Taking a Little Break

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The one part of beginning a new ministry that I don’t like is MOVING! I don’t like packing up all the books and getting them ready for a new home. But it is a necessary part of what I do. The picture above shows one wall of my office at Good Hope. Behind me as I took that picture are 27 more boxes just like those you see. At my house, there are 20 more boxes (give or take a few) that also belong in the office.

To say I LOVE BOOKS is an understatement.

Since I’m packing up everything and getting the office part moved to Knoxville next week, I’m going to take a little break from writing the daily devotional blog until I get everything unpacked in my new home. I encourage you to go back and read some of the devotions you may have missed or read some of the ones that especially spoke to a situation in your life during my little hiatus. 

DON’T FORGET ME! I’ll be back and you’ll get plenty of notice as to the return of the blog. Hopefully, there will be some more exciting news about the ministry in the next few months. I’m researching a way to link the blog posts to future podcasts of sermons from Valley Grove. Once completed — I hope to have a website where you can listen to messages and read devotions and share them with your friends. I’m also looking at the possibility of printing a year’s worth of devotions into a book. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of these ministry opportunities. Please pray for this part of the ministry.

Thank you for your continued support of this little blog. I enjoy hearing from you and I count it a privilege to pray for you and your family. When I get settled in Knoxville, I’ll post my contact information.

One more prayer request. Please pray that our house sells quickly. We are being told that the market in Cary is favorable for the seller (THAT’S ME) and we are having showings — but thus far, no contracts. Pray that God will relieve us of this burden so we can concentrate on the new ministry that awaits us in Knoxville.

Well…back to packing. I’ll be in touch and I will continue to pray for you. I love you and appreciate your support.

Have a great day.

Five Most Important Words in the Bible…

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

After more than 30 years of being a pastor and preacher of the Gospel, I have come to believe that the five most important words in the Bible are…

And the Word became flesh

A little boy was very excited. His parents had carefully explained to him how God was sending a little brother or sister to their family for them to love and care for. Finally, the day arrived to meet the new baby. The little boy’s parents were bringing a little baby sister home to live with them. When the baby had been safely settled in her crib, the brother stood close by the whispered to the baby, “Quick, little Amy — tell me, before you forget — what does God look like?”

This question has been asked by all of us from time to time. The Apostle John attempts to put into words what God is like. In John 14:9, Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”

We call this the INCARNATION. The truth of the incarnation (God took on human flesh and revealed Himself to us) points to the greatest mystery of the Christian faith — Jesus Christ — fully human AND fully divine. John Calvin said that if Jesus is NOT God, He could not have saved us, and if He is NOT man, he could not have reached us. 

And John the Apostle gives us the reason for this incarnation in John 1:4. It says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The reason God took on human flesh and revealed Himself to us is so that we might have life. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

In John 20:31, John tells us why he wrote the book. He said, “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  The purpose of God was to bring everlasting life to us through the life of His Son. 

I also believe these words are important because they give us (the church) our marching orders. Since God sent Jesus Christ into the world to redeem us — what is OUR job? In John 20:21, Jesus said, ‘As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” God sent His Son into the world — not to distance Himself from the world — but to minister in the desperate situation of our lives! Whenever we (the church) go out to care for men, women, boys and girls in a lost world — we go as a continuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ. 

God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. When we confess our sins and repent — we enter a relationship with Christ that completely transforms us. We can never be the same again. Jesus invites us to move from darkness to light — from death to life. And it all begins with the fact that “The Word became flesh.”

Have a great day.

Restoring Lost Years

“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.” (Joel 2:25)

This message from the prophet Joel came as a result of a national calamity. A devastating plague of locusts had stripped the land bare of food for man and beast. This was followed by famine, poverty, and misery. If the people EVER needed a word from God — it was now. The entire prophecy consists of three chapters in Joel. The first part calls for the people to repent and to pray, the second tells of God’s promise to hear the cry of His people, remove the cause of their suffering and restore them.

The words of our verse today (2:25) are a summary statement. It looks back to the bad times for the nation and then forward to a time of revival and restoration. People today want RELEVANCE. It doesn’t get much more relevant than this. To Israel, God says that there will be years of plenty to restore the lean years. The relevance for today is simple — if we will repent of our sins and return to God — He will restore and revive us.

As I look back over my life and ministry, I realize that there have been times when — as far as productive labor, happiness in my heart, or worth to the kingdom of God are concerned — I have blown it. They are “lost years.” They would be described as years “eaten by the locusts.” I suppose we all have some of those times in our lives. 

