A Proper Perspective In An Evil Culture

Do these phrases sound familiar? 

  • The foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? 
  • The faithful have vanished from among men 
  • Everyone lies to his neighbor 
  • The boastful say, “We will triumph with our tongues” 
  • The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men 

This could be said today in my neighborhood. And 20 years ago in Washington DC. And 500 years ago in Europe. But it was said over 3000 years ago!

In times like these it’s important to remember that there have always been times like these! 

In the United States, elections bring regular changes in leadership. Around the world and throughout history violent dictators are toppled, benevolent monarchies fall, dominate personalities shine brightly and fade from the scene, even people who called themselves “Great” or “the king of kings” have disappeared. What should our perspective be in changing cultures—whether they are good or evil?

In Psalms 9-12, David shares some timeless reminders.  

In Psalm 9, he contrasts the temporary track record of mortals with the transcendency of Yahweh. His Selah pauses in this psalm invite us to consider the question: Who benefits me ultimately and affects me eternally: mortals or God?

In the Septuagint, Psalms 9 and 10 make up one psalm. In our English Bible, Psalm 9 closes with the phrase “they are but men” and Psalm 10 closes by calling mankind “mere earthly mortals.” Contrast that with Yahweh who is described as “the LORD reigns forever” and “the LORD is King for ever and ever.” 

In between these eternal affirmations of God, mere earthly mortals are described as: 

  • arrogant 
  • boastful—literally saying “hallelujah” to themselves 
  • blessing all who are like them in their wicked thoughts
  • having no room in their thoughts for God 
  • even praying to themselves—which is the literal meaning of “he says to himself” that David repeats three times 

Literally this mere earthly mortal thinks of himself as god! But even as he says “nothing will ever hurt me while I’m alive” he acknowledges his mortality, admitting that he is indeed finite. 

In Psalms 11 and 12, David gives the righteous the proper perspective to handle all of this. In a word, David wants the godly to remember:

  • Remember God sees everything 
  • Remember God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous 
  • Remember God gets the final word 

Christians can only live exemplary, anxiety-free, and God-honoring lives when we stay focused on the Infinite, on the Eternal God. With this perspective we can live out our roles as “aliens and strangers”—as the apostle Peter calls us—while we live in this evil culture.

God Delights In Me

It’s been said that the bookends of success are starting well and finishing well. I believe that! 

David started well when he lifted up a prayer of thankfulness to God when he became king over the united nation of Israel. Prayer at the the beginning puts us on a path toward success. 

Have you ever begun to assemble a child’s toy or a piece of furniture, gotten completely stumped, and only then read the instruction manual? We’ve all been there! There are many things in life that we start on our own and then hit our knees in prayer only after we’ve exhausted all of our human resources. Fortunately, after we pray and God answers, we often end up finishing well with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. The question is: what do we do when we again get ready to start something else? Do we pause to start well with prayer, or do we dive in on our own again? 

I think one of the biggest reasons we don’t go to prayer quickly is because we feel unworthy to go into the presence of a holy, righteous God. 

One commentator said about Psalm 18 that David probably prayed this “before he committed his terrible sin” with Bathsheba and Uriah. That may be, but with very few minor changes, David prayed this exact same prayer (2 Samuel 22) at the very end of his reign. His reign as king was bookended with the same prayer. 

Between the bookend prayers of Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22, David prayed another prayer—this one was after he had sinned against God, Bathsheba, and Uriah. David truly believed that God forgave that sin and wiped the slate clean, so much so that he noted this great blessing on his life: “He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me. 

He rescued me because He delighted in me?! Yes! 

David knew that God had told us that He delights in those who obey Him. The example of God’s delight was seen in Jesus. Because Jesus paid the price for the forgiveness of my sins, I can be completely cleansed. Then Jesus comes in me, and takes me into Him, and takes both of us into the Father. So now when our Heavenly Father looks at a forgiven sinner, He sees only the righteousness of Jesus—something He utterly delights to see! (Check out all of the biblical passages I’m referencing by clicking here.)  

David said his sin had been washed “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7), So now look at what he could claim—

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God. All His laws are before me; I have not turned away from His decrees. I have been blameless before Him and have kept myself from sin. The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in His sight” (2 Samuel 22:21-25). 

