Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Found Faithful

2 Chronicles 27 says: "Jotham was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerusha, the daughter of Zadok. And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all his father Uzziah had done (although he did not enter the temple of the Lord.) But still the people acted corruptly. He built the Upper Gate of the house of the Lord, and he built extensively on the wall of Ophel. Moreover he built cities in the mountains of Judah, and in the forests he built fortresses and towers. He also fought with the king of the Ammonites and defeated them. And the people of Ammon gave him in that year one hundred talents of silver, ten thousand kors of wheat, and ten thousand of barley. The people of Ammon paid this to him in the second and third years also. So Jotham became mighty, because he prepared his ways before the Lord his God. Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all his wars and his ways, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. So Jotham rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the City of David. Then Ahaz his son reigned in his place."

That's it, that's the whole chapter, 9 verses. I'm preaching on Jotham and faithfulness this weekend as a part of our "Time to Grow" series. Good stuff. Jotham was found a faithful king in a whole line of unfaithful ones. Jotham reigned sometime around 750-730 BC. He was a good example of one who held fast and persevered and these are traits that are so lacking in many people today. How many of us have started projects and never finished them? How many of us have made promises we didn’t keep? How many of us have made a commitment to the Lord and find that we are not as diligent or steadfast as we had promised, we are not faithful?

Jotham was only 25 years old when he became king of Judah and he reigned 16 years, 11 of which were apparently as co-regent with his father Uzziah who was struck with leprosy because he failed to worship God as instructed. Jotham’s mother was the daughter of a priest which gives some indication that she lived a righteous life. Jotham walked righteously before the Lord and executed true justice in Judah but seemed to have little effect of the people for many of them continued to walk in corrupt ways and to worship false gods.

While serving as king, Jotham carried out a public works program and completed several major building projects. These included the rebuilding of the upper gate of the temple that stood near the palace. This was the major gate used by the king and his royal officials. He also repaired part of the wall of Jerusalem in addition to building towns, forts, and military lookout towers. These were necessary for military defense and for storing food, supplies, and weapons.

King Jotham was blessed mightily by the Lord and grew more powerful throughout the years of his reign. God continued to bless him as he remained faithful to the Lord. He was steadfast in following the Lord, persevering throughout his entire life, unlike many people who start out well and end up forsaking the Lord or falling away. Jotham followed God though no others appeared to be doing so. He remained faithful and kept his commitments to the Lord and to his people.

James reminds us that saving faith and righteous works go hand in hand (James 2:14-24). Faith is the root of our salvation and good works are the fruit of our salvation. The works are the result not the cause. We are saved by grace through faith but saving faith, if it is real, will result in faithfulness. The evidence will be demonstrated by the changes it produces in our lives. Just as Jotham demonstrated his faith in God by remaining faithful in his working for God, so should we. As believers, we are to love the Lord, and to be faithful in following Him. We are to persevere to the end, just as Jotham did. 1 Cor. 15:58 says “Therefore, my beloved people, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain for the Lord.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

An Exciting Future

Last night, the elders, staff, deacons, and myself met for our monthly meeting. It's called the board meeting, but it's truly not "bored". It is so wonderful to be a part of the healthy spiritual leadership that God can provide for a church. The meeting was long with much discussion, but we are discussing discipleship and how we can connect more people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we were to identify one of our biggest obstacles as a church right now it's lay leadership. We need passionate followers to step out in faith and step up to leading others toward a deeper walk with the Lord. We need Sunday School teachers and Wednesday night class leaders. We need small group leaders and ministry team heads. I know that we are not the only church that's lacking in these areas. This is not a unique problem with the American churches. The challenge is finding the solution to the problem.

We are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. We are starting to see some of our younger members step up and volunteer for leadership. We are seeing long-time members step back into life-changing ministry roles. We are looking forward to what God will do with Oakwood in the future. I'm just glad to be a part of it as I get to share the Word and teach every week.

Remember to support the ministry of whatever church you call home. Support it with your financial giving, your time, your talents, and your testimony. There is no limit to what God can do with a life fully surrendered to Him.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Message to the Masses

My wife recently read an encouraging book written by a lead minister's wife about life being married to "the man" as she put it. This is an excerpt from the appendix in that book that she wrote to address people in the church. I think that it rings so true for us in ministry in church work. Reference is at the bottom. Please ponder and feel free to respond with a comment.

“A Message to the Masses”

Laypeople, the main thing that ministry wives want you to know is that their family loves you. Philippians 1:8 says, “God can testify how (we) long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” When God called us out to leave what was comfortable, we were able to obey because He equipped us with a supernatural affection for you-His cherished people.

We are going to mess up. We are going to fail you. We are going to turn right when we should have turned left. I am speaking for my own family, and I will presume to speak for others, when I say that it is rarely with ill intention or impure motive that we error. Luke and I take very seriously the grave responsibility we have of leading God’s flock, and we bathe our actions and decision making in prayer. However, that doesn’t make us immune to mistakes. Will you be forgiving? We may be imperfect, but we still desperately want to serve God by serving you. Will you let us?

In our defense, there are often two legitimate sides of an issue-and yet we are forced to choose one. If our choice falls on the opposite side of your own opinion, will you love us anyway? Can we agree to disagree and move on side by side even if we don’t feel like holding hands at the moment? When we can operate beyond our own desires and seek God’s agenda for our lives and churches, everyone wins. Above all, may God and His kingdom reign.

