There’s Still Time, America

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This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Cut down the trees and build siege ramps against Jerusalem. This city must be punished…” (Jeremiah 6:6). 

When I read these 2500-year-old words it makes me shudder. Why? Because if we changed “Jerusalem” to “Washington, D.C.” and “Judah” to “America,” the sins of the people sound eerily the same: 

  • arrogantly closed ears refusing to listen to God’s Word 
  • people calling the loving message of the Bible “offensive” 
  • the predominance of greed 
  • deceptive “prosperity” preachers who are only in it for their own personal gain 
  • shameless, detestable lifestyles 
  • open rebellion against God’s laws 
  • constant slandering of God and of people created in God’s image (vv. 10-28)

God says, “This city must be punished.” 

But still, a hope remains. God also says, “Take warning, Jerusalem [or America], or I will turn away from you” (v. 8). 

There is still time for repentance! There is still time to take heed of this loving warning and turn away from sin. That’s what repentance truly means—seeing our sins as disgusting in God’s sight, asking for forgiveness, and turning away from those sins. 

Repentance means an about-face, so that instead of the catalog of sins that I just listed, we instead see:

  • a humility that hears and obeys God’s Word 
  • living in contentment with God’s blessings and not lusting for anything more 
  • listening to preachers who faithfully, lovingly, and boldly speak exactly what God has spoken to their hearts 
  • being ashamed of our former sinful lifestyle, and gratefully receiving the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for us
  • and having a passion to help everyone live in this God-glorifying way

Repent, America! There is still time before God’s judgment falls on us. The historical record is there for all to read: Unrepented sin received God’s righteous judgment. But in His mercy, God is still giving us time to repent today. Don’t miss this golden opportunity! 

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Eternally Satisfied

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We see a pattern throughout the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament: They wanted to have all their bases covered, so they kept up the pretense of worshiping Jehovah, but they also added the idolatrous practices of the nations around them. It got pretty vile (see Jeremiah 2:23-25 as an example). 

These cravings for more than God had provided led to their punishment. As we quoted last week from Isaiah, they lost their “matchless, unbroken companionship” with God (Isaiah 30:18 AMP).

Craving for our self-created idols creates anxiety in our hearts that shows up in three nagging questions. 

(1) What will others think of me if they have things I don’t have?

Worrying about what others think of us has always been a trap. We play games, posture, and frequently hide the truth so that we “look right” to others. But this dishonesty only hurts us in the long run.

Dr. Tony Evans noted, “satan uses our legitimate need for acceptance in an illegitimate way that can result in us living under a false identity.” Jesus warned us not to show off to try to get others to think well of us (Matthew 6:1) and He lived this out in His own life. He said, “I receive not glory from men—I crave no human honor, I look for no mortal fame” (John 5:41 AMP). 

To avoid this trap remember: Recognition from God > Recognition from men. We should be living to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21, 23). 

(2) Will I have enough to survive?

Because the things of this earth pass away, it is natural to think that our supply may just <poof!> be gone in an instant. So we can crave the security of having our shelves fully stocked for the future. 

Jesus twice tells us that our Heavenly Father knows what we need (Matthew 6:8, 32). Then over a span of ten verses, Jesus tells us four times, “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25-34). He can assure us of this because of this rock-solid reality: Heaven’s provisions > Earth’s provisions. 

(3) Will God accept me?

Just as satan tried to get Jesus to doubt that He was the Son of God, the devil will also try to get you to doubt whether or not you measure up in God’s sight. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasizes the Fatherhood of God thirteen times—usually calling Him “your Father.” 

This tells me that we can cling to this: Being accepted by your Father > Being accepted by anyone else. Paul uses a wonderful description in Ephesians when he tells us we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6 NKJV). 

Isaiah told us that God longs to be gracious to us, and Jesus emphasizes that idea when He says, “Only aim at and strive for and seek His kingdom, and all these things shall be supplied to you also. Do not be seized with alarm and struck with fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!” (Luke 12:31-32 AMP) 

Just as God craves to bless you, so you are to crave your fulfillment in what He alone can supply. You must crave the only One Who can eternally satisfy you, Who longs to reward you, and Who delights to give you the inestimable rewards of His kingdom! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Craving series, check them out by clicking here. 

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Growing The Wrong Thing

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In a recent teaching time with some ministry interns, I discussed the two main metrics that we can use to measure growth: quantity and quality. Sadly, too many churches and ministries have gotten so caught up in the “numbers game” of more-more-more being the only metric of success, that they’ve forgotten about quality. Or maybe they do focus on quality, but only as a means to the end of more-more-more. 

