I Believe in Christian Teens

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I believe that from within the church God is raising up an army of counter-cultural warriors for the faith. I believe that this generation of born again believers will be sold-out for Christ, not bending their intellect to the whims of cultural godlessness, but unreservedly living out a faith that is firmly grounded in biblical Christianity.

I believe that this coming generation of Christ followers will speak boldly where we have kept silent. I believe that their speech will be seasoned with salt, but unabashedly truthful in witness to the authority, inerrancy, and reliability of God’s Word. Their mouths will not only sing praises to God, but will actively tell future generations of the Gospel-grace of God that is found through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe their conduct will bear living testimony to the joy of doing life God’s way. They will walk worthy of their calling in Christ. They will put to death the cravings of the flesh, and bring to life those actions that are congruous with the holiness of God to which they have been redeemed. Their lifestyles will model the message of Christ that their lips proclaim.

I believe they will love people – all people – like we have failed to love them. Their self-sacrificing, Christlike love will not be bound either by old stereotypes or by current events. This love of theirs, fresh and deep, will be living proof of their loving God.

I believe this new generation of Christians will return to biblical purity – sexually, mentally, and relationally. I believe the curse of sinful sexual temptation, having spiraled out of control in recent generations, will be obliterated as they crawl out of the salacious cultural bed we have made for them, preferring instead to honor the marriage bed as holy unto God.

I believe in Christian Teens.

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, CSB)

Grace and Peace,
Tony

Revival in Grapeland, TX

When Revival Falls

If you’re in the East TX area the week of March 26-29, I’d love to see you at Grapeland Baptist Church for four nights of revival services. I’ll be preaching a series from the first 4 Chapters of Acts, “When Revival Falls.” We’ll look at the New Testament Church being missional, prayerful, evangelistic, and generous, as the Holy Spirit filled them with His presence and power. I sure hope you are able to attend one or more nights of these revival services. And I ask that you begin now to pray in expectation that the Holy Spirit would move mightily… that instead of just going to revival, we might actually experience revival, and that Jesus’s church would be edified and empowered because of it, toward a renewed gospel focus.

See you in Grapeland!

Grapeland Baptist Church
505 Spivey Rd
Grapeland, TX 75844

Grace and Peace,
Tony

Unsung Heros of Your Local Church

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“From Him [(Christ Jesus)] the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself up in love by the proper working of each individual part.” Ephesians 4:16, HCSB

Have you ever thought about how many things need to be done every single week, just so that you can gather in your local church and have a meaningful worship experience? Sure, your paid church staff members are working all week long to discern God’s Word, pray for you and others, connect with the community, communicate vision, and lead with forward momentum. But have you considered and prayed for all of the volunteers that give freely of their own time, energy, giftedness, and resources to make the worship experience happen every week? Here are a some volunteers in your church that are often overlooked, but are an indispensable part of what God is up to in your church. These men and women are making it happen every single week, and are often overlooked and under-appreciated:

The Children’s Ministry Volunteers. They give up their time in corporate worship every week, once a month, or once a quarter, so that YOU can enjoy the worship service free of various distractions. They spend time on their feet investing in your children while you sit in a comfortable chair/pew and enjoy the worship service. These men and women are Kids’ Ministry Super-Heros. If you want a quality Kids’ Ministry at your church–and if you want to reach young families in your community–it will not happen without faithful, sacrificial, servant-hearted Kids’ Ministry Volunteers.

The Nursery Workers. They wipe snotty noses, change dirty diapers, hold, sing to, and comfort crying babies, and clean up messes that you don’t even want to imagine. Their tools for ministry are Lysol wipes, diapers, sanitary trash cans, vacuums, burping cloths, and goldfish containers. If they are to enjoy the worship or the sermon, it will be from behind a computer screen sometime during the week. Sacrifice. Commitment. Selflessness.

