Monday, December 30, 2013

Thank you, Pastor Thompson


If you ask Howard Thompson why he wears cowboy boots with his suit, he’ll tell you about growing up in Stigler, Okla. But if you ask him about his passion in life, he will tell you about being a pastor. On Jan. 26, Howard Thompson will preach his last sermon as pastor of Burlington Assembly, where he has served for 42 years. On his watch, the church has grown in number and influence, and their outreach to the community now includes the Caring Kitchen (which serves the homeless and hungry on the weekends), the Assembly Oaks Retirement Community, and Burlington Christian Academy. Pastor Thompson also achieved the rank of colonel as the long-time chaplain for the Burlington Police Department. Many would regard him as “Burlington’s pastor.”

When Howard Thompson was called into the ministry as a senior in high school, his pastor gave him a chance to preach his first sermon. “I was very shy, and not much of a public speaker,” Thompson recalls. “So, the first time I tried to preach, I fainted.” Undeterred, he enrolled in Bible College in Springfield, Mo. after graduation. It was there that Howard Thompson realized his call to be a pastor. A group of students cleaned up an abandoned building and started a ministry which soon became a church, and in his second year as a student, Howard became the pastor. “Just imagine having a teenager as your pastor,” Howard said. “They put up with a lot. But I realized that I loved every bit of pastoral ministry: visiting the people, going to the hospitals, preaching and teaching.” In many ways he has embodied Peter’s advice to those in ministry to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.”

One of the most gratifying things for Pastor Thompson has been watching families grow in the Lord through the years. “To marry two young people, then dedicate their children, watch those children grow up in the Lord and then to be able to participate in their weddings. What a blessing. To see that come full circle has given me great fulfillment. I know many fine pastors who haven’t been able to stay long enough to see that. They have missed a great blessing.”

I often think back 25 years to a time in my own ministry when I met with Howard Thompson every week for lunch. He was a mentor to me early on, and I am forever grateful. I asked Pastor Thompson what advice he would give to young pastors today. He said, “First, be sure of the call. Ministry is not a profession; it is a calling. Second, remember that your relationship with the Lord is your first priority. Third, endeavor to do what the Lord wants you to do. Be faithful.”

Howard remembers a time as a young pastor when he was working to set some trusses on a new church building. A freak wind came up and blew him and the trusses to the ground. Howard was not hurt, but he was heartbroken about it, and went back to his little office and cried out to God: “I thought you cared about churches. You could have stopped that wind. I thought you called me to plant a church. Don’t you care?” When Howard ran out of steam, he said he heard the Lord speak to his heart. “Son, I did call you. And I care about building churches. But right now, I’m trying to build Myself a man.”

I believe the Lord built a fine one in Howard Thompson. Thank you, Pastor, for your faithful ministry.

You can hear the interview Mark did with Pastor Thompson at www.healthychurchradio.com.

Monday, December 23, 2013

This, this is Christ the King


Have you ever wondered about the particulars of Christ’s birth, and why God did it this way? I have. Caesar Augustus decreed that the world should be registered, so every household had to travel to the city of his ancestry. That meant Joseph had to leave Nazareth with his betrothed, Mary, who was pregnant, and travel 90 miles to Bethlehem, for he was “of the house and the lineage of David.” Here are some of my questions.

Why Bethlehem? Well, the big reason is that God keeps His promises. He had spoken to the prophet Micah about this 700 years earlier, saying, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah … from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

Why Nazareth? I mean, why didn’t God just choose a woman in Bethlehem to be the mother of Jesus? And if it was Mary whom God wanted, why didn’t God have Mary born and raised in Bethlehem? Why Nazareth? You can look for yourself, but there is no prophecy about Nazareth in the Old Testament. And when Philip told Nathanael years later that he had found the Messiah and where he had grown up, Nathanael spewed his coffee and said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Why a census? Why a decree from the Roman emperor that everybody in the whole Roman world would have to go to the city of his or her ancestry? Yes, God had to get the mother to Bethlehem, but why make the whole Roman empire get up and go somewhere? Why not just have Joseph and Mary go home to be “close to family” for the baby’s birth?

