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A reporter once asked Bud Wilkinson, former football coach at the University of Oklahoma and director of the President’s Physical Fitness Program, “What would you say is the contribution of modern football to physical fitness?”

Wilkinson replied, “Absolutely nothing!” It was not the kind of reply the nonplussed reporter expected, so he asked the famous coach if he would elaborate.

“Certainly,” he replied, “I define football as twenty-two men on the field desperately needing rest and forty thousand people in the stands desperately needing exercise!” It seems to me that Wilkinson’s description of football could also be used to describe far too many churches today – more spectators watching from the grandstands than participants down on the field. To church members who have the “Let George do it” attitude God says, “Wake up, O Sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14).

If you want your church to be all that it should be and can be, one that is genuinely interested is reaching its community for Christ, it can happen. Schedule a Sunday evening, or as many Sunday evenings as you need, and invite your entire membership (especially your leaders) to discuss the following questions:

  • Is there an atmosphere of grace in our church?
  • Is our church a safe place to struggle?
  • Does a believer who is struggling with sin feel compelled by the culture of our church to wear a mask and promote an image? Or does our church have a healthy culture of confession and repentance? Do we try to help and to restore those who have sinned and have dropped out of church?
  • Is there a welcoming spirit of Christ-like hospitality in our church for both members and guests?
  • Are there persons or groups of persons our church would not welcome into our worship services, programs, or ministries? And if so, how can we change our attitude?
  • Does our church have a genuine concern for reaching a lost world for Christ? And what specific things does our church do to win people to Christ in our community?
  • What does our church do to meet the needs of families who have small children? And, if we are doing very little or nothing, what do we need to start doing?
  • Does our youth ministry promote morals and virtues that result from the reality and empowerment of the gospel?
  • Are sermons laced with Jesus Christ and the promises of His gospel, or is He strangely absent?
  • Is there a culture and spirit of prayer in our church, or are most decisions pragmatic in nature?
  • Are there specific spiritual needs in our community that are currently not being met? If so, what can our church do to meet those needs?

If the entire membership of your church is given the opportunity to express its thoughts and dreams concerning its life and ministry, think of the interest and increased participation in your church’s life and ministry that could be created. You likely would not be able to discuss all of the questions in one congregational discussion. And you may want to add other questions than these to discuss.

Remember: the world at its worst needs every Christian church to be at its best. It will not happen in your church if your members think of it as a dormitory, not as a workshop.

 

 

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We all have a breaking point, a place where the pressures of life get to us, when it is impossible to experience peace or express patience. Therefore, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the one thing that most robs me of peace?
  • Is there a person who really gets under my skin?
  • What is it that makes me impatient to the point of breaking?

Our mental institutions are filled with people who long for peace. Walk along the streets of any city in America and observe closely the people you meet. The tension on some of their faces will clearly show that they lack peace in their hearts.

Is it any wonder that Jesus Christ had so much to say about peace? He greeted His disciples with the single word, “Peace!” First century Christians greeted one another by saying, “The peace of the Lord Jesus be with you!” Christians today often greet one another when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated by saying, “Peace to you!”

Peace is more than a state of being free from hostility, more than harmony or a temporary truce in personal relationships. Peace, real and lasting peace, can only be provided by Jesus Christ. He gives it to us by His indwelling presence.

Jesus knows how much every person needs peace. That is why He said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

Memories lurk within us that have the power to rob us of peace. When we are quiet, a familiar piece of music, or a face we have not seen for a long time, floods back into our minds and hearts, bringing with it the realization of unresolved failure, sin, or rebellion. And the peace we have known suddenly runs away and hides.

Our peace is also shattered when we refuse to become the agent of forgiveness in the lives of people. Is there anyone you need to forgive, anyone who has failed you at some point in your life – perhaps a member of your family, a fellow church member, a neighbor, or an old friend who has hurt you in some way?

