Can Christians Just Be Fans?

I was passionate, emotional, and a little exhausted Saturday night sometime close to 11:00. I watched Georgia defeat Notre Dame, barely. I saw a bunch of guys in South Bend, Indiana who were also passionate, emotional, and maybe more than a little exhausted. There was a big difference between me and them. They were all in, committed, giving it up for and with their team. I’m glad Georgia won (though I still like Mark Richt), but in the end, I’m just a fan. Just because I cheered, got excited, and sustained a small injury during the game (pulled muscle when I got a little excited at the end of the game), I’M NOT ON THE TEAM. I’m just a fan.

Christians are more than just excited about Jesus and loosely connected to the church. They are all in, totally committed, sold out followers of Jesus Christ. I shared Matthew 7:22-23 in my last post where Jesus points out the surprise fans will experience when they find out too late that they are not on the team. They never left the stands. They never surrendered their lives to Jesus. Christians are not just fans. You cannot be a Christian unless you have surrendered your life to Jesus as your Lord (Romans 10:9-10).

Does that mean that followers never give less than 110%? We should always give everything in our act of following, but sometimes we don’t. The difference between a fan and follower, is that a follower really loves Jesus and wants to live a surrendered life. When followers realize something is askew in their Christian life, they repent and respond to God’s prompting to get back in the game.

So, are you a fan or a follower?

Not A Fan

Not a fan, but a follower. I’ve heard about Kyle Idleman’s book, “Not a Fan,” for several years, but I began reading it a few months ago. It offers a crisp distinction between being casually enamored with Christianity to being a full-blown follower. I am now sharing a teaching series on the subject, and our small groups are going through Idleman’s study. There’s a big difference between being a fan and being a follower. In my message Sunday, I said…

  • Fans like Jesus; but followers love Jesus.
  • Fans are willing to cheer for Jesus but followers are willing to die for Jesus.
  • Fans focus on the benefits, but followers focus on the benefactor.

Jesus doesn’t want fans. He wants followers.

Consider this question. If you are a fan, are you a Christian? That’s an important question. The issue to consider is whether or not someone who is not “all in” is truly a believer. Jesus said in Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Were the people Jesus was talking about merely fans?

Think about this question: “Are you a fan or a follower?” Why not spend some time making a list of the differences between fan and follower. I highly recommend the book and the small group study. I will address this issue later this week as we consider the possibility of being a Christian while only being a fan.

Shake the Salt

“You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus told His followers that we have a role in our world to season and preserve. Notice that Jesus said “You are.” Influencing our world should be as natural for the believer as breathing or sleeping. So, how do you influence the world? We all have countless opportunities, but in this blog, I am going to address one area about which I am passionate.

Technology has opened a whole new world to all of us through social media, blogging, and even writing and publishing books. This thought led me to write a series of books called “The Published Pastor.” To date, I have two books in the series (Book 1 – “Expanding Your Ministry Through Writing and Publishing” and Book 2 – “How to Write and Publish Books”), and I will soon be releasing a third book on the topic of marketing Many of you who read my blogs could become a published author, and that would be one way you could be salt in our earth.

While the title of the Published Pastor series suggests these books only apply to pastors, the information is applicable to anyone who would like to write and publish. If you are a pastor, small group leader, Sunday School teacher, or Bible study leader, the books will have easy application to some of the things you do on a regular basis. You will see that I speak directly to pastors about how to turn a sermon series into a book, but the principles are easily applicable to every circumstance. Dr. Gerald Harris recently reviewed this series in the Christian Index. He said, “The book is extremely well written, extraordinarily helpful, and as practical as a Bible is to a Gospel preacher.” You can click this link to read the entire review.

In this series, I wrote to encourage Christians to use the resources availed to them through technology today to make a difference in the world. I also wanted to remove the mystery of becoming a published author and show that if you have ever considered writing a book, you can certainly do it. I originally published these as digital books and then combined books 1 & 2 into one paperback book. If $2.99 will stretch your budget right now, feel free to contact me, and I’ll send you a copy for free.