Perhaps it was fear or indecision that crept in. There have been times of complacency.  I’m sure we all suffer on some level from self-centeredness. There are any number of reasons that we may not have been as effective as we should have been. More times than not — our lost years are the result of our own sin. We want to do things OUR WAY. Dr. E. Stanley Jones told the story of a pastor who ran away with his secretary and deserted his wife and children. When Dr. Jones urged him to repent to God and return to his family, the pastor said, “I feel called to organize another religion — one that is less rigid, more liberal, more of the love of God — less of sin.” That’s a pathetic defense of indefensible behavior!

Dr. Jones never gave up on this man. Many years later, the pastor repented and sought forgiveness from those he had hurt. But the locusts had eaten so many years of his life. And when the locusts come — it is costly. I think about the many lost people in the world who look at my life or yours. They desperately want to see that we LIVE what we say we BELIEVE.  Whether they acknowledge it or not — they want to know that GRACE and FORGIVENESS are not only possible — they want to know that grace and forgiveness are real!

I’m afraid that the modern church is replacing the power of the Holy Spirit with human power. It’s not always done intentionally — but nevertheless we believe that our physical, financial and mental power is somehow greater than God’s power. And yet, Joel tells us that God’s promise is this — “I (GOD) will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.” When we repent of our sins, GOD grants forgiveness and restoration. When we truly experience the restoring power of GOD — the sky truly is the limit for what HE can accomplish through us.

Perhaps today you realize that the locusts have devoured years of your life, your marriage, your family or even your ministry. The answer will never be found in your human effort to right the wrong. It is found in Godly repentance. When we repent, God restores. We can’t restore what has been lost — but GOD can and He will if we will come to Him in humble repentance.

What a great promise for today – “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locusts have eaten.”

Have a great day.

That’s Some Good Preaching…

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.” (I Corinthians 1:18)

Every year I attend a preaching conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Some of the finest preachers I have ever known come to that conference and it is a time of refreshing and spiritual revival for me. I look forward to it every year. For the last several years, there has been a man who has attended every session and he sits on the front row. When the singing starts, you know he is going to have a good time! But when the preachers get started — this fellow REALLY has a good time! It doesn’t take long in the message before this fellow raises his hand, points his finger at the preacher and says, “That’s some good preaching right there my brother.” 

Now saying that to a preacher is like saying, “Sic ‘em” to a dog!” The preacher preaches a little harder and the fellow on the front row shouts a little louder.

If you ask people today about preaching, you find that people hold varying opinions. To some, unless the preacher is sweating and he rips off his tie — he hasn’t preached. To others, it’s all about eloquence and being dignified. To many — especially today — preaching is a “conversation” which is more illustrative than anything else and focuses on consumeristic themes. 

As I have thought about preaching and the state of preaching in our world today, I went back to the Scripture to find out what “good preaching” really is. And the Apostle Paul answered my question in our verse today. He said that “good preaching” always points people to the cross of Christ.

In I Corinthians 1:17, the word for “preach” is used in terms of EVANGELISM. It means to cast the net. Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize (preach) — not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.”

In verse 18, the idea of preaching is presented in terms of content — not method. And the content of our preaching is to be THE CROSS.

You see, the primary function of preaching is to bear a witness. Mark 16:15 says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” Preaching is the essential function of my calling as a pastor! 

And what am I to preach? Here are a couple of series titles I found that were actually preached somewhere…

“Purple People Leader”
“Visionary Love and Dream Sex”
“Cow Tipping”
“The Prodigy in Me”

I’m very much aware that creativity is important in our sermon preparation — but it seems that some guys spend too much time on the series title and not enough time on the content.  So what am I SUPPOSED to preach?

Simple…preach about the cross. The death of Jesus is God’s sacrifice for sin and His power for salvation. Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel! Paul said in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.”

The preaching of the cross is proclaiming the message. We aren’t discussing philosophy. We are to proclaim the GOSPEL and the Gospel is a person — Jesus Christ. He is a person on whom we rely, not a system of truth to be understood. It is the message of redemption.

If you preach the cross, be prepared for division. To those who believe, the cross is God’s power to salvation. To the lost, the cross is foolishness. As I watch the church culture of today, I constantly remind myself — “Keith — you have ONE JOB — preach the cross!” Everyone who has experienced God’s saving power should tell the Good News. It is every Christian’s duty — but it also every Christian’s PRIVILEGE.