When we lack peace it is a warning signal, a jarring alarm inside us telling us that someone or something has taken Christ’s place as Lord of our hearts. Jesus Christ will not take second place in anyone’s life. He must be Lord of all or He will not be Lord at all. Christ’s Lordship provides wholeness. Where there is wholeness there is peace.

All of us long to be quiet inside, to have an inner unity and oneness. The loss of peace is the price we pay for having a secondary loyalty. Jesus Christ said that we cannot possibly serve two masters. Divided loyalties always produce tension.

As John Ruskin once said, “No peace was ever won from fate by subterfuge or agreement; no peace is ever in store for any of us, but that which we shall win by victory over shame or sin, victory over the sin that oppresses, as well as over that which corrupts.”

If you lack peace in your life, perhaps it is time to ask yourself, “Does Christ have first place in my life? Does He have absolute reign and rule in all of my relationships and responsibilities? If you can honestly say that He does not, then there are some very important decisions you need to make with regard to priorities in your life.

The prophet Isaiah had it right when he said, “You will keep him in perfect peace, O God, whose mind is stayed on you” (Isaiah 26:3). Know this: Peace is always the companion of knowing and doing the will of God.

 

Christians have known for twenty centuries that a man named Ananias played a significant role in the metamorphosis that changed Saul of Tarsus into the Apostle Paul, the greatest Christian missionary in history. By obediently doing what God asked him to do, Ananias became one of the heroes of the first century church.

The Lord appeared to him in a vision and asked him to undertake what he must surely have perceived as a dangerous mission. The Lord directed him to go to the house of a man named Judas, who lived in Damascus, lay his hands on a man called Saul of Tarsus, and pray that he might receive his sight. Saul had been blinded while traveling to Damascus to persecute the Christians who lived there. He fully intended to take the Christians that he would capture to Jerusalem for trial, torture, and death. Saul’s reputation was well known in the region.

God, in essence, said to him, “Go and help the man who came to Damascus to throw you into prison, and who would have been glad to murder you.” Can you imagine how much courage it took for Ananias to follow God’s instruction? This could well have cost him his life. The book of Acts tells us that Ananias did not question the instructions he had been given. His first words to Saul were, “Brother Saul.” What a tremendous welcome! It is an outstanding example of Christian love and forgiveness.

According to a Christian legend, Ananias was a simple cobbler who had no idea what happened to Saul after that day or how he had changed the course of history by obeying God in a simple act that played a significant role in Saul’s transformation into the Apostle Paul. The legend tells us that as Ananias lay on his deathbed, he looked up toward heaven and whispered, “I haven’t done much, Lord: a few shoes sewn, a few sandals stitched. What more could be expected of a poor cobbler?” And the Lord spoke in Ananias’ heart, “Don’t worry about how much you have accomplished – or how little. You were there when I needed you, and that is all that matters.”

It is a beautiful legend, and one that contains a message every Christian should learn. Being in the right place at the right time, even if it is only for one hour, can give you the opportunity to change history. In order to become God’s instrument, all you have to do is to listen and obey.

God has a mission for every believer. No Christian can truthfully say, “I have no talents God can use.” You may not have the ability to sing in the choir. You may look at dozens of other tasks and say, “I don’t have the ability to do any of them.” God needs and can use your ability, but what He needs most is your availability. That is why it is very important to be always open to God’s call upon your life, so that when He speaks, you will be in position to obey.

An autistic young man in his mid-twenties named George was a member of one of my former pastorates. He was a genuinely sincere Christian, even though his ability to do many of the things that God calls Christians to do was limited. He could not have taught a Sunday School class, or sing in the choir, or fill any of the leadership positions in the organizational structure of the church – and he knew this. But he loved the Lord. He also loved his church and his fellow Christians. He had a contagiously loving Christian spirit.

I asked the Lord to show me some way that George could be used to serve Him that would give him a sense of joy. Our church was located in the heart of the business district where vandalism was not uncommon. One day I said, “George, sometimes the church staff may leave the church in the afternoon and forget to lock one of our outside doors. You are usually downtown in the early evenings. Will you go around the church to check to see if every door is locked?”

