What Does Ministry Require?

When I think of ministry and ministers, I think of this group of men and others like them. I have had the privilege of associating with these men during my 42 years of ministry and especially this group for the past decade. These men represent what great ministry is all about. Each one has his own unique personality, abilities and gifts, but there is one common quality I want to mention that they share. It is a rare quality and one that unfortunately has grown rarer in the past few years. (I am intentionally refusing to make any comments about the guy with the green-striped shirt in the middle) 🙂

When I think of successful pastors with successful ministries, I think of these men. It is not because their ministries meet the current standards in measuring successful ministry. They do not have a large following or large ministries. They have not written best-selling books on ministry nor have they been published in leading ministry magazines nor have they received media attention for their efforts. They do not have multi-site churches and they may preach to a relatively small group of people. As far as I know, they have not spoken at large conferences (with possibly one exception) or garnered a spotlight on their efforts. They have trudged away in the trenches of ministry day after day for a combined 350+ years, tirelessly seeking to carry out the calling God has placed on their lives. Some have done so with significant personal challenges: fighting health issues, bi-vocational work demands, and the never ending needs of their congregations. They have done so with grace, diligence, and a singular resolve to finish the course set before them. They are among my heroes of the faith along with those mentioned in Hebrews 11. Yes, I put them right up there with those saints of old.

What common quality makes them stand out? They each exhibit that rare quality of FAITHFULNESS.

In 1 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul tells his followers how to think of him and how to evaluate him. He is a minister (a slave) of Christ and a steward (manager) of the mysteries of God. Ministers are not CELEBRITIES! They should not be self-seeking, self-centered, or self-promoting. They are simply servants, called to serve Christ by serving His people.

Jesus reminds us: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” – Luke 17:10

The requirement is “that a man be found faithful.” And we will be evaluated by God, not by others or by ourselves. Others do not see the sleepless nights praying over some person with a serious need. Others do not see the sacrificial service or the anonymous giving. Others do not carry the weight of hurting people or spiritual concern, the weight of feeling the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of their people. We cannot even make a true evaluation of ourselves and our ministry. Many times we have served, thinking that we failed in our efforts, but are unaware of the real impact that service has made. Sometimes we may have felt that we were fairly successful in our efforts, but were blind to the ineffectiveness of that service and the pride that generated it. Ministry is not about having our names in lights or large congregations filling our churches. Ministry is about serving Christ by serving others. It is often ignored, unappreciated, and scorned by others. Only God knows what we have done for Him, how we have served, why we have served and the extent of our labor for Him. And only He can properly evaluate our ministry.


  • It is doing the same thing over and over, day after day, year after year, not because it is always rewarding, fulfilling, and exciting, BUT because it is important, necessary and right.
  • It is doing what is needed, indeed what Christ expects, whether or not it is well-received, popular, or rewarded. We choose to obey God rather than men.
  • It is doing what is right, no matter the consequences.It is serving, because we are called to serve, not because we are paid to serve.
  • It is serving, not because people appreciate it, but because God expects it.

I am not God and I cannot evaluate the ministry of the group of men pictured above. I am not saying that they are flawless or perfect. But I can say that I have observed the quality of FAITHFULNESS in each of their lives and I applaud it!

Posted in Musings from the Manse | 1 Comment

Charlottesville from a Broader View

Charlottesville may be one of the most recent settings for the display of the poison of hatred and violence, but it certainly is not the first place and, unfortunately, will not be the last. I am no prophet; I am only a student of human nature. Sadly, people feel that, in order to be heard and bring about change, they must shout, agitate, and inflict harm. As a Christian, I stand opposed to violence and hatred. When Christians have taken a stand throughout the centuries, they have chosen to be persecuted, rather than deny their faith and renounce their allegiance to the Savior. But rather than lashing out, they chose to "turn the other cheek." Rather than violently displaying anger, frustration, and disagreement, they willingly suffered at the hands of violent men. Their example should point us in right direction in these days of angry rhetoric and violent protests.

Neither do I wish to deny that certain groups of people have been the recipients of violence, hatred, and prejudice for simply no other reason than their skin color, their national origin, their cultural heritage, their religion or their sex. The sad fact about the human race and our various differences is this: we seem to see differences as deficiencies to be put down, punished, or stamped out rather than as beneficial advantages to be celebrated, appreciated and utilized. In any relationship, if two people are exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary. We cannot lift ourselves up by putting others down. Proclaiming that others are inferior does not prove our supposed superiority. Tearing others down will not make us feel better about ourselves. It is our differences that allow us to be of help to one another; it is our unique abilities that enable us to contribute the most to others; it is our differences that allow us to provide our strength in another's weakness and accept their strength in our weakness, thus enabling us both to be stronger together than alone. It is our differences that challenge us to think from a different perspective, gain a deeper understanding, and garner a new appreciation of those differences.

