True Peace On Earth: Guest Post by Steve McCullough

I was at an office Christmas party when I first read the news,“27 killed at Elementary School.” Immediately my heart sank.

Back in the office, I couldn’t focus on my work. What if that had happened at my son’s school? I decided to take some vacation time to ride bikes with the kids. I’d almost pushed the whole incident to the back of my mind, when I spotted a neighbor.

As I greeted her, I could see that she was upset. The news of the shooting had made her cry all the way home from work. I struggled for something to say, but nothing came. In that moment, I felt like an ineffective Christian. This bothered me all weekend.

On Sunday, God gave me an idea: have a neighborhood prayer service. One of the videos I’d worked on, Fostering the Harvest, talked about something similar being done after 9/11. It would give people a chance to honor the grieving and to process the hard questions about the incident. That afternoon, we printed invitations and passed them out in our neighborhood.

As I began to prepare what I would say, I realized that I could not properly explain this incident without including the gospel. I had to spend time on my knees begging for courage. But God was gracious, and assured me that I could speak with boldness, because real comfort is based in real truth.

On Monday evening, people from our subdivision crowded into our living room. As they began sharing, it was clear that everyone had been deeply moved by the shootings. Some even expressed fear, and bewilderment. I led the group in a prayer for those who lost loved ones, for the family of the perpetrator, and for our nation. After praying, I spoke for about three minutes. I have included a paraphrase below, hoping that it may help anyone who is still struggling to reconcile this incident with his view of God.

Incidents like the one at Sandy Hook remind me that evil is real, and present. But it was not always this way. God created a perfect world, but Man chose to listen to the Enemy, and rebel against God. This sin brought death into our world. Man hasn’t stopped rebelling against God. In fact, what happened on Friday was indeed an act of rebellion against God.

It almost seems wrong to be celebrating and enjoying the Christmas season when so many are grieving. But I have to remind myself that I don’t celebrate Christmas because of the decorations, or the fun times with the family. I celebrate Christmas because 2000 years ago, Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, and then laid that life down for my sin on the cross. He not only took my punishment—the death that I deserve—but by rising from the dead He literally defeated sin, and death. For now, He allows evil to continue. But I trust His promise that one day, He will return to earth and judge all evil. He will take those who believe in Him to a place where there will be no pain, no grief, no tears, and no death. A place where I willnever hear of events like what happened on Friday. Christmas is a time to celebrate the hope of true peace on earth.

A brother from our church sang “It Is Well with My Soul.” I shared that the author wrote this hymn while he was traveling to the funerals of his children who had tragically died. It was a beautiful example of the hope and peace found through trusting in God. I closed the service by telling our neighbors that our doors are always open to pray with them.

After the service, people signed a giant card with messages for the families in Connecticut. Many of those attending expressed how helpful it was to process such an incident together.

We are disturbed and horrified by the violence at Sandy Hook, and our hearts recoil at the pain it brought. People around us are trying to process these events. Some don’t have answers. We have hope, and the true reason to celebrate Christmas. May God open doors for us to share this with others.
Advertisements

Lord, Send Revival!

About 15 months ago, Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Caymans (what a place to suffer for Jesus, huh!?), posted an article describing how he had been encouraged after reading one of the Jonathan Edawrds works I mentioned in a post earlier this week.  I too was encouraged by this, and reminded that revival as we’re defining it (a fresh awareness of the glory and nearness of God) can only happen by God’s hand, and thus my role is to pray for Him to revive my heart and our church.  Read and enjoy, and be similarly encouraged.

Recently I dusted off my copy of Jonathan Edwards’ The Surprising Work of God, an account of the revivals in New England in the 1730s.  I’ve been freshly stirred by Edwards’ recounting of the Lord’s work in that spiritual awakening.  Consider how he described the affect on the daily life of the people:

“The people seemed to follow their worldly business more as a part of their duty than from any attachment they had to it.  It now seemed that the temptation was to neglect worldly affairs too much and to spend too much time in the immediate exercise of religion.  This was highly misrepresented by reports that were spread into other regions, as though the people here had completely thrown aside all worldly business and had committed themselves entirely to reading and praying and such religious exercises.