Why a “no vacancy” sign? Why was there no place to stay in Bethlehem when they arrived? John Piper wrote, “Now you would think that if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, he surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn. Yes, he could have. And Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family. He could have turned stone into bread in the wilderness. He could have called 10,000 angels to his aid in Gethsemane. He could have come down from the cross and saved himself. The question is not what God could do, but what he willed to do.”

Why Bethlehem, why Nazareth, why a census, why a stable? He did it first for His glory.

What did the angels say about this birth? “Glory to God in the highest!” That’s what Christmas is about. The glory of God! That’s why He sent His Son to earth. The glory of God! That’s why He moved a Roman emperor to decree a census. The glory of God! That’s why He sent wise men from the east to worship Him and lowly shepherds to be the first eyewitnesses. The glory of God! That’s why He is giving us another Christmas, another season to celebrate the greatest gift the world has ever received: the glory of God!

The second reason? “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 by his poverty might become rich.” He came as He did for your sake and mine, because we are sinners who desperately need a Savior.

“Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and cattle are feeding? Good Christian, fear; for sinners here, the silent Word is pleading.”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent Week 4 Reading

Advent Week 4 Reading - The fourth candle is said to represent love and the presence of the Savior.

(4.1) His Presence Among Us: Over 400 years before Jesus, Zechariah foretold how God would one day come and live with men. “‘Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you’” (Zechariah 2:10-11).

(4.2) His Presence as a Human: Jesus left the splendor of heaven to be live on earth as a man. Therefore, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-7).

(4.3) His Presence Declared by an Angel: When Jesus entered the world, a heavenly angel reported the news to shepherds. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:8-11).

(4.4) His Presence Declared by the Heavens: Even the stars made known the presence of Jesus to Wise Men. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him’” (Matthew 2:1-2).

(4.5) His Presence Declared by Simeon: A righteous and devout man in Jerusalem named Simeon recognized the presence of the Savior. “Simeon took him [the infant Jesus] in his arms and praised God saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:28-32).

(4.6) His Presence Declared by Anna: The prophetess Anna recognized the presence of Jesus, the Redeemer. “There was also a prophetess, Anna. . . . She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them (Mary and Jospeh) at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

(4.7) His Presence Motivated by Love: God sent Jesus into the world because of his great love for us! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).

All content used with permission of the author

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Body Snatchers, Splinters, and Being a New Creation



    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
   
(2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
I don't know about you, but when I read that verse, there's a lot of tension as I measure it against my own life. The life that I am living most days is not the "new creation" that I would have imagined. Most days, the things I say and do are much more like the old Jared than I would like.

So what gives?  I want a reboot, an implant. I want an Invasion of the Body Snatchers sort of experience. Or for something more modern, I want to be a totally different person walking around in a Jared suit (a reference from Men In Black).

But I don't think that's what God ever intended. Yes, we receive an alien righteousness in Christ. But when it comes to sanctification and growing "in Christ", it's a lot more messy than it is clean. It's a lot more of a slow gradual process than it is immediate results.

Against the Grain of our Hearts

Imagine running your hand down a splintery 2x4 piece of wood. If you run your hand along the piece of wood with the grain, you're fine. But if you run it against the grain, it's rough and painful as you pick up splinters. May I suggest that our hearts are like that piece of wood?

When we are made a new creation, God takes the grain of our hearts and turns it 180 degrees. We may still try and do the sinful things we did in our old life out of habit and routine, but now there's a pain and resistance as we are behaving in a way that is "against the grain" of our deepest selves.

As new creations, the thing that immediately changes isn't usually our behavior from top to bottom. Instead, what changes is the deepest orientation of our hearts, and the change of behavior can often be a painfully slow process as we learn (literally) by trial, error, and splinters.

When we are saved, behavior that used to be with the grain of our rebellious hearts is now against the grain of our re-oriented hearts. So when we sin—that same old sin—and it grieves us, we can rejoice because we are feeling the splinters of a heart that is a new creation!