I do not want you to think that I believe all differences of opinion, ideology and theology are created equal. Some are true while the opposite is not. Some are beneficial while others are destructive. Some are clear while others are ambiguous. When I speak of differences, I do not refer to differences of opinion or thought. I refer to innate differences, differences over which we have no control, differences infused into us by our Creator. We must embrace those differences.

As a Christian who believes the Bible and its explanations of human origins, I want to say more than these things: Racism is wrong! Violence is wrong! Love is our overarching value! I must also say that, according to the Bible, race itself is a wrong way to view humanity and human beings. The Bible only knows one race: the human race. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve. We share their DNA. We come from the same stock. Adam called his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20). Paul's argument in Romans 5:12-21 only makes sense by viewing mankind as a unit where all are affected by the actions of our ancestor Adam.

Acts 17:24-27 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation;

I do not presume to think that we do not divide ourselves into various groupings. The Bible acknowledges this when in the book of Revelation we are told about those from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Revelation 5:9). But one of the goals of God's plan of redemption for the human race is that of breaking down the barriers that divide us. In the Apostle Paul's world humanity was divided into two groups: Jews and Gentiles, but he says that God's plan is to abolish what separates them ("the dividing wall of hostility").

Ephesians 2:14-16 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

In the gospel, we find the answer to violence, hatred and bitterness.

2 Corinthians 5:14-21 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Think of it. When we embrace the gospel, Christ's sacrificial love for us now compels us to love others. As Paul says, the love of God has been poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5). We no longer live for ourselves. We seek to serve others. We have been reconciled to God and we are now ambassadors of Christ sharing the message of reconciliation. Reconciliation: bringing people to God and bringing people together. This is the opposite of worldly wisdom: earthly, natural, demonic (James 3:15). Earthly wisdom is manifested where jealousy and selfish ambition exist in disorder and every evil thing (James 3:16).

James 3:17-18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

If we embrace the biblical explanation of human origins, we will seek to look past the superficial differences that seem to divide us and seek to embrace our common heritage, our connectedness, our identity as a part of a large family, the human race. If we embrace the gospel, we will embrace the teachings, values and goals of the gospel. As Christians, we will also embrace the privilege of belonging to the family of God, the household of faith, a brotherhood of believers, the church of God. This family is made up of people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation from every generation and will display the beauty and splendid variety of God's glorious kingdom.

Until we Christians view people the way the Bible teaches and until we love them the way God does, we will continue to be a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

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The Death of a Church

Sadly, churches, like individuals, die. This has been on my mind and heart recently, since one of our sister churches in my denomination, a church from which the church I pastor sprung up, closed its doors. In fact, it has so weighed on my mind that I arose at 2:30 A.M. to begin writing this post. The church was one with a long history of ministry in its community. It had been pastored by men I knew personally and respected greatly. It was a seedbed for raising up pastors from its ranks. It is gone and the loss brings the same stages of emotion as the death of a person: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Even though I was not personally connected to the church since I was not the pastor, a member, or close friend of members, I have been affected by the loss. I know people who are grieving because this is or was their church. Some had a close association with the church at one time in their lives. Some have known or been associated with the pastors I mentioned. Some used to call this church their home church. Now it is gone and grief is the only way to describe the loss.

Sadly, when churches die, there is no obituary posted, no funeral service conducted, no burial plot to visit, and no autopsy performed. In essence, there are few opportunities for people to understand what happened or to gather and mourn the loss. Grief is present, but opportunities for expressing and processing that grief are absent. People are left to grieve alone or to find their own way to process their grief. It doesn't seem right that a church can close its doors without some kind of opportunity to recognize its impact on the lives of others and to let the survivors (those present members who are left) know the depth of the loss.

Sadly, the estimates are that between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors each year (see http://www.churchleadership.org). They do so for various reasons, but one reason that cannot be avoided is another statistic: 3,500 people leave the church each day. Many do so hurt and disillusioned. A pastor friend (Bill Keaton) collected a list of church diseases and published them in a diagnostic tool for an emphasis we were calling Great Commission Churches. Sadly, I have been unable to locate my copy, but I did find a list of diseases on the website: http://www.chucklawless.com. He lists the following diseases:

Community Disconnect Disease. Churches with this disease meet within a given community, but they do not know that community.

