Monday, July 25, 2016

Only One Life ~ a poem by C. T. Studd

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life's busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in 'that day' my Lord to meet,
And stand before His judgment seat;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, then still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God's holy will to cleave;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, an fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
Living for self or in His will;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e'er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Brining Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, "Thy will be done";
And when at last I'll hear the call,
I know I'll say, "Twas worth it all";
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Butt Side of Parenting

Christians are entrusted by God with an amazing task: not only to care for our children but to teach them to walk in accordance with God’s ways. Christian parenting is not about behavior modification but about gospel-transformation. It’s introducing our children to Jesus that they may taste of God’s grace and be radically changed from the inside out. Christian parenting is shepherding. It’s leading and guiding our children to be love-filled, faith-filled, hope-filled followers of Jesus. Toward that end Christian parents are to employ two key strategies: 1) corrective discipline and 2) formative instruction. Both are needed.

Formative instruction is teaching so that it forms a specific kind of life. It’s speaking God’s Word into the hearts of our children that their hearts may be transformed. Jesus said in John 17:17 that we are sanctified by God’s truth and that God’s word is truth. The way we become mature love-filled, faith-filled, and hope-filled followers of Jesus is through God’s truth. Our children need formative instruction in order to grow in their faith. In a recent sermon (2/28/16) I discussed formative instruction. To listen to that message click here: Real Life Christian Parents.

In this post I’d like to briefly discuss corrective discipline. By corrective discipline I mean actually disciplining our kids when they do wrong—punishing them when they act in a manner contrary to God’s Word. Proverbs 13:24 says – He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently. Proverbs 22:15 says – Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

The Bible calls on parents to beat the foolishness out of our kids. I’m totally kidding. The Bible never endorses abuse. There’s no place in God’s creation for hurting and harming children. However, God does call parents to lovingly discipline their children.

Corrective discipline is more than just spanking. It also includes time-outs, taking away toys and privileges—car keys, smart phone—and grounding. However, I want to speak to how to spank because I suspect there’s a lot of misunderstanding about it. First, it’s never to be done in anger. It’s to be done in a spirit of love—in the Spirit of Christ. If you’re mad, take the time to calm down first.

Second, check your motives. We don’t spank because it made us angry; we do so because we want to train in righteousness. I wonder how much discipline gets neglected because it didn’t rile us up. Maybe we thought it was cute, or in the moment it didn’t seem like that big a deal. But disobedience is disobedience. Ungodliness is ungodliness. We spank because we want our children to learn the difference between right and wrong. That’s the motive.

Third, always explain what was wrong and why it was wrong. Engage them in a calm conversation. Ask them to explain why it was wrong to make sure they understand. It’s cruel to spank if they don’t know what was wrong and what they’re supposed to learn.

Fourth, share the gospel. Tell them God loves them and wants what’s best for them. Tell them Jesus died for their sin on the cross and that God offers free forgiveness. Their disobedience is an opportunity to share the gospel—to explain that Jesus took their ultimate punishment. It’s the gospel, not spanking, that changes the heart. That’s the transformation we’re after.

Fifth, it’s gotta sting. We’re not trying to injure our kids. We don’t want to cause bruises or welts. That’s child abuse and never permissible. However, it needs to have enough sting that it’s an actual deterrent. They have to learn that sin has consequences. As a side note, be mindful of their instinct to reach back with their hand to block the spanking. That could be more painful and possibly cause injury to one of their fingers or wrist. Be careful that their hands are not in the way and that the spanking goes on that naturally cushioned part of the body.

Sixth, tell them you love them. I’ll be honest with you—these are the best, most loving moments I have with my kids. After the spanking, we always hug it out and tell each other we love one another.

Seventh, have them pray out loud (or lead them in prayer yourself asking them to repeat after you). It's important they learn to confess to God and ask for God’s help to not do it again.

Eighth, lead them to ask for forgiveness of the person they sinned against. “Go say sorry to Mommy” or whatever the case may be. They need to learn to be responsible, take ownership of their wrongdoing, and make amends.

Ninth, provide formative instruction. It goes hand in hand with corrective discipline. It’s hard to correct behavior if we’re not giving proper guidance to begin with. We can’t expect our kids to be mind readers. We can’t expect them to naturally follow after God’s ways. They won’t. They need righteous instruction. They need to be taught what is godly behavior. They need parents who will speak loving truth and truthful love into their hearts.

Here are just a couple of additional suggestions. Don’t count (“1, 2, 3”). When we ask our child to do something or to stop something, they need to learn to heed the instruction immediately. Providing a countdown actually teaches our kids that instant, immediate obedience isn’t important. It trains them to think that all that matters is heeding mom or dad just before it escalates to a spanking. Counting teaches our kids that listening to God’s instruction doesn’t have to be instant and immediate. That’s the opposite of the kind of transformation we’d like to see take place in their lives.

Don’t use chores as punishment. Chores are good. Our kids need to grow up doing chores. Work is good. Helping to clean the house, cooking, doing laundry and yard work are good things—important life skills to learn. It’s part of the discipline of being a mature adult. We don’t want to instill a negative mindset toward chores and work.

If you do threaten discipline, then you HAVE to follow up. We can’t allow for our warnings to grow hollow and empty. Simply providing threat without actually carrying it out makes us out to be manipulative at best and liars at worst. It trains our kids not to trust us and to have no respect for us.

Corrective discipline is a very good thing. When we discipline our kids the right way we’re actually following God’s example. He is a good Father who disciplines us because He loves us (Hebrews 12:7-11). Discipline is one of the ways we come to understand the difference between right and wrong. Corrective discipline is tough and difficult. It’s hard to do, especially the right way, but it’s in the best interest of our kids. It’s an act of love by which we shepherd their heart that they may be love-filled, faith-filled, hope-filled followers of Jesus.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Raising Up Disciples (part 2)

Last week I started a blog series in hopes of helping parents with the grand, God-given task of discipling their children. It's a wonderful privilege, but also an overwhelming one. I find that many parents are a bit intimidated by the thought of discipling their kids. After all, discipleship is about guiding our children to grow as followers of Jesus. That's a huge responsibility.

One of the main challenges is knowing precisely what to teach. I've distilled it down to six topics. These are the irreducible minimums of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. These are the absolute musts of the Christian faith. These are the six topics parents should focus on.

There are many ways to teach these six topics to your kids. You can pick a topic each week and concentrate on that one topic the whole week; and rotate through the topics every six weeks. You can teach a different topic each day of the week (focusing on a different one Monday through Saturday). You decide what's best for you and your children.

As you take steps along this journey, please keep in mind three important factors. First, your kid will never graduate from any of these topics. None of us ever do. These are life-long pursuits. All Christians are always to be growing in their understanding and application of God's truths. Second, you will find that the six topics are inextricably connected. They are not isolated subjects. Therefore, you will want to look for ways to connect the dots. And third, always, always, always remember that the goal isn't intellectual knowledge for the sake of intellectual knowledge. The goal isn't behavior modification for the sake of having well-behaved kids who make us look good in public. The goal is spiritual transformation. The hope is for God's truth to penetrate our children's hearts. The hope of discipleship is for our children to grow in genuine, personal faith - to be authentic followers of Jesus who both know the truth and who live out the truth.

Before we get into the topic here's a disclaimer: I don't write short. I'm an Ent (if it's worth talking about, it's worth taking a long time to say). I realize we live in a Twitter culture. We want advice in 140 characters or less. However, what I'm endeavoring to do is something that requires time and space. It requires our investment. We must be willing to learn so that we may teach. I say that not only to justify my long-windedness but to urge you to give the necessary time to grow so that you may raise up a mature follower of Jesus.

With that, let's take a look at discipleship topic #1 - My God.

The single most fundamental truth of Christianity is the reality that God is Triune. If the doctrine of the Trinity is not true, the entirety of the Christian faith collapses and implodes on itself. The Trinity refers to the tri-unity of God - the three-in-oneness of God. It is a profound mystery far beyond our human capacity to grasp, however, the teaching of the Bible is clear: there is one God who exists in three Persons - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead is fully God, possessing all of the divine attributes and characteristics of God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same essence, substance, character, will, purpose, and glory. Further, each member of the Trinity is distinct from the others. In other words, the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. There are three distinct divine Persons within the Godhead, but there is but ONE God.

Why is this so important? If Jesus Christ is not God (God the Son), then we are still in our sin and without hope. Only God Himself could pay for our sin. Think about it. On the cross God poured out wrath upon Jesus on account of the sin of the world, and Jesus survived. No created being could withstand the judgment of an all-powerful, non-created God. Only God Himself could face His power and live to tell about it.