He said, “I’ll be glad to do that, preacher,” and a wide smile immediately appeared on his face. It was a chance to serve his Lord and, like Ananias, he was obedient. Just checking to see if the church’s outside doors are locked at night when no one is there may not seem very important to you – but to George it certainly was.

There are no small or unimportant jobs in God’s kingdom.

God created human beings with the capacity and need for both work and play. It is His desire that those who serve Him set boundaries to all of their responsibilities.

In other words, when God calls us to rest, we have an obligation to rest, just as much so as when we have an obligation to work. It is fairly well known that Christianity has a theology of work. We often refer to what is called “the Christian work ethic.” We celebrate the value of labor every Labor Day.

The Bible tells us that God is a working God, and that we are made in His image. In addressing this fact, the Apostle Paul gives this advice: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

Paul is saying that every Christian has a calling – a primary vocation that provides the opportunity to do something that serves both God and mankind. Just as God calls individuals to serve as Christian pastors and as missionaries, He also calls individuals to be physicians, teachers, farmers, etc. Whatever vocation we choose, our aim should always be to glorify God through it. Carl F.H. Henry, in Aspects, expresses it this way:As God’s fellow worker man is to reflect God’s creative activity on Monday in the factory no less than on Sunday when commemorating the day of rest and worship.”

Success in any vocation generally comes as the result of hard work. People have never been able to climb the ladder of success while wearing out the seat of their pants or with their hands in their pockets. When you see some people involved in what they call work you wonder what they will do when they retire. The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.

Most people are aware of the fact that Christianity has a theology of work, but what is far less known is that Christianity also has a theology of play. The same God who allows us to choose a vocation also allows us to choose an avocation – that is, something you do for enjoyment, a hobby.

The Christian theology of play begins with the Sabbath: “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work” (Genesis 2:2). God’s example of work and rest at the time of creation became the pattern for our own work and rest – six days of labor and one day of leisure. Those who try to work seven days a week year after year generally do so by paying a very high price in other areas.

It has been said that “all work and no play would make Jack a dull boy.” It would also make Jack a very tired boy. God knew which pattern would be the best for us to follow. Unfortunately too many people would work eight days every week and fifty-five weeks each year – if that were possible. A work schedule anywhere close to this gives no priority to regular rest and relaxation or for meaningful relationships with others.

God made us in such a way that we need to take planned and periodic times for leisure. This allows the body and spirit to rejuvenate and replenish lost energy. People who try to “burn the candle at both ends” often pay a severe price by having serious health problems. If all we ever did was work, life would lose a great deal of its joy. All work and no leisure can lead to what medical doctors and psychologists call “burnout.”

Leisure, however, has a problem: it can easily become an object of idolatry. Few cultures have ever been as obsessed with entertainment and having fun as our own: sports, movies, video games, even what is called recreational shopping – and the list goes on and on.

Those with such obsessions can’t wait for the weekend to come. For them, having fun has become their primary goal, and work has become the means to that end. They are guilty of playing at their work and working at their play. They are like the fellow who wanted a job where he could go to work at noon, get off at one o’clock, have an hour for lunch – and for doing that be given a huge salary plus additional benefits.

For the Christian, God’s Word teaches that both work and play come under the lordship of Jesus Christ. There should always be a proper balance between the two in our daily and weekly schedule. This keeps God at the center of both labor and leisure. If He is not at the center of everything we do, can we honestly say that He is at the center of anything we do?

Remember these five things: (1) Work is the meat; leisure is the dessert; (2) If you enjoy what you do, you will never work a day in your life; (3) Success is sweet, but its secret is sweat; (4) Your work is a portrait of yourself; and (4) What you do with your leisure time is also a portrait of yourself.

