I Resolve…

Checking-boxes

There is no magic bullet to successfully accomplishing your New Year’s Resolutions, but here is a bit of the wisdom I have gleaned through the years on goal-achievement. One caveat – Knowing and doing are two different things!

Keys to Success in Accomplishing Your Goals:

  • Your goals must be aligned with your values.
  • Your goals can be motivated by fear (running away from) or by vision (running to), but there is greater joy in your journey if you’re running toward your vision.
  • You need accountability to stay on track.
  • You need a system to track progress BUT a good system doesn’t guarantee success.
  • Make sure what you’re investing in is worthy of your time, energy, resources, and heart.

Lessons in Living from a Dying Man…

The following is the text of my message on Sunday, December 29, 2019. This is not a transcript. The link to the audio message is below.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/426/2376959-lessons-in-living-from-a-dying-man

MESSAGE PREACHED AT GRACE FELLOWSHIP ON SUNDAY, DECEMBER 29

This afternoon, I have the honor of presiding over the memorial service for Harry Michael. Harry served in ministry for 45 of his 81 years. In that time, he made an impact on so many lives, but there were a few men into whom he poured his life and wisdom. As I consider Harry’s life, I thought about how Paul made a big impact on so many people but also spend time developing leaders who would step up to take his place.

Paul knew that his life had an expiration date. He had no delusion that he would somehow be spared the fate that comes to all of us. In fact, he knew that he was a marked man. His unyielding commitment to the gospel of Jesus had gotten him arrested and beaten time and again. He lived with an urgency…
– to share the gospel,
– to plant and grow churches, and
– to raise up a new generation who would carry on the task when he was gone.

For instance, let’s look together at a letter he wrote to Timothy – 

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:1-8, ESV)

The charge that Paul gives Timothy is based on two things –
(1) The importance of the task
(2) The certainty of his departure

I want to spend most of my time focusing on Paul’s view of his departure, but let me take a minute or two to consider the importance of the charge Paul gives to Timothy:

– Paul charges Timothy with a charge to proclaim the word.
– The charge is carried out before the eyes of God. This isn’t a threat; it’s a promise.
– The charge is centered on God’s Word not human opinion.
– The charge is to be ready at all times to communicate God’s truth.
– The charge would require incredible patience. (example of William Carey who worked for 7 years in India before seeing his first convert to the Christian faith)
– The charge to preach God’s truth would not be accepted by everyone; in fact, it will be vehemently rejected.
– The charge would require perseverance in the face of incredible suffering.

Paul wrote these words to Timothy from prison in Rome. This was not Paul’s first arrest in Rome, but this time was different. During his first Roman imprisonment, Paul was under house arrest in a rented house, but when he wrote this second letter to Timothy he was chained up in a cold dungeon. His words reveal that he did not expect to be released. Paul’s life and ministry were coming to a close.

And he was right. Shortly after writing this letter, he was beheaded as a follower of Jesus. Let’s take a closer look at what he writes. Perhaps considering Paul’s approach to dying can help us learn better how to live.

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 

Paul understands that death is at hand.

Poured out as a drink offering – One of the offerings presented to the Lord by the Jewish people was to pour out a cup of wine at the altar. All the wine would be poured out. Paul said the pouring was already taking place. He knew the end was getting nearer.

Paul might also have a Roman custom in mind. At the end of a Roman dinner, a final cup of wine would be poured out as a sacrifice to the Roman gods. It signified the meal was done.

Either way, Paul is expressing his confidence that he didn’t have long left on this earth.

Time of departure is at hand – The Greek word for departure can mean to loose or unyoke an animal like an ox. The ox might plow all day, but at the end of the day the yoke would be taken from its neck, and it could rest. This may be the picture Paul had in mind as he considered the conclusion of his earthly life. His work was nearly done. It was time for rest.

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 

Paul expressed his confidence in a life well-lived for Christ.