Genesis 15:1 says - After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you." Abram has a vision and he is terrified. He's afraid for his life because he finds himself in the presence of all-powerful, all-holy God. Knowing his sinful heart, he cowers in fear. Instantly, God says to him, "Do not fear." God tells him precisely why he has no reason to fear - "I am a shield to you." In other words, God Himself will protect Abram from God Himself. This is a picture of Jesus. Jesus is the grace of God shielding us from the justice of God. Jesus went to the cross to absorb the wrath that is deservingly aimed at us on account of our sin.

One of the core tenets of the Christian confession is believing that Jesus Christ is God; not a god, but God Himself. He is Emmanuel (God with us). He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. His name is above EVERY name. He is our God and our Creator. This is a truth that we carefully want to teach our children. We want them to refer to Jesus as "my God."

Here are some Scripture references to discuss with your children and teach them the Trinity and divinity of Jesus:
  • John 1:1-4, 9-14
  • Philippians 2:5-11
  • Colossians 1:13-22
  • Hebrews 1:1-3
  • Matthew 28:19 (note the singular name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14 (note the equality between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
  • Titus 2:11-14; 3:4 (God and Jesus are both referred to as Savior)
  • John 10:30
This is not an exhaustive list of Scriptural texts on the subject but it should give you a good start. Pick one these texts, pray out loud with your kid asking for God's help, read it with your child, ask them what it says, have a conversation, and explain it to them (as best you can). Then, tomorrow, next week, or in six weeks (depending on how you want to go about it), pick another text and follow the process.

It's not possible to understand the Trinity, but it is essential that we believe in the Trinity. It's hard to grasp the truth that Jesus was fully God and fully man, but it is a non-negotiable truth of the Christian faith. All Christians struggle with these truths, but all Christians accept them. That is in fact what it means to be a Christian. It's placing our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity and in the divinity of Jesus.

If we desire for our children to mature as followers of Jesus, we must take the time to pour this truth into their hearts. If we teach nothing else, we must expose them to this truth. Ultimately, all theological error (heresy) is a failure to accept and embrace this truth. We don't want our kids to fail. We want to set them up for success - spiritual success - and that requires that we come alongside them and pour essential truth into them.

If you'd like an additional resource on the Trinity, click here to listen to a message on the topic (Holy Spirit - Trinity). Scroll down to the May 31, 2015 podcast entitled INdependence: Helped. The message is particularly on the Holy Spirit but I spend a considerable amount of time discussing the Trinity.

May these few thoughts help you in raising up a love-filled, faith-filled, hope-filled follower of Jesus. As a parent, you have no greater responsibility. May God bless your efforts.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Raising Up Disciples (part 1)

One of the most important tasks given to us is leading our children to become followers of Jesus. Psalm 78 tells us to teach our children about God and about His glorious deeds so that they may learn to set their hope in Him and learn to faithfully walk in all His ways. This is a great privilege and responsibility that has been bestowed upon us: raising up the next generation of disciples.

While this is a wonderful privilege, it is also one the most intimidating challenges we face. As parents we desire for our children to grow into mature followers of Jesus but we struggle with the task. What do I say? What do I teach them? What do they need to learn? How do I go about it?

In an attempt to give a little guidance to parents I'm writing a seven part blog series. This will be by no means exhaustive. My goal is simply to provide a big picture for how to approach discipleship. The goal of discipleship is teaching our children to live as Christians. So here's the big question: What does it mean to be a Christian?

The answer to that question can be broken down into 6 parts:

  • My God                        (Jesus is God - refers to the Trinity and Christ's divinity)
  • My Savior                    (Jesus paid for our sins)
  • My Champion              (Jesus was raised from the dead)
  • My Lord                       (Jesus is our teacher and example)
  • My mission                  (Jesus calls us to be witnesses)
  • My family                     (Jesus calls us to part of a local church)

Over the next several weeks I will be discussing each of those six "my" statements. I'll provide some Scripture references, as well as  a few suggestions for how to disciple your kid in those areas.

Today, I want to quickly comment on three aspects of discipleship. First, discipleship means gospel-change not behavior modification. The goal isn't for our children to know how to act like a Christian but for them to actually be a Christian. The goal isn't to have well-behaved children in church but children who have been changed and continued to be changed by the truth and love of God. We want for truth to take root in their hearts. In essence, our hope is for our kids to understand the "why" - to do the right thing because their heart's understanding of God's love toward them.

Second, discipleship is about life-training. Most people think of discipleship simply as the conveying of information. It is true that we must teach our children biblical content. It's absolutely necessary for them to be exposed to truth and to biblical facts. However, biblical discipleship goes well beyond learning content. I've known plenty who can quote the Bible and who are able to engage in major theological discussions but they do not live as a follower of Jesus. So as we take steps toward leading our kids it is important to remember that we don't simply want to fill their heads with knowledge but we want to help them to apply that knowledge. That takes place when we train them, showing them a good example, and helping them to live out the gospel. This is something that takes place in real life and in real time when we walk alongside our children.

Third, discipleship is about personal ownership. Did you notice the word my in the phrases above? MY God. MY Savior. MY Champion. MY Lord. MY mission. MY family. Psalm 18:1-2 says, "I love You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. A true follower of Jesus is a person who takes personal ownership of their faith. To Christians God is not an abstract theological concept or an impersonal deity; He is our God. We enjoy personal relationship with Him. We love Him because He is our loving Father. At the end of the day the goal of discipleship is for our children to think of God as "MY God," to think of Jesus as "MY Savior," to think of witnessing as "MY mission," and so on.

God has endowed us with a wonderful task. We have the opportunity to lead our children in becoming love-filled, faith-filled, hope-filled followers of Jesus. There's is no greater work! If we stay committed, if we pray for God's help, if we keep the end-goal in mind, God will bless us and we will raise up the next generation.

I hope this blog series helps us to get excited about discipling our kids.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Monday, January 26, 2015

The P's of Preaching/Teaching

Getting to present God's Word to others is an amazing privilege. I love every opportunity to do so whether it's preaching on Sundays, teaching a small group, or doing one-on-one discipleship. It's a source of great joy for me, but it's also a heavy responsibility. Not only must I be a good steward of God's Word, not only will I one day be held accountable for my preaching/teaching, but on top of that, I always feel the need to improve as a preacher and teacher.

Learning to preach and to teach can be overwhelming, and growing in those disciplines can feel a bit daunting. I have a long way to go, but God is teaching me along the way. He is providing me with more and more insight, sharpening me as a communicator of His truth. Below are nine P's (excuse the old school alliteration) of preaching/teaching which God is keeping at the forefront of my preparation. This isn't an exhaustive list, but I hope thinking through these nine P's will help you as you prepare to present God's Word to others.

1) Proclamation - It's not a sermon or a Bible lesson if you don't proclaim the gospel. Our goal in preaching and teaching isn't behavior modification but true heart transformation. That can only take place through knowledge of the gospel. Therefore, it's important to have a gospel hermeneutic. Jesus taught in Luke 24 that all Scripture is about Him. It all points to who He is, to His example, to His atoning death, to His resurrection, to His ascension, to His mediating ministry in heaven, and to His eventual return. Preaching and teaching includes understanding the historical context of the passage and the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek. However, the point of the passage is Jesus. So if we miss to teach what the text teaches about Jesus (and the gospel), then we miss the point, and if we miss the point we can't point others to Christ. Spend time discovering Jesus in the text so that you may reveal Jesus as you preach/teach.

2) Penitence - It's not preaching or teaching if you don't call people to repentance. Scripture reveals an impossible standard. In every page of the Bible God calls us to perfect obedience and holiness, and that reality begs a response. Because we all fall short of the glory of God we must repent. When we preach/teach we are presenting God's standard. Therefore, we must invite people to respond to God in humble repentance. As you prepare your sermon or lesson think about what areas of life you will be calling people to repent in, and think through how you will verbalize that invitation.

3) Persuasiveness - In 2 Corinthians 5:11Paul says we should be persuaders of men. Preaching and teaching is making a case. It requires being logical with your argument and thoughtful with your logic. It's reasoning with another using Scripture as your authoritative source. It's making a defense of the hope that is in you. God said in Isaiah 1:18, "Let us reason together." As as preacher/teacher you are God's messenger called by God to reason with people that they be persuaded to embrace His truth and love. As you prepare think about how to persuade your audience to accept and live out what is revealed in the text.