…according to my cleanness in His sight. 

In GOD’S sight! The devil wants to accuse me. He wants my sight to dominate. The devil doesn’t want me to see myself as God sees me. But I declare it out loud: I am clean IN HIS SIGHT! 

This cleanness allows me full, bold, confident access to Almighty God! I can take everything to God in prayer because I am clean in His sight! 

If you would like to read more of the posts in our prayer series called Be A First Responder, please click here. 

Be A First Responder

There is a line in an old hymn that convicts me every time I sing it: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” 

Why are we so slow to drop to our knees in prayer when trouble strikes? It seems we fool ourselves into thinking the problem is small enough to handle on our own, or we think God isn’t concerned with something that may seem trivial, or we’ve been-here-done-this before and know the way to go. But this isn’t what our Heavenly Father desires; instead, He wants us to come to Him before we try anything else. 

Instead of making prayer our last resort, why don’t we strive to make it our first response! 

Join me as we begin our series on prayer called Be A First Responder. We will be learning the value of praying fast and praying often, and we will see how being a prayer first-responder will benefit those around us too. 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series, you can check them out here:

The Inspiration Of Scripture

In 2021, I am discussing our 16 foundational beliefs, attempting to illuminate why we believe what we believe. 

Foundation belief #1: “The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct.” 

The phrase “verbally inspired” comes directly from the apostle Paul who said, “all Scripture is God-breathed.” The Greek word theopneustos that he uses literally means “breathed out by God” (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:20-21).  

In our culture today, it seems as if science is opposed to Scripture, but let me attempt to clarify this point. Science can answer the what/how questions (like how did the universe come into existence) but it cannot answer the why questions (like why did the universe come into existence). 

On the other hand, the Scripture can tell us not only what exists but also why it exists. That means Scripture can also tell us how to live our daily lives. 

Consider a scientific philosophy of life versus a Scriptural philosophy of life. 

Philosophy ponders beginnings and endings, and from those, it then proposes how to live today. Science says we are here by lucky coincidence, and that our life after death is unknowable. A scientific philosophy must therefore conclude that we should live today looking out for #1: survival of the fittest, do what’s best for me, pragmatically, unconcerned about the consequences. 

Scripture says God created our universe—and each individual human—on purpose, and that our life after death is not only knowable but can be determined based on the choices we make. A Scriptural-based philosophy must therefore conclude that we can know how to live our lives today to receive entrance to Heaven afterward. 

There is also other apologetic evidence that I believe makes it reasonable to believe the Bible is truly the inspired Word of God. Things like the accuracy of biblical texts over thousands of years, extra-biblical corroboration, fulfilled prophecy, the discoveries of archeologists, and so forth. You can check out some of these pieces of evidence by clicking here and here. 

But I think the best proof of the life-changing power of the Word of God is a life changed by the God of the Word. The one with an experience is never at the mercy of the one with an argument. I love being able to tell people how my personal relationship with the God of the Bible has made all the difference! 

Check out the video of this full message, and be sure to check out all of the messages in this Foundation Stones series by clicking here.

Year-End Review (2020 Edition)

I have the privilege of pastoring Calvary Assembly of God. One of the things I am honored to do is share a message from God’s Word with our church each week. Sharing the messages is one thing, but reminding folks of what has been shared is another. This is something that resonated with both the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul. 

Peter wrote, “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (2 Peter 3:1). And Paul not only told the Romans that “I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again” (Romans 15:15), but he also taught his protege Timothy to “keep reminding God’s people of these things” (2 Timothy 2:14). 

With that backdrop, here is a listing of the sermon series that I presented this year. Clicking on each series title will take you to a list of all of the sermons in that series. 

Prayer Plan—A Christian’s strategy is worked out in the prayer closet. John Piper noted, “Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer? Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.” These messages taught us to have a plan to pray. 

Where’s God—We’ve all asked that question. Something happens that rocks our world, and we wonder where in the world God is. We call out to God and He seems silent. We search our hearts to see if we can discern something we’ve done wrong, and seeing nothing amiss we cry out again, “God, where are You?” So where is God in our heartache? In our abandonment? In our sorrows? In our distress? In death? Believe it or not, God may be closer in His silence than you’ve ever perceived before. 

