradigm shifts on our part. Here are three shifts that I have endeavored to implement in my life: 

  1. Shift scarcity to abundance. 
  2. Shift fear to hope. 
  3. Shift worst-case to best-case.

On a recent episode of our leadership podcast, my friend Greg Heeres and I discussed the limitations that come as a result of a leader’s limiting fears.

As a Christian, I believe the greatest Helper in these three paradigm shifts is the Holy Spirit. When I take time to pray about the big decisions for my personal life and for the organizations I lead, I find that His guidance helps me tap into God’s abundance, which gives me hope for the best-case scenarios to be realized. This hope in me quickly translates to hope and expectation in my team. 

Leaders, start with prayer and then try these three paradigm shifts. As the Holy Spirit transforms your heart and mind, I believe you will begin to see a greater energy and excitement in the organizations that you lead. 

Let’s stop asking, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” and shift to asking, “What’s the best thing that could happen?” 

I would also encourage you to subscribe to The Craig And Greg Show on YouTube to hear more of our leadership-building conversations. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Beautiful Homegoing

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 AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Beautiful Homegoing

You shall come to the grave at full age, as a sheaf of grain ripens in its season. (Job 5:26) 

     The Christian’s death is always timely. ‘You shall come to the grave at full age. 

     ‘Ah,’ says one, ‘that is not true. Good people do not live longer than others. The most pious man may die in the prime of his youth.’ But look at my text. It does not say you will come to your grave in old age, but in a ‘full age.’ … All fruits do not get ripe and mellow at the same season. So it is with Christians. They are at a ‘full age’ when God chooses to take them home. … 

     There are two mercies to a Christian. The first is that he will never die too soon. And the second is that he will never die too late. … 

     ‘But,’ say some, ‘how useful might they have been had they lived.’ Ah, but how damaging they might have been! And were it not better to die than to do something afterward that would disgrace them and bring disgrace to the Christian character? Were it not better for them to sleep while their work was going on than to break it down afterward? … 

     Again, the Christian never dies too late. … God is too good a Husbandman to leave His wheat in the field too long and let it shale out. …  

     Now the last thing is that a Christian will die with honor. … I think there are two funerals for every Christian: one is the funeral of the body, and the other of the soul. Funeral, did I say, of the soul? No, I meant not so. I meant not so. It is a marriage of the soul. For as soon as it leaves the body, the angel reapers stand ready to carry it away. They may not bring a fiery chariot as they had for Elijah. But they have their broad spreading wings. I rejoice to believe that angels will come as convoys to the soul across the ethereal plains. … I think the most honorable and glorious thing we will ever behold, next to Christ’s entrance into heaven and His glory there, is the entrance of one of God’s people into heaven.

From The Death Of The Christian

As I mentioned last week, this sermon was so providential in its timing for me because my precious mother went Home to be with Jesus just days before I opened to this sermon from Charles Spurgeon. 

We are comforted by the promises Rev. Spurgeon shares because they are based on the truth in God’s Word. “Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die” (Isaiah 57:1-2). 

At my Mom’s graveside committal service I shared this—

One of my favorite authors C.S. Lewis made a comment, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” 

This part that we called Claudia Owens was just the body that carried around who she really was. What a beautiful soul that we got to experience for 78 years. What shined through was so sweet and graceful and wonderful. What a glimpse we got! But a joy to know that it was only a glimpse. That the part of my Mom that was so beautiful that we got to see, was only a fraction of her full beauty! The part that was really her, that is at Home with her Savior Jesus now is shining in all its brilliance. … 

We will all miss her and we will grieve our loss. But as the apostle Paul reminded us, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. We know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We know that this body is sown perishable ravaged by the disease of cancer, but that my Mom is now in a place with no more tears or disease. We know that the same Savior that prepared a place for Claudia has prepared a place for us.

And we concluded with this prayer that can be offered up for every Christian who has died at their “full age”: 

Heavenly Father, 

We commit this body to the ground with the full assurance that her soul is in your everlasting presence. Holy Spirit, help us in our grief to be reminded of the hope of eternal life that we all share. Thank You, Jesus, for purchasing this hope on which we stand.

As I mentioned last week, if you don’t have this blessed assurance of the marriage of your soul when you take your last breath here on earth, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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The Hidden Smile Of God (book review)

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

It’s one thing for someone to dispense sound advice, but it’s an entirely different thing for that advice to come from hard-won life experiences. The Hidden Smile Of God is the second book in John Piper’s excellent series of biographies called “The Swans are Not Silent.” 