4) Precision - It's of utmost important to be theologically precise and biblically accurate. That means we must be learners. We must continually grow in the knowledge of God's Word, honing our understanding, and refining our doctrinal positions. We must be canonically precise, letting Scripture interpret Scripture. But preaching/teaching precision isn't simply matter of our understanding, it's also a matter our word choice. We may understand a doctrine perfectly but if can't communicate it well, then we may actually harm our audience. Word-smithing matters. Our words must be precise in communicating God's truth. This is why I recommend writing out sermons and lessons because the exercise helps us to think through our theology and to craft how we'll communicate it with others.

5) Personal - As preachers/teachers we do not simply convey facts as if we're simply robotic information brokers. We convey God's truth through the prism of our lives. Good sermons and good Bible lessons are those in which the text of Scripture has first personally affect the preacher/teacher. They have internalized it and been convicted, comforted, or challenged. So as you prepare, what is it that God is personally teaching you? Bring that to your message or Bible study. Preach and teach out of the overflow of what God teaches you. Also, bring your personal illustrations and make it relatable. Help to make the text personal to your audience.

6) Practical - Preaching and teaching isn't simply presenting biblical content, but it's helping people to apply that content to their lives. In teaching we must provide examples and suggestions for what to do and how to do it. Our job is to show the practical side of theology. This is what discipleship is. It's preaching/teaching that guides individuals to live as followers of Jesus. But as said earlier, our goal isn't behavior modification but gospel transformation. Our goal isn't to white wash sinners. That's why we must preach/teach with a gospel hermeneutic. Aways, always, always present the "why" (the gospel). Then, invite people to apply the "what" to their lives.

7) Pastoral - We don't have to be a pastor to preach/teach in a pastoral way. Think of a sermon or a lesson as one way that God shepherds His people. Shepherding is pastoral work. God uses us shepherd people's hearts and minds by comforting the broken, properly aligning flawed thinking, admonishing the backslidden, etc. In your sermons and Bible lessons you are teaching Scripture; but just as true is the fact that you are teaching people - people who need help, guidance, training, encouragement, correction, and edification. As you prepare to preach/teach think about how God will use you to shepherd the people you're speaking to.

8) Passion - Many sermons and Bible lessons fall short because the preacher/teacher lacks passion. Passion doesn't mean yelling and hollering and being demonstrative. Passion means sincerity, genuineness, and authenticity. It's possessing a real zeal for God, His truth, His people, and His mission. It's truly caring about what truly matters. It's being enthusiastic about God and things of God. It's cliche but it's true: enthusiasm sells. Teach with conviction and boldness. Be passionate and let it shine through in your preaching and teaching. Our messages and Bible studies should be inspiring and compelling.

9) Prayerful - Preaching/teaching is a spiritual endeavor that falls flat and fails miserably if we're relying on our own ability, strength, creativity, and resourcefulness. Every time we present God's Word we have to do so in God's Spirit so we must come humbly before the Lord and pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, we must pray for those in our audience that they may have ears to hear and for God to open their hearts to His truth. Are you praying during your preparation, praying for God's help, and praying for those you're preaching to and teaching?

None of us do all of the above P's perfectly so I recommend taking one or two per week and emphasizing that P in your preparation that week. If you do so, over time you'll begin to experience growth as a preacher/teacher.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Core Values: Teamwork

All organizations have stated core values - organizational ideals communicated to be of paramount importance. However, often is the case that an organization's stated core values are not reflected the life of the organization. The result is a disconnect between stated core values and actual core values. So the question before all organizations is this: Are the stated core values the same as the actual core values?

When there is a disconnect between stated values and actual values the result is confusion. It's the same as telling someone that you're enjoying kung pao chicken when you're actually eating a pepperoni pizza. Both are good, but each represents a different culture. And that's what core values are all about. Core values are indicative of an organization's culture.

As a church it is paramount that all of our members foster the same culture. Confusion works against our mission. Therefore, we want everyone to hold the same values. As a church we want for our stated values to be our actual values. Our hope is for our stated core values to be reflected in the life of our individual members and in the life of our church as a whole.

At Anthem Church we have eight stated cored values:

  1. Celebration
  2. Excellence
  3. Responsibility
  4. Teamwork
  5. Alignment
  6. Vision-Focused Ministry
  7. Gospel Change
  8. Urgency of Mission
Let's take a little time to discuss #4 - Teamwork.

A church is a big team made up of smaller teams (we'll discuss that further when we talk about alignment). We refer to the small teams as our ministry teams (Praise Team, Tech Team, Host Team, Children's Ministry, etc.). We believe that it is best for our ministries to operate as teams - for there to be a vibrant spirit of teamwork.

We believe we can do more as a team than we can on our own. Teamwork means striving together, pulling in the same direction, to accomplish the same goal. It's combining our effort in order to go further faster. Working in teams is better because more people means 1) more gifts and talents, 2) more better ideas, and 3) more perspective.

Most people are pro teamwork until it's actually time to be a part of a team. The reason teamwork is difficult is because it requires three things that do not come natural to us: 1) humility, 2) trust, and 3) consensus.

Humility: Being a team member means being teachable and coachable, willing to receive constructive criticism for your own good, the good of the ministry, and the good of the church. It is important to be humble enough to let others help us to improve by speaking into areas that need improvement.

Trust: Teamwork requires trust. It is important for team members to trust each other trusting that when feedback or suggestions are given it's not personal but that it's being graciously provided for the good of the team member, the ministry, and the church.

Consensus: It's unfortunate in church life that often people get upset when their opinion or suggestion isn't adopted. It may be a good idea but for whatever reason may not fit with the greater picture. In those cases we need to embrace consensus. Consensus doesn't mean compromise. It means agreeing beforehand to go along with the decision even if it's not your preferred way (so long as it doesn't compromise your biblical convictions of course).

Teamwork means serving alongside others, with a spirit of humility, for the sake of the glory of God. It's leveraging each other's God-given talents, gifts, experience, education, and resources so that we may do something greater together than we ever could on our own. It's Philippians 1:27 - "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel."

Let's strive to make teamwork a real core value at Anthem Church.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Core Values: Responsibility

What is a core value? Let's start with what a core value is not. In the business world, "making money" isn't a core value. Clearly, a business exists to make money, but so does every other business. In the church world, "making disciples" isn't a core value. Clearly, a church exists to make disciples, but so does every other church. My point is that a core value isn't something that is true of everyone else. A core value simply the bottom line (making money or making disciples).

An organization's core value(s) isn't what it makes but rather how it makes what it makes. Core values are the characteristics that define the manner in which the organization makes what it makes. Core values are not to be confused with methods, strategies, or tactics. Core values are the glue that give an organization's methods, strategies, and tactics uniqueness and distinction from other organizations. So for example, you have two churches, both with the same mission, and both employing very similar methods, strategies, and tactics, and those two churches can "feel" dramatically different. Why? The answer is the difference in core values.

At Anthem Church we have eight core values which we hold up as supreme in giving our church its distinctive "feel." They are:

  1. Celebration
  2. Excellence
  3. Responsibility
  4. Teamwork
  5. Alignment
  6. Vision-Focused Ministry
  7. Gospel-Change
  8. Urgency of Mission

Let's a quick look at #3 - Responsibility

The health of our church and the advancement of our mission is dependent upon the honesty, integrity, loyalty, and commitment of our volunteers. Little to nothing takes place if not for responsible individuals honoring their word and taking care of business.

In 1 Corinthians 12 the church is described as being a body with each individual believer comprising a different body part (eyes, ears, hands, etc.). For a human body to be healthy and to function properly each individual body part must be healthy and function properly. Similarly, a church body can only be a s healthy and functional as its individual church members. Each part must do its specific role for the sake of the whole.

At Anthem we value responsibility because we know that we can only go as far as the dependability of our volunteers. We rely on responsible believers carrying out their God-given roles so that together we may fill Angier and the world with love-filled, faith-filled, hope-filled followers of Jesus (our mission).

Let's strive together to make responsibility a real and true core value in the life of Anthem Church.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

One Year & Counting

This past Sunday we celebrated our ONE YEAR anniversary since beginning Sunday morning worship services in Angier. This is huge given that not every church plant survives its first year. But Anthem Church isn't just surviving; we're thriving.

Why are we thriving? There are four reasons. First and foremost, it's because God's favor rests upon Anthem Church. This is His doing. This is His show. He is blessing us, growing our church, and providing everything we need. The Lord gets all the glory, honor and praise.