 

 

When we encounter difficult experiences in life, tears fall. They are not planned; they just happen. The pressure on the inside of us is relieved. It is why God created us with tear glands. King David of Israel knew this. It is why he, during a time of great difficulty, cried out to God, “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears” (Psalm 6:6).

People from around the world, though they speak many languages, need no one to interpret for them the language of tears. In some mysterious way our inner emotional makeup knows when to admit our many limitations . . . and tears fall. Eyes that flashed and sparkled only moments before are flooded from a secret reservoir. They can run down our cheeks while we are standing with a friend during a difficult moment, or while we are singing a majestic hymn, or when we are totally alone, or when we are lost in some vivid and precious memory from a past experience, and on countless other occasions.

Were you aware that God takes special notice of your tears? In Psalm 56:8 David in prayer cried out to God, “”Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” What this means is that every teardrop on earth summons the King of Heaven. He is aware of the inner friction that causes tears to flow. He has the power to turn every situation that produces our tears into a moment of tenderness.

One of the drawbacks of our modern, cold, sophisticated world is our reluctance to show tears in front of others for fear they will think we are weak. Parents have often said to their small children, “Don’t cry. Be strong!” For some reason we think that to cry is to show weakness. Many adults think it is immature to cry. How utterly absurd! How lacking in the understanding of human nature!

The prophet Jeremiah, often called by scholars “the weeping prophet,” knew that tears often demonstrate genuine strength, not weakness. He loved the people to whom he preached so much that he could not preach a sermon without having tears fall. He said, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people” (Jeremiah 9:1).

If you are a Christian, how long has it been since you have been so concerned about the spiritual welfare of a particular individual who did not know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord that you actually shed tears in his or her behalf? While serving as a pastor in Wilmington I tried for four years to win a man to Christ, but I was not successful. I failed largely because of the influence of the man for whom he worked. The man held leadership positions in his church, but his private life was filled with hypocrisy.

In 1981 before leaving the Port City to become pastor of the Sanford First Baptist Church I visited my friend one last time. I said, “Johnny, the only regret I have as I leave for Sanford is that I was not able to convince you to accept Jesus Christ as Savior.” Suddenly my eyes filled with tears. Three or four months after moving to Sanford I learned that he had become a Christian. No one had ever shed tears in his behalf before.

John, in his vision while on the isle of Patmos, envisioned a future time when the saved are gathered by God into the New Jerusalem. On that day there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain . . . for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4). Tears on that day will be replaced by joy.

If you were asked to select one of the aspects of God’s character as His crowning attribute, what would you select? Would it be His love, mercy, or goodness? Or would it be His sovereignty, omnipotence (all-powerful), or omniscience (all-knowing)?

All of these attributes describe God’s nature. I believe, however, that God has an even greater attribute than these: His faithfulness. All of the other attributes of God, as great as they are, would set us up for total disappointment if it were not for His faithfulness, His constancy His consistency, and His dependability. Paul affirms this view in writing to the Christians in Corinth: “God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (I Corinthians 1:9).

We humans are not always faithful, are we? People who stand at God’s altar to be married, and who promise to faithful to the vows they make “until death parts us” often break those vows. Politicians often make promises that are ignored or forgotten. People in business are not always faithful to do the things or provide the services they have advertised. People, even those we think can be trusted, are not always faithful. But God’s faithfulness never wavers.

What if God only loved us some of the time? Imagine what life would be like if God were gracious only under certain conditions? What if His goodness vacillated from time to time or according to circumstance? What if He were moody, given to playing favorites, or if He compromised His righteousness and justice? Life would be an absolute madhouse, wouldn’t it?

Because God is faithful we can sing with Henry F. Lyte, “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see, O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”

And God definitely does abide with us. He never acts out of character, never ceases to extend grace, and never contradicts His own nature. He will always love us. He stands by the covenant He has made with those who trust Him. We can always count on His promises being kept. The dominant note of the Bible is His faithfulness. He is always faithful to His own nature – and to us.