We Are: Pentecostal—Pentecost for over 1500 years was a celebration in Jerusalem that brought in Jews from all over the world. But on the Day of Pentecost that came just ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven, the meaning of Pentecost was forever changed! Followers of Jesus—now empowered by an infilling of the Holy Spirit—began to take the good news of Jesus all over the world. These Spirit-filled Christians preached the Gospel and won converts to Christ even among hostile crowds, performed miracles and wonders, stood up to pagan priests and persecuting governmental leaders, and established a whole new way of living as Christ-followers. We, too, can be Pentecostal followers of Jesus Christ today. 

Selah—The word Selah appears nearly 70 times in the Bible, almost exclusively in the Psalms. Although it is primarily a musical term, it applies beautifully to our summer series. It means a pause. Throughout the Psalms, Selah appears at the end of a verse, at the end of the psalm, or sometimes even mid-sentence. But each one of them is perfectly placed by the Spirit-inspired authors to get us to take a breath and deeply contemplate what we just read or sang. 

Major Lessons From Minor Prophets—Sometimes the naming of things gives us an inaccurate picture of the thing being named. For instance, many people think the “old” in Old Testament means outdated or perhaps updated by the “new” in the New Testament. When in fact, both Testaments are needed to give us the full picture of God’s love and glory. A similar thing happens with the headings “major prophets” and “minor prophets.” It makes it sound like the major prophets have something major to say to us, while we could take or leave the minor messages of the minor prophets. In reality, they were given these headings simply because of the volume of writing—the five major prophets consist of 182 chapters, whereas the 12 minor prophets only have 67 chapters. The volume of their writing may be minor, but their content carries major messages of meteoric power! 

Thankful In The Night—The psalmist wrote, “Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me” (Psalm 42:8). Notice that the psalmist was praising God IN the night, not praising Him FOR the night. Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I don’t think anyone has ever given thanks because of being in a dark time, but certainly they have given thanks afterward because of the lessons learned in that dark time. Quite simply put, there are some things God wants to teach us that we can learn in no other way than to go through a dark night. So we can learn to be thankful even IN those nights. 

Do Not Be Afraid—There are more angels sent by God concerning one event than anywhere else in the Bible—the Advent of Jesus. Clearly, this is a big deal: The coming to earth of God Himself! You would think this would be an occasion for great joy. But all four of the angelic appearances around the birth of Jesus have the same message: Do not be afraid. Why are people so afraid? It’s because fear invites us to make a decision to trust God completely. People remain crippled by fear when they try to deal with fear by themselves. But when they learn to fear God instead, there is an almost inexpressible joy and freedom that explodes in our hearts! 

We will be returning to a couple of these series in 2021, and we’ll be launching some brand new ones as well. In either case, if you don’t have a home church in the northern Kent County area, I would love to have you join us! 

Clinging To God’s Words

When it comes right down to it, faith and fear both hinge on our beliefs: Fear believes something bad; faith believes something good. Fear is an invitation for us to evaluate in who or in what we have placed our trust.  

According to the dictionary, fear is a distressing emotion we feel whether the threat is real or imagined. Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Even more recently, an extensive study found that 85 percent of things people feared never happened!

According to the dictionary, faith is trust in something even without proof or evidence. That sounds tremendously close to the biblical definition of faith: Now faith is the assurance—the confirmation, the title deed—of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality—faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses. (Hebrews 11:1 AMP) 

Mary is the second person to whom an angel says “Do not be afraid” in the First Advent story. Consider her story alongside Zechariah’s story and especially notice when these words were spoken. The angel Gabriel first tells Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 

Mary’s initial response is being “greatly troubled.” This Greek word means an internal agitation that today psychologists would call “cognitive dissonance.” In other words, what Mary believed about herself didn’t line up with what God believed about her. Her next response is wondering how she could ever measure up to God’s high standard of her. 

It’s at this point that Gabriel says those key words, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have already found favor with God.” She didn’t have to make herself worthy of God’s favor because she already had it! Now Mary just had to believe it. 

Fear is overcome by clinging to God’s words instead of the world’s words. 