Whether you want to write books, record CD’s, paint pictures, blog, or create another product with a Christian message, I encourage you to find your avenue to make a difference in the world. Don’t keep saying that you will make a difference one day through your gifts or talents. Do it today. If you are interested in writing, I am happy to help you any way I can. Our challenge is to shake the salt, and God’s Kingdom will shine through us.

A Day Without a Woman

“A Day Without a Woman” – Women’s rights groups organized a march on Washington today to celebrate International Women’s Day, and they encouraged women to stand together against inequality and injustice against women. They marched against President Trump and “the decades long economic inequality, racial and sexual violence, and imperial wars abroad.” The organizers asked women to take off work, avoid shopping, and basically not do the things they would normally do in a day. Thrown into the mix of all of the platforms of the movement was the platform of “reproductive justice,” which basically is a call for the right to kill unborn children at any point during pregnancy. The International Women’s Strike group included this statement on their website: “We demand free abortion without conditions.” Without conditions includes abortion at full-term just before birth, partial birth abortion, convenience abortion at any point during the pregnancy, and any other form of abortion the woman wishes to have without consideration of the baby’s rights. What about reproductive justice for the unborn?

I must hasten to say that I believe if a woman is doing the same job as a man, she should be paid the same, and women should be respected and regarded highly at all levels. In my opinion, this focus today had nothing to do with honoring women. It had everything to do with hatred of President Trump, pride, arrogance, self-servitude and self-aggrandizement. These attitudes are a total 180 from what the Bible teaches about love, servanthood and humility. Organizers of the event referred to themselves as an “army of love,” but I only see hatred (toward President Trump and maybe all men in general).

The only way our country will find healing during this terrible time of upheaval is if we will apply the golden rule (Do unto others what you want them to do unto you) and the Great Commandment (Love your neighbor as yourself). Marching with an agenda of hatred, acting with a motive of malevolence, or speaking with a goal of besmirching political leaders does not honor God and does not make for a strong Republic.

I would like to encourage a day that we would not call “A Day Without a Woman,” but maybe “A Day for a Woman.” Let’s serve the ladies in our lives and give them the respect that they deserve. Let’s thank God for the wonderful gift of women in our lives. If you’re a woman, it is my hope that you are appalled at what transpired today and would recommit yourself to the attributes and character qualities that best represent Jesus Christ. Then let’s have “A Day for Unity” where people of both sexes and all ethnicities stand together as Americans – not white Americans, black Americans, male or female Americans, Mexican-Americans – just Americans. Maybe we could follow that up with “A Day for Jesus” where all Christians share the wonderful stories of how Jesus Christ has changed our lives.

It’s time to come together. Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Let’s all recommit ourselves to community and love. Let’s look around today to see who we can out serve. Focus on giving instead of receiving. Think of serving others instead of reclaiming our rights. That would be a real day worth celebrating.

Personal Growth Plan

sapling-154734_1280Usually, by now, I have completed my personal growth goals and plans for the upcoming year. With my preparations for my mission trip to Mexico and Christmas activities (among other things0), I’m a little behind. I started writing out an annual plan for personal growth many years ago as a teenager, though back then, it was not nearly as formal and detailed. When I was a kid, my family sat around the table sometime toward the end of the year and talked about our plans for the upcoming year. We shared our goals with one another and some of our plans for accomplishing those goals. I eventually began writing these goals down and getting a little more specific with my plans. This eventually developed into my annual plan for personal growth.

I came to the realization that while growing old is automatic, growing up is not. For example, instead of being thirty-five years old, a person could be one-year-old thirty-five times. As a matter of fact, I’ve met a number of fifty plus year old people who still needed a pacifier. I have to confess that I rarely accomplish all of my goals, but because I give it a great deal of thought and write out my annual plan, I’m a lot closer to accomplishing my goals than I would be otherwise. Writing out my goals for personal growth not only helps me to know what to do to grow in six areas of my life, but it also helps me to know what NOT to do. For example, there are so many books out there to read (over a million new books are written each year), but not all of them are worth reading. I have many people suggest books to me. Some of the suggested books are excellent, while others may have been meaningful to the person, but it wouldn’t apply to my life and ministry very well. Planning my reading, which is part of my growth plan, helps me to be more intentional with what books to read. It also helps me to be more balanced in my reading.