Methodological Arthritis. The name says it all: this church is stuck in doing things the way they’ve always done them.

The “Grass is Greener” Syndrome. This syndrome is a malady where pastors or people see this church as a temporary place to be until they can find a "better" church.

Professional Wrestling Sickness. Sooner or later, we realize that in PWS it’s all fake. The church with PWS talks a good game in standing for righteousness, but hypocrisy is everywhere.

Program Nausea. Churches with Program Nausea try a program, toss it soon, and then quickly try the next one. They never seem to find a stability on which to build a ministry.

Baby Believer Malady. This congregation is doing evangelism well, but they have no strategy to grow new believers. Their unwritten, and wrong, assumption is, “As long as you show up for our small groups and worship service, you’ll grow.”

Theological Self-Deception Ailment. While no church with an unbiblical theology can be healthy, TSDA is characterized by a belief that teaching theology is all that is required to be a healthy church.

“Unrecoverable Void” Syndrome.  Church leaders and laypersons alike suffer from an overemphasis on self-importance, characterized by statements like, “This church will close its doors after I’m gone.” Church members with UVS fail to realize that God’s church will go on without any of us.

Talking in Your Sleep Disease. They go through the motions, but the motions lack energy. They meet for worship, yet the atmosphere is lifeless.

Congregational Myopia. The congregation with this condition is nearsighted, focusing on themselves only. They have no vision for the future, and they fail to see that their current direction will likely lead to further disease and decline.

I am sure that, if we were to conduct more thorough research, we could come up with other common ailments and diseases. The point is that, just as with individuals, churches may become unhealthy with one or more diseases that, if left untreated, can bring about their demise. The first requirement is to recognize the symptoms. The next is to diagnose the problem. Then a treatment must be prescribed. And, of course, the patient must be willing to undergo treatment. The sad fact is that, just as in cases with individuals, this all too often comes too late to save the patient. Early diagnosis provides the greatest opportunity for successful treatment. Prevention (pursuing healthy practices for church development and growth) is the best way to avoid these diseases, just as pursuing a healthy lifestyle is the best defense against illness and disease.

I hope that you have been able to stay with me through the more theoretical and less personal aspects of this post. I believe that the information is important and relevant, but I want to return to the personal matter of grief. The death of any individual we know subjects us to the contemplation of our own death. Mortality presses upon us as we face the death of a loved one. We wonder about how we may face death and we are reminded that death is inevitable for each of us (unless the Lord returns before we die).

Of course, the longevity of a church certainly may exceed that of an individual and I don't personally believe that its death is inevitable. In this, the analogy breaks down. But we do live in a world of chaos, confusion, and destruction, a world of death. Although it doesn't have to be inevitable, I believe that it is always a possibility for a local church to grow ill and die. In my own denomination I have seen almost half of our churches close in my 42 years of ministry. Several of those churches that closed were churches I had pastored. It is with a heavy heart that I recall the memory of my time there in those churches and the once vibrant ministry conducted there.

When a church closes, we ask ourselves, even if our church seems vibrant and healthy, "Could this happen to my church?" It is not a question to ask lightly. When we hear of the closing of another church, we should take seriously the opportunity to consider the health of our church, to observe any symptoms that might indicate some illness or disease, and to take preventative steps to address any problems we see. Overconfidence and complacency are our greatest enemies. We ignore the signs of illness to our peril. If we wait to long, the disease may become terminal.

But there is hope. About 1,000 churches are born each year and that number is increasing. Also, many churches have recovered from one or more of the diseases mentioned above. Death is not inevitable and the prospect of revival is encouraging. We should not lose heart or grow weary in well-doing. If we do not faint, we will reap the fruit of our labors. The work of ministry may be for people, but it is not about people. The one requirement for a steward (manager) is faithfulness. We answer to the Lord of the harvest, the Head of the church, the King of kings and Lord of lords. We don't need to build the church, because he said, "I will build my church." We were left with one priority, "seek first my kingdom." We were left with one activity, "stay busy in the work till I come." We were left with one reminder, "the servant only needs to please his master."

As I heard one pastor put it, "I would rather BURN OUT than RUST OUT in the ministry!

You need the church and the church needs you. I'm not ready for my church to die, because Christ died for the church. He wants his church to fire up, hold up, study up, stand up, wake up, toughen up, and fess up! (See Revelation, chapters 2 and 3).

