Church News

28
Jun
the pastors perspective

Lessons from VBS

Sunday morning someone asked how I was doing, and I said something like, “I have a VBS hangover.” If you were involved in our VBS last week, you probably felt that way too. It was a long week, and many of us put in very long hours as we worked all day long and then spent long evenings at VBS. However, as I mentioned my VBS hangover, one of our church members said it wasn’t a “VBS hangover” that we were suffering from, rather it was a “VBS glow.” That’s probably a more accurate description of what I was feeling after VBS. Like you, I was exhausted, but at the same time, I’ve been basking in what God did through the life of our church. Let me share with you a few lessons that I learned during our VBS last week.

We have great volunteers.

I loved seeing our church in action last week united around the common purpose of sharing the Gospel with our children and the children of our community. Mission accomplished! You did great! I appreciated not only your commitment of time, but your positive attitudes, your smiling faces, and the way you loved on our kids. While I didn’t get to peek in on every group because of my own teaching responsibilities, I was so impressed with how our adult leaders led the different stations like missions, crafts, recreation, and music. It was great! And, I was also impressed again this year by our kitchen team! What a great group of servants!

I know that we had a lot of volunteers who served faithfully last week, but I also know we have many volunteers who serve faithfully week in and week out. We have adult leaders who have taught our children in Sunday School for years. I really do appreciate those of you who have invested in our children week after week and year after year. You are making a huge Kingdom impact on our children. Thank you.

Last week made it very obvious to me that we have a great church full of great people who really desire to serve the Lord. My prayer is that we can continue to unite around the common purpose of making Christ known not only during VBS but every day of the year.

We have great children.

I had the opportunity to lead the third graders along with several other adult volunteers. We had a lively bunch! We had an average of seventeen third-graders per night, and it was mostly boys! We also had a good mix of children from our church along with children that I’ve never seen before. What amazed me was how much our children know about God’s Word. Those kids who faithfully attend Big Stevens Creek are really getting it! That is so exciting! I attribute their biblical knowledge to parents who are taking seriously the spiritual growth of their children. I also know that our Sunday School teachers, Route 65 leaders, and Mission Friends leaders are having a tremendous impact on our kids. Our investment in our kids is really showing in their desire to know Christ and walk with Him. Continue to invest in your kids for the sake of the Kingdom! Continue to teach them that the best way to live is to live a life surrendered to Jesus Christ!

Also, I was really impressed with the children we had who were not a regular part of our church. It seemed as if most of the kids who were with us were attentive and excited to be a part of our VBS. If we keep investing in our kids and in the kids of our community, then we have every reason to be hopeful about our future. It’s up to us to shape the next generation for the glory of Christ!

We have a tremendous opportunity.

While we had a great week of VBS, we have only scratched the surface of what we can accomplish for the Kingdom if we continue to work together to make Christ known in our community. As so many families came through our doors last week I couldn’t help but daydream about what God might have for Big Stevens Creek if we continue to make His mission a priority. God has placed us in an area where there are many needs, and He has called us and equipped us for the exact work He wants us to accomplish in our area. Let’s not miss the opportunity. Let’s keep pressing on as a church family.


We have much to be thankful for.

I thank God that He has changed by the power of Christ and called us together to be a church family. I thank God for you. I thank God that I get to serve alongside of you, and I thank God for your willingness to serve faithfully. I thank God for how I see so many of you growing in you love and commitment to Jesus Christ. I thank God for the children He has entrusted to our care every single week. I thank God for new families that have partnered with our church. I thank God for the facility that He has given us that allows us to minister to our community. I could go on and on. This past week reminded me of how gracious God has been to be Big Stevens Creek, and this past week also reminded me that I need to be thankful for every gift that God has given our church. Thank you for commitment to the church at Big Stevens Creek!

I’m praying for you this week!

08
Jun
the pastors perspective

Don’t Forget Your Bible

Over the past few Sunday mornings we have been talking about the basics of the Gospel and how we can become more effective in sharing the Gospel with people that are far from God. I simply want to give you a review of what we have talked about thus far. I think this review will help you as you share the Gospel with people you are regularly praying for.

Now, before we get into our review, I want to remind you that when we share the Gospel, we are sharing what God has revealed to us in the Bible, His Word. So, if you are going to share the Gospel it would make sense that you share what the Bible says. If you ever heard Billy Graham preach, you know one of the things that made his preaching powerful was his constant use of the phrase, “The Bible says…” Likewise, when you are sharing the Gospel, you should constantly be saying, “The Bible says…” Obviously, many people you have the opportunity to share with won’t believe in the truth of God’s Word like you do. However, when you constantly point a person who is far from God to what the Bible says, you are showing that person that you believe in the truth of the Bible. You are showing that person that even though they might not believe the Bible, you believe that what it says is important enough to share with him or her. And, regardless if the person you are sharing with believes the Bible or not, there is power in the Word of God. God, in His power, is able to take the truth of His Word and apply it to the heart of someone who is far from Christ even if that person thinks the Bible is ludicrous.

Do you see? A lot of times we think it’s necessary to be able to know a lot about apologetics to be able to prove God exists, and while it may be helpful to study a subject like apologetics, the real power is in the Word. Or, sometimes we think we can’t share the Gospel unless we have a tract, or unless we have memorized some presentation like the FAITH outline or the Four Spiritual Laws.

While those presentations may be a help to you, it is much more helpful to simply know what the Bible says and to talk about it with a person who is far from Christ. It’s obviously helpful to memorize Scripture, but even if you do not memorize verbatim the Bible verses below, you should be able to bring verses like these up in conversation. Remember, there is power in the Word. So, what do you need to know from the Bible to be able to share the Gospel effectively?

Humanity’s biggest problem is sin.
Most people think that they are relatively good. After all, most people have never committed murder, and most people have pretty good morals. However, the Bible tells explains the cold-hearted truth about humanity. The Bible says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Romans 3:10) Every person on the face of the planet is born a rebel against God. We are born with an attitude that says, “Not God’s will be done, but my will be done.” The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Our problem isn’t just that we do bad things every now and then. Rather, our problem is that our bad things, our bad attitudes, our hateful thoughts, our hateful words, our lustful ways, our lies, etc. are an outright assault on the character of God. God is absolutely holy and perfect, and He desires for to live in a relationship with Him according to His righteous standard. However, every person has rejected God’s rule and righteous standard. Instead of being a friend of God, we have made ourselves enemies of God. (Romans 5:10) As a result, every person deserves punishment for his or her rebellion against God. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Every person deserves death for their sin. This death that we have earned for ourselves for our rebellion against God is described in the Bible as eternal, conscious suffering in a place called hell. The Bible says, “…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)

Humanity’s greatest need is a Savior.
The amazing truth is that while every person has chosen to rebel against God, God still chooses to love the people He has created. In His wisdom and love, He chose to send His Son, Jesus Christ, who was fully human and fully God, to come and rescue us from our sin. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will no perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He lived a perfect life. He never disobeyed the Father. He never rebelled. He fulfilled God’s standard of righteousness, and He did it on our behalf. The Bible says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…” (Romans 3:21) We could not live up to God’s glorious standard, but Jesus did.