Mary did indeed choose this. Her song (in vv. 46-55) is loaded with Old Testament references, and she concludes by singing to God, “You have helped Your servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as You said to our fathers.” 

Here’s the truth—

  • Your Word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89) 
  • God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19) 
  • And Jesus would tell us that clinging to God’s words puts us on the surest of foundations that no storm of life could ever shake (Luke 6:46-49)! 

Clinging to God’s words lets us realize God’s grace toward us. 

If you know Jesus as your Savior, you can insert your name in the same place where Gabriel said to Mary: “Do not be afraid, ____________, you have found favor with God!” 

If you have missed any of the messages in our Advent series Do Not Be Afraid, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Fear’s Invitation

Have you ever had a really good scare? Maybe in the dark or when you were young? Then in the light or as you got older you thought, “Why was I afraid of that?” Our relief came from the fact that we think we know more. But here’s the problem: there is a difference between a healthy fear and an unhealthy fear, so not every fear is something we should try to alleviate.

Sometimes we treat too lightly the things that are really quite powerful. Consider the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem. There are more angels sent by God surrounding this one event than anywhere else in all the Bible. Yet all four angelic appearances have the same message: “Do not be afraid.” 

Why would people fear what we now celebrate as such a joyous event? I think it’s because God Himself—the All-Holy Creator of the Universe—is coming near to sinful man (see John 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:15-16). 

God is holy, and His holiness is unapproachable by sin. At the exact same moment, God is love, and His love desires for us to approach Him. We cannot make this happen on our own, which leads to more fear. 

Thankfully for us, God Himself has provided the way for sinful man to approach His awesome, unapproachable holiness!  

In the Greek language of the New Testament phobeō is the main word for “fear.” This word can be defined as either fleeing from a terrible thing or clinging in obedience to an awesomely reverent thing. Jesus said the same things when He told us, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Luke 12:4-5). 

In the Advent story, the first appearance of “Do not be afraid” is when an angel appears to Zechariah. Why would Zechariah be so afraid at the approach of God? I think there may have been three reasons: 

  • Herod was king—making the society Zechariah lived in politicized and irreligious 
  • Zechariah was without a priestly heir to carry on his family name 
  • his wife Elizabeth may have sinned—at least that’s what people would have whispered about her barrenness 

All of this added up to Zechariah feeling like God was displeased with them and that He was only coming close to bring fiery judgment. 

The angel told Zechariah not to fear because “your prayer has been heard.” In other words, “I am inviting you to trust in what God HAS already done versus trusting in what you might or might not be able to do on your own.” Phobeō was an invitation to choose reverential obedience (holy fear) of the eternal over the terror of the temporal. 

Sadly, Zechariah initially clung to the negative phobeō. Yet after Elizabeth did conceive and John was born, this was transformed into holy, reverential fear, as heard in the Spirit-inspired song he sang. Notice in Luke 1:67-75 Zechariah’s emphasis on all that God has done: He has come, He has redeemed, He has raised, He said, He has kept His covenant, He has rescued, He has enabled.  

Have you put yourself in the category of “unworthy of God’s favor”? Has fear crippled you—like it had done with Zechariah—from continuing to pray, believe, and try? 

Fear is an invitation to evaluate in who or in what I have placed my trust.

I invite you to accept the invitation to take your eyes off the temporary and put them on the Eternal One. “…The time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true. It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed. (Habakkuk 2:3 GNT) 

Check out the other messages in this Do Not Be Afraid series by clicking here. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—An Exhortation To 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.

An Exhortation To Preachers 

He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:14-15) 

     Ah, brothers, the Holy Spirit never comes to glorify us, or to glorify a denomination, or, I think, even to glorify a systematic arrangement of doctrines! He comes to glorify Christ! If we want to be in accord with Him, we must preach in order to glorify Christ. May we never have this thought: ‘I will put that bit in. It will sound well….’  No, no! 