Second, we are thriving because of continued support from outside of Anthem Church. Our sending church Explore Church continues to support us financially and continues to send volunteers to serve in various ministries (i.e. praise team, children's ministry, building work). We also receive much needed financial support from the Little River Baptist Association and from the NC State Baptist Convention. If not for their commitment to church planting, we would not be able to keep out doors open. And we have also received contributions from other churches: Redeemer Community Church in Fuquay, Bethel Church in Willow Springs, and Intentional Love Baptist Church in Fuquay. It's amazing how much support we have received in our first year. We're so grateful for all of the help.

Third, we are thriving because of our volunteers. Anthem Church is filled with followers of Jesus who realize that Christianity isn't a spectator sport. You are not sitting on your hands, but are rather lending a hand. You selflessly give of your time to use your gifts, talents, and abilities. You serve beyond the level of convenience often serving in multiple ministries. Thank you for your sacrifice. The truth is that we can only go so far as our volunteers are willing to take us.

And fourth, we are thriving because we are active as a church. Our calendar is filled with outreach, missions, evangelism, and service projects. We have been extremely active in Angier doing our best to be a blessing to our community. We have been busy - good busy - strategic busy - busy with a purpose. And here's what I know: God blesses busy. God is blessing us because we are focused on our mission of filling Angier and the world with love-filled, faith-filled, hope-filled followers of Jesus.

We give thanks to God for blessing us so much during our first year. We praise Him for an amazing first twelve months. Now we turn our eyes toward the future and pray for God to continue to grow our numbers, grow our influence, and grow our ability to fill Angier and the world with love-filled, faith-filled, hope-filled followers of Jesus.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Core Values: Excellence

In working toward my doctorate I have read numerous books on church leadership and organizational structure, and there appears to be much confusion as to what defines a core value. There is a lot of ambiguity, disagreement, and contradiction on the subject, and that is partly due to the fact that individuals are blurring the lines between an organization's core values, and an organization's purpose, mission, vision, strategy, and methodology.

This confusion is prevalent in our churches. For example, churches often list activities such as worship, prayer, Bible reading, fellowship, etc. as their core values. However, in my personal (and as humble as possible) opinion, I would argue that those activities are not core values. Those are spiritual disciplines that should be valued and should be characteristic in the life of every individual believer and every church but they are not core values.

A core value refers to an organization's behavioral values. It's a church's personality. It's what makes one church distinct from another one. This has little, if anything, to do with style (i.e. traditional vs. contemporary). There can be two contemporary churches next to one another and still be extremely different because they have different core values and/or prioritize different values.

Core values determine how you do what you do. All churches have worship services, but core values are what make one different from the other. All churches have a mission, but core values delimit and delineate the manner in which the mission is carried out. Core values are the characteristics that drive a church's culture.

At Anthem Church we have eight core values:
  • Celebration
  • Excellence
  • Responsibility
  • Teamwork
  • Alignment
  • Vision-Focused Ministry
  • Gospel-Change
  • Urgency of Mission

I'm taking the time to comment on each of our core values. The previous post was on celebration. Today, I'm commenting on EXCELLENCE.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31 - So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Clearly, Christians and churches should do all things for the glory of God. But that's not what this verse teaches. Here, we are told to do all TO the glory of God. Everything we do is to be done with excellence because we are doing onto the Lord.

When it comes to serving God, good enough isn't good enough. The biggest enemy to doing things with excellence is "good enough." The greatest obstacle to serving God with excellence is letting a "good enough" attitude to crepe into our thinking.

We recognize that perfection on earth is unattainable. We have all sorts of limitations that prevent us from perfect excellence. That being said, as followers of Jesus we don't settle for good enough but strive to the best of our ability, in complete reliance upon God, using all the gifts and resources He has provided to do things with excellence.

Aristotle once said, "Excellence is an art won by training and habituation...We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." Excellence isn't a one time action. It's a habit that characterizes a person's life; and that habit is one driven by the acknowledgement that good enough just isn't good enough.

We communicate something important to others when we strive to serve the Lord with excellence. We communicate our love and reverence for God. We communicate God's greatness and that He is worthy of our best. It is a good witness to the world when we strive to do all to the glory of God.

Our motivation for working so hard to do all things with excellence is the gospel. God gave us His best. In love God sent His Son. In love Jesus gave His life. In love the Holy Spirit directs us. And one day God Himself will usher us into His presence, a place characterized by glorious excellence.

So Anthemers let's strive to do all that we do with excellence. In all of our various ministries, let's work to do all things to the glory of God.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Core Values: Celebration

All organizations, including churches, have core values. A core value is what gives an organization its own distinctive flava. It's what gives a church its unique culture, feel, and vibe.

Our mission is what we are here to do. Our strategy is what we do in order to accomplish our mission. Our core values are how we do what we do. In other words, our core values are our operating system. These are our organization's behavioral characteristics that determine the manner in which we do what we do so that we may fulfill what we are here to do.

At Anthem Church we have eight core values:
  1. Celebration
  2. Excellence
  3. Responsibility
  4. Teamwork
  5. Alignment
  6. Vision-Focused Ministry
  7. Gospel-Change
  8. Urgency of Mission
These core values are the parameters that delineate and delimit what we do and how we do it. Thus, it's vital that we keep our core values in front of us. It's important that we read off the same sheet of music (we are Anthem Church after all). So this week, here's a quick reminder about our core value - CELEBRATION.

Our desire at Anthem is to foster a culture of celebration in all that we do. We want for our Sunday morning worship services, children's Sunday school classes, A-Teams, Anthem Night praise & worship services, outreach events, service project events and so on to be characterized by JOY.

Most of us get pretty beat up and beat down by the world each week. So our hope is for Anthem Church to offer an alternative experience. Our goal is to lift people's spirits.

Scripture says that we are to comfort others with the comfort with which we have been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), that in CHrist we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and that in heaven God will wipe away all our tears (Revelation 21:4).

The Bible presents the Christian experience as one of joy in the midst of the trials and sufferings of this world. Therefore, we strive to foster joy in everything that we do. This doesn't mean putting on a fake smile. It means reminding ourselves and reminding each other of who we are in Christ and of what we have in Christ. It's bring the gospel to bear in all we do and being filled with joy as we reflect on the good news of Jesus.

In regard specifically to our worship services we believe that our gatherings should be a picture of heaven. When followers of Christ gather together in the presence of God it should be a glimpse of the joy and celebration of heaven. At Anthem Church we don't offer "happy," ""positive," "exciting" worship services as a church growth strategy. Our conviction is simply that when believers gather it should be characterized by joy in the Lord and celebration of the gospel. And if God uses that to draw people unto Himself...great!

So Anthemers, let's strive together to make celebration a real and true core value in the life of our church.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Community

This brings us to our final installment in this blog series. Over the past several weeks we've been reviewing a recent sermon series entitled Freedom. The premise of the series was that many Christians miss out on enjoying a life of freedom in Christ, and that is often due to a neglect of the spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual disciplines include: worship, prayer, giving, Bible study, serving, and community. These are tools given to us by God by which to enjoy the freedom that Christ has won for us. It's important to note that practicing these disciplines are not what make us Christian. A Christian is a Christian because they have placed their faith (their lives) in Christ. We become a Christian by the grace of God through faith in who Jesus is and what He accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection.

We were all born enslaved - under the bondage of sin and under the tyranny of its power over us. But Jesus came from heaven to liberate us. Through His death on the cross, He won our freedom. He set us free from sin and from its eternal consequences. We receive that freedom when we repent of our sin and turn to follow Him. And then, having received that freedom, we begin to live a life of freedom. And the way that we do that is through practicing the spiritual disciplines.

The spiritual disciplines don't make us free, but they are a means through which we enjoy the freedom that Christ secured for us.

Today, I'm briefly summarizing the sixth and final discipline that we discussed in our sermon series: Christian Community.

We began by looking at Galatians 5:13-6:2 and there we saw what freedom looks like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (5:22). That's what is called the fruit of the Spirit. That's what it means to live in freedom. In other words, a life of freedom is reflecting the character of Jesus, following His example, and growing in His likeness.

Well, the big question is: How do we begin to live that kind of life? According to Galatians 5:13-6:2, we live a life of freedom in Christ as we begin to enjoy the loving community of Christ. If we want to walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then we must walk along side fellow believers. Galatians 5:13 says, "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve ONE ANOTHER." It's in the context of serving one another (Christian community) that Paul begins to talk about walking in the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, living in the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, it's in the context of teaching about the importance of community, that Paul teaches us what freedom looks like.