However, Jesus not only lived the life we could not live, He also died the death we deserve. The Bible says, “For while we were weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6) The Bible also says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) The Bible also says that we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:24-25)

As an act of amazing grace, God the Father sent His Son to live the life we could not live, and then to die the death we deserve. Because Jesus was sinless He could go to the cross as a sinless sacrifice, as our substitute. In other words, He died in our place. Think about it. If Jesus would have sinned one time, He could not have been our sacrificial savior because He Himself would have needed a savior. In order for us to be saved from our rebellion, there had to be One who perfectly obeyed God who would die in our place absorbing the punishment for our sins. That’s what Jesus did.

At the cross a Great Exchange took place. On the cross, Jesus took what we deserve. He took our punishment. As a result, we get to take His righteousness upon ourselves. All who believe in Christ are justified. In other words, the Judge of the universe declares innocent (justifies) all people who trust in His Son. We are not innocent, but the innocence or righteousness of Christ is applied to our account so that we might escape punishment for our sin and instead be brought into a right relationship with God. In Christ, all of our sins are forgiven, and we are given a brand new start. The Bible says, “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)

However, Jesus’ death on the cross would have meant nothing if He would have stayed dead. Our greatest enemy is death. Death is the consequence for our sin. If Jesus would have stayed dead, then death would have defeated Him. However, Jesus defeated death. Three days after His death, He arose from the grave victoriously promising eternal life to everyone who believes. The Bible says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

All who believe are given the underserved gift of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The heart of the Gospel is that Jesus has done all of the work for us, and those who believe are rewarded for Jesus’ work.

Salvation requires faith.
While a person can never earn salvation through good works, in order for a person to receive the free gift of salvation that God offers, a person must have faith. Faith requires an intellectual assent, trusting, and turning. The Bible says, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) Faith requires that you believe Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again for the sins of the world, but faith also requires that you trust that belief. For example, I believe that broccoli is good for me, but I don’t eat it. I might believe broccoli is good for me, but I do not apply broccoli to my life. Instead, I avoid it like the plague. Saving faith requires that you believe in Christ and that you trust what you believe about Christ. To trust Christ is to base the foundation of your life on the reality that Jesus is who says He is and that He did what He said He would do.

Biblical faith requires turning. You can’t trust Christ without turning from whatever else you are trusting in for hope and satisfaction. The Bible calls this repentance. The Bible says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30) Repentance is turning from a posture that says, “God, I don’t need you. I can live my life just fine without you,” to a posture that instead says, “God, I desperately need you. I can’t live my life without you. I surrender to you because you have given your all for me, and now you are worthy of me giving my all to you.” Have you repented of your sins? Have you turned from trusting in yourself or this world to trusting in what God has done for you in Jesus Christ? The only way to salvation is through faith – turning from your former way of life and turning to the God of all creation in full surrender.

Do you see what we have done over the past few weeks, and what I have summarized here? We have let the Scripture show us the truth about God, the truth about ourselves, and the truth about salvation in Christ. Now, will you commit to knowing what the Bible says about God’s glorious plan of salvation so you can more effectively share it with others? And, will you commit to sharing the Gospel with at least one person over the next couple of weeks? You can do it! God will empower you if you just step out in faith!

I’m praying for you!

Pastor Tommy

24
May
the pastors perspective

Make the Most of Your Oikos (Not the Greek Yogurt)

Over the last couple of weeks at Big Stevens Creek we’ve been talking a lot about sharing the Gospel, and like you, I want to be able to have much more effective Gospel conversations. I’m praying daily that God would give me boldness and a desire to share with people. Over the last couple of weeks, we have talked about how God has given each of us an oikos. The word oikos is the Greek word for household. As you read through the New Testament you can’t help but see how often the Gospel spreads through households or social networks. The good news is that God has given all of us a household or a social network that we have influence over. In a recent book by Gary McIntosh, Growing God’s Church, McIntosh interviewed hundreds of people who had recently placed their faith in Christ to discover what was the greatest influence in their decision to follow Christ. Well over sixty-percent of those he surveyed said that they came to faith in Christ through a family member or friend. That’s amazing! According to McIntosh’s research, most people do not come to faith in Christ through an evangelistic crusade or some type of church event. Rather, most people come to faith in Christ because of a family member or friend. (That’s not to say we shouldn’t have evangelistic crusades or evangelistic events. Rather, it simply means that we need to spend much more of our time learning how to share the Gospel and personally investing in the lives of the people in our oikos.)

Right now, you have people in your circle of influence who are far from Christ, and I believe that in God’s sovereign plan He has strategically placed people in your life for you to share the Gospel with. The question is, will you be obedient? Will you make your oikos your mission field? Will you pray daily for the people you know who are far from Christ, and will you make it your mission to share the Gospel with them over the next year?

As you think about sharing the Gospel with people in your oikos, let me help you to understand what the Gospel is not, and let me also give you just a few tips as you strive to have conversations that point people to Jesus.

The Gospel is not…

Talking about God.

Obviously, talking about God is a good thing, but just because you’ve had a conversation with someone about God does not mean that you’ve shared the Gospel. Telling someone how God has blessed you is not sharing the Gospel. Telling someone that you believe in God is not sharing the Gospel. Saying to someone, “God bless you” is not sharing the Gospel. Yes, let’s talk about God, but let’s understand that the Gospel isn’t just mentioning the name of God. Rather, it’s sharing what God has done through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Sharing your testimony.

You should share your story with people. Your story is a powerful witness to the work of Christ in your life, but sharing how God has saved you is not sharing the Gospel. Again, sharing the Gospel is talking specifically about how Christ came to this earth to live the life we could not live and die the death that we deserve. Sharing the Gospel is calling people to respond in faith and repentance to the work of Jesus Christ.

Inviting someone to church.

Please invite people to church. We need to invite people to worship with us so that they might experience what it is like to be a part of the body of Christ and so that they may hear the Gospel through the preaching of the Word. However, if statistics are true, your friends and family members are going to be more influenced by you than they are by my preaching. On top of that, Jesus never commands us to invite people to church. He commands us to share the Gospel. Please invite people to church, but do not think that by inviting people to church you’ve been obedient to fulfill the Great Commission.

Cleaning up your life.

The Gospel is not the message of what you must do to make yourself right with God. The Gospel is the message of what God has done for you because you cannot make yourself right with Him. Sometimes out attitude toward people who are far from God is, “If they would just get their act together, they would be alright.” Or, “If I could just get my grandkids to come to church, they would probably live better lives.” What people need to hear is that regardless of their efforts they cannot clean up their lives. People need a Savior. People need someone to do for them what they cannot do for themselves, and that’s exactly what Jesus has done. Jesus lived the life you could not live so that His perfect life might be applied to you through your faith and trust in Him.