The Sound Man. If you haven’t noticed him lately, that’s a good thing. But every time a microphone squeals, a singer can’t be heard, or an instrument goes haywire, looks of judgment from turned heads unsettle him and make him feel unappreciated. He is faithful to serve in his post every week, as a committed part of the ministry team. But no one ever says much to him in the way of encouragement.

The Musicians. They are gifted. Talented. Blessed. But they give up so much to lead you in meaningful worship every single week. Whether they play instruments, sing on a microphone, or stand in the choir, their leadership in worship each week puts pressure on them that you do not know. They memorize music, work on blending, intonation, and tuning, worship through their own mistakes, sacrifice hours every week for rehearsal, and endure the pressures of up-front leadership, all the while trying their best to maintain a visible appearance of authentic, genuine connection with God.

The Deacons. Every day they come alongside their pastor to prayerfully bear the burdens of hundreds of souls. They give from their own pockets to meet tangible needs in the church. They leave their families on their days off to make hospital visits, or to sit beside the bed of ill or grieving people. They buffer and diffuse the disgruntled remarks of church members, keeping the peace among the fellowship at all costs. And it weighs on them. Sometimes very heavily. Not many people approach a deacon unless they have a problem or want to voice a concern. It’s a shame that they are not more often appreciated for their devoted service to their church family.

The Small Group Leaders/Teachers. Every week your Small Group leader spends hours in study and preparation to bring God’s Word to you in an engaging, timely way. When they’re not studying, they are doing the difficult work of staying connected with group members. They remember the dates and times for your surgical procedures and job interviews. They pray for you and your family tirelessly. They are the frontline of ministry needs for everyone in their group. They lead with much investment. But too often they are overlooked in their service to your church.

The Custodian. This person, though most likely paid (underpaid, honestly), is vital in preparing an atmosphere that is conducive to distraction-free worship every week. Cleaning your toilets, sweeping your crumbs, taking out your trash, and maintaining the church’s ins-and-outs is too often a thankless job. We tend to see it as “honest work.” But to him or her, it is absolutely a ministry. The faithful church custodian’s work is essential to distraction-free worship.

The First Impressions (or “Welcome Center”) Volunteers. Can you imagine putting on a smile and welcoming grumpy people to church every single week, when you have your own problems you’re working through? You ask everyone how they’re doing, pray with them in the hallways, fix their coffee, and clean up their messes; but how often does someone stop to ask how your morning is going? How often do they bring you a donut or a fresh cup of coffee? Overlooked. Unthanked. But such an important service to the church body.

The Flowers/Decorations Team. Everyone has an opinion. Surely that is something you already know. Which colors are supposed to go with which particular season, and which kinds of flowers should and should not be included in the altar arrangement. The selection of cloth on the fellowship table, and the kinds of lights used in the Christmas wreaths. Criticism abounds, but encouragement and thankfulness are usually fleeting.

So Many More. Every single week, your experience at church hinges on countless volunteers who give their time, energy, resources, and more to serve YOU in tangible ways. Space does not permit the detailed mentioning of all other ministry volunteers such as those who volunteer for lawn maintenance, quick building repairs, meal cooking/serving rotations, ushering, security, office-related needs, and more. Each of them is an essential part of your positive weekly worship experience.

I pray that after reading this, you will commit to doing two things:

  1. Be intentional about thanking these people. Pray that God would lay some on your heart today who you can text, message, call, or to whom you can send a personal card of appreciation.
  2. Look for ways to plug in. Your church needs YOU to serve, too. God has gifted you in specific ways whether that involves your time, talents, or spiritual giftedness. He has engrafted you into His church body for a purpose. Your church needs you to be an active part of the volunteer team. You don’t need to have a position or a title. Just a servant heart, devoted to the advancement of God’s kingdom in and through your local church.