To enjoy our freedom in Christ, it is important to grow close relationships with other Christians.

Then we looked at Hebrews 3:12-13. There we saw that spiritual freedom means enjoying rest; and it is Jesus who provides spiritual rest. In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus says, "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you REST. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find REST for your souls."

That's what we all desire. Deep down in the depths of our heart we desire peace, calm, and joy. We desire to be at rest. But the truth is that sin resides in our heart and that sin is always fighting against rest. Our own hearts gravitate toward chaos, despair, fear, worry, insecurity, and angst. We're all prone to this. That's why in Hebrew 3:12-13 we're commanded to look out for one another - to help each other to keep from straying from the rest that we find in Christ. We need Christian community (our church family) to shepherd our hearts and to keep us from wandering away from what it is that deep down inside we desire.

The importance of being a part of a local church cannot be over stated. And by that I'm not referring to attending a church service on Sunday mornings. What I am referring to is be an active participant so that you are involved in the church and the church is involved with you. And by church, I mean brothers and sisters in Christ. It is imperative that we have authentic relationships with fellow believers who will help us in our walk with Jesus, and who we can help in theirs.

If you're not part of a local church, find one (one that believes the Bible is God's Word). Join a small group (at Anthem Church we call them A-Teams), a Bible study, or a Sunday school class where you can begin to get to know people. Volunteer in a ministry. Community means not only serving one another but also serving with another. Get to "church" early on Sundays and get to know people. "Church" is just a once a week worship service. Church is God's people. Show up early on Sundays to establish and build relationships. Open up your home and have people over. Invite someone to lunch or to coffee. Practice the spiritual discipline of community.

There are more spiritual disciplines than the six we covered in our series, but these six are a good introduction into the topic. I hope that the series (sermon and blog) will spur a significant spiritual curiosity that will compel you to continue to study and apply these disciplines into your normal every day practice so that you may enjoy a life of FREEDOM.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Serving

Here's installment #5 in this current blog series. I'm in the process of summarizing the six spiritual disciplines that we discussed in a recent sermon series. This week I'm reviewing the spiritual discipline of serving/service.

As I've mentioned in each of these blog posts, the best way to learn about or to be reminded of the spiritual disciplines is to listen to the messages from the sermon series. To do so click here: Freedom.

Usually, the topic of spiritual disciplines is taught with an individualistic emphasis. Each of us as individual followers of Jesus are to worship, pray, give, read our Bible, etc. That is true. Each individual follower of Jesus should practice the spiritual disciplines on their own. However, the richness of the spiritual disciplines is experience more fully and completely when they are practiced alongside other believers. The discipline of service illustrates this well for us.

During the sermon series we looked at 1 Corinthians 12-20 and we discovered that serving takes place first and foremost in the context of the local church. The biblical assumption is that believers will serve one another and will serve with one another. This is crucial not only for the spiritual health of an individual Christian but is also crucial for the health of a local church.

Each local church (body) is representative of the universal church (body). Those who are followers of Jesus are individual parts of the body of Christ. We fit together as part of a whole; and thus we need each other.

One of the key teachings of 1 Corinthians 12 is that all Christians are given spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is a unique, divinely inspired empowerment that is provided by God for the common good. These special giftings are given for the benefit of others. Thus, it is important that we understand that our spiritual gift isn't so much a gift given to us but rather a gift given by God to our church through us. When we serve and use our specific spiritual gift(s) others are helped and the mission of the church advances. If we fail to use our spiritual gift(s), then it is to the detriment of others and to the detriment of our church.

For more on spiritual gifts see my posts on spiritual gifts Gifted to Serve: Part 1 (March 14, 2014) and Gifted to Serve: Part 2 (March 19, 2014).

Great things happen when we serve and give of our time, talents, and gifts. This is what we saw when we looked at the Book of Nehemiah. There we saw the story of the re-building of the wall around Jerusalem. It's a great example of what happens when God's people pull their own weight and fulfill their specific roles. In only fifty days, they re-built a wall around the entire city of Jerusalem. They all worked together and by God's grace something amazing was  accomplished. The same is true today. By God's grace we can be part of building something incredible. If we serve one another and serve with one another, we can be part of building God's kingdom in our hearts and in this world.

Serving is a discipline because serving is contrary to our sinful nature. We don't like putting others ahead of ourselves. We'd rather live for ourselves and look after our own concerns. So it requires discipline to be loving and to give of ourselves for the good of others.

Jesus Himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Giving isn't limited to financial contributions, but also includes donating time and effort for the good of others and for the advancement of God's kingdom in this world. It is more blessed to serve others than to live selfishly. It is more blessed to use your spiritual gifts. It is more blessed to serve fellow believers and to serve alongside them. It is more blessed to serve Him who served us by giving His life on a cross that we may receive forgiveness of sin and receive grace for eternal life.

Begin exploring ways to serve. Join a ministry at your church. Try out different ministries until you find the one that fits best. Be a part of outreach events, service projects, and go on mission trips. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. As His followers let us follow in His footsteps. Let's be humble servant of God, servants in our churches, and servants in our communities.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Bible Study

The good things in life require work. And it's no different when it comes to enjoying spiritual freedom. The good news is that spiritual freedom is a free gift. Jesus did the hard work. He endured the cross in order to win our freedom; and now anyone who repents of their sin, who commits to Jesus, and who believes that He was raised from the dead is granted spiritual freedom. That's the moment of conversion. At that moment, sin is no longer master over that person. By grace through faith, the new follower of Jesus is freed from sin and from it's eternal consequences.

Jesus makes us free, but we do have to live out that freedom. We do have a role to play if we want to enjoy the freedom that Christ has secured for us. This is where the spiritual disciplines come into play.

Today, I'm summarizing the fourth spiritual discipline that we covered in a recent sermon series entitled Freedom. I hope these summaries are helpful, but I do recommend listening or re-listening to the Sunday messages. To do so click here: FREEDOM.

The fourth spiritual discipline covered was the discipline of Bible study. This includes reading the Bible, meditating on Scripture, memorizing God's word, and journaling.

We began by taking a look at Psalm 19. That psalm begins with a grand statement: "The heavens declared the glory of God." All the galaxies in the universe, the trillions upon trillions of stars, quasars, black holes, nebulas, moons, planets, comets, and asteroids---the entirety of the expanse of the cosmos and all that it contains---all of it points to the majesty, the splendor, and the infinite worth of our all-powerful Creator. But as much as the heavens proclaim the magnificence and resplendence of All Mighty God, they don't do it as well as the Bible.

The Bible reveals more glory than all the stars in the universe, and the reason that's the case is because Scripture reveals to us the very heart of God. The Bible exposes us to the glory of God's grace. It's through God's Word that God reveals Himself to us. In it He tells us who He is, informs us of His character, teaches us how to live, warns us of danger, and even tells us about the future. The Bible is God's gift to us that we may know how to walk in freedom. Therefore, it is crucial that we read it, study it, and apply it to our lives.

We also took a look at John 15. John 15 tells us that just as a branch is to abide in the vine we must abide in Jesus. To abide means to make your home. In other words, followers of Jesus are to make their home (abode) in Jesus; and the way we do that is by practicing the spiritual discipline of Bible study.

What happens if you cut-off a vine from the life-giving vine? It begins to wither and dies. It's the same with us. When we don't spend time in God's Word, we begin to wither spiritually. Bible study is how we stay connected to God and receive the spiritual nutrients we need to be spiritual healthy and to produce good spiritual fruit in our lives.

Here are a few simple suggestions for how to commit to Bible study:

  1. Schedule it into your day and week
  2. Ask someone to hold you accountable
  3. Have a Bible reading plan (Click here for some suggestions: PLAN)
  4. Join a Bible study group
  5. If you've never read or studied the Bible, begin in the Gospel of Matthew or the Book of James
  6. Always remember, the goal is filling your head with information, but learning more about God and growing closer to Him.

I hope that you will devote sufficient time to God's Word. Let God reveal His heart to yours. Make Jesus your abode and enjoy the freedom that He won for you through His life, crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Giving

Here's installment number three in this current blog series. What I am doing is providing a basic summary of the sermon series which we concluded a few weeks ago. The series was entitled Freedom.

Many of us struggle to live a life of spiritual freedom, and one of the main reasons that is often the case is because we neglect to practice the spiritual disciplines (i.e. worship, prayer, giving, Bible study, serving, and Christian community). Practicing these disciplines doesn't make us free. Faith in Jesus is what makes us free. It's trusting in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that makes us free. However, it's through the disciplines that we enjoy the freedom that Christ won for us.

