Perseverance is a Spiritual Discipline

I’ve been thinking a lot about recent high-profile believers (or as some would say Christian celebrities) recanting their faith.  I have concluded that perseverance in the faith is a spiritual discipline that must be practiced daily. To stay faithful to Christ, through all the ups and downs of life, is no small feat.  It requires daily submission to Christ and a faith that grows as life experiences pile up. The real problem with all this revolves around the validity of God’s Word. It goes after the very essence of what is true.  

As orthodox believers, we have always claimed that God’s Word is the foundation of our faith.  We believe it is truly the perfect and inerrant Word of God. That it is more than just words on a page, but when studied with the intent of learning and growing, that God actually speaks to our heart through it.  We are taught to take our experiences and look at them through the lens of scripture. As we struggle against trials and temptations, we know our God keeps His promises. We believe that “for those who love God all things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28).

However, these apostates, now denying Christ, claim to come to these realizations after considering their life experience (as if life experience negates truth) and now they do not believe in the validity of God’s Word.  Because of cultural pressure, their own feelings, and their own struggles, they stop believing the Word of God is true. At some point they listened to a teacher or preacher and had an experience. Only God can say if it was a genuine experience, but by their own testimony it probably wasn’t.  This experience carried them for a long time as they learned and grew but, at some point, what they were seeing in life did not match up to their beliefs and they had to choose. Do they truly believe the gospel of Jesus Christ or do they believe the version of truth that the world is selling?

While this seems new and is undoubtedly new to these Christ deniers, it is not new.  These people do not have the market on troubling experiences or on doubts about God’s Word.  This experiencing life through your own truth is a form of religious liberalism. The doctrines about scripture are denied, as are the doctrines about Christ and many other things.  The problem is they want to keep their fame, their influence and even their spirituality but without Christ. We must ask, without Christ, does any of that really matter?

Paul would argue from 1 Corinthians 15 that without the gospel of Jesus Christ our faith is in vain. In fact, if the gospel of Christ is not real then we should all live by whatever truth we deem acceptable.  But, if the gospel of Christ IS TRUE then we must stay true to that belief no matter what happens in life.

That means we must look at life through the lens of the gospel.  When hard times come, we know God is in control. When we face an illness, we know we are in God’s hands.  Whatever comes our way we know that Jesus is right there in the middle of it with us. This is called perseverance.  We must see the ability to persevere through all life’s storms as a spiritual discipline that we grow in. We must daily submit our doubts, fears, and notions from culture to Christ.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have any of these, it just means we work them out in a way that corresponds with our faith. We also realize that sometimes we have to seek to overcome them because they are temptations to sin.  

Faith in Jesus was never meant to be easy, but we stand on the shoulders of many believers that have come before and have faced similar obstacles to their faith.  They have persevered just as we must persevere. The words of Paul in Philippians 2:12-13 have always given me great comfort when dealing with perseverance, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

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Getting Free from Worry

Don’t worry, be happy,” was the mantra of the 80’s.  I used to love that song by Bobby McFerrin, so light and happy, but it’s easier sung than done.  Leaving worry behind is a difficult task, even for Christians. Sometimes our worries are founded, but many times they are not.  We worry about things that we can’t or shouldn’t control. We let it consume us until we are physically, emotionally, and spiritually stalled.  Dale Carnegie said, “Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration, and resentment.” I believe this applies to our spiritual fatigue as well.  Why do we feel so dry and faithless? It’s often because we let worry consume our life.

I’m pretty sure we all agree that worry is bad.  When we realize this, many times we take off on a journey of freedom from worry on our own.  We think, “If I just try harder” or “If I just refocus my thoughts”. The truth is you can’t do it on your own, because worry is not just a productivity problem. It is a faith problem. Worry is an act of faithlessness. Worry says to God that I am not willing to trust God, instead I am going to mull this thought over and over again.  Deep down we know we can’t change anything, but the act of worry is an attempt to control an uncontrollable situation.

The reality is that worry is not a biblical idea.  We are challenged to be free of worry many times in scripture.  The greatest refutation of worry is by Jesus in the sermon on the mount. Maybe you have heard this before, but try to look at it with fresh eyes.  Open your Bible and read Matthew 6:25-34.

One of the major worries of those in Jesus’ time was simple day-to-day necessities like food and clothing.  Jesus tells them to not worry about these things. In fact God knows they need them and He will help them. He points to how God cares for the flora and fauna of the world and if God takes such good care of them how much more will He care for us, His most precious creation.  Jesus is saying to trust God and have faith that God will provide. While we may not  worry about food or clothing, the same idea is true. We need to trust God in all things. Jesus says that worry will not add one hour to our life span, so why worry. Basically worry won’t change anything, so why do it.  Instead, trust the Lord, who is in control of all things.