Each of these expressions are tied to the Olympic style games that were played.

Fought the good fight – This has the meaning of competing or struggling with an adversary or compete for a prize. Paul says he gave it all he had.

Finished the race – Paul ran the course set out before him to completion. He didn’t quit along the way.

Kept the faith – Each athlete swore to compete by the rules, that they wouldn’t cheat or take short cuts. Paul had stayed true to his calling.

8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Paul was certain of what awaited him at life’s end for himself and all believers.

Paul was confident that a reward was waiting for him upon his exit from this life. He calls it the crown of righteousness.

Based on his alusion of athletic contests, the crown Paul likely had in mind was the laurel wreath given to the winner of a race – similar to the gold medals given today. The crown will be given by the Lord who is the righteous Judge. And notice – Paul did not say he’s getting the victor’s crown because he has been a better Christian than everybody else. This award is not only for him but for everyone who is looking forward to seeing Jesus face-to-face.

Other than information, what do we find here that we can apply to our lives?
– We are to live knowing that life is short. (Carley McCord, 30)
– We are to give our best effort as we live for Christ each day.
– We can live with confidence that Jesus waits for us at the finish line.

IMPORTANT REMINDER – We don’t gain the crown by our own efforts. The crown is won for us by Jesus. Even so, we are called to run the race with faithfulness, giving our all, knowing that Jesus waits for us to fall into His arms at the finish line.

As we come to the end of 2019, let us evaluate our lives.

Do we truly realize that this day could be our last?

Are we giving God our best each day or just coasting?

Do we have absolute confidence that we will be among those welcomed by Jesus at life’s finish line?

Don’t Do Satan’s Work for Him…

I have been tempted so often to completely do away with Facebook. The good of Facebook is that it allows me to keep up with people I might otherwise lose track of. It allows me to reacquaint myself with friends all the way back from high school. It reminds me of birthdays and anniversaries and special events. It enables me to share positive and encouraging words with people on the other side of the world. It is also a platform for sharing prayer requests, audio and video messages, and reminders with my church family.

But there is a darker side to Facebook. It is littered with scams, frauds, and fake news. People use platforms like Facebook to post things they would never say to another person’s face. All decorum and decency gets striped away in a rush to share a video, comment, or “news” story. Fact-checking, even though it may only take a moment or two, is virtually nonexistent. I had an English teacher back at Roanoke High whose exclamation when she was appalled at something we said or wrote was – “Oh, vomit!” I regularly feel like saying that when perusing Facebook.

What makes it worse is the quick-to-judge attitude that believers have toward other believers. You’d think that if a Christian read an accusation against a brother or sister, that follower of Jesus would slow down, consider the accusation, consider the source, do everything within his or her power to determine what is true, what is false, and what is murky, and be hesitant to throw that believer (or Christian organization) under the bus.

My brothers and sisters, I am grieved daily at how quickly some believers are to throw other believers under the bus! And it seems hordes of other believers are willing to take the word of a Facebook post and climb on the bus demanding it be run back and forth over that accused brother or sister until he or she is thoroughly humiliated and their influence is no more.

We are told that Satan is “the accuser of the brethren.” Well, he can rest easy knowing that we, the body of Christ, will gladly take that mantel upon ourselves. The father of lies needs not lift a finger, since our fingers run frantically up and down our keyboards to do his nefarious work for him.

So I’m stuck with this Frankenstein’s monster of a social media platform. Its good aspects are very good. Its bad side is very bad. Perhaps it is more of a metaphor for life in the 21st century than I’d like to think.

For the two dozen or so people who will read this (I am under no illusion about my online impact in the world), let me offer some biblical advice as we close 2019 and enter into 2020. The words come from the Apostle Paul. They were written to a local church in the city of Ephesus. The world was not better then than it is now… and in many ways was much worse. He wrote —

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Instead of our ready response of outrage and our gnawing need to share accusations without taking even a minute to try to verify the truthfulness of said accusations, perhaps we might choose a different course. Perhaps we might be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Perhaps our speech might be seasoned with grace. Perhaps our words might be marked by kindness and compassion rather than be dripping with snarkiness.

