Investing Your Life in Others

 

In the late 1970s and early 80s I was pastoring in Jonesboro, Arkansas. After a year and a half of trying to start a Bible study on the campus of Arkansas State University, I met Ralph Mondy and Mansell Twillie. That was the start of something that none of us could of expected–a true and mighty movement of God.  From that meeting with Ralph and Mansell a Bible study started that met for two hours every Thursday started with a growing group of students. There was such a passion among the group to see people saved. They share the Gospel with others on the campus. Hundreds were brought to the Lord. They travelled to other campuses and help other groups start.  There is no way to know how many students came to the Lord.

Ralph Mondy and Mansell Twilliie

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Does Vacation Bible School Make a Difference?

We are having Vacation Bible School this weeks. It is such a joy to see so many boys and girls in class and activities being taught the Bible and touched by faithful workers with the love of Jesus.

For me, every year VBS brings memories. I grew up going to Vacation Bible School year after year. Did it make a difference in my life? Yes! in a twofold way. One, it was a part of building the Word of God into my life. When I started preaching and pastoring at age 19, I was surprised by how munch of the Bible I knew that I didn’t know I knew. Through VBS, Sunday School, and my mother’s teaching the Scriptures had been engrafted into my heart. I didn’t know it as a child, but the Word had a lodging place in my heart and thinking. I will always be grateful for those who were willing to work with children and make a life-time difference in their lives.

Two, one of the most important events in my life happened in Vacation Bible School. I was 10 years old and the evangelistic service had just concluded. Everyone in my class had made a profession of faith that day. As we were walking back to class, one boy asked the teacher as he pointed to me, “Why wasn’t he saved today?” When you are 10 to be different from everyone else makes you feel two inches tall. When the teacher replied she could not have known the impact her words would have on me as she said, “When it is time for him to be saved, God will let him know.” From that day forward there was that prayer in my heart, “Lord, is it time?” That is why at age 12 when the Gospel first broke into my heart, when I felt deep conviction of sin and lostness, that I saw my absolute need for the grace of God in Christ Jesus, that I responded with repentance and faith. It was not the response of emotions but of a heart that had been prepared in the Gospel and dependence on God’s provision and power of salvation in the Cross. I wish I could go back and say thank you to that teacher for the way God used he to help prepare my heart for Him.

Does Vacation Bible School make a difference? It certainly did in my life.

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Satisfied in You (Psalm 42)

From Brian Eichelberger of Mars Hill Church’s Sing Team:

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5 BENEFITS DRAWN OUT FROM SORROW

Zack Eswine posted helpful insights on http://theresurgence.com:

“To be cast down is often the best thing that could happen to us” (Charles Spurgeon).

It is rarely wise and often unkind to say what Spurgeon says here while someone loses their job, weeps by the graveside of a loved one, or vomits from the chemo. In such moments, sometimes nothing is the best thing said. We weep with those who weep. We mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). We pray and cry out to God on their behalf. Spurgeon’s declaration doesn’t come automatically as we know full well how sorrows can potentially affect a person negatively—it can harden, embitter, and make one cynical about God and people.

BENEFITS TO SORROW?

How then can there be benefits to sorrow? Spurgeon points us to Jesus. Jesus is called, Immanuel, God with us. He is not the God who gives us immunity from the world. Rather, he is the God who does not leave us when people, sicknesses, the weather, or devils do their worst. Spurgeon therefore makes the healing claim, “There is no remedy for sorrow beneath the sun like the sorrows of Immanuel…The sympathy of Jesus is the next most precious thing to his sacrifice.”

Jesus sympathizes with our weakness (Heb. 4:15), speaks to our sorrows, and orders them to serve his purposes. He brings them into his own counsel to promote his intentions and to reverse and thwart foul tidings (Gen. 5:20). With Jesus having authority over our sorrows in mind, Spurgeon identifies a handful of benefits recovered as Jesus walks with us through the valley.

1. SORROW TEACHES US TO RESIST TRITE VIEWS OF WHAT MATURITY IN JESUS LOOKS LIKE.
Faith is not frownless. Maturity is not painless. It is the presence of Jesus and not the absence of happiness that designates the situation and provides our hope. Spurgeon says it this way, “Depression of spirit is no index of declining grace. The very loss of joy and the absence of assurance may be accompanied by the greatest advancement in the spiritual life…We do not want rain all the days of the week and all the weeks of the year, but if the rain comes sometimes, it makes the fields fertile and the streams flow.”

2. SORROW EXPOSES AND ROOTS OUT OUR PRIDE.
Perhaps we can think of it this way. When standing at a garage sale, the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” We often mix-up what is trash and treasure to Jesus. Sorrow helps show us where we’ve been passing over treasures for trash. “We are very apt to grow too big,” Spurgeon says. “It is a good thing for us to be taken down a notch or two. We sometimes rise too high in our own estimation. Unless the Lord took away some of our joy, we should be utterly destroyed by pride.”

“It is the presence of Jesus and not the absence of happiness that designates the situation and provides our hope.”

3. SORROW PUSHES US TO TAKE AN HONEST SECOND LOOK AT OURSELVES AND OUR SITUATIONS.
Sorrow unthreads the hem of our rationalizations. Spurgeon continues, “When this downcasting comes, it gets us to work at self-examination…When your house has been made to shake, it has caused you to see whether it was founded upon a rock.”

4. SORROW IS A MEANS OF DRAWING US CLOSER TO JESUS IN TRUER DEPENDENCE.
Do you remember the cartoon with Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner? In one episode, the Coyote used a saw to cut a circular hole out from underneath Road Runner’s feet. But when the hole was completed, it wasn’t Road Runner that fell. Rather, the rest of the floor crumbled down all around and upon the Coyote while the Road Runner was left still standing upon his piece of floor.

