Do You Struggle with Change? Remember How Christ Changed You?

Let me ask you a question right away: do you have a testimony? A testimony is usually a verbal expression or acknowledgment as a witness under oath in response to interrogation by a lawyer or by an authorized public official. When we see the word testimony used, we can go to
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death (Rev 12:11). Usually, the word ‘testimony’ is used for the law of God as given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

But we are called to share our story (i.e., our testimony) to those who do not believe in Jesus—or whom the Bible calls ‘lost.’ In fact, John Kramp wrote a very compelling book called, “Out of their Faces and Into Their Shoes.” In this book, he coined a study called lostology. This is the study of being lost and what the experience can teach Christians about evangelism. The fact is, as time goes on, few Christians understand non-Christians. Sadly, many of us (yes, ‘us’—myself included) have an insider’s mentality.

Reading news outlets and listening to songs on the radio can tell us a lot about what’s happening, there are two things that you should always carry, no matter where you find yourself: the story of the gospel, and the story of how the gospel changed you.

We speak of your sphere of influence: your friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors. Likely if you’re in that realm, you know and share many of the same mindsets. But you have His story and your story of how His story changed you. We don’t like the word change, do we? But if we are Christians, our life counts on Jesus changing us from death to life, from darkness to light, from lost to found.

The three components of your personal testimony are:

  1. Tell someone where you were before Christ changed you.
  2. Tell someone when Christ changed you.
  3. Tell someone how Christ changed your life from then on.

Acts 22:3-21 is a beautiful outline of what a testimony is about. Listen here.

The World Cup is Here–What is a Non-Soccer Fan to Do?

Every soccer (futbol) fan in the world knows that the 2018 World Cup is underway. Below are the countries participating:

For the next 4-5 weeks, many in the world will have eyes on Russia, the host country. But over the next few weeks, will you take time to pray for each of these thirty-two countries, not just about their well-being but about gospel access and gospel receptivity.

Have a great weekend!

Being a Disciple Means Being Prepared

Being prepared is not simply for the Boy Scouts—it’s the mark of a believer. Few of us know how our weeks will shape up. On Monday evenings, I usually sit at the kitchen table with a legal pad and my calendar and I work to plan my week.

Part of the reason why many Christians struggle to share their faith is the unknown. In church life, we gravitate toward the tangible, the measurable, what we can see, what we can fix. That’s why, I believe, many churches can get bogged down in administrative stuff that deals with buildings, budgets, and bodies (that is, attendance). You can measure those things. You can build and refurbish and renovate and you can see the results. When you put together a budget, you can tell whether you are meeting it or not. You can tell when savings are down or not. You can tell when attendance is down or not.

Anything that seems to increase these things is inherently good, any decrease is inherently bad.

Yet people are not simply widgets, all alike, all having the same personalities, all going through the same chapter, all through the same issues. Every person that walks into this place has a story, a background, and journey they have traveled. People are more than numbers, the church is more than a building, spiritual stability does not come with a substantial savings account.

The passage I read to you at the beginning was the last paragraph. The words ‘execution,’ ‘persecution,’ ‘lamentation,’ ‘ravaging the church,’ be dragged off to prison—some of you may be saying, “Pastor, if you’re trying to sell me on this Jesus guy and this Christianity stuff, these words will not work.” But I want to deal honestly with you—following Jesus is absolutely worth it, no matter what comes our way. But we must be prepared to deal with people where they are as they are, no matter. Why? Because God is at work to get all of us where we need to be. Following Jesus and telling someone about Jesus is about being prepared.

To listen to the rest of this sermon, click here.

Why Should Christians Sing?

[From a sermon from September 2012.]

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another inpsalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
(Ephesians 5:15-21)

In the Preface of the 1991 Baptist Hymnal, Jimmy Draper, at the time President of the Sunday School Board, now known as LifeWay Christian Resources, penned this opening paragraph:

God’s people are a singing people. Ours is a singing faith, our songs incorporating our beliefs. Our music draws us in praise and adoration to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Nothing is more vital to vibrant Christian faith than to praise and adore our Lord. It is in worship that we encounter God, that God speaks to us and calls us to deeper levels of understanding and commitment. Nothing draws us to true worship more forcefully and effectively than music.[1]

John MacArthur once wrote:

“The Spirit-filled life produces music. Whether he has a good voice or cannot carry a tune, the Spirit-filled Christian is a singing Christian. Nothing is more indicative of a fulfilled life, a contented soul, and a happy heart than the expression of son. The first consequence of the Spirit-filled life that Paul mentioned was not mountain-moving faith, an ecstatic spiritual experience, dynamic speaking ability, or any other such thing. It was simply a heart that sings. When a believer walks in the Spirit, he has an inside joy that manifests itself in music. God puts music in the souls and then on the lips of His children who walk in obedience.”[2]

You will notice that a considerable amount of time during the first half of our gathering together is that of singing. We sing different styles (praise choruses, hymns, etc.), in different ways (solos, congregational singing, choir, instrumental pieces, etc.) at differing tempi. And frankly, some folks are very much caught up in styles, ways and means, and tempos.