This is never a metric of success that is discussed in the Bible. Check this out…

In the chapter entitled ‘Don’t Try to Grow Your Ministry’ in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter I wrote this—

Businesses think in terms of quantitative gains—things they can count—but churches and nonprofits should be thinking in terms of qualitative gains—a quality improvement that isn’t as easily counted. I think we all know this, and yet we still persist in wanting to define success in a church or a nonprofit by those quantitative standards such as attendance growth, donations, and the like. When we think qualitative over quantitative, suddenly what seemed “small” is so significant and so valuable that it cannot be calculated! What if one of those babies that weren’t aborted discovers a cure for cancer, or deciphers a dialect to take the Gospel to an unreached people group, or becomes the loving next-door neighbor that leads your son or daughter to a relationship with Jesus? 

Just as you cannot put a price tag on a life, you cannot put a price tag on a sheep. Make no mistake about it, God views His sheep—every single one of them—as invaluable. Because His valuation is so high, we can understand why He gets so angry at those who are more concerned about their success than they are about the health of the sheep. When God uses the word “Woe!” we should definitely take that seriously. He uses that very word to warn shepherd leaders who were shirking their responsibility when He said, “Woe to those shepherds who only take care of themselves” (Ezekiel 34:2). 

When we map out our plan for success, or when we try to define success solely by quantitative measurements, we ultimately become more committed to our plans than to God’s sheep. God pulls no punches when He calls leaders with this attitude evil, mere hired hands, or even thieves (Jeremiah 23:3; John 10:8, 12). And most sobering of all, God says, “I will hold them accountable” (Ezekiel 34:10). 

Friends, let’s make sure we are focused on the metrics that really matter. Recently, a pastor shared honestly with me about his frustration with the “numbers game,” and purchased five copies of my book to use as a discussion starter with his church staff. I hope you will consider using Shepherd Leadership in a similar way. If I can be of assistance, please let me know. 

Shepherd Leadership is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Encouragement For Preachers

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. 

Encouragement For Preachers

…For the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 1:20).

     We preach because ‘the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ It would not be worth our while to speak what Isaiah had spoken if in it there was nothing more than Isaiah’s thought—neither should we care to meditate hour after hour upon the writings of Paul, if there was nothing more than Paul in them. … The true preacher, the man whom God has commissioned, delivers his message with awe and trembling because ‘the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ … 

     Woe unto us if we dare to speak the Word of the Lord with less than our whole heart and soul and strength! Woe unto us if we handle the Word as if it were an occasion for display! If it were our own word, we might be studious of the graces of oratory. But if it is God’s Word, we cannot afford to think of ourselves. … Because the mouth of the Lord has spoken the truth of God, we therefore endeavor to preach it with absolute fidelity. …  

     Believing that ‘the mouth of the Lord has spoken,’ it is my duty to repeat God’s Word to you as correctly as I can after having heard it and felt it in my own soul. It is not mine to amend or adapt the gospel. …  Again, dear friends, as ‘the mouth of the Lord has spoken,’ we speak the divine truth with courage and full assurance. Modesty is a virtue, but hesitancy when we are speaking for the Lord is a great fault. …  

     We preach not the gospel by your leave. We do not ask tolerance nor court applause. We preach Christ crucified, and we preach boldly as we ought to speak because it is God’s Word not our own. … We cannot use ‘ifs’ and ‘buts,’ for we are dealing with God’s ‘shalls’ and ‘wills.’ If He says it is so, it is so. And there is the end of it. Controversy ceases when Jehovah speaks [Jeremiah 1:17-19].

From The Infallibility Of Scripture

Preaching God’s Word is not for the faint of heart. It takes one who is confidently humbled—confident that God has spoken and humbled that He would choose someone like me to speak His Word to His people. 

In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter I wrote: 

Check this out: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Who wrote the book of Numbers? If you answered “Moses,” you are correct. Doesn’t that sound a bit brash to declare that you are more humble than anyone else on the earth? Yet, God allowed Moses to pen those words, making that a Holy Spirit-inspired statement of fact. Humility is a double-edged sword: it can serve a leader well when it is balanced with appropriate confidence, but it is a detriment to an organization’s health if it is self-de-basing humility that undercuts a leader’s credibility. 

The God-honoring preacher gets his message from the mouth of the Lord, and then confidently endeavors “to preach it with absolute fidelity.” Whether others praise of criticize, the humble leader says, “I am only God’s servant speaking God’s Word.” 

Preachers, let’s make sure that everything we confidently and humbly share from our pulpits is the whole counsel of what has been spoken by the mouth of the Lord.

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I Can’t, God Can

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Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps (Jeremiah 10:23 NIV).

I didn’t create my life—You did!

So “people do not control their own destiny” (NET)—You do!

“Mere mortals can’t run their own lives” (MSG)—You can!

“The way of man is not in himself” (NKJV)—it’s in You!

Discipline me, Lord, but only in due measure—not in Your anger, or You will reduce me to nothing (Jeremiah 10:24 NIV).