Each book in this series features biographies and life lessons of three notable saints. Pastor John weaves these character studies together around a common theme. In this book, the lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd are examined to see the fruitful ministry that can emerge from a life plagued by affliction. 

John Bunyan, well-known author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, spent over a decade in prison, as well as the balance of his life under severely pressing circumstances. David Brainerd was a missionary to several American Indian tribes, while struggling with failing health and crushing loneliness. And William Cowper was suicidally depressed through nearly all of his life, and yet wrote some of the most intimate and moving poems. 

In fact, it is a line in one of Cowper’s poems from which the title of this John Piper book emerges—

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, 
But trust Him for His grace; 
Behind a frowning providence 
He hides a smiling face.

Pastor John does more than merely share memorable biographies of these three men, but he extracts insights about suffering and affliction that will enable others to have a new biblical paradigm about their own suffering. Such amazing lessons for any of us struggling through dark times.

Even if you don’t personally struggle with affliction or anxiety or depression, chances are very good that someone around you does. Perhaps you could read this book and share some of these helpful insights with your friends or family members who are struggling. 

If you would like to check out my review of another book in this series—Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifullyplease click here. 

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Our Blessed Hope

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

As we wrap up our series looking at our foundational belief statements, I want to combine the last four statements together, not only because they all cover the same theme of end-times events, but also because these statements should give every Christian hope! 

  • “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.” —G.K. Chesterton 
  • “One of the great enemies of hope is forgetting God’s promises.” —John Piper 
  • “Hope is not wishful thinking; it’s well-founded believing!” —Craig T. Owens 

Christians have a fantastic, unshakable, blessed hope on which we can stand not only secure but joyful! 

Foundational truth #13: “The resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Christ and their translation together with those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord is the imminent and blessed hope of the church.” 

This blessed hope in the future helps us live with joy today! Knowing that death has been defeated and Jesus will come back to take us home with Him should fuel us to say “no” to the temporary pleasures of sin, and live such godly lives that it turns others’ eyes to Jesus (Titus 2:11-14; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). 

Foundational truth #14: “The second coming of Christ includes the rapture of the saints, which is our blessed hope, followed by the visible return of Christ with His saints to reign on earth for one thousand years.” 

Sometimes you will hear Christians talk about the “rapture” of the Church. Although this word itself isn’t in the Bible, the Greek word harpazo in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 means “catching up.” It also means “to eagerly claim for one’s self,” which reminds me that Jesus is thrilled to bring His Bride home to be with Him forever! After the Church has been caught up to Heaven, a period of tribulation will plague the earth, followed by Christ’s Second Coming and His millennial reign (Zechariah 14:4-5; Revelation 19:11-15; 20:1-10). 

Foundational truth #15: “There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” 

Christians have no fear of the second (or final) death because our names are written in the Book of Life (Luke 12:4-6; Revelation 20:11-15). Not only is there judgment for the wicked, but there will be rewards for the righteous. 

Foundational truth #16: “In keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Revelation 21-22 give us a small glimpse of our eternal home. 

In light of these truth, how should Christians live while still on earth? I think there are three ways we should live: 

  1. Live circumspectly
  2. Live on-mission
  3. Live unafraid

(see Ephesians 5:15; Matthew 28:18-20; Proverbs 24:11-12; Jude 1:20-25) 

With this blessed hope of the Second Coming of Jesus and our security in knowing we will remain with Him forever, let’s tell everyone we can how they too can know what it is to live with this hope in their heart. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series exploring our foundational beliefs, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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Poetry Saturday—The Lord Will Provide

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

Though troubles assail
And dangers affright,
Though friends should all fail
And foes all unite;
Yet one thing secures us,
Whatever betide,
The Scripture assures us,
The Lord will provide.

The birds without barn
Or storehouse are fed,
From them let us learn
To trust for our bread:
His saints, what is fitting,
Shall ne’er be denied,
So long as ‘tis written,
The Lord will provide.

We may, like the ships,
By tempest be tossed
On perilous deeps,
But cannot be lost.
Though satan enrages
The wind and the tide,
The promise engages,
The Lord will provide.

His call we obey
Like Abram of old,
Not knowing our way,
But faith makes us bold;
For though we are strangers
We have a good Guide,
And trust in all dangers,
The Lord will provide.

When satan appears
To stop up our path,
And fill us with fears,
We triumph by faith;
He cannot take from us,
Though oft he has tried,
This heart-cheering promise,
The Lord will provide.