Yet, with all these varieties, there holds one unifying factor: the goal is to magnify Christ, to help us mature in Christ, to minister the name of Christ, and mobilize in the name of Christ from Centennial to the corners of creation. We must realize this—Christ has given us the gift of music to point to the gift of Him and what he’s accomplished for us on the cross and empty tomb in atoning for our sins.

Isn’t it a shame how God gave a gift of music, and our fallen natures can turn that gift intended for Him into something intended for us? Martin Luther put it in his normal blunt way: “A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of donkeys and the grunting of hogs.”[3] (Goodness, Martin—how do you really feel?) But we see that music, especially music in the service and witness of God, brings out some strong feelings!

The apostle Paul is no different! In the midst of some great instruction, he encourages us to use “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” to propel us upward, forward, inward, and outward.

The Upward Dimension: We sing to magnify God (Ephesians 5:19b-20).

Look with me at Ephesians 5:19b-20: “… singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So music, specifically singing, has a distinctly upward direction to it. We sing outwardly from the melody that He has already placed in our heart.

John MacArthur once noted:

Our singing and making melody is not for the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves or of entertaining others but of rejoicing in and praising God. Whether we are singing a solo, singing with a choir, or singing with the congregation, our focus should be on the Lord, not on ourselves or other people. He is the audience to whom we sing.[4]

This type of singing mirrors other areas of our lives. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, we see the passage, “Whatever we eat, or drink, or whatever we do [even how we sing], do to the glory of God.”

If you read on later in Ephesians 5 when it talks about the roles of husbands and wives.

  • “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22)
  • “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
  • “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).
  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
  • “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:5-7).

Every place that God has put us, we live to magnify Him. But we live in the flesh that seeks to magnify self. We live in a world that seeks to magnify personalities, celebrities, fame.

There is the story of a time when Thomas K. Beecher substituted for his famous brother, Henry Ward Beecher, at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York. Many curiosity seekers had come to hear the renowned Henry Beecher speak. Therefore, when Thomas Beecher appeared in the pulpit instead, some people got up and started for the doors. Sensing that they were disappointed because he was substituting for his brother, Thomas raised his hand for silence and announced,

“All those who came here this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may withdraw from the church; all who came to worship God may remain.”

The Forward Dimension: We sing to become mature in Christ (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Look with me at Ephesians 5:15-17:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Paul begs the Ephesian Christians to look carefully at how we walk. When he uses this term ‘walk,’ he is referring to how we live and move in this world. Back in Ephesians 4:17-18, Paul warned the church, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” So Paul calls them (and us) to put that off and to walk wisely.

In the preceding paragraph, he tells us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1). In verse 8, he reminded them that they once walked in darkness, “but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (5:8).

Now, he is calling us to walk wisely. By what standard? Our backgrounds and experiences may develop in us what seems like ‘wisdom’ and common sense. And the longer we live, the more we rely on this—even being lauded by others for our good sense!

Many of you read through the wonderful devotional “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. In the August 29th entry of this devotional, Chambers says:

Every time you venture out in your life of faith, you will find something in your circumstances that, from a commonsense standpoint, will flatly contradict your faith. But common sense is not faith, and faith is not common sense. In fact, they are as different as the natural life and the spiritual.[5]

So what informs this wise living? Solomon wrote that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). The fear, reverence and awe of the LORD, the covenant God of His people who created heaven and earth by his own will and purpose—this here is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and instruction. Wisdom comes from taking instruction and the knowledge that comes with it, and them applying it! Even them, we need help, don’t we?

So Paul takes it a step farther: “be filled with the Spirit.” The Spirit was promised to us by Christ himself before He left to ascend back to the Father. Being filled with the Spirit means to be fueled to walk as Christ would have us. Walking lovingly, walking in the light, walking wisely, walking productively (“making the best use of your time, because the days are evil”). Every moment, every second, every hour matters. Even the routine things.