     I would say, ‘Brother, though it is a very delightful piece, strike that out, because if you have had a thought of that kind about it, you had better not put yourself in the way of temptation by using it.’ … 

     Well then, it may be very admirable, and further, it might be a very right thing to give them that precious piece; but if you have that thought about it, strike it out! Strike it out ruthlessly! Say, ‘No, no, no! If it is not distinctly my aim to glorify Christ, I am not in accord with the aim of the Holy Spirit and I cannot expect His help!’ … 

     How then does the Holy Spirit glorify Christ? It is very beautiful to think that He glorifies Christ by showing Christ’s things. If you wanted to do a honor to a man, you would, perhaps, take him a present to decorate his house. But here, if you want to glorify Christ, you must go and take the things out of Christ’s house ‘the things of Christ.’ … 

     Again, I think that the blessed Spirit glorifies Christ by showing us the things of Christ as Christ’s. Oh, to be pardoned! Yes, it is a great thing, but to find that pardon in His wounds, that is a greater thing! Oh, to get peace! Yes, but to find that peace in the blood of His Cross! … That it came from Christ is the best thing about the best thing that ever came from Christ! …  

     He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.’ Yes, it does glorify Christ for the Holy Spirit to show Christ to us. … Since it is for the honor of Christ for His things to be shown to men, He will show them to us, that we may go and show them to other people.

From Honey In My Mouth

My fellow pastor, I cannot add anything to these wise words except this simple exhortation: Read these words again and ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can more accurately live this out in your sermon preparation and preaching. 

God bless you, my friend!

“Do Not Be Afraid”

There are more angels sent by God concerning one event than anywhere else in the Bible—the Advent of Jesus. Clearly, this is a big deal: The coming to earth of God Himself! 

You would think this would be an occasion for great joy. But all four of the angelic appearances around the birth of Jesus have the same message: Do not be afraid. 

Why are people so afraid? It’s because fear invites us to make a decision to trust God completely. People remain crippled by fear when they try to deal with fear by themselves. But when they learn to fear God instead, there is an almost inexpressible joy and freedom that explodes in our hearts! 

Join us for this Advent series where we will explore why this “Do not fear” message is still relevant for us today. Please join us either in-person or on Facebook. 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series, check them out here:

Learning Perseverance

I have shared three lessons I learned going through dark times in my life (you can check them out here, here, and here), but we aren’t even close to exhausting all of the lessons that can be learned in the night. I want to teach you one principle that will allow for lifelong learning and application of these nighttime lessons. 

The apostle Paul shared how he had matured during his times of struggle. He told the Corinthians he realized that God had delivered him in the past, was delivering him now, and would continue to deliver him in the future (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-11). The key is to hang in long enough to actually see how God brings about the deliverance and teaches the lessons. 

Paul told the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can ENDURE it (1 Corinthians 10:13). And the writer of Hebrews said, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to PERSEVERE so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36). 

The Greek word translated “persevere” means keeping focused on the goal despite the struggles that it takes to get there. Jesus used this same Greek word at the conclusion of His parable of the sower: “The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the Word, retain it, and by PERSEVERING produce a crop”; a crop that Jesus said was a hundred times more than what was sown (see Luke 8:5-15). 

I love riding my bike on the White Pine Trail by my house. My long rides have a really fun stretch where I am flying downhill! But as fun as that part is, I’m not really building anything of lasting value. However, when I am coming back uphill and I want to quit because my legs are burning and I can hardly breathe, that becomes a valuable struggle. I cannot build endurance by any other way than to push myself just a little bit farther each time. When I want to quit, I pedal just a few more feet. Gradually, the uphill becomes less daunting. 

A friend gave me a t-shirt I like to wear on my rides. When I put it on the blue-lettered message on the shirt says, “Do It!” but as I struggle uphill and the sweat begins to pour off my body, a new message emerges: “Don’t Quit!” 

I have learned that easy roads teach very few valuable lessons. 

So here are three thoughts to help you persevere in your struggling times: 

  1. Keep your eyes on Jesus and on His eternal rewards (Hebrews 12:1-3; James 1:2-4, 12) 
  2. Keep persevering friends close by—notice the “let us” phrases the writer of Hebrews uses 
  3. On your worst day, don’t quit but commit to going one day longer (Romans 5:3-4) 

[check out all of the verses by clicking here]

Remember that as you struggle and persevere, you are not only building your own endurance, but you are strengthening yourself to be able to help others. So we can be thankful IN the night because God is building our endurance for the next night, and our endurance for our friend’s next night. 

If you have missed any of the other lessons in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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