“Although people did not ordinarily neglect their worldly business, religion was the great concern among all sorts of people.  The world was simply incidental to them.  The only thing on their minds was to obtain the kingdom of heaven, and everyone appeared to be pressing into it.  The fixedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hidden; it appeared on their faces.  It then was a dreadful thing among us to be out of Christ, in danger every day of dropping into hell.  Indeed, the people were intent upon escaping for their lives and fleeing from the wrath to come (Matt. 3:7).”

Can you imagine?  Here were a people accused of neglecting the world and spending too much time in heavenly things.  I love how Edwards describes them: “The world was simply incidental to them.”  Don’t you get the sense that so much of today’s Christian living is afflicted with the opposite problem?  Heaven is incidental to us, so we neglect it and we’re too much involved in worldly pursuits.

Edwards goes on to describe the effect:

“There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world.  Those who were typically the vainest and loosest, and those who had been inclined to think and speak lightly of vital and practical religion, were now generally subject to great awakenings.  The work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and it increased more and more.  Souls literally came by flocks to Jesus Christ.  From day to day, for many months at a time, sinners were brought out of darkness into marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9), delivered out of a horrible pit and from the miry clay, and set upon a rock witha new song of praise to God in their mouths (Ps. 40:2-3).

“This work of God, as it went on and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious change in the town, so that in the following spring and summer of 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God.  It has never been so full o f love and joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then.  There were remarkable signs of God’s presence in almost every household.  It was a time of joy in families because salvation had been brought to them: parents rejoiced over their children as if they had again been born, and husbands rejoiced over their wives, and wives over their husbands.  The workings of God were then seen in His sanctuary (Ps. 68:24), the Lord’s Day was a delight (Isa. 58:13), and His tabernacles were amiable (Ps. 84:1).”

Perhaps you live in a place that needs to be filled with the presence of God, with the joy and love that comes from His presence?  Perhaps you dwell where “a great effusion of the Spirit of God” is desperately needed?  I live in such a place.  The church I shepherd is such a people.  My own home is such a place.  Indeed, my very soul needs this renovating, reviving work of God.
Consider this supernatural work at its height:

“This work seemed to be at its greates height in this town in the early part of the spring, in March and April.  At that time, God’s work in the conversion of souls was carried on among us in such a wonderful manner that, so far as I can judge, it appears to have been at the rate of at least four people a day, or nearly thirty in a week, for five or six weeks in a row.  When God took the work in His own hands in such a remarkable manner, there was as much done in a day or two as was usually done in a year with all the effort and blessing that are usually allotted to men.”

My soul cries out, “God take this work in your own hands!”  Can you imagine a season where at least four people per day every day are born again by the Spirit’s working?!  And that for five or six weeks!  I would rejoice if it were just one day–today.  I’d be overcome if it were a week.  But I’d lose my mind with joy to know weeks or months of Spirit-wrought revival, a great in-gathering of souls for our Savior!

Oh, come Lord Jesus!  Revive your people and renew sinners!  Bring in the ransomed with a great demonstration of your Spirit’s power.  Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Loving Muslims

Yesterday we discussed Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 where He exhorts His followers to love both our neighbors and our enemies.  Regardless of our emotional response to 9/11, we’re commanded to love Muslims.  This doesn’t mean we need to acquiesce to their beliefs, but that we simply “move towards them” as the Good Samaritan did in Luke 10.  We are to move towards Muslims that the Lord has placed in the middle of the road upon which we are travelling, and seek to live out the Gospel in front of them in both word and action.  This is what it means to love Muslims….to care for them, to pray for them, to minister to them, to share the Gospel with them, and to put their needs and concerns above our own personal needs and concerns.

The International Mission Board has provided some excellent resources to help us with this at www.lovingmuslims.com.  Check out the following videos that came from that site.  In addition, you will find prayer guides, small group studies, and links to some excellent resources on how to share the Gospel and “move towards” Muslims with the Gospel both in our own communities and around the world.