There are indeed times when we need to alert our brothers and sisters to wolves in sheep’s clothing, but there is no doubt that we are to speak the truth IN LOVE. Quite honestly, my Facebook feed is filled with far more unbridled outrage than Christlike love.

Bible Reading in 2020

Many Christians begin the new year with high hopes of reading God’s Word every day. Some go to great extremes to make sure that everything is in place – the right Bible, the right markers, the write note-taking journal, etc. Unfortunately, things begin to fall apart after week one. Life gets busy. We get lazy. Our once bright and shiny resolution finds itself shoved in a corner buried with the dust of our guilt.

Will 2020 be any different? Will you actually finish your Bible reading plan on December 31, 2020? Well… I have no clue. I do know this – if you don’t start, you won’t finish.

To help get you started, here are some helpful downloadable resources –
New Testament Reading Plan
One Year Chronological Bible
One Year Bible Plan
One Book at a Time Plan

In addition, there are a boatload of online reading plans and Bible reading apps, in fact, too many to mention. Here are a few options to search for –
The Bible App for Kids (FREE)
Bible by Life Church (FREE)
Daily Bible Verse (FREE)
Our Daily Bread (FREE)
Olive Tree Bible+ (FREE)

Another option is a podcast by Walk Thru the Bible. Each episode provides a short devotional thought and a guided journey through each day’s Scripture passage. This can be accessed through Apple Podcasts or Google Play. Follow THIS LINK.

Okay… that’s plenty to get your started. You can always ask friends what they use.

Here are a few tips –
Pick a plan. (Make it a reasonable one.)
If you miss a day, don’t quit – just pick up and keep going.
If you miss a few days, don’t quit – keep going.
If you end up missing half a year, don’t quit – keep going.
Read to know God more, not just to know more of God’s Word.

God’s Word is worthy of our time and effort. Let’s do this!

Living the Dream

This past Sunday, I shared Grace Fellowship’s Dream Statement. This is the dream that birthed Grace Fellowship in July of 2004, and it is the dream that continues to sustain us as we move forward in faith.

Grace Fellowship’s Dream Statement

It is a dream of hurting people encountering the grace of God through the life of His church.

It is a dream of God’s people gathering to experience genuine, life-changing worship.

It is a dream of creating an environment where the unchurched can discover what being a member of the body of Christ really means.

It is a dream of a church with a passion to see the unchurched enter into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is a dream of a church equipping its members to share the good news of Jesus with the aim of leading the unchurched into a personal relationship with Him.

It is a dream of a church committed to the Great Commission and expressing that commitment by giving generously to missions causes, by actively participating in local and international missions, and by helping to start new churches in areas needing a Christian witness.

It is a dream of a people who fully embrace others regardless of their race, age, or social standing.

It is a dream of the people of Greensboro, Greene County, and the Lake Oconee area being positively affected by the grace of God through the life, ministry, and worship of God’s people.

The best IS yet to come!

Review of KK Original Filled Doughnuts

Krispy Kreme Original Filled Doughnuts

I must admit that I did not make it to a Krispy Kreme location on Saturday to get my free Original Filled doughnut as part of KK’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, but my good friend Amy Ferman was sweet enough (no pun intended) to pick up one Chocolate Kreme filled and one Original Kreme filled for me (and the same order for my wife). In other words, I ate them a day after they were made — not the ideal taste test, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to either Athens or Milledgeville to get one fresh.

I came home having received the much-prized doughnuts at church. They remained undisturbed on my desk (except for a quick whiff) until I got home. I fixed a pot of coffee, settled into my recliner, and began the test. My verdict = YES! I’m not sure how the doughnut scientists pulled off this culinary masterpiece, but the doughnuts (even a day old) were superb – beyond what I had expected – and I had high expectations.