Serve Him with gladness,
Enter His courts with song. 
To our Creator, true praises belong. 
Great is His mercy, wonderful is His name. 
We gladly serve Him, His great love proclaim.
(B.B. McKinney, 1959)

Grace and Peace, Tony

 

The End of God’s Blessings

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Why would God bless us? Why would He show us favor? Scripture reminds us often that apart from the salvific work of Jesus Christ, humanity is altogether vile, ungodly, self-centered, and short-lived. Why would the infinite, holy God of the universe see fit to pour out His blessings and His favor on us? Certainly we do not deserve it.

We pray for God’s blessings. We pray for healing. We pray for financial freedom. For effectiveness in our various endeavors. For grace toward our children and grandchildren. For God to show up in our circumstances as only He can do… And He does… He answers our prayers. In fact, the Bible teaches us that the prayer of the righteous effectively moves the heart of God.

But why? Why would God bless us and show us favor? Surely there is an end… a purpose… a goal. There’s a word used often in the Greek New Testament to describe the end or the ultimate purpose of something. The word is τέλειος. It describes the state of something when it has grown to its fullest potential – the end goal of something. James used the word in the context of Christian endurance (Ja. 1:4). John used it in the context of Christian love (1 Jn. 4:18). The writer of Hebrews, in the context of the Christian’s personal spiritual growth (Hb. 4:14). The Apostle Paul, in the context of the Christian church’s corporate growth in spiritual unity (Eph. 4:13).

But what is the end – the τέλειος – of the Christian’s blessings from God?

Vanessa and I read Scripture and pray together in the mornings. This morning, as she read Psalm 67 out loud I was reminded of why, ultimately, God chooses to bless those who love Him. And this reminder carries with it a bit of a wake-up call for the redeemed:

“May God be gracious to us and bless us; look on us with favor so that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.” Psalm 67:1-2.

Apparently, God chooses to bless us and show us favor not for our benefit, but for the benefit of “the nations.” God’s blessings poured out on us have for their end the spreading of the Gospel across the corner and around the globe. This seems to be an increasingly foreign concept in our Western Culture… we tend to understand God’s blessings and God’s favor as rewards for our faithfulness, or as His stamp of approval on our lives. But biblically speaking, the end of our blessings is not our satisfaction or our comfort. The end of God’s blessing and favor toward us is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would reach the ends of the earth.

How has God blessed you? How has He shown you favor? And how are you allowing Him to channel His blessings and favor through you, to the ends of the earth? Are your blessings growing to their fullest potential – to their τέλειος?

Christian, God has not blessed you so that you can sit and soak in your blessings. He has blessed you so that His love and His truth will overflow from you – financially, verbally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally – into the lives of others He has put around you… all for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you are hoarding your blessings to yourself, Christian, you’re doing it wrong. But if the blessings of God are flowing through you regularly, faithfully, generously… then perhaps verse 7 will become true in/through your life: “God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear Him.”

Grace and Peace, Tony

5 Steps Toward Winning the Argument

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Everyone likes to win. I know that we’re supposed to have fun “just playing the game,” and that no matter what, we’re supposed to “do our best.” But seriously. I want to win… who doesn’t? In our rapidly evolving world of social media (false senses of courage building from the perceived safety of one’s keyboard), trying to win arguments seems to be one of America’s new favorite past-times. Most of my daily news feeds are littered with one “side” or another attempting desperately to prove itself right. It appears not to matter if the topic at hand is spiritual, political, relational, or even entertainment-based. Polarized sides will take to social media daily in desperate attempts to prove their superior rightness over the baseless idiocy of their opponents. But if your social news feeds are anything like mine, it’s becoming more and more apparent that while many are playing this game, no one is really winning. 

The problem is, in most arguments, we’re not real clear on what winning looks like. You would think that redeemed children of the Living God (Christians) would have a clear understanding of what it looks like to “win” an argument. But it has become apparent that even we are losing it – both figuratively and literally. So, in efforts to help you (Christian) win an argument on social media, allow me to offer a bit of biblical advice, from 2 Timothy 2:22-26. No matter the nature or subject of the controversy, Christian, here’s how you can “win.”