What people in your oikos need from you is for you to share the Gospel with them. The Gospel is the good news that while our rebellion against God separated us from Him, Jesus, the Son of God who was fully man and fully divine, came to this earth and lived the life we could not live, and then He died the death that we deserved. But, He did not stay dead. He rose three days after His death completely defeating sin. As a result, He has given humanity the opportunity to experience complete forgiveness and pardon for sins paving the way for all who trust Him to have peace with God and eternal life. Anyone who believes in the work of Christ, repents of their sins, and turns to Christ in full surrender will be completely forgiven and given new and eternal life. This is the Gospel, and this is what we must share.

The question is, how can we share the Gospel more effectively? That’s what our current sermon series is all about, but let me give you three brief suggestions:

Assume every person you meet is lost.

That sounds kind of harsh, but if you assumed that every person you meet is lost, it would change the way you talk to that person. I think in the Bible belt we have a tendency to assume everyone is saved. If someone says to us, “I go to Third Baptist Church,” we immediately assume that person must be a good Christian. But, that person might not have darkened the church in twenty years, or that person may go to church every Sunday but still not understand what Christ has done for him or her. If you assume every person you meet is lost, you’ll listen for indicators that demonstrate to you that the person understands that Jesus is the only way to the Father. Or, you’ll say things like, “Tell me about your relationship with Jesus.” If you assume lostness, you are more likely to be Christ-centered in your conversations.

Listen.

It doesn’t make sense to listen since God has called you to speak, but if you’ll stop and listen to people, it will open up all kinds of opportunities to speak. If you listen carefully to people, they will tell you the struggles they are facing, or they will tell you what they are trying to do to make the most out of life. As you listen with spiritual ears, you will find ways to make a Gospel connection and move the conversation to the hope we have in Jesus. Listen carefully for opportunities to build a bridge to the Gospel. If you listen carefully and ask the right questions, you’ll find that a lot of people will open the door wide for a Gospel conversation.

Share with boldness.

We so fear what people will think if we actually engage them in a Gospel conversation. If eternity is really at stake (which it is), then why wouldn’t we share the hope that only Jesus can give? I know that I’m praying that God would give me boldness, and I’m praying that God will give you boldness as well.

As always, I am praying for you.

Pastor Tommy

18
May
the pastors perspective

Lessons from Asia

I’ve been privileged to lead a number of short-term international mission trips over the years, but our trip to Asia over the last couple of weeks was perhaps the most challenging trip I’ve had the opportunity to lead. On top of changing plans, I, and others, struggled with a pretty nasty stomach virus. However, in spite of the challenges, God taught me much about Himself during our time away.

 

Our first week in Asia was great. We had the opportunity to work with a wonderful group of church leaders who gave four days of their time to be taught the doctrine of the Trinity. These church leaders live in a rural area, and they are not highly educated. However, they are daily giving their lives for the sake of the Gospel, and they desire to lead their churches well.

 

After four days of training, our plan was to go further north and conduct training in an area that was even more rural. However, at the advice of the church leaders we were working with, we chose not to make the trip of north. Since we were in a country where Christianity is heavily persecuted, these church leaders were concerned for our safety. They felt as if the location we were traveling to was unsafe and would put us as well as the believers in that community in danger. After much prayer, we made the decision not to go. It just didn’t seem wise.

 

We had about a week left in Asia, and we had no group to train. The group we trained the previous week invited us to return and give them more training. However, that’s when the virus hit. The virus hit me and several in the village making it unwise to return to the village to train those church leaders. We lodged in the city close to the rural village, and we obviously did not want to waste our second week in Asia. We wanted to do what we came to Asia to do: train and disciple church leaders. Our translator, who was from the city we were lodging in, began to make phone calls, and within a couple of hours he had us meeting with a local school teacher and her family. They wanted us to come to their home and teach the Bible to them and several of their friends. This teacher is a church leader who feels inadequate in her Bible knowledge and in her ability to lead. She wanted her and her family along with a few other believers to learn the Book of Ephesians, so for the remainder of our trip we worked with this handful of believers.

 

To be honest, my first reaction was that this was a waste. After all, the week prior we trained around twenty church leaders, and now we were spending the rest of our time in Asia training one leader and a handful of believers. It didn’t seem like a good use of our time. Last year when we were in Asia, we had the opportunity to train over 200 church leaders. Now, we sat in a home with about seven people discussing the Word of God. While I certainly enjoy discussing the Word of God regardless of the size of the group, it sure seemed like a long way to travel to have a small group Bible study.

 

God had to remind me that His plans are higher than my plans (Isaiah 55:8-9). Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” What a reminder! I can make plans all I want, but God knows exactly what He is doing. While our trip didn’t work out the way that we might have planned, I have the full assurance that God established our steps. He knew exactly where He wanted us to be, and He knew exactly why He wanted us to be in the home of a school teacher walking her, her family, and her friends through the Book of Ephesians. I learned several important lessons about God during our Asia trip.

 

God is not wasteful.

To me, our time in the home of this lady and her family at first seemed as a waste. We went to Asia to train as many church leaders as we could, not just one. While it may have seemed as a waste to me, it wasn’t a waste to God. God doesn’t waste anything. He doesn’t waste time, He doesn’t waste resources, and He doesn’t waste His people who make themselves available to His mission. Our team had made themselves completely available to the mission of God while we were in Asia, and in His providence, God used us exactly as He wanted to use us. He did not waste our time, and He did not waste our resources. In His sovereign design, He wanted us in the home of this family, and He wanted us to teach the Book of Ephesians. We may never know why God wanted us in Asia in the home of this particular church leader, but God knows exactly why

 

God is not inefficient.

To me, sitting in the home of one family seemed like an inefficient way to affect this Asian country. It seemed much more efficient to train lots of church leaders at one time rather than to simply focus on one church leader. However, God is not inefficient at all. He is extremely efficient. He knows exactly how He is going to accomplish His plan in Asia. He knows who He is going to use, and He knows how He is going to use the people in this Asian country to expand His Kingdom. This family that we ministered to has much influence in their city. The wife is a high school teacher, and the husband is a manager at the rail station. They come in contact with many people on a daily basis. Only God knows how He is going to use this family, and for whatever reason, God knew that the best and most efficient use of our time in Asia was to be directly involved with this family and their friends.

 

God is not unwise.

My perspective is limited, but God’s perspective is unlimited. He sees the totality of His plan while I only see what He chooses to reveal to me. Since God sees the totality of His plan, He knows perfectly how to bring His plan to fruition in the lives of His people. He is all-wise. He sees all, and He knows all. He has never made a bad or wrong decision. And, He didn’t make a bad decision in sending three of us from Big Stevens Creek to a distant land to sit in the home of a family and teach the Word of God. God’s decision was perfect, and His decision to send us will accomplish exactly what He wants to accomplish. He is wise. God knows what He is doing.

I’m still reflecting on what God taught me about Himself as I was in Asia. However, these lessons that God has taught me about Himself has already reminded me of a couple of changes I need to make in my own life.