I plan growth for six areas in my life: spiritual, family, physical, financial, leadership, and ministry. These are broad categories, and I fit a number of unique areas of growth under the various categories. For example, I want to grow as a writer, so I put that particular area of my life under “ministry.” Remember that this is a plan for personal growth. Even though I typically include various goals under each category, the idea is to create a plan that will help me to personally grow in that area. I will typically go into greater detail on general goals for various areas in a different place. For example, I have an Evernote notebook on my computer where I create detail plans and goals for my ministry through my church, my writing goals and plans, and other details of my life. A plan for personal growth is about growth. The key is to HAVE a plan for personal growth.

Under each broad category, I usually make a general statement of what I want to accomplish in that area and then make a list of books I want to read, people I want to hang out with, conferences I want to attend, or groups I want to join so that I will have personal growth in that particular area. I add some additional goals that may not fit so neatly into one of those smaller categories.

 

How do you plan to grow in 2017? Have you given it some thought? I encourage you to spend some time before the end of 2016 working on your plan for personal growth. When you finish your plan, share it with a few people in your life. When 2017 comes to a close, you may find that you didn’t accomplish everything, but you will accomplish a lot more because you have a plan. Someone once said, “He who aims at nothing hits it every time.” What will you aim at in 2017? Do you want to share some of your 2017 growth goals below?

Singing Anyone? Part 2

microphone-1209816_1920In my last blog, I asked the question: “What if I don’t want to sing?” It’s a valid question. We’ve all faced times where we had no song, but the problem is that God commands us throughout the Scripture to sing. I mentioned two causes for not wanting to sing. If you didn’t read my last blog, you may want to stop and read it now.

Whether we don’t sing because we think we can’t or because a sad circumstance has stolen our song, the solution is simple: sing anyway. God only wants a joyful noise, and we’ll find that singing may be God’s prescription to pull us out of the doldrums. It is amazing that while worship is directed to God, we benefit significantly. As we sing to God, he heals our hearts.

Another reason we are to sing has to do with people around us. You may think you’re doing the people around you a favor by not singing. Actually, you’re not. Colossians 3:16 commands us to sing to one another because our singing has mutual benefit: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Have you ever considered the idea that the person sitting next to you in worship is benefiting from your singing? Imagine a man beside you in worship next Sunday who may be struggling with a matter or a problem. He desperately needs help from God, and then he hears you singing with gusto and conviction about the faithfulness of God. Your song encouraged him with truth from God’s Word. Before long, he begins to join in with you in giving praise to God. This is one way Colossians 3:16 can be lived out in our lives. Though worship is for God, our singing can certainly bless others with spiritual encouragement. 

We can also teach others through singing by intentionally singing about theological truths. I’ve taught children how to share the gospel by putting music to the “Roman Road to Salvation” scriptures. I learned about the Old Testament story of Israel’s great revival of 1 Samuel 7 because I sang the old hymn “Come Thou Fount.” I had to look up the “here I raise mine Ebenezer” part, and read a wonderful story about God working in the lives of his people. Singing can have great value in teaching us God’s Word.

What if I don’t want to sing? Sing anyway. It honors the Lord, and someone in your life needs to hear it. You will benefit greatly by lifting your spirit and by opening up your hearts to spiritual truths. Music is a wonderful gift from a loving God, so, tilt your head back and sing for the glory of God.

 

Singing Anyone?

bear-1124548_960_720What if I don’t want to sing? God commands us to sing in numerous passages, such as Psalm 95, 96, 100, & Colossians 3:16. While I am sharing a message series about worship with my church family, I have reminded all of us that God established singing in our DNA. While we are made to sing, and God has commanded us to sing, what if we don’t want to sing? Has that ever happened to you? Some people don’t want to sing because they believe they sound horrible. Others have lost their song due to personal struggles and disappointments.