  1. Understand what winning looks like. “Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will” (v.26). When someone who disagrees with you is freed from the snares of Satan, you’ve won. That’s it. That’s what it looks like to win… It looks like freedom. Grace. Salvation. The real “win” is that Satan’s work be squashed and his will overcome by God’s great glory. That’s the “win” for the Christian. Anything else is a loss. So maybe, before going on to Step 2, you need to make sure you have a proper vision of what it will look like to win. If your goal is to prove yourself right, to beat your opponent into humiliating submission, or to catch him in the entanglements of his own flawed logic, you’re not pursuing the Christian win. You’re pursuing something else. And our time is too short and our mission to important to settle for anything less than a real win.
  2. Grow up. “Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (v.22). If you’re responding to opposition with self-centered, childish behavior, get a life. Namely, get Jesus’s life and let Him live it through you. Your unholy tantrums are producing nothing of value in the fight against Satan’s schemes. So grow up. You can’t control what other people say, do, or think. But you can control how you respond to their words, actions, and attitudes. If your actions or reactions are anything but righteousness, faith, love, and peace, you’re playing for the wrong team. If your alliances are with anyone who is not calling “on the Lord from a pure heart,” you’ve switched benches in the middle of the game. So grow up. Get over yourself. Pursue Christ-like spiritual maturity over pursuing a win in any argument. Once you’ve got that down, you can move on to Step 3.
  3. Pick your battles. “But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s slave must not quarrel…” (vs.23-24a). Part of winning is knowing what battles to fight. If you spend all of your time, energy, and report on insignificant battles, you will not win the war. I heard a coach yelling incessantly the other day, on the basketball court. He could barely get a breath in because he yelled at the top of his lungs about every single little thing. Halfway through the second quarter, he called (yelled) for a time out and the officials didn’t hear him. He kept calling it and calling it and they never acknowledged him. Eventually, someone else had to call for the time out from the bench. Know why they never acknowledged him? Because they had tuned him out. He was talking, but they weren’t listening. I wonder, Christian, if you’ve been incessantly talking/complaining – staking your claim and yelling at the top of your lungs (TYPING IN ALL CAPS) – about things that are “foolish and ignorant disputes.” And I wonder if this has caused you to lose report with those you are trying to reach. Don’t quarrel for quarrels’ sake. If you’re going to win the war, you must choose your battles wisely.
  4. Be patient and gentle. “…but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness” (vs.24b-25a). When you do engage in battle, understand that it is the “kindness of the Lord” which leads us to repentance (Ro.2:4). Biblical Christian opposition is always done from a position of gentleness. If you “win” the argument but misrepresent the Savior in the process, you’ve won nothing at all. In fact, if your actions or reactions point people away from the kindness of God instead of to the kindness of God, you’ve not won, but lost. Speak with gentleness. Exercise great patience. Don’t soften the truth, but don’t speak it without love. Don’t cower in fear, but don’t borrow on it either. Whatever the argument, be gentle. And be patient. That’s what points people to Jesus.
  5. Let God do what only He can do. “Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth” (v.25b). Christianity is not a showboating event. You’re playing for the team – for the kingdom of God. Your part is to represent God well in the world where He has placed you. His job is to convict the world of sin and righteousness, and draw them to salvation through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ. Read the playbook. You’re just the assist; God gets the dunk. The real win is not your win anyway. It’s Jesus’s win. No matter how flattering, convincing, or emphatic your words, you cannot get the win on your own. You must play your part well, with a surrendered trust that God will play His. “Repentance” and “truth” cannot be attained by those who are far from God unless God Himself grants it to them. So as you constantly work on Steps 1-4, be sure to let God handle Step 5. And when He does, make Him famous for it. Let Him get the glory.

Grace and Peace, Tony.