 

I need to trust God fully.

When my plans fall apart, I panic and worry. When my plans fall apart, I begin to question God and what He’s up to. Sometimes when my plans fall apart I get depressed. However, if God is not wasteful, and if He is not inefficient, and if He is not unwise, why should I worry? Why should I panic? Why should I get depressed? Instead, it would make much more sense for me (and for you) to trust God fully even when our plans fall apart. “…but the Lord establishes his steps.” I need to constantly remind myself that if I am making myself available to God and His mission, He will establish my steps according to His perfect will.

 

I need to be at perfect peace.

I found myself questioning God a lot while we were in the home of this Asian family last week. I asked questions like, “Are we in the right place?” And, “Isn’t there a better way to spend our time?” My constant questioning caused me to not enjoy fully the assignment that God had given me that second week of our trip. My constant questioning caused me to not have peace. In God’s design, I was exactly where He wanted me. And if I am exactly where God wants me to be, I can have perfect peace. I don’t need to worry or question. Instead, I can simply enjoy what God is doing in me and through me.

 

Every time I engage in God’s mission I learn so much. I am so thankful for the opportunity that Big Stevens Creek gives me and others to leave our normal responsibilities and engage in the mission of God in foreign cultures. I appreciate your prayers and support while our team was gone, and I hope that these lessons that I have learned will be lessons that you will learn as well. Let us continue to be confident in the greatness of our God, and may His greatness lead us to trust Him and experience perfect peace.

 

I am praying for you!

Pastor Tommy

20
Apr
the pastors perspective

The Value of Short Term International Mission Trips

Here we go again. In just a little over a week our church will be sending a team to a difficult country in Asia to train local pastors in theology and practical ministry. This will be my third time laboring in this particular country, and while I will miss being home with my family, I’m so looking forward to this trip. If I’m counting correctly, during my time as pastor at Big Stevens Creek, we’ve sent maybe ten teams to different parts of the world. Why do we put so much emphasis on international missions in our church; especially when there are so many people in the North Augusta area who are far from Christ? As we prepare to send a team across the world in a week and a half, let me give you a few reasons why we continue to send mission teams across the world.

It’s a command; not an option.

Are there plenty of people to reach in North Augusta? Absolutely. In fact, I am becoming more and more convicted of my own shortcomings in being a Gospel witness in my own city. God has been working on my heart and making me more aware of the needs around me. I’m praying that God will help me and our church make more of a Gospel impact in the city of North Augusta. God has placed our church in this area for a specific purpose, and I do not want to miss the purpose that God has for us.

However, while our church certainly needs to focus on sharing the Gospel in the North Augusta area, that doesn’t exempt us from looking beyond North Augusta. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus told His disciples that His mission would take them far beyond their hometown. And today, God’s mission continues to take us far beyond our hometown. It’s not that a local church gets to choose whether we do international or local missions. Rather, if the local church is a healthy church it will focus on local and international missions. It’s both/and; not either/or.

Our missionaries need our support and help.

I’m thankful that our church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. As a church participating in the SBC, we partner with thousands of other churches to make Christ known around the world. We support what is called the Cooperative Program. We, like many other Baptist churches, give ten percent of all of our income to the Cooperative Program. The money given to the Cooperative Program funds the International Mission Board. The International Mission Board is the largest missionary agency in the world. Over 3,000 missionaries and their families are able to serve vocationally on the mission field because of the generous giving of churches like ours.

However, the missionaries that we financially support need more than our money. They need our prayers, and they need us to serve alongside of them. In Asia, God is doing a remarkable work. Thousands of people are coming to faith in Christ, and in the region we will be serving in, well over 500 new churches have been planted. With so many new believers, discipleship can be a huge problem. The reality is that local pastors in that area do not have the theological education needed to be able to help these new converts understand and live out God’s Word. Our missionaries have been able to help local churches in this part of the world by providing theological training for local pastors. However, if people from our churches who are theologically sound do not go and provide theological education, then our missionaries simply cannot provide the training. Our missionaries need more than our money and prayers. They need our help.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ need our encouragement and help.

Lord willing, in a couple of months we will send a team to Russia. We have been sending teams to Russia since I began my ministry at Big Stevens Creek. While religious freedom exists in Russia, it is still a difficult place to be a believer. In fact, many Russians confuse Russian Baptists with a cult. The believers we minister alongside of are often ostracized by their communities, and in many of the communities we visit, only a handful of believers exist. There simply isn’t a church on every corner. We have been in towns of around 30,000 people where there were only a dozen believers in that town. Our brothers and sisters in Russia need our encouragement.

When we visit with them and minister alongside of them in their communities, a couple of things happen. First, our brothers and sisters are reassured by our presence that they are not alone. They are reminded, and so are we, that they are a part of the worldwide family of God. Second, our ministry alongside of our brothers and sisters in Russia gives their work credibility. If a group of Americans shows up and helps local believers build a playground for the community or some other type of ministry project all of a sudden the residents of that town begin to look at those Russian believers a bit differently.

I need to be reminded of the lostness that pervades the world.

The majority of the people in this world will spend eternity in hell. The reality is that at this moment 1.6 billion people in the world have no access to the Gospel, and unless the church goes to these hard to reach places, these 1.6 billion people will die having never heard the good news of the Gospel. Every time I am in Asia or Russia I am reminded of how lost this world is. If you’ve been on a short-term mission trip, you know that for that time you are the field you are more focused on lostness than you are at home. It’s unfortunate, but it’s just the reality. When I return from a short-term mission trip, I always return with more acute spiritual eyesight. I am able to see lostness more clearly in my city after I’ve spent time in another context.

I need to be encouraged by brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.

Every trip I go on I meet people who amaze me. I meet believers who live passionately for their Lord in spite of difficult circumstances and persecution, and every person I meet encourages me in my walk with the Lord. On every trip I am reminded that I am blessed to live in a country where I can still openly practice my faith, and every trip reminds of how much I take my blessed life for granted. Many of the people I have met overseas I continue to have contact with, and I continue to be encouraged by their amazing faith.

It’s amazing what God has done in my life through short-term international mission trips. Years ago, international missions wasn’t really on my radar. However, now I look forward to serving internationally whenever God gives me the opportunity.

I’m thankful to be a part of a church that sees the importance of making Christ known locally and internationally. I know that some of you are not able to travel internationally for a variety of reasons. However, let me encourage you not to give God any excuses. If you are physically able, tell God that you are available to go wherever He wants you to go. Why not consider committing to God that over the next few years, if He presents you with the opportunity, you’ll spend time in a foreign context serving Him wholeheartedly? I promise you won’t regret it.

Praying for you!