Let’s set aside our personal offenses and biases and obey our Master to love on Muslims.

 

Day 30: Galatians 5 – Philippians 1

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, bu human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14, Emphasis added)

A couple of years ago, my wife and I went away together for a weekend to Knoxville, TN. While there, we went to a place called the Museum of Appalachia. It was an entire campus of buildings dedicated to the people, history arts, and crafts of the Appalachian Mountains, which is where my ancestors have called home since before the Revolutionary War. That’s right, I am a Hillbilly. Is anyone really surprised?

I loved this museum. There was one building in particular that I enjoyed most and it was dedicated to a man you’ve probably never heard of. His name was Harold Mayes.

As a young man, Mayes became ill to the point where the doctors had given up all hope of his recovery. In what he thought were his last moments, he cried out to God saying; “Lord, if you get me through this I will live for you for the rest of my life and I will spread your name everywhere I can.”

Miraculously, he recovered. True to his word, Harold Mayes dedicated his life to the service of the Gospel and did what he thought was the best thing, he decided to become a vocational minister.

His pastor gave him a chance to preach in his little country church but Mayes’ first sermon was an absolute disaster. Harold realized after that first Sunday that he was simply not gifted as a preacher, and that God had obviously not called him to serve Him in that way. The problem was that Mayes was still burning with a passion for the Gospel and a desire to make the message of Christ known.

Harold had always been gifted in working with his hands. So one day, he went out to his shop on his property and created a large cross made of concrete into which he carved Scripture verses that preached the Gospel of Christ. He then took that cross and placed it on the side of a stretch of road where people would see it as they passed by.

From that first cross, a life-long ministry was born. Harold spent the rest of his life making those crosses and placing them along the highways and byways of the American road system all over the country. He even made crosses that were to be set aside for the days when men and women colonized the moon. He wanted to make sure that the Gospel was preached everywhere. At one point, there were thousands of his crosses with the message of the Gospel all over the country. Perhaps you saw them in your childhood as you traveled with your family. Now, you know where they came from.

You may be wondering how Harold made a living. Simple, he did what he always did, he worked in the Appalachian coal mines. In fact, Mayes never accepted a single dime from anyone else for his work with the crosses. He paid for all of the materials and travel expenses out of his own pockets. He would often work two 12-hour shifts in the mines. He said that he worked “One shift for his family, and one for the Lord.”

Thanks to his disastrous sermon (he never preached another one) Harold Mayes came to understand something we often miss and that is that the ministry of the Gospel is not the “job” of the professional clergy, it is the calling of everyone who is a follower of Christ.

The clergy’s job is to prepare us to take the Gospel to our world in whatever ways we are gifted to do so. WE are the ones who are doing the work of the ministry. It’s up to us. Any pastor worth his salt will tell you that business people, teachers, homemakers, whatever, will take the Gospel farther than they ever will.

So let’s do it. Let’s do the work of the ministry. What does that mean for you? What is God calling you to do for Him?

Day 21: Acts 16-20

Today’s reading is the story of a great journey. It’s the journey of Paul and his companions to take the Gospel to the world in obedience to the command of Christ in Matthew 28 to “make disciples of all nations.”

Let’s take a moment to consider some of the events along this journey. It’s a wild ride, but there is one simple thing that is the primary highlight of the whole story.

Acts 16

  • Paul and his companions keep trying to preach the Gospel but are blocked again and again by the Holy Spirit before finally being allowed to take the Gospel to Macedonia.
  • While there, they preach the Gospel to a businesswoman named Lydia and she comes to faith in Christ.
  • Paul casts a demon out of a slave girl but because the girl was a source of income for her owners as a fortune teller, Paul and Silas are beaten and then thrown into prison.
  • While in prison, Paul and Silas are worshiping and God causes an earthquake, which sets them free from their chains.
  • The jailer thinks everyone has escaped so he is ready to kill himself. Paul stops him and preaches the Gospel to the jailer.
  • The jailer and his entire household are born again.