He tells us we’re weak,
Our hope is in vain,
The good that we seek
We ne’er shall obtain,
But when such suggestions
Our spirits have plied,
This answers all questions,
The Lord will provide.

No strength of our own,
Or goodness we claim,
Yet since we have known
The Savior’s great name;
In this our strong tower
For safety we hide,
The Lord is our power,
The Lord will provide.

When life sinks apace
And death is in view,
This word of His grace
Shall comfort us through:
No fearing or doubting
With Christ on our side,
We hope to die shouting,
The Lord will provide. —John Newton


Podcast: Leaders Are Hope Dealers

On this episode of “The Craig And Greg Show” we talk about: 

  • [0:23] Greg makes a very personal investment in me—a special figurine to remind me, and all of us, about servant leadership. You can get more information on my book by clicking here. 
  • [2:18] Only servant leaders truly know how to breathe hope into the people around them.
  • [3:17] Greg describes how leaders can become hope dealers. 
  • [3:53] I paraphrase a proverb to help leaders see the immense value in dispensing hope. 
  • [5:59] Greg explains how leaders instill hope into themselves. 
  • [7:48] Hope-filled people are still realistic about the present difficulties they are facing. 
  • [8:59] Hope isn’t just about one-time vision casting—we talked about how leaders keep the message of hope consistent. 
  • [12:29] Leaders have to be around people in order to invest hope into them. 
  • [14:00] Greg notices how hope connects faith and love. 
  • [15:32] Greg gives leaders a challenge to grow as hope-fillers. 
  • [17:42] Leaders give their teammates hope for a better future. 

Check out this episode and subscribe on YouTube so you can watch all of the upcoming episodes. You can also listen to our podcast on Spotify and Apple.

Hope-Fueled Praise

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

Do not be far from me, my God; come quickly, God, to help me. (Psalm 71:12) 

This is the middle verse of this psalm and the heart of this psalm’s message. This verse speaks not only of God’s omnipresence and His omnipotence, but it also speaks of a lifelong, increasing awareness of His presence and power. 

What a blessing to know that I have a sure Rock to which I can always go (v. 3), and a Savior whom I have had as my confidence since my youth (v. 5). This hopeful assurance causes me to praise God—the more I hope, the more I praise. As a result, my praise grows from an occasional response, to a daily practice, to a moment-by-moment lifestyle. 

Listen to these words from the psalmist: 

  • I will ever praise You
  • my mouth is filled with Your praise, declaring Your splendor all day long 
  • I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more 
  • my mouth will tell of Your righteousness, of Your salvation all day long 
  • I declare Your marvelous deeds 
  • my tongue will tell of Your righteous acts all day long

My hope fuels my praise. My praise strengthens my hope. The more I realize hope, the more I praise God, and the more I praise God, the more hope-filled I become! 

My friend, there are more reasons to praise God than you can possibly count but go ahead and start counting them anyway. As the words of the old hymn remind us, “Count your blessings, name them one by one … and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” 

May our tongues be continually telling of God’s blessings, and may our praise be continually filling us with renewed hopefulness of His future blessings! 

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(Im)Patiently Waiting?

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

I waited patiently for the Lord … You are my God, do not delay (Psalm 40:1, 17). 

These bookend verses—the first and last verses of the 40th Psalm—are humorous to me. I wonder: Is David saying something like, “I’ve waited long enough, c’mon, God, let’s get moving”? 

Not exactly.

The first part of this psalm is a backward look that recounts all that God has already done for David: He heard me, He lifted me out of a pit, He set me on a firm place, He put a new song in my mouth (vv. 1-3). While the end of this psalm is David’s anticipation of what is still to come: the enemies of God turned back, and the saints of God rejoicing in His deliverance (vv. 11-17). 

The backward look in gratitude fuels the forward look in expectant hope.

In the meantime, in the middle of this psalm—between the backward look and the forward look—David is living as a testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness:

  • many will see how God has delivered me and put their trust in Him 
  • I speak of Your deeds 
  • I listen to You and proclaim what You speak to me 
  • I do not hide Your righteousness 
  • I speak of Your faithfulness (vv. 3-16) 

This is a good lesson for us: Our continual praise and proclamation of God’s goodness is what connects our gratitude to our hope!

So in looking at these bookends verses again, I think that what David is saying is something like, “Father, I have so many good things already to say about how You have provided for me, so do not delay in moving again so that I have even more to share with others! Let many see Your hand on my life so that they too may learn to fear and trust You. Amen.” 

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