Pastor Tommy

13
Apr

It’s Time to Forgive and Move On

What has amazed me the most in over a decade of being a pastor is how much Christians struggle to forgive each other. After all, a forgiving heart should be one of the hallmark characteristics of every follower of Christ. Since we have been forgiven much, we should forgive much. Jesus talks quite a bit about forgiveness, but perhaps Matthew 6:14-15 is His most biting statement regarding His expectation for us to forgive others. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Now, those are some hard words but think about what Jesus means. If you are not willing to forgive others, if you are not willing to let past hurts go, if you are constantly holding on to bitterness, and if you are easily angered and easily lose your temper, then there is a good chance that you either do not understand or have not experienced the forgiveness of Jesus.

The forgiveness of Jesus is so great and so overwhelming that it changes everything about you. The forgiveness you have received in Christ should compel you to forgive others. I understand that someone may have hurt you badly, and I understand that it is difficult to forgive people who have done so much emotional damage to you. However, with the help of the Spirit of God, you can forgive. You can let go of the bitterness, the anger, and the hurt and experience the joy and freedom that comes with forgiving those who have hurt you. Let me offer you some practical steps that I think will help you to extend forgiveness to people who have hurt you.

Pray for humility and the ability to see people as Jesus sees people.

To forgive you need humility. Perhaps the greatest stumbling block to forgiveness is pride. Pride says, “I will never allow myself to be treated like that. I deserve better.” Where humility says, “If you wrong me, I’ll turn the other cheek.” Humility doesn’t come easy, but it’s what Jesus practiced. He was treated as a criminal, but in humility, He went to the cross, and in His dying breaths He said to the Father, “Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” In humility, Jesus extended grace and forgiveness. Jesus saw us not as people who needed to be crushed or who needed to pay for our rebellion against a Holy God. Rather, He saw us as sheep without a shepherd. He saw us as people who needed a second chance, who needed love, mercy, pardon, and forgiveness. If you want to cultivate a heart of forgiveness, it starts with asking Jesus to humble you so you might see people in the same way that He does.

Ask God to develop the fruit of the Spirit within you.

You’re probably familiar with the fruit of the Spirit. Paul writes in Galatians 5:22-24, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” The fruit of the Spirit is simply the evidence that you are walking with the Lord. When you walk closely with Jesus, you can expect these different characteristics to be evident in your life. If you are not walking with Jesus, you can expect your life to be full of enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy (Galatians 5:20-21). To cultivate a heart that is willing to forgive you must walk with the Lord. If you are not walking with the Lord, your tendency will always be to withhold forgiveness.

Surrender your right to be angry.

This is huge, because when someone hurts you or offends you, you have a tendency to say something like, “I have a right to be angry! You do not understand how bad I was hurt.” No, I don’t know how bad you have been hurt, but I do know that as a follower of Christ you gave up all of your rights in full surrender to Jesus Christ. The only rights you have are the rights that Jesus gives you, and Jesus has given you the right to forgive. Remember what Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Your life no longer belongs to you. It belongs to Jesus, and Jesus has told you not to hold on to anger but to forgive every time you are offended (Matthew 18:22).

Seek to forgive quickly.

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times. “I’m just not ready to forgive.” I really do understand that. Confronting someone who has wronged you, explaining to him how he hurt you, and then offering him forgiveness is difficult. Sometimes it is a whole lot easier to cut people off than to try and put a relationship back together, but here’s the problem. The longer you wait to forgive someone the more it affects you. Withholding forgiveness is sinful, so therefore, when you withhold forgiveness it not only affects your relationship with the person you are withholding forgiveness from, it also affects your relationship with the Lord. You know what it’s like. You’re angry at someone, you grow bitter and cold towards that person, you gossip about him behind his back about how he hurt you, and before you know it, you have a hard time praying, reading God’s Word, and serving the Lord. Over my years as a pastor, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen completely walk away from their relationship with the Lord and His church simply because they were unwilling to forgive someone. So, the longer you wait, the more damage it’s going to do to the relationship you have with the person you need to forgive and to your relationship with the Lord. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Confront the person who has offended you with love and grace.

When someone offends you, let that person know. What typically happens is that when someone hurts you, you let everyone else know how that person hurt you and offended you, but you don’t let the actual person know how she hurt you or offended you. Often, the person who hurt you is completely left in the dark and wonders why you no longer want to interact with her. That’s simply not right. Ask God for the courage to have an honest and loving conversation with the person who hurt you. That conversation is not a time to accuse or try to hurt the person who hurt you with your words. That conversation needs to be a time where you gently let the person know how she hurt you, and then you simply extend forgiveness. Quit talking about the person who hurt you and start talking to the person who hurt you.

Once you forgive someone, forget about the past and focus on the future.

You’ve probably heard someone make this statement, or perhaps you’ve even made this statement before: “I forgive you, but I’ll never forgive how you hurt me.” Newsflash: that’s not biblical forgiveness, and that certainly isn’t how God treats you. The psalmist writes, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12). Isn’t that good news? God is omniscient, and He never suffers from amnesia. He doesn’t forget anything. It’s not possible for Him to forget anything, but when He chooses to forgive you and me of our sins, He also chooses to treat us as if we have never sinned against Him. That’s biblical forgiveness. Biblical forgiveness is not saying the words, “I forgive you,” and then choosing to still hold on to the anger and bitterness that someone caused you. Biblical forgiveness is saying the words, “I forgive you,” and letting go of the anger and bitterness. Biblical forgiveness is treating the person who hurt you as if that person has never sinned against you. I know it is impossible to forget what someone has done to you, but with the help of the Spirit, you can begin to treat that person as if he or she has never sinned against you.

I know forgiveness is difficult, and I know some of you are struggling with the pain that someone caused you. I also know that life is messy, and because people are hurtful and even abusive, you can’t put yourself in a position where you might be abused or taken advantage of. Those kinds of situations are difficult and require much prayer and counsel. However, for most of us, those are not the kinds of situations we are in. For most of us, we’re simply prideful and would rather hold on to bitterness and anger than be obedient to the Lord. We’d rather have our way than deal with our relationships God’s way. That, my friends, has to stop. Because of our unforgiving, bitter hearts we are doing much damage to our relationships, to God’s church, and the expansion of His Kingdom.

Right now, if you are struggling to forgive someone, for the sake of your relationship with the Lord, and for the sake of the Gospel, ask God to help you to overcome your pride and begin the process of putting broken relationships back together. I promise you, you’ll find joy and freedom in reconciliation!

I’m praying for you!

Pastor Tommy

07
Apr
the pastors perspective

The Best Use of Time

“I don’t have time!” Have you ever said that? If you’re like me, you probably make that complaint several times a day. However, the reality is that every single day you have been given all the time you need to accomplish exactly what God wants you to accomplish. God has given you twenty-four hours a day, and in those twenty-four hours you have all the time you need to spend time with Him, earn a living, spend time with your family, and make a difference for His Kingdom. You and I don’t lack having enough time, what we lack is knowing how to use our time effectively. So, how do you use the time you have been given more effectively for His Kingdom? Let me give you a couple of truths you need to realize about time that I think will help you to use the time God has given you more effectively.

Realize that time is not yours to spend. 