Acts 17

  • Paul and Silas preach the Gospel in Thessalonica and because Jewish leaders were jealous of the popularity of the Gospel message, they gather some wicked men and convince them to riot.
  • Paul and Silas are sent in secret to Berea, where they preach the Gospel and many are born again.
  • After the Jews in Thessalonica hear about the Jews in Berea getting saved, they show up in town and start another riot.
  • Paul escapes to Athens.
  • While Paul is waiting in Athens for his friends to show up, he is heartbroken over all the idolatry in that city so he starts preaching the Gospel every day to anyone who will listen.
  • Paul ultimately preaches the Gospel in the Aropagus (which is where all the “smart” people would hang out).

Acts 18

  • Paul goes from Athens to Corinth where he starts to work at his trade as a tent maker and preaches the Gospel every day.
  • Paul goes to Ephesus and preaches the Gospel.
  • Paul went to Caesarea, Antioch, Galatia, and Phrygia preaching the Gospel.

Acts 19

  • Paul comes back to Ephesus and preaches the Gospel.
  • He spends two years there, working at his trade and preaching the Gospel every day. God works through him in such a way that all the residents in Asia hear the message of Christ.
  • God brings an incredible revival through Paul’s ministry. Miracles are being performed and many pagan magicians start burning their books of magic and repenting and getting saved.
  • Because of Paul’s ministry and so many people being born again, the idol makers are nearly put out of business. So what do they do? They start a riot…of course.

What a life Paul and his companions lived! What amazing adventures and what an incredible impact they had on the world. Yet, when you look at the story of their journey, it’s really all very simple.

No matter where they were, or what they were doing, they had one single priority:

Preach. The. Gospel.

That’s it. That’s what life was about for them. Wherever they found themselves, they would preach the Gospel. It didn’t matter if they were at work, or in the public square, or in the cultural center of the city, or in prison, or in the middle of a riot! They focused on their only mission, which was to preach the Gospel.

Why do we insist on making things so complicated? Why do we insist on muddling our lives with so much, when our entire life as Christians comes down to this one very simple thing?

We are on this planet to preach the Gospel. Wherever we are, and whatever we are doing, let’s just preach the Gospel. It’s really that simple.

I’m going to let Paul have the last word here:

I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24, ESV)

Book Recommendation: Which Real “Jesus”?

NewBranch was privileged enough last month to have Dr. Steve Bateman of First Bible church in Decatur, AL speak at our 2nd missions conference. If you haven’t heard those 3 sermons I encourage you to have a listen here.

Dr. Bateman wrote a book entitled Which “Real” Jesus? Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, and the Early American Roots of the Current Debate. Following the missions conference, I gave it a read and loved it! Let me give you a few reasons why I love it. Hopefully this will serve as an encouragement for you to pick up a copy from our resource table on Sunday mornings.

1. It’s relevant for the Christian: As Dr. Bateman points out, Jesus is under attack by a number of scholars who wish to separate the Jesus of history from the Jesus of the Bible. Also, many well known spokesmen for Atheism like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins want to remove Jesus all together.

In this book, Dr. Bateman shows where these debates began to take root in American history, advocates of each side, and how Christians today should humbly respond to such criticisms of the real Jesus of the Bible.

2. It’s relevant for the Skeptic: There were a number of times while reading this when I thought, “I wish I had this when I was talking to _______”. I already know of 2 people I am sending this to. The book acts not only as a brief American history of the debate of the real Jesus but also as an apologetic for the Jesus of the Bible.

3. Jonathan Edwards: The book gives a great introduction to one of the most important Christians in America:

“…if any reader grows in appreciation for the remarkable contribution of Jonathan Edwards, not only to our understanding of the real Jesus but to the history of America, I will be a happier man. Jonathan Edward’s was widely viewed as America’s greatest theologian and philosopher. But he was a local pastor. not a college or seminary professor, and he took seriously his duty to prepare his congregation- people who spent their weekdays running businesses, selling products, building houses, teaching school, growing crops, administering government, and raising children to ‘contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.’” (p.3)

4. Humble Confidence: Dr. Bateman is aware of man’s pride in defending anything, even the Jesus of the Bible. The book ends with a call to humble confidence in defending the supremacy of Christ noting, “There is a direct link between humility before God and humility before people.” (p.153) We are to be humble but not ignorant, humble but not unsure, humble but not silent (p.157).