Let’s first of all acknowledge that it’s not abnormal to lose our song, or never have one to start with. For those who believe they are doing humanity a favor by not singing, I think the solution to the problem is that they must change their thinking. Think back to watching your two-year old daughter dancing for you or your young son swinging a baseball bat and dribbling a ball five feet from the tee. You loved it and applauded your little ones. Our singing is not for us. On the most part, it’s not even for the people around us (though I’ll share some thoughts about that in my next blog). God made us to sing for Himself. If you don’t want to sing because you think you can’t, actually, you can. You may not sing well, but you can make a joyful noise. Give it a try. First and foremost, it will put a smile on the face of your Heavenly Father. Worship is about Him and not you.

We face other challenges that may steal the song from our hearts. We may be struggling with financial problems, health challenges, or relationship issues. Singing is an interesting thing. Not only can singing be the overflow of a joyful heart, but it can also be the cause of a joyful heart. Singing is therapeutic. Worshipping God with a song in our heart always takes us to a new place in our spirit. When we feel down about something, worshipping God always brings new perspective on our circumstances. Scientists have determined that singing releases endorphins in our body that bring about feelings of pleasure and joy. It also releases Oxytocin, which creates feelings of trust and bonding, helping us overcome struggles with depression and loneliness. God loves us so much. It’s no wonder He commands us to sing.

What if I don’t want to sing? Sing anyway. Singing and worshipping Almighty God is just the prescription you need to take you to a new place in your life. While worshipping God is about God first, it’s amazing how we ultimately benefit by putting God first. Christmas is a great time to make a shift in our song. Why not start today by finding a song in your heart. Maybe you could start with “Joy to the World.”

Thanksgiving

happy-thanksgiving-picturesAlthough the Pilgrims set aside a day of thanksgiving in 1621, Governor William Bradford, governor of the Pilgrim’s Plymouth Colony, formally declared a day of thanksgiving in 1623 with these words:

“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

On this day of Thanksgiving 393 years later, we all share similar sentiments. God has given us an abundant harvest of His provision, and He has protected us from the savage attacks of countries and terrorists who hate us. He has spared us from disease and granted us freedom to worship Him. We have much for which to give Him thanks.

I am thankful for a God who loves me with a love that can’t be measured, redeemed me with a price that can’t be earned, filled me with a peace that can’t be understood, and secured me with a hope that can’t be conquered. He’s given me the joy of my family, the community of my church, the mission field of His world, and a home that is eternal. I am a blessed man indeed. I have a wife who loves me, children who honor me, and a church who gives me the privilege to serve. I could die today a very contented man.

Today, on this Thanksgiving Day, I can only say with the great hymn writer: Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Healing for America as we Seek God’s Face

prayer22 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Today is the day. So much will be determined about our future by the casting of ballots, and a lot hangs in the balance. At the same time, God is not limited by what happens today. Regardless of who becomes our next president or representative or senator, God is still on His throne. His plan will not be thwarted and His purpose will not go unfulfilled. We can find great comfort today in knowing that God’s will is not dependent upon our opinions and actions.

Regardless of today’s outcome, America is in dire need of renewal. Our renewal, however, does not need only to come in the form of new initiatives, new laws, and new Supreme Court justices. We have a much deeper need than that. We need spiritual renewal and revival. God says that He will heal our land if His people will humble themselves and pray. He also calls us to seek His face and turn from our wicked ways.

Seeking God’s face is a call to authenticity and transparency before a holy God Who already knows all things. Looking into the eyes of our Heavenly Father is an invitation for Him to look deep into our souls and see everything. Such divine scrutiny always leads to repentance in the lives of God’s children. We cannot maintain our heavenly gaze unless we’re willing to repent. We either seek God’s face and enjoy the refreshing grace of a merciful God, or we turn away and continue in our destructive patterns and rebellion.