Here’s a newsflash for you: time does not belong to you. You say things like, “I have the time,” or “I don’t have the time,” as if time is something that you are in control of. You’re not in control of time. When you view time as something that belongs to you, you have a tendency to make plans and map out your life as if you are the one who is in charge of your destiny. James writes about this in James 4:13-17. He writes about a group of Christian businessmen who planned to take a year of their lives and leave their families and churches behind to move to the coastal cities of the Mediterranean that were experiencing an economic boom. These men wanted to get in on the action. James calls this foolish. He writes, “…you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance.” (James 4:14-16) Do you want to know a real waste of your time? A real waste of your time is to lay out your plans for your life without any regard to what God wants for your life. That’s what these businessmen were doing. They laid out their plans without any regard to God’s plan for their lives. You must understand this basic truth: time is not yours to spend. All time belongs to God, and if all time belongs to God, then you should be asking God how to use the time that He has allotted you each day to accomplish His will rather than using time to accomplish your will.

Just as an aside, do you know what happens when you take control of your time as if it belongs to you rather than understanding that time is not yours to spend? You become enslaved to busyness. When you view time as belonging to you rather than belonging to God, you have a tendency to spend time trying to get what you want out of life. Life becomes an endless rat race as you spend 60 hours a week at work trying to gain wealth. Then you spend your non-working hours running your kids from activity to activity in an attempt to give them a well-rounded life. Then you spend your Saturdays trying to get to the lake so you can have some peace and quiet, but then you have to run back home to get housework and yardwork done before a new work-week begins. You spend so much of your time trying to get the most out of life or trying to accomplish your goals, and all you get in exchange is a really busy and really exhausting life. All of your busyness is not fulfilling you, and you know it! If you are overly busy, it’s likely that you do not have a time-management problem. Rather, you probably have a heart problem. Your priorities are out of whack because you view time as yours to spend rather than a gift from God to accomplish His will. There is a better way to use the time God has given you!

Realize that time belongs to God, and you are just a steward of time. 

Time is a gift from God for you to manage for His Kingdom. Paul writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16) What is the best use of your time? The best use of your time is to give it away for the sake of God’s Kingdom. In other words, it is far better to use your time to make investments that return eternal dividends rather than investing your time in your temporal happiness or in an attempt to get the most out of life. I think if you will give away your time in the following three areas your life will be purposeful and rich instead of unnecessarily busy:

  • Give time to grow in your walk with the Lord. You will never regret any time that you spend investing in your walk with the Lord. As a follower of Christ you will never say, “You know, I think I spent too much time with the Lord today. I should have given Him less of my attention.” Nor will you ever say, “I regret that I spent so much time gathering with other believers to encourage them in their walk with the Lord and to be encouraged in my own walk with the Lord.” Do you see? Giving time to your spiritual growth always reaps eternal dividends. How are you doing in your investment in your walk with the Lord? Are you giving sufficient time to prayer? To Bible study? To gathering with fellow believers?
  • Give time to your family. Deuteronomy 6:3-7 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” How I wish you and I would let these verses sink deep into our hearts and minds. You might not struggle spending time with your family, but you may struggle with helping your kids to know Christ and walk with Him. You will never regret eternally investing in your children. You will never regret teaching them the truth about who God is and how they should live in light of who He is. You will never regret spending time encouraging your spouse to be who God has created him or her to be. How are you doing when it comes to investing the truth of who God is into the lives of your children? How are you doing when it comes to encouraging your spouse in his or her walk with the Lord?
  • Give time to the expansion of the Kingdom. You get one lifetime to make the most of Jesus and lead other to know Jesus. This is your day in history to make Christ known. God has placed you exactly where He wants you to make an impact for His Kingdom. He has placed you in the exact job He wants you to have, He has placed you in the exact community where He wants you to live, and He has placed you in the exact circle of friends that He wants you to influence. God has placed you in your present circumstances to use you for the expansion of His Kingdom. He hasn’t placed you where He has you so you might live your best life now or so you might accomplish all your goals and live out your dreams. He has placed you where He wants you to live for His mission and to expand His Kingdom on earth. If you are not living according to His plan and purpose for your life, you are wasting your time. And ultimately, you will regret every second you have wasted on this earth pursuing your own desires rather than pursuing His desires. Do you see? Time does not belong to you. It belongs to God, and according to His will, He has given you every second of the day to use to bring Him honor in your work, in your play, and in your family. Don’t waste your time!

 

Whenever I think about how busy I am or how I need to use my time, I remember Jesus. Jesus used His time perfectly. When Christ was on this earth, all He had was twenty-four hours in a day, but He made every moment count. In 33 short years, Jesus accomplished everything the Father had for Him. He invested in His relationship with the Father, invested in those who were closest to Him, and completely gave His life away so that every person might have the opportunity to have forgiveness of sins and new life. Jesus knew that the greatest way He could use His time was to give it away for your sake and mine. I pray that you and I will follow His example and live our lives to give away the time God has given us for the sake of Jesus and His mission.

I’m thankful for the time God has given me to be your pastor!

Pastor Tommy

26
Mar

Defeat Gossip Before Gossip Defeats You

Coke Zero is so bad for me, but it tastes so good. I love the stuff. I try to limit myself to one can a day, and if I don’t have my daily can of Coke Zero I get really grumpy. I love the carbonation. I love the taste. I love the caffeine. It’s amazing how that little can of Coke Zero can make my whole day a little bit better. However, I know Coke Zero is bad for me. I know it’s full of aspartame, artificial sweeteners, and a host of other chemicals that I cannot pronounce. Plus, I have a history of kidney stones, so I know that every time I drink a Coke Zero I am increasing my chances of growing a nasty stone in my kidney that will ultimately cause me to double over in pain. My biggest fear is I’ll be on a ten-hour flight when a kidney stone attacks. Talk about misery! However, knowing the pain is coming is not enough incentive for me to put down my precious Coke Zero. It’s just so delicious.

Solomon says that gossip is much like Coke Zero. Actually, he says gossip is like a delicious morsel. He says, “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 26:22). Gossip tastes so good. It’s delicious. Who doesn’t like to hear a juicy secret about someone else? Who doesn’t like to get the dirt on someone? But, gossip is like Coke Zero. As savory as it might be, it certainly is not good for you. It can ultimately cause you and those you gossip about a whole lot of pain. So, let me briefly answer a few questions about gossip in an attempt to help us put this terrible sin to death.

  1. What is gossip?

In his book, Resisting Gossip: Winning the War Against the Wagging Tongue, Matthew Mitchell says, “Gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” Let me break that down for you.