In short, I would describe this book as a great help in applying 1 Peter 3:15 to our lives: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”

 

Yielding, When We Should Be Going

Each morning, I drive my son to school.  It’s a great time to just hang with him, hear about what’s in store for him that day, remind him I love him. and pray with him.  On the way home there is an intersection that apparently causes some drivers to suffer temporary amnesia. Many of those who approach this intersection with the intention of making a right turn, yield instead of going ahead and turning.  Now, yielding is important because if we all drove our cars without yielding, then we’d have accidents every day; however, yielding at an intersection where you don’t have a “yield sign” is not only annoying to other drivers, it’s also dangerous.

Let me try to paint the picture for you.  These characters roll up to the intersection with their right turn signal on.  I’m coming the other way, attempting to turn left.  Without a yield sign, what are they supposed to do?  They are supposed to go ahead and turn right.  But do they do that?  No.  They stop and wait for me to turn left in front of them.  This bothers me.  I’m not sure why, but it bothers me.  I’m waiting for them to do what they’re supposed to do (turn right), and they are waiting for me to turn left.  All the while, the traffic builds up behind both of us, and then the horns begin to blare.  Not only does this annoy me, but it’s also dangerous.   Now, I’m in danger of making a hasty decision to turn left in front of oncoming traffic because the folks behind me don’t know why I’m not turning.  And consider the folks who are behind the too-cautious-to-turn-right-guy.  They’re blaring their horns trying to get this guy to see that he has the right-of-way, and should go ahead and turn right.  More than a few times, I’ve nearly collided in these situations because we both end up turning at the same time.  Nice!

All because someone decided to “yield”, when they should have been “going”.  Again, learning how to yield is an important part of driving; however, yielding when you should be going is not only annoying and dangerous….its also against the law.  When there is no yield sign, we’re supposed to “go”.

No, this post is not about my driving idiosyncrasies, and yes, these is a spiritual parallel.

We who profess to be Jesus’ disciples have been told to “Go”, but far too many of us “yield” instead. We’ve been given a command to “go and make disciples of all nations”…that is to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost people around us and partner with Him as He transforms people from living for self to living for God’s glory as a disciple of Jesus.  This means we are to “go”.  Go to our lost friends and family.  Go to our lost neighbors.  Go to the lost in our community.  Go to the lost around the world.  Go, Go, Go.

But instead of “going”, we “yield”.

Learning how to “yield” is a critical part of growing as a disciple of Jesus.  After all, it was Jesus who modeled yielding for us when He cried out to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was arrested, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  Yielding is remembering that we are not our own, but have been bought with a price.  It is remembering that the reason for our existence is to glorify our God, not ourselves.  It is finding joy in pleasing Christ, rather than in pleasing self.  Ultimately, yielding is doing the will of the Father, not our own will.

But if the Father says “Go”, and instead we’re “yielding”…then we’re not just yielding, we’re breaking the law.

We yield for a number of reasons.  Just as the “too-cautious-to-turn-right” guy, sometimes we yield because we’re afraid.  Fearful of not saying the right things and fumbling over our own words in an attempt to share the Gospel.  Fearful of what others might think of us if we talked to them about the hope we have in Christ.  Fearful of being seen as different; of being rejected.  Other times we yield because “going” doesn’t fit into our schedule or “our plans”.  It takes us out of our comfort zone.  It requires us to change priorities.  It means we may need to give something up in order to “go”.

Regardless of the reason, our “yielding” when the Father has told us to “Go”, simply means that we are yielding to “self” instead of yielding to our God.

Friends, Jesus said, “Go”.  That’s His plan for your life.  Are you going? Or are you sitting in the turn lane, “yielding” to your plan instead?