WHEN WEAKNESS IS STRENGTH

imagesDoes that seem like a strange title to you? If strength is strength and weakness is weakness, how can weakness possibly be strength? Scripture provides the answer:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Someone once said, “The Christian life is not difficult to live; it is impossible!” How true, apart from the strength of the Almighty! This is one of the primary reasons God allows us to go through the storms of life. When the storm winds are blowing and the waves of challenge are crashing all around us, we can make no progress on our own, no matter how hard we row. That is the point where we are confronted with the reality of our weakness. And in our weakness, God’s power is made perfect—and that, beloved, is when weakness is strength!

God is in the business of showing us our weakness. If He were not, no one could stand to be around us. Spiritual pride and self-righteousness would drive everyone away from us. God showed Moses his weakness when he killed the Egyptian who was beating the Israelite. God showed David his weakness when he should have gone off to war instead of chasing another man’s wife. God showed Peter his weakness in the courtyard when he denied knowing Jesus. And God showed Paul his weakness when he was on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians.

God sends us the storms we need to shift our focus away from ourselves and onto our Savior. Let’s reread 2 Corinthians 12:7; Paul confessed this truth in these words …

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

The Scriptures do not tell us what this “thorn” in Paul’s flesh might have been. But we do know it was sent by God, who is sovereign over all things (Romans 11:36), even the fiery darts of the evil one. God’s purpose was to keep Paul from becoming conceited because of the great ministry God had given to him. Oh, how easy it is for all of us who are in ministry to succumb to our prideful, sinful nature! But God loves us far too much to allow us to go down that self-righteous road. So He sends us exactly the storms or “thorns” we need to remind us that we are weak and He is strong . . . and that His grace is sufficient for us. It was obviously more important to God and far more loving to keep Paul humble than to make him comfortable in his ministry of service. God did not take Paul’s thorn away in order to show him where his strength for ministry truly came from.

So . . . what storms has God sent your way to humble you and keep you focused on Him rather than yourself? Remember, the power of Christ cannot rest on us when we are working in our own strength. So God gives us work we simply cannot do in our own strength. I am living out this truth each day as pastor of Cross Community Church. My prayer is that you will delight in your own weakness, for when you are weak, then you are truly strong!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

 

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THE WITNESS OF A WINSOME CHURCH

body_of_christ2A few years ago I was speaking with my friend, pastor, and Bible teacher, Steve Brown of Key Life Network, about the prospects of Kim and I planting a church. He gave us his blessing, and his parting words to me were, “Tommy you are quite winsome.” When the conversation ended, I immediately called a trusted friend to ask him if he knew what the word “winsome” meant. (For those of you who don’t know, it took me eleven years to finish a three-year program at Knox Theological Seminary!) Steve has dedicated his life to spreading Gospel truth that both lifts and encourages, but I simply wasn’t sure if he was giving me some deep theological message . . . or pinpointing some area for personal growth.

When I got on the phone with my friend and told him what Steve said, he responded, “My dear brother, Steve Brown just gave you one of the nicest compliments you’ve ever received!” My friend went on to explain that “winsome” means that one has a pleasant personality, a candid charm that attracts others and, in turn, makes God attractive. At that point, I knew why I like Steve so much and listened to him for more than two decades!

Later that day, I did some thinking. First, Steve Brown is a very kind, encouraging man, but I’m really not that winsome. Second, this conversation took place only a few months before Kim, the kids, and I, along with a few families, did launch out and plant Cross Community Church. I felt that God was impressing upon me that “winsome” was the word that needed to define our church environment and all those called into service at our church family. We needed to be warm, pleasant, and honest, which would, in turn, make God attractive and draw outsiders to our new church, which we call “The Cross” for short.

Now, I fully understand God does not need our help to make Him attractive. He is attractive all by Himself.