  • Gossip is bad news. Whenever you gossip, you’re not telling good news; you’re telling bad news. The goal of gossip is not to praise someone but to shame someone or tear someone down. That bad news you spread about someone else can be in the form of a lie or a half-truth. But, gossip is not always a lie about someone. Sometimes gossip is truthful information about someone that you use in an attempt to bring shame on the person you’re talking about. You’ve probably heard someone say something like “Did you hear what so and so did?” That question is usually followed by something that may be true, but it’s framed in a way to paint someone in a negative light. The bottom line is that gossip is an attempt to tell bad news about someone; not good news.
  • Gossip is behind the back. Simply put, if the person you are talking about with someone else was present you wouldn’t share that juicy information, or at the very least you would completely change the way you deliver the information. A gossiper doesn’t want the person he is talking about to know he is spreading shameful and damaging information. Here are four questions that are helpful to think through before you talk about someone else behind their back:
    • Would I say this if the person I am talking about was present?
    • Does what I am saying about the person hurt his reputation?
    • Would I be embarrassed or feel shameful if the person I am talking about found out that I was talking about him behind his back?
    • Would I want someone else to talk this way about me if I were not present?

If you think through these questions before you open your mouth, you’d probably open your mouth a lot less.

  1. Why do we gossip?

Think about the last part of Mitchell’s definition of gossip. Mitchell says that gossip is out of a bad heart. Do you want to know why we gossip? We gossip because we have very sick hearts. Think about this: when you gossip you are trying to find satisfaction and joy in defaming someone’s character rather than finding satisfaction and joy in Jesus Christ. That’s sick! Consider some of the following sinful or sick heart motivations that lead us to gossip:

  • We gossip because we are jealous.
  • We gossip because we are prideful. In other words, if we can cast someone else in a negative light, it makes us look a lot better by comparison.
  • We gossip because we are hateful.
  • We gossip because we are vengeful. Gospel is an easy way to get back at people who hurt us.
  • We gossip because we are bored. In 1 Timothy 5:13 Paul warns Timothy about women who gossip because they are idle. In other words, for some gossip is simply a form of entertainment to overcome boredom.

Do you see? The root of gossip is a heart that is stained with sinful thoughts and sinful motivations, and the only remedy for a sinful heart is Jesus Himself! He went to the cross, died in your place, and rose again so that through the power of His Spirit you can put to death the sinful heart motivations that lead to gossip.

  1. How do we defeat gossip?

Paul writes, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). I love that verse, but it is so difficult to live out. How can you and I put Ephesians 4:29 into practice on a daily basis so that we defeat our gossiping ways? Let me give you some practical ways you can begin to put off the habit of gossiping:

  • Ask for help. If gossip is the result of a sick heart, the ultimate cure for a sick heart is Jesus. You need His help to overcome your gossiping ways. Ask Him to help you. Plead with Him to heal your heart and change the way you speak. He wants to help you, but do you want His help? Are you willing to daily, and even hourly, ask him to help you use your words in a way that build others up and glorify Him?
  • Speak less. I love Proverbs 21:23: “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” It’s hard to gossip about someone when you keep your mouth shut.
  • Say something good. Every person on the face of the planet is made in the image of God. If that’s true, then in every person there is something to affirm. Look for ways to affirm people even when it’s difficult. Use the Golden Rule of speech: Speak of others in the same way you would want them to speak of you.
  • Talk to and about the Lord. It’s difficult to gossip when we focus our conversations on what God is doing in our lives. It’s also hard to gossip when we intentionally pray with other people. If we keep Christ at the center of our conversations, we’ll have plenty to talk about and no need to gossip.
  • Avoid gossips. Proverbs 20:19 says, “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.” If you are prone to gossip, simply stay away from people who tempt you to gossip. Make friends with people who know how to use their words in a way that edifies. If you can’t avoid a gossip, or if you live with a gossiper, at least intentionally change the conversation when gossip begins to slip into the conversation.
  • Confront gossips. If you are a follower of Christ you have the responsibility to gently help your brothers and sisters see their sin so they might be led to repentance. Many times when we are around a gossip we let them talk while we choose to say nothing. Don’t say nothing! In love and humility, confront the gossiper so she may be brought to a place of repentance.

So what about you? Are you a gossiper? For the sake of your own spiritual health, and for the sake of the body of Christ, stop it! Ask God today to help you begin to put gossip to death so that you might use your words to glorify Him and build others up.

Praying for you!

Pastor Tommy

 

16
Mar

Stop and Think Before You Criticize

I tend to be critical of two things: preaching and piano playing. I have a Ph.D. in preaching, so in seminary I was taught all of the different methods and philosophies of preaching. I was also taught how to teach preachers. When I hear another preacher I have a tendency to be critical. Was the preacher faithful to the Bible? Did he connect his sermon to Christ? Was his delivery engaging? Was his application consistent with the Bible? If I’m not careful, I can be overly critical. I can listen to a sermon just to critique it rather than to be fed by it.

I’m also pretty critical of piano playing. I’ve been playing all of my life, and I think I can tell the difference between good piano playing and bad piano playing. It’s not uncommon for me to hear someone playing the piano and lean over to Staci and say something like, “That guy stinks. His technique is awful.” When I make that kind of criticism I am essentially saying, “I am the ultimate judge of what is good piano playing and what is bad piano playing. If you want to know what piano playing ought to be, just ask me.”

The problem is that I am not the ultimate judge of anything, so therefore I have no right to be overly critical or negative in the way I deliver criticism. Neither do you. Criticism in and of itself isn’t a bad think. Criticism is necessary. We all need to receive criticism, and at times we all need to give criticism. Criticism can be helpful, but if we’re not careful in the way we deliver criticism, it can be very harmful and destructive. In fact, some of your relationships might have been ruined because of negative criticism. I’m afraid many of us, myself included, are overly critical or negative in the way we criticize far too often. I’m afraid that many of us have used critical words and critical attitudes to tear people down rather than build them up. So, the next time you have the urge to criticize, stop and think through these three challenges:

Before you criticize check your motivation.

Why do you think it is necessary to offer that word of criticism that you are about to let come out of your mouth? Are you offering criticism just because you want to make sure your opinion is heard? Are you offering criticism because you want to show people that you know what is best? That you are the smartest or most talented person in the room? Are you offering criticism because you are angry or bitter and you want to hurt someone with your words?

We often criticize people we love, especially family members, out of anger or out of a desire to get our own way. Sometimes we criticize people we love because they aren’t living up to our expectations or our standard. Think about how damaging it is when you say to your son after he has failed a test at school, “How could you make a grade like that? You’ll never amount to anything.” That is not helpful criticism. That is hurtful criticism that is probably motivated by a heart of anger because your son didn’t live up to your expectation.

Before you criticize simply check your motivation. Are you criticizing out of a sincere desire to help someone, or are you criticizing to hurt someone? If you are criticizing to hurt someone, you are in sin, and you are doing damage to a relationship that might take years to repair. Think before you speak


Before you criticize examine your own heart.

Perhaps the most quoted Scripture in all of God’s Word is Matthew 7:1. “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Sometimes judging is inevitable. For example, if someone mugs you in the parking lot of Walmart you can probably safely assume that person is a crook who deserves to be in prison. That’s a judgment. However, Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 7:3-5, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus is saying that before you criticize someone else, take a good look at yourself. The truth is that you are just as flawed as the person you are criticizing. I promise you that if you spent more time dealing with your own flaws rather than fixing the flaws of others you would criticize people far less than you do.