You can correct me “with justice” (NKJV)—I can’t!

You know how to “be gentle” (NLT)—I don’t!

God, You correct “as You see best” (MSG)—I can’t!

I’d say it’s pretty clear that there is only One who can lead me in the way I should go. So my prayer should always be: Heavenly Father, You are Sovereign, You are Love, and I trust You completely to guide me into paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake, as only You know how. Holy Spirit, help me to trust You in this journey. In Jesus’ name, amen.

I used only two verses to write this post, but I read them in multiple translations. This is another great Bible study tool that any of us can use. If you would like to read more about the various translations of the Bible and how to access them, please check out this post. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Three Keys To Effective Prayer

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. 

Three Keys To Effective Prayer 

     Why is this extraordinary power of prayer given to those who abide in Christ? May what I have to say encourage you to make the glorious attempt to win this pearl of great price! Why is it, that by abiding in Christ and having His words abide in us, we get to this liberty and prevalence in prayer? … 

     I answer, first, because of the fullness of Christ. … I see clearly enough why the branch gets all it wants while it abides in the stem, since all it wants is already in the stem and is placed there for the sake of the branch. What does the branch want more than the stem can give it? If it did want more, it could not get it. For it has no other means of living but by sucking its life out of the stem. O my precious Lord, if I want anything that is not in You, I desire always to be without it. I desire to be denied a wish that wanders outside of You. But if the supply of my desire is already in You for me, why should I go elsewhere? You are my all, where else should I look? … 

     The next reason for this is the richness of the Word of God. … The best praying man is the man who is most believingly familiar with the promises of God. After all, prayer is nothing but taking God’s promises to Him and saying to Him, ‘Do as You have said.’ … If the Word of God abides in you, you are the man who can pray because you meet the great God with His own words…. 

     A man will succeed in prayer when his faith is strong. And this is the case with those who abide in Jesus. It is faith that prevails in prayer. The real eloquence of prayer is a believing desire. ‘All things are possible to him who believes’ (Mark 9:23). A man abiding in Christ, with Christ’s words abiding in him, is eminently a believer and consequently eminently successful in prayer.

 From The Secret Of Power In Prayer

God Himself has told us, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). Not “I might answer you,” but “I will answer you.” 

God also tells us how to receive what we ask in prayer:

  1. Abide in Jesus. Desire nothing else but to know His heart more intimately. 
  2. Know God’s Word. The Bible isn’t just a Book to be read through, but it’s a Book to be prayed through. 
  3. Stretch your faith. A desperate father said to Jesus, “If You can, please help us.” Jesus admonished that father—and all of us too—to believe that Jesus is able to accomplish what we ask of Him. And then comes this great exclamation from that same desperate father: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” The God that wants us to have faith in Him for answered prayers is the same God Who imparts that faith to us. How? By abiding in Jesus and taking God at His Word. 

Don’t give up, my friend. Keep praying. There is no other way to learn to pray more effectively than to keep on abiding in Jesus, keep on claiming the biblical promises, and keep on stretching your faith to present your prayer request to Him again.

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The Approachable Jesus

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A friend of mine who was in a position of leadership in the Assemblies of God used to joke with people, “Since you’re bowing and walking backwards out of my office, would you like to kiss my ring too?” There are some people that we feel are in a special class so that we have to approach them differently. 

If we feel that way about certain people, what might we be thinking when we consider approaching the supreme, awesome, preeminent, incomparable Jesus?! It’s very likely that we could feel Him to be unapproachable, as though we aren’t worthy of His attention. 

But when Jesus Himself told us, “When [not ‘if’] you pray,” He is assuming that we will pray. And then He adds this amazing thought: “And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13)! 

Jesus loves to help us. He died a cruel death on the Cross so that He could help us! Jesus ties our trusting prayer with His willingness to serve us (Luke 12:22-37). Note this last line from our approachable Savior: 

It will be good for those servants whose Master finds them watching when He comes. Truly I tell you, He will dress Himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. (v. 37) 

Jesus serves us?! What an amazing thought! But does this make Jesus somehow less majestic? I like what John Piper has to say about this: “Does this belittle the risen Christ—to say that He was and is and will ever be the servant of His people? It would, if ‘servant’ meant ‘one who takes orders,’ or if we thought we were His masters. Yes, that would dishonor Him. But it does not dishonor Him to say that we are weak and need His help.” 

How do we not treat Jesus as an order-taking servant? First, we have to remember that approachable doesn’t mean something we do casually. I think this is discovered in our attitude—it’s the difference between being childlike and being childish. 

The childlike attitude is one of wonder and trust. One that calls God, “Daddy.” One that is lovingly dependent on Him. One that says, “I don’t understand what I’m going through right now, but I trust Your wisdom.” 