Walking unwisely means walking in ‘the course of this world.’ Ephesians 2 tells us that we followed “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience.” Satan seeks to blind us to our true situation outside of Christ. But when we come to Christ and surrender, He through the Holy Spirit begins to indwell us. Through the Holy Spirit, we are connected to the mind of Christ and Christ is connected to us!

When I lived in Michigan, I was 11-12 years old and remember driving past a restaurant in downtown Midland, Michigan called The French Onion. Below the title, it said, “Food and spirits served here.” Spirits? That’s another name for alcoholic beverages. I had only heard or seen the word spirit in connection with something other-worldly or supernatural.

So when Paul says, “Do not be drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,” the juxtaposition was not accidental on his part. Wine and other substances have a way of influencing. Look at Proverbs 23:26-35:

29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who tarry long over wine;
those who go to try mixed wine.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
32 In the end it bites like a serpent
and stings like an adder.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,
and your heart utter perverse things.
34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
like one who lies on the top of a mast.[c]
35 “They struck me,” you will say,[d] “but I was not hurt;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
I must have another drink.”

This doesn’t surprise us, does it? You hear of those who are drunk have certain personalities: “Oh, he’s a mean/nice/fun/crying drunk”—with the implication that this is not their normal personality—or at least it’s not that intense.

See what kind of influence this has—but Paul is saying, “To live wisely, to be connected to ultimate wisdom—be filled with the Spirit. You see, we will be filled by something—and whatever fills us, fuels us. If the Spirit fills us and we are being filled by His inspired Word, we will live not only wisely, but productively. Note what is says that wisdom is that which “makes best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).

The Inward Dimension: We sing to minister to fellow Christians (Ephesians 5:19, 21).

When I was a music minister (served as one for about 10 years), everyone had a differing view of this. In fact, when I was a music minister from 1992-2002 (and at that time, going to college and seminary to get ‘church music’ degrees), there was a term that was being bandied about: worship wars. Now, if two words ever did not go together, it was that! And people got in their camps: traditional (I love the hymns and anthems), contemporary (I love more modern music), blended (a blend of both), and some are liturgical (a very scripted service with scripted music and Scripture readings).

And for a while, instead of music unifying, it divided. It was like when Paul wrote to the Corinthians that some followed Paul, others follow Apollos, etc. It was, “I’m in this camp,” “Why how could you? I’m in this camp.” And instead of it being merely about preferences, it would become a test of faith.

Another way music can be seen as selfish is by relying on talent and musicianship rather than the giver of that talent and musicianship.

After the apostle Paul tells the Ephesian church to be filled with the Spirit, them something interesting happens. The filling of the Spirit does not simply affect the person filled, but the people also that surround the person so filled. Notice in verse 19 that immediately follows: “addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Then as you go down to verse 21, you see that a result of this singing to one another and making melody to God that the result is that we are “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

God has called us to take care of one another in the faith. All through Scripture, singing among God’s people is always shown within the communion of believers. And this type of ministry among God’s people always puts music in its proper place—as a vehicle for the truth!

In 1 Chronicles 25:1, we see how King David is setting up the worship that would take place in the Temple. In this verse, we see something very interesting: “David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals.” What were they doing with those instruments? Prophesying! They were using music to preach and minister to the people.

Let me ask, “Do you sing?” If so what is your motivation behind your singing? If you don’t why?

Some of you may not sing because you don’t think you can sing. Are you afraid how you sound? Are you afraid you might not get the tune right to that new song, so you’ll only stick to the older songs you’re familiar with? Could this lack of singing be pride—a reflection of our lives where we do not wish to risk breaking the façade of what others think of us? Could there be a coldness in our relationship to Christ where the song won’t come—and if it does come, it only comes with a time limit?

If you do sing, why? Do you sing to show off your pipes? Do you sing so people will think well of you? Do you sing, but may be offended of someone doesn’t acknowledge your talents and gifts? This also could be a sign of pride. You are using a gift that God has given you to exalt you rather than the One who gave it.

You see, friend, our audience is not each other—our audience is the crucified and risen Savior. And he gave you a song to sing when he saved you. The unholy Trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil want to take away your song. But you must fight that! Sing helps you in your worship upward to God—but it also help the person sitting beside you. Your singing encourages them in their song!

The Outward Dimension: We sing to mobilize Christians Monday through Saturday.

The people of God would always sing before battle, but especially in praise to God after a victorious battle! We sing to encourage believers here, but songs are also sung.