I recommend taking the time to listen (or re-listen) to the messages in the series. To do so simply click here: FREEDOM. What I am doing in my blog is simply summarizing some of the key points we made in regard to the six spiritual disciplines that we discussed during the series.

This week I'm briefly summarizing the spiritual discipline of generous giving.

We looked at 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, and what we saw was that like prayer giving is all about grace and glory. Second Corinthians 8:9 says, "For you know the GRACE of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." What that verse teaches us is that teaches is that Jesus left the amazing, glorious riches of heaven and came into this world. He bankrupted Himself by taking on human form and dying on a cross. And the reason He did so was that we who are sinners (spiritually poor) may one day through His faith in Him and His sacrifice enter into the amazing, glorious riches of heaven. That's grace.

Well, if we are eternal beneficiaries of the grace of God through Jesus, then we should be agents of grace. Like Jesus we should be generous givers that others may also benefit from God's grace. Giving is about lovingly helping those in need and sacrificially supporting the advancement of the gospel. 

Second Corinthians 9:13 says, "Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will GLORIFY God for your obedience." The discipline of giving is about being gracious toward others that God may be glorified. Because we have received God's grace, then we now live for His glory. And one of the ways that we live for his glory is by being generous with the financial resources that God has entrusted into our care. 

We can't live spiritually free is we're enslaved by the love of money. We can't save, invest, earn, or buy our way into freedom. The opposite is true. We enjoy the freedom that Christ won for us, when we are open handed with our finances and possessions. 

There are many ways to practice the spiritual discipline of giving, but it begins by budgeting. Take some time to evaluate your finances. What are some costs that you can eliminate from your expenses? How can you better prioritize your expenditures? Make a budget and stick to it. Be sure to include your tithes/offerings to your church. Set money aside to support missionaries, church planting, and mission trips. 

The spiritual discipline of giving includes the spiritual discipline of stewardship. We are not owners. We are managers. God has entrusted certain resources into our care. Our role is to use those resources the right way. As followers of Jesus, we are to be good stewards of that which God has blessed us with. We are to be agents of grace. We have received the grace of God so that we may show that same grace to others; and we show grace by giving generously. And when we do so, God is glorifies. And nothing brings more joy to the heart of a believer than glorifying God.

Be an agent of grace!

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Prayer

Last week I began a six week blog series in which I am summarizing the six spiritual disciplines we recently covered in a sermon series entitled Freedom. If you did not read last week's blog post, I recommend starting there. I also suggest listening to the sermons. The summaries I am posting are simply...summaries. Listening to the specific messages, whether for the first time or as a reminder, should help you to better understand and apply the spiritual disciplines into your daily life. To listen to our sermons, click here: Freedom.

The second spiritual discipline we discussed in our sermon series was prayer. What is prayer? I personally find prayer to be a mystery. A child can do it yet adults stumble over it. It's simple yet profound. It's the easiest thing in the world to do yet the hardest thing to do. It's very practical yet very theological. Anyone can do it yet many don't. Prayer is a mystery.

So what is prayer? I'm not sure that's the right question. Perhaps a more helpful question is: What is prayer for? If we can answer that question and embrace the answer, then we'll be well on our way to practicing the discipline of prayer.

What is prayer for? Psalm 50:15 says, "And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify Me." That verse teaches us that the purpose of prayer is twofold. We have a share in prayer and God has a share in prayer. We call. God delivers. We get what we need. God gets what He deserves. In other words, the purpose is grace and glory. Grace is our share - what we need. Glory is God's share - what He deserves.

In John 16:24 Jesus said, "Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that you joy may be full." That' our portion. That's our share. We get joy. We get what we need. We receive grace. In John 14:13 Jesus said, "Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." That's God's portion. That's His share. He gets what He deserves. He receives glory.

The purpose of prayer is that we become people who live fully in the grace of God and live fully for the glory of God. The purpose of prayer is that we become people who live in need of God and who live for God. The kind of prayer that enables us to enjoy the freedom that Jesus won for us is the kind of prayer that voices our dependence on the goodness of God and voices our awe in the greatness of God.

Pastor-Theologian John Piper wrote: "Life is war. That's not all it is. But it is always that. Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth. Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie so that we can call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world."

Piper's point is simple: For many of us prayer is meaningless and fruitless because we don't know what it's for and therefore don't know what to pray for. The purpose of prayer isn't give me, give me, give me, bless me, bless me, bless me, protect me, protect me, protect me. The purpose is bigger and greater than that. The purpose is that we ask for the grace of God that we may live for the glory of God. The purpose is that we may be actively involved in the advancement of the gospel in our own hearts and in the hearts of the people around us. Real, sound, proper, mountain moving prayer is prayer that says, "Lord provide me with what I am lacking, help me and guide me, that You may be honored in and through my life."

So what does this kind prayer look like? Take some time to read slowly through Psalm 86. That Psalm describes six characteristics of prayer: 1) pray with humility, 2) pray with boldness, 3) pray with desperation, 4) pray with faith, 5) pray with understanding, and 6) pray with purpose. Evaluate how closely your prayer life embodies these six characteristics.

Prayer is to be a consistent, regular, unceasing practice in the life of a follower of Jesus. I pray that you will grow in your commitment to this discipline so that you may live fully in the grace of God and live fully for the glory of God.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Spiritual Disciplines: Worship

This past Sunday we concluded a 12 week sermon series entitled Freedom. The premise of the series is that too often too many of us don't experience spiritual freedom. That's usually due to one of two resons. First, it may be never having repented of sin, placing wholehearted trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and succumbing to His Lordship. Freedom begins with embracing the gospel. There is no spiritual freedom apart from Jesus.

Second, it may be due to neglecting the spiritual disciplines in daily living. Spiritual disciplines include: worship, prayer, giving (stewardship), Bible study, serving, and Christian community. That's not an exhaustive list; but simply the six disciplines we covered in our sermon series.

Spiritual disciplines are gifts from God. They are God-given tools given to us by which to stand firm in our freedom (Galatians 5:1). Practicing the spiritual disciplines don't make us free. Jesus makes us free. We are freed from sin, from its power over us, from its eternal consequences by the grace of God as provided through the sinless life, sacrificial death, and conquering resurrection of Jesus. We are set free by grace through faith; not by practicing certain disciplines. However, once we are set free, we enjoy that freedom by practicing the spiritual disciplines. Jesus set us free, but it's through exercising these disciplines that we get to live the life of freedom that Jesus secured for us. But the opposite is true; neglect of the disciplines is tantamount to neglect of our freedom in Christ.

What I am going to do today and hopefully for the next six weeks is briefly summarize each of the six disciplines that we covered during our series. However, I recommend taking the time to listen to the specific messages in the sermon series. To do so click here: FREEDOM

Today, I'm summarizing the spiritual discipline of worship.

At it's most fundamental level, worship is gratitude. Hebrews 13:15 says, "Through Him, then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give THANKS to HIs name." Worship is possessing a spirit of gratitude toward God because of the grace we have received through Jesus Christ. We are to worship ("offer a sacrifice of praise") because we are thankful for the gospel (the sacrifice of Jesus). "Through" Jesus, we are set free FROM the tyranny of sin an set free TO enjoy a loving relationship with our Creator. Because of Jesus, we are rescued out of darkness and are given access to the presence of God. Because of Jesus, we liberated from spiritual death and guaranteed a seat at Jesus' table in heaven forever and ever.

Understanding the gospel, our hearts should be filled with gratitude, and that gratitude is to overflow into worship. Our hearts should be so relieved and gladdened that the relief spills out through our "lip." That is why we praise God and sing anthems to Him. That is why we teach others about His truth and love. That is why we share the gospel with others. All of that is the gratitude of our hearts being expressed in the fruit of our lips (singing, teaching, witnessing). Worship is gratitude overflowing into our speech - praising God and speaking about God.

Worship is also about rulership. It's about what rules over our hearts - about what our hearts give glory to. All of us us worship something. Something reigns over each of us. The question is: what is it that rules over us? A follower of Jesus is not simply a person who has received the grace of God, but also a person who has succumb to the Lordship of Jesus. They serve Him. They have given control of their lives over to His rulership over their lives. Christians worship God because they gladly acknowledge that He is not only the King of the universe but also the King of their hearts, minds, and souls. The discipline of worship is being so overwhelmed by God's greatness, glory, goodness, and grace that when you think about Jesus you say, "That's my King!" (check out this VIDEO about Jesus as King).