God is love. (1 John 4:8)

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek:that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

To be sure there is nothing more attractive than the love and beauty of God, which He expresses to us so powerfully in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. However, as attractive as God is, we who profess to be His people can either attract others to Him or repel them, simply by the way we engage with them. The more we reflect the character of Christ, the more attractive we make our God. If the people who walked onto our campus experienced the unconditional, sacrificial love of God in Christ through the way we engage with them, from the parking lot to the pew to the coffee pot to their particular point of need . . . we would succeed in making our God attractive and God would get all the glory.

We are in our 30th month as a church plant, and the comment I hear most from those visiting our campus and experiencing the hospitality at The Cross is, “I felt welcomed and loved by everyone. Jesus is so present here!”

Soon after my talk with Steve I read this story about the great pastor and evangelist, D. L. Moody, whom you could call the Billy Graham of the 19th Century. Moody described the secret of a winsome church in these words:

“The churches would soon be filled if outsiders could find that people in them loved them when they came. This . . . draws sinners! We must win them to us first; then we can win them to Christ. We must get the people to love us, and then win them over to Christ.”

I love Steve Brown, but I’m really not all that winsome. One dear friend told me that when I forget to smile, I look like a hanging judge. So much for “winsome”! But God has raised up a group of people at The Cross who really are winsome! Every person on Team Cross makes God attractive, and that is attracting new people each week. Our church family is acting as the hands and feet of Christ, living out that candid charm that attracts others to them, which in turn attracts others to Christ.

There’s something else Steve Brown has said: “We are simply beggars telling other beggars where to find bread!” That’s winsome, and that makes God attractive.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

 

 

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TITHE WITH YOUR HANDS . . . NOT YOUR HEART!

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We have all heard about the tithe—giving to God the first 10% of our income to advance the Gospel and further the cause of the Kingdom. In as much as all wealth ultimately belongs to God (Haggai 2:8), and since it is God who gives us the ability to earn money (Deuteronomy 8:17-18), the Bible considers returning 10% back to the Giver of every good and perfect gift a good place to start. The tithe is a form of worship.

But when it comes to the heart, we are never to tithe 10% of our heart to God; we are to give Him all of it—every beat of it! To be sure, giving all of our heart in faithful obedience to our Lord is not always easy; we often fall short of the intended mark. This is what the Bible calls sin. But even though giving all our heart to God is not always easy, it is always right!

Let’s look at an example from Scripture:

On that day Moses swore to me, “The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.” . . .

Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the LORD, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly. (Joshua 14:9, 13-14)

We see twice in this short passage that Caleb did not tithe his heart to God. Rather, the Scriptures inform us that Caleb followed and served God wholeheartedly. Wouldn’t that be well said of all of us . . . that we followed and served God with all of our hearts? If you remember the story of Caleb from the Bible’s book of Numbers, he was one of twelve spies whom God commanded Moses to send into the Promised Land to scout it out and prepare Israel to enter into it. Caleb and Joshua returned with a favorable report, but the other ten spies said it could not be done. “There are giants in the land!” they quavered (Numbers 13:25-33).

Do you think it was easy for Joshua and Caleb to give the minority report? No, of course it wasn’t easy, but it was right. Do you want to know what else was not easy? It was not easy wandering around the desert until all of the unbelievers of his generation died in the desert (Joshua 5:6). Forty years of apparently aimless wandering, watching all the men and women he grew up with die, and yet through all of it Caleb gave all of his heart to God. No, it wasn’t easy most of the time; I’m sure many times it was flat-out hard. But it was always right.

For you and I today, this is where preaching the Gospel to ourselves comes into play in such a big way. Keeping the truths of the Gospel before us is the key to stoking the fire of the heart. The cross is the testimony to the truth that Jesus refused to tithe His heart to us. He gave it all, shed His precious blood to pay the price for our sins in full, and at the end He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

“Jesus paid it all,” as the wonderful old hymn proclaims, but He also gave His all. He gave all His heart—His very life itself—so that sinners just like you and me could have life in His name! As we keep the cross work of Christ in view, we find both the motive and the motivation to keep our hearts beating for Him. As Jesus said in Mark 12:30, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength.