He also says, at the end of this passage, to seek God’s kingdom first.  Jesus is telling us that worry is the equivalent of seeking our own kingdom; however, when we put God’s kingdom first we are exhibiting true faith.  This means that the next time you are tempted to worry you need to turn to the Lord. The apostles help us with some really practical  advice. Paul says in Philippians 4:6-7, that instead of worrying we should pray.  We need to change our habit of worry. When we feel ourselves begin to worry, start to pray. The Bible promises that when we give those things over to God He will fill us with a great peace. While we can change very little by worrying we can go to the God of all things and ask Him to help us.  What an amazing truth!

Peter also tells us in 1 Peter 5:7 to cast our cares on the Lord because He cares for us.  This echoes what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount. God loves and cares about every detail of your life.  So don’t worry, instead look to Him, cast your burdens on Jesus. He can take it!

What fills your life with worry?  For me it’s mistakes of the past, present things that are out of my control, and     future things that haven’t even happened yet.  I can control none of these things and worry only compounds my problems. Recently, I have challenged myself to let these things go and turn them over to the Lord.  By His grace, He is helping me to do that. I am much more at peace and can focus on what God wants me to do. This can happen for you as well, instead of being worry ridden, be faith filled by trusting the Lord and giving Him all your worries.

Is My Child Ready?

Originally published in the June 2019 Edition of the Oakhill Baptist Church Newsletter.

One of my most favorite parts of being a children’s minister is getting to see little children become followers of Christ.  This is such a special opportunity! It’s truly a wonderful, God-glorifying decision. I love getting to help parents counsel their children in this process; however, many parents struggle to know when their child is ready.  This can be difficult but don’t worry, below I have listed some important steps to help you know if your child is ready.

1. Start with Prayer – Never, never, never underestimate the power of prayer.  Pray that God would speak to your child and call them to be saved.  Pray for wisdom to know if they are ready. Just pray for your child in general.  We can never pray for them enough.

2. 
Be Patient – The last thing you want to do is rush this process.  If your child is not asking questions or doesn’t seem interested or even if they say they are not ready, don’t worry.  It is better for them to come to that decision on their own rather than pressure from you. However, if they are asking questions and seem to want to know more then don’t wait!

3. 
Salvation vs. Baptism – Often kids equate salvation with baptism.  Baptism can spark an interest in the child, but they need to understand that being baptized is not the same as being saved.  We make the decision to follow Christ promoted by the Holy Spirit apart from baptism. Baptism is that symbol of spiritual cleansing that unites us with the church.  It is the first step in living out our new faith publically. We want children to be baptized, but only after they have made a profession of faith.

4. 
Use a Good Resource – Find a good resource that will help you share the gospel.  I love “God’s Plan for Me” from LifeWay. It is designed for children to know and understand the timeless truth of the gospel.  It is also very easy to use and helpful for parents that may not be entirely comfortable with sharing.

5. 
Use Scripture – It is very important to take the time to look up the scriptures from “God’s Plan for Me” in the Bible and read them out loud.  Kids need to connect their faith back to the Word of God.

6. Avoid “Churchy” Words – Be careful saying things like “lost”, “confess”, or “ask Jesus into your heart”.  Kids are concrete thinkers and can be confused with these words. Try to brainstorm ways to say these things in plain language that they can understand.

7. 
Ask Open-ended Questions – Make sure to avoid yes-no questions.  We can false lead children to make a decision they are not ready for.  Ask them things like “Can you tell me why you want to do this?” or “Tell me what you understand about how to become a Christian?”

8. 
If They are Ready – Lead them to pray a prayer of commitment, then rejoice with them!  Share that decision with your pastors and schedule an appointment to talk about baptism.

Ministry Update – April 2019

Originally published in the April 2019 Edition of the Oakhill Baptist Church Newsletter.

The past three months have been pretty crazy.  We wrapped up the Upward basketball and cheerleading program the first part of March.  I would have to say that this was one of the most successful years in terms of outreach and connecting with families.  We know for sure that one child was saved.  We have had several families visit our church.  There have been a few of the middle school students begin to engage with our student ministry.  In one sense I am happy the season is over, if for no other reason to get some rest, but I will miss it and the opportunity for ministry.  Thank you to all the volunteers and coaches that put in countless hours to organize this league.  We could not have done it without you!

From there we move on to planning for Easter and even VBS!  Easter will be on us before we know it.  Our Easter weekend is a great way to connect people to our church.  They will be able to hear the gospel proclaimed and learn about the power of the  resurrection.  One of the highlights of the weekend is our Community Easter Egg Hunt.  We fill over 6,000 eggs and invite the entire community to come out.  This event is what we call a bridge event.  We simply try to connect with our community in a positive way.  It is something that you can invite friends and family to partake in that is casual and fun.  We hope to have a great turn out for the egg hunt.