Seeking God’s face also calls for a relationship. God never intended us to just obey Him. He also wants us to love Him. We can be rule followers and still be far from God. It’s like the strong-willed little boy who finally sat down after being told to do so by his mother one hundred times. He replied, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m still standing up on the inside.” God doesn’t just want outward conformity. He wants an inner relationship. God has many things He wants to do in your life, but He can only do them in the context of love.

Seeking God’s face also means gaining God’s approval. Imagine the nod of God’s eternal head as He watches the lives of His children. God says that he will bring healing to our land when His people live in such a way as to please the heart of our Heavenly Father. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the world and begin comparing ourselves to the wrong standard. My mother used to remind me that it didn’t matter what my friends did because they weren’t the standard. Our only standard is Jesus Christ and His Word. If you want God’s healing in our land, in your family, or in your life, seek God’s face by living in obedience to His will.

We want God to heal our land; therefore, it means that we must fall on our face in prayer and seek His face. We must humble ourselves and continue to pray as we repent of our sins and intercede for our land. If God’s people will do that, God will respond and heal our land. May we join our hearts together and plea for the soul of America.

Family Devotion by Amy Autry

Getting Started: Take a piece of paper. Have a member of the family rip the paper into smaller pieces. As a family work to put the paper back together. Like this piece of paper, it started out perfect. Our actions tore into tiny pieces. We can try to put it back together, but we cannot make it look like it did before. It is the same with sin. We cannot do it by ourselves. Only God can restore us after we have sinned.

Bible Time:

Read 1 John 1:5-10

When God created the world, he created us in His image and there was no sin. In verse 5, John tells his readers that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness.” We were created to have a perfect relationship with God where there was no sin. Sin is anything we think, say, or do that disobeys God. Soon after God created people, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God.

Because of sin our relationship with God was broken. Verse 6 tells us that we cannot have fellowship with God if we continue to sin. Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” Sin separates us from God, but God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to take our punishment for disobeying God. God tells us that if we repent of our sin, our relationship with Him will be restored. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

When we ask God to be our Lord, it doesn’t mean that we will never mess up. God wants us to constantly confess, or repent of our sins and turn back to Him. Repent means that we are turning away from our sin and turning back to following God. God promises that when we repent, he will forgive our sins as if they never happened and our relationship with Him is restored.

Discussion Questions:

  • What is sin? (Anything we think, say or do that disobeys God)
  • Who has sinned? (Everyone)
  • What does God do when we confess our sin? (He forgives us and restores our relationship with Him.)

 

Spend some time praying and asking God to forgive any sin in your life. If your child is asking questions about salvation, spend time discussing what it means to follow Christ.

God’s Mercy

chainsofsinElevation Church Worship Band recorded a wonderful song about God’s mercy entitled Mercy Reigns. Here are a few of the lyrics:

My God is strong enough to raise me from the grave Your love is great enough to take away my shame Your mercy reigns My God is making new the wreckage of my heart Your hand is reaching down to pull me from the dark Your mercy reigns; Your mercy covers me Your grace sustains; Your grace is all I need

Mercy is an important theme in the Bible, and the word is used a number of times throughout Scripture. It’s difficult to get an accurate count of a particular English word in the Bible because the Bible was not written in English. You may find several different words in the original text that could be translated mercy or another word that is similar. For example, Lamentations 3:22-23 are some of my favorite verses about mercy: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Henry Morris mentioned in one of his articles that there are four Hebrew words and three Greek words associated with the word “mercy” and these words are used a total of 454 times in the Bible. Wow!

Often times, grace is used synonymously with mercy, but they’re two different concepts. Grace is often thought of as undeserved favor. I once heard someone say that grace is getting something we do not deserve. Mercy, however, is more connected to withholding judgment. If grace is getting what we do not deserve – forgiveness, mercy is not getting what we do deserve – condemnation. Here’s an interesting thought. God mentions mercy more than grace in the Bible. I don’t really think that means one concept is more important than another, but it does make us pause to think about the significance of God holding back the judgment we deserve. We deserve death and hell. It is only because He is a God who is willing to withhold condemnation that we have hope for eternity. God’s mercies indeed never come to an end.