The childish attitude is one who treats majestic things flippantly. Perhaps the childish one talks about God as “the Big Guy upstairs.” Or one who remains selfishly independent, or who says, “Do it my way—now!”

The childlike attitude glorifies Jesus as our approachable Servant Savior. 

The childlike attitude also recognizes that there are more dimensions of the majesty of God to be discovered in an abiding relationship with Jesus. Our approachable Savior wants us to come to Him, to call to Him for help, and to know Him more intimately (Jeremiah 29:13-14; Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 4:16; 10:19, 22). 

Prayer not only unlocks deeper, proper intimacy with Jesus, but it conforms our heart more and more to His heart. As we are conformed to Him, we reflect His approachable glory to others (2 Corinthians 4:6, 3:18). 

We approach the awesome Jesus reverently in childlike faith. It’s in God’s presence that the Holy Spirit matures our faith so that we become glory-reflectors that point others to Jesus. 

If you’ve missed any of the eight messages in our series Awesome: Learning to pray in the awesome name of Jesus, you can find the list of all of the messages by clicking here. 

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A Leadership Lesson From Baruch

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In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter I talk about a man named Baruch. You can check out his story in Jeremiah 45 (it’s just five verses long). 

Baruch was a faithful scribe and friend to Jeremiah. Not only did he transcribe all of Jeremiah’s dictation (twice!), but he also read all of Jeremiah’s words at the temple when the prophet was under house arrest. By identifying with Jeremiah, Baruch became the target of the false prophets’ vitriol. 

Perhaps Baruch had big plans for his life, but those plans seemed thwarted because he was obedient to Jeremiah and to God. He was having a bit of a pity party which seemed to stem from his unrealized plans for himself. 

I love the juxtaposition between two phrases in this chapter: 

  • “You [Baruch] have said…” (v. 3) 
  • “The Lord says…” (v. 4) 

Baruch said, “My plans are failed.” God said, “My plans always prevail.” 

Baruch said, “I’m done for.” God said, “Wherever you go, you will live.” 

I have to stop listening to me. When I listen to me, my thwarted plans bring about a pity party. I have to keep listening to God. When I do, He brings life wherever He sends me. 

I believe that shepherd leaders can learn a valuable lesson from Baruch’s life. In fact, in my book I talk about a time that God and my wife had to deal with me about my own pity party. 

Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

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No Contradictions

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…I will hide My face from this city because of all its wickedness. Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it… (Jeremiah 33:5-6) 

God’s anger at Judah’s sin is blazing hot! And rightly so: Dr. Henry Halley points out, “Most of the 20 Davidic kings who reigned over Judah during the 400 years between David and the Babylonian exile were very bad. Only a few were worthy of the name of David.” So it is understandable that God would need to punish that sinful nation. 

Then comes that word “nevertheless.” In spite of the rampant sin, God’s promise of restoration is even greater than the pain of His punishment. 

God promises healing, restoration, complete cleansing from sin, and more descendants of David and Levi than can be counted. And He promises this to the exact same people that He promised to punish. 

I don’t know about you, but to me this almost seems like a contradiction. Does God want to punish them or does He want to bless them? 

The apparent contradiction is hard for our finite brains to comprehend. That’s why God makes an important statement to Jeremiah before He begins describing the punishment and the blessings: “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (v. 3). 

Aha! When we call on God to help us with unsearchable things, we find there are no contradictions in God nor in the Bible itself. 

If you feel stumped on a text of Scripture, I have previously shared how I handle the tough texts, but step number one is always calling on God to help. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem”—or any contradiction at all. 

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A Step Backwards?

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God needed to use Philip to steer a God-seeking government official to Jesus Christ. After this brief one-on-one encounter, God removed Philip from the scene and almost entirely from the pages of history.

Philip had just been leading a huge revival in Samaria, but he didn’t count success by the nickels-and-noses metrics of the world. He obeyed God even to the point of “taking a step backwards” in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes it was the most successful of moves.

In one of the chapter of Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter I wrote—

     Don’t try to grow your ministry. First, because it’s not yours, it’s His; and second, because your measure of success is probably more slanted toward quantitative measurements than qualitative. Jesus wasn’t concerned about bigger numbers: “What do you think?” He asked, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?” (Matthew 18:12). … 

     What’s the value of one government official’s life? God says that his value is incalculable. Apparently, God knew that Philip was the perfect shepherd to lead this Ethiopian to the pasture where he would accept Jesus as his Savior. Philip was obedient, a sheep was saved, and God was pleased. … 

     The Chief Shepherd made this commitment to His sheep: “And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). My prayer is that we would much rather feed a few sheep where God has directed us and given us His heart than for us to try to manufacture success that is measured by how many nickels and noses we can count. 

I’ll be sharing more clips from this book signing event soon, so please stay tuned. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

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