Also, a lot of my time right now is focused on VBS.  Yes, VBS!  We actually start prepping for VBS in February.  We really ramp up in March and April.  Mostly getting volunteers lined out, supplies ordered, and having our leader training.  This year the theme is “In the Wild”.  We are going to look at  snapshots of the different ecosystems around the globe while looking at snapshots of the life of Jesus.  I can’t wait to see what God will do through our VBS this year.  As I wrote last month, VBS is the largest evangelistic push that most churches do all year.  We are going to keep the focus on connecting with families and proclaiming the gospel.

I have enjoyed the last three months as the pastor of children and missions.  It has been an adjustment, but it has been a delight to get to know the kids and their families even more.  We have a great group of kids and kids’ ministry volunteers.  Please pray for them, they don’t just provide childcare, they are pouring into your children the Word of God each week.

We also have had another big change the past few weeks.  Our Hispanic church planter, Leonid Marsan, came onsite at the end of February.  He and his family are currently living in our Charis House while they get set-up and adjust to life in Evansville.  Leonid is not sitting idle, he is getting out into the community and God is already beginning to work.  Leonid has been connected to several Hispanic individuals by God’s providence.  Please pray for him and his family as they begin this new work.  Also pray for them as they learn the culture and English language.  Our church family has been so welcoming to them already, I know you will make Oakhill feel like home.

God has also been doing some things in my life; reminding me that people, not programs are most important when it comes to ministry.  We must keep our eyes on Jesus, proclaim the gospel, reach out to our community, and make disciples.  If we keep those ideals first, then the programs will fall into their proper place.  Thank you for trusting me to be the pastor of children and missions, it is quickly becoming one of the greatest joys of my life.

VBS – It’s Worth It!

Originally published in the March 2019 Edition of the Oakhill Baptist Church Newsletter.

Vacation Bible School (VBS) is a week-long evangelistic outreach to children.  It has become a huge event that most churches participate in, however, it has a very humble beginning.  In 1894, a Sunday School teacher, D.T. Miles, started a summer Bible school for kids. Initially it lasted four weeks; over time it was narrowed down to one week.  Other churches picked it up until thousands of churches participated every summer. Recently the question has been asked if VBS is worth it. Is it worth the volunteer hours and church resources?

Lifeway, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptists, did some research and found that of the 60% of adults who attended VBS, 9 out of 10 have positive memories.  On top of that VBS is one of the only intentional ways our churches evangelize. We are in an evangelism  crisis right now– 48% of church goers are not inviting unchurched people to visit and 61% are not sharing Christ with anyone.  VBS helps with both of those problems.

It is a huge opportunity to invite families in our community to participate in something the church is doing.  It is also a way that we can share Christ with those children and their families. We take seriously the call to share the good news with everyone we can.  Our  teachers intentionally weave the gospel through all their lessons and our Pastor takes time on one of the nights to share the gospel in a way kids can understand.  We have seen many kids respond to the gospel through the years. It is an amazing privilege to be a part of something so gospel focused and God honoring.

Our theme this year is “In the Wild”.  We will be looking at snapshots of wildlife   throughout the different ecosystems, while looking at snapshots of Jesus’ life.  Our leadership team has been to the Lifeway preview conference and we are already so excited. I hope you will be a part of it.  I have listed four ways you can be involved in this year’s VBS:

  1. Pray about who you can invite to VBS, then invite them!
  2. Consider volunteering to help with VBS (a sign-up form will be available in April)
  3. Register your kids early (registration opens in May)
  4. Pray that kids would be saved and families impacted with the gospel

Get the book here: https://www.lifeway.com/en/product/it-s-worth-it-P005814067

Ministry Update – Feb. 2019

Originally published in the February 2019 Edition of the Oakhill Baptist Church Newsletter.

I am writing this article in my new role as the pastor of Children and Missions.  It is an honor to serve in this capacity. I joked the other day that I have served in almost every way on staff except for worship pastor.  Tragically, the only musical ability I have is music appreciation, so that won’t be an option for me; but children’s ministry is something that I have grown to love over the past few years.  I started in youth ministry and have missed working with kids. I love being able to help young people to get to know and love Christ. It is one of the greatest joys of my life, to be able to return to that is really a blessing.

I began working with the Children’s Ministry as my kids have grown and become more involved.  Kristi and I have both served in various roles in Upward, AWANA, Kids’ Camp, nursery, VBS, and Kids’ Life Groups.  We have grown to love the kids’ ministry at Oakhill. As I began to pray about this possible transition it felt natural.  I knew the programming, the systems, and the volunteers; however, I did not take this job out of convenience. I took it   because God impressed upon Kristi and I that it was time to return to working with kids in a greater capacity.