That's a quick review of a couple of the highlights in regards to the spiritual discipline of worship. So here are a few questions to ponder:

  1. Does Jesus rule over your heart?
  2. Is your heart filled with gratitude towards God?
  3. Do you daily express your gratitude by verbally praising God and speaking of God?

Take some time to evaluate your discipline of worship. Meditate on God's grace and on the gospel of Jesus. Ponder how you have benefitted from the cross. Think about how much God loves you. I pray that as you do so that your heart is filled with gratitude and that it will spill over into worship. And if it does, two wonderful things take place: God gets glory and you enjoy freedom!

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Through" Love

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." ~ Galatians 5:13 (ESV)

That one verse is packed with theological goodness. First, it reminds believers that we have been called by God to live a life of freedom. To be called "called" means to be urgently invited into a new type of life. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, God urgently invites us to receive freedom from sin and to enjoy a life in which sin is no longer master over us. By grace through faith, we are invited into a life of freedom - a life with new privileges and responsibilities.

Second, the verse warns us that it is very possible for followers of Jesus to turn back to a sinful life. It is possible for believes to walk back into the prison that Jesus has unlocked rather than to enjoy the freedom that Christ has won. Thus, each of us every day have a choice: walk in freedom or walk back into sin's prison.

Third, this verse teaches us that the opposite of a sinful lifestyle is a loving lifestyle. We can either embrace selfish sin (desires of the flesh) or we can embrace selfless love (serving others). Sin and love are opposites.

What is interesting in Galatians 5:13 is that the Apostle Paul says, "Through love serve one another." He didn't say, "IN love," but rather "THROUGH love." There is a profound difference between the two words. To say to serve IN love would refer to the spirit or the manner in which we are to serve. To say THROUGH love refers to how we are to serve. THROUGH refers to the means through which we are to lovingly serve others.

Clearly, as followers of Jesus, we should serve in a spirit of love. However, that is very often very difficult for us. We don't wake up every day with a loving disposition toward others. The truth is that our natural tendency is to be selfish rather than to be selfish. Typically, we wake up thinking about ourselves (sin) rather than thinking about others (love).

That is precisely why Paul choose to use the word "through." The word "through" means to enter into something and come out on the other side. Paul's point is that each day we need to enter into love. It's as we enter into love that we are able to come out on the other side with the capacity to serve others. In order to be selfless, we need to daily step into love and step through it. It's as we step into and through love that we are able to put the interests of others ahead of our own.

What does it mean to step into and through love on a daily basis? It means stepping into and through the gospel each day. In other words, it means stepping into and through God's love each day. What that means is gospeling ourselves daily. It's preaching the gospel of grace to ourselves every day. It is as we meditate on the enormity of our sin and what it truly deserves and how the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross removes our sin, that we are able to combat selfishness. It is as we contemplate God's love that we are able to love others. Relishing in the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ, spurs us to serve others.

When we're lacking a spirit of love and thus lack the motivation to serve others, then the remedy is to step into and through love. The cure is to step into and through the gospel. And if we do so we will come out on the others side less selfish and more selfless.

The gospel sets us free from sin at the moment of our conversion (once and for all). The gospel is also what keeps empowers us to enjoy the freedom that Jesus secured for us; and we enjoy that freedom by preaching the gospel to ourselves daily. Let's step into God's love daily that we may come out on the other side and "through love serve one another."

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Gifted to Serve: Part 2

Last week, I provided a few thoughts in regard to the importance of discovering the spiritual gift(s) God has bestowed on us as followers of Jesus; and I gave a suggestion on the best way to go about discovering those gifts.

This week, I'd like to provide a few insights into some of the spiritual gifts that are specifically mentioned in the Bible. Scripture doesn't provide an exhaustive list of every possible spiritual gift, but it does mention a few. It is important for us to have a proper understanding of the gifts that are mentioned for three reasons:
  1. a gift will not be used properly for the common good of the church if it is not understood and applied biblically
  2. a misunderstanding of gifts can (and probably will) cause division in the church
  3. a proper understanding of the gifts listed in Scripture will help us to better discern those gifts that are not listed in Scripture.
So let's take a look at some of the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-29 and Romans 12:6-8. This is going fast and to the point so buckle up. Let's begin...

Utterance of Wisdom - This isn't just possessing wisdom; it's speaking (uttering) wisdom. The utterance of wisdom is the God-given ability to point people and the church to Jesus. First Corinthians 1:24 says that Jesus is the wisdom of God. So speaking wisdom means helping people to grow in Christ-likeness. It's teaching disciples of Jesus to more and more reflect the character of Jesus. Further, it's the ability to see Jesus in every page of the Bible. It's being able to preach Jesus and the gospel from any text of Scripture.

Utterance of Knowledge -This isn't possessing information or facts; it's speaking (uttering) with discernment. It's possessing insight into the life of a person/church. It's being able to perceive what is going on or what is right when things are cloudy.

Faith - This is not to be mistaken with saving faith which every follower of Jesus possesses. This super-faith, a special endowment of trust, particularly in difficult times.  This isn't blind confidence or unjustified optimism. This isn't simply looking to the silver lining or being a cup half-full kind of person. This is an extra measure of faith in which God bestows certainty that all is well in the life of a believer/church even when circumstances say differently.

Gifts of Healing - It's important to note that Scripture doesn't say "healer" but rather "healings." In other words, there are no healers. God doesn't gift a person to be a healer. Instead, God uses different believers at different times to be a conduit through whom He heals a person. The Apostle Paul had the gift of healing from time to time but he wasn't a healer. In Acts 14 Paul healed a man. In Philippians 3 he didn't/couldn't.

Working of Miracles - Very similar to the gift of healings. These are rare, but there are times in which God does something through a person in which the laws of nature are suspended. These are more prevalent in places where the gospel hasn't been preached. However, we would see more miracles here in the U.S. if we would pray with faith that God is the God of the impossible.

Prophecy - This doesn't refer to forthtelling (telling the future), though it might. Prophecy is insight into God's will, such as special insight into how to address a problem in the life of an individual Christian and in the church. In this way it is very similar to the utterance of knowledge. Prophecy brings comfort to those who need comfort and conviction to those who need conviction. Prophecy is a timely God-given word, phrase, thought, or image given for the betterment of another or the church. Further, in some church traditions prophecy is elevated to be on par with Scripture. But that can never be the case. Prophecy is subordinate to God's Word. Any "prophetic utterance" of any kind that contradicts Scripture is not from the Lord.

Distinguishing Between Spirits - This is the ability to discern between the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of Anti-Christ. In other words, it's God-given perception to help protect the church and believers from false doctrine and false teachers. It's being able to sense whether something is from God or from the enemy.

Kinds of Tongues - Some, not all, Christians are endowed with a unique ability to voice a heavenly language. This isn't jibberish or non-sensical syllabification that results from some ecstatic experience. This is supernatural manifestation of speech (language). While all spiritual gifts are good and important, it is noteworthy that the two times the Apostle Paul includes "tongues" in a list of spiritual gifts, he lists it last. Some church traditions elevate "tongues" as the pinnacle of spiritual maturity and rank "tongues" as the greatest gift. Paul says otherwise. In fact, of the gifts it's the one least for the common good. This gift is mainly for the benefit of that individual believer, and to be primarily used as a unique prayer language.

Interpretation of Tongues - While tongues are mainly for the benefit of the individual believer, there is a time and a place for it to be exercised in the context of the gathered church. But if and when it is to be exercised, there must be an "interpreter." There are some that are gifted to understand the heavenly speech of those who have the gift of tongues. If an interpreter isn't present, then the person who speaks in tongues is to keep it to themselves. What that means is that the gift of tongues can be controlled. It's not an ecstatic experience (i.e. "slain in the spirit) in which a person loses control.

Teaching - All followers of Jesus are to be teachers of God's truth. We are all to communicate biblical content to others. However, that is not what the gift of teaching is. This gift isn't simply communicating biblical truth. It is the capacity to delve deeply into God's Word, to understand it deeply, to see Jesus and the gospel in every chapter of Scripture, and to communicate it others in a manner that is intelligible and applicable. Those who have this gift are able to see how all of Scripture ties together, and they are able to keep all the different doctrines connected to one another. Those with this gift love God's Word, love reading and studying, and love every opportunity to teach God's truth to anyone at any time in all settings.

Helping/Serving - All Christians are by definition servants of God and called to serve others. However, there are some given an extra portion of this gift. They tirelessly give of themselves, their skills, their time, and their talents. This is empathy and compassion in action. They see a need and they meet it.