  1. Do you understand that the church is NOT man's invention, but God's design?
  2. Are you burdened for the local church to which you belong?
  3. Are you praying for it fervently?
  4. Are you ready and willing to serve diligently?
  5. Do you desire to do all you can to prevent the death of your church?
Posted in Musings from the Manse | 1 Comment

Truth and Negativity

I’ve been hearing a lot about “being positive” lately. It would seem that the greatest sin, the root of the world’s evils, is being negative. Now, I understand that negative thinking can drag people down, be unproductive and destructive, or turn people off. Although I don’t want to appear to endorse a negative mindset or support the negative approach many are taking, I wonder where truth and positive thinking are required to part ways.

Nobody wants to hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, especially when it is negative. Take the doctor’s dilemma. Should she be “positive” and encouraging and just stroke her patient with “don’t worry; you’ll be fine.” Or should she dash his hopes and shatter his world with the truth: “your body is riddled with cancer and we don’t know how much longer you’ll be able to survive this.” She may attempt to remain positive in her attitude as she shares this gut-wrenching news, but she would be guilty of malpractice should she choose to ignore the diagnosis and fail to share the “negative” situation with her patient. As unpleasant as it often can be, negative news must be shared, because it represents reality.

I have been involved in ministry for 41 years. I have sought to see the truth, believe the truth, and share the truth in love. I have always thought that ministry should be founded on the truth. And now that the truth is no longer in vogue, no longer valued, I still find that I cannot, for that reason, renounce it. I am convinced that it is needed now more than ever.

Do people seriously believe that maintaining a positive mental attitude while ignoring bad habits, destructive behavior, wasteful spending, shallow thinking and irresponsible living will really create “a positive environment” and yield a “good life?” Are we so shallow that we really believe it is more important to feel good about ourselves than to face the problems and challenges before us? How can we feel good about ourselves while ignoring “reality” staring us down? I don’t think that we should “throw in the towel” or give in to “self-loathing.” Obviously, remaining positive that things can change, that we can change, is important.

The truth does not need to be “negative” or bring on “negative thinking.” Even negative truth can bring positive change, when we face reality and and deal with it responsibly and appropriately. My positive attitude does not come from ignoring the truth, but by embracing it and determining that the God I serve, who says that he will be with me and enable me to overcome, will help me deal with whatever negative truth I face. The only way to move forward with positive change is to face the negative situation with grace and resolve. Otherwise, I will splash in “positive thinking,” while sinking in the pond of negative reality. While admitting the reality of a negative situation, I can remain positive in my attitude and hopeful in my situation, trusting in a God who will not let me go. That’s the TRUTH.

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A Perennial Problem for God’s People

This is in response to a comment from Linda on my blog post: In the World or of the World.

Numbers 25:1-3: While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

2 Corinthians 6:14: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

Revelation 2:14: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.

All through the Old Testament and the New Testament, even into the book of Revelation, God, through the prophets and apostles, frequently warned his people about allowing ungodly and worldly influences to pull them away from him and their faith. Anyone familiar with the story of Israel as recounted in the Old Testament can confirm that those warnings often went unheeded, bringing judgment upon them.

It seems that many in this present generation have turned the doctrine of grace into a license to sin, since forgiveness is just a breath away. They live careless, reckless lives believing that grace forms an invincible net to catch them whenever they fall. They fail to consider the tremendous impact the world is making in their lives and they are unaware of the awful price they will pay for their spiritual adultery.

We must return to lives of holiness and the message of holiness. This is a facet of grace omitted in Christian circles today: grace to not only forgive past sin, but grace to cleanse from present sin and grace to empower godly living.

SO, what do we do?

  1. We need to lead the way and set the example. We must not underestimate the power of a godly lifestyle to make an impact on others.
  2. We need to help swing the pendulum back toward a balanced Biblical viewpoint by reemphasizing holiness and holy living. 
  3. We need to constantly monitor the effect the world is having on us, and make spiritual adjustments where necessary (repentance, refusing bad influences, etc.). 
  4. We need to reconsider the role of the spiritual disciplines in maintaining spiritual health (Bible reading and study, prayer, meditation, fasting, etc.)
  5. We need to be more observant of family and friends, seeking to encourage and exhort them when we see warning signs of approaching dangers.
  6. We must not underestimate the power of our human nature to explain away, excuse, or otherwise justify compromising, worldly thinking or behavior. 
  7. We need to be “filled with the Spirit”, who will empower us to live lives that please our Lord.