So give God 10 % of your income . . . but give him all of your heart . . . every day!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

 

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HERE’S A WORD WE GOTTA GET . . . YET!

imagesWhen was the last time you really blew it? Most of us would have to admit that it was recently! Sometimes we say things we ought not say and do things we ought not do. YET! You may be wondering, what’s with this word “yet”? It is a word of unimaginable comfort for all of us today, especially those of us who know the messes we can create in our lives.

I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. (Psalm 73:22-24)

Oh believer, did you see it? Did you see that word of comfort . . . YET? Here we find Asaph, the psalmist, in a moment of deep confession to God about the mess he had made of his life, and then, right in the middle of his confession, he made it crystal clear that his mess had not moved him away from his Master. It was one thing to confess his ignorance before God, but Asaph sank way past ignorance all the way down to being a brute beast before God. YET he knew he was always with God, in spite of his senseless sin and ignorant ways.

What about you? Do you ever doubt God’s loving presence in your life? Do you wonder if perhaps you’ve fouled things up so badly that He has turned away from you? If so, here’s a word you gotta get . . . YET!

  • Struggling with a persistent sin . . . YET God is always with you
  • Trouble with your job . . . YET God is always with you
  • Difficulties in your marriage . . . YET God is always with you
  • Prodigals in your parenting . . . YET God is always with you
  • Struggles in your singleness . . . YET God is always with you
  • Financial difficulties . . . YET God is always with you
  • Broken relationship . . . YET God is always with you
  • Hurting heart . . . YET God is always with you
  • Suffering loss . . . YET God is always with you

What a word of comfort we have here in YET. For the tired, for the downcast, for the afflicted, the word YET is a gateway to the glories that await us in heaven right now. Asaph knew that nothing can separate him from his God. Nothing could break his love-relationship with God. And what was true for the psalmist back then is true for the Christian believer today . . . and that includes you! He holds you in His hand and nothing will ever be able to pry you from His almighty grip. You probably know this glorious passage from Romans, but bask in it again today:

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Another way of saying God is always with you is to say that God is always for you. He takes whatever providence He sends and makes it work for our ultimate good and His glory. What a comfort for us today! Whether the sky is blue and the clouds are fleecy or the storm winds are blowing and the thunder is roaring, God is with us and for us and nothing can separate us from that love! To know that truth is to know enough.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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WHEN SUCCESS LEAVES US UNSATISFIED

imagesDoes the title for this message seem nonsensical? How, you might ask, is it possible to be unsatisfied in our success? Isn’t that what we’re all pushing for . . . to be successful?

It has been said that the Hall of Fame football coach Tom Landry said these words after his Dallas Cowboys had won their first Super Bowl, which is the pinnacle of success in the National Football League:

The overwhelming emotion in a short period of time among the players was how empty that goal seemed to be. The thought was, there must be something more.

I have pastored and coached many men and women who have achieved high levels of success in business, sports, and life, only to discover the biblical truth that success does not always bring with it the deep satisfaction of the heart we truly desire.

And God designed it that way! You see, He created us with a God-sized void inside us that can only be filled by Him. Regardless of how much success we achieve in this world, if it is not rooted in our Savior, it will ultimately leave us empty, unfulfilled, and wanting something more.

Success was designed to leave us unsatisfied when it is disconnected from our Savior. We were created by God for God, and when we are living for anything smaller than God it will always leave us wanting. We can climb ladder after ladder of success, climb each one all the way to the top, but if it is leaning against the wrong wall, we will eventually climb back down feeling more dissatisfied than when we started the climb. Let me close today’s word of encouragement with this beautiful poem from C.T. Studd (1860-1931), Only One Life:

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, the 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, and fears;
Each with its days 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, Bringing 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.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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A VERB FOR VICTORIOUS LIVING

Boast-in-the-LordWe hear a great deal from preachers talking about living a victorious life, but what does that really mean? For the Christian, the answer is clear: it means to glory in God. When used as a verb, to glory in God means to revel, boast, delight, and rejoice proudly in God.