Administrating/Leading - The word "administrating" in the 1 Cor. 12:28 doesn't refer to the ability to be organize and to file paperwork. It's the gift of leadership. The greek word that is translated "administrating" is a nautical term that refers to the steering of a ship. This is more than management (which is what we think of when he hear the word "administrating"). These are the people whom God entrusts with a vision for a church or ministry, and who provide guidance and direction to others.

Exhortation - Those with this gift are able to call believers to action. God uses them to urge others to stop or to take a specific action.

There are a few other spiritual gifts mentioned but they are pretty straight forward so I won't comment on them.

So do any of the above-mentioned gifts resonate with you? Be careful as you answer that question. I'm not asking which gift you want or which gift you think you have. It's okay to desire a certain gift and to pray for it so long as you're content with the gift you do have and content with not receiving the one you ask for. Further, don't deceive yourself into thinking you have a certain gift when in fact that is not the case. When I ask, "Do any of the above-mentioned gifts resonate with you?" what I'm asking is, "Do any of the above flow out of you?" By "flow out of you," I'm not referring to natural instinct, talents, skill, or personality but rather to supernatural provision. The spiritual gifts are a manifestation of the Spirit that while genuinely in you does not arise from you. These are things that would not be true of you apart from your life in Christ. Clearly, God uses us as we are: our talents, skills, and personalities. But those are spiritual gifts.

Take some time to evaluate your your life. Thoughtfully distinguish between that which natural that which is supernatural. Pray and ask God to reveal, confirm, and/or re-confirm what gift(s) He has allotted you. Ask fellow believers that you trust to honestly discern what gift(s) they believe you have been entrusted with. And serve! It's impossible to discover what gift you have if you're not serving in and through your church.

It is a wonderful privilege to belong to a church and to get to serve in and through our church. The same sacrifice of Jesus that won our salvation also knits us into the family of God. Our role is to flesh that out in the context of our local church. To do so we are need to discover what spiritual gift(s) God has bestowed upon us for the common good - for the health of the church and for the advancement of the gospel.

Hope this is helpful and beneficial as you discover the spiritual gift(s) God has given to you.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick

Friday, March 14, 2014

Gifted to Serve: Part 1

One of the joys of belonging to a church is discovering where we should serve within and outside the church. Serving is a blessing. It is a blessing to serve God and others. As Acts 20:35says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." 

In order to enjoy the blessing that can only come through a life of service, two things are absolutely necessary. First, accept the gospel. We can't the blessed servant God wants us to be unless we first humble ourselves and allow God to serve us the grace we so desperately need. Jesus came from heaven to earth not to be served but to serve; and He did so through His sinless life and through His atoning sacrifice on the cross.

Second, we must discover what spiritual gift(s) God has blessed us with. God doesn't only bless us with grace and forgiveness, but He blesses us also by empowering us to live the blessed life of a servant.

So here's my quick attempt to provide a little insight into the spiritual gifts. Hope, this helps you to discover yours that you may enjoy the blessing of serving for the glory of God.

What are spiritual gifts?
Spiritual gifts are unique God-given abilities which empower Christians to serve God, serve the church, and to serve the mission of the gospel. These are not talents, skills, or natural propensities but rather "manifestations of the Spirit" (v. 7). They are divinely inspired speech, actions, or insight bestowed on individual followers of Jesus. 

What is the purpose of the spiritual gifts?
Verse 7 tells us that they are for the common good. In other words, every Christians is allotted at least one of these gifts for the good of the church, the health of the church, and the advancement of the mission of the church. God grants us these unique empowerments to build-up the church. Thus, a spiritual gift is not so much given to an individual as much as it is given to the church. We are simply stewards through whom God grants unique blessing to the church.

What sort of things are considered to be spiritual gifts?
According to 1 Cor. 12:8-10, these gifts include the utterance of wisdom, utterance of knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. To that verse 28 adds: teaching, helping, and administration. Romans 12:6-8 adds: serving, exhortation, giving, and acts of mercy.

Please note that Scripture does not provide an exhaustive list of every possible spiritual gift. 

How do we discover what spiritual gift(s) God has entrusted to us?
Personally, I don't trust spiritual inventory assessment surveys and questionnaires. I'm not saying that they are wrong to take. However, I do not believe that they are an affective means by which to discover spiritual gifting. Those man-made tools are too subjective and too easily affected by one's mood.

The best way to discover your gifting is by belonging to a church and serving in it. If the spiritual gifts are for the common good of the church, then it's impossible to discover those gifts outside of belonging and serving in a church. Over time it will become clear how God wants to use you to benefit the body, and fellow believers will affirm and confirm the areas in which you're gifted (and where you're not). 

This takes time. Belong to a church. Humbly pray for God to direct you in how to serve. And begin to serve (do something and try different areas of ministry). The payoff is huge. You'll enjoy the blessing of serving and the church will be blessed through your service.

Next week I'll explain more about the specific gifts that are mentioned in Scripture. For now, will simply commit to discovering and to utilizing the gift that God has entrusted you with? Devote yourself to finding out why it is more blessed to give than to receive. Give yourself to enjoying the blessed life of serving God, the church, and the mission of the church.

In awe of Jesus,
Pastor Rick 

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Cause of Freedom

In war, all things being equal, the army that is able to secure its supply lines is going to win. The army that is able to cut-off the other side from its supply lines is going to win. In war, armies have to be able to re-arm and re-fuel. If they can't do so, they'll lose. 

For followers of Jesus, the war is won. Jesus has definitively won the war on our behalf. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus defeated sin, death, darkness, and the devil. However, despite the war having been won, we still face lingering battles this side of heaven.

Each day we face spiritual battles. On the battlefield of our heart two armies have filed into ranks. One army is safeguarding our enjoyment of the freedom we have in Christ and the other is trying to disrupt our enjoyment of that freedom. And in these daily battles we have a large say in which army advances. We get to choose which army we're going to supply and which one we're going to cut-off.

When we spend time in God's Word, we supply the cause of freedom. When we neglect Scripture, we are by default strengthening the army that wishes to wreak havoc on our spiritual freedom. I say "by default" because the world is constantly streaming its content into our heart trying to supply that part in us that is sinful, selfish, and worldly. What we have to do is to pre-load (and daily re-load) biblical content into our heart. In doing so we strengthen the cause of freedom and weaken the army that seeks to undermine our freedom in Christ. 

Many Christians struggle to spend sufficient time in God's Word, and thus they struggle to enjoy their freedom in Christ. They miss out on much (if not all) of the peace, hope, and joy that has been made available to them through the gospel. The miss out on the very nearness of God in their daily lives.

Followers of Jesus read the Bible not for the sake of reading but for the sake of experiencing the nearness of God in their lives. The point of employing the spiritual discipline of Bible reading and meditation isn't to mechanically check it off as part of our day, but rather to employ as a means to seek the Lord. That's freedom! Spiritual freedom is found in closeness to God. That is where peace, hope, and joy are found. That's the cause we fight for when we spend time in God's Word.

Here are a few practical suggestions for how to help make the Bible a regular and consistent part of your life:

  1. Schedule Time - We're way more likely to do something if we plan for it. Put it in your calendar.
  2. Have a Plan - Don't simply bounce around the Bible from day to day, but have a plan for what you'll be reading. The Bible is easier to follow if we read it in a certain order. There's no one way to read the Bible, but if you've never done so you may not know how to go about it. Click Here to go to a website that will offer different Bible reading plans. Choose the one that works best for you.
  3. Accountability - Have someone hold you accountable to your commitment to read the Bible. Give permission to another to ask you if you're spending time in God's Word.
  4. Join an A-Team - Be part of a small group Bible study. At Anthem Church we call them A-Teams. God made us relational beings, and part of that means that we learn best when alongside other believers. To sign-up for an A-Team or for more information, please send an email to info@anthem-church.org
  5. Music & Podcasts - Listen to Christian music and sermons. These are great ways of adding biblical content while at home, at work, or in the car. But be careful! Not all so-called Christian music or sermons are biblical. 

Don't miss out on enjoying a life of freedom in Christ. It begins first by embracing the gospel, repenting of sin, and succumbing to the lordship of Jesus. Once we have received God's grace through our faith in the person and work of Jesus, then we begin employing the spiritual discipline of Bible reading. It's how we re-fuel and re-arm to safeguard your enjoyment of the freedom that Christ has won for you. Make this a priority and begin experiencing freedom more and more in your daily life.