My desire is to build upon the foundation of our great children’s ministry.  The kids’ ministry at Oakhill has always been a hallmark of the church, and I want to continue that tradition.  I want to continue our great programs that teach and disciple kids. I also want to connect with parents, so I can support and encourage them.  I know, as a parent, how hard it can be to desire to disciple your kid but not knowing how. I want the church to undergird the family. I want to help parents to know how to lead their children in knowing and loving Christ.  It is tougher than ever before out in the world, our kids face challenges that we could never have even dreamed about when we were kids. They need to know Jesus more than ever today. They need to learn to love Him and learn what it means to follow Him.

I am so excited for the future of the kids’ ministry, it’s going to be fun and very rewarding.  This great ministry is only possible because of our great volunteer base. We have the best, most loving volunteers.  The last couple of weeks I have been learning the behind the scenes part of the ministry. The volunteers have impressed me immensely.  They really love the ministry. I am so fortunate to be able to work with them and I look forward to serving alongside of them. On that note, we are always looking for people to join the ministry.  Let me know if you have a heart for kids.

I, of course, will continue to oversee the missions ministry of our church.  I love the community outreach that we do with Harwood, our food pantry, and State Hospital.  I am looking forward to expanding our mission trips and partnerships in the coming year. I desire for our church to have a passion for evangelism and missions like never before.

It is clear to me that God has brought me to this place, in my life and in life of the church.  I am so excited about what He will do in and through us as our church family continues to grow. Thank you for your support and love for the past 12 years, I look forward to many more years of ministry together.

Evangelism in 2019

Published in the January 2019 Edition of Oakhill Baptist Church Newsletter

I was honored to preach on December 30th about one of my passions: evangelism.  This has been a journey for me, to arrive at the place where I am passionate about sharing my faith.      Historically, I have been terrified in one-on-one witnessing situations.  It wasn’t because I lacked training.  I have been trained in no less than six evangelism strategies.  None of this helped me to conquer my fear of sharing my faith, which led me to believe that the reason Christians don’t share is not a lack of knowledge.  We might use that as an excuse but, in reality, we have more resources available to learn than ever before.

The problem for me was that witnessing always felt like a sales pitch.  I felt like a vacuum salesman going door to door.   It didn’t feel genuine to me.  It also didn’t produce many genuine results.  What changed for me was when I realized that witnessing was not a pitch but a conversation that should flow out of a relationship. That is not to say God might not providentially bring someone to us, like Phillip with the Ethiopian Eunuch; however, I believe the majority of witnessing opportunities will come with people we know.

I believe that God has placed us in our neighborhoods, at our jobs, in our families, on a kid’s ball team, and any other place you go for a reason.  Our job is to build relationships with people, so we can share.  We should look at ourselves as missionaries that are always on the mission field.  That parent next to you at ball practice is someone you need to get to know.  That neighbor across the street is a relational opportunity.  These are the types of people we should be reaching out to.

Another breakthrough for me was to realize that we are not making converts— Jesus wants disciples.  This is a common misconception that is fueled by those witnessing programs.  Conversion is not the goal, it is the beginning.  We should be seeking to help people begin a faith journey and as they surrender to Christ we should continue to help them grow in their faith.  When we view witnessing as a part of the discipleship process then it feels much more genuine.

These realizations helped me to get past my fear; however, there will always be an element of anxiety in sharing our faith, that is just the way it is.  At some point we have to get over that fear by swallowing hard and doing it.  We must have a greater allegiance to our Lord and Savior than we do to fear.  We have to treat the great commission as a command not a suggestion.  One verse that has helped me immensely is 1 Timothy 1:7“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  The Holy Spirit gives us the strength we need.  God is right there in the midst of our conversations, helping and guiding us.

I would also encourage Christians to be familiar with scripture; develop a daily reading plan.  Look for verses that will help you share your faith.  Some have suggested that believers know the Roman’s Road, which is simply a few verses from the book of Romans that outline the gospel.  You can search these verses easily on the web.  You can also read good resource like Turning Everyday Conversations into Gospel Conversations by Jimmy Scroggins, Steve Wright, and Bennett Leslee.  This book helps us to learn the 3 Circles, which is a witnessing strategy based on relationships and conversation.  This book also has very helpful ways to turn conversations toward spiritual subjects.  It is overall a great resource for any Christian that wants to share his or her faith.

The point is we are commanded to go into the all the earth and share our faith.  We need to start where God has placed us right now.  If you need to learn more, then do it, there is no reason to wait.  If you are scared, pray that God would help you overcome that fear.  Finally, ask God to show you someone in your life that would be open to the gospel message.  Start small, as I challenged the church in my message, look for one person to win to Christ in 2019, that is a very doable goal.  You can do it!