So . . . what does the confession of your life say about this verb for victorious living?

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Jeremiah made it clear that, while there is much that is good in life, we are not to glory in it. We are not to revel, boast, delight, and rejoice proudly in the things of this world. Our God says we are not to glory in . . .

  • Wisdom
  • Strength
  • Riches

Wisdom, strength, and wealth are just a few of the good gifts we receive from God, yet we are admonished never to glory in any of them. What we are to glory in is our increasing understanding and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, to glory in God is true wisdom, strength, and riches, and these can never be found in anything smaller than Jesus.

It is important to lay out what these three dimensions of increasing in understanding and knowledge of God look like in the life of the believer.

       1.  It is intellectual. We increase in knowledge of the absolute truth about God.

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 7:9)

  1. It is volitional. We make a conscious choice to move beyond knowing God to trusting God.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

  1. It is moral. Our obedience to the Word of God is rooted in love—both vertical (love for the Lord above) and horizontal (love for the people around us).

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

My prayer for you today is that this verb, to glory in God, consumes you like a raging fire, and that by living the victorious Christian life you will positively impact everyone you come in contact with for the glory of God . . . by glorying in God.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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FARING WELL IN THE FAREWELL

downloadAs a pastor I often deal with death. Funerals are a regular aspect of ministry. And, if the truth be known, we are all dying at the rate of 60 minutes per hour! With that said, I would like to provide the key that unlocks the door leading to faring well in our farewell.

To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

The apostle Paul knew, by grace through faith, the gain that will be found on the other side of the grave. He knew and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ . . . and that is the key to faring well in our farewell. Paul lived constantly in the light of eternity. He was so captivated by Christ that his earnest desire was to depart and be with Him, yet he knew he had more ministry to do in this world until that moment when his Lord would call him home to be in the next.

Paul knew that whatever joy and pleasure he experienced on this side of the grave paled in comparison to what he would experience in the presence of his Lord on the other side. It was Paul who reminded the Christians in Corinth of Isaiah’s word of encouragement: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Paul knew he would experience the fullness of his salvation in unveiled and unhindered intimacy with Jesus. Because Jesus was Paul’s greatest treasure in life, he knew his greatest gain would be death. Do you know that truth?

Sadly, for many, the answer to that question is no. Those who have not trusted in Christ alone for salvation will fare poorly in their farewell. They have lived for treasure infinitely smaller than Jesus; when they are faced with their inevitable departure from this world they are overwhelmed with unsettling emotions. Death to them is not gain; it produces fear and an unimaginable pain of loss. Make no mistake, the way we die—the way we approach our final moments in this life (if we are given that time by our Lord)—makes it clear what our treasure has been.

The only way to fare well in our farewell is to live like the apostle Paul and look forward to death as the ultimate gain, because we know that Jesus is on the other side, waiting to welcome us home. When our treasure truly is Christ, we will not fear death; we will know how to die well. I am reminded of the last words of Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Mortally wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson hung between death and life for days. Toward the end he slipped into delirium, barking commands to imagined troops. Then, a witness recalled, Jackson’s tone abruptly changed. He smiled, and his last words on this earth were, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” Thomas Jackson had no fear, no pain of loss—only eager anticipation of entering the presence of the Lord.

In knowing how to die well we will know how to live well! We will refuse to live for anything smaller than Jesus. We will turn our backs on the fleeting pleasures of this world and focus on the all-satisfying eternal pleasure in the world to come. Only when we can sincerely say that “To live is Christ” can we live out the truth that to die is gain. This is faring well in our farewell, and nothing can ever rob us of this joy.

This has been my personal experience is saying good-bye to the saints of God. I hope it will both comfort you and challenge you to keep your eyes firmly fixed on what God has prepared for those who love Him.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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