Before you criticize establish the right goal.

There should only be one goal when it comes to criticism: to help the person you are criticizing become all that God wants him or her to be. I’m thankful for critics God has placed in my life. I’m thankful for teachers who have been patient with me and have helped me to see how to improve in so many areas of my life. Most of all, I’m thankful for godly men and women who have wanted to see me grow in my walk with Christ and have helped me to see my own sins and failures so I could take those sins and failure before the Lord and seek His grace. I’ve endured my share of negative criticism as well, and while I have learned things from even the most negative of critics, it hasn’t come without unnecessary pain. I definitely respond much better to helpful criticism than negative criticism, and so do you!

God may want to use you in the life of someone else to help that person see their sins or see where they can improve in some area of life. However, just make sure the goal you have before you begin to criticize anyone is to truly help that person. If your goal is to help that person you are going to be humble and gracious in the way you speak to that person. You are going to be kind and gentle. You are going to be forgiving. You are going to be like Christ.

My biggest critic is Jesus Christ. He knows everything about me. He knows my sins and failures. He knows how my life has offended Him. He knows the areas I need to grow in, and praise God that through His Spirit He is constantly pointing out those areas in my life that need to be brought under His control. However, when Jesus criticizes me it is never with condemnation. In other words, Jesus never desires to tear me down and destroy me. He always desires to restore me and deepen my fellowship with Him. Let me encourage you to model Jesus in the way you interact people. Relationships are too precious to destroy with your negative criticism. If you are an overly critical person, or if you are negative in the way that you criticize others, repent and ask God to help you build others up. I pray that you will live by Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Praying for you this week!

09
Mar

Stop Complaining and Start Thanking

I complain way too much. For the last couple of months, I’ve been complaining about the weather. I hate winter. I hate being cold. However, in a couple of months I’ll likely be complaining about the heat and wishing for some cooler weather. I complain about politics. I complain about sports. I complain when the waitress gets my order wrong when I’m out to eat. I’m really good at complaining, and if you are honest, you’re really good at complaining as well. Philippians 2:14 should hit us right between the eyes.  “Do everything without complaining and arguing…” (NLT) Is that even possible? Let me give you a few reasons why complaining is so dangerous.

  1. Complaining is evidence of an ungrateful heart.

When you complain do you know what you are really saying? You’re essentially saying with every complaint, “I deserve better.” “I deserve for the weather to be just like I want it. I deserve for the waitress to get my order exactly right. I deserve to have my favorite team win every Sunday. I deserve for that driver in front of me to drive the speed limit I want him to drive.” Really? Who made you the center of the universe? The reality is that the only thing you deserve is eternal separation from God because of your sin. Therefore, anything good you receive is a result of God’s grace. The warm sunshine that’s brightening your day today is a gift of God’s grace. That job that you complain about all the time that helps you to provide for your family is a gift of God’s grace. Every good thing you enjoy in this life is a gracious gift of God that you do not deserve. Ultimately, God has given us the greatest gift of all; forgiveness of our sins and eternity with Him through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. You’ve been given much more than you deserve, and you really have no reason to complain about anything. Think about this: complaining accomplishes nothing of eternal value and only shows how ungrateful you are for all that God has given you.

  1. Complaining hinders the mission of God.

As Christ-followers we believe that Jesus and Jesus alone satisfies our every need. How is a lost world going to believe that Jesus alone satisfies when we as Christians complain so much? When you and I complain we are showing other people through our complaining that God does not satisfy us. We are showing other people that the only thing that satisfies us is when we get everything we want whenever we want it. Can you see how that might hinder the mission of God? If anyone had a right to complain it was Jesus. He was treated unfairly, abandoned by His disciples, and subjected to a death that He did not deserve. Yet, from the cross, He didn’t look down and say, “Where are my disciples? What a bunch of losers.” Nor did He cry out to the Father and say, “Father, I don’t deserve this. What are you thinking?” You see, if Jesus had complained on His way to the cross He would have died begrudgingly and not willingly. If He would have complained we would be left to wonder if He really loves us. For the sake of the mission of the Father, He didn’t complain one time, and in perfect humility He went to the cross so that we could be saved from our sins.

Now, if the One who had every right to complain did not complain, do you think you have the right to complain about anything? Think of it this way. Complaining is one of the most selfish things you can do. Complaining is not life giving. Rather, complaining sucks the life out of people. Complaining really does hinder the mission of God because complaining puts the focus on your selfish agenda rather than on the expansion of God’s Kingdom.

  1. Complaining stunts your spiritual growth.

We all want to grow spiritually. At least we say we do. Complaining is not the way to spiritual growth. Complaining is the way to spiritual regression. The more you complain the more you are giving evidence of a spirit of pride and selfishness. The more you complain the more you are demonstrating that you desire to be on the throne of your life calling the shots rather than desiring God to be on the throne of your life. You simply cannot grow in Christ when your life is focused on what you think you deserve. As long as you have a complaining and critical spirit you’ll be stuck in spiritual immaturity.

So, here’s the question. How can you overcome your tendency to complain?

  1. Repent. Repentance is the only place to start. Ask God to forgive you of thinking you deserve anything more than what He determines to give you. Ask God to forgive you of a sorry, self-centered, self-serving attitude.
  2. Use much restraint. I love Proverbs 17:27. “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” I’m learning that in most situations it is usually best to keep my mouth shut – even in those situations when I am wronged it is often best for me to simply stay silent because the less I speak the less likely I am to sin with my mouth. This is probably why James said in James 1:19, “Let every person be quick to hear and slow to speak.”
  3. Count your blessings. I don’t care how bad your life is, you are blessed. If you have the ability to read these words right now, you are blessed. If you have breath in your lungs you are blessed. How would your life be different if you focused on all the good God has done in your life rather than all the negativity you tend to focus on?
  4. Realize that your way is not the best way. You often complain because you don’t get your way, and your way is the best way, right? Nope. Your way is not the best way, and as much as this might shock you, life would not necessarily be better if everyone did everything the way you wanted them to do it. Ultimately, only God knows what is best. In every situation you can trust that He knows what He is doing.
  5. Learn to praise God for His creativity. You often complain because people are different than you. “I don’t like him because he doesn’t do things the way I would do them.” Or, “I don’t like the pastor because he doesn’t tell enough jokes.” The list goes on and on. Thankfully, God didn’t make everyone like you. Instead, He made every person in His own image for His own purpose. Instead of complaining when people don’t do things the way you want them to, learn to praise God for His creativity. Praise God that He made us different and He uses our unique personalities and abilities to accomplish His purpose.

 

I really don’t want to complain as much as I do. I’m intentionally asking God to help me to put my complaining to rest. Will you join me in asking God to help you to get your complaining under control? I’m praying for you, and I am praying that our church will be the most life-giving, encouraging, Spirit-filled church around!

Pastor Tommy