If you want to be saved, you must believe the message of the cross. Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

So…I’m not worrying about whether I am relevant or not because I don’t have to be. Don’t get so caught up in the culture that you kick the Holy Spirit out of His own house! The Bible is ALWAYS relevant and the message of the cross is ALWAYS appropriate for EVERY audience. 

The message of the cross…

Believers — TELL THE STORY

Lost People — BELIEVE THE STORY and then go TELL THE STORY!

Have a great day.

Striving for Maturity

“diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.” (Ephesians 4:3)

Yesterday (3/31) I wrote about how Paul admonishes us to live a life worthy of our calling through humility, gentleness patience and Christian acceptance. The devotion was entitled “Expectations.”

I want to continue in that conversation today by looking at the next verse (Eph. 4:3). Paul encourages us to promote a unified body. There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t hear about a church having some problems that threatens to split the church. Christians fighting over worship style and dress and all manners of other silly issues seem to sprout up almost every day. Paul urges us to “diligently” guard the togetherness of the church. 

What is the basis of that unity? Paul emphasizes the things we have in common. By doing that, we will tend to forget the things that threaten to destroy our unity.

Read Ephesians 4 and highlight the things we Christians have in common. We believe in ONE GOD. We are all under the care of ONE FATHER. We have the power of ONE SPIRIT. Therefore, as a Christian, I am able to have fellowship with people who hold to the belief that salvation is through no one else but Jesus. I am able to fellowship with others who accept the simple creed of one Lord, one Spirit and one Father.

As I have worked through this idea of Christian unity over the last 30 years — I have come to understand that our unity is not just based on our theology. The problem we face in today’s church is that often in our attempt “to be all things to all people,” we have allowed our METHODOLOGY to overshadow our THEOLOGY. That creates some real problems. The generation we live in needs to hear the Gospel message perhaps more than any other. 

Well-meaning Christian leaders today believe that if we just change the delivery method, more people will respond to the message. That’s not necessarily true. In spite of what we would like to think, the unchurched and unbelievers today are not looking at our DELIVERY as much as they are looking at how we actually LIVE what we preach. So…I am not in competition today with anybody who affirms that salvation comes through no other means than the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. We may disagree about other matter of theology — but there can be no room for compromise in the area of HOW one is saved and kept.

If we are going to make a difference in our world — we must be unified as believers. That’s what Paul is speaking of in Ephesians 4. So, let’s stop spending time critiquing everybody else’s METHODOLOGY. We don’t need more books or articles about HOW to do it — we need people who are actually DOING it! Don’t compromise the message — just start living the Gospel and sharing the Gospel so that men, women, boys and girls may come to know Jesus Christ personally.

If your methodology is not leading to people being saved and baptized and discipled so they can go out and win others to Christ — you need to reexamine your methods. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing — JESUS SAVES!

Have a great day.

 

Expectations

“Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received…” (Ephesians 4:1)

We all face certain expectations in life. Our employer expects us to work hard at our job. Our teachers expect us to come to class and to finish our homework. Our parents require us to follow the family rules and live up to the basic standards of our home. Our friends expect us to be loyal and loving toward them. No matter where you turn, you are expected to maintain particular style of life in every part of our life. 

In the first few verses of Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul describes some of the expectations God has for a Christian. 

In verse 1, he says that God EXPECTS us to live a worthy life. Don’t ever fall for the line that says being a Christian requires nothing from you. That’s just not true. To live as a follower of Christ requires our most heroic efforts. Be careful however. Don’t forget — WE ARE NOT SAVED BY OUR EFFORTS — we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone through God’s grace alone. But once we are saved, we should strive for the mature faith that God desires for us.

In Ephesians 4:2, Paul outlines four parts of this life we are to strive for.

“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love…”

HUMILITY — Humility is NOT marked by cowering or crying. Instead, Godly humility refers to a realization that we owe all our being to God alone. Humility is not a feeling of inferiority toward others, but a feeling of complete dependence on God.

GENTLENESS — This word refers to a condition in which people hold their passions and anger under the control of God. It doesn’t mean that we never get upset or angry. This gentleness refers rather to THE WAY a Christian confronts anger.

PATIENCE — This is a picture of a Christian who is able to endure every circumstance that threatens them with discouragement. A patient person will never give in to the temptation to take revenge or to toss in the towel when life gets tough.

The final thing Paul mentions in verse 2 is “accepting one another in love.” Only Christian love can do this. Paul understood that in order for us to maintain an attitude of true acceptance, we have to be willing to overlook the hurts and slights that we have in life. 