Admittedly, my doughnuts didn’t exactly match the picture above. I think the Chocolate Kreme filled was closer to the picture and had more filling than the Original Kreme filled, but neither had the perfect ring of filling inside the whole of the doughnut.

My wife asked me after I consumed them both (Original first followed by the Chocolate) which I thought was better. Although I thoroughly enjoyed them both, the Original Kreme was my favorite by far. I’d buy that doughnut every time I stopped in a KK… every – single – time.

If you didn’t try on Saturday, you missed your chance for a free one, but it is worth $1.09 plus tax, and you might was well get a cup coffee or a chocolate milk to make the most of your experience.

Disclaimer: I received no compensation from Krispy Kreme (monetary or otherwise) nor am I an official spokesperson for Krispy Kreme -- but I'm open to either. 🙂

When the President Shows Up…

This past Sunday, a church was surprised to have the President of the United States show up during one of their services. David Platt, Pastor Teacher at McLean Bible Church, wrote in a letter to the church about the circumstances of this unusual situation: “At the end of my sermon at the 1:00 worship gathering, I stepped to the side for what I thought would be a couple of moments in quiet reflection as we prepared to take the Lord’s Supper. But I was immediately called backstage and told that the President of the United States was on his way to the church, would be there in a matter of minutes, and would like for us to pray for him. (The complete text of his letter to the church can be found here – https://www.mcleanbible.org/prayer-president )

I admit to you that I have never had this happen to me before! Few pastors have. Certainly, I have had elected government officials attend a service. Unlike the stop-in visit from President Trump, all of those who visited the churches I’ve pastor have stayed for the service. I have typically acknowledged their presence, thanked them for their service, and encouraged the congregation to pray for them, their families, and all our elected leaders. Since these elected leaders are often in the public eye, if they visited more regularly, I try not to highlight their presence to allow them to participate in the service without distractions. I cannot even imagine being told off-stage that THE President was on his way and requesting prayer!!!

With his Bible in his right hand and his left hand on the President’s back, David Platt offered a prayer for Donald Trump. The link above also has a video that shows the entirety of Trump’s appearance and Platt’s prayer. Please take a moment to view it. I think you’ll find that the prayer was politically unbiased, saturated with biblical truth, and fitting to the moment.

I do not know David Platt personally. I have read his books. I have heard him preach in person. I have viewed videos of his teaching. And I supported his efforts while he served as President of the International Mission Board. I respect him as a person, as a brother in Christ, and as a fellow pastor. My impression of what took place this Sunday is that David Platt did exactly what I hope I would do. He successfully avoided making Trump’s appearance a political rally, and offered a thoughtful, meaningful prayer for the leader of the free world — at the request of the President.

This nation is deeply divided in its opinion of our sitting President. Some see him as a man who can do no wrong. Others see him as a man who can do no right. And still others are willing to acknowledge that he’s a human being who is not always right and not always wrong – in other words, he’s a mixed bag like the rest of us – with the exception that he serves in the highest office in the land. Praying for President Trump SHOULD BE what we are doing regularly, just as we should pray for whoever the President is regardless of whether we agree with his or her political stances or not. This is our biblical mandate – “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

You may question President Trump’s motives for dropping in unannounced and requesting prayer. You may believe it to be a calculated tactic to endear himself (or in some cases to further endear himself) to the evangelical community. Perhaps, you’re right; but the criticisms (some of them quite harsh) of David Platt are short-sighted. This was one of those unexpected “opportunities” that pastors often have to face on Sundays, although, admittedly, his was an unexpected opportunity on steroids. He wrote about that in his statement, as well – “Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we didn’t see coming, and we’re faced with a decision in a moment when we don’t have the liberty of deliberation, so we do our best to glorify God. Today, I found myself in one of those situations.”