It must be said that each Sunday, we are unleashed. But each Sunday, we also come in from that to which we were unleashed! When we are living for Christ, trusting in Christ, witnessing for Christ, and discipling others in Christ—and Christ sustains us and continues to show himself faithful—you cannot tell me that will not fuel up and fire up our singing!

Of if we are aiming to live for Christ, but an issue comes along, a monkey wrench is thrown into our circumstances—we come and sing to remind ourselves in song about the mercy, faithfulness, and sovereignty of God in Christ.

Louie Giglio in his book The Air I Breathe, poignantly wrote:

“It’s a lot easier to sing a song than it is to stop and touch the broken. It’s a lot less taxing to go to church than to take ‘church’ to the world. But sharing with others is a sacrifice of worship that makes God smile.”

May God give us a song to sing that springs, as Larry Norman once sang, from “that sweet, sweet song of salvation.”


[1]The Baptist Hymnal, Wesley Forbis, General Editor (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1991), v.

[2]John F. MacArthur, Ephesians

[3]Luther on Music. Accessed at http://www.eldrbarry.net/mous/saint/luthmusc.htm [on-line]; Internet.

[4]MacArthur., p. 257.

[5]Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, August 29. Accessed at http://utmost.org/the-unsurpassed-intimacy-of-tested-faith/ [on-line]; Internet.

Missionaries are Citizens of the World–What Primary Citizenship Motivates You?

John Wesley (1703-1791) famously said, “The world is my parish,” meaning that his call was to go into all the world where God’s image-bearers reside and to teach them the gospel.

Billy Graham noted (1918-2018) that he did not feel like he was exclusively an American citizen, but felt as if he were a citizen of the world. He demonstrated a love for all people, regardless of what they looked like or where they were from.

Jesus said, “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), meaning that God was calling a people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation to salvation and to be a part of His heavenly Kingdom.

When we all gather around the marriage feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19), we will gather around people from all corners of the world that are our brothers and sisters. Our political affiliations will no longer be second place, but won’t have any place. Those distinctions will be secondary to our siblinghood in Christ Jesus as citizens of heaven.

Let us get fired up about the eternal, not exclusively about the temporary. If our nationalism fires us up more than our Kingdom work in Jesus and His work on the cross and His victory in the empty tomb, them our ultimate ambitions are misplaced.

 

 

No Matter the Worship Service–Jesus is the Hero because Jesus is Enough!

[Below are the opening remarks to the commissioning service we had for Scott and Kristin Morter, being sent from our church to be on-mission to Ireland. You can listen the sermon and commissioning in its entirety here.]

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:19‭-‬23 ESV).

One of the first things that we must realize at a time like this, and specifically at a service like this, is that Scott and Kristen are not the heroes here, Jesus is the hero and the point of this service. The risk whenever we have a service that’s like a Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, or even a missions emphasis, moms or dads or America or missionaries are never to be the hero of a worship service—Jesus is.

After Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples, he appeared before them even though the door was locked. The disciples locked themselves in a room out of fear. Fear of what? They were associated with Jesus, which made them Public Enemies No. 1. But Jesus told them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And he gave them the Holy Spirit who would empower them.

In Ireland recently, they have overturned every bit of legislation that protects the unborn child, and have embraced same-sex marriage—both of which go against God’s design for life and marriage/family. Christians and missionaries both in Ireland and those hoping to go to Ireland are now considered personas non grata. The message of evangelical Christians and missionaries was rejected by the government. But this is nothing new–not only the message, but the Messenger was rejected by the government of Biblical times, but that did not stop anything, did it? Why?

You see, everyone of us are sent to our “Ireland.” As God sent Jesus on a mission into enemy territory, so He has sent us to a people whose thinkng and living are against the things of Jesus. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, remember it hated me first” (John 15:18). He also said, “In this world, you will have trouble….” Where did we get the notion that Christianity is easy, trouble-free, and that we will be will be loved by everyone, everywhere. And that anything different means something is wrong.
But this is part and parcel for those who are sold out to Jesus. And this may be the reason why some fear being sold out to Jesus just as much as being unliked or unloved by the world.

Jesus is the hero because He eradicates our anxiety. “Peace be with you”—for they were afraid. He showed them his hands and his side to show them that, yes, he is alive physically. “Peace be with you” and He sent them the Holy Spirit to empower, to be an instrument by which forgiveness can be attained. So, by the power of the Spirit and by the realization of Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins and the victory this secured.He’s alive and by the Spirit we are not only not alone but have that power.

This Commissioning service is a reminder that God is still in the saving, sanctifying, and sending business. Jesus was sent. Jesus sends us!