God’s faithfulness is rooted in His holiness. He is the one fixed point in a world that is in a constant state of change. “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He can be counted on – always!

“Always” is a very long time. In the midst of the calamities so often present in our fallen world God relentlessly seeks to bring us into relationship with Himself. Only He can say without the possibility of contradiction, “I will always love you!”

The psalmist said, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth will I make known your faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 89:1). The word “faithfulness” is used at least six times in this psalm.

Even when Jerusalem was overrun by enemies the prophet Jeremiah would not give up his dogged belief in the faithfulness of God, “This I will call to mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is His faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).

It is at the foot of Calvary’s cross that God’s faithfulness can most supremely be seen. This never ceased to amaze the apostle Paul. We see this in the words he used to encourage young Timothy, “If we remain faithless, He (God) remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

This is possibly the best definition of God’s faithfulness in the entire Bible: “He cannot deny Himself.” He will always be who He is – always! It is because He is faithful in that all the other aspects of His nature are true and will never fail. You can depend on Him – always!

 

One summer in the early 1990’s my wife and I traveled to Wilmington, N.C. to visit our family and a few friends. On our way back up highway 421 to Sanford we stopped at one of the vegetable stands farmers erect north and south of Clinton every summer to sell what they grow in their gardens. Vegetables are never fresher or more delicious than those you know were gathered from local gardens yesterday.

While Jessie and I were looking over the fresh corn, butterbeans, peas, watermelons, and cantaloupes that were for sale a man drove up and began to talk with the owner of the vegetable stand. It became quickly obvious from the content and tone of their conversation that he was a member of the same church as the owner of the stand. Every sentence he spoke was to sharply criticize their pastor.

He didn’t seem to know that humans are imperfect. We all make mistakes. You do, and I do. And yes, that includes all preachers. This self-appointed judge and jury, I presume, would have wanted the spiritual leader of his church to be perfect on his very first day as his pastor – and improve every day after that. He had no idea that listening to his diatribe was the pastor of Sanford’s First Baptist Church.

It was an unpleasant conversation for me to hear. After two or three minutes of venting his spleen of his caustic critique he finally made this remark, “I’ve told several of our members how we can get rid of that preacher – stop giving our money!” That statement was all I could endure, so I said to him, “Sir, that would only hurt your church, and it may not achieve your goal. I can tell you how to get rid of your preacher.”

He seemed interested in my suggestion, so I said, “The way to get rid of your pastor is to genuinely pray for him. Ask God to fill him with the Holy Spirit as he preaches. In addition to praying for him you can help him as he leads your church in fulfilling its divinely assigned mission. Then you should encourage every member of your church to join you in praying for him, and in helping him to share the gospel of Christ with your community. If you will follow these suggestions to the letter, God will make your church so successful that another church, probably larger than yours, will come along and take him off your hands.”

At this point Jessie and I got in our car with the vegetables we had purchased and traveled on up the road to Sanford. I would love to have heard what this very negative and divisive church member had to say once we had driven away. Having listened to his diatribe I doubt that he followed my suggestions. I have no idea who his pastor was, but I prayed for him. I knew that if he had many members of his church like this mean-spirited malcontent, he was going to need a lot more people praying for him than just me.

The call by God to be a Christian minister is a call to a 24/7 job. It is a joyful task, but not an easy one. If you want to help your pastor do a better job as the spiritual leader of your church, pray for him. So what if he or she doesn’t preach like Billy Graham. One reason for inadequate preaching is that there is so little praying in the pews. When your pastor is the recipient of the prayers of his parishioners, and is assisted by them in the sharing the good news of Christ, your church will make a powerful impact on your community.

While prayer works wonders, criticism is the parent of blunders. I learned a long time ago that those who can – do, and those who can’t or won’t – criticize. The best place for a church member to criticize is in front of a mirror. The critic who begins with himself will be too busy to take on outside contracts.

Church members do not have time to criticize when they harmonize, sympathize, and evangelize.