Taken from Lisa McKay "You Can Still Wear Cute Shoes"

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cohabitation for Dummies

First of all, let me say that I'm sorry for not posting more lately. It's been a busy couple of weeks for me at the church and priorities have to shift sometimes to accomplish God's purpose. I'm hoping to get back in the saddle this week!

I do a ton of marriage counseling. Currently I'm working with about 5 couples who are all having marital issues. In the past 13+ years of ministry I've probably worked with 100+ couples on marriage related issues. Many of these would probably be labeled "crisis marriage counseling" situations. Many of these couples have problems that go back to the fact that they cohabitated before their wedding day. Let me share why I think that's an idiotic thing to do.

Cohabitation makes it easy for bad stuff to move into the relationship, bad stuff like sin against God and each other. Let me clarify that cohabitation in and of itself is not a sin, but it makes it easy for sin to occur.

You can try to make excuses for putting yourself in the "living together" position. We can't afford separate places (though we did before). That is so weak. I hate that one. We aren't sleeping together, he sleeps on the couch every night (really!). He didn't have any place else to go! We moved in because it's closer to work for both of us. We wanted to "try before you buy" and see if we were really compatible (that's what dating is for). Etc, etc.

Just like every prisoner is innocent, almost every cohabitating couple I have counseled is not having sex. It's like the young man whose mother came to visit her son. The mother had her doubts that the "roommate" live-in girlfriend and her son were not sleeping together. She kept her doubts to herself and left when the visit was over saying nothing. A week later her son wrote her an e-mail, "Mom, I'm not accusing you or anything, but we haven't been able to find the remote control to the TV since your visit." To which his mother replied, "Son, I'm not accusing you of anything, but if your "roommate" was sleeping in her own bed you would have found the your remote by now." I'm just saying, like good ole mom, I seriously have my doubts!

Regardless of whether they are having sex or not, I rarely meet "Christian" cohabitating couples who are proud of living together. That's good! We shouldn't be proud of sin. If we are proud of our sin, that shows are unregenerate heart toward God. I've been scared more recently because I have encountered some "Christian" couples that are quite proud of their living circumstances while their children and family members (and church members) are looking on. That's a discussion for another time, but it's concerning and disheartening that couples, even self-professing "Christian" couples, are showing approval for, if not flaunting, their bad choices.

When I meet with Christian couples who lived together before they got married, I see good people who put themselves in a bad position and are paying the price for their choices. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says that we are to "avoid every kind of evil" AND that we are to avoid things that might make our brothers and sisters in Christ "stumble" (1 Corinthians 10:32). We are definitely not supposed to be having premarital sex with someone we're not married to. You can argue that cohabitation is not sinful in itself, but it looks bad, causes Christian brothers and sisters to stumble, and--from my experience through the years--makes having a good marriage really hard to do.

The Bible teaches that marriage is a covenantal relationship in which God unites a man and woman so they become one. Behind the covenant is the special bond and unity that a healthy sexual relationship brings. Covenants serve to stabilize and secure relationships. Couples that have sex before marriage have convenient love. This "love" breeds insecurity and instability, amongst other things, because there are marital acts that are exchanged with no commitment tied to them. Convenient love and covenant love are not anything alike. Let me point out some comparisons:
Convenient love is at times irrational, while covenant live is rational. Convenient love is only feeling-based while covenant love is thought-based. What will you do when the feelings are gone? Convenient love's goal is happiness; covenant love's goal is joy, a fruit of the Spirit. Happiness will come and go but joy can be for always. Convenient love sees sex as an act of passion while covenant love sees sex as an expression of love and commitment. Convenient love is conditional while covenant love is unconditional. Convenient love avoids disagreements and suppresses them while covenant love processes disagreements and engages them. Convenient love stays...till something better comes along while covenant love stays for good. Convenient love is about me while covenant love is about you. Convenient love is insecure while covenant love is secure.

I could go on and on but I think that you get the point. Instability and insecurity kills marriages. When Amy and I got married, neither one of us had lived with someone of the opposite sex (except family, of course). It was pure adventure and so much fun when we got married and had to work through...well literally...everything. What time and how did we go to bed? What were our routines like? What household duties would we share or take on ourselves? It was wonderful figuring all of that out with the love of my life! Experiencing all of these new things together bonded us in a very powerful way.

Cohabitation (convenient love) doesn't make a marriage more has the exact opposite effect. Did you know that 40% of people who live together will end their relationships before marriage? Did you know that that couples who live together before marriage have the highest separation and divorce rates? And when there are families created before marriage (with kids), the rates only go higher. I just recently read that women who lived with their husbands before marriage have nearly 80% higher divorce rates than those who did not. That's astounding!

Let me cut to the chase, I think that cohabitation is an idiotic way to start your life with a possible mate. I've seen nothing good...nothing good, come of it. You can read statistics and talk to couples who are starting to grow up and get it and see the pain in their lives. Or you can take it from a preacher who does a ton of marriage counseling and would prefer to do much less of it!

Remember, Satan prowls like a roaring lion, seeking who he will devour. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Don't let him do it in your relationship with the one you love. Also, help a friend not make the same mistake either!