Jesus stays put though everything else may fall around us. Strength emerges. Spurgeon says it this way, “When we were little boys and were out at evening, we would walk with our father. Sometimes we would run on a long way ahead, but every now and then, there would be a big dog loose on the road, and it is astonishing how closely we clung to our father then.”

5. SORROW TEACHES US EMPATHY FOR ONE ANOTHER.
Spurgeon says, “If we had never been in trouble ourselves, we should be very poor comforters of others…It would be no disadvantage to a surgeon if he once knew what it was to have a broken bone. You may depend upon his touch being more tender afterwords; he would not be so rough with his patients as he might have been if he had never felt such pain himself.”

Jesus shows us his wounds, the slanders, the manipulations, the injustices, the body blows, the mistreatments piled onto him. From there he loves, still (Romans 5:8). He invites us into fellowship with his empathy. We receive it from him in depth. Truly, we rise again and actually give, maybe for the first time in our lives.

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Then and Now

Last week I pulled up on the internet an old high school annual of my sophomore year. Talk about change. I was really slim way back then and had a full head of hair. I was in playing shape. As the years pass physical change is dramatic. Muscles lost their tone, wrinkles appeared, weight shifted, and aches are now a part of daily life. Biologically I don’t like the changes.

On the other hand when I look at the changes spiritually between then and now the trajectory is just the opposite and even more dramatic. Awe of the Gospel is more and more overwhelming. The knowledge of God is deeper and richer. Faith has been tested, refined, stretched, and made stronger. Joy in the Word and prayer is much more precious. The old spiritual roller coaster has been replaced by something more like gentle rolling hills.

But, while I am thankful for the changes, I am not satisfied with where I am. A few weeks ago I had the privilege to meet a national renowned portrait artist in his studio. He is 93 and still paints eight hours a day. As we visited I was struck by his humble wisdom. When I ask him about his current project, he showed me the commissioned portrait he is currently painting. He talked about how that morning he had spend four hours working on perfecting just one small area. The he said, “I just want to grow as an artist.” Ninety-three, renowned, and he still wanted to grown. Those words had a profound affect on me and said that no matter where you are as a follower of Jesus, just starting, in mid-journey, or nearing the end, the hunger of our hearts is to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord.

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Do You Ever Get Stuck in a Rut Spiritually?

Do you ever get stuck in a rut in your spiritual life? Things become routine. You pray but there’s no real sense of being in the presence of God. You read the Bible but soon forget what you read. You sing but there is little real true worship in your heart. You go to church but have trouble staying focused. There is little joy and power in your walk with God.

When you get in a rut, here are eight questions to ask and honestly answer:

1. What do you desire more than anything else? If the answer is anything other than the knowledge of God, then you have constructed an idol in your heart. And, your idol does not love you, cannot satisfy you, and draws you away from the true and living God.

2. What lies do you subtly believe that undermine the truth of God’s Word in your life? The answer exposes where you have given Satan an opportunity, a foothold to wreak havoc in your life and hinder your walk with the Lord.

3. Where have you made much of yourself and little of God?

4. Is technology and/or TV interrupting your communion with God?

5. What fears keep you from resting in Christ?

6. Do you react to hard circumstances or bad news with fear, or do you trust God’s providence?

7. When someone does something that hurts or offends you, do you seek restoration and forgive them as God has forgiven you for Christ sake, or do you have a desire to hurt back or hold a grudge?

8. What astonishes you?

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What Does Repentance Look Like?

How do you know when someone is repentant? In his helpful little book Church Discipline, Jonathan Leeman offers some guidance:

A few verses before Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18 about church discipline, he provides us with help for determining whether an individual is characteristically repentant: would the person be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye rather than repeat the sin (Matt. 18:8-9)? That is to say, is he or she willing to do whatever it takes to fight against the sin? Repenting people, typically, are zealous about casting off their sin. That’s what God’s Spirit does inside of them. When this happens, one can expect to see a willingness to accept outside counsel. A willingness to inconvenience their schedules. A willingness to confess embarrassing things. A willingness to make financial sacrifices or lose friends or end relationships. (p. 72)
These are good indicators, and I believe we can add a few more.

Here are 12 signs we have a genuinely repentant heart:

1. We name our sin as sin and do not spin it or excuse it, and further, we demonstrate “godly sorrow,” which is to say, a grief chiefly about the sin itself, not just a grief about being caught or having to deal with the consequences of sin.

2. We actually confessed before we were caught or the circumstantial consequences of our sin caught up with us.

3. If found out, we confess immediately or very soon after and “come clean,” rather than having to have the full truth pulled from us. Real repentance is typically accompanied by transparency.

4. We have a willingness and eagerness to make amends. We will do whatever it takes to make things right and to demonstrate we have changed.

5. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized, spending as much time as is required listening to them without jumping to defend ourselves.

6. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized as they process their hurt, and we don’t pressure them or “guilt” them into forgiving us.

7. We are willing to confess our sin even in the face of serious consequences (including undergoing church discipline, having to go to jail, or having a spouse leave us).

8. We may grieve the consequences of our sin but we do not bristle under them or resent them. We understand that sometimes our sin causes great damage to others that is not healed in the short term (or perhaps ever).

9. If our sin involves addiction or a pattern of behavior, we do not neglect to seek help with a counselor, a solid twelve-step program, or even a rehabilitation center.

10. We don’t resent accountability, pastoral rebuke, or church discipline.

11. We seek our comfort in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, not simply in being free of the consequences of our sin.

12. We are humble and teachable.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.
– 2 Corinthians 7:9-11

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