The acceptance Paul is speaking of is far different than what we see in our culture today. Christian acceptance realizes that we are all sinners and that it is only by the grace of God ANY of us are saved. But it also recognizes that ALL sin is an abomination to God and that we ALL stand guilty before Him because the Bible says “there is none righteous — no not one.” True acceptance is an attitude of benevolence toward one another. When we accept one another in Christ, that includes confronting sin in the lives of others in an attempt to restore them to a proper relationship with God and with the body of Christ (the church).

When we begin to achieve these four traits, we will reap the benefit of harmony within the body of Christ and the glory of God will be proclaimed throughout the world. I pray these four traits of humility, gentleness, patience and Christian acceptance will be evident in my life as a believer. In that way, I will be a more effective witness for my Lord.

Have a great day.

 

We Need Some True Prophets!

“The word of the Lord came to me: I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

As I observe the many conversations going on about the so-called “culture war” in our society, what I find lacking is the clear voice of a prophet. Instead, I see and hear everybody spouting off their own opinion of what they THINK God would say and what they THINK Jesus would do — but little Scripture to back up those feelings. Instead of preaching convicting sermons that call sin what it is and that proclaim that God loves us in spite of it — but He will not allow us to continue to wallow in it — I observe men who are conforming themselves to the world in order to appease the world. Their theology is based on the “felt-needs” of their followers – whatever that means.

And so, we have churches filled with people accountable to no one and whose Bible study consists of getting together and talking about how they FEEL about what this says. Our pulpits are filled with skinny-jean, pointed-toe shoes, sissified men who have “conversations” with people instead of bolding proclaiming “Thus saith the Lord.” And the people cheer and applaud and have become at the Athenians in Acts who “spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21).

In the long struggle of the Jewish people to be a people pleasing to a HOLY GOD, the prophets appeared, for the most part, in times of crisis as models of what God wanted His people to be. As a true spokesman for God, the prophets sounded clear warnings and gave specific direction to the nation that they should repent of their sin and turn to God. 

Oh how we need some prophets in the church today! 

Now before you start getting your feelings hurt and your britches in a wad, let me explain what I mean. A prophet is NOT a superhuman being. Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were all humans with their own sinful nature and problems. James, in speaking of Elijah said, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land” (James 5:17).

A prophet is NOT a windbag or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Jesus warned us against those kinds of men in Matthew 7:15. He said, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit.” So much of what we hear today is nothing more than pretenders who predict peace and prosperity. They smile and offer cheerful words and encourage self-reliance and human pride. That is NOT a prophet of God.

So what is a prophet?

A prophet is someone who is called and commission by God. Look at what God told Jeremiah in today’s verse — “I set you apart — I appointed you.” A prophet is an individual who has been called on a mission and given a word that is not his own. He has a divine commission in his authority. 

A prophet is a true PREACHER. He is not a fortune-teller looking off in the future and telling the events to come. Instead, a true prophet is a FORTHTELLER. He is God’s spokesman. He is a preacher whose purpose is not self-gratification or self-expression, but communication. His message is that God loves us and sent His Son to die for us. His message is that Hell is HOT and Heaven is SWEET. His message is that sin is offensive to a Holy God and the only remedy is REPENTANCE. A prophet is not only a censurer but also a consoler. 

Vance Havner said that it was his job to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That’s a prophet!

A prophet is often the object of scorn. A prophet must challenge and defy the defenders of the status quo. The prophet is a lonely man. He alienates the wicked as well as the good. Hosea 9:7 says, “The prophet is a fool, and the inspired man is insane because of the magnitude of your guilt and hostility.” A prophet tells the truth regardless of who is offended and who disagrees.

A prophet is the conscience of the nation. His life is not futile. Though the people may remain deaf to his message, they cannot ignore his existence and they will never forget his words. The prophet’s duty is to speak God’s word to the people — whether they hear or refuse to hear. 

We need some prophets. We need men who will stand upon the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God and proclaim the message without fear or compromise. We are not here to draw a crowd — Jesus actually thinned out the crowds pretty quick when they found out what He required of them. We are not here to make people feel good about their sinful natures. We are here to proclaim the Word of the Lord to a lost, sinful, wretched world. We are here to tell them that without a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, hell is waiting at the end of the line. We CANNOT allow people to go on thinking that God will just give a wink and a nod to sin. We may not take it seriously — but God sure does.

We desperately need some prophets today. We are losing a generation of Christians who have bought into a compromised message that doesn’t point people to Christ and the cross, but allows them to continue in their sin and flaunt it before the world. 

God help us. God please send us some prophets.