His written statement to his congregation has been labeled by some as an apology. He does acknowledge that some may have been hurt by the choice to pray over the President, but he also goes on to state that what he did was non-political and thoroughly biblical. Although my opinion may not rate high, I commend David Platt for doing what he did and how he did it. In my view, he handled it with grace and truth.

If you agree with President Trump’s policies and positions, pray for him. If you disagree with the President’s policies and positions, pray for him. If you have mixed feelings about the President’s policies and positions, pray for him. But what if you (as many evidently do) have intense feelings of dislike for the man who currently holds the office of President? What if you think he is the embodiment of everything you despise? Well… pray for him. Did not Jesus instruct us to love our enemies and to pray for even those who persecute us?

Being a Follower of Jesus in a Virtual World…

Image from the 1976 movie Network.

Arguments go back and forth on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. The internet is a virtual town square where opinions can be expressed and issues debated. Sadly, this often turns to rage and ranting generously seasoned with foul language and personal attacks.

If you’re a Christian, you can still enter the fray to offer opinions and debate issues, but let us do so as we are guided by God’s Word –

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20)

It’s okay to debate issues. I’d argue that believers need to enter the public debate on important issues such as sex trafficking, abortion, euthanasia, poverty, immigration, racism, sexual harassment, pornography… the list seems endless. But when we enter the virtual word of Tweets and Facebook posts, let’s enter this world full of “grace and truth.” Let us not use the same sensible discretion when posting that we do when having face to face conversations. Let us remember that rage does not enhance our argument, nor does the use of harsh and abusive language. Why do good judgment and civility seem to disappear when voicing opinions on social media?

Let us be people who reflect the Christ we claim to worship. Yes, there were times when Jesus got angry. Anger itself is not a bad thing. But Jesus’ reputation was not of an angry prophet whose breath smelled of brimstone. We can become angry over issues and injustices. We can state our opinions in person or online. But we must always remember that we are not Jesus. We do not have His insight and understanding. We too often react based on emotions putting both our hearts and minds in suspending animation while we give full vent to our rage.

I leave you with these wise words from James, the brother of Jesus –
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10)

My Krispy Kreme Review of the Summer Fruit Doughnuts

I finally got to try all three of the summer fruit doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. So… here’s how it turned out.

The pineapple was my least favorite of the three. If you’ve ever had the pineapple topping that goes on ice cream, this was what the filling reminded me of. On a scale of 1-10, I’d give this a 3.

The strawberry was better. The insides tasted like strawberry jam. Like the pineapple, the frosting on top didn’t do much to enhance the flavor. If I’m going to go with strawberry, I think I’d rather than a tastier frosting or the flavor in the dough itself. I give it a 5.

The key lime was BY FAR my favorite, though I must confess I like key lime almost anything! The filling was good. Again the frosting on top didn’t add much to the flavor, but it didn’t mess it up. I’d buy this one again… and again… and again. My grade on this one is a 9. (The hot glazed gets a 10 every time!)

Maybe next time I should do a video taste testing. That would give me an excuse to go back to Krispy Kreme … like I need one. 🙂

Made in the Image of God…

A person’s worth is not determined by their race, their ethnicity, their sexuality, their occupation, their income, their behavior, or their religion. Each person is made in the image of God, and, therefore, each person has incredible value to Him.

When we disagree with others, even over important matters, we must never fail to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of our “opponent.” When we belittle or dehumanize someone or a group of people, we are not honoring the Creator.

This does not mean we have to water down God’s truth or compromise our values. It does mean that we live each day with the awareness that our battle is not against flesh and blood. We need to recognize our true enemy and be willing to fight our battles in the spiritual realm first.We are not called to agree with everyone.

We are not called to go along with every new cultural wave that comes along. We are called to love everybody always.

John’s gospel tells us that Jesus came full of grace and truth. Let that be our starting point today.