Really New vs. Completely New

Now I am not calling Paul a liar. In Christ, at the moment of salvation we are really made new. But we have not yet been made completely new. For that we wait, we groan, and we pray "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!".

So we can say, with confidence, that "In Christ now I have been made really new. With Christ someday I will be made completely new". This give us, as Thomas Chisholm wrote, "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow".

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas is good news of great joy


This is what the angel said who appeared to the shepherds on a Bethlehem hillside many years ago: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The good news was that the Savior had been born.

What’s the best news you have ever heard? Was it when the doctor said, “Good news. You don’t have cancer”? Or was it when the HR department called and said, “Good news. You’ve got the job”? Maybe it was when your future father-in-law said, “Good news. You can marry my daughter.” I know that last one seems like an anachronism, but I know for a fact that there are still young men even in this day and age who would rather ask than tell. So, what’s your best news ever? Was it when the call came that you had qualified for your dream house?

Those are all good news. But they dwell in the lower regions of what we want or don’t want, rather than in the upper region of what we desperately need. They are also temporary good news. Cancer or not, one day we are still going to die. Whether we love it or loathe it, the job will end. Marriage is wonderful, but even if you live happily, it will not be for “ever after.” The house will fall down either before or after you do.

That’s what makes Christmas different. The Savior who was born in Bethlehem was Christ the Lord. He came to give us what we need, not just what we want. He came to satisfy the longing that we are all born with, which He created in us. We long for the eternal. We know in our hearts, because He put it there, that this world is not all there is. In fact, we even know in our hearts that we were created for a relationship that goes beyond what a husband and wife have together, or even a parent and a child. He who made us made us for Himself.

Jesus’ birth was good news of great joy. Not just for the shepherds, but for all the people. The Savior was born for people all over the world who would come and adore Him. However, His coming is great joy for “all the people,” but not for every person. That’s why the heavenly host of angels also said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” There is a somber message here, mingled with good news of great joy. The coming of the Messiah would bring peace only to those with whom God is pleased. Who does that include?

The Bible says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” The message of Christmas is only good news of great joy to those who believe the promises of God and the testimony of His Word.

It has puzzled many that this time of the year can be the most joyful for many, and the bluest for many others. However, it is no wonder that the season of hope fails to satisfy the heart that is consumed only with what it wants and doesn’t even acknowledge what it desperately needs. It is no wonder that “good news of great joy” eludes the one who lives for the moment and never even considers eternity.

What’s the best news of all time? The Savior, Christ the Lord, has come!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent Week 3 Reading

 Advent Week 3 Reading - The third week is said to represent joy and the proclamations regarding the coming Savior.

(3.1) Angelic Proclamation About John the Baptist: The angel Gabriel proclaimed to Zechariah that his son, John the Baptist, would prepare people for the coming of Jesus. “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17).

(3.2) Angelic Proclamation About Jesus: The angel Gabriel proclaimed to the virgin Mary that she would give birth to the Savior Jesus. “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33).

(3.3) Elizabeth’s Proclamation About Jesus: Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, proclaimed that Mary carried the Lord in her womb. Even before his birth, John the Baptist made a unique proclamation about Jesus by leaping in his mother’s womb. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed:“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:41-44).

(3.4) Mary’s Proclamation About God: Mary proclaimed the great thing God had done in choosing her to give birth to Jesus. “And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name’” (Luke 1:46-49).

(3.5) Zechariah’s Proclamation About Jesus: Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, proclaimed his praise that Jesus would be the Redeemer and Savior. “‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago)’” (Luke 1:68-70).

(3.6) Angelic Proclamation About Jesus: An angel proclaimed to Joseph that Jesus was conceived from the Holy Spirit and would save his people. “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:20-21).

(3.7) Prophetic Proclamation: Over 700 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah announced that the Holy One of Israel would one day be among the people. Let us sing for joy that Jesus did indeed come to live with man! “Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you” (Isaiah 12:6).