The words of an old hymn come to mind as I consider the struggle we face (and yes, Linda, it is, and has always been, a hard struggle). 

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
I’ll praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
Mount of thy redeeming love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by thy help I come
And I hope by thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wondering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

Posted in Musings from the Manse | 1 Comment

In the World or of the World?

Accommodation – a process of mutual adaptation between persons or social groups, usually achieved by eliminating or reducing hostility.

James 4:4: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

Accommodation isn’t always bad. If I want Mexican cuisine and you want Italian, accommodating your appetite by choosing Olive Garden over Pancho Villa is a gesture of friendship. No harm to either of us, except possible indigestion. Maybe you want to go to a concert and I prefer an action movie. Navigating such differences in preferences is a daily occurrence. Each of us makes choices to accommodate others and create a smoother, more tranquil environment. 

However, if I choose to adapt my beliefs or alter my behavior to accommodate your beliefs, I have rejected my core convictions and given in to appease you or at least to minimize discomfort between us. My sin is that of thinking that it is more important to please you or others or to fit in than to please God. Christians have always felt the tension between being in the world and being of the world. We live and so must function in a world of conflicting opinions, convictions, beliefs, values, priorities, and behaviors. We must find a way to navigate this maze of conflicts without contradicting our core beliefs. We must make some accommodations in this effort, but if we go too far, we fall into a pit of miry clay called “worldliness.” It is the opposite of godliness and puts us at odds with the God we claim to serve, making us his enemies.

Worldliness – the sinful tendency to conform to the world, to be contrasted with the biblical command to maintain contact with the world while avoiding becoming like the world. Believers are called to live in the world, while not being of the world.

1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

2 Corinthians 6:14-17: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. 

As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”

And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.”

Two aspects of worldliness are presented in the previous verses. First, worldliness involves adopting the values, priorities, and goals of the world system. Falling in love with the world keeps us from recognizing, accepting and following God’s way. I saw on the local newscast that a pro-football rookie had decided to give up a lucrative contract to pursue the ministry. People who have adopted an attitude of worldliness fail to understand the magnitude of such a decision. Neither would they understand the decision of Moses to reject being known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and to endure hardship with God’s people. The author of Hebrews explains it this way:

“He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (11:25-26)

Worldly-minded people would consider such choices as foolish and radical. Why couldn’t this rookie take a few years to play ball and then give himself to another pursuit, after he has become financially secure? Why couldn’t Moses stay in Egypt and help the Israelites as a Prince of Egypt rather than reject that life for the wilderness? Worldly people simply don’t get that God has better plan, though, at the time, the plan may seem foolish, even ridiculous, to them. 

I have often said that the difference between faith and foolishness is not how wise or how ridiculous the plan may seem. The difference is whether this is God’s plan or just my hair-brained idea. God’s ways, being higher than our ways, are not understood by worldly people, so they think those ways are foolish, but Spirit-minded people see God’s hand at work and recognize His wisdom. 

Worldliness is an attitude, a mindset, that accommodates the world system, seeking to be a part of it rather than standing against it.

Second, worldliness also involves relationships. We show ourselves to be worldly when we choose to go along with others (with the crowd) rather than choosing NOT to be defiled by the sinful pursuits of the world (see Daniel 1). Daniel “purposes in his heart” not to defile himself by rejecting the lifestyle to which God had called him. He said “no” to the lavish lifestyle of the king’s court and “yes” to God’s commands, thus receiving the blessing of God upon his life. He even said “yes” to God, though it cost him a night in the lion’s den.

We often think that we can reach people and influence them for God by becoming involved with them in their sinful ways. That’s probably what the Corinthian Christians were saying to themselves, as they were going with pagans to offer sacrifices to the pagan’s Gods and joining in their pagan rituals and feasts there in the idol temples. It seems we overestimate our ability to influence others and underestimate sin’s power to tempt us. The Apostle Paul confronts the Corinthians for falling to temptation and submitting to idolatry and sexual immorality. I’m sure that’s not what they started out to accomplish, but evil has a powerful pull on even the strong-minded. 

1 Corinthians 15:33-34 – Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

I often give a spiritual inventory to people I counsel which asks a long series of specific and personal questions. Honest answers to those questions yield spiritual fruit. Here is a sample:

1) Do I love what God loves and hate what God hates? Yes or No

2) Am I hurt by things that hurt the Lord? Yes or No 

3) Do I delight and thrill in things that please the Lord? Yes or No

4) Do I value highly things that God values? Yes or No
(Winning lost souls, His Word, prayer, etc.) 