All content used with permission of the author

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Infographic: The Messianic Genealogy

My church is currently doing a brief—and refreshingly different—Christmas sermon series based on the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. The series is called "God With Us" and we're spending a few weeks looking at the implications of the genealogies as they relate to Jesus' divinity, humanity, kingly line, etc.

 In my preparations, I came across this sharp genealogy infographic that I just had to share. Enjoy!

(Click for larger image)

Related Posts: Infographic: The Reliability of the New Testament Texts

Monday, December 9, 2013

Leaders are made, not born


Many of us were given nicknames by siblings or friends when we were young, most of which were not complimentary. “Bucky” comes to mind from my pre-orthodontic days. We still tend to identify people by their flaws or failures, but not always. You will find the remarkable story of a man in the Bible whose name was changed by the leaders of the first church. His given name was Joseph. The church called him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” We don’t know what led to his new name, but I will tell you what anyone who is a leader already knows: encouragers are rare jewels. They are grease to the wheels. Salve to the wounds. When the right fielder boots a fly ball and lets three runs come in, “Barnabas” is the one who meets him halfway to the dugout, puts his arm around his shoulder, and says, “Hey man, forget about it. You’ll get the next one.” Then the rest of us clowns on the bench who are not even close to being nicknamed Barnabas are shamed into saying, “Yeah, forget about it. No big deal,” as we grind our teeth and pound our gloves. I thank God for sons and daughters of encouragement. They are in the top 10 of the best Christmas gifts a church could ever receive. Let me tell you why.

Barnabas was not just a nice guy who had a good personality and said kind things to people. He had an incredible ministry that helped two men become powerful leaders and influencers in the church. He is the one who welcomed Saul when no one else in the church in Jerusalem wanted to have anything to do with him. Then, years later, Barnabas went to enlist Saul’s help for the growing church in Antioch. That launched the ministry of Saul of Tarsus who became known as the Apostle Paul. The old saying, “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit” clearly applies to Barnabas. He also stood up for his cousin, John Mark, after the young man had bailed on the first missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to give him another chance; Paul was having none of it. So, they went their separate ways, and I am convinced that had it not been for Barnabas, we would never have heard from John Mark again. As it turned out, Mark became the assistant to Peter, and later wrote the Gospel of Mark.

I believe God used Barnabas, the son of encouragement, to help produce two powerful leaders in the church because of these characteristics. First, he cared more about people than he did about things. Read about that in Acts 4. Second, he was fearless. Barnabas was not afraid to come alongside Saul when no one else would. He was also not afraid to disagree with Paul about John Mark. He took a risk in each case, and in each case, that risk was greatly rewarded. Fear is one of our greatest enemies.

That’s why you can be sure that almost any decision you make out of fear will be the wrong one. Third, he was humble. Barnabas didn’t mind taking a back seat. The first business card may have said, “Barnabas and Paul: Missionaries.” Just a month or so later, they had them reprinted, and Paul was named first. Hey, here’s an idea for Christmas: Look around for the sons and daughters of encouragement in your church, and tell them thanks. Even better, let’s ask the Lord to make us more like Barnabas, too.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent Week 2 Reading

Week 2 Advent Reading -  The second week is said to represent peace and the prophecies of a coming Savior.

(2.1) Prophecy About a Man That Will Crush Satan: In the first book of the Bible, written over 1400 years before Christ, God told Satan that the son of a woman would crush his head. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

(2.2) Prophecy About a Virgin Birth: Over 700 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah foretold that Immanuel (which means “God with us”) would be born of a virgin. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

(2.3) Prophecy About the Identity of a Child: Over 700 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah described the identity of Jesus. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

(2.4) Prophecy About the Majesty of the Child: The prophet Isaiah further described Jesus and his majesty. “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

(2.5) Prophecy About the Birthplace of the Ruler: Over 600 years before Christ, the prophet Micah foretold that the Ruler would be born in Bethlehem. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).

(2.6) Prophecy About John the Baptist: Over 400 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Malachi foretold how a forerunner would prepare the way for Jesus. John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy. “‘See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:1).

(2.7) Prophecy Fulfilled: Jesus is the only one that can bring peace with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).