5) Is my value system:
( ) Eternal (“things not seen”) or ( ) Temporal (for getting all I can right now, “things seen”) 

If you immediate shun these questions or begin to mentally make excuses or justifications, you have already begun to walk the worldly path. Once you start down that dark path, it will begin to dominate your life.

So, what do we do when we realize that we have given in to the ways of the world and begun to develop a spirit of worldliness? When I am headed in the wrong direction, my Maps app barks at me, “Make a U-turn!” You need to turn around and head in the right direction…IMMEDIATELY!

The Bible calls that “repentance.”

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Living to Die or Dying to Live

Between 40 and 45 years ago I was challenged to choose a life verse: a verse that would challenge, encourage and direct my life and, at the end, sum up what my life stood for. I somehow chose Philippians 1:21. I’m not sure what prompted that choice, but I am glad to say that, for me, it was a great one. I have been challenged by it, over and over again.

Early this morning while I was driving to work I heard a song that reminded me again of my life verse. See and hear it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obyCBevabGk. Performed by Sidewalk Prophets, it is called “To Live Is Christ”.

Philippians 1:21 (KJV)
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Perhaps a little background information would be helpful before I tell you why this verse is so important and special to me. The Apostle Paul, writing from prison in Rome to a supporting church in Philippi, opens his letter to them by explaining how the things that have happened to him recently, things that would seem to be harmful and hampering to his purpose to preach the gospel, have actually given him and others opportunity to share the gospel in a greater way. Certainly some people have used Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity to malign his ministry and to seek to make a name for themselves and build up their reputation at his expense. He does not condone their motives but he rejoices that the gospel is being shared nonetheless. Then he presents his driving desire to the Philippians.

For to me

This is a personal choice. It cannot be made by another for me. It cannot be forced upon me. I have to decide what will be important to me in life. I have to decide what I will value, what I will pursue in life. The direction my life takes will be determined by that choice. The choices of my life will be influenced by what I decide to make my priority. I must choose wisely. Paul was confident in his choice, believing that, “according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed… .”

Christine Caine, in her book Unashamed, shares about the time she hurriedly and thoughtlessly caught a train she thought was heading into the city where she went to school, but discovered that it was an express train headed in the opposite direction far from the city. The distress and sickening feeling of heading in the wrong direction flooded her mind. But there was nothing she could do about it.

She concludes:

“When the train stopped, I rose, still numb from my mistake. When the doors opened I stepped onto the platform — and moaned aloud, ‘How did I get here?’ The stationmaster happened to be standing nearby. He looked at me with a grin and said, “Well, young lady, you got on the wrong train, didn’t you?”

How much time have we wasted by heading in the wrong direction. Can you imagine the sickening feeling that some people must experience, having reached the end of their lives realizing that they have been pursuing the wrong direction all along? Wrong decisions can be very costly.

Sin takes us farther than we planned to go, keeps us longer than we planned to stay, and costs us more than we planned to pay.

To live is Christ

Paul puts it this way, “So now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” The I AM Second movement has it right. My life is not about ME! It’s not about what I can accomplish, how much I can earn, the experiences I can enjoy, the things I can do, the people I can know and who can appreciate ME. Living for Christ means living for others, because he himself reminds us that he came, not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45; John 13:15-16; Luke 19:10). Life is most rewarding and satisfying when it is lived with a focus on others and away from ourselves. A time came in Paul’s life when he found that the things that had motivated him and that he had been pursuing were a waste.

Philippians 3:7-8 (NKJV)
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ …

To die is gain

Paul’s dilemma was this: On the one hand, he wanted to be finished with this life, and all of its pain, sorrow, and trials. He wanted to be with Jesus, because that was “far better.” On the other hand, he felt the need to remain in this life to continue preaching the gospel and building up Christians. The Philippians and others “needed him.” Paul knew that the time would come when he would finish his course and receive the crown of righteousness laid up for him. He did not fear death, but welcomed it, knowing that it would initiate a whole new existence of eternal bliss.

Living to die or dying to live?

What are you living for? Have you chosen a life verse to challenge and encourage you? Some people simply live their lives trying to make it through each day with as little trouble as possible and acquiring as much as possible. They look no further. They are living to die.

Others are dying to live. They have renounced their selfish desires and pursuits to seek the will of their Master, Jesus Christ. They have found that in losing these selfish desires they have gained everything. They have found that the only life that matters and, in the end, the only